REH Words of the Week: stylus and papyrus



1. an instrument for writing, marking or incising.

[Origin: from the Latin stylus, “a pointed instrument” ]


1. a writing material made of strips of the pith of the papyrus plant laid evenly across similar strips in thin layers, the whole being soaked and then dried under pressure; used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

[Origin: from the Greek papyros, “reed” ]


Now he laid down the golden stylus with which he had been laboriously scrawling on waxed papyrus, rested his chin on his fist, and fixed his smoldering blue eyes enviously on the man who stood before him.

[from “The Phoenix on the Sword”]

It seems seldom recognized or appreciated by many Conan fans (especially those who “live by the Lancers”), that in the first scene Robert E. Howard ever wrote featuring the redoubtable Cimmerian, Conan is wielding a writing utensil, not a sword. “The Phoenix on the Sword” was the first Conan tale ever written, though it takes place late in his career (and near the end of the Lancer series), shortly after he became king. The readers of the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales first saw Conan the Cimmerian at a writing-table, using a stylus to incise a sheet of waxed papyrus.

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REH Word of the Week: cauliflower ear


cauliflower ear

1. An ear that is swollen, hardened, and deformed from extravasation of blood following repeated blows, resulting in an irregular thickening of scar tissue. Common among boxers.

[Origin: 1905-10, Americanism]


He was hairy and his muscles swelled like iron all over him, miner’s style, and his naturally hard face hadst not been beautified by a broken nose and a cauliflower ear. Altogether, Biff looked like what he was — a rough and ready fighting man.

[from “Texas Fists”]

REH Word of the Week: strand



1. The land bordering the sea, a lake, or a river; shore; beach. Strictly, the part of a shore that lies between the tide-marks. Formerly also used of river banks, hence the London street name (1246).

2. 1621, “to drive aground on a shore,” [sense of “leave helpless” is first recorded 1837.]

[Origin: bef. 1000; ME (n.), OE; strond, akin to strew]


The axe flashed silver in the sun
a red arch slashed the sand;
A voice called out as the head fell clear,
and the watchers flinched in sudden fear,
Though ’twas but a sea-bird wheeling near
above the lonely strand.

[from “The One Black Stain”]

REH Word of the Week: gorse



1. any spiny shrub of the genus Ulex, of the legume family, native to the Old World, esp. Europe, having rudimentary leaves, yellow flowers, black pods, and growing in waste places and sandy soil.

Also called furze or (especially British) whin.

[Origin: before 900; Middle English gorst, gors, from Old English; akin to Gerste, hordeum (“barley”)]


Over the cliff we shoved those we had slain and we did up the Roman’s arm with leather strips, binding them tight, so that the arm ceased to bleed. Then once more we took up our way.

On, on; crags reeled above us; gorse slopes tilted crazily.

[from “Men of the Shadows”]

REH Word of the Week: puncher



1. a hired hand who tends cattle and performs other duties on horseback [syn: cowpuncher, cowboy]

[Origin: 1875-80, so named for prodding the cattle when herding]


Laramie crawled along a few feet to put himself out of range of the rifleman on the rim, then shouted: “Slim! Swing wide of that trail and come up here with yore men!”

He was understood, for presently Slim and the three surviving punchers came crawling over the tangle of rocks, having necessarily abandoned their horses.

[from “The Last Ride”]

REH Word of the Week: doublet



1. a close-fitting outer garment, with or without sleeves and sometimes having a short skirt, worn by men in the Renaissance.
2. an undergarment, quilted and reinforced with mail, worn beneath armor.

[Origin: 1300-50; Middle English, from Old French double]


His boots were of Kordovan leather, his hose and doublet of plain, dark silk, tarnished with the wear of the camps and the stains of armor rust.

[from “A Witch Shall Be Born”]

Gibbets and Crows!

