While most people accept that they mostly can’t understand what Elizabeth is singing, assuming it must be some foreign language (it is, sometimes), many of the words we see in the song titles and hear in her lyrics are real. Cocteau Twins fans have searched dictionaries, encyclopædias, the internet, and numerous other sources to track down the meanings behind these words. Don’t expect to gain too much insight into what the songs are about, though, as they often aren’t related.
AIKEA-GUINEA (“Aikea-Guinea”): n. [Scottish slang] 1. A seashell. 2. A coin.
ATHOL-BROSE (“Athol-Brose”): n. [Scottish] A porridge made of oatmeal, honey, and whiskey. Most likely originated in the town of Atholl.
BLUEBEARD (“Bluebeard”): n. [Folklore] A fairy-tale character who marries and then murders one wife after another.
BLUE BELL KNOLL (“Blue Bell Knoll”): n. [Folklore] In old English legend, if one can hear the knoll (an ancient version of the word “toll”) of the bluebell flower, then death is upon him. [Botany] A “bluebell” is a plant bearing bell-shaped, blue flowers, esp. a. A European plant, Scilla nonscripta, with grass-like leaves and fragrant, blue-violet flower clusters. b. The harebell. c. A plant of the genus Martensia. Also n. [Geography] More literally, a physical feature found in Wayne County in the U.S. state of Utah, also known as Bluebell Knoll or Boulder Mountain, its elevation is 11,317 ft / 3,449 m.
BROKEN-WINDED (“The Spangle Maker”): adj. Term first documented in the 16th century meaning “affected with or as if with heaves,” such as “a broken-winded horse.”
BURL (“Ella Megalast Burls Forever”): v. [Scots burrel or burl] To whirl, revolve rapidly, or dance. [NB: This definition is more likely the context for Liz’s use of the word. This song is actually about Robin Guthrie’s mother. Elizabeth explained in an interview in 2017, “She was quite a big woman, in terms of personality as well as physique, and she was very jolly and nimble; even though she was a big lady there was something very delicate about her. I just had this image of her revolving, and this going on and on forever and ever, eternally. And so she should!”]
CALFSKIN-SMACK (“Calfskin-Smack”): n. [English slang] 18th century slang term for “swearing on the Bible,” or “smack the calfskin,” as Bibles were/are often bound in soft leather, or calfskin.
CICELY (“Cicely”): A woman’s name. Also: n. Myrrhis odorata, commonly known as sweet cicely, sweet chervil or myrrh, is an herbaceous perennial that is native to grassy banks and woodland areas of central Europe. This plant is typically grown in gardens as a culinary herb or flowering perennial. [NB: There is an interpretation of the lyrics for “Cicely” that suggests they are a litany of flower names.]
CIRCLING GIRL (“Circling Girl”): n. [English slang] (Also, circling boy); 1. A species of roarer. 2. One who draws another into a snare or trap in order to cheat or rob him/her.
DYNAMINE (“Tiny Dynamine”): n. [Etymology] a genus of nymphalid butterflies found in South America.
ELAN (“An Elan”): n. [French, from Old French eslan, rush. From eslancer, to throw out: es-, out (from Latin) + lancer, to throw (from Latin lanceare, to throw a lance.] 1. Enthusiastic liveliness and vigor: ZEST. 2. Flair: style. 3. Elan (type of car).
EPERDU (“Eperdu”): [Old French] Lost. In modern French, one also says est perdu, to express when something or someone “is lost”. In modern French, it is seldom used except in the form: éperduement which is the adverb and it means “completely lost.” And when éperdu is used in the form éperdu, it is an adjective that automatically means completely, foolishly, incredibly in love. Also: n. [Geography] The name of a beach in Brittany, France, where the Cocteaus recorded some of Milk & Kisses, including the waves heard in the song of the same name.
ESSENCE (“Essence”): n. The permanent as contrasted with the accidental element of being, the individual, real, or ultimate nature of a thing especially as opposed to its existence, the properties or attributes by means of which something can be placed in its proper class or identified as being what it is.
