This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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



Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Nuts and Bolts: locus classicus.

A locus classicus sounds a knobbly sort of a thing, but it's actually quite simple.

The locus classicus is the text everyone quotes to prove they're right.

A famous (okay, not entirely unknown) one occurred in Victor Hugo's poem Quant à Paris, ton poing l'étreine, which was seized upon by those who were dismayed by Haussmann's plans to make the city of Paris more rational and orderly (which involved knocking down quite a lot of the old bits). Hugo described: 

...plus de rues Anarchiques...plus de caprice...

...and the protesters, who rather liked things anarchic and capricious, seized upon this as authority to support their point of view.

(No, of course it wasn't proof of anything, but it was seized upon as a valid argument by plenty of people so it's still a locus classicus.)

As the phrase suggests, the idea of a locus classicus was first applied to Latin and Greek texts, but nowadays it's applied more widely. A host of obvious examples can be found in religious texts: Thou shalt not kill, for instance.

As I said, nothing has to be proved by a locus classicus. It just has to be written down (or, at the least, attributed to somebody) and then cited quite often as an authority.

I just wish that last one was cited a whole lot more.

Phrase To Use Today: a locus classicus. But upon what authority does your example rest?




Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Lifestyle Trend To Try Today: pantsdrunk.

I'm using the word päntsdrunk because that's the accepted English form of the word, but the clever Finnish people invented the concept and they call it kalsarikänni.

Having said that, the English form could hardly be more endearing, and it does communicate the basic idea of päntsdrunk, which is, yes, drinking alone at home in your pants.*

This means that there's no need for any layering of lovely, expensive, fluffy things; no outrageously expensive candles; and no simple snacks which take four hours to put together and no one really fancies in the end.

There's no need to be shiningly photogenic (they don't even have to be your best pants); no need to cover up the cheerful pineapple wallpaper  with a stuffed moose head; no need to try to think of enough friends to invite who can be trusted not to spill beer on the white rug.

You don't have to buy anything (except your favourite drink); neither do you have to talk to anyone, or even switch off the telly. You can eat snacks from packets and check your phone (though not your work phone) whenever you like. 

And all without having to wash your hair, run out to buy some new woollies, or smile.

You know something? I think Miska Rantanen, who's written a book to introduce the English-speaking peoples to this re-charging-of-mind-and-body concept (the book is called Päntsdrunk. The Finnish Art of Drinking Alone. At Home. In Your Underwear) might be going to prevent more nervous breakdowns than the inventor of the fluffy white rug...

...who, come to think about it, if anything, probably caused quite a few of them.

Lifestyle Trend To Try Today: päntsdrunk. This is the English form of the Finnish kalsarikänni. Kalsari means underpants and känni means drunk.

(Mind you, I've just checked kalsari känni on Google translate and got the answers, firstly, The fisherman tugged and then, on another attempt Shoe coversSo I'm not guaranteeing anything.)

*Pants in England are what some other countries call underpants.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Spot the Frippet: garnishee.

A garnishee is, unsurprisingly, someone who's been given a garnishment.

Now, a garnishment can be various things. It can be a notice or warning; in English Law it can be either a summons to attend court proceedings already in progress, or it can be an order to hold onto some money received from a debtor, so that all the debtor's liabilities can be sorted out and fairly distributed.

A garnishment can also be a decoration or garnish.

As for spotting one: well, if you don't know someone who's entangled with the Law, then you just have to give them a warning - don't eat the salmon will do - or else look out for someone with a sparkly tie pin or hair clip.

Of course, if all else fails, you just have to find someone with a sprig of parsley on his head.

File:Green Chana Kabab.jpg
This garnish would make anyone look distinguished. Photo by Geeta ram2003

Spot the Frippet: garnishee. This word comes from the Old French garnir, to adorn, and before that from some Germanic source.



Sunday, 15 July 2018

Sunday Rest: Word Not To Use Today: garboil.

Despite appearances, a garboil is nothing much to do with either gargoyles or boils.

So that's a relief.

A garboil is a disturbance or uproar.

Fortunately the word is itself such a gargoyle of an object that good sense has prevailed and it's very rarely used nowadays.

I think we can all say thank heavens for that.

Word Not To Use Today: garboil. This word came to us from France, but it was a long time ago and I expect people in those days didn't know any better. The Old French garbouil in turn came from the Old Italian garbuglio, from the Latin bullīre, to boil, and with it came the associated idea of boiling with rage.


Saturday, 14 July 2018

An Old Tune by Gerard de Nerval

Gérard de Nerval is most famous as the poet who (it is said) took his pet lobster for walks through Paris on a lead made of a blue ribbon.

Hilarious, or what?

Well, as with so many jokes, it depends on how you tell it, and de Nerval may have been tying to make a serious point about the respect and empathy we should feel for all life.

Sadly, de Nerval seems never to have understood that it's quite difficult to be serious about a lobster.

'Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog?' he asked. '...they know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark, and they don't gnaw upon one's monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn't mad.'

More sadly still, poor de Nerval was what a former time would have called mad. He killed himself at the age of forty six while very ill. During his life he introduced France to some important German poetry, wrote travel books, and gave us some poetry of his own.

Here's one of his poems, An Old Tune

There is an air for which I would disown
Mozart's, Rossini's, Weber's melodies, -
A sweet sad air that languishes and sighs,
And keeps its secret charm for me alone.

When'er I hear that music vague and old,
Two hundred years are mist that rolls away;
The thirteenth Louis reigns, and I behold
A green land golden in the dying day.

An old red castle, strong with stony towers,
The windows gay with many coloured glass;
Wide plains, and rivers flowing among flowers,
The bathe the castle basement as they pass.

In antique weed, with dark eyes and gold hair,
A lady looks forth from her window high;
It may be that I knew and found her fair,
In some forgotten life, long time gone by.

Word To Use Today: lobster. The Old English was lobbestre, from loppe, spider. (Yes, Tolkien fans, like Shelob.)

Friday, 13 July 2018

Word To Use Today: latchbolt.

I was writing a story the other day about a girl entering a scary room who wanted to make sure that if the door slammed behind her she was going to be able to open the door from the inside. So she turned the inside door handle to make sure the little quarter-circle-shaped chunk of metal that goes into the door frame reinforcing-plate thingy went in and out as it should.

I'm sure you know the bit of metal I'm talking about, but I could hardly describe it like that in a piece of professional writing.

The thing is, how come I had no idea what the thingy on the door was called? I mean, I haven't lived a life devoid of door-handle malfunction, but, as far as I can remember, communicating this fact has consisted of shouting something like: Help, the thingy's bust! or Hello? Hello? Is there anybody there? HELP!

So I looked it up, and it's called a latchbolt.



Knowing that fact is of no use, of course, because no one will understand what I'm talking about. But knowledge has its own satisfactions.

It's quite cool knowing that the room in which I'm writing this features two armoured fronts, too.

Word To Use Today: latchbolt. The Old English læccan meant to seize. The Old English word bolt meant arrow.




Thursday, 12 July 2018

A new low: a rant.

This headline was in the Telegraph on-line edition of 26 June 2018:

Scottish Government accused of failing cancer patients as waiting times hit new low

I don't know what sad excuse for a sub-editor came up with the headline, but he* meant high.

Why don't they teach logic at these schools?

Word To Use Today: low. Or high. But the right one. In the 1100s the word low was lāh. The Old English for high was hēah. It is related (distantly, but charmingly) to the Sanskrit kuča, which means bosom.

*Do I have to say he-or-she all the time? I mean, can't he stand, as it always did, for both sexes? 

What's that? What do I mean both??

Oh, good grief...