This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Saturday Rave: Thomas Cranmer's Magnificat.

Thomas Cranmer was born 527 years ago, on 2nd July, 1489.

He was responsible, as writer and editor, for The Book of Common Prayer, which gave access for the first time to English versions of all the services of the church.

The Book of Common Prayer was published in 1552, and it forms the basis of the services of the Anglican Church still in use today.

Thomas Cranmer by Gerlach Flicke.jpg
portrait by Gerlach Flicke

Four years later Thomas Cranmer was dead, burned alive for his religious beliefs.

Whether or not you share Cranmer's faith, the language of his prayer book is surpassingly beautiful. Here's his version of the song Mary sings upon hearing that she is to give birth to His son. It's usually still called by its Latin title of The Magnificat.

My soule doth magnifie the lorde,
And my spirite hath rejoyced in God my savioure.
For he hathe regarded the lowlinesse of hys handemaiden.
For beholde, from henceforth all generacions shal cal me blessed.
For he that is mightye hath magnified me, and holy is his name.
And his mercie is on them that feare him throughoute all generacions.
He hath showed strength with his arme, he hath scatered the proude in the imaginacion of their hartes.
He hath put down the mightie from their seate: and hath exalted the humble and meeke.
He hath filled the hungrye with good thynges: and the riche he hath sente awaye emptye.
He remembring his mercie, hath holpen his servaunt Israel: as he promised to oure fathers, Abraham and his seede for ever.
Glory be to the father and to the sonne and to the holy gost.
As it was in the beginning, & is now, and ever shall be worlde without ende. 

Word To Use Today: magnificat. The opening line of this song in Latin is magnificat anima mea Dominum, my soul does praise the Lord.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Word To Use Today: strudel.

Britain may have voted to leave the European Union, but that doesn't mean the British don't love and admire Europe, and Europeans, and European things.

All sorts of European things.

A strudel is a whirl of filled pastry, and is a word nearly as much fun to say as the cake is to eat. The pastry is rolled very thinly - so thinly that it's said that you should be able to read a love letter through it, though the circumstances under which one might attempt to do so are hard to imagine.

File:Pecan Strudel profile, November 2009.jpg
Pecan strudel by Janet Hudson

The first recipes we have for strudel have date from 1696 and include the now mystifyingly unpopular turnip strudel. Before that, strudels probably descended from the pastries of Turkey and the Near East.

As if all this deliciousness wasn't enough, the word strudel's derivation is jolly satisfying, too.

Thank you, Europe, for this - and, of course, for many other blessings, too.

Word To Use Today: strudel. This word is German. It comes from the Middle High German strodel, eddy or whirlpool.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Doing something boring: a rant.

Can't sleep?

Dr Guy Meadows, clinical director of the Sleep School, relays a suggestion.

"The traditional advice is to get out of bed and do something boring, like read a book...' he says.

Do something boring like read a book????

Good grief, has the man never read CS Forester? Adèle Geras? Agatha Christie? Sally Prue?

Has he never read Oh, Whistle and I'll Come To You, my Lad? Or The Signal-Man? Because you won't get much sleep if you can't lie flat because your hair's standing on end, I can tell you.


Has he never read Jane Eyre, a book which famously kept its publisher awake all night, turning the pages, agog?

Has he never read the Inspector Mould story Strychnine in the Soup?

Poor Dr Meadows. Poor, poor Dr Meadows. 

Because the answer to all these questions must surely be no.

Word To Use Today: strychnine. This word, with pleasing relevance, comes from the Greek strukhnos, nightshade.

Uncredited stories in this rant are by MR James, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, and PG Wodehouse, respectively.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Nuts and Bolts: Beat Generations. Mozart versus ABBA.

We all know that music affects us. It soothes many a savage breast, and it also sometimes persuades us to waggle ourselves about in the strange way we call dancing.

But how can you quantify this effect?

A study led by Hans-Joachim Trappe, of Ruhr University, The Cardio-Vascular Effect of Musical Genres. has measured the effect of the music of Johann Strauss the younger, WA Mozart, and the pop group ABBA on the blood pressure.

And the result?

Mozart and Strauss both lower the blood pressure, Mozart rather more than Strauss.

The music of ABBA doesn't alter the blood pressure at all.

Ah, you will say, but which pieces by Mozart, etc did the study use?

The study used about half an hour's music by each artist.

Mozart: Symphony No 40.