EVANGELINE (“Evangeline”): n./adj. A woman’s name. The root word is evangel, meaning “to bring good news.” Related to evangelism, militant zeal for a cause. Can also be used as an adjective in place of evangelical. The tale follows Evangeline and Gabriel, elite young lovers whose engagement is broken off by the 1755 Acadian deportation, through an ordeal of separation and eventual tragic reunion. In this mythology, Evangeline emerges as a heroine representing the traditional value of fidelity…Evangeline pursues her destiny…she is rarely seen in action…rather, she is transported, while Gabriel is allowed the full restlessness of the Western pioneer.
FIFTY-FIFTY CLOWN (“Fifty-fifty clown”): n. [English slang] A small-town police officer who works the noon-to-midnight shift.
FLAGSTONE (“From the Flagstones”): n. A flat, fine-grained, hard, evenly layered stone split into slabs for use in paving.
FLOCK OF SOUL (“Flock of Soul”): Quote from “PLATO’S REPUBLIC (The Ring of Gyges)” reads: “One starts with the many deaths in battle of brave warriors that induce a flock of souls to walk toward a marvelous (daimonion) meadow where preexist four everlasting chasms (chasmata) leading toward and coming from both the heaven above and the depth of the earth below to end with an earthquake (seismon) that sends souls back to life like shooting stars, whereas the other starts with an earthquake (seismou) that opens a single new chasm (chasma) at the feet of a shepherd in the very meadow where he is pasturing his flock of sheep and induces him to go down into an underground tomb full of wonders (thaumasta) to end with the single death of a king that sits the shepherd turned murderer in his throne.”
FOTZEPOLITIC (“Fotzepolitic”): n. [Germanic, vulgar] Literally, “cunt politics,” as the word fotze is considered an obscene reference to female genitalia, and politic refers to the Greco-Latin word for artful shrewdness. 2. Using, exhibiting, or proceeding from policy; Judicious. 3. Crafty; cunning.
GOLD DUST (“In the Gold Dust Rush”): n. [Slang] Cocaine.
GREAT SPANGLED FRITILLARY (“Great Spangled Fritillary”): n. [Etymology] A butterfly of the family Nymphalidae, and especially of the genera Speyeria and Boloria, having brownish wings marked with black or silvery spots.
GARLAND (“Garlands”): n. [from Middle English and Old French] 1. a. A wreath, circlet, or festoon, especially one with flowers or leaves. b. A wreath worked in metal for ornamentation or as a heraldic device. 2. A ring or collar of rope used to hoist spars or prevent fraying. 3. An anthology (of poetry, verse, etc.)
GRAIL (“Grail Overfloweth”): n. [from Middle English, Old French, Latin] 1. The cup or chalice in medieval legend used by Christ at the Last Supper and subsequently the object of many chivalrous quests. 2. An objective of a prolonged endeavour.
HAZEL (“Hazel”): n. [From Middle and Old English] A woman’s name, but also 1. a. A shrub or small tree of the genus Corylus, especially C. avellana of Europe or C. americana of North America, bearing edible nuts enclosed in a leafy husk. b. The nut of a hazel, with a smooth, brown shell. 2. A light to strong brown or yellowish brown colour. (NOTE: The use of this word in the song title “Hazel,” from 1983, may, in fact, refer to Elizabeth’s cousin Hazel.)
HEARSAY (“Hearsay Please”): n. 1. Information heard from another. 2. In law, evidence based on the reports of others rather than on the personal knowledge of a witness and therefore generally not admissible.
HIGH MONKEY-MONK (“The High Monkey-Monk”): n. [English slang] Likely a mutation of the slang term “high-mucky muck”, which generally refers to “the individual in control” or “the boss.”
HITHERTO (“Hitherto”): adj. Until this time.
ICEBLINK (“Iceblink luck”): n. 1. A yellowish glare in the sky above an ice field. 2. A coastal ice cliff.
KISSED OUT (“A Kissed Out Red Floatboat”): v. [English slang] To omit or exclude someone from a project or from his or her share of the loot. [NB: In an interview in 2017, Elizabeth revealed about this song, “I remember I felt love, a really intense love, I was romanticising about it, a romantic image of being open and having your heart open.”]
KOOKABURRA (“Kookaburra”): n. [Native Australian] A large Australian kingfisher (bird), Dacelo novaeguineae or D. gigas, having a call similar to raucous laughter.
