or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, June 29, 2008


You really need to check out this website, Grand Illusions, which doesn't boast much in the way of site design but which is nevertheless a treasure trove of cool stuff. The Grand Illusions Toy Shop has all kinds of seriously wonderful things you can buy; gizmos and gadgets, stuff that instantly make you more interesting.

Here's the teaser opening for the page about a toy called the Magnetic Torpedoes:

An unusual item this. Basically a pair of super magnets, covered with a deep dark green glaze. We think that they probably contain a sinter of neodymium, iron and boron.

Now, you are probably looking at the word "sinter" and thinking, "Center? Or possible centre?"

"Sinter", though, is in fact a word. How about that! It's related to "cinder", and means "a solid mass of metal formed from particles or powder and fused without being melted." How extraordinarily specific!

One of the dictionary definitions I looked up to find that out used the word "agglomeration", and it occurred to me that the verb "glom" might come from that same source; after all, an agglomeration is scattered things gathered together into a single mass, and to glom onto something is to grab or seize it, which doesn't seem like a big conceptual leap. And yet the words are not related.

"Agglomerate" is, predictably, from Latin "glomus", "a ball of yarn" (really!), and this is also the source of a word that I've known since the beginning of time, for no immediately discoverable reason; "glomerulus", which is the part of the body, located within the kidney, which extracts waste products from the blood and helps turn them into urine. ("Glomerulus" is the diminutive of "glomer-", "a ball-shaped mass".)

"Glom", on the other hand, evidently emerged from a Scottish word, "glaum", "to grab, to snatch", from Gaelic "glam", "to grab, to devour". "Glam" looks as if it ought to be related to "glamour", in sight if not in sense, but there is not relationship; "glamour" is instead derived from "grammar", and has undergone a most intriguing transformation over the centuries. "Grammar" and subsequently "glamour" had the sense of "learning, particularly occult learning", and within a century had come to mean "a magic spell". Not too long afterwards, the word came to mean "spellbinding beauty", which is more or less where it remains today, except maybe with more silicone and hair extensions.


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