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irruption /ɪˈrʌpʃən/

One of my favorite classic guitar solos from the 70’s has to be Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption from the 1978 eponymous first album Van Halen. It’s classic status was confirmed in 2009 when it was included as one of the tracks on the Guitar Hero: Van Halen video game, allowing a whole new generation of air guitarists to pretend to be Eddie. And just a year earlier, Guitar Magazine named it the 2nd greatest guitar solo of all time, bested only by Jimmy Page’s Stairway to Heaven.

In the same year that the song Eruption was released, the UK R&B band called Eruption has their biggest hit with the song, I Can’t Stand the Rain, which reached #5 in the UK charts and #18 on the US Billboard charts.

An eruption is characterized by some type of “breaking forth,” and is most often used in reference to a volcanic eruption, which is “the ejection of solid or liquid matter by a volcano, of hot water from a geyser, etc.” (OED).

(C) gnuckx under Creative Commons

In contrast, the word irruption is the opposite and defined by the OED as;

The action of bursting or breaking in; a violent entry, inroad, incursion, or invasion, esp. of a hostile force or tribe.

The inward motion as opposed to the outward is what makes the difference between the words, although they are both pronounced the same.

The first appearance in print of the word is in Heinrich Bullinger’s 1577 page turner, Fiftie godlie and learned sermons, in the quote;

In that hurlie burlie and irruption made by the barbarous people.

It can be traced back to the Latin irruptionem, a noun of action derived from the verb irrumpere, which means “to break into,” and it can be furthered analyzed as the prefix ir– meaning “into” and rumpere, “to break.” Contrast this with eruption, which has the same base verb, rumpere, but the prefix e– means “out.”

The Latin rumpere is the base of a number of other English words, including abrupt (ab– prefix meaning “off,”‘ so “to break off”), route (a way or a course, from the Latin phrase via rupta or “broken way”), and rupture (a break or a tear).

By the 20th century, the word had taken on a special meaning in relation to zoology, namely to refer to;

An abrupt local increase in the numbers of a species of animals.

Thus, in A.L. Thompson’s 1936 book entitled Bird Migration, we see;

Apart from all the categories of annual movements, there are movements which occur at irregular intervals in the form of invasions or irruptions… In the spring of certain years the birds have ‘irrupted’ in large numbers.

It’s in the birding world that irruption seems to be used most frequently. However, the decline in its general usage seems to have been started in the mid 1800’s and even the Corpus of Contemporary American English only offers 27 instances between 1990 and 2012.

History of the word irruption

“Irruption” 1810-2009

As a final comment, it’s worth mentioning that even Mark Twain got the words eruption and irruption mixed up. In Life on the Mississippi (1883) he used the phrase, “A firmament-obliterating irruption of profanity,” and in the context, it would seem that he meant an “eruption of profanity.”

Happens to the best of ’em, I guess.

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Each year at the beginning of January, the American Dialect Society announces its Word of the Year (WOTY), based on thousands of submissions from anyone who cares to send them an e-mail. Word junkies  look forward to this and often pitch in with their own suggestions. I thought Gangnam style might well have been in with a chance but I’ve never yet predicted the winner and2012 was no exception. The winner was the hashtag – very familiar to those of us who use Twitter – with Gangnam style at least being in the final six.

Over the pond, the good people of the Oxford English Dictionary announced their WOTY for 2012 as omnishambles. This is a noun defined as “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, and is characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.” To my knowledge, it hasn’t gained any currency in the US – but should! It’s a great little word that was actually modified during the November US elections into “RomneyShambles” by European political pundits who were less than supportive of Mitt.

omnishambles

Clearly it’s a marriage of the Latin prefix omni– meaning “all” and shambles, meaning a great disorder. Omni is also the name of the first writer in the Book of Omni, one of the books that make up the Book of Mormon. Sadly for Omni, his personal contribution to the book that bears his name is three paragraphs, which contains the sum of what we know about him. Basically, he claims to be a bad man, prone to breaking commandments, and fought a lot with the Lamanites, who were descendants of an Israeli family who moved to the US around 600 BC. We also hear in these paragraphs that Omni was the son of Jarom and the father of Amaron, and that he was the keeper of the golden plates that were found by the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith Jr., and then translated into the Book of Mormon.

