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Dec 11, 2007
This week's theme
Whose what?

This week's words
busman's holiday
friar's lantern
curate's egg
widow's peak
shank's mare

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friar's lantern

(FRY-uhrz LAN-tuhrn) Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

noun: A phosphorescent light seen over marshy ground at night, caused by spontaneous combustion of gases emitted by decomposing organic matter. A synonym is foxfire (not Firefox), especially for luminescence produced by fungi.

[The first use of the term is in John Milton's 1632 poem L'Allegro: "She was pinched and pulled, she said; / And he, by Friar's lantern led."]

"Question: What do you get when you cross a firefly with a tobacco plant.
Answer: A cigarette that lights itself.
The joke quickly made the rounds after a group of genetic engineers in California earlier this month announced that they had transferred into the cells of a tobacco plant the gene that causes a firefly to glow. The tobacco plant seems to rise out of the page like a will-o'-the-wisp or friar's lantern."
Chet Raymo; A Tale of a Firefly and a Tobacco Leaf; The Boston Globe; Nov 24, 1986.

See more usage examples of friar's lantern in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

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Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. -John Ruskin, author, art critic, and social reformer (1819-1900)

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