Category Archives: words

Your sense of humor is chalk-like

We catalog many books and maps about the Cretaceous period and system. Around Austin, Texas, we have a variety of sedimentary rocks that originated during the Cretaceous period when a great inland sea, full of creatures, covered much of Texas. Geologists may have fun going out to the hill country springs and outcrops to answer questions about these rocks and fossils and formations. But we librarians have unexpected questions too. What is this publication up to? And is the word Cretaceous capitalized? You would think that this would be a simple answer, but scientists can be wacky. The OED does clarify that in a geological context Cretaceous is capitalized. For your amusement, here are a few examples of the use of cretaceous and an example of jejune thrown in as a bonus definition.

cretaceous, adj. and n.

a. Of the nature of chalk; chalky.

b. Chalk-like. humorous.

1708 J. Philips Cyder i. 54 Nor from the sable Ground expect Success Nor from cretaceous, stubborn and jejune.

1808 S. Smith P. Plymley’s Lett. vi, I love not the cretaceous and incredible countenance of his colleague.

B. n. (usu. with the).
Geol. The Cretaceous system or period.
1910 Encycl. Brit. VII. 415/1 With the opening of the Cretaceous in Europe there commenced a period of marine transgression.

jejune, adj.

2. Deficient in nourishing or substantial (physical) qualities; thin, attenuated, scanty; meagre, unsatisfying; (of land) poor, barren.

“cretaceous, adj. and n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 31 October 2014.
“jejune, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 31 October 2014.

Demon duck of doom!

MegafaunaI wish that I had come up with the nickname for Bullockornis planei, an extinct flightless bird, but I didn’t. Speaking of megafauna from a different part of the world, the Geology Library recently added Megafauna : giant beasts of Pleistocene South America by Richard A. Fariña, Sergio F. Vizcaíno, and Gerry De Iuliis at call number QE  881 M475 2013 Geology Library.

An earthworm for a bookworm

Worm’s-eye views is a Library of Congress cartographic materials genre term. In terms of drafting, photography, and cinema, a worm’s-eye view offers the perspective of the world as seen from the ground.

Although worm could refer to many creatures, even to ancient serpents or dragons, I most often think of the earthworm. Earthworms do not even have eyes- they have photoreceptors. Maybe I unfairly stereotype earthworms as creatures that exist and toil with no interest in their marvelous nature nor in their important role in the cycle of life. So how would a worm gain a gloriously unique perspective of insight and beauty?

Your stars, they wound me

Astrobleme, or star wound, is a vivid synonym for impact structure. I came across this term in Philippe Bouysse’s Explanatory Notes for the Geological Map of the World.

Bouysse also included this quote on the title pages:

«Ce qui est simple est toujours faux. Ce qui ne l’est pas est inutilisable.» Paul Valéry (Mauvaises pensées et autres, 1942)

Geological map of the world sheet 1


Reality Now Rare

On my way to work in morning, I walk past a sign that advertises “Reality Pros.” No wait, that’s “Realty Pros.” Realty professionals manage property, not reality.

Although the roots and meanings for reality and realty overlap, I’m much more interested in questions concerning:

reality– Real existence; what is real rather than imagined or desired; the aggregate of real things or existences; that which underlies and is the truth of appearances or phenomena.- OED


realty– a. The quality of being real, reality; real existence. Cf. reality n. 1, 2a. Now rare.- OED

rather than

realty b. Law. As a mass noun: real property (cf. real adj.2 7c); (now chiefly U.S.) real estate. Freq. attrib.OED

In compiling a reading list for geoscience fiction, I discovered a number of books and films about dangerous sea creatures with lethally sharp teeth.


If a book summary describes a monster lurking in the murky depths and is tagged under the category of cryptozoology, how do I decide if a book concerns science (reality) or fantasy (legend)? Are these sea creatures extinct sharks or megalodons? Sometimes in popular science fiction, even legendary creatures are recipients of scientific explanations and eat Scully’s dog Queequeg. The definition of cryptozoology encompasses a wide range of the real and imagined.

Cryptozoology: The study of unknown, legendary, or extinct animals whose existence or survival to the present day is disputed or unsubstantiated.