Strauss: Wiener Blut, Annen-Polka, Morgenblatter, Eljen a Magyar, An der schönen blauen Danube.

ABBA: Thank you for the Music, The Winner Takes It All, Fernando, One of Us, Angel Eyes, The Day Before You Came, So Long.

Interestingly, the musical tastes of the people studied didn't seem to have any effect at all on the results.

That's what happened. The study, surprisingly, also speculates as to why. They suggest that repetition, catchiness, pleasantness, skill of composition, few changes in volume or rhythm, unsurprising harmonies, familiarity of the genre, and the absence of spoken words (spoken words are processed in a different part of the brain from music, and this, it is suggested, may interfere with the effect of the music) all help with lowering the blood pressure.

So now I want to know what happens when you compare the Mozart 40th Symphony with the last act of Don Giovanni, for instance.

But mostly, I'm finding it very strange indeed to think that Mozart, who dies so long ago, can still literally change the action of my heart.

Word To Use Today: symphony. This word comes from the Latin symphōnia, concord or concert, from the Greek sun, together, and phōnē, sound.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Thing To Have Today: a chinwag.

Life is stern and life is earnest, or so we are told, but of course it isn't, really. Most of the time life is spent keeping ourselves alive (cooking, earning money, cleaning) or amusing ourselves (Angry Birds, football, flower arranging). Sometimes we manage both simultaneously (eating, writing, constructing flat-pack furniture*).

But can't we be stern and earnest and enjoy ourselves? 

Yes, but, sadly, the chinwag seems to be going out of fashion. (For non-British readers, a chinwag is a nice relaxed chat or gossipy conversation.) 

A chinwag is stern and earnest? Really?

Well, not really. Admittedly you need to put aside sternness and earnestness until you've thoroughly explored what's been going on with the whole neighbourhood and their families even unto the third generation.

File:Eugene de Blaas The Friendly Gossips.jpg
The Friendly Gossip by Eugene de Blaas

But then, once that's done, you can get on with earnestly caring for and encouraging all the lovely people - and sternly avoiding the rest.

Thing To Have Today: a chinwag. The word chin goes right back to the Sanskrit hanu. Wag goes back to the Old English wagian, to shake, and is related to the Old Norse vagga, a cradle.

*Actually, possibly not constructing flat-pack furniture.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Spot the Frippet: chintz.

Chintz is a printed cotton fabric with a glazed surface,* typically with a pattern of flowers, and often used for soft furnishings.

Well, in some years it's often used for soft furnishings. anyway, for chintz goes in and out of fashion quite regularly (Ikea's 1996 slogan was Chuck Out Your Chintz).

In the 1980s you could fashionably have a chintzy pattern on every surface, including the carpet and yourself; nowadays the thing is to have one or two madly flowery pieces in an otherwise plain room.

In the 1780s your chintz might have appeared like this:

File:Dress (robe à l'anglaise) and skirts in chintz, ca. 1770-1790, shawl (fichu) in embroidered batiste, 1770-1800.jpg

(I do wish dresses like that would return!)

In the 1680s the French banned chintz altogether because it was having a bad effect on French fabric mills (the British followed suit (sorry) in the 1720s).

If you can't find some chintz, how about some chintzware:

Like it or loathe it, chintz is often down but seldom quite out. There'll be some somewhere, always. 

The interesting thing might be how many dips in fashion the particular example you spot has survived.

Actually, I have a flowery dress in the back of my wardrobe too pretty to throw away...I wonder if I can get away with calling it vintage?

Spot the Frippet: chintz. This word comes from the Hindi chīnt, from the Sanskrit citra, gaily-coloured.

*If it's not glazed it's called cretonne.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sunday Rest: cryptaesthesia. Word Not To Use Today.

Cryptaesthesia. Or, if you're American, cryptesthesia.

Cryptaesthesia is just the same as extrasensory perception, and so why people need to use a long, scientific-looking, and hard-to-spell word like cryptaesthesia to describe it I don't know.

Unless it's that the cryptaesthesiasts* feel the need of every trick in the box to make themselves come over as sane and honest, natch.

File:The Canterville Ghost illustration.jpg

Sunday Rest: cryptaesthesia. This word comes from the Greek word kruptos, hidden, from kruptein, to hide, plus the other Greek word anaisthēsia, an absence of sensation, from aisthēsis, feeling.

*This word doesn't show up anywhere on Google so I may have coined it. Cool.