This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Nuts and Bolts: logomachy.

'Greengrocers, eh? Putting their apostrophes all over the place: potato's! I ask you!'

'Er...but surely potato's is correct? The apostrophe indicates that the penultimate letter of potatoes, the e, has been omitted.'

'So they're not just illiterate? Yeah, right.'

'I think I am, actually. You also see it with cauli's and tom's, other cases where parts of the words have been missed out.'

'And how come you think you're an expert on words all of a sudden? You're the sort of person who ends a sentence with a preposition!'

'Err...the word out at the end of my last sentence was part of the verb to miss out.'

'Ha! I like that: out isn't a preposition!' 

'Actually, I think you'll find it's marked as an adverb in the dictionary.'

'Oh yeah? And what do dictionaries know?'

Thing To Engage In Today: a logomachy. A logomachy is a dispute over words. It can also be a dispute which uses a lot - too many - words. The logo bit comes from the Greek logos, meaning word or speech; the machy part comes from the Greek word machesthai meaning to fight.

Have fun!

'Greek? It's Greek? Well, what do the Greeks know about English, that's what I want to know!'


'The next thing you'll be telling me that the word dictionary is Latin!'


'I mean, what did the Romans ever do for us?'

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Thing To Do Today: imbricate something. made the stars, the night, seem to wait, as if the story, narrative history, lay imbricated in the nature of things; and the cosmos was for the story, not the story for the cosmos.

I'm reading The Magus by John Fowles (no idea what it's all about, yet, sorry) and came across that passage last night. It's impressive, but as I didn't know what imbricated meant it was completely baffling.

So I looked it up.

To imbricate something means to arrange its pieces so that the edges overlap like roof tiles:

File:Milano Roof Tiles.jpg
photo by wtclark

A game of patience will often involve imbricating the playing cards; a bread and butter pudding can be artfully imbricated; so is the index-edge of an address book; or a very tidy bra drawer; or open books ready to be signed by an author.

Usually, though, the word is used to describe things from the natural world like scales or petals:

File:Mespilus germanica imbrication.jpg
mespilus germanica: imbricated petals. Photo by Nadiatalent

It's satisfying to have discovered a new word. 

Sadly, however, it hasn't helped me in the slightest with understanding that line of The Magus.

Ah well.

Thing To Do Today: imbricate something. This word comes from the Latin word imbrex, which means roof tile, from imber, a shower of rain.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Spot the Frippet: brownie.

The oldest form of brownie is almost impossible to spot, but the results of his work are very commonly encountered.

You know the way your sock drawer always has laundered socks in it, no matter how often you put on clean ones? The way there's always bread in the bread bin? The way the grass on the lawn never gets too long?

That's brownies who have done that. It says so in all the books. They're small men (there must be female brownies but I imagine they have careers in finance or something) who come into the house at night and do useful chores.

If your house doesn't appear to have been blessed with the services of a brownie I can only say that brownies do tend to gravitate to households which include mothers, or at least motherly types. 

I don't know why.

Easier to spot are the squishy square chocolate cakes called brownies - or, in Australia, the current bread of the same name.

Then there are the junior members of the Girl Guides Association:

File:Brownie points Montreal, Canada.jpg

- though even these modern Brownies, like this Canadian one, are apparently sometimes invisible. 
Photo by Browniepoints

And then there's Brownie points. These are invisible, too. They describe the reward given to someone by his or her superiors for helpful or flattering deeds over and beyond the needs of a work contract.

Yes, that's right: for sucking up to the boss.

The only tangible evidence of this will be in a certain smugness of expression, and the dislike and distaste in the eyes of colleagues.

Spot the Frippet: brownie. The original brownie was a little brown man. The Girl Guides are named after the elves, and the other things are, well, brown. The word brown has been around for ages and is related to the Greek phrunos, toad and the Sanskrit babhru, reddish-brown.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Sunday Rest: penicillate. Word Not To Use Today.

