This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Saturday Rave: For If Love Fled, If Love It Was by Leon de Greiff

There's a lot of love poetry around.

Of course poems can be about anything at all, and they're more and more likely to be about anything from motor cars to Jeremy Corbyn (and this is a fine and desirable state of affairs), but love poems are still been written to try to make sense of it all.

These love poems generally fall into two sorts: I am in love and I was in love. That's one thing that makes this poem by the Colombian writer León de Greiff extraordinary.

Here's the beginning. The translation is by Paul Archer.

For if love fled, if love it was
let love go and go with the grief,
and embrace life with a clear head and open arms,
and cry a little bit for what was...
For if love fled, if love it was...

The whole of this short poem can be found HERE.

A slippery thing, love, at times - but then if it wasn't then I suppose there wouldn't be nearly as many poems in the world.

And our love would be expressed in terms of x and y.

León de Greiff.jpg
León de Greiff

Word To Use Today: embrace. This word comes from the Old French brace, a pair of arms, from the Latin bracchia, arms.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Word To Use Today: henchman

You can't get really reliable henchmen anywhere these days.

Mind you, you never could. Your henchman is the guy who sorts out your problems, especially if what's required is a little light crime or violence. And a guy who's happy to turn to crime or violence...

..well, the good news is that that the henchmen are the reason why the good guys tend to win in the end: the baddies, you see, can't trust their mates.

The Wildbunch, with Butch Cassidy on the front right, and the Sundance Kid front left.

Still, the thing we all really want to know is, obviously, what is a hench?

That's an interesting question (by which I actually mean, in the usual way, an interesting answer) but first I ought to mention that my Collins dictionary defines a henchman as a faithful attendant or supporter and doesn't mention that henchmen only support baddies in their evil deeds. 

I have to say I've never known a veterinary surgeon, say, with a henchman, but perhaps it's possible. 

Mind you, he'd probably be poisoning the bunnies.

Word To Use Today: henchman. This word comes from the Old English hengest, which means stallion.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A Room Without A View: a rant.

Every time we visit my aged father (yes, thank you, he's ninety six and still in fine form) we drive past a road called Marina View Terrace.

Now, I'm not saying Marina View Terrace is a bad name for a road. In fact, I'd say it's an extremely good name for a road.

But only, you know, if it has a view of a marina.

And is a terrace.

Word To Use Today: terrace. In Britain a road called a terrace traditionally contains a stretch of houses all stuck together in a row like these in Manchester, England:

Photo by Manchesterphotos

File:Bath Circus 3.JPG
These rather posh ones are also in England, in the city of Bath. Photo by Christophe.Finot

The word terrace comes from the Old French terrasse, from the Old Provencal terrassa, pile of earth, from terra, earth.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Nuts and Bolts: virelays.

Well, of course I know what a virelay is: it's some sort of a mediaeval song-type thing, isn't it?

It'll be the type of thing that knights and damsels danced about to, or sang at each other when they were happy, or dying of love, or something...

...oh, all right, I'll look it up if you want to know exactly...

The good news is that virelays (or virelais, if you like) went out of date around the end of the 1400s and they were only ever really popular in French, so ignorance of them isn't likely to have caused anyone born in the last five hundred years much damage.

They started off being sung, did virelays, but towards the end they were written purely as poetry. They usually had three verses with a chorus sung first and last and in between (though you call the choruses and verses refrains and stanzas if you're feeling fussy).

Anyway, you sing your chorus, then you sing a line of verse to a different tune, then another line of verse to the same tune as the line of verse you've just sung, then you sing the last line of verse to the tune of the chorus, and then you sing the chorus again.

If you're being particularly clever (and why not) then you'll do the whole thing, all three verses and choruses, using only a couple of different rhymes.

(Good grief, that sounds tricky, I'm suddenly rather glad the thing went out of fashion in the late 1400s.)

As I said, virelays are almost all in French, so it's surprising that the technical term for the first two lines of the verses is stollen, and for the last line the abgesang

But, hey, I suppose the French were too busy singing to stop to analyse why they were enjoying themselves so much.

