This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 29 May 2020

Word To Use Today: bumfuzzle.

It doesn't really matter what this word means, it's way too much fun to leave in a dictionary.

It's used more in the USA than in England (in fact I've never heard anyone use it in England) but it has a long English history, all the same.

Bumfuzzle means to confusedor fluster.

Don't bumfuzzle me!

It's unlikely that anyone will know what you mean if you use it, but, hey, that just means that everyone will be bumfuzzled.

Poetic justice or what?

(Well, possibly not that poetic...)

Word To Use Today: bumfuzzle. The Old English form of this word is dumfoozle, an unusual instance of the meaning of the Old English form of a word being easier to guess than its modern equivalent.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

But not yet: a rant.

St Augustine of Hippo (354 - 431) prayed make me virtuous - but not yet. 

I have a lot of sympathy with this point of view, but all the same I didn't expect delayed morality to become part of the Covid-19 debate. Really, if you've got Covid-19 then you'd think that the time to delay getting yourself virtuous had well and truly passed.

The commentator whom I came across using the phrase delayed morality was saying that many of the poor people who have died as a result of Covid-19 were already very ill and would soon have died, anyway, and that this would show up in the mortality figures by the end of the year.

Hang on...


Ah! Now I understand!

Words Not To Get Confused Today: morality and mortality. The word morality, which is to do with doing the virtuous thing, comes from the Latin word mōrālis, from mōs, which means custom.

The word mortality comes from the Latin word mortālis, from mors, death.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Nuts and Bolts: paralipsis.

It actually doesn't matter too much what paralipsis is, it's enough to enjoy saying the word...


it's a word to murmur to nightingales in the moonlit groves of Illyria.

Sadly, at the moment I should imagine Illyria is closed to tourists, so, hey, what is paralipsis, exactly?

Paralipsis is usually called apophasis, but that's not nearly such a lovely word.

Anyway, whatever it is, it's still really good fun. Paralipsis is when you say you're not going to say something and then you, well, do.

As in: I'll not bring up her treachery in stealing my boyfriend as it's irrelevant to her qualifications for this job.

Or: this is long forgotten and forgiven, so I won't even mention how your behaviour destroyed my friendship with Martin.

Loyalty forbids me to suggest that the Headteacher is a raving lunatic.

Of course there's no need to remind the reader of the campaign of General Bloodspiller which ended in the Battle of Gorefield in the year 1857.

It's not my place to criticise your actions, ma'am, even if they verge upon the criminally insane.

As I say, good fun.

Rhetorical Device To Use Today: paralipsis. As I don't need to tell you, learned reader, paralipsis/apophasis is also sometimes known as paraleipsis, occupatio, praeteritio, preterition and parasiopesis.

Neither is there any point at all in noting that the Greek prefix para- means - well, more or less anything - or that it comes from the Greek word meaning alongside or beyond; nor, for that matter, that the Greek word leipein mean to leave, and paraleipein means to leave aside.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Thing Not To Do Today: pontificate.

Who pontificates?

Well, the pontiff, of course.

Well, you can't blame him for doing it, can you: I mean, it's in the job-title.

As more or less everyone knows, the word pontiff (to whom we more usually refer as the pope) comes from the Latin pontifex, which means bridge builder, because the pontiff makes a bridge between the people of the world and God.

However, as with many things more or less everyone knows, this is almost certainly completely wrong.

Ah well!

For those of us who are not popes, which is practically all of us, (though popes aren't as rare as they used to be) then pontificating is to be avoided.

For one thing, it'll make everyone hate you; and, for another, nearly everything you know is quite probably wrong.

So best keep quiet, eh?

Thing Not To Do Today: pontificate. The Pontifex Maximus was the chief priest in Ancient Rome, who often had a political, as well as a religious role in the state. The word pontifex might be Etruscan, but because the Latin pons means bridge and facere means to make, then deciding that this is the derivation of the word  pontifex was just to tempting a story for most of us to resist.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Spot the Frippet: puku.

We don't have so very many English words borrowed from the Maori language of New Zealand, and of those we do, hongi - the greeting consisting of the rubbing of noses - is currently prohibited by law in a lot of the globe (though we can still use the verbal Maori greeting kia ora, which means, literally, be healthy!).

Similarly, we aren't allowed to visit Rotorua, and the huia is, sadly, (probably) extinct.

But there are plenty of pukus about. Okay so no one is going to know what the word means, but in the circumstances that might be quite tactful because a puku is a stomach or belly.

They come in all shapes and sizes:

well, except square. And triangular. And octagonal...

...but you know what I mean.

Spot the Frippet: puku. This word is Maori.

There is another kind of puku, the Zulu puku. This is a beautiful thing:

File:Puku - Male-1, in South Luangwa National Park - Zambia.jpg
this one's from Zambia. Photo by Hanay

but for most of us very hard to spot.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Sunday Rest: unideological. Word Not To Use Today.

The basic trend is for compound nouns to start off as separate words: life style - then get themselves a hyphen: life-style - and then end up as one word: lifestyle.

Where we are in this process might depend upon where you are, or how old you are, or to whom you are writing.

To make things worse, some words don't follow this pattern. I've seen quite a few hotdogs, and very many hot dogs, but never a hot-dog. Ice cream, on the other hand, persists in its two-word form.

But that isn't the only problem. How about a bowtie? You know, that thing men wear round their necks on formal occasions. 

See what I mean? Some words really shouldn't follow the usual pattern.

The other day I came across the word unideological. Like bowtie, it tripped me up completely.

Uni- means single; deo- means to do with God; -logical means to do with reasoning. It's a perfectly good word - except that it didn't make sense in its context.


Ah! Not uni-deo-logical: un-ideo-logical.

Sometimes I wish people would forget the ideology, and concentrate on getting across their ideas.

Sunday Rest: unideological. The word ideological comes from the Greek forms ideo- to do with ideas, and -logical, to do with reasoning. 

The word unideological comes from someone in too much of a hurry.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Saturday Rave: a six word story by Evonne.

Six word stories are an actual thing. 

Why, Ernest Hemingway himself wrote a horribly sad one.

As in all writing, it's comparatively easy to make people sad; but to make someone smile in just six words, that takes some doing.

This example by Evonne I found on a site called, appropriately enough, Six Word Stories.

(It's worth a browse.) 

 Penniless weirdo. Struck Lottery. Overnight genius.

(Six words is just the right length: if it were longer we'd probably see him get above himself, and then crash and burn.)

If you're feeling particularly bitter and cynical, of course, you could turn this story back to front and make it, well, particularly bitter and cynical.

Great things, short forms!

Word To Use Today: weird. This word comes from the Old English gewyrd, which means destiny, and is distantly related to our modern word worth.