This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Thing To Be Today: raffish.

Raffish means careless or unconventional in dress, manners, or more or less anything else. 

Well, when I say that, it's not raffish to be careless about serious stuff like murder, because at the back of the use of the word raffish is a certain exasperated acknowledgment on behalf of the speaker of something close to envy.

Raffishness does come with a certain charm.

It's true that to be raffish involves embracing the vulgar and the tawdry, but a raffish man (it's usually a man) gives the annoying impression, as he strolls around in his scuffed shoes, that he's having far too much fun to bother with conventional details.

So there's the challenge: to have a day so filled with enjoyment that there's no time to attend to convention.

And, as a further, and much harder, challenge, to do it without losing any friends or making any enemies, too.

Thing To Be Today: raffish. This word comes from raff, which can mean either mean rubbish or rabble. The word might come from the Old French rafle, a snatching up.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Spot the Frippet: monstrosity.

It may be our duty to spread joy throughout the world, but, honestly, on a Monday morning sometimes the only satisfaction to be gained is by snarling at it.

A monstrosity is something obviously large and ugly - and not usually a person. A building, perhaps.

There's a sadly obvious monstrosity quite near me. It's called the KD Tower. It's 279 feet tall, and it's so hideous that I can't even find a public domain image of it.

What will be the most horrible monstrosity you see today? 

I do hope spotting it gives you some degree of surly satisfaction. A fleeting grimace of contempt is acceptable, I think - as long as you find something to admire quite soon afterwards.

Spot the Frippet: a monstrosity. This word comes from monster, of course, which comes from the Old French monstre, from the Latin monstrum, portent, from monēre, to warn.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Sunday Rest: sprinkletti. Word Not To Use Today.

Lakeland is a useful company that sells cooking and cleaning stuff.

Unfortunately it also sells sprinkletti (ouch!). These are tiny sugar Chrstmas-themed shapes such as berries and holly leaves. 

I don't fancy them myself, but, hey, there's no accounting for taste and they would be entirely acceptable if they hadn't been given such a sickening name.

As it is, I feel too nauseated to want to eat anything.

Word Not To Use Today: sprinkletti. Presumably this is confetti for sprinkling. The word sprinkle probably came from the Middle Dutch sprenkelen, and is related, delightfully, to our word spark. Confetti is Italian, the plural of confetto, which started off meaning a sweet or bonbon. 

It'd be very fussy to fault the derivation: but the word itself is hideous.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Saturday Rave: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

I've written about The Hobbit before, long ago, but today is the eightieth anniversary of the book's publication (and writing about The Hobbit means I can avoid writing about HG Wells, whose birthday it is today, but whose personality irritates me).

Yes, The Hobbit is a relatively slight work, and I'm fairly sure it wouldn't be so well-known if it hadn't given rise to The Lord of the Rings, but it does some things very well indeed.

Here's one of them. I've spoken before of the power of not-very-good verse, and here's some to prove it.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold.

It's that word pale that does it, and it does it, remarkably, even though gold isn't actually pale. I don't know how or why it works so powerfully, and I wish I did. It might be that it conjures up an image of something far away and mysterious; it might be because it makes the word enchanted seem even more piquant. It might even work because the first three lines are really not very good. As Tolkien says:

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves.

I don't know about hobbits, but it works for me.

File:McLarty Treasure Replica.jpg

Word To Use Today: pale. This word comes from the Old French palle, from the Latin pallidus, pale, from pallēre, to look wan.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Furphy: Word To Use Today.

No, a furphy isn't a small hairy robot designed for amusing the children. If anyone's told you so then that, confusingly, is a furphy, for a furphy is a rumour or a fictitious story.

The Australians have cornered the use of the word furphy until now: but then why should the Ozzies have all the fun?

Word To Use Today: furphy. Furphy carts, used to transport water or sewage from the 1880s onwards (I do hope they were clearly labelled) were made at the Furphy family's foundry* in Shepparton, Victoria, Australia.

The twins in this photograph are Jill Mary Ellis and Barrie Cyril Ellis.

During the campaigns of Word War I these water carriers became popular as places for gossip, telling tall stories, and for promulgating rumours about troop movements.

Another theory about the word's origin is that the rumbling of an approaching furphy truck sounded like artillery fire, thus leading to unnecessary alarm.

*Try saying that quickly five times.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Making parliament angier: a rant.

Our British parliament is a very strange thing. The lower chamber is elected, which provides us with a range of eccentrics such as, I should imagine, is found wherever a country's constitution tips its hat towards democracy.

The upper chamber of the British parliament is even odder. It's called the House of Lords, and it does indeed consist entirely of titled people (though some of them are Ladies (knights and dames and baronets are lesser beings who aren't allowed in)). Ninety two of the members of the House of Lords are so-titled because they've inherited their titles from their ancestors; a few have their titles because of their jobs (ie they're senior clergyman in the Church of England or eminent judges); and the rest, the majority, have been appointed (for life) because they seemed to be wise and useful folk to have around (or because, naturally, they have some dirt on a current politician).

So in the Lords you'll find directors of charities, eminent politicians, captains of industry, academics, actors, and even journalists. The place is well-known for its elderly population, its great intelligence, and its courteous and well-reasoned debate.

(The elected house, the House of Commons, isn't well-known for any of these qualities.)

People have been trying for ages to think of less bonkers way of populating the upper house. Particularly dim-witted, I think, is one I saw in the Telegraph newspaper.

A better system would be to allow all knights and dames into The Upper House that would truly put a cross section of the population in there.

A cross section? 

Oh dear. 

I can't see how it's going to help if people start getting angry.

Word To Use Today: cross. This word comes from the Latin crux, which means cross.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Nuts and Bolts: serious accents.

English doesn't use many diacritical marks (by which I mean the lines and wiggles placed around letters that we usually call accents). We see them in words like naïve and Noël, and in very obviously borrowed words like soupçon and fiancée, and that's about it.

And then there's poetry.

Very early English poetry will sometimes be printed with a dot over some of the e s, like this: ė, to show that they are to be pronounced as separate syllables. In Praise of Mary, by that stalwart of verse Anthologies Anonymous, begins:

Of one that is so fair and bright
Velut maris stella,
Brighter than the dayės
Parens et puella,
I cry to thee; thou see to me!
Lady, pray thy son for me,
Tam pia,
That I motė come to thee,

In later stuff, the mechanism changes from a dot to the sort of mark called a grave. It looks like this: è, and even in prose it's occasionally used to show that the difference between a man who's agèd (age-ed) and something merely aged, like wine.

The song from Shakespeare's play Cymbeline that begins 

Fear no more the heat o' the sun 


Quiet consummation have,
And renownèd be thy grave!

Which makes us wonder, of course, what's so grave about a grave accent?

Well, this:

Nuts and Bolts: grave (as in accent). This word is nothing to do with the burying kind of grave, but it is to do with the solemn kind. This grave comes from Old French, from the Latin gravis, related to Greek barus, which means heavy.