The word shambles is from the Old English sceamel, which was used back in the 9th century to mean a footstool. It’s a wonderful example of how a word can change its meaning over time, piece by piece. By the 10th century it was being used to describe a table used to sell goods of any kind, but this evolved into the 14th century word schamell meaning specifically “a table from which meat was sold.”

meat stall

Meat stall

By the 15th century, it was used to refer to any place where meat was sold – essentially a meat market. Then by the 16th century it was used figuratively to describe a place of carnage, such as a battlefield or any place of mass slaughter. And by now, the word had settled down as shambles.  It then took on its modern meaning of “a scene of chaos and disorder” in the 20th century, with its original sense of a footstool having long been lost.

Tourists to the city of York in England typically visit a street called The Shambles, which is very narrow and contains some buildings that date back to the 14th century. It was originally called The Flesh Shambles because is was full of butchers’ shops. Other places in the UK have streets called The Shambles but the one in York is perhaps the most well known.

The Shambles in York, England

The Shambles

So try slipping omnishambles into your next conversation. As I write, here in the US we’re facing the prospect of swingeing government cuts in the near future and the failure of our elected representatives to sort this one out really will be an omnishambles!

For those who haven’t yet discovered the amazing resource known as Project Gutenberg, let me recommend you go there now and take some time to browse through the thousands of ebooks available for free. If you want to read anything that was published over 100 years ago you can do so for free because such books are no longer under copyright. So if you’ve just seen the movie Les Misérables over Christmas, you can now follow-up by downloading Victor Hugo’s original text in French or English. Or how about catching up on classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick, Dracula, The Iliad, The Odyssey, or many more.

For me, though, the pleasure also comes from finding one of the more obscure but no less important books that are usually hard-to-find or even out-of-print. Two of these that I’ve just finished are Snorri Sturulson’s The Younger Edda (or sometimes called The Prose Edda), and Myths of the Norsemen by H. A. Guerber. Both of these are accounts of Norse mythology and well-worth the trouble downloading if you want some detailed source material rather than rely on Marvel comics or self-published fantasy novels.

The Younger or Prose Edda

The Younger Edda

Now, when I first started reading The Younger Edda, I was surprised – and actually a little irritated – that it starts by talking about the Norse gods as being based on real people from history. More specifically, he argues that Odin and Thor came from the city of Troy, and that Odin lead a group of people to Scandinavia to establish a kingdom. Sturulson also engages in some etymological sleight-of-hand to suggest that the name of the Norse pantheon, the Aesir, was a corruption of the word Asia and that the gods were “men of Asi,” but this etymology has been discounted.

What Sturulson was doing here was engaging in a Middle Ages Christian tradition known as euhemerism, which is a method of mythological interpretation that regards myths as traditional accounts of real incidents in human history. From the perspective of the early Christian Church Fathers, the appeal of this method was that it gave them a way of undermining the validity of pagan gods by turning them into men rather than supernatural beings.

The word itself is an eponym i.e. it comes from the name of a person. Euhemerus was a writer who lived in Sicily around 300 BC and the author of a work called Hiera Anagraphe (Ἱερὰ Ἀναγραϕή) or “The Sacred Inscription,” which suggested that gods are simply great men from history who become deified and worshiped. In the book – or in the fragments that still survive – he relates a story of how he was on a trip across the Indian Ocean when he landed on an island called Panchaea and at a temple to Zeus came across a scroll – the Sacred Inscription. In it, the writer tells how the Greek gods were originally men whose achievements were so great that they we elevated ultimately to the status of being gods.

