Category Archives: murder weapons

Words You Need to Know

For some reason, when your friends know you are a writer, they become obsessed with sending you words. They may feel you are a connoisseur. They may feel that your vocabulary is inadequate.

Several of my friends have recently been hit with the word-sending bug. While they all said that their lists comprised merely “weird” or “interesting” words, a high percentage of the entries had intriguing connections with the mystery genre. I here offer the best of them to you, conveniently arranged in categories useful to those who murder on paper.

 

Characters

Apple-knocker: an ignorant or unsophisticated person (I was raised to call such persons oyster-shuckers.)

Badmash: Indian, a hooligan

Shot-clog: An unwelcome companion tolerated because he pays the ‘shot’ (i.e., the bill) for his companions (Note: as this word is attested only in the works of Ben Jonson, perhaps it should appear below, under Historical Fiction.)

Snollygoster: An unprincipled, shrewd person guided by personal advantage, not respectable principles

Suedehead: a youth like a skinhead but with slightly longer hair and smarter clothes

Wittol: a man who knows of and tolerates his wife’s infidelity

 

Plot elements

Absquatulate: to leave somewhere abruptly

Cacoethes: an urge to do something inadvisable

Eucatastrophe: a happy ending to a story

Exequies: funeral rites

Flews: the thick pendulous lips of a bloodhound or similar dog

Sprunt: To chase girls around a haystack after dark

 

Murder weapons

Brannock device: the thing they use to measure your feet at the shoe store.

Peen: the side opposite the hammer’s striking side

Probang: a strip of flexible material with a sponge or tuft at the end, used to remove a foreign body from the throat or to apply medication to it

 

Atmosphere

Bruxism: involuntary and habitual grinding of the teeth

Carphology: convulsive or involuntary movements made by delirious patients, such a plucking at the bed clothes

Uhtceare: Anxiety experienced just before dawn when you cannot get back to sleep for worry about the day ahead

 

Historical fiction

Resurrection man: a person who, in past times, illicitly exhumed corpses from burial grounds and sold them to anatomists for dissection

Skimmington: a kind of procession once undertaken to make an example of a nagging wife or an unfaithful husband

 

Technique

Amphibology: a phrase or sentence that is grammatically ambiguous, such as She sees more of her children than her husband.

Interrobang: what it’s called when you combine a question mark with an exclamation point like this: ?!

 

Finally, I offer a small prize (a shout-out in my next blog) to the reader who can suggest the best way of incorporating the words below in a (single) mystery.

Ylem: (in big bang theory) the primordial matter of the universe

Feague: To put a live eel up a horse’s bottom. An eighteenth-century horse dealer’s trick to make an old horse seem lively.

Vicarious Eviltude

‘Eviltude’ is our family’s term for a certain kind of transgression: those delightful delicts that are entirely voluntary, pleasurable and unregretted. Taking the last piece of chocolate cake without apology or second thought is eviltude, as is buying that adorable, vulgar sequined vest that you will never have the guts to wear in public. Eviltude can be identified by a certain YAHOO! feeling, lamentably scarce in my day-to-day life.

There are days, though, when it just isn’t enough. Respectability weighs heavy, and the odds of becoming a pirate seem vanishingly small. That is one of the times when writing murder mysteries comes to the rescue. (Yes, I know we call it crime fiction now. Mine are murder mysteries.)

Kate Flora blogged the other day, on Maine Crime Writers, that “writing things out of our systems is why we crime writers usually are pretty cheerful.” And this is true. Giving an unpleasant character some of the traits of your venomous neighbor can really ease your mind. It probably counts as eviltude. But it seems to me that Kate left out a lot of the upside. When I am plotting crime, I’m not just relieved of care, I’m gleeful. There is nothing I couldn’t do! And nobody I don’t want to get caught, will get caught!

I just finished reading The Map Thief, a nonfiction account of Edward Forbes Smiley III, who stole hundreds of rare maps from libraries, sold them to collectors and lived the jet set life among the ultra-rich. I learned the details of library security systems, the twist of the wrist used to run a razor blade down a book binding, and the little alterations that can be made to disguise a stolen parchment. It just so happens that my mystery #2 concerns the theft of an ancient manuscript, complete with gorgeous illuminations, glittering and bizarre.

Monkey sawing books (Courtesy British Library, Add. 49622, f.146)

Monkey-lion centaur sawing books (much worse than eviltude)
(Courtesy British Library, Add. 49622, f.146)

As I read about Smiley, I kept thinking, “I could use that! I could use that, too!” It was almost as if I were stealing the books myself. Onward to piracy!

With only two plots (and no completed manuscript) to my credit, I’m amazed at the amount of mayhem I have already enjoyed. Young and old have fallen at my hand, by poison, violence and an intricate plot involving a clown at a children’s party.

Clostridium botulinum bacteria. (Science Photo Library)

As a bonus, every murder needs alternate explanations that the detective must investigate and discard. It’s as much fun as killing your venomous neighbor two or three times. In mystery #1, the first victim is found to be full of botulism toxin. Of course, it is found in the canned tomatoes. But the victim’s house is also full of Botox (as is the victim’s fiance.) How to choose? Shall I have a single murderer kill several people off, one per source of botulism? Or shall I invent more murderers? Now sounds the evil pirate laugh, BWAH-HAH-HA-HA!

I’ve begun to see opportunities for murder in every chance-met object. Here in rural New Hampshire, we have myriad neglected houses dating back a century or two, just crying out for renovation. What if, while the carpenters are rebuilding the sash windows, having found lovely antique sash weights for the purpose, a murderer finds his victim alone in the house?

6-lb Antique Sash Weights (Planning a murder? Get them on Ebay!)

6-lb Antique Sash Weights
(Need a blunt instrument? Get these on Ebay!)

In my saner moments, I fear no good can come of this. Vicarious eviltude could take me to new and dangerous places. I might just wear that vest. To a bar. Where I would get into a fight. With a cop…. Or maybe I should just keep my eviltudes vicarious.

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