This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Saturday Rave: Now We Are Six by A A Milne


Now We Are Six

Yes, that's right, for we are! Or very nearly, anyway.

The Word Den began (with the word hippopotamus) on 23rd January 2011. I think there's been a post every day since then (and occasionally two) though there's a chance I might have got muddled once or twice and missed the odd one.

The original plan was to take a break on Saturdays and Sundays, but my friend, the very sadly missed Norm Geras, of normblog, gave The Word Den a plug on its first Friday, and, as he'd taken the trouble to recommend TWD it seemed only polite to give visitors something new to read over the weekend. To start with Sunday Posts were actually about the word Sunday, but I soon began Words Not To Use Today. It's been good fun.

Actually, it's all proved to be good fun.

My only slight problem today is that I don't like most of Now We Are Six very much. It's hard to forgive AA Milne for writing a poem called Pinkie Purr, and several of the other poems are stinkers. Still, there are some highlights: King John was Not A Good Man has a terrific hero, but it's the wrong time of year for that poem, so today I think I'll recommend another poem with an anti-hero, Sir Thomas Tom, The Knight Whose Armour Didn't Squeak.

And whatever you think of the poems, the illustrations by E H Shepard are lovely.

E. H. Shepard illustration of King John for A. A. Milne's poem "St. John's Christmas."
(This is not a good man.)

Happy Birthday To Us!

Word To Use Today: six. This word goes all the way back to the Sanskrit sastha. Highlights on the way include the Old Norse sex and the Greek hex.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Word To Use Today: constable.

In Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain, and in various European and Commonwealth countries, the constable you're most likely to come across is a police officer of the lowest rank.

Mind you, in Denmark he'll be a soldier, and in the Channel Islands a local politician.

Confusingly, in Britain, at least, a police officer of the highest rant is called a constable too. Between an ordinary constable and a deputy chief constable everyone has different titles (sergeant, inspector, superintendent).

In the USA a constable is also an officer of the law, though not necessarily a policeman.

A constable can also be the man in charge of a royal castle (in which case he may have a rather splendid hat) 

Sir Richard Dannatt, Constable of the Tower

and in mediaeval times, in England and France especially, the constable was a the man in charge of the king's army - or he could be the man in charge of conscripting men in his local hundred (an area that could provide a hundred armed men, or perhaps contained about a hundred homesteads),

Of course, if the law bores you, you could always discuss table mats. 

In my experience they mostly involve this image:

File:John Constable - Flatford Lock - Google Art Project.jpg
Flatford Lock, by John ConstableYale Center for British Art

Word To Use Today: constable. This word comes from the Latin comes stabuli, attendant or count of the stable. 

This knowledge will make me look at constables in a new light for ever.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

A planned announcement: a rant.

I'm at the stage now where I've made so many mistakes that one more isn't going to make much difference. It's really rather relaxing.

As far as language is concerned, what is a mistake, anyway? 

There's more than one reason why the phrase We don't need no education probably wouldn't go down very well with an English teacher, but it clearly isn't a mistake. It's quite deliberate - and, again, for more than one reason.

On the other hand...

Here is the beginning of an announcement by a West Yorkshire Police spokesperson after a (very rare in Britain) incident in which a man was shot by police.

I repeat, this was announced by a spokesperson. Someone whose job is speaking.

'During a pre-planned policing operation near to the M62 in Huddersfield...'

Now, is that pre-planned a mistake? The pre- is clearly unnecessary (what would a post-planned operation look like?) but I rather doubt it's a mistake. I think the spokesperson is following a convention that started off as an attempt to make something simple look a tiny bit more official and clever.

But look: sometimes, just sometimes, accuracy really does matter, and this is a case in point. Pre-planned is ridiculous, and it's vitally important we have confidence in every single word of an announcement like this.

Especially one from someone who's paid to speak.

Word To Use Today: plan. This word comes from French from the Latin plānus, which means flat.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Nuts and Bolts: semasiography.

I use a semasiographic recording system in my Books I've Read Journal. 

No, no, it's all right. I just mean I give them star ratings. Out of five, as it happens.

Semasiography is the very ancient method of noting things down by some means that doesn't involve forms of speech.


Like this:

or this: File:Quadratic formula.svg
(image by Jamie Twells)

or this:
File:Philippines road sign R3-8.svg

Isn't it great when something turns out to be much simpler than it sounds?

Thing to Use Today: a piece of semasiography. This word comes from the Greek semasia, meaning, plus the other Greek word graphia, writing. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Thing Not To Do Today: niggle.

Ah, diddums... the bus five whole minutes late?

...have they run out of cheese and tomato sandwiches again?

...are you wondering if you might be getting a cold?

...have they moved the football programme?

...was that another split infinitive in a national newspaper?

...has all this happened on the same day?

Well, try not to niggle about it the whole time, do. All that whining and complaining is just for toddlers - 

- and irritating toddlers, at that.

Gebhard Fugel Kleines Mädchen weinend.jpg
painting by By Gebhard Fugel - Own work (fotografiert in der Ausstellung "Gebhard Fugel 1863-1939. Von Ravensburg nach Jerusalem". Galerie Fähre, Altes Kloster, Bad Saulgau, 2014), Public Domain,

Thing Not To Do Today: niggle. This word comes from Scandinavia, but when it first came to England it meant do in an ineffectual way. It seems to be related to the Norwegian nigla

Monday, 16 January 2017

Spot the Frippet: booty.

If two words look the same, and sound the same, then by golly they...

...might not have much to do with each other at all.

Booty is like that. Its two meanings, treasure (especially when not paid for, or got cheaply) and buttocks are two quite different words with different origins.

Having said that, the fact that they do sound the same and look the same has led to some cross-pollination of meaning, and so they aren't quite as distinct as the dictionaries would have us believe. Booty is always something to be admired and valued, whatever you're talking about.

This is an easy spot. If you want to spot some of the treasure-type booty then all you have to do is give way to the nagging and buy a child some sweets (there has to be some effort involved in acquiring booty, even if it's only whining).

If you want to acquire some booty yourself then burglary is the obvious option (but not recommended). Visiting the Sales or collecting berries is safer, as well as much more respectable.

File:Treasure chest inside bergdorf castle.JPG
Treasure chest, Bergdorf Castle. Photo by Gunasekar

Spot the Frippet: booty. The treasure-word comes from the Old French butin, from Middle Low German buite, exchange, related to the Old Norse býti, barter. The other booty comes from butt.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Sunday Rest: pongid. Word Not To Use Today.

.If pongid meant smelly then there could be no objection to the word, but instead it describes some of the greatest and noblest creations of the Earth.

This is a pongid:

Orang Utan, Semenggok Forest Reserve, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.JPG

and so is this:

Male gorilla in SF zoo.jpg

and this :

Hylobates lar pair of white and black 01.jpg
(those are Lar gibbons.)

For a pongid is any member of the family Pongidae, which includes (or used to include) the gibbons and the great apes (though, not, sadly, Homo sapiens). 

At least, that's what a pongid is according to my Collins dictionary, though Wikipedia and everyone else says the pongids consist only of the great apes.

Either way, I feel rather left-out.

Word Not To Use Today (particularly if a gorilla is listening) pongid. This word comes from the Kongo mpongi, which means ape.