Excerpt from A Word A Day by Anu Garg, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Word A Day

A Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English

by Anu Garg

A Word A Day
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    Jan 2003, 224 pages

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testudinate (te-STOOD-in-ayt), also testudinal or testudinarian
1. Slow-moving, like a turtle.
2. Curved like the carapace (shell) of a turtle; vaulted.

A turtle.

From Late Latin testudinatus, from Latin testudo (tortoise).

  • "I kinda find his slow pace and curved back alluring," the young fashion model fawned about the testudinate geriatric who just happened to be an oil magnate as well.

Test U Do?

In ancient Rome, on certain occasions when the legionaries were under attack, they would clump together, holding their shields outwards, with the central men holding their shields above their heads. In this way the shields acted like a shell around the cohort, and the name of this formation was testudo.
- Julie Murdoch, South Perth, Australia


gadfly (GAD-fly)
1. One who persistently annoys or one who prods into action.
2. Any of the various types of flies that bite livestock.

From gad (a goad for cattle), from Middle English, from Old Norse gaddr.

  • The newspaper columnist saw himself as a public gadfly, keeping politicians honest and running critical articles about them when they weren't.


kangaroo court (kang-guh-ROO kort)
A mock court set up with disregard to proper procedure to deliver a judgment arrived at in advance.

From the Old West to the Spanish Inquisition to the Salem Witch Trials, kangaroo courts have made their appearances throughout history. While theories abound regarding the origin of this expression, lexicographers haven't found a convincing proof of one or another and its derivation can be tagged with the succinct "origin unknown".

But that doesn't stop us from speculating. Some believe it comes from the animal itself - a funny-looking creature that bounces around without appearing to achieve anything. Then some think it is a court that is so named because it jumps to conclusions. According to one line of thought, the British didn't respect the Australian penal colony enough to give them due process of law and with that legacy we name it so. Or maybe it is because this setup describe courts whose opinions wander "all over the place" – opinions that change so much from case to case that the court precedent "bounces" like this member of marsupial family. Others surmise the term originated from the Gold Rush era involving the trial of some Aussie miners.

Jumping to Conclusions

I have known, from youthful days in Tennessee, a kangaroo court to be one which sets its own rules of procedure, and more specifically one in which the plaintiff and the defendant can find themselves in switched positions with the plaintiff being found guilty and the defendant innocent and not necessarily of the initial charge.
- R. David Cox Galax, Virginia

waspish (WOS-pish)
1. Like a wasp, in behavior (stinging) or in form (slender build).
2. Easily annoyed; irascible; petulant.
3. Of or pertaining to a WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant).
From wasp, from Middle English waspe, from Old English waesp, from waeps.

  • When she called him waspish in her most charming voice, the cranky, lean fellow didn't know what attribute of his she found so alluring.

Chapter 7

Copyright 2003 by Anu Garg and Stuti Garg. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the author.

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