This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Nuts and Bolts: the double prefix.

I've always assumed that a binary prefix was something like the bi- in bicycle or the duo- in duopoly; basically, a prefix which indicates two of something.

But it's not.

A binary prefix is that rare thing, an entertaining computer term. You see, a binary prefix is a way of expressing a number where, until fairly recently, you couldn't tell what, er, the number actually was.

I do love it when nerdy people manage to make themselves look ridiculous.

A binary prefix is used to describe the size of a kind of computer memory (it's RAM). Examples, historically, of these binary prefixes are the kilo[byte], mega[byte] and giga[byte], and the number they represent will be a one calculated by multiplying a certain number of twos together. For instance, a gigabyte is 1073741824 bytes, that number being a row of ten twos all multiplied together.

If you're counting something other than RAM then the prefixes kilo- mega- and giga- mean more or less the same thing as they do if they are being the aforesaid binary prefixes, except rounded to the nearest thousand or ten thousand or few billion or so. 

A gigabit, for instance, consists of 1000000000 bits, as opposed to the 1073741824 in a gigabyte as mentioned above.

Rather sadly, computer people have now sorted this out. Kilo- mega- and giga- etc now always mean the whole thousands (so they are no longer binary prefixes at all). If you want a binary prefix, ie one based on a multiplication of the number two, then you are supposed to use kibi- mebi- or gibi-.

It's very sensible, and definitely needed.

But it's rather a pity, all the same.

Word To Use Today: kibibyte? Everyone will think you're talking about some sort of a dog biscuit, but that would be fun. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Thing To Be Today: devoted.

Devotion is an odd thing. How does it begin? With a look, with a word, with some subtle biological chemistry, as perhaps between a mother and her child?

My husband went to his first football* game as a small boy. His dad took him to a match between Millwall, his family's local team, and Shrewsbury Town (an organisation with which you may not be familiar as it doesn't really feature all that much in the glorious annals of the history of sport).

Despite this, Millwall somehow managed to lose 1-2, and the poor little boy got so cold watching the game that on the way home his dad had to take him to an auntie's house to get him thawed out. She was a very kind auntie, and gave the little boy a tot of brandy to help warm him through.

The brandy made him feel warmer, but it can't have made him feel much better because when the little boy finally got home he was sick all over the kitchen floor.

He's been utterly devoted to Millwall Football Club ever since.

As I said, devotion is an odd thing.

Thing To Be Today: devoted. The Latin word dēvōtus means, well, devoted. Or solemnly promised. Dēvovēre means to vow.


Monday, 17 February 2020

Spot the Frippet: film.

After the Oscars Awards Ceremony I thought I'd write about parasites, but when I researched them I quickly discovered that they were far too revolting, and so I'm going to write about films, instead.

Why is a film, as in the movie Parasite, called a film?

Well, long ago, the many photographs which go to make up a film used to be kept, not as data in a computer's memory, but on long strips of translucent tape. The photographs themselves came in the form of a very thin film of chemicals on this strip.

So, what we're looking for are very thin layers.

A bubble consists of a film, usually of detergent:

File:Soap bubble sky.jpg
photo by Brocken Inaglory

and then you get what in Britain we call cling film, which keeps food moist:

File:Sandwich Cling film.jpg

There are also naturally-occurring living films, that is living things joined together to form a sort of thin community spread across a surface. You're destroying one every time you clean your teeth (eerghh!). 

That kind of a biofilm is also a heck of a nuisance on contact lenses.

Modern mirrors are coated with a reflective film. Spectacles are often coated similarly, too.

You might apply a film of oil to stop surfaces rubbing together.

Then there are thin-film solar panels, which are cheaper than the original kind because they use up so much less material.

Or, on the other hand, if you're feeling brave, you could just watch Parasite.

But I think spotting a solar panel or two will do for me.

