MissPres Architectural Word of the Week: Vermiculated & Vomitory

Time for another MissPres Architectural Word of the Week! If you want to check out any previous words you can do that here.  As always we have some of our example photographs come from the MDAH Historic Resources Inventory Database. This week we have two words.  Neither have relation to one another but I had prepared for the first word and the later word was suggested by reader Dura several weeks ago as a good word for football season.

This week’s words are brought to you by the letter V as defined in Cyril M. Harris’s Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture.

Vermiculated: (vərˈmikyəˌlātid) A form of masonry surface, incised with wondering, discontinuous grooves resembling worm tracks.

Vermiculated Concrete Block, Louis Bowen House, Biloxi Miss. Photo by Author taken 2009

Vermiculated Work example from page 21 of A TREATISE on ARCHITECTURE AND BUILDING Prepared For Students Of The International Correspondence Schools SCRANTON, PA. Volume II 1899

After scouring the MDAH HRI Database and all my own photographs the only Mississippi image of something Vermiculated I could find was from the concrete block Louis Bowen House in Biloxi.  Unfortunately this early  concrete casting does not give you the sharp lines and angles needed for a good Vermiculated appearance.  Our definition states that Vermiculate is made from stone, but I know I have seen buildings here in Mississippi that have carved wooden elements that can be defined as Vermiculated.  So let’s prove Mr. Harris’s definition is not inclusive enough and let everyone know if you can think of a structure that has carved wooden elements that are Vermiculated.  Also let us know if any other structures come to mind that have Vermiculated elements.

05-04-2013 UPDATE: It has been recently brought to my attention that the Standard Oil Building of Jackson has some great terracotta Vermiculated quoin blocks!!

Our other word is:
Vomitory: (vä-mə-ˌtȯr-ē) An entrance or opening, usually one of a series, which pierces a ban of seats in a theater, stadium, or the like.

Do you have a favorite structure in Mississippi that has a Vomitory or Vermiculated work? If so please share! With all this nice weather we are being blessed with get outside scope out these and all the previous MissPres Architectural Word of the Week. You just never know where they will pop up next!

Categories: Biloxi, Books, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Meridian, Oxford, Starkville, Universities/Colleges

19 replies

  1. My Latin teacher would insist “Vomitorium” and (plural) “vomitoria”, while actors (dreadful creatures) inelegantly refer to “voms”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vomitorium You have conjured up for me this Friday a constellation of memories and thoughts, Mr. Rosell: thanks!


    • Cyril M. Harris’s Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture also has an entry for Vomitorius: “A Vomitory in an ancient Roman theater or amphitheater”. I believe that your Latin teacher was using the Latin versions of the word where as Vomitory is the modern terminology. I guess Voms is slightly better than Vomitory, but not by much!


  2. the weirdness of culture astonishes me–who decides they want wandering, discontinuous worm tracks on a building? at least when couched in those terms? i can see some patrician roman referring to the crowds coming out of the arena as being vomited from the building–perhaps this arose as a joke of slang. so curious.


    • I guess the same reason that some people like wood with worm holes in it. Some people like that kind of wood don’t they? DON’T THEY? HA!


    • Ha-ha truth stranger than fiction? My laymans guess for Vermiculatied is that since the ancient orders prior to being constructed in stone were made from wood. I can only assume that some worm eaten wood was specifically chosen for some locations, and was later translated into stone. Merriman-Webster dates the term to 1605 but I’m sure it has older Latin roots.

      Regarding Vomitory, I have found an ancient scroll in the basement of the MissPres world headquarters that names the patrician Roman that you speak of! The name may sound familiar… Malvaney Maximus :)


    • Your suspicion seems tenable. The word “vomitorium” began to be used in or around 400 A.D,/A.C.E. That would date it from the decline of Rome and, as well, the times of significant adulteration of Latin with puns, inventions and .word-adoptions..

      However, Latin is a language economical of words in any sentence and much given to precision over niceties. The sudden departure of crowds first filing into the passageway and then spilling out of it in a widening stream, might seem much like the spewing of vomit. The word-economy of Latin prevailing, the Romans may simply have chosen a single word that was expressive, however laden with grossness, over a multi-word phrase or sentence. They did not have the example of garden hoses or the like at hand.

      More likely, some combination of both occurred. As The Satyricon demonstrates, Romans — at least some of them — enjoyed the vulgarity and “mistakes” that occurred when the various populations in Rome and, also, the provinces mixed, and that work dates — people now believe — from the first century and the time of Nero. Once said in jest by a patrician or invented by the lower classes attempting to describe something (perhaps following involuntary ejectment through the passageway by the press of fellow citizens), the term could then have been taken up at some point by then-current arbiters of style. However, all is speculation, of course, but then such speculation is a mental exercise if not over-indulged.

      How very much all this has added to my day. Thanks, Mr. Rosell and Mr. Davis and all others, for that enjoyment.


  3. To me, vermiculated looks like broken stone pattern.


  4. Hansen-Durphey Construction Co. Vicksburg, Miss 1907 did the exterior surface of the retaining walls of the terraces at old Warren County Courthouse that has this general appearance.

    If you can access to Facebook I have a closeup photo here.


  5. Forty-five years ago, I worked in the Ole Miss athletic ticket office. “Vomitory seats” in the football stadium were highly prized, and reserved for big contributors. Those seats ran across the very top edge of each vomitory, and no one could sit in front of those ticket holders.


    • Very cool. Having folks stand in front of my seats during football games I can see why those seats were for big contributors. Tad Smith Coliseum was a shiny new place Forty-Five years ago. Did y’all refer to them a Vomitory seats at the time?



  1. This Week « Bricks + Mortar
  2. Updating two MissPres Architectural Word of the Week « Preservation in Mississippi

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