The Discouraging Word carries out lexicographical investigations of those three words (surely linked here for the first time) with its usual vigor and enthusiasm; scroll down to the relevant headings. (TDW is a proudly nineteenth-century blog: impeccable style, no permalinks.) Readers with ornitho-etymological ambitions can try answering the question there posed (s.v. “owly”): how did owls come to be associated with grumpiness?

I myself have a question about the movie-industry use of “vigorish” exemplified in this quote:

The companies are not in any way stealing from the picture-makers. They have to have built-in vigorishes—or else they’d go broke. Who pays for the 21 million dollars lost on The Sorcerer? The Studio!

This does not seem to fit under either of the dictionary definitions, ‘percentage taken by a bookie or the house on a bet’ or ‘interest, especially excessive interest, paid to a moneylender.’ Anybody have information on the movie definition and how it developed?
(You can leave suggestions here, since TDW has no comment function either. Please don’t anybody tell them Queen Victoria has passed on, at least not without hiding the laudanum first.)
Addendum. TDW also discusses the word “natch,” for which (in the Scots sense ‘incision, notch’) Anatoly supplies a delightful Burns quote in the comments.


  1. Ahem.
    What ails ye now, ye lousie bitch,
    To thresh my back at sic a pitch?
    Losh, man, hae mercy wi’ your natch!
         Your bodkin’s bauld:
    I didna suffer half sae much
         Frae Daddie Auld.
    (Robert Burns)

  2. Oops!
    Sorry about that. I followed the link to TDW and became engrossed by their discussion of the word ‘natch’; when I found this charming verse by Burns, I forgot that your entry referred to a different entry at TDW, and different words.
    Anyway, maybe you’ll still enjoy it; otherwise, feel free to delete these two comments.

  3. Delete your comments? Never! Instead, I’ll add a reference to “natch” as well.

  4. dungbeetle says

    Wee Rabie. Does he not blame the Sassanac(t)hs:
    Please: the OED does not consult with the Saxons: We do love to reduce all words to one syllabo(e/U)l where ever possible. We only used the Henglish for punctuation. Ask any comic.

  5. Does anyone have on hand Twain’s use of “vigorish” in his Steam Boat book? (I forgot the title, it’s the book about working on the Mississipi) — My memory suggests that he uses it not strictly with reference to gambling or moneylending.

  6. I was wondering about that too. It’s not in Life on the Mississippi or Old Times on the Mississippi (assuming he spells it with “vig,” which is what I searched on). Anybody know any more about this?

  7. Well, I speculated that vigorish was creole french. No luck, but google creole and vigorish and you’ll get a LOT of stuff like this at several different URLS:
    “When a creole dihydroxyphenylalanine get stinking drunk, an archeozoic betrayer prays. An unregretful stumblebum an inside inattentive capsule, and another caladium a marsilea. When you see a stictomys, it means that the exciseman starts reminiscing about lost glory. ”
    The Saxons were mentioned. No one asked, but the Mongols of Genghis Khan (Chinggis Qan) called the Saxons the “Sesut” (a regular collective noun, presumably from “Sesun”). These may have been the same Saxons who so cruelly slandered the Rumanian prince Dracula (Gabriel Ronay’s book). It seems very unlikely that they were Goths, as has been speculated, though Goths remained in the Crimea until about the fifteenth century.

  8. So… there were vampire Goths on the Mississippi in Genghis Khan’s day… and they charged Mark Twain too much interest… and that’s why The Sorcerer lost money? Is that what you’re telling me?

  9. I don’t know about owls and grumpiness, but I know about cantankerousness and dragons.

  10. Natch is in common usage in England. A shortened version of naturally having a tighter meaning (of course, it goes without saying, certainly).

Speak Your Mind