This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Thing To Be Today: erudite.

 To be erudite is to display knowledge, but in a good way. No one likes a show-off because show-offs are rude, but to be erudite is to share knowledge because knowledge itself is a precious thing.

To be erudite is the opposite of rude: which, for someone interested in the origins of words, is immensely satisfying.

Thing To Be Today: erudite. Erudite means, at root, not rude. The e at the beginning is short for ex- which means outside of, and the rud bit comes from the Latin word rudis, which means unpolished or rough.

To be myself erudite for a moment, the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream, are rude in the same way (as, actually, are all rude people).

Monday, 30 November 2020

Spot the Frippet: wattle.

 There are two words that are pronounced wattle.

The first can mean a frame with twigs woven inside it, especially used as a fence or gate:

This one was drawn in the 1400s. The illustration is at Rouen.

or it can describe the dangling fleshy bits sometimes found on the heads of  birds:

turkey. Photo by Paul VanDerWerf

There are at least two different types of wattle tree in Australia and South Africa:

photo by Melburnian

And there are also wattlebirds in Australia and New Zealand.

photo by JJ Harrison This is a Little Wattlebird. The bigger ones have, um, wattles.

If you can't find any of these kinds of wattle, then the other sort of wattle is a word of the British Midlands and means of poor quality. 

That stuff is everywhere.

Spot the Frippet: wattle. The British Midland word I don't know much about, but the other wattle comes from the Old English watol, and is related to wethel, which means wrap.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Sunday Rest: wigwag. Word Not To Use Today.

 To wigwag means to move backwards and forwards.

Yes, that is just the same meaning as the word wag.

The word wigwag, however, is especially for people who are pretending to have a sense of humour.

Sunday Rest: wigwag. This word dates back to the 1500s. The wig bit is probably short for wiggle (so the whole word is tautologous, as well as wince-making). The Middle Dutch form of wiggle was wiggelen

Wag comes from the Old English waglan, to shake. Rather sweetly, vagga is the Old Norse for cradle.

photo by M Todorovic

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Saturday Rave: The Tyger by William Blake.

 Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp,

Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears

And water'd heaven with their tears:

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Screen by Ganku Kishi

William Blake (1757 - 1827) was something between a visionary and a madman (which is to say he was a human being and an artist).

Many many words have been written about the meaning of The Tyger. I'll just say three things: that Blake spent a lot of time revising it, and so we can assume that nothing is accidental; that someone who writes a poem is himself a creator; and that great artists have the courage to stare unflinchingly even at problems which give them answers they do not wish to know.

In fact, come to think about it, that last may be as good a definition of great Art as any.

Word To Use Today: tyger. (Usually spelled tiger nowadays.) This word comes from the Old French tigre, from Latin tigris and back through Greek, perhaps to the Iranian tigra meaning pointed or sharp, and perhaps to the Avestan tigrhi, meaning arrow. 

But then again, perhaps not.

Friday, 27 November 2020

Word To Use Today: nark.

 Nark is a British, Australian and New Zealand word.

It's not vulgar, exactly, though I doubt you'd hear the Queen using it, or any but the trendiest possible vicar.

A nark is usually a police informer, but it can also mean to annoy or irritate someone (it's usually found in a form like: I was really narked by him turning up at the party wearing his football shirt, I can tell you). 

In Britain (though I've never come across this usage myself) a nark can also describe someone who keeps on and on and on complaining. In Australia and New Zealand a nark can be a spoilsport.

None of this is pleasant, but then nark is a good word for expressing powerful feelings of annoyance and disgust.

I feel a similar word was probably used by the fiercer dinosaurs when some animal they were hoping to eat for dinner made it to the swamp.


 Word To Use Today: nark. No one is quite sure about the origin of this word, but it might be something to do with the Romany word nāk, which means nose.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Minorities: a rant.

 You hear the word BAME a lot in Britain. Sometimes it's pronounced as an initialisation, B-A-M-E, and sometimes it's pronounced as an acronym, baym. In both cases it stands for Black Asian Minority Ethnic, and the underlying idea is that people of these ethnicities require special attention and kindness and respect and help.

I do agree completely and wholeheartedly with this...

...especially since I've realised that everyone in the world is Minority Ethnic.

Word To Consider Today: BAME. The term BME has been used since the 1970s in the USA. BAME is derived from that.


Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Nuts and Bolts: Kalau Lagau Ya

 Kalau Lagau Ya is a language of the Western Torres Strait Islands. It used to be spoken widely, being the lingua franca of an area that stretched into parts of mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea. Kalau Lagau Ya doesn't have quite so many speakers nowadays, but it still has a 'light' simplified-for-foreigners form, as well as a pidginised form.

Kalau Lagau Ya is a wonderful thing. Instead of English's dull past, present and future tenses, Kalau Lagau Ya has tenses for the remote past, the recent past, the today past, the present, the today or near future, and the remote future.

Kalay Lagau Ya has three different major spelling systems, and, as well as these, spelling will depend upon age, family, island, village (and other factors such as whether you're transcribing poetic speech). 

And everywhere people have very strong opinions about 'correct' Kalau Lagau Ya spelling!

Cases in the language of Kalau Lagau Ya include nominative, acusative, instrumental, dative, purposive, ablative. avoidative, specific vocative, specific locative, global locative, privative, similative, resultative and proprietive.

I am never going to learn Kalau Lagau Ya. In fact I can't help but be slightly glad I don't have to.

But what a wonder of the world it is, all the same.

Word To Use Today: I think that today might be a time to admire the sophisticated command you have of the grammar of your own first language.