This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Saturday Rave: Oliver! The Lionel Bart version.

You don't need that many words for a song. A couple of four line verses, hopefully featuring a rhyme or two, and a one-line-repeating chorus, and that's enough.

I've been thinking about pick-pockets lately (no, it's all right, thank you, I just heard one interviewed on the radio) and this led me inevitably to Lionel Bart's Oliver!

File:Dodger introduces Oliver to Fagin by Cruikshank (detail).jpg
Illustration by George Cruikshank

This is the beginning of the pick-pocketing song, which is sung by Fagin with a chorus of boy pick-pockets.

FAGIN: In this life, one thing counts:
In the bank, large amounts!
I'm afraid these don't grow on trees,
You've got to pick a pocket or two.
You've got to pick a pocket or two, boys,
You've got to pick a pocket or two.
BOYS: Large amounts don't grow on trees.
You've got to pick a pocket or two.
FAGIN: Why should we break our backs
Stupidly paying tax?
Better get some untaxed income:
You've got to pick a pocket or two.

You can find all the lyrics to Oliver! HERE. The ingenuity and variety and sheer quantity of these lyrics is astounding.The pick-pocketing song alone has six verses, all very funny, sharp, and gleefully horrifying. Oliver! is immensely generous stuff. I mean, look at the third line of those verses, above - at the rhyme half way along - I'm afraid these don't grow on trees; and Better get some untaxed income; rhymes joyously thrown in as if that sort of thing were easy.

When Lionel Bart wrote Oliver! he was twenty eight years old, and Oliver! was his third successful musical. He made a fortune - and spent it.

Ah well. I hope he had a thoroughly lovely time. He deserved it.

Word To Use Today: tax. This word comes from the Old French taxer, from the Latin tangere, to touch.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Word To Use Today: iktsuarpok.

Can you feel it?

Can you feel that slight uneasiness, that swift cold plunge of nausea, that wasn't-expecting-that-step qualm? 

It's not going away, either, is it? It's continuing. It's growing into a restlessness. You can't quite settle to anything because any moment now - 

 - you go and make a cup of tea, and find your hand is trembling a little as you pour the water.

You sit down at your screen and try to concentrate. But it's no good: every nerve in your body is stretching tight: you'll soon be at snapping-point.

Soon. It must be going to happen soon.

Suddenly you can't bear the silent screaming of your body any longer. It's intolerable.

You get up and go to the door, hesitate, but then open it and step outside. Look one way. Then the other.

You know it's coming.

Whatever it is.

Photo by Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren

Word To Use Today: iktsuarpok. This is an Inuit word for the feeling of impatient anticipation that makes you go outside to see if anyone is coming.

It's a lot quicker than trying to describe it in English.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Unholy days: a rant.

All ready for a challenge? Then fill in the missing word:

We're all going on a Summer...

What? You said holiday? Oh, if only. Don't you mean a neighcation (that, I'm afraid, is a holiday with a horse). Or, if pushed for time, a daycation? Or, if you're keen to use your leisure time to starve yourself, a weighcation?

Or how about a spacation (that's not a trip to Mars, by the way, it's a visit to a Spa)?

All these ghastly cobbled-together it that the travel agents feel obliged to warn their clients that these holidays will be exceptionally badly designed?

And it doesn't end there. If a -cation doesn't appeal then you can go flightseeing (visiting places without touching the ground (a new meaning of the word visiting with which I was not familiar); brokepacking, which is of course cheap backpacking, as if anyone would go in for luxury backpacking...hang on, though, I think I've just spotted a gap in the market. You could do holidays where people walk about being really, like, authentic and meeting really poor people and stuff, but still get a proper bath, clean sheets and wifi in the evenings. You could call it greenbackpacking

Hey, I could make a fortune, here. How about a line in well-being pilgrimages (quackpacking); seaweed-fancying tours (wrackpacking); war zone tourism (flakpacking); and tours of Higher Tibet (yakpacking). 

I have a horrible feeling that crackpacking might be the most profitable of all, but as I'm on the side of the angels I'll stick to the even more thrilling hackpacking, which is a holiday where you get to be an investigative journalist staking out the crackpackers.

All of which leaves me with the depressing thought that people will do absolutely anything if only you charge them enough.

Word To Use, just none of this lot, okay?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Nuts and Bolts: Kalderash Romani by Cal.