Euhemerus

Euhemerus

Most scholars believe the story to be a fabrication but that doesn’t undermine the philosophical premise that gods could, indeed, simply be “great men,” and it certainly didn’t stop early Christian writers from using this notion to “prove” the superiority of their god over the pagan ones.

Euhemerus itself means something along the lines of “happy day,” with the Greek eus meaning “happy or well” and Greek imera (ἡμέρα) meaning “day.” The –ism suffix is a common ending used to create nouns that refer to a system, belief, or ideology. The eus is found in other “happy” words such as euphoria (a feeling of intense happiness), euphemism (use of a “good” or “happy” word in place of one that has negative connotations), and eulogy (a speech of praise).

Footnotes
[1] Many euphemisms are used for sensitive and taboo subjects, Here are a few for ESL readers:
“pass away,” “snuff it,” “croak,” “kick the bucket” – to die
“let go,” “downsized” – sacked from a job
“powder your nose,” “answer the call of nature,” “see a man about a dog” – use a toilet
“catcher’s mitt,” “whisker biscuit,” “furback turtle” – a vagina
“bacon torpedo,” “one-eyed trouser snake,” “John Thomas” – a penis
“choke the chicken,” “spank the monkey,” “rub one off” – male masturbation
“factual shortcut,” “economical with the truth,” “strategic misrepresentation” – telling lies

gasoline /ˈgæsəˌlin/

In one of those splendid examples of being divided by a common language, my recent post on petroleum (or petrol, as those wacky Brits like to call it) cries out for a similar investigation into the word gasoline. As far as out motor cars go, they are both the same but etymologically speaking, the are clearly continents apart.

Gas pump

Unlike petroleum, which can be traced back to Greek, gasoline is a relatively new word, dating back to the 19th century, where it starts out life as gasolene or gasoleine – or even gazoline. The OED defines it as follows:

Originally: a light fuel oil made by the fractional distillation of petroleum, used for heating and lighting. Subsequently: a similar petroleum distillate used as motor fuel.

The first recorded mention of the word can be seen in the Hampshire Telegraph & Sussex Chronicle from 1863;

Best and cheapest burning oils for winter… Refined colza, gasolene, petrolene. (12th September)

One interesting possibility for the origin of the word is that it may be an eponym – a word derived from someone’s name. The suggestion is that back in the 1860’s, a London merchant called John Cassell sold lighting fluid for lamps under the trade name Cazelene. Meanwhile, a competitor on Dublin had a similar product called Gazelene, possibly to avoid any legal challenges from Cassell, who had a patent out on Cazelene. And how do we know there was a patent? And ad in the London Times said so;

The Patent Cazeline Oil possesses all the requisites which have so long been desired as a means of powerful artificial light (Times, 27th November, 1862)

Considering that a patent application needs to be around before you start talking about it – let alone printing it – it’s likely that it was around a few years before the 1863 citation of gasolene, and may therefore be an early example of the phenomenon of “genericization” – where a trade name becomes a common word, usually to the dismay of the mark holder!

As we know, the use of gas took off in the US in contrast to the UK’s use of petrol. A quick look at the Corpus of Historical American shows the growth of its use in the phrase “gas station” from 1920 onwards. And both words demonstrate the process of back-clipping – the shortening of a longer word by dropping the end part. So now people talk about gas and petrol, not gasoline and petroleum.

Frequency of use of gas station from 1900 to 2000

Gas station 1920-2000

Still, the word gasoline itself is a great example of how you can build a word from pieces and parts – or for those who are more academically inclined, how to derive a word morphologically. Clearly there are three parts; gas, –ol, and –ine. So let’s go through each one.

