This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 22 August 2014

Word To Use Today: kintsukuroi

In a much-too-often broken, unhappy, quarrelsome and violent world, I bring you a word of hope.


Kintsukuroi means to mend a piece of pottery with gold, silver or platinum lacquer so that in the end its visible history becomes a thing of hope and beauty.

Gold? you may say. I have no gold.

But the gold needed to mend most broken things is available to everyone.

Isn't it.

Word To Use Today: kintsukuroi. Kintsukuroi is Japanese and means golden repair.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover.

It will soon be the Golden Anniversary of the Golden Ticket.

Yes, yes, that one: the Golden Ticket. The one that allows you into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

The book's publisher, Penguin, is going for maximum sales (as is their duty) by producing two new editions, one for children and one for adults...

...hang on just a flaming minute! A separate edition for adults?

But why...?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a children's book. Adults are allowed to read it and enjoy it, naturally, but it's a children's book.
There's nothing wrong with children's books. Nothing at all. Some of them

(even some with lots of pictures and big writing) 

are high art and great classic books.

So why a different edition for adults? Is it because the illustrations just aren't good enough? (NO!) Is it because adults will be ashamed to be seen to be reading a book that's obviously for children?

Well...people are jolly strange, sometimes, so I suppose that's a possibility...

...but then if people are trying to avoid shame, then I should say that this:

is the very very worst thing with which anyone could possibly be seen in public.

Oh, and by the way - it's nothing at all to do with the story!

Word To Use Today: Dahl, or dale. Dahl is the Norwegian form of what we call in English a dale. The Old English form was dæl. It means wide valley.



Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Nuts and Bolts: Swampy Cree.

If there's a language in the world with a more lovable name than Swampy Cree then I don't know what it is.

Swampy Cree is spoken in a series of communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario. In 1982 there were only about 4,500 speakers of Swampy Cree, and some of those speakers showed the influence of Moose Cree in their speech (Moose Cree? There's a language called Moose Cree? How brilliant is that?).

Swampy Cree is fantastic. It has no adjectives at all, so if you want to say "he is strong" you have to say, more or less, "he strongs".

It doesn't have male, female and neuter, either: instead it divides the world into alive and not-alive. Mostly it's easy to tell which is which, though kettles, stones and, most remarkably, socks, come into the alive category.

(Actually, the sock thing is deeply sinister and horrifying, and I'm jolly glad that our laundry basket lives safely on the landing.)

Swampy Cree writing was introduced by James Evans in the 1860s. Swampy Cree speakers were thrilled with it, and nearly all of them became literate in a very short space of time.

Here's an example:

Sample text in Cree

(misiwe ininiw tipenimitisowinik eshi nitawikit nesta peywakan kici ishi kanawapamikiwisit kistenimitisowinik nesta minikowisiwima. e pakitimamacik kaketawenitamowininiw nesta mitonenicikaniniw nesta wicikwesitowinik kici ishi kamawapamitocik.)

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 1 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It suddenly strikes me that if that particular passage has been translated into Swampy Cree then it must have been translated into pretty much every language on earth.

You wouldn't think it, sometimes, would you.

Word To Use Today: swampy. This word probably comes from the Middle Dutch somp, and before that from the Greek somphos, which means sponge.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Thing Not To Do Today: rabbit.

Are you in the habit of rabbiting?

Or only of rabbiting on?

Rabbiting is shooting rabbits. It doesn't require much skill because rabbits come in groups, which makes them easy targets, and also because a hunter has a lot more fire-power than any number of rabbits. In English law you are only allowed to rabbit on your own land, or with the land-owner's permission.

I suppose that if the rabbits are a real, huge, existential threat then...

...well, you should probably have built a fence rather a long time ago.

Anyway, what about rabbiting on?

Rabbiting on is talking and talking and talking about nothing very interesting. It's nattering on without much passion or even much logic, just for the sake of filling a silence that might otherwise give someone the opportunity to do some thinking.

In fact...

...actually, I think it might be best if I stopped there.

Mightn't it.

Thing Not To Do Today: rabbit. The word for the animal might come from the Walloon robett, which is a diminutive form of robbe, rabbit. Rabbit meaning to talk on and on is rhyming slang, from rabbit and pork, talk.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Spot the frippet: murgeon.

Here's a Monday-morning sort of a word:


All its meanings are easily as grumpy as they sound. It can mean a cross face (stupid alarm clock!) a contortion of the body (ooch, I'm stiff!) or it can mean just plain grumbling. In fact it usually means lots of grumblings, because in this meaning it's generally used in the plural.

For these meanings of murgeon we have to thank, as for so much else, the Scots. But the Scots don't have a monopoly on the word, as in both the East and North West England murgeon means an area of dirt or mud or old cement, especially when used as a fertiliser.

So there we are. Feel free to spot - or have - a good murgeon today.

Especially if you happen to tread in some.

File:Tractor in the mud - - 578481.jpg
Photo: Lis Burke, wikimedia commons.

Spot the frippet: murgeon. My only murgeon about this satisfying word is that no one knows where either meaning came from. The mud word goes back to the 1400s, though.


Sunday, 17 August 2014

Sunday Rest: mythos. Word Not To Use Today.

Yoga in Ancient Greece

The only cool thing about the word mythos (it can be said either MITHoss or MEIthoss - though not, I hope, by you) is its plural, which is mythoi.

Mythoi are the beliefs, attitudes and values of a group of people.

What's wrong with using the word mythos? Well, firstly, hardly anyone understands it; secondly, its use always looks like showing off (this is, of course, because its use always is showing off); and, thirdly, because the word's obvious connection with the word myth gives dignity and authority to any set of values held by any group of people, however stupid, illogical, disgusting, dishonest, foul, inefficient, heartless  and cruel they may be.

The word mythos is also used (by people with so little to say that they are obliged to dress up their message to make it  incomprehensible) to mean the same as myth, or mythology.

The trouble is, having said all this about the word mythos, I'm forced to admit that it does have some use.

Because if we hear anyone use it then we know at once not to listen to a word they say.

Sunday Rest: mythos/mythoi. This word comes from the Greek muthos, fable or word.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Saturday Rave: Chattanooga Choo Choo by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon

Today I thought I'd drag myself into the twenty first century by featuring some sleek, witty and beautifully constructed lines from rap artists.

Unfortunately my attempt to find any sleek, witty and beautifully constructed lines from rap artists has drawn a bit of a blank. Still, I'm going to keep on trying, so watch this space.

But for now it's back to 1941 and Chattanooga Choo Choo. The middle eight of this song has just been set as a Grade One Piano exam piece and I've been playing it with a young friend.

The music was written by Harry Warren, and the words by Mack Gordon, and the song featured (played by Glenn Miller and his orchestra) in the film "Sun Valley Serenade". It became the world's first gold record, selling over a million copies.

The inspiration for the song was a small, wood-burning 2-6-0 steam locomotive belonging to the Cincinnati Southern Railway.

Perhaps all the lyrics don't all make perfect sense (they don't to me, in any case) but if there's a couplet more inclined to get stuck in the brain than:

Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer
(Then to have your ham and eggs in Carolina)

Then I don't know what it is.


Choo choo on display at Chattanooga Railway Station.
Word To Use Today: Chattanooga. I know this isn't the easiest word to slip into the conversation, but there's a theory that the word derives from the Muskogean word cvto, rock, together with a local suffix -nunga meaning dwelling. I don't think we've featured a Muskogean word on The Word Den before, so I'm afraid Chattanooga was irresistible.
Mind you, Chattanooga might be Cherokee, instead, which is also an extremely cool language.