Wednesday Word Tangle: How to tell the future


I’m a weird one.

I know I’m no exception – human beings are contradictory and eccentric, with a thin veneer of civilised behaviour pasted over the cracks caused by our idiosyncrasies.

All you have to do is watch children play to know how odd we all are.

I’ve seen them stick pens in their ears and pretend to be aliens (the pens were antennae, I’m told). Watched them pull gargoyle faces until they were in danger of their eyes popping out. Dance like no one’s watching, sing tunelessly (and endlessly) about peas or cheese. And fart at each other as if their bottoms are howitzers.

But kids are only mini ‘us’s. The difference is they haven’t yet learned to hide their strangeness.

Here’s a small example. I once sat behind a guy on a bus who had the most beautifully trimmed, neat afro I’ve ever seen. It was perfectly tapered round his slim, elegant neck – I mean, this chap was a well-made human being. I cannot tell you how strong was my desire to touch that hair, to see if it felt as gorgeous as it looked.

If I’d been two years old, I reckon my sticky, snotty fingers would have been in there without a moment’s thought, grabbing handfuls.

Before you start picturing police and worry I’m subject to a restraining order, may I assure you, I kept my instincts to myself.

So maybe I’m odd enough to have the thought but not enough to carry out the deed.

I am contradictory, though. I will take what people say at face value. If someone says to me that they can’t come to my ‘Twenty-Four hour Garlic Pickle, Beetroot Wine and Star Trek Marathon’ because they’re shampooing their schnauzer, I’ll just nod and smile sympathetically. Can’t make my one woman performance of the complete works of Shakespeare in Esperanto because your Auntie’s false leg has woodworm? Not a problem.

But show me grainy footage of the Loch Ness Monster or the Yeti and I’ll smile my sceptic’s smile. Show me a ghost-hunting T.V show and I’ll be looking for the wires and the men in black cat suits who are banging the doors and throwing chairs at Derek Acorah‘s head.

So, get me onto the subject of fortune telling and I’ll try not to laugh – I may be a sceptic, but I am at least a polite one. But just because I don’t believe, doesn’t mean I don’t find the subject interesting.

Today’s Word for Wednesday, then is not sceptic, or cynic or doubter. It’s


Now, we’ve all heard of fortune telling by phyllomancy (reading tea leaves), chiromancy (reading palms) and I knew the Romans – a highly superstitious people who couldn’t visit the latrinae* without cutting open a passing goat and reading its entrails – were keen on ornithomancy (reading the flight of birds).

But I did some digging – and by digging, I mean I spent five seconds on a Google search – and found a whole load of other stuff that people have used to foresee future events.

They include:

Ailuromancy: divination by watching a cat’s movements.

Cephalonomancy: divination by boiling an ass head. (If you prefer your ass’s head baked – and who doesn’t – that’s called Kephalonomancy).

Dririmancy: divination by observing dripping blood. (Oookay).

Gastromancy: divination by sounds from the belly.

Keraunoscopia: divination using thunder.

Logarithmancy: divination using algorithms.

Macromancy/ Micromancy: bit vague this one – divination by using large and small objects.

Necyomancy: divination by summoning Satan. (I think I can predict what’s gonna happen if you try to summon Satan, and none of it’s good).

Odontomancy: divination using teeth. (Not sure if they have to be in the mouth, out of it… And can you use dentures?)

Scatomancy: divination by studying excrement. (Seriously?)

Sciomancy: divination using ghosts.

Stercomancy: divination by studying seeds in dung.

And my personal favourite:

Tiromancy: divination using cheese.

It just shows how very keen we’ve all been to see what’s coming to us. Personally, I’d rather not know and live on in blissful ignorance right up until the moment the bus/lightning/stampeding rhino hits me.

I know there are more things in heaven and earth – I just want the empirical proof before I believe them.

Thanks to Kittykat-bits and bobs for starting this W4W nonsense.

I found all of these definitions – and tons more – on The Phrontistery website – phrontistery meaning a place to think. After a quick skim through, it looks like a great site for those keen on unusual or obscure words.

*Roman public loo where they wiped themselves with communal sponges on sticks. For a ‘civilised’ people they had a lot to learn about infectious diseases.