Today we have a terrific guest post about Kalderash Romani, hurray! 

It's been very kindly written for us by Cal. Cal lives in Hertfordshire, England, and is of Romani descent. 

Cal is a pseudonym, because Romani true names are secret. 


Kalderash Romani is spoken by travellers in North America and in Europe. Some of the words used by the North American Roma aren’t used by the European Roma but they will usually understand them, like British people usually know what Americans mean when they talk about their pants.

Romani has eight cases so there are up to eight versions of every noun – plus another eight plural forms. The cases are nominative, accusative, instrumental, ablative, prepositional/locative, genitive and vocative.

All nouns in Romani are masculine or feminine. Usually, male animals take the masculine gender and female animals the feminine. But a fly (makh) is always feminine and a scorpion (yalakráno) is always masculine. If a female scorpion gives birth you would say that ‘he’ gives birth – wo biyanel.

The accusative form of a noun is only different from the nominative with living beings. Living beings include demons (singular bengórra) and cannibal ogres (xarápo) – but not insects (gîndáko).

In Welsh the word ‘da’ means dad. In Romani, da is the accusative form of ‘dey’, which means mum.

The Romani word for a computer mouse is maimúnka, which also means female monkey.

Beng means devil. It used to mean frog.

And for anyone who believes there is no connection between love and money, love means money in Romani.

Word To Use Today: Romani. This word is Romani and comes from the Sanskrit domba which means man from a low caste of musicians. Before that the word came from the Dravidian.


Huge thanks to Cal for this fascinating post. Now I know the Romani for cannibal ogre I really feel my life is complete.

One end of our display of Romany Vardos
Vardos at the Gordon Boswell's Romani Museum, Spalding, Lincolnshire, England.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Thing To Do Today: be matched.

Manchester City v Arsenal will be a good match; so will Prince Charming and Cinderella; so will my green jumper and cardigan.

Are things that are matched the same or different? Are they in harmony or opposition? Do they make love or war?


What, in short, is the connection between all these meanings?

Can you guess?

The answer is in the derivation.

Thing To Do Today: be matched. This word comes from the Old English gemæcca, spouse, and is related to the Old High German gimmaha, wife and the Old Norse maki, mate.

The married ones among us are probably smiling, if slightly wryly.

*Those are Queen Victoria's wedding shoes.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Spot the Frippet: sorrel.

In the forest yesterday I came across great carpets of wood sorrel:

File:Common wood sorrel (aka).jpg
Photo by André Karwath aka Aka.

They were edged with stars of celandine and embroidered with violets, like an Elizabethan counterpane.

Later, when I had stopped gasping, I found myself wondering what this delicate flower has to do with the orange-brown of a sorrel horse:

Well, the answer my Collins dictionary gives is nothing, but wikipedia suggests that sorrel is the colour of the lower bits of the plant sorrel (which is quite different from wood sorrel):

Rumex acetosa cultivar 01.jpg

Sorrel is a vegetable with a sharp flavour said to be reminiscent of kiwis - the fruit, presumably, rather than the bird - and is used in soup a lot. The flower looks like this:

which is itself rather sorrel-coloured, isn't it.

In North America there is a sorrel tree, which has sour-tasting leaves and small white flowers.

The easiest sorrel thing to spot is surely something of sorrel orange-brown.

So I think I'll have a look and see if I can find any rust on my baking trays.

Spot the Frippet: sorrel. The colour word comes from the French sorel, from sor, reddish-brown, related to the Dutch soor desiccated. The plant word comes from the Old French surele, from sur, sour.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Sunday Rest: theurgy. Word Not To Use Today.


It sounds like a dish made up of things you only eat because they're disintegrated past the point of recognition...or I suppose theurgy could be some Ancient Greek philosophical concept (which means, of course, that it's been invented by someone not even clever enough to have worn trousers, avoided being executed by the authorities, or taught somewhere with a roof). 

Theurgy is glutinous, dingy, inscrutable...

...except that it's not. 

Well, not always.

Theurgy is when a god joins in with human affairs. Or it can be a miracle performed by such a god. Or it can be the good magic taught in Egypt around the 4th century AD.

It's a wonderful, exciting, sparkling, dangerous, terrifying thing...

...that sounds like congealed gravy.


Word Not To Use Today: theurgy. This word comes from the Greek words for god and work, theos and ergon.