LORELEI (“Lorelei”): n. [Germanic] A legendary Germanic siren whose alluring singing enticed sailors to shipwreck, sometimes portrayed as a mermaid.
MELONELLA (“Melonella”): n. from “Galleria Melonella,” the greater wax moth or honeycomb moth. It is a moth of the family Pyralidae.
MENDER (“Suckling the Mender”): n. Women that worshipped Dionysus were called “menders” which was the Greek word for nurses.
MILLENARY (“Millimillenary”): adj. [from Latin millenarius] 1. A total or sum of one thousand, especially a thousand years. 2. A millenarian; one who believes in the doctrine of the millennium, that is, one who believes the millennium will occur. (Based upon the definitions, “Millimillenary” could mean two things: one thousandth of a thousand, or ONE, or one thousandth of an individual.) [NB: Had Liz spelled it “millimillenery” instead, it would refer to an unusually tiny hatmakers’ shop (which is called a ‘millenery’).]
MIZAKE THE MIZAN (“Mizake the Mizan”): v. [Slang] To purchase from a peddler of drugs. A distortion of “make the man.” This construction originated in the hip-hop underground, where a sort of pig-latin is occasionally spoken by inserting the letters “iz” after the first letters of verbs and nouns.
MULTIFOIL (“Multifoiled”): n. A flat object or opening with scalloped edges or ornaments.
MUSETTE (“Musette and Drums”): n. [Middle English; Old French] 1. A small French bagpipe having a soft sound. 2. A small leather or canvas bag with a shoulder strap.
OIL OF ANGELS (“Oil of Angels”): n. [English slang] 1. A gift of money. 2. A bribe.
OOMINGMAK (“Oomingmak”): n. [Inuit] A musk ox. Literally, “the bearded one.” Today, OOMINGMAK means more than that to Alaskan villagers, it means the Co-operative, knitting with one of the finest wools in the world, Qiviut, and the satisfaction of making a unique garment for the discerning buyer.
ORIEL (“From the Flagstones”): n. A bay window, especially one cantilevered or corbeled out from a wall. In medieval architecture, a large bay window of a hall or chamber. (“At times I’ve seen you from the oriel / At times I’ve seen you from the flagstones.”)
PANDORA (“Pandora (for Cindy)”): n. [Ancient Greek Mythology] The first woman, who came to the first man with a box which was not to be opened, but which she opened out of curiosity and thereby released all that is evil to mankind. (Rather like Eve and the apple from the Old Testament of the Bible.)
PARAMOUR (“My Love Paramour”): n. [Middle English/Old French par amour, by way of love] A lover, especially one in an adulterous relationship.
PEPPERMINT PIG (“Peppermint Pig”): The Peppermint Pig as aptly it was named, is cast of hard candy, similar in fashion to candy cane and either pink or white with gay red markings, and was honored in Victorian holiday tradition as a symbol of good health, happiness and prosperity. After the holiday dinner, the Pigs were broken and shared by all in the hopes of good fortune for the coming year.
PEPPER-TREE (“Pepper-Tree”): n. Any of several South American trees of the genus Schinus, especially S. molle, with compound leaves and yellowish-white flowers.
PERSEPHONE (“Persephone”): n. [Ancient Greek Mythology] The daughter of Demeter and the Queen of the Underworld as the wife of Hades.
PITCH THE BABY (“Pitch the Baby”): v. [English slang] In card-playing, to encourage a bluffer by placing worthless bets, or “pitching the baby card.”
PLAIN TIGER (“Plain Tiger”): n. [Etymology] A butterfly also known as Danaus chrysippus petilia.
QUISQUOSE (“Quisquose”): adj. [Slang] Hard to deal with or handle; ticklish. A quisquose situation requiring a creative explanation.
RILKE/RILKEAN (“Rilkean Heart”): n./adj. Rainer Maria Rilke, a German-Austrian poet who lived from 1875 until 1926. Rilkean: of or pertaining to Rilke or his work.
ROCOCO (“Rococo”): adj. [French; Old French] 1. Of or relating to an artistic style, immediately following the Baroque, originating in 18th century France and marked by fanciful asymmetric ornamentation. 2. Very elaborate; ornate.