Gas was coined in 1648 (or thereabouts) by the Flemish chemist, J.B. Van Helmont (1577–1644) to describe something that was “a far more subtile or fine thing than a vapour, mist, or distilled Oylinesses.” He modeled it on the Greek word chaos (χάος) and he explicitly said that

A few years later, the more global definition was;

A substance in a state in which it expands freely to fill the whole of a container, having no fixed shape (unlike a solid) and no fixed volume (unlike a liquid); spec. (distinguished from a vapour) such a substance above a critical temperature such that it cannot be liquefied by the application of pressure alone; any substance which normally exists in such a state.

This is pretty much what we currently understand as the meaning of gas.

The next part, –ol, is a suffix used in chemistry to form the names of hydrocarbons – such as that which we refine as fuel for cars. It comes from the Latin oleum meaning “oil,” which in turn appears to be a variation on the Greek elaion (ἔλαιον) or “olive oil.”

The final piece is the suffix –line that was used in the 19th century to create the names of chemical derivatives i.e. chemicals that were created as a result of extracting them using some sort of process – as in the distillation of fuel.

Still, whether you call it petrol or gasoline, it still burns a hole in your pocket!

petroleum /pəˈtroʊliəm/

One of the reasons for the dearth of posts lately is that I took a trip back to the UK to visit friends and family. In short, I went on vacation. My wife and I stayed with my parents who happen to live “off the grid” – which means they have no Internet access, and as a result of this, I was also disconnected from the wired world. Now although this may seem a little unusual these days, it is precisely how a vacation was supposed to work just a mere 25 years ago, before we all voluntarily allowed ourselves to be electronically manacled by our bosses and friends using a mobile phone. When George Orwell wrote 1984 and predicted the hell of a world where Big Brother would be constantly watching us, he failed to realize that this wouldn’t come about by the cruel jack-boot of a dictatorship but a voluntary submission to private corporations whose technology not only lets us be tracked but for which we pay a handsome premium! It’s as if we not only invited Big Brother to live in our houses but paid him for doing it.

There is now technology available that can be worn and which records your everyday life. The Autographer, slated for a November 2012 release, is a wearable camera that automatically takes up to 2,000 pictures a day, and with a 136 degree lens, it’s able to take in a fair amount of the wearer’s immediate environment – including you if you happen to be around.

Autographer wearable camera

Autographer

And the Memoto, expected to ship in February 2013,  is another wearable camera that snaps an image every 30 seconds and uses GPS to tag where the photos are taken.

Memoto wearable camera

Memoto

So imagine a world where we all have one of these to record our lives, and by extension, the lives of everyone we meet. Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy or a neo-Luddite, but I find that vision somewhat scary. We pretty much end up living in an electronic goldfish bowl where everything we ever do and say becomes embedded in some unaccountable cloud-based “world memory” that never gets erased. And even if you opt-out and say, “I refuse to wear one,” how do you stop your interactions with all the folks who are using them?

If you do 35 mph at 3:00 am on an empty street where the limit is 25 mph, is a crime committed if no-one sees you? Well, in the goldfish world, yes! If your camera is on, you are the seeds of your own destruction, especially if your “crime” is backed up by your GPS data, and supported by the street cameras that seem to be popping up all over the world.

So we are slowly giving up our privacy, slice by salami slice, of our own free will because we want “cool technology” and “instant, constant communication,” until one day we realize that our lives are little more than live action reality TV shows streaming over the Internet to anyone who cares to watch – and judge.

All of this thinking was precipitated during my UK trip following my attempt to fill up my rental car with petrol – as those funny Brits like to refer to gas. I say “attempt” because when I tried to pay using my US debit card, the petrol station’s technology turned it down. I had to whip out a credit card to assuage the demands of BP’s point-of-sale system. I was also aware of the fact that not only was my location now “known” to the bank, but the cameras inside and outside of the petrol station were recording my every move. I guess it’s only paranoia when they’re not out to get you!

Petrol is a shortened form of the word petroleum, defined in the sense of fuel for cars as;

A light fuel oil made by distilling petroleum and used in internal-combustion engines, esp. in motor vehicles.