Anyone with half a brain could work out that penicillate must be something to do with penicillin.

Sadly, though, they'd be, oh, so so wrong.

Word Not To Use Today: penicillate. This word means resembling, or having, many tufts of fine hairs. 

You probably know people like that, but the word is more often used of caterpillars. 

File:Phryssonotus brevicapensis.jpg
(Though this is actually a millipede, Physsonotus brevicapensis, photo by Mark Judson (MNHN Paris))

The word penicillate comes from the Latin word pēnicillus, brush, from pēnis, tail. 

The word penicillin comes from the same source, and is so called because the moulds which produce penicillin have hairy fruiting bodies.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Saturday Rave: November by Thomas Hood

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon - 
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day - 
No sky - no earthly view - 
No distance looking blue - 
No road - no street - no 't'other side the way' - 
No end to any Row - 
No indications where the Crescents go - 
No top to any steeple - 
No recognitions of familiar people - 
No courtesies for showing'em - 
No knowing 'em -
No travelling at all - no locomotion,
No inkling of the way - no notion,
'No go' by land or ocean - 
No mail - no post - 
No news from any foreign coast - 
No Park - no Ring - no afternoon gentility - 
No company - no nobility - 
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,-


I wouldn't mind so much, but December's the flipping same!

Word To Use Today: November. The Latin word for nine is novem...yes, I know, but November was the ninth month until July and August were shoved in by Augustus and by the Roman Senate, who wished to commemorate Julius Caesar.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Compound Noun To Use Today: solar plexus.

You only ever hear of the solar plexus when it's in trouble: usually, someone punches the hero in the solar plexus and he doubles up in agony, fighting for breath.

Luckily he recovers in a couple of instants, and goes on to win the day. Hurray!

The solar plexus is to be found, these stories tell us, at the front of the body at the base of the ribs - but in that case what's solar about it (I've heard of a couple of sun-shining parts of the anatomy, but that's never included the stomach)? And, for that matter, what's a plexus?

The solar plexus (it's often called by the doctors the celiac plexus, but that's just to confuse everyone) is genuinely a plexus, which is a complicated network or arrangement, usually of blood vessels or nerves. (It's nerves in the case of the solar plexus.)

Now, as you will have noticed, this mass of nerves is tucked inside the body, but a blow to the general area it inhabits can shock the solar plexus into a state of great bewilderment, and this can affect pretty much all your (to use another technical term) innards.

That's the plexus part of the compound noun.

And what's so sunny about it?


Compound Noun To Use Today: solar plexus. The Latin word plectere, which gives us plexus, means to plait. The word solar comes from the other Latin word sōl, which means sun, and refers to all the branching nerves which come out of the plexus like the rays of the sun...


But we know what they mean, all the same.

File:Wc yellow house child drawing.jpg
Illustration by Øyvind Holmstad

Thursday, 5 December 2019

The clever men at Oxford: a rant.

The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed
But they none of them know half as much
As intelligent Mr Toad.

The makers of the Oxford English Dictionary (a construct of glistening genius and deep learning) have announced their Word of the Year.

It's climate emergency.

Now, I don't expect these unparalleled experts on the English language (and many other languages, too) to be particularly knowledgeable about anything else. I don't expect them to be fully conversant with Special Relativity, Techniques for picking the winner the next Grand National, or Knitting the Heel of a Sock.

But, really, you'd have thought they could have managed to count up to two.

Climate emergency? They should have noticed that there was more than word there - or, if they wanted to award the prize to a single entity (this year's Booker and Turner Prizes notwithstanding) then climate emergency is a compound noun.

If they'd wanted a single word then climate would have done. Or emergency

Or, dither, come to think about it. 

Ah well.

Compound noun to Use Today: climate emergency. The word climate comes from the Greek word klima, which means inclination or region, which comes from klinein, to lean. Emergency is to do with emerging. It comes from the Latin word mergere, to dip.

I thought about looking up the word dither, but in the end I didn't get round to it.