This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Monday, 27 June 2022

Spot the Frippet: hinge.

 Where are the hinges on your nearest door? 

Yes, durr, they're on the side opposite to the handle, but how are they spaced? Is there an equal gap above the top of the top hinge, and below the bottom of the bottom hinge?

There isn't always. 

Where else might you find a hinge?

Boxes have them:

and some old phones:

and laptops:

photo by D-Kuru

This is the Cutty Sark's rudder hinge:

photo by Dhowes9

and how about these hinges?

marine venerid cockles

Stamps can be stuck into albums with them:

photo by 177777

Even some snake fangs teeth are hinged (but I thought that perhaps you'd rather not see a photo of that).

Even your own jaws have a hinge joint, if not an actual hinge.

So how many hinges can you spot without moving?

Spot the Frippet: hinge. This word appeared in English in the 1200s, and is perhaps something to do with the Dutch henghe, which means hook or handle. Old English has a word hangian, to be suspended, which isn't a million miles away, too.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Sunday Rest: G.O.A.T. Word Not To Use Today.

 The Word Den  first came across G.O.A.T. in football magazines (yes, we'll read anything), but now it's being used to advertise beer on T.V. and it's quite inescapable.

To be clear, The Word Den loves goats:

but G.O.A.T. is hyperbolic madness.

Is there anyone or anything who is genuinely the Greatest Of All Time in any sphere?

I mean, even if someone is the fastest sprinter on Earth then they aren't the G.O.A.T. They can't be. 

They're only the Greatest Of All Time So Far.

And anyway,  G.O.A.T.S.F. is just so much more fun to say.

Sunday Rest: G.O.A.T. The word great was grēat in Old English, and is related to the words grit and groats, which is odd because they are both words for small things. The idea is, though, that the small things are quite large for, er, small things. 

Saturday, 25 June 2022

Saturday Rave: Paris barricades.


Daguerreotype by Thibault (1830 - 1927)

This image shows barricades set up in the city of Paris in June 1848.

The situation was, basically, that the French king, Louis Philippe, had abdicated in the Spring, and a provisional government had been formed which had set up National Workshops to provide the unemployed with an opportunity to earn a basic wage.

A tax was raised to cover the cost. Naturally this was much resented, and so after a new government had been elected these National Workshops were abolished - and all hell let loose.

There were massive protests. The National Guard was called out, and over ten thousand people were either killed or wounded. Four thousand people were exiled to French Algeria.

The uprising was squashed.

This Daguerreotype, above, is probably the very first example of photojournalism. It shows the barricades before a clash between the protesters and the National Guard.

Was this the beginning of the end of human conflict? 


Was it the beginning of a more carefully limited kind of fighting? It's hard to believe it.

But perhaps things would have been even worse without these witnesses to war.

Word To Use Today: barricade. This word comes from the Old French barriquer, to barricade, from barrique, a barrel, from Spanish barril, barrel.

Friday, 24 June 2022

Word To Use Today: john.

 Today is the feast of St John the Baptist.

It's also, according to some, Midsummer's Day. 

Now, the first day of summer is quite often said to be June 21st, which, logically, must mean that summer ends on June 27th.

So we must enjoy it while we can.

Now, St John the Baptist was, admittedly, not the ideal dinner-party guest - and he certainly would never have been allowed into the Royal Enclosure at Ascot - but he seems to have been a brave man and a good guy. The other biblical St John had some very odd visions, and he did insist on going on about them at great length, but he also is deemed to have been on the side of the angels.

This being the case, I'm not sure why johns have such a bad reputation.

An American john is either a toilet, or a man who has to pay women in order to have a satisfactory physical relationship. In Australia a john is short for John Hop, which is rhyming slang for cop; that term, too, can't be intended to be complimentary.

I don't know when John became an unfortunate name, but in England we had a King John, 1167 - 1216, (often known as Bad King John) who was stupid, horrible, and a disaster.

Having said all that, there are less objectionable Johns.