It’s first recorded use as such tool place in 1895 in a book by D. Salmons entitled Horseless Carriage where he says, “Benzine of a certain density, known in France under the name of essence de pétrol, …is the material employed to run the engines.”

Prior to this, petroleum was the word used to refer more generally to;

A viscous liquid, consisting chiefly of a mixture of hydrocarbons and varying in colour from black or dark brown to light yellow, that is formed by the decomposition of organic matter buried in sediments, is present in some rock formations (sometimes seeping out on to the ground), and is extracted and refined to produce fuels (esp. petrol, paraffin, and diesel) and other substances; mineral oil.

It appears in Old English as petraoleum and derives from the post-classical Latin, petroleum, which means “mineral oil,” i.e. oil from rocks. The Old English actually does a good job of revealing the more detailed etymology, with the first element, petra, being the classical Latin for “rock,” and the second part, oleum, being the word for “oil.” Hence the notion of oil from rocks. We can trace petra even further back to the Ancient Greek πέτρa that also means “rock.”

Interestingly, the Ancient Greeks differentiated between πέτρa as the generic material and πέτρος, which refers to “a stone for throwing.” The Greeks even had the word πετροβόλος  for “the act of throwing stones.” Now, back in 1973, linguist J. Peter Maher wrote a paper with the fabulous title of “Neglected Reflexes of Proto-Indo-European *pet– “fly”: Greek petros “stone” / petra “cliff”; with notes on the role of syntax (IC structure) in polysemy and semantic change, and the situational motivation of syntax.” [1] What he suggests is that the same Indo-European root word, *pet-,  that gave rise to the throwable stone was also the source of the word feather, from where the sense of a stone flying through the air comes from.

Feather on a stone

Feather and stone

Who would have thought! And if anyone comes across a pub called The Stone and Feather, please let me know. Alternatively, if you want to open a new pub called The Stone and Feather, I’d be happy to come along and provide a linguistic opening.

Notes
[1] The Oxford English Dictionary cites this as 1977 in Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 3, where the article does indeed appear, but  it was actually written in 1973 and appeared in the journal Lingua e Stile, 8, 3, 403-417. A minor point but I just wanted to point it out in the interest of accuracy and provenance.

aleatory /’æliəˌtɔrɪ/

Sometimes, you see a word and think you can guess its meaning based on similar looking or sounding others. Aleatory was one of those for me. Perhaps it says more about my lifestyle than my etymological skills that I thought it was something to do with drinking beer. And who wouldn’t? Why, it starts with ale, and that’s as good a way to start a word as any other. The suffix, –atory, is an adjective-forming element that often means “relating to or characterized by.” Thus, aleatory means “related to the drinking of ale, or beer.”

A pint of ale

Pint of ale

But it doesn’t. It’s a classic lesson of how you can create a wonderful and verisimilous etymology, which still turns out to be wrong. Pseudoetymologies (sometimes called “folk etymologies” [1]) can sound very convincing, erroneous as they may ultimately turn out to be. For example, the word isle sounds as if it is simply a shortened form of the word island. However, it actually comes from the Latin word insula, meaning “island,” whereas island comes from the Old English iegland, which also means “island.” So similar as they may seem, they have different roots. [2]

So what of aleatory? If it has nothing to do with ale, what does it mean? According to the OED, it’s an adjective used to refer to things that are;

Dependent on uncertain events or occurrences; haphazard, random.

It’s to do with chance and comes from the Latin word aleatorius, which means “connected to gamblers or games of chance. An aleator is a dice player or gambler in general, and the word alea means “dice.” The suffix is the same as my false definition and so the word is “pertaining to the use of dice” i.e. gambling and betting.

