This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Sunday Rest: hyponasty. Word Not To Use Today.

If only the word hyponasty really did describe someone with such an irresistible desire to do evil that he went about proclaiming no one can stop me now! before falling, complete with fluffy white cat, into an elephant trap he'd dug for someone else earlier then hyponasty might be one of my favourite words.

Sadly, it describes the process where a plant grows extra cells on its undersides, making its stems etc turn upwards.


Word Not To Use Today: hyponasty. The word-beginning hypo- comes from the Greek hupo, under. The word-ending -nasty comes from the Greek nastos, pressed down.

This derivation makes no sense to me at all.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Saturday Rave: Elizabeth's poets.

There was quite a fuss when Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne. 

Well, of course there was, but the occasion had a special significance - or people thought it might - because we had, not just a new queen, but a new Queen Elizabeth. The first one, you see, had proved extremely interesting.

File:Queen Elizabeth I ('The Ditchley portrait') by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.jpg
portrait by Marcus Geeraerts the Younger

And, sure enough, the new one is, too, if in rather different ways:

File:Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visiting NASA, May 8, 2007.jpg
photo by NASA?Paul E Alers

God bless her.

Anyway, among the many splendours of the Court of the first Elizabeth were a whole bunch of politicians who relied upon the queen for their power. And what sort of a man did Queen Elizabeth want to reward and encourage? Well, being good-looking and amusing helped.

So: how do you amuse a queen?

You sing, you dance, and you write poetry.

The courtier poets included the Earl of Oxford (the one who, it has been said, wrote Shakespeare's plays (cleverly, several of them postumously)); Edward Dyer; John Harington; Philip Sidney (the your need is greater than mine one); Walter Raleigh; Fulke Greville; Robert Sidney; and the Earl of Essex. 

So when the new Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, hopes were raised of a new generation of dancing,singing, poet politicians.

On the whole, it didn't happen, and looking round at our current crop of world politicians I can only say, with utmost fervour, thank God for that.

Fulke Greville's literary life lasted nearly fifty years, and he ended up as Chancellor of the Exchequer (the man in charge of the money). Here's the end of his Chorus Sacerdotum.

If Nature did not take delight in blood,
She could have made more easy ways to good.
We that are bound by laws, and by promotion,
With pomp of holy sacrifice and rites,
To teach belief in good and still devotion,
To preach of Heaven's wonders and delights:
Yet when each of us at his own heart looks,
He finds the God there, far unlike his books.

Word To Use Today: pomp. The word comes from the Old French pompe, from Latin pompa, procession. It's related to the Greek pompein, to send.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Word To Use Today: halcyon.

Halcyon days are calm and quiet ones, especially those around the winter solstice (and of course it's presently the winter solstice just as much as the summer one). For the rest of us, any period of peace and happiness can be called halcyon.

Other things can be halcyon, too, if they're peaceful, gentle, calm, or happy and carefree.

Well, it'd be nice, wouldn't it.

The first halcyon was a Greek demi-goddess called Alcyone. She was blissfully married to Ceyx, but in their besotted love for each other they would sometimes call each other by the names of the King and Queen of the gods, Zeus and Hera. Zeus wasn't flattered by this (he was notoriously grumpy) and one day when Ceyx was out fishing Zeus struck Ceyx's boat with a thunderbolt. 

When Alcyone heard the news of Ceyx's loss she despairingly flung herself into the sea, but the gods in their compassion turned both Alcyone and Ceyx into halcyon birds so they could continue to live together. The gods also gave Alcyone and Ceyx the power to charm the seas to calmness during the time of year that they made their nest on the water (presumably this was so they didn't either lose their eggs or get seasick). 

It's a beautiful story. Even better, there's a real-life halcyon:

File:Halcyon malimbica.jpg

It's otherwise known as the blue-breasted kingfisher, or Halcyon malimbica. (Photo by tj. haslam.)

Word To Use Today: halcyon. Halcyon comes from alkuōn, the Greek word for kingfisher. The kingfisher just might be called after Alcyone, but probably isn't.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Ten million pounds of...grubs? A rant.

Rolls-Royce has made a ten million pound car.

It's probably very nice, although the fact that it's only got two seats would put me off buying it. Its glass roof, also, though glamorous, can't be kind to a bald patch (not that I have a bald patch, but I'm thinking of those who can afford to spend ten million pounds sterling on a car).

Anyway, what have Rolls-Royce called this paragon among cars?

The Sweptail.

The what?

Honestly, ten million quid, and the car sounds like something small and scaly that infests the area under your bath.

