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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a large glass bottle, often with a short, narrow neck and decorated in wicker

Every week, the good folks at BBC Radio Newcastle bring you a HH brainteaser—and this week’s proved more of a talking point than usual.

The question seems straightforward enough: come up with an 8-letter word that can come next in the sequence scrabble, anecdote, carefree and daughter.

The answer? Well, it involved their spellings: at the centre of scrabble are the letters AB, anecdote has CD at its midpoint, carefree has EF, and daughter has GH. Next on the list needed to be an 8-letter word that had the letters IJ in the middle of it—and a demijohn bottle fit that bill nicely.

Two points came out of this, though. Firstly, is that really the only answer here? Well, no, as always with these somewhat open-ended puzzles, if you go hunting for other answers you’re bound to unearth some less familiar words somewhere. Here, you had the likes of Harijans (a now somewhat dated term for individuals at the bottom or outside of the Hindu caste system), perijove (the point in the orbit of a heavenly body at which it is nearest to the planet Jupiter), and jipijapa (a palm-like plant of the Americas), should you want to avoid the more obvious answer here.

Second of all, this puzzle had people puzzling about the puzzling word demijohn.

A demijohn is a large glass bottle, often fitted with a stubby neck and a small circular handle or handles, and typically bound in a supporting wicker frame. In some contexts, the precise size of a demijohn bottle has become formalized—but it appears the bottle has so many different forms, and so many different uses, that no standard size has ever become firmly established. The Oxford English Dictionary, for instance, explains that “an ordinary size [demijohn] is 5 gallons”, while admitting that they can also be found “holding from 3 to 10 or in extreme cases 2 to 15 gallons”.

As for the name demijohn, it’s a corruption of the bottle’s French name, dame-jeanne—literally a ‘Lady Jeanne’. Is this a case of a random name being attached to a familiar object, in much the same way that toilets are johns, and robins are really Roberts? It seems so, with the bottle’s characteristic wicker or reedwork container further supposed to resemble some manner of ladies’ garment popular among upper-class women when this word first emerged in the eighteenth century.

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