Dice

Let the die be cast

It first turns up in 1693 in The third book of the works of Mr. Francis Rabelais, translated by Thomas Urquhart and Peter Anthony Motteux, in the sentence, “So continually fortunate in that Aleatory way of deciding Law Debates.” This referred to the way the judge being written about would determine the outcome of cases – by throwing a die.

In the 1960’s, it became more specifically used to refer to works of art or music that were “created, composed, or performed according to chance. In modern times, the composer John Cage (1912-1992) wrote and performed “Music of Changes” in 1951, which used the I Ching to determine elements of the composition. Such aleatory music was taken up by other musicians such as Pierre Boulez (born 1925) and Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007).

The word is more likely to occur in the legal profession when used to refer to an aleatory contract. This is defined as;

A mutual agreement between two parties in which the performance of the contractual obligations of one or both parties depends upon a fortuitous event.

The most common example is probably an insurance contract. Here, you insure yourself or your property against damage due to a rare or unlikely event – such as a a meteorite hitting your car. An “Act of God” is an aleatory phenomenon. The insurance company doesn’t have to do anything unless the chance event takes place.

And if you’re feeling in the mood for reading an aleatory novel, get hold of The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. Published in 1971, it’s the story of how a jaded psychiatrist takes to determining his life by throwing dice. Kindle readers will have to track down the actual physical book as it’s not available in that format but Nook owners can get it right now.

Notes
[1] In linguistics, the phrase folk etymology has a very specific meaning that differs from the popular usage. It is used to describe how a word changes over time due to the influence of more familiar words or phrases. The word crayfish originally came from the French crevis, but the latter part sounded so much like “fish” that it became “crayfish.”

[2] A folk etymology can ruin a political career. On January 15th, 1999, David Howerd, an aide to the then Mayor of Washington, Anthony Williams, made a reference to the budget as being “niggardly,” which means “mean” or “stingy.” However, a less etymologically orientated staffer (identified as one Marshall Brown) complained that he was offended by what he took as a “racial slur.” Howerd tendered his resignation a week later. The assumption was that niggardly and nigger were related i.e. the same root, which is, in fact, totally wrong. Niggardly has its roots in Old Icelandic hnøggr whereas nigger can be traced back to Latin niger meaning “black.” Just because words sound the same doesn’t mean they mean the same or come from the same root.

Regular readers will have noticed I’m in a slump. This is because other things have been getting in the way of blogging, and those things include drinking, reading, and crosswords. The drinking thing is something of a pain because I’ve always wanted to believe that writers need to drink to release their inner muse, and that a few shots will result in screeds of witty, pithy, and wildly popular text. Well, that may have worked for Hemingway but I’ve discovered that a few beers will make me so tired that signing my name at the bottom of the bar tab is as pithy as my scribbling gets. There’s little chance of my hammering out the Great American Novel if I continue my almost nightly rounds of toping.

Reading is also a perilous pursuit for anyone who wants to write. That’s simply because it’s a damn sight easier to enjoy other people’s stuff than pen your own. There’s a double tragedy here as well; while you’re reading, you can’t be writing, and if the writing is good, you end up feeling miserable because you realize you’re never going to be that skilled. If you also factor in that when you read a lot, you discover your brilliant ideas for articles, short stories, and novels have already been done. Fifteen years ago I toyed with the idea of writing a novel about Sigmund Freud as a detective. Then Jeb Rubenfeld wrote The Interpretation of Murder in 2006. Bang goes that idea.

crossword puzzle

The other distraction, crosswords, is an illness I’ve suffered for since I was sixteen and discovered The Guardian cryptic crossword. Since then, I’ve moved to the cryptics in The Independent, The Times, and The Daily Telegraph – which also seems to have paralleled my slow shift from socialism to libertarianism, a not unusual progression with folks as they age. [1]

Since moving to the US, I found that cryptic crosswords are a peculiarly British phenomenon, with most American preferring what I’d call a “regular” or “quick” crossword, which is basically a vocabulary test. If the answer is zebra, an American clue would be something along the lines of “Striped horse,” whereas a British cryptic clue would be “Frenchman talks about underwear in the zoo.” [2]

Of course, it’s not enough for crossword lovers simply to be called “crossword lovers.” No, they want an actual word that sounds impressive, and can even be an answer to the clue “Lucrative cribs for crossword puzzler!” [3]

Enter the word cruciverbalist, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as;

A person who compiles or solves crossword puzzles; a crossword enthusiast.

