Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I learned two good words today:

quean: noun: 1. An impudent or badly behaved girl or woman.2. A prostitute.

congeries: noun: A disorderly collection; a jumble.

The first, via @everyword (do you know that Belly song by the way?). How have I never heard this word? Rather, how have I never seen it? (I may have heard it and assumed I was hearing its homonym.) See Jonathan Swift:
Should I the Queen of Love refuse,
Because she rose from stinking Ooze?
To him that looks behind the Scene,
Satira's but some pocky Quean.
The second, via Marjorie Perloff's response to Matvei Yankelvich in the LARB:
Matvei Yankelevich understands this situation very well but, I think, mistakes my essay’s intended audience, as well as some of its terminology. From his own perspective, as publisher on the downtown New York poetry scene, where a congeries of young experimental poets are producing a great variety of texts — visual poetry, performance texts, serial poems, documentary — that can’t be pigeonholed, he objects to what he takes to be the binary opposition between Conservatism and Conceptualism in my essay. 
"A congeries." What are some other words that sound plural but are actually singular? I know "peas" or "pease" was originally a mass noun (as in "pease porridge in the pot"), and the singular "pea" is a back-formation. Incidentally, "congeries" sounds like a kind of porridge (see "congee"). Either that or a congress of monkeys.


  1. Congeries makes me think of kedgeree. Quean (with cousins like sloven and slattern) have always been among my favorite words.

    1. Tis a marvelous word!

      Ah yes, kedgeree -- another rice dish.

      This weekend, during a game of Balderdash, I learned "excalceate" -- to deprive of shoes.

    2. I've loved "slattern" long, but recently I cut it from a poem because there's no gender-specific noun for a slobby man. Like trull, drab, moll, strumpet--the whole arsenal of epithets leveled at promiscuous women--"slattern" is a relic of times when women were held to a higher standard of cleanliness and purity than men. Love the sound, but it's like calling a single woman over thirty a "spinster" or a female academic a "bluestocking." (You know, Nietzsche thought there was something wrong with intellectual women sexually.) I sensed there'd be a bad reaction to "slattern."

      Sounds plural but singular: politics. "Politics IS death."

  2. The Congress of Monkeys is currently in session in Washington, DC.

    congeries brings this to mind. Toss an 'absurd' in front of it, and voila!

  3. Ooh, I like quean.

    Kudos: originally a singular noun meaning honour or glory, now widely seen as a plural meaning accolades.

    -- Lindaloo

  4. Now that I think of it, "gyros" once used to be one of these words http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyro_%28food%29

    1. In America, "Logos" is just logo's.

    2. My martini bar named Halitosi's never took off...

  5. "Scissors" is a word that's sometimes used as a singular, though my sense of it (I haven't looked this up) is that it was originally a plural (and sometimes still is -- "a pair of scissors").

    "Species" is a singular that sounds like a plural. Also biceps (and triceps, etc.) And forceps.

    A cricket match is sometimes call an "innings."

    And there's that British legal word "assizes."

    1. I still say "a pair of scissors" -- it's like "a pair of pants."

  6. Also "vespers" and "matins."


    "Congeries" always makes me think of conger eels. Just because they sound so similar to each other.

    (A congeries of conger eels -- a conger-gation?)