I would gladly hire the services of a reality pro to interpret vague plot summaries and to distinguish between extinct animals such as megalodons and cryptids such as the Loch Ness monster.

Bestraught by moity and moisty

Dictionaries and encyclopedias are mighty distracting. While looking up Moho, I found moity and moisty in the OED. At least there is the beer quote from Chaucer to relate one of the words to geologists.

moity: Of wool: containing particles of wood or other foreign substances.


moisty: 2.  Of beer: new, fresh; = Obs.

c1390  Chaucer Manciple’s Tale 60  For were it wyn or old or moisty ale That he hath dronke, he speketh in his nose.

Vulgarly “The Moho”

Our new map “Tectonic framework of the Alps / Carte tectonique des Alpes” includes an ancillary map titled “Moho depth map = Carte de profondeur du Moho.” We got our moho working…

Tectonic Framework of the Alps

The OED gives the definition of Moho:

Moho: The discontinuity between the earth’s crust and the mantle which is believed to exist at a depth of about 10–12 km (6–7½ miles) under the ocean beds and 40–50 km (25–30 miles) under the continents. Also called Mohorovičić discontinuity.

1956  Adv. Geophysics 3 118  The now called the Mohorovičić discontinuity (vulgarly ‘The Moho’).

The Glossary of Geology defines it as:

Moho (Mo’-ho) Abbreviated form of Mohorovicic discontinuity, suggested by Birch (1952, p.229). Sp: discontinuidad de Mohorovicic.

The Disambiguation of Isoline

The Geology Library recently acquired several maps published by the Commission for the Geological Map of the World. The Tectonic Map of Antarctica shows, among other things, “isolines of sub-ice bedrock relief in central East Antarctica: a) sea-level; b) above sea level; c) below sea level.”Tectonic Map of Antarctica


Isolines are considered in map cataloging as “Relief shown by contour lines.”

According to the OED:


1944  V. Conrad Methods in Climatol. xiii. 167  Isolines..are fully analogous to contour lines, or to the equipotential lines used in physics… Closed isolines surrounding a region indicate that this is either depressed or elevated.

Contour lines n. a line representing the horizontal contour of the earth’s surface at a given elevation; the contour line of a mountain at a given height represents the edge of a horizontal plane cutting the mountain at that height; a series of such lines at successive elevations laid down on a map shows the elevations and depressions of the surface.

Isopachyte: A line on a map or diagram joining points below which a particular stratum or group of strata has the same thickness.

But Isoline is also an opera based “on a text by Catulle Mendès, with music by André Messager.” Although Isoline has an intriguing plot of faeries, love, and gender changes, the opera was not considered a success. Mostly this opera is remembered for a ballet sequence (of which the University Libraries owns a couple of copies, e.g. Messager, André, 1853-1929 ; Suites from the ballets Isoline & Les deux pigeons. Fine Arts Library Remote Storage PHNDISC MU 33,073).

G.E. Grikurov, L. Leychenkov, Tectonic Map of Antarctica, CCGM-CGMW 2012.

The sunless city … from the papers and diaries of the late Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin, Esq. : a tale.

I ran across an inset map of Flin Flon while cataloging the Major producing mines in Canada mapproduced by InfoMine and published jointly with

The geosciences are sometimes fictionalized in novels and film. But the process works in reverse too, and fiction becomes fact, as in the case of Flin Flon, Manitoba. Flin Flon is a prospector in the novel The Sunless City by J.E. Preston Muddock, and became the inspiration for the name of a mining town in Canada.

Saying Flin Flon seemed as fun as saying flim flam. To the OED! Flim flam’s  Etymology:

One of the many onomatopoeic reduplications with vowel variation expressive of contempt; compare fidfad, skimble-skamble, whimwham

It would be easy to get lost in the fli section of the OED (1611 R. Cotgrave Dict. French & Eng. Tongues at Coquette, A pratling or proud gossip; a fisking, or fliperous minx) … or in all of the reduplications with vowel variations: flip flop, flip flap, flippy flappy, flipperty flapperty…