It is a very recent word, and by “recent” I mean “in my lifetime” or “later than 1960.” In the 1971 summer edition of Crossword magazine, we see the comment;

A succinct word to describe people who regularly attempt to solve crossword puzzles. A number of subscribers, including Jonathan Crowther, one of our crossword contributors, proposed “cruciverbalist,” while several others suggested “cruciverbian.”

There’s a reference to Auberon Waugh, the British writer, using the word “crux-verbalist” in 1939, but this is in Alexander Waugh’s 2004 book, Father’s and Sons, an autobiography of his family, so it could be a confabulation based on a mishearing or misreading of something Auberon did just before the Second World War.

A quick search of the Corpus of Historical American shows no record of cruciverbalist. Even the Corpus of Contemporary American only has one example, and that’s from a 2011 novel by Parnell Hall called The Kenken Killings: A Puzzle Lady Mystery. And the British National Corpus fares no better, also scoring a spectacular zero. So clearly it’s somewhat of a niche word, probably only used by cruciverbalists to refer to other cruciverbalists.

Not surprisingly, its origin is Latin. The cruci– element is the combining form of the word crux meaning “cross,” and a verbalist is someone “who deals in, or directs his attention to, words only, apart from reality or meaning.”  (OED)

Ultimately, it is derived from crossword, another not-so-old word that is recorded in the early 20th century as “cross-word” and later as “crossword.” The actual crossword puzzle began appearing in the UK toward the end of the 19th century, and the first ever published crossword in a newspaper is credited to Liverpudlian Arthur Wynne, who emigrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to work at the Pittsburgh Press in 1891, and then moved to New York to work on the New York World newspaper. There he created the “word-cross” puzzle, which became the “cross-word” after a type-setting mistake, and ultimately ended up as the “crossword.” [4]

So if you’ve never taken on cryptic crosswords before, I’ll leave you with three clues to ponder on.

(a) Discovered calf in grass (8)

(b) Cheese stored in Baroque fortress (9)

(c) Power plant lacks a spiritual leader (6)

Try them out then check out the answers in the Notes at 5.

Notes
[1] For my affliction, I buy two cryptic crossword books once a year when I take a trip to the UK. I also have the Guardian Crosswords app for Android, which gives me five cryptics and six “quicks” every week. It’s a monthly subscription but it costs less than a large beer and has less of an effect on my liver.

[2] For my non-cryptic friends, the clue breaks down as follows: “talks about” suggests you need to take into account the sound of the target word; “Frenchman” suggests there’s an accent to the sounds; “underwear” points you to an item of clothing; and “in the zoo” refers directly to the solution. So, the “underwear” is the bra, or as a Frenchman might say, “zee bra,” which is a close homophone for zebra. It’s this sort of thinking that makes cryptic crosswords much more entertaining than simple “here’s a definition, so what’s the word?” puzzles.

[3] Cruciverbalist is an anagram of “lucrative cribs.” Anagrams are another staple in the types of clues that cryptic crosswords use.

[4] Wynne also spent some time as a violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and orchestra is a famous anagram for “cart horse.”

[5] Cryptic clue solutions:
(a) revealed: the direct clue is “discovered” but you put veal (the calf) inside reed (the grass) to get revealed.
(b) Roquefort: the word is hidden in “…baroque fortress.”
(c) rector: the direct clue is “spiritual leader” and the “power plant” is a reactor, and if it “lacks a” you are left with rector.