Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wondrous Words Wednesday (June 3)

Kathy at Bermudaonion’s Weblog hosts this weekly meme in which she asks us to share new words we’ve come across in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

All my words this week are from Keeping Watch by Laurie R. King. (Warning! Some of my quotes and definitions are somewhat disturbing as parts of this book are set during the Vietnam War.)

Ville – “Going through the pockets of a long-dead enemy soldier, dropping down the check a bunker they’d thought was empty but which a fragmentation grenade had proved was not, watching a brutal interrogation, loading a ville’s weeping inhabitants into a Chinook like cattle—you had to stand aside mentally and let your hands and eyes do their job” (p. 5).

I couldnt find a definition of ville that fit this context. Ville means “city” or “town” in French, but is used in this novel to designate villages as far as I could tell. Is anyone else familiar with this term? (Oh and in case you’re wondering, as I was, a Chinook is a type of helicopter.)

Concertina wire – “In the half-light of early evening the [Night Defensive Post] was a sunbaked, half-bald hillock covered with sandbags and canvas, set off from the rice fields, noodle shops, and refugee shacks by a perimeter of contertina wire and guard posts . . . ” (p. 28).

Concertinan wire is “barbed wire in coils, placed at the top of fences, etc.”*

Pungi-stick – “Patrols now rarely went without some sign of the enemy: a bullet out of the heavens, the odd booby trap, once a patch of pungi-sticks stretched across a faiint path, serving to keep their eyes stretched and thei spines crawling” (p. 43).

According to Wikipedia, a pungi-stick (or punji stick) is “a type of booby trapped stake. It is a simple spike, made out of wood or bamboo, generally placed upright in the ground.” (I’ll spare you further details about this method of guerilla warfare, but feel free to pop over to Wikipedia to read more about it.)

Toe-popper – “‘The whole thing’s like some kind of lethal kids’ game, like—I don’t know, musical chairs played with toe-poppers’” (p. 49).

According to the Urban Dictionary, toe-poppers are another name for “M14 anti-personnel mines, widely employed by U.S. Soldiers during the Vietnam Conflict.” They were called toe-poppers “due to their low explosive charge, which was just capable of blowing a man’s foot off.”

Stanchion – “Allen eased himself back behind the stanchion, stripped off his warm but rustling raincoat, and prayed that Todd hadn’t fallen asleep” (p. 115).

A stanchion is “a post or pillar, an upright support, a vertical strut.”

Greenstick fracture – “The exam brought to light . . . an old greenstick fracture . . .” (p. 181).

A greenstick fracture
is “a bone fracture, especially in children, in which one side of the bone is broken and one only bent.”

Panatela – “Next to the glasses lay a half-empty pack of six-inch panetelas” (p. 324).

A panatela
is “a long thin cigar.”

Enuresis – “‘I’m no expert, but even I’ve heard of the three danger signs of enuresis, arson, and animal abuse’” (p. 341).

Enuresis means “involuntary urination.”

Epiphytic – “. . . between the drooping tree branches, the waist-high ferns, and the swaths of epiphytic moss connecting them, there didn’t seem to be any room for air, much less sunshine” (p. 354).

Epiphytic comes from epiphyte,
which is “a plant growing but not parasitic on another (e.g. a moss).”

What new words have you discovered lately? Share your Wondrous Words on Kathy’s blog.

*Unless otherwise noted, all definitions are from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2004).


  1. Not only did I not KNOW the definitions, I'd never even heard of any of these, except the concertina wire--somebody mentioned it Sunday morning actually!

    Great list! I love reading books that have a cultural setting. You learn so many new things that way.

  2. You are so right, some of those words are definitely disturbing. Thanks for participating!

  3. The only word I know here is epiphytic, that's because I love Orchids.

    Concertina wire.. quite a beautiful word for such an awful thing.

  4. Wow! seems to me that this book may be a bit on the heavy (depressing,disturbing) side.

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Lisa!

    Kathy, I don't know if you read more about the pungi-sticks on Wikipedia, but the details I left out were very disturbing!

    Ladybug, you're right! Apparently concertina wire was named after the instrument because it can be expanded like a concertina.

    Ibeeeg, I was pretty worried that I wouldn't be able to handle the gory details in this book, but it doesn't get much worse than what I quoted (other than one or two paragraphs that I skipped over!).

  6. Ville does mean city, but also town or village. So it works. :)

  7. Right, Jenny, I knew it meant "town" too! I've changed my post to include that translation. However, generally the word "village" is used in French too to designate a village...

  8. Sorry, Jenny, I meant to say thank you for pointing that out!