Bet You Thought You Knew What an Ell is and I bet you have no idea what an ort is or was.

Words fascinate me as much as watching great basketball players perform over the years –I mean that because what, besides words, could be more fascinating than the performances of Elgin Baylor, Dr. J, Jerry West, Michael Jordan and Hot Rod Hundley. 

And as I have told many times I read two pages of Ogden Nash every morning followed by two articles in old Goldenseal magazines that date back to 1983. Of course Ogden Nash loves to play with words, old ones, archaic ones, anything that might almost rhyme with a little doctoring sometimes. I have decided to enlighten you with words I have to look up every morning, not all, but the ones I find interesting and figure you will too. Is anyone reading this or am I talking to myself again?

ell–bet you thought you knew what this was, it is, but it is also an old English measure, mainly for cloth, of about 45 inches. Tis related to elbow by coming from elei(to bend). I figure it was the length of an average elbow decided by the English elbow nazi. Ogden said this with ell–“Reaching full stature, with ell tacked on ell.”

ort–scrap of food left from a meal. Nash enjoyed doing this with– “A mildewed batch of Grove Press orts.”

midden–from the Danish for muck + dynge(heap)–a dunghill or refuse heap(me too, I already knew this part). Midden is also short for kitchen midden and that was how Ogden used it in “a literary kitchen midden”

Stay tuned for more edification.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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