Well, I wouldn't have the thing for a tenth of the cost, I can tell you.

Not even if I could afford it.

Word To Use Today: Sweptail. Apparently the back of the car has a back-end that goes downwards in a rather elegant curve, so it's basically sweep + tail.

They'd have done better making the most of that glass roof and calling it the Skyroller, wouldn't they?

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Nuts and Bolts: order of honorifics.

Honorifics are the bits of someone's name which indicate position or qualification. If you're the Head of the Anglican Church, for instance, then you're the Most Reverend and Right Honorable The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury - and a major qualification for the job must be the ability to sit through that lot without giggling.

Customs vary widely - and wildly - throughout the world. In Britain only a medical doctor (who probably isn't actually a real doctor, i.e. someone with a PhD, at all) will get away with styling himself Doctor Smith in his everyday life, but in Germany to be able to call yourself Doktor Doktor Schmidt (because you have two PhDs) is pretty cool.

The rules everywhere are endless and complicated. In terms of letters after your name, academic honours will probably come last, with the order in which you obtained them reversed: Phd BA, for example. If you're a Knight of the Garter, have been awarded the Order of the British Empire, are a Member of Parliament, and a doctor of philospohy, then you'd be Sir John Smith KG OBE MP PhD.

(Unless, obviously, your name was Joe Brown.)

If you've won military medals then they have their own special order of importance, as Private Henry Tandy VC DCM MM shows (though the very best thing about Private Tandy is that he didn't die winning them, but lived to be eighty six. Good for him). 

But the winner for a whole alphabet soup of honorifics might be someone with no academic or religious qualifications, no medals for bravery, and no inherited titles.

How about the Right Honourable Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener, KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, PC?

Horatio Herbert Kitchener.jpg

Did well, didn't he?

Word To Use Today: honour. This word comes from the Old French onor, from the Latin honor, which means esteem.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Thing Not To Be Today: cheesed off.

Apparently it's only the British who get cheesed off: so what, exactly, for The Word Den's non-British readers, does being cheesed off mean? 

It means to be fed-up, bored, or angry, but not quite fed-up, bored, or angry enough to go on a rampage with a wet mop. It's more the sort of feeling that needs to be relieved by a long whingeing rumble of a moan.

It's how you feel when you have two essays to write; when it's raining again; when he leaves the apple core on the coaster for you to clear up for the third night running; when the fox keeps on pooing on the lawn; when yet again the supermarket has moved all the tinned tomatoes.

Yes, it takes a bit of time to get cheesed off, but all the same it seems that some people actually enjoy it - and some people (comedians, journalists, politicians) make a career out of it.

The trouble is that the approach of the habitually cheesed off is likely to make people run screaming. 

So, on the whole, a slightly amused equanimity might be a better attitude to cultivate.

Thing Not To Be Today: cheesed off. This word doesn't seem to be anything to do with the food product but perhaps with the verb to cheese which means to stop (as in cheese it!) or, in prison slang, to grovel.

Mind you, the connection with those last two meanings isn't that obvious, is it. 


Eric Partridge's guess is that this sort of cheese is the same word as cease, which comes from the Latin cēdere, to yield.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Spot the Frippet: hemelytron.

When my husband finished spotting all the butterflies round here he began to look for something else to study (because, as he now says with a certain degree of happy contempt, a butterfly is just a moth that's afraid of the dark).

Of course there are wonders everywhere, and among them are hemelytra, which you will find on bugs (that's true bugs I'm talking about, not just any random unidentified tiny animal). The hemelytron is the thing's forewing. You'll find the joined-on end of the wing is thickened like the brightly-coloured forewing of a ladybird (that's the same as a ladybug in some parts of the world) but the free end is thin and membranous like a bee's wing.

Here are a pair of hemelytra:

Eichen-Schmuckwanze Rhabdomiris striatellus 2.jpg
Photo by Richard Bartz of a Striped Oak Bug in Munich, Germany. CC BY-SA 2.5,

Beautiful, aren't they?

And what a world, where even a bug is designed as well as that.

Spot the Frippet: hemelytron. This word comes from the Latin hemielytron, from hemi- which means half, plus the Greek word elutron, which means a covering. 

By the way, a ladybird or beetle's forewing (the coloured bit you can see when it is at rest) is an elytron, because the whole forewing is stiffened, not just half of it (so it's hemelyton without the hemi-, see?). 

As that is the case, I think it's arguable that you can chalk yourself up four hemelytra if you see a ladybird...well, you can as you're not fussy and long as no one's looking, anyway.