Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

VOCABULARY LESSONS WITH KERRY GREENWOOD IN DEATH BY WATER February 25, 2017

One of the most popular posts on my blog, still getting regular visits after several years is Vocabulary Lessons with Diana Gabaldon, which is a list of new words I discovered while reading Diana’s Outlander series.  When I began reading Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books, I was finding all sorts of interesting words, but it was only after reading a dozen of the books that I finally managed to annotate vocab from one.  Better late than never?

The Phryne Fisher mystery series is set in 1920’s Australia, so some of the words and phrases are regional or archaic slang.  They’re still entertaining!  A note of interest- The Phryne Fisher books are published by Poisoned Pen Press- out of Phoenix.  I’ve visited The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, which is Diana Gabaldon’s local independent bookstore, as she lives nearby.

VOCABULARY FROM DEATH BY WATER  (2005)

These are words or phrases which are either new to me, or used in a new way.  I pulled the definitions off the first site Google took me to, usually their own definition box.

ANODYNE: “At this early hours the musical entertainment consisted of Mavis at the piano, playing anodyne pieces designed not to offend.” P. 74

  • A painkilling medicine
  • Something that will not cause offense

BORACIC LOTION: “ The boracic lotion had worked.  The inflammation had gone down.” P. 149

  • Boric acid lotion, a mild antiseptic and fungicide used as a wash for skin and eyes. Also relieves skin itching.

BORONIA: “I always did like boronia.” P. 185

  • Boronia is a genus of about 160 species of flowering plants in the citrus family Rutaceae, most are endemic in Australia with a few species in New Caledonia. (Where is this New Caledonia? British Columbia was called New Caledonia – there is College of New Caledonia in Prince George.)  Images show flowers with 4 or 5 petals with an eye shape in white, pink, or purple.

COCK-A-HOOP: “That policeman was cock-a-hoop,” p. 205

  • Extremely and obviously pleased about a success. It’s an old phrase- from the 17th century, apparently.  Is it still used commonly anywhere?

CONSTRUE: “Phryne gathered up her Chaucer and her glass of gin and tonic and began to construe.” P. 97

I know this word as something like ‘interpreted’ but that is obviously not how it’s used here. Either of these definitions could work.

  • Analyze syntax or study the grammar of something.
  • translate

DEPENDING: “Phryne caught the eye.  So did the sapphire, depending from its carefully securable collar.” P. 68  Phryne Fisher wore dark blue and a collar of sapphires, with the great stone depending to her porcelain bosom, which drew Mr. Forrester’s eyes.” P. 194

  • I’ve only used this to mean something relies on something else, but obviously in this instance it means hanging, or suspended. This is an archaic literary use.

EMBONPOINT: “Like many from poor hungry beginnings, she has considerable embonpoint and the temperament almost expected of opera singers.” P. 40

  • Plump or fleshy part of a person’s body, a woman’s bosom.

(This was not at all what I was expecting the word to mean!)

EXOGAMOUS: “’Because I bet the Maori are exogamous,” said Phryne, who had not waster her time since she left school. ‘Therefore fathers always come from outside the mother’s tribe.’” P 77

  • arrangement where couples marry outside their social group.

GALANTINE: “I thought keas were parrots,’ said Phryne, dissecting a delicious slice off her veal and chicken galantine and spearing it on a piece of cucumber.’” P. 107

  • de-boned chicken, stuffed, and poached. It is served cold.

GAS AND GAITERS: “Mind, tomorrow there might be some sore heads, but tonight all was gas and gaiters. P. 170

  • Interesting and thorough analysis of this phrase is here http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-gas1.htm
  • It means everything is going well, and originated as the ravings of a mad man in Dicken’s novel Nicholas Nickelby. (1839).

GOANNA: “It was heralded by a strong smell of goanna oil liniment.” P. 13Image result for goanna liniment

  • Goanna is a large Australian lizard, so I was concerned they were boiling the critters for liniment, but further investigation led me to http://www.grabthegoanna.com.au/goanna-products/goanna-rubs/goanna-oil-liniment/ which lists the ingredients for this well-loved Australian liniment as paraffin oils, eucalyptus, camphor, turpentine and pine oil. Not a lizard inside, but there’s one on the label.

JAZZ COLOURS: “It was figured with Pierrot and Columbine in jazz colours of black, white and purple.” P.44

Several Phryne novels refer to “jazz colours” and I always wondered what they were.  In this novel, she spells it out at last!

