This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Creative Genius: a rant (quite possibly from a minor psychopath).

Oh yes, the creative-person-must-be-nuts thing.


A study from De La Salle University in Manila led by Adrianne John Galang has found that 'generally...a creative field might not just shape a person into a more arrogant or dishonest personality, it might be actively selecting them, not for the sake of having disagreeable traits, but because such traits meaningfully co-vary with creativity itself.' 

The psychologists conclude that 'emotional dishibition, in the form of psychopathic boldness, is actually integral to some creative personalities and functionally related to the creative process.'

Ah yes, of course that's right! you may say. That Van Gogh was a creative genius and he was nuts!

True: but then Jane Austen was also a creative genius, and she doesn't seem to have been nuts at all.

Look, here's another couple of theories: 

1) Works of Art need to be sold, and part of the marketing process involves making the creator of a WoA interesting. This means that the art that's marketed is often the stuff by the artist with the interesting back story - or a willingness to perform one. 

(By the way, some artists are definitely psychopathic, but then so are some postmen - but it's much easier to judge who are the best postmen than who are the best artists.)

(Not that I'm saying for a moment that psychopaths can't be great artists or postmen.)

2) Here's another theory: people who are...unusual...might have more difficulty holding down a job which requires lots of routine and personal contacts than people who are less unusual, so creative work might be their only option.

NB These are just theories: I don't believe them, I just accept they're possibilities.

So, anyway, how nuts am I?

Oh, I should say somewhere between not at all and totally

Just like the rest of us.

Illustration of a not-artist by John Tenniel

Word To Use Today: psychopath. This word comes from the German psychopatisch, from the Greek psyche, soul, and pathos, suffering. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Nuts and Bolts: how to talk peacock.

No, not that sort of peacock: all the screeching would hurt the throat. The peacock I'm interested in is the Peacock Tree Frog, and the great thing about its language is...

...well, do you remember those twenty words you had to learn every week for your vocabulary test? And the way that, even after all that work, you couldn't understand a word anyone was saying unless it related to the habits of M Bertillon's cat? 

Well, here is another vocabulary list. It consists of only two words, but that, apparently, is the whole spoken language of the Peacock Tree Frog, Leptopelis vermiculatus.

Leptopelis vermiculatus2.jpg
(Sweet, aren't they? You find them in the rain forests of Tanzania.)

So here we are: an opportunity to become fluent in a foreign language in under a minute.


Ga ga ga

That's what you say if you want to attract a female (and why oh why does English not contain such a formula?).

Rrrrrrrrr ga

is what you say if you want males to go away (we have plenty of words to mean this. Unfortunately they a) mostly aren't printable, and b) don't work very effectively).

So there you are. One minute's work, one complete language: all the tools you need to make love, not war.

It's enough to make you wonder if all this wide-vocabulary stuff is really such a good thing as it's cracked up to be, isn't it.

Phrase To Use Today: one in Peacock Tree Frogish. Do let us know if it works.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Thing Not To Do Today: be a churl.

'Look at my picture, Uncle Andrew!'

'Hmm. Well, we'll have to hope you turn out to be good at something else, won't we.'


'What have you done for starter? Good heavens, I didn't believe that people still serve avocado.'


'Wildflowers, do you call them? A can of weedkiller's what this place needs.'


It's very easy to be churlish, but remember this: firstly, it makes people hate you, and, secondly, it reveals you to be a churl.

Still, if you believe that spreading unhappiness is a worthwhile return for a moment's imaginary triumph then I suppose that's the way to go.

Thing Not To Do Today: be a churl. A churl is a surly ill-bred person (ill-bred = no manners). Churl used to mean a farm labourer. It comes from the Old English ceorl, and is related to the Greek gerōn, old man

Monday, 2 May 2016

Spot the Frippet: rundle.

Some words conjure up the warm scent of orchids wafting through the mysterious canyons of the rain forest... 

...and the word rundle doesn't.

It's a plain, workaday sort of a word, is rundle, and, very pleasingly, it means two common and familiar things.

Here's one sort of a rundle:

File:Wheelbarrow in the field.jpg
photo by Hyena

and here's another:

File:Ladder and telegraph pole.jpg
photo by USDA

Yes, a rundle can either be a wheel, especially the wheel of a wheelbarrow (isn't it great to have a special word for that?) or it can be a rung of a ladder.

The magical thing about knowing the word rundle is that it allows us to regard ourselves as marginally more practical and competent than before...

...well, it does until we have to do something useful, anyway.

Spot the Frippet: rundle. People seem to have ladders all over their houses at the moment, on which they hang towels or balance books. Yes, it's slightly odd behaviour, but at least it makes spotting this frippet easy. The word rundle arrived in the 1300s as a variant of roundel, from the Old French rondel, a little circle.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Sunday Rest: ordure. Word Not To Use Today.

I have a deep affection for jokes about ancient countrymen. Unfortunately they went out of fashion in about 1930, but, hey, fashion isn't everything.

Here's one:

MISTRESS OF THE HOUSE: How are the cucumbers doing?
COUNTRYMAN: They'll do. I just put some muck round'em.
MISTRESS OF THE HOUSE: You shouldn't say muck, you should say manure!
COUNTRYMAN: What? But it's taken me twenty years to learn to call it muck!


If the word manure might be thought prissy, then ordure is ten times worse. In fact I don't think anyone could use this word unless holding a lorgnette and wearing tweed - and tweed takes ten years to make comfortable, and as far as I can see lorgnettes aren't for sale even on Amazon.

For myself, I think I'll stick with muck.

File:Pile of manure on a field.jpg
Photo by Paul Clarke

Sunday Rest: ordure. This word comes form the Old French ord, which means dirty, from the Latin horridus, which means shaggy.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Saturday Rave: A Letter To Lady Margaret Cavendish Holles-Harley, when a child, by Matthew Prior

Should poetry be relevant, modern, philosophically rigorous and full of beauties of language?

Not necessarily.

My noble, lovely, little Peggy,
Let this my first epistle beg ye,
At dawn of morn, and close of even,
To lift your heart and hands to Heaven.
In double beauty say your prayer:
Our Father first, then Notre Père.
And, dearest child, along the day,
In every thing you do and say,
Obey and please my lord and lady,
So God shall love and angels aid ye.

If to these precepts you attend,
No second letter need I send,
And so I rest your constant friend.

Sometimes, a joyous love, and a modest and kind heart, are enough for a feast.

Word To Use Today: epistle. An epistle is a long formal teaching document, so calling this poem an epistle is part of the fun. The word comes from the Old English epistol, from the Greek epistolē, from stellein to prepare or send. 

 By the way, Matthew Prior, the son of a joiner, became a very clever, important, and much-loved man.


Friday, 29 April 2016

Word To Use Today: April.

Well, using the word April isn't much of a challenge, is it?

Today is April 29th.

There. That's done.

Word To Use Today: April. This word is rather interesting. The Middle English form was apprile, which comes via French from the Latin Aprīlis, which is said to mean 'of the month of the goddess Venus'. 

The trouble is, there's not much obvious connection between the words Venus and Aprīlis. So how come? Well, the first explanation is that the word Aprīlis may have come via the Etruscan Apru from the Greek Aphrodite. Aphrodite was basically the same person as Venus. Well, she held the same position in the heavens as goddess of love, anyway.

The Romans who actually used the word Aprīlis, however, thought the word April came from aperio, which means to open. 

I don't know if it's true, but that's rather lovely, and from now on I shall think of April as the month of opening.

File:Violett tulips.jpg