rambling; confused; nonsensical: a skimble-scamble explanation.
The rare adjective skimble-scamble shows the same, common vowel alteration in a reduplicated word as in mish-mash or pitter-patter. The reduplicated word is the verb scamble, of unknown etymology, and now obsolete or dialectal, meaning “to struggle or scramble with others for food or money tossed to a crowd,” now replaced by scramble. The lexicographer Samuel Johnson was not keen on skimble-scamble, calling it a “cant word,” one of his favorite terms of abuse. Skimble-scamble entered English at the end of the 16th century.
He complained bitterly of his reporters, saying that the skimblescamble stuff which they published would “make posterity think ill of his understanding, and that of his brethren on the bench.”
And such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff, /
As puts me from my faith.
the way a situation, action, event, etc., is perceived by the public or by a particular group of people.
The noun optics originally referred to that branch of physics dealing with light or other electromagnetic radiation and with the sense of sight. The now common sense “the way a situation, action, or event is perceived by the public or in a particular context, especially a political one,” was originally an Americanism first recorded in 1973. Optics entered English in the 16th century.
The sentence has to be in double figures. The optics are lousy if it’s anything less.
For Romney, there is little value in trying to compete with the optics of Obama’s trip.
a person who is physically or spiritually isolated from their times or society.
The rare English noun isolato comes directly from the Italian adjective and noun isolato “isolated; an isolated person.” The Italian word is the past participle of the verb isolare “to shut off, cut off, isolate,” a derivative of the noun isola “isle, island” (there is no Latin verb īnsulāre). Isola is a regular Italian development of Latin īnsula, a noun of unknown etymology, meaning “island, an island as a place of exile, tenement house,” all of which can be pretty bleak. Isolato entered English in the mid-19th century.
… my life has been that of an isolato, a shepherd on a mountaintop, situated as far from so-called civilization as possible, and it has made me unnaturally brusque and awkward.
I’m an isolato now and there’s no going back.
resembling or containing lead; leaden.
Plumbeous comes straight from the Latin adjective plumbeus “made of lead, leaden, (of coins) base,” a derivative of the noun plumbum. Plumbum is a noun of unknown etymology, and linguists have speculated on the connection between plumbum and Greek mólybdos with its variants mólibos and bólimos, which also have no reliable etymology. In ancient times lead was mined in Attica (i.e., the territory whose capital was Athens), Macedonia, Asia Minor (Anatolia), Etruria, Sardinia, Gaul (France), Britain, and Spain. Many scholars think that the Greek and Latin words derive from an Iberian (Spanish) language, and the Basque word for lead, berun, supports this. Plumbeous entered English in the 16th century.
… a headachy dawn was breaking, with small rain sifting down out of clouds that were the same plumbeous colour as the shadows under Baby’s eyes.
… the pencil has been worn down to two-thirds of its original length. The bare wood of its tapered end has darkened to a plumbeous plum, thus merging in tint with the blunt tip of graphite whose blind gloss alone distinguishes it from the wood.
imperiling, challenging, or affecting basic beliefs, attitudes, relationships, etc.
Earthshaking in its literal sense was modeled on epithets for the Greek god Poseidon (he caused earthquakes) and the Latin god Neptune. Ennosígaios and Ennosíchthōn, both meaning “earthshaker,” were epithets for Poseidon in the Iliad and Odyssey. Latin Ennosigaeus is a pretty unimaginative borrowing. Earthshaking entered English toward the end of the 16th century; its usual sense “of great consequence or importance” dates from the 19th century.
… not everything true is universally comprehensible. And that, small as it is, is an earthshaking insight.
Divorce is hardly an earthshaking event in politics these days.
a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.
English palimpsest comes via Latin palimpsēstus from Greek palímpsēstos “rubbed again, scraped again,” i.e., in reference to durable parchment (not papyrus) “erased (so as to be able to be written upon) again.” Palimpsests are important in recovering the texts of ancient manuscripts. At least two unique ancient texts have been recovered through modern techniques of decipherment: the first text is Cicero’s dialogue De Re Publica (“On the Republic, On the Commonwealth”), which was discovered in the Vatican Library in 1819 and published definitively in 1908. The second major find is the Archimedes Palimpsest, containing seven treatises by the Greek scientist and mathematician Archimedes (c287-212 b.c.), which was made legible after decipherment performed between 1998 and 2008. Palimpsest entered English in the 17th century.
All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.
Holmes and I sat together in silence all the evening, he engaged with a powerful lens deciphering the remains of the original inscription upon a palimpsest, I deep in a recent treatise upon surgery.
a source or supply of anything, especially when considered inexhaustible: a wellspring of affection.
Wellspring from its earliest records has meant both “source or headspring of a river or stream” as well as “source of a constant supply of something.” The extended, metaphorical sense appears earlier, in the Old English version of the Cura Pastoralis (Pastoral Care) of St. Gregory the Great (a.d. c540-604) that was commissioned by King Alfred the Great (a.d. 849-899). The literal sense of wellspring, “source of a stream or river,” first appears in the Catholic Homilies (c990) composed by Aelfric “Grammaticus” (c955-c1025).
I decided to reach deep down, to the wellspring of my charisma, which had been too long undisturbed, and dip my fingers in it and flick it liturgically over the audience.
And from the same wellspring of creativity, utilizing that same power to abstract, they were the first people to see the world around them in symbolic form, to extract its essence and reproduce it.