Just as an irritant to those who think this site is afflicted with too much Tolkien content already, it’s worth mentioning that, all due respect for “Black Vulmea’s Vengeance” notwithstanding, the most unforgettable modern appearance of the word “gibbet” is in Chapter Ten of The Two Towers, “The Voice of Saruman.” On the front steps of the tower of Orthanc Gandalf, accompanied by Théoden, Éomer, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, summons the former head of the White Council to account for himself. From his high window Saruman strives to cozen Théoden with a mellifluous offer of “peace and friendship,” but the king of Rohan has learned a hard lesson extremely well:

‘. . .You are a liar, Saruman, and a corrupter of men’s hearts. You hold out your hand to me, and I perceive only a finger of the claw of Mordor. Cruel and cold! Even if your war on me was just — as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit, as you desired — even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there? And they hewed Hàma’s body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead. When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc. So much for the house of Eorl. A lesser son of great sires am I, but I do not need to lick your fingers. Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm.’

The Riders gazed up at Théoden like men startled out of a dream. Harsh as an old raven’s their master’s voice sounded in their ears after the music of Saruman. But Saruman for a while was beside himself with wrath. He leaned over the rail as if he would smite the King with his staff. To some suddenly it seemed that they saw a snake coiling itself to strike.

‘Gibbets and crows!’ he hissed, and they shuddered at the hideous change. ‘Dotard! What is the house of Eorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek, and their brats roll on the floor among the dogs. Too long have they escaped the gibbet themselves. But the noose comes, slow in the drawing, tight and hard in the end. Hang if you will!’

Memorable invective is a joy forever, whether it be that exchange or Moira’s scornful rejection of Thorfel’s offer to make her his lawfully wedded wife in “The Dark Man.” Churls will complain, as they always do, that words like “elsewhither,” “dotard,” or even “gibbet” itself discriminate against the 21st century reader, render Tolkien’s meaning inaccessible to the great unwashed or the borderline unlettered. Too bad. Howard and Tolkien were master dramatists when they wanted to be (which is why any REH adaptation that doesn’t revel in his dialogue is foredoomed, which is why no Germanic bodybuilder will ever pass muster as Conan), and their kings and malign beings regularly scale rhetorical Himalayas.

Like [redacted], I’ve devoured J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, but one place where she falls down hard without any cushioning is Voldemort’s dialogue. His each and every utterance is from a broken-spined, jaundiced-with-yellow-highlightings copy of The Supervillain’s Phrasebook. In a steelcage deathmatch or Thunderdome showdown to determine Most Hackneyed, I might bet on Voldmember even against the de Camp/Carter Thoth-Amon, who couldn’t verbally intimidate Scooby-Doo. When the worst of the worst achieve true immortality despite being killed deader-than-dead, (not just Dark Lords, a “human” character like Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop works as an example) it’s often because a language-kindled nimbus of hellfire blackens the edges of every page on which they appear.

REH Word of the Week: gibbet



1. a gallows with a projecting arm at the top, from which the bodies of criminals were formerly hung in chains and left suspended after execution.

verb (used with object)
2. to hang on a gibbet.
3. to put to death by hanging on a gibbet.
4. to hold up to public scorn.

[Origin: 1175-1225; ME gibet (earlier, staff or cudgel), dim. of gibe, staff, club]


“In any event you hang, either from my yard-arm or from a gibbet on the Port Royal wharves.”

[from “Black Vulmea’s Vengeance”]

REH Word of the Week: skein


1. A length of thread or yarn wound in a loose long coil.
2. Something suggesting the coil of a skein; a complex tangle: a twisted skein of lies.
2. A flock of geese or similar birds in flight.

[Origin: Middle English skeine, from Old French escaigne, “a hank of yarn.”]


He knew men, and he knew that to gain his end he must smite straight with this tigerish barbarian, who, like a wolf scenting a snare, would scent out unerringly any falseness in the skein of his word-web.

[from “The Shadow Kingdom”]

REH Word of the Week: piker


-noun [slang]
1. a person who does anything in a contemptibly small or cheap way.
2. a stingy, tight-fisted person; tightwad.
3. a person who gambles, speculates, etc., in a small, cautious way.

[Origin: 1275-1325; Middle English: petty thief, equiv. to pik(en) to pick + -er.] In America, dates from 1860s when poor migrants from Pike County, Missouri traveled to California.]


“I’m through and I’m takin’ down my stake! You gits no more of my money, damn you!”

“Why, you cheap-heeled piker!” I roared. “I thought you was a sport, even if you was a hossthief, but–“

[from “Evil Deeds at Red Cougar”]