LIANAS: The trees soared up out of sight, yards in diameter and hung with lianas and vines.” P. 114

  • A woody type of vine that uses trees for support on its way to reach the canopy of a rainforest (apparently up to 3000 feet, which is impressive).

MILLAIS POSE: “There was a silence while a newly renovated doctor stared at Phryne Image result for john everett millais paintingsFisher in her blue suit, her hands folded in her lap in that Millais pose, her eyes as sharp as emeralds.” P. 188

  • Millais was an English pre-Raphaelite painter.  Studying many of his works, there seems to be a wide variety of hand positions, but perhaps this is what it referenced:

MISS SAYERS- There’s a question of whether a character prefers Miss Christie or Miss Sayer.”

  •  This refers to Dorothy L. Sayers.  Apparently PBS has Sayer Mystery movies, so now I have to hunt those down.

MORASS: “’Boy’s probably knee deep in a morass by now,’ said Mr. Aubrey.” P. 128

  • A boggy ground
  • A complicated situation

MOROCAIN: “Left alone, Dot stroked her bedspread, which was of rose patterned satin, and then sat down on Phryne’s bed, which was very springy and covered with dark blue morocain.” P. 11

  • Webster says it’s Moroccan red, but images elsewhere show a silk crepe fabric that seems to be quite heavy, though still flowy.  Since Phryne’s cover is blue,  not red, I’m going with the heavy weight fabric definition.

POEM: “Professor Applegate, wearing her other Molyneus evening gown, a slightly frayed poem in black cherry brocade, smiled.”  P. 149

  • I’ve hunted all over, and I can’t find anything that indicates there was any kind of garment or fabric called a poem, so I think Greenwood means it as a metaphor for something of unexpected beauty.

POULET Á LA REINE:  “They’re a bit tight lipped about their methods,’ said the professor, beginning on her poulet à la reine.”  P. 140

  • Chicken and spinach inside a puff pastry, served with a white sauce.

PRE-PRANDIAL: “‘Call for a small pre-prandial nip’ Phryne said, still laughing.’Gin for me.’” P 67

  • Before a meal

PUSSY’S BOW: “I reckon I’m about filled up with tea to pussy’s bow,” said Minton. P. 181

  • An Australian idiom referring to a bow tied at the neck.

REALISE: Mrs. Singer had decided to go home to Melbourne, realise Mr. Singer’s estate and buy a small house.” P. 219

  • Conversion of assets into cash; actualization

RECCE: “’A little recce,’ said Phryne and , taking Caroline by the arm, led her out and shut the door.” P. 87

  • Reconnaissance; a military term

RETAILING: Mr. Forrester, who had palmed Mrs. West off on an unoccupied officer, was telling stories of Paris and artist’s models, and Phryne was retailing how she had once found herself entirely naked and freezing, the only blanket in the atelier being used to cover the artist’s pet wolfhound, and decided at that point that being a model was not as glamorous as she had been led to believe.” P. 202-3

  • to recount or relate details of an event to someone

SENTENTIOUSLY: “’Handsome is as handsome does,’ said Phryne sententiously.” P 51

  • moralizing pompously

SHIKARS: “’I’ve been on a lot of shikars in my time, young man,’ he added to Jack Mason.” P. 106

  • big game hunt

SPIFFLICATE: “Needs to go and spifflicate himself on some cold rock.” P. 152

  • destroy; treat badly

SYBARITES: “It was too early for the real sybarites who never breakfasted but arose in good time for lunch.” P. 45

  • those who indulge in self-indulgent luxury

TANIWANA: “Some of the stokers said she was an evil taniwhara.” P. 52

  • spirits in New Zealand which take a human body, except they belong to places, similar to Greek naiads.
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9 Responses to “VOCABULARY LESSONS WITH KERRY GREENWOOD IN DEATH BY WATER”

  1. Prajakta Says:

    These are a bunch of some interesting words. Apart from the common ones which obviously have a different meaning in the book’s context, never heard of these words before

  2. Jim Stewart Says:

    Thanks for etymology lesson. Good stuff.

  3. Lots of new words here from me.
    I quite like spifflicate.

  4. […] via VOCABULARY LESSONS WITH KERRY GREENWOOD IN DEATH BY WATER — Shawn L. Bird […]


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