This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Thing To Be Today If Possible: septicidal.

 You may think that being septicidal involves killing things in groups of seven (the Latin septem, as I'm sure you know, meaning seven, and the Latin suffix -cidal usually being to do with killing things, the Latin -cīda meaning cutter or killer). 

But if septicidal did mean that, then of course The Word Den, an entity of impeccable probity, would not be recommending it.

On the other hand you may be fairly confident that being septicidal is really to do with preventing infection, as in the Greek word sēptos, which means decayed and, when spotted in an English word (antiseptic, for instance) is often to do with germs.

But in both cases you'd be misled, because septicidal is actually a botanical term and it means splitting along the partitions of a seed capsule.

A little learning is a dangerous thing.

But it's the most any of us ever have.

Thing Probably Impossible To Be Today: septicidal. The septi- bit of the word in this case is to do with the Latin word septum, which is a medical term for a division between two cavities or two pieces of tissue. Saeptum in Latin means wall. 

The -cidal bit means cutter, as above.

Monday, 2 August 2021

Spot the Frippet: a crimp.

 A crimp used to be someone who cheated people into joining the Navy.

That hasn't happened for a long time, luckily. Not in England, anyway.

The more usual kind of a crimp, where things are pinched together to join them, or possibly just to make them wriggly is probably unrelated.

Where will you find your crimp? On a head?

On a pie? 

On a sheep?

Lincoln longwool sheep. Photo by Jane Cooper Orkney

Or a tin?

photo by Rainer Zenz

The word crimp has other meanings, too. If you're crimping a piece of fish then you're not pinching it together, but opening it up by slashing the skin to make it crisp when cooked. If you're making shoes, then the bending of the leather is crimping it. If you're bending a piece of metal to make a cylinder, then that process is crimping, too.

It's really enough to make you wonder where the word originated.

Spot the Frippet: crimp. The Old English form of this word was crympan and means bent. It's related to the Old Norse kreppa, which means to contract, and the Old Swedish crumb, which means crooked.

No one is sure where the Navy word comes from, but that kind of a crimp sounds pretty crooked, too.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Sunday Rest: tome. Word Not To Use Today.

 There's something direful about the word tome.

It's like the tolling of a bell announcing a death. Like the word tomb.


If you know what the word tome means (and many people nowadays don't) then the idea of a large heavy book isn't exactly one to fill a person with joy, either.

photo by Yuyudevil

If you know what the word tome means and you come across yet another foolish person using the word as a simple synonym for book then that's really annoying, as well.

I saw someone refer to home-decorating tomes the other day, and you could see by the photographs that they they could each be lifted with a single hand. 

It's quite simple, really. If you can do that, then it's not one.

Sunday Rest: tome. This word is French, and before that it came from the Latin tomus, a section of a larger work, from the Greek tomos, slice, from temnein, to cut.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Saturday Rave: Is Love A Fire? by Sybilla Schwartz

 Sybilla Schwartz (1621 - 1638) began writing poems at the age of seven at home in Greifswald, where her father was mayor. She died at the age of seventeen.

Her poems were ignored for a while, published in 1650, and then forgotten again until fairly recently.

Here's one of her poems (an English version is below).

Ist Lieb ein Feur / und kan das Eisen schmiegen /
bin ich voll Feur / und voller Liebes Pein /
wohrvohn mag doch der Liebsten Hertze seyn?
wans eisern wär / so würd eß mir erliegen /
    wans gülden wär / so würd ichs können biegen
durch meine Gluht; solls aber fleischern seyn /
so schließ ich fort: Eß ist ein fleischern Stein:
doch kan mich nicht ein Stein / wie sie / betriegen.
    Ists dan wie Frost / wie kalter Schnee und Eiß /
wie presst sie dann auß mir den Liebesschweiß?
    Mich deucht: Ihr Herz ist wie die Loorberblätter /
die nicht berührt ein starcker Donnerkeil /
sie / sie verlacht / Cupido1 / deine Pfeil;
und ist befreyt für deinem Donnerwetter.


Is love a fire? Can love melt iron?
I am like fire, filled with this pain of love.
What substance forms the deep heart of my dear?
If it were iron then I could make it melt.

If it were gold I’d bend it to my will
With all my heat. It’s made of flesh,

I know, but still it's hard like stone -

Except a heart of stone could not betray.

Then, if her heart is frost, as cold as ice

How can it make me feverish with love?

But no: her heart is laurel leaves

Which are not touched by any thunderstorm

She mocks you, Cupid, and your dart:
She is immune to all your stormy art.


Poor Sybilla.

Word To Use Today: heart. In Old English this word was heorte.

Friday, 30 July 2021

Word To Use Today: plaice.

 The plaice is a romantic fish:

No, no really, it is. 

I mean, what could be more romantic than Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein's great song?

You know the one:

There's a plaice for us

Somewhere a plaice for us....


That's a different kind of plaice?

But it's not, you know. 

Not deep down. 

Not really.

Word To Use Today: plaice. The Old French word for the fishy kind of plaice is plaïz, from the Latin platessa, flatfish, from the Greek platus, which means flat or broad.

The word place also comes from Old French, from the Latin platēa, courtyard, and before that, yes, from the Greek platus.

Well, isn't a shared history the very essence of romance?

Thursday, 29 July 2021

I also: a rant

Victimhood is just achingly fashionable at the moment, and so The Word Den has been trying to find some way to join the trend.

We were wondering if we could start a campaign to ban discrimination against people who use grammar correctly.

We thought we could perhaps call it the #I, also movement.

Word To Use Today: also. This word was alswā in Old English.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Nuts and Bolts: plane/plano- words.

 Plano- means flat, that is, existing in one plane but probably not a 747...

...which invites the question: what's so flat about an aeroplane?

Well, the wings are flat (ish), obviously. So that's why it must be an aeroplane



Prefix or suffix To Use Today: plane/plano. Most words that begin with plano- are from the Latin word plānus, which means flat or level. These include the names of lenses such as plano-concave, which means flat on one side and cave-shaped on the other:

illustration by ElfQrin

Then there's words like planometer, which is a device for making sure metal surfaces are completely flat, and planography, which is any printing method which calls for a flat surface.

Plane sailing is when you plot a course without bothering about the fact that the Earth is spherical (which is not necessarily plain sailing).

And then there are other plano- or plane words which confuse everybody. A planogamete is a type of animal cell which isn't particularly flat but moves about by itself, and the plano- here comes from the Greek planaein, to wander (the word planet comes from the same word, because the planets appear gradually to wander across the constellations in the sky).

An aeroplane is a machine which wanders through the air.

You know what? Sometimes thinking about things just makes them trickier.