Word To Use Today: virelay. The Old French form is virelai, which was a meaningless word used in choruses and is probably something to do with our word lay meaning a ballad. The German stollen means gallery as well as fruit cake; and abgesang is more or less the same thing as our swansong.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Thing To Be Today If It Rocks Your Boat: flamboyant.

Flamboyance was originally to do with flames, but not now.

Just think: you can wear head-to-foot flaming crimson velvet and still fade stodgily into the background (for an example, see a curtain or a row of theatre seats near you). You can wear an orange silk cravat and still be the most boring (if visually painful) person in the room.

No, flamboyance is to do with the joy of being watched, a confidence in being admired, a happy contempt for those who fail to appreciate the wonderfulness of you. It's expressed in a bold gaze, a raised eyebrow, an elegant turn of the wrist, a confident bray of welcome.

It's being happily certain that no one anywhere will get even close to stopping you being exactly what you want to be.

It sounds fun, doesn't it?

I don't know, though. On the whole, personally, I'm pretty sure I'd be much happier spending the evening at home with a good book.

Ah well.

Thing To Be Today If It Rocks Your Boat: flamboyant. This word is French for flaming, from flamboyer, to flame.

Having said all this, if you search for flamboyant on Wikimedia Commons, you'll find that most of the images are of trees.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Spot the Frippet: frock.

I don't see nearly as many frocks round here as I used to, which is a pity as they're always interesting.

No, no, they are. Even if you have no knowledge of fashion, even if you even think fabrics are beneath you (almost certainly true if you're sitting down) then ask yourself: why has that person chosen to wear that frock?

photo by  Glenn Francis

Is it a uniform (and if so, why is the uniform of that particular design)?

File:Mary Cassatt - Children in a Garden (The Nurse) - Google Art Project.jpg
painting by Mary Cassatt

Is it to protect the wearer from the elements (unlikely, if it's a frock)?

Is it to conform to standards of public decency (to some extent, almost certainly)?

Is it to proclaim membership of a group?

File:Christian Dior Dress.jpg
dress by Dior (well, who wears Dior?)

Is it to annoy/offend members of a group?

Is it to show off?

File:Betsey Johnson, Red Dress Collection 2007.jpg
Photo of designer Betsey Johnson by The Heart Truth

Is it to prevent people showing off?


Is it to attract admiration?

File:Rihanna AMA 2009 Red carpet.jpg
photo of Rihanna by Keith Hinkle

Is it to prevent attracting scorn?

Oh yes, there's a lot of interest in frocks.

For the entirely blokeish men among you there are frock coats, of course:

File:Frockovercoat 1903.jpg

 though these are seen more rarely nowadays than men wearing frocks

And in New Zealand there are frock tarts, which are what the rest of us would call costume designers for the large and small screen.

Go on, see if you can spot a frock

Extra points of you can spot a spotted one.

Spot the Frippet: frock. This word comes from the Old French froc and is related to the Old High German hroc, coat.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sunday Rest: coinsure.

Coinsure, I thought: coinsure? 

Is that some clever way of telling if coins are fake?

Perhaps a coinsure is a chute that confiscates coins of the wrong weight...or even an app for telling if the Queen looks a smidgen too grumpy, or if the unicorn on the pound coin has the wrong number of horns.

Or perhaps it's a way of stopping coins from being eaten by parking meters; or a belt-mounted device for storing coins so we are never without the means of buying a desperately needed bottle of water (because, as the whole world keeps telling us, feeling a bit thirsty is practically, like, lethal. Yeah, right). know, that's a really interesting idea. I'd better look it up.

Hang on...

...coinsure. Here it is.

Coinsure: to insure jointly with another.

Oh. Co-insure. I get it.

Well, that was a massive disappointment, wasn't it.

Word Not To Use Without A Hyphen Today: coinsure. The co- bit is Latin, and is short for com- meaning, in this case, together. Insure probably comes from the Middle English assuren, to assure, and before that from the Latin sēcūrus, to secure.