This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Monday, 20 February 2017

Spot the Frippet: lug.

A lug is a projecting thing that fits into a slot. The idea is to keep a door closed, or to stop something falling apart.

Battery compartments usually work on this sort of a system, and they are more or less everywhere. Try the back of a clock.

If you're a sea fisherman then you might use a lug (short for lugworm) as bait. These creatures live under the sand doing not very much and are apparently very tasty. If you're a fish.

File:Lugworm cast.jpg
Signs of lugs: photo from wikipedia uploaded by  Nveitch

Here's an actual lug:

File:Wattwurm alt.jpg
photo by M.Buschmann

lug is also a large basket for fruit or vegetables, or a square sail hoisted on a yard:

File:Lug Sail.png
illustration from Yosemite~commonswiki 

But easiest for most of us to spot is a good Northern British lug, which is an ear (or a stupid man - but this, of course, much more difficult to spot...possibly.). The derived word lug'ole (ear hole) is widely used throughout Britain.

Monday is not a day for verbs, but lug as a verb, meaning to carry effortfully, has given us luggage, which is, rather sweetly, a mixture of baggage and lug.

Spot the Frippet: lug. The verb to lug might be something to do with the Norwegian lugge, which means to pull by the hair (honestly, those Vikings!). The sail might come from the Middle English lugge, pole, or, like most of the other meanings, be to do with the Middle English lugge, meaning ear. 

Where the worm sort of a lug got his or her name is, sadly, still a mystery.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Sunday Rest: mediatise. Word Not To Use Today.

No one, surely, would call mediatise a pretty word, but one has to admit that it's useful to have a verb to describe the way a product or idea can be promulgated hither and, as they say, yon.

Unfortunately the word mediatise isn't anything to do with either the media or promulgating things. It means to annex another state while allowing its former ruler to retain his title and some degree of authority.

This is yet another reason why I'd be jolly glad if the wretched word just bit the flipping dust.

Word Not To Use Today: mediatise. This word comes from the French médiatiser, from the Latin mediāre, to be in the middle.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Saturday Rave: Steptoe & Son.

Alan Simpson died earlier this month at the age of eighty seven. He was with his friend Ray Galton a writer of comedy, of which the most celebrated examples are probably Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

Steptoe and Son finished in 1974, but it's still remembered (certainly by me) with affection and awe. It wasn't the most hilarious comedy, nor the most ground-breaking technically, and it certainly wasn't the most varied. It was usually set in one room of a disgusting house attached to a rag-and-bone yard, and the two main characters, father and son rag-and-bone men Albert and Harold Steptoe, were mostly all you got (the series started out as a one-off play for a series called Comedy Playhouse: when the other plays in the series ran over budget, Galton and Simpson needed to write something cheap).

Steptoe and Son is full of bitterness and disappointment and poverty and thwarted hopes and revenge. Both main characters are crazily cobbled-together collections of flaws - one foolishly snobbish, one whiningly manipulative - and they should have been thoroughly dull and unlikable, but the magnificent actors (Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H Corbett) and the precision writing meant the audience couldn't help but care deeply for these two filthy, resentful, unhappy but never-quite-defeated failures.

Here's a shortish clip from YouTube. The large cast makes it not really typical of Steptoe, but it's wonderful, all the same.

Plus ça change...

Thanks, Galton and Simpson, and bless you both.

Word To Use Today: comedy. This word comes from the Greek kōmōidia, from kōmos, village, and aeidein, to sing.  

Friday, 17 February 2017

Word To Use Today: cubit/qubit.

Ah, so that's how Noah got all the animals into the ark.

The thing is, the ark was three hundred cubits by fifty by thirty, right? And a cubit is the distance from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger, which in my case is about seventeen and a half inches, or forty four and a half centimetres in your money. So therefore the ark was about one hundred and thirty three metres long, or roughly half the size of the Titanic.

File:Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat by Simon de Myle.jpg
painting by Simone de Myle

Now, that clearly isn't big enough to get all the animals in, especially fourteen at a time (read the original!) but how about if those measurements weren't in cubits, but in qubits?

A qubit is...well, an ordinary bit is the basic unit of computering, and consists of a switch that can be on or off. (This is usually written down as 1 or 0, but is really more of a true or false sort of a thing.)

qubit is more or less the same as a bit, except that it works on a quantum level (it's all right, no one really understands about quantum levels: just accept that it works, okay?). The difference between a bit and a qubit is that instead of being either on or off, it's both on and off at the same time.

Well, I said that no one really understands it.

Anyway, back to Noah: could a confusion between a cubit and a qubit help with the animals-fitting-in-the-ark thing?




Word To Use Today: qubit/cubit. Cubit comes from the Latin cubitum, which means elbow. The concept of the qubit was introduced by Stephen Wiesner in 1983, but the word was probably coined by Benjamin Schumacher in 1995 - and, yes, calling it a qubit was basically a joke.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A Russian Entanglement: a rant.

I saw this headline in the Telegraph Online recently - in fact, I saw it on the day after Mike Flynn, the US National Security Adviser, resigned.

Concern about Russia's entanglement with Donald Trump won't end with Mike Flynn's resignation

Gosh, they're a bit behind the news, I thought. He already has resigned.

I checked once or twice to see how long it would take them to take the headline down: but they never did.

Eventually, I worked out why. The headline is talking about a concern that won't end as a result of the resignation, not saying that a resignation won't be the consequence of the concern.'s jolly difficult, this language stuff, isn't it.

Word To Use Today: resignation. This word comes from the Old French resigner, from the Latin resignāre, to unseal, invalidate, or destroy.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Nuts and Bolts: pentastich.

Pentastich is such a nice, silly, pompous-looking word. Even better, it means something really quite simple.

A pentastich is a poem, or distinct chunk of a poem such as a verse, that has five lines.

Like this:  

A woman who thought it a wheeze
To take BAs, MAs and LitDs
Collapsed from the strain
That way making it plain
She was killing herself - by degrees.

Boom boom!

There are of course more serious versions of the pentastich, but you get the idea.

Thing To Recite Today: a pentastich (you say the last bit STIK). The penta bit is from the Greek penta, five, and the stich bit comes from the other Greek word stichos, which means row, line, or verse.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Thing Not To Be Today: pungent.

What do you smell like this Valentine's Day? 

Roses? Lavender? Cedarwood? 


Whatever it is, I assume you're going for some subtly alluring scent rather than a sinus-scouringly pungent one (there 's nothing worse than a pungent unguent).

Pungent things, of course, have their place (and it seems to be Sweden, where the official advice about the traditional delicacy surströmming, a type of fermented herring, is said to be to open the tin outdoors, but to eat the stuff indoors because of the flies), but for anyone who cherishes words the chief matter of interest is, of course, what exactly is a pung?

Well, it's a horse-drawn sledge used in North America.

And what's that got to do with the word pungent?

Sadly, absolutely nothing whatsoever.

Ah well.

Thing Not To Be Today: pungent. This word comes from the Latin pungens, piercing, from pungere, to prick, The word pung is short for the Algonquian tom-pung, which is related to our word toboggan.