RUDDY-CUP (“Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops”): n. 1. [English slang] Liquor or spirits, or a draught of liquor or spirits. 2. Part of an anemometer, a device used for measuring wind speed, which was invented in the 18th century.
SERPENTSKIRT (“Serpentskirt”): n. [Native American Mythology] “serpentskirt” is the English translation of the Aztec word Coatlicue. Coatlicue, also referred to as Teteoinnan and Toci, is the Aztec earth goddess, symbol of the earth as creator and destroyer, mother of the gods and men. The idea she embodies is powerfully concretized in her statue (Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City)—her face is of two fanged serpents; her skirt is of interwoven snakes (snakes symbolize fertility); her breasts are flabby (she nourished men and gods); her necklace is of hands, hearts and a skull; her fingers and toes are claws (she feeds on men, as the earth consumes all that dies).
SPANGLE (“The Spangle Maker”): n. [From Middle English, Middle Dutch] 1. A small, often circular, decorative piece of sparkling metal or plastic sewn especially onto garments. 2. A small sparkling object, drop, or spot. 3. A seven-shilling piece, esp. if manufactured by a counterfeiter (spangle maker). v. To adorn or cause to sparkle by covering with or as if with spangles.
SQUEEZE-WAX (“Squeeze-Wax”): n. [English slang] 1. One who seals. 2. One who binds oneself to another. 3. A surety. Most likely derived from the act of sealing official documents with wax.
SUCKLING (“Suckling the Mender”): n. 1. A young mammal not yet weaned. 2. Also, Sir John Suckling, an English poet who lived from approx. 1609 until approx. 1642.
SUMMER-BLINK (“Summer-blink”): n. [Nautical slang] A gleam of sunlight on a day of otherwise bad weather.
SUMMERHEAD (“Summerhead”): n. [Anglo-Indian slang] A parasol or sun umbrella.
TEETOTUM (“Feathers Oar Blades”): n. A small spinning top spun with the fingers, especially one with four sides lettered to determine whether the spinner has won or lost. (“Widdershins every’s body / Is all in teetotum”)
TINDERBOX (“The Tinderbox (of a heart)”): n. 1. A metal box for holding tinder. 2. A potentially explosive place or condition.
TISHBITE (“Tishbite”): n. [Biblical] One who is from the city of Tishbe, in Judah. The Bible’s most notable Tishbite was Elijah, who appears in the First Book of Kings.
TRANQUIL EYE (“Tranquil Eye”): [Literature] Quote from Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche: “Bless me, then, thou tranquil eye, that canst behold even the greatest happiness without envy! Bless the cup that is about to overflow, that the water may flow golden out of it, and carry everywhere the reflection of thy bliss! Lo! This cup is again going to empty itself, and Zarathustra is again going to be a man.”
TWINLIGHTS (“Twinlights”): n. [Geography] Navesink Lighthouse Station, or the Twin Lights, perched atop the Highlands below Sandy Hook. The first twin towers were built in 1828, separated by a service structure of some 300 feet. In 1841 it became the first American lighthouse to use fresnel lenses, which increased brightness many times over. Though the lights were in fine order, the structure eventually fell into disrepair. A new one was completed in 1862. In 1883 the Twin Lights became the first to burn kerosene, replacing whale oil. Later it became the first electrically powered light, its nine-foot diameter lens producing 25 million candlepower. The reflection in the night sky could be seen from seventy miles at sea. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1949. In 1960 it became a State Historic Site.
VICTORIA LAND (Victorialand): n. [Geography] Victoria Land is a region of Antarctica which fronts the western side of the Ross Sea and the Ross Ice Shelf, extending southward and westward from the Ross Sea to the edge of the Antarctic Plateau.
VIOLAINE (“Violaine”): n. [French] Violated, as in rape.
WIDDERSHINS (“Feathers Oar Blades”): adv. In a direction contrary to the sun’s course, considered as unlucky; counterclockwise. (“Widdershins every’s body / Is all in teetotum”)
WOLF IN THE BREAST (“Wolf in the Breast”): n. [English slang] A knowing pain in the breast.