to flourish a sword in sword dancing, producing a high pitched sound
This may have originated to clear the dance area of evil spirits. You can see (and hear) these dances in the circular 'guerrilla' dances of Turkey & the Balkans & in the Balkan 'rusalia' fertility dance.
to throw violently into the air; especially, to throw (a frog) into the air from the end of a stick
Originally involved the unsavory pastime in which sticks were used to hurl frogs into the air, it also has had wider applications. One 19th century report refers to a particular horse's insistence on doing it to its riders.
divination by means of the movements of an ax placed on a post
An ancient means of determining guilt, it involved balancing an ax on a post, and reading a list of names aloud. If the ax moved at a particular name, that person was deemed guilty. Sometimes a marble was placed on a red–hot ax; the motion of the marble signaled guilt.
a theatrical role that is frequently played by an actress in male costume
Men traditionally wear this type of short pants, but women, not men, fill these roles. In Shakespeare's day, male actors played the roles of women; by the mid–17th century, after the Puritan ban on theater had ended, women were playing female parts. Women even donned pants to play traditionally male roles. A modern–day example is the role of Peter Pan.
thorough chewing of food until it becomes like porridge
Victorian era nutritionist Horace Fletcher advocated chewing each mouthful 30+ times before swallowing. This word was coined by a doctor who drew upon a Greek word he thought meant 'masticated.' It actually meant 'porridge,' and this etymology has stuck to the modern word.
a writing composed of words not having a certain letter
From root meaning 'lacking; without,' and 'letter.' The most challenging one excludes E, the most common letter in English. In 1939, Ernest Vincent Wright published Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 words without using the letter 'E.'
a person employed to scare off crows
This word is mentioned in the first act of Romeo and Juliet. Benvolio scoffed at the idea of Romeo and his buddies 'scaring the ladies like...' one of these.
an imaginary large four-legged beast with legs on one side longer than on the other for walking on hillsides
Described as a 'near relative of the Whang–Doodle and a distant cousin of the Snipe,' this creature made its first appearance in American newspapers in the 1840s. In one tale, a pair of the critters clung to each other for support as they wended their way to western territories; in another, the lopsided animal would topple off hillsides and be unable to stand up again. One modern incarnation, the Sidehill Gouger, appears in a video game of that name.
a word or form occurring only once in a document or collection of writings
As obscure as this concept may seem to be, it has proven quite useful to biblical scholars and those studying ancient writings. Each of these words is especially difficult to interpret because contextual clues are, by definition, limited.
excessive or wrong use of the sound of the letter m
Roman grammarians seeking to classify vitia ('errors in language') borrowed this term from Greek. The ancients' interest in categorizing errors gave modern speech therapists and linguists other terms for speech errors: rhotacism ('defective pronunciation of the letter r'); iotacism ('excessive use of the letter I or iota or a too frequent repetition of its sounds'); and the more familiar lisp ('imperfect pronunciation of the sibilants /s/ and /z/').