Spot the Frippet: film. This word comes from the Old English filmen, membrane. It's related to the Greek pelma, which means the sole of the foot, and, rather distantly, to the English word peel.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Sunday Rest: zoonoses. Word Not To Use Today.

Zoonoses are infectious diseases which are transmitted to man from a different species of vertebrate (that is, an animal with a backbone).

Yes, some animal like a bat or a pig or a pangolin or a chicken.

The word zoonoses is a hundred per cent Greek, and there is, sadly, a strong current need for it. It's a good and necessary word.

So the only reason for disliking it is that it doesn't describe something altogether more lovable, like the snout of a tapir:

Lowland Tapir (Tapirus terrestris) male (27546923604).jpg
photo by Bernard Dupont

the trunk of an elephant:

File:Elephant breastfeading.jpg
photo by Rick Kimpel

 or the adorable snoot of a koala:

File:Cutest Koala.jpg
photo by Erik Veland

Still, the singular form of the word, zoonosis, looks fairly scary, and can in almost all circumstances be used as an alternative.

Thank heavens for that.

Sunday Rest: zoonoses. This word comes from the Greek zōion, animal and the Greek nosos, which means disease.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Saturday Rave: the Great and the Unready.

Alfred and Catherine were great, weren't they? 

In fact, they were better than great, they were Great. I refer, of course, to Catherine the Great of Russia, and Alfred the Great of those bits of England that weren't currently over-run by someone else.

It does help to have a single word to stick onto people so you can put them in a slot in you mind. The English king Æthelred the Unready,* is an obvious example, as is poor Bloody Mary (it wasn't that she had an over-fondness for cocktails, it was that she killed a lot of Protestants).

Then there was Ivan the terrible (well, you know not to invite him to tea) and Vlad the Impaler (don't even open the door!).

And then there are the people you can't help pitying, like the Scots Earl of Douglas Archibald the Loser, for instance. (He died in battle, yes, but he was Earl for twenty four years and it can't all have been a complete disaster. Can it?) Then there are the French King Louis the Unavoidable (who was actually in prison or in exile for most of his reign, so he was actually very easily avoidable indeed until the Emperor Napoleon was thrown out); the Norwegian Haakon the Crazy (who was sane enough (for a king, anyway) but tended to go berserk in battle); and the Bulgarian Ivaylo the Cabbage (who, remarkably, led a successful peasants' revolt and became king for a year or so. He must have been quite a guy.).

These are all remarkable individuals, but as for today, as it's their birthdays, I dedicate this post to Ivan the Young (1458 - 1490), son of Ivan III of Russia; and Piero the Unfortunate, Italian ruler 1471 - 1503.

I'm just hope they never knew what their chief claim to fame was going to be, that's all.

Word To Use Today: nickname. This started off as an ekename, but then the n went AWOL. Eke means addition.

*Æthelred means well advised, and Unready comes from unræd, which means poorly advised. 

Yes, people have been making bad puns for a long time.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Word To Use Today: spoil.

Yesterday, my husband received an email headlined:

How To Spoil Your Valentine

Luckily, the rest of the text referred to a list of gifts, not activities designed to ruin our day.

File:Red rose bouquet.JPG
photo by Dawid Skalec

Word To Use Today: spoil. This confusing word can be a heap of earth excavated from a hole - so waste, more or less (the same sort of meaning turns up in spoiled food) - but on the other hand the spoils of crime are the valuable bits you want to keep.

The word comes from the Old French espoillier, from the Latin spoliāre, to strip, from spolium, booty.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Sorted! a rant.

On a display of bottles of pink gin:

File:I Am Khanyi Gin.jpg
photo by Dmusanhu

in my local Sainburys supermarket there is a notice which says:

Valentine's Day: sorted!


and I really don't think that's truly in the spirit of the occasion.

Word To Use Today: sort. The Latin word sors means fate. 

Fate, as in fatal, is what might quite easily happen if you forget Valentine's Day.

So perhaps that notice has something to say for it, after all.