Thursday, November 5, 2009

Word of the Week: mordant

I was flicking through the Hamilton Wool and Craft Guild's 1974 spinners' guide, Wool Gathering, hoping for inspiration, when I noticed a chapter titled 'Mordants'.

'Mordants?' I thought. 'I know that word. But as a noun? What the hell are they?' I turned to page 59 to find out, and discovered that as far as spinners are concerned, mordants are chemicals (such as alum, chrome, iron, copper) used to fix dyes in fabrics. I was pretty sure however that I'd seen the word used as an adjective.

So, out came the ACOD (Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary - because it's used so frequently nowadays it has been permanently removed from under my desk lamp and has its own corner of the desk to balance on):

'Mordant * adj. 1 (of sarcasm etc.) caustic, biting. 2 pungent, smarting. 3 corrosive or cleansing. 4 (of a substance) serving to fix colouring matter or gold leaf on another substance. * n. a mordant substance (in senses 3, 4 of adj.).'

I love it when words have both a physical and abstract meaning and you can see the link between them. So someone may have a mordant wit (caustic and biting) or they may just need to set their dyed wool with something mordant (caustic and pungent).

I read on about mordants in the guide book and learnt that they are indeed quite caustic. I found out alum is the best, but the hardest to work with, and chrome is poisonous. Then I came across this little bit of poetry from the Hamilton Wool and Craft Guild:

'Iron darkens or saddens colours.'

What a lovely idea.

1 comment:

  1. This is my favourite of all your posts, because of its lyrical turn at the end which by extension makes it the closest of all your posts to emotional and by fantastical extension to revealing. Your writing is witty and informative; I for one want a bit more juicy revelation.