Saturday, July 26, 2008

Proper Terminology for Scabby-Mouthed Sheep

Word of the week, being presented a few hours later than normal. This week's pick has limited use, but is fun to say and, quite possibly, the kind of word that can prove handy in a match of Scrabble.

orf (pronounced like you'd think) — noun: a sheep-born disease that causes red, oozing sores around the mouth.
This word might seem out-of-place in a book like Depraved and Insulting English, which is where I found it, but this word's potential use in mockery is alluded to in book's example sentence: "Jamie wasn't going to let a little thing like a case of orf keep him from attending the shepherd's ball." Yes, in fact, orf can be transmitted to humans, as the Wikipedia article on the subject notes. But while human-ovine love could certainly be one means of inter-species infection, less salacious interactions between the wooly ones and their non-wooly caretakers can also result in the disease spreading. Still funny, though. The next time you see someone with a scab, suggest that it could be orf.

The biological aspects of orf weren't what led me to pick it, however. Simply put, it was short, unfamiliar and looked like it would be fun to say. (On that third count: It totally is, especially repeatedly and in rapidly.) Most dictionaries don't feature this word, but Wikipedia suggests that orf means "rough" in Old English. I would have supposed that the our word rough also came from the Old English orf, with the letters "O" and "R" being transposed for the same reasons that the Middle English brid became our word "bird." But that doesn't seem to be the case here, as the American Heritage Dictionary ruh. Shows what I know.

Previously celebrated words-o'-the-week:
And now that I look at the list, I notice that three of the words picked so far refer to illnesses of some sort. The pattern is accidental, I swear, but perhaps I should just rename this feature "Disease Words of the Week." Notable candidates for such a series: the adorable-sounding pica, the tropical-sounding framboesia, and the downright strange-sounding maple syrup urine disease.

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