John Bull is England (or sometimes the United Kingdom) in human form (which sadly means that the British must be fat and pleased with ourselves); and John Barleycorn is alcohol in human form. 

John Hancock, in the USA, is a signature (John Hancock's signature was written in ridiculously large letters on the American Declaration of Independence).

John Doe used to be the name used for an imaginary person bringing a case to court with the intention of testing the law. It's also the name given, in the USA, to any unknown man.

John o'Groats is said to be the most northerly point of the British mainland (though it isn't).

Johns can be lovely. Well, tasty, anyway. A John Dory is a fish. Actually, it's two fish - Zeus faber and Zeus australis

drawing of Zeus faber by David Starr Jordan

And Zeus was, after all, Chief God. 

So it's not quite all bad for poor old Johns.

Word To Use Today: john. Johns are mostly named after people called John, which has been a common name since the 4th century BC. Its original form in Hebrew was יְהוֹחָנָן‎ ,Yəhôḥānān, meaning God has been gracious. In the New Testament it appears as Ἰωάννης, Iōannēs

The John of John Dory, though, may be a version of the French jaune, which means yellow.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Bad stuff: a rant.

 I am a bad person. 

I'm white, for a start; I'm of of a sex (or gender, if you like) quite ordinary and prevalent among the population of the world; and I am broad-minded about politics and people. 

I eat food, and breathe out carbon dioxide. I'm English.

There is no hope for me.

I had a birthday recently (I'm what is called a boomer, too) and received a gift of soap. On the box it declares:






and it seems that just about everything is bad...

...except, just possibly, butterflies.

I can't think of anything bad about butterflies.

I suppose that's something.

Word To Use Today: bad. This word is itself very bad because it probably comes from the Old English bæd-, the first part of the word bǣddel, hermaphrodite, from bǣdling, am actively gay man. 


Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Nuts and Bolts: whataboutery.

 Whataboutery is a newish term, and exactly what it means is still in the process of being agreed.

The consensus at the moment seems to be that whataboutery is when, faced with an accusation, blame is deflected by bringing up some other grievance.

It's a technique as old as speech. Possibly older.

It's not something like:

You've eaten all the cake, haven't you?

Well, you keep insisting I have salad for dinner, and no one can survive on that.

because that's a valid(ish) argument based on the original question.

An example of whataboutery might go:

You've eaten all the cake, haven't you?

Do you know that I had to run out in my pyjamas this morning because you forgot to put the bins out again?

Whataboutery is not clever, but it does sometimes work, especially if the new point of issue is so sensitive that it can't be addressed without causing utter mayhem, such as racial history or transgender rights.

The thing to remember, though, is that it's only people who are afraid of the truth who are afraid of logic.

Word To Use Today: whataboutery. This term seems to have originated in Northern Ireland during The Troubles of the 1970s. It's a portmanteau of the words what and about (obviously).

In previous times whataboutery was called tu-quoque, which is Latin for you too.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Thing To Do Today: snarf something.

 With any luck the pandemic has now subsided into dull grumbling inconvenience.

It's still making everything slightly less fun, though. 

Hey, let's go to the zoo - or the theatre - or the restaurant - but no, we can't, because we needed to have booked it yesterday.

What can we do that's light-hearted and unplanned? We can go for a more or less solitary walk. 

Or we can snarf something.

Snarfing doesn't involve sitting down to eat a proper meal at the proper time. Snarfing is hogging a handful of biscuits, or a pork pie, or a piece of cake just because it's there. You snarf something not because you're hungry, but through pure greed; through pleasure at getting your teeth into something. Through sudden impulse.

You may be half way through eating it before you even notice.

It may not be healthy. It may not be virtuous.

Oh, but the joy of giving in to a sudden urge for once.

photo by Alan Fryer

Where's that biscuit barrel?

Thing To Do Today: snarf something. This word is American and emerged in the 1960s, perhaps as a variation on the word scarf, which also means to eat greedily. Some people think it's a combination of scarf and snort. Some people think the word is onomatopoeic, and imitates the sounds of pigs eating at a trough.