This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Thing Not To Do Today: coggle.

Coggle is another Scots word - thank you, Scotland! - and it means to wobble or rock, or to be unsteady.

Something which coggles usually has a rounded base. If coggles too violently then it can be coggled over, or overturned.

Things which don't stand too firmly on their bases can even be coggly.

The word coggle is, plainly, completely charming, and it has been drafted in for other uses. A coggle is a wheel used for making small dents or grooves along the edge of plates before they are fired (though why anyone should wish to do this I have no idea at all). 

A coggle can also be another word for the sort of cobble that's used to make a path or road; or a coggle can be a small boat (which coggles along if the sea is rough); or it can even be a way of drawing word-trees on a computer.

In fact, you know something? It makes standing up straight seem really rather overrated.

Thing Not To Do Today: coggle. The origin of this word isn't known, but could be something to do with the type of coggle/cobble which tends to tip you off-balance when you tread on it. On the other hand it might be a diminutive of cob, a small boat. Or the word may have come about just because it sounds such fun, as did the word joggle.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Spot the Frippet: flap.

Letter go into flaps, and in Britain the vast majority of thses flaps will be set into a front door:

File:New front door (5220796607).jpg
photo by Timo Newton-Syms

but do mathematicians ever go into flaps

See the puzzle, below, and see of you can work it out calmly!

In the meantime, tents have flaps:

File:Sukuti Beach tent.jpg
photo by Paritosh chaudhary

and so do envelopes, pockets, and aeroplane wings:

File:Aircraft wing flaps full dsc06835.jpg
photo by David Monniaux

And then there are flapjacks*. In the USA Canada and New Zealand (my Collins dictionary tells me) a flapjack is a pancake, and in this case the flap in flapjack is understandable because you have to flap the pan to turn the flapjack over. In Britain, however, a flapjack is a chewy dense cake made with porridge oats and golden syrup, and, far from flapping it about, you press it firmly into the pan to make sure it sticks together while it's being baked:

File:Flapjack tray.jpg
photo by sk8geek

So where the flap has come from in that case is a puzzle: though not the only one (see below). 

Spot the Frippet: flap. This word is first recorded in the 1300s and is probably an imitation of the action of flapping.

The mathematical flapjack puzzle. My flapjack recipe (and this is true) calls for an eight inch square baking tray, but instructs the baker to mark out the soft newly-baked cake mixture into twelve squares.

Can you work out how this can be done?

It is possible - though I don't think the result is what the writer of the recipe had in mind.

*The jack is basically a word meaning man, or thingie-that-does-something, and comes from the shortened form of the name John.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Sunday Rest: shacket. Word Not To Use Today.

I'm not against new words.

I'm not even against portmanteau words where two words have been cobbled together without even a passing glance in the direction of history or aesthetics. 

There are limits, though, and this word cavorts through them with all the grace of a hornet-stung mule. 

A shacket is an item of clothing. No, it's nothing to do with shackles, thank heavens. It's a shirt worn as a jacket.

Still, whatever you call it, it's still a shirt. Just a very expensive one.

Still, a fool and his money...

Word Not To Use Today: shacket. This word is a badly sewn-together mixture of the words shirt and jacket. The word jacket comes from the French word jacque, which means peasant, from Jacques, the given name. The word shirt comes from the Old English scyrte, which is related to sceort, which means short.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

An Autumn Rain-Scene by Thomas Hardy.

Well, that's summer gone. It's dull and grey and cold and still.

Keats' writes of sumptuous autumn days of mellow fruitfulness, but they don't really exist. With autumn comes a hint of unease, of threat, of better-take-a-coat, of have-you-seen-my-woolly-hat-I-left-around-somewhere-in-the-spring? That sense of warmth (if any) being fleeting.

All this will tell you that I am basically a county person, by which I mean someone whom the weather affects in practical ways and who is enraged by the very idea of boots made of sheepskin (how are they going to fare in the mud!).

Thomas Hardy was a country person, too. 

You can tell.

There trudges one to a merry-making
With a sturdy swing
On whom the rain comes down.

To fetch the saving medicament
Is another bent,
On whom the rain comes down.

One slowly drives his herd to the stall
Ere ill befall,
On whom the rain comes down.

This bears the missives of life and death
With quickening breath
On whom the rain comes down.

One watches for signals of wreck or war
From hill afar
On whom the rain comes down.

No care if he gains a shelter or none,
Unhired moves on,
On whom the rain comes down.

And another knows nought of its chilling fall
Upon him at all,
On whom the rain comes down.

October 1904

Word To Use Today: chill. This word comes from the Old English ciele, and goes right back to the Latin gelidus, icy.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Word To Use Today: garbology.

Sometimes a suffix does wonders.

You might have thought that searching through dustbins was an activity confined to vagrants, detectives, thieves, foxes, and tabloid journalists; but call it an -ology, garbology, say, and suddenly you're a scientist, an ecologist, and an economist; and by searching through people's rubbish you're analysing the consumption patterns of households. 

Useful stuff.

It's a big thing, garbology, believe it or not, especially now the effects that waste plastics are having on the world are becoming known.

But surely even the keenest garbologist must wish he could have had a better name. Someone could have come up with a wholly Greek form of waste-study. You could have called it apatalology, for instance. 

But no one did.

Ah well.

Word To Use Today: garbology. A J Weberman coined this word in 1971 after going through Bob Dylan's dustbins. It became an academic subject in 1987 at the University of Arizona in a team led by William Rathje.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Nice names: a rant.

A letter in the Telegraph newspaper* points out that some names given to storms do not do their job, which is of course to sound threatening. It cites as examples Freya, Hannah, Gareth and Barry.

That's quite true, of course, but what can we do about it?

We in Britain have most recently been visited by storm Lorenzo's tail. To me Lorenzo sounds doomed and tragic, but that's because the only Lorenzo I've really come across is the beloved of the heroine in Keats' poem The Pot of Basil (and if you think European Romantic poetry is bland then The Pot of Basil will change your mind for ever (and quite possibly stop you eating basil for ever, as well). Mind you, the original horrid story comes from Boccaccio).

Anyway, the point is that with a few exceptions (Ghengis, Adolf, Medusa, Cruella) we will all have different associations with different names. Perhaps your favourite aunt was called Clytemnestra; perhaps you were once given a sweetie by your kind neighbour Mr Sauron.

Anyway, the obvious remedy is to call storms by names of threatening things and not people at all. Whirlpool. Quicksand. Calamity. Ledge. Catastrophe. Cyclone. Overhang. Disaster. Cliff.


Well, all right, not Cliff.

Perhaps this is harder than I'd thought.

Word To Use Today: cliff. This Old English form of this word was clif. It's not completely unrelated to the word cleave.

*From Kate Forrester of Malvern, Worcestershire, [you say that WUSSterSHEER, the wuss as in, well, wuss] England.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Nuts and Bolts: just between us.

This post is for people who speak English but experience occasional grammar anxiety

Well, that's most of us.

So: when does one say between you and me and when does one say between you and I?

Well, that's easy. One says between you and I when one doesn't understand the rules but has a vague feeling that I sounds rather classier.

Between you and me is, however, standard English.

So there we are: one worry fewer.

Good day's work.

Word To Use Today: grammar. The Greek word grammatikos means concerning letters.