This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 31 July 2015

Word To Use Today But Probably Not Out Loud: chalcenteric.


Saying this word out loud probably isn't a good idea.

It'll make you look stuck-up; disdainful; a show-off...and it might get you killed.

Still, never mind, it can be thought without any danger at all. 

Apparently chalcenteric has an older form, chalcenterous (you pronounce both words with a k sound at the beginning). 

And what do they both mean? 

Well, they describe someone who's really very tough indeed.

On reflection, it might be wisest to avoid describing one of those in any way at all. 

Especially if they're listening.

Word To Use Today But Probably Not Out Loud: chalcenteric. This word comes from the Greek khalkenteros, from khalkos copper or brass, and enteros, intestine. 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

If You Can't Do: a rant.

I generally find Facebook a profoundly depressing place. Yes, yes, all right, I probably do have the wrong Facebook 'friends'. If they were people I actually knew, and who didn't spend their whole time pointing out how much more successful they are than I am, my Facebook experience would probably be much pleasanter.

Anyway, one Facebook friend who happens to be a real friend (as well as a very good writer indeed and a good egg into the bargain) is Jean Ure. She's written many different sorts of books over the course of a long career, but recently she's been writing lively character-driven comedies for mid-graders - and also for the rest of us (like my husband and me) who thoroughly enjoy them, too.

This is a story Jean Ure told on Facebook a little while ago:

Just a year or so ago I was in a primary school classroom and overheard one young teacher bitterly complaining to another, 'Why is it that children's authors write so badly? Why do they so often start their sentences with and or but or so? Why do they use said all the time? It's just sloppy writing. Is it because their intended readership is children and they think it doesn't matter?"

What, as Jean concludes her post, you gonna do?

So, what are we gonna do?

Well, the first thing is probably to pause to allow my blood-pressure to drop to within safe limits.

Then we could examine the rules the teachers teach (and are taught); then we could try to communicate the truth about, and purpose of, good writing; and then we could perhaps explain the real rules.

What we won't do, of course, is to change a single thing about the way we strive to present the truth of the world in written form.

Because that - the art, if you like - is absolutely sacrosanct.

Word To Use Today: sloppy. This nice word is probably something to do with the Old English slyppe, and may be related to the Norwegian slipa, which means, rather thrillingly, fish slime.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Nuts and Bolts: nomophobia.

Well, this should be simple: nomos is the Greek for law, and phobia is another Greek word which denotes unreasonable fear or anxiety (note the unreasonable bit: you can't have a phobia about being in the water with a large crocodile. That's a fear. Unless it stops you going down to the local indoor swimming pool, natch.).

Anyway, nomophobia looks as if it should be an unreasonable fear of the law - but it's not. It's actually an unreasonable fear of being out of mobile phone contact.

Yes, the word was made up by people who care nothing for the classics.

Nomophobia tends to affect, especially, those under twenty and those over seventy. It tends to affect the depressed and the insecure, too.

Would these people, I wonder, have had a similar need for constant communication if phones hadn't been invented? I can't help but think that then their anxieties might have been harder to soothe; so perhaps we shouldn't be blaming the phones.

I don't know what the word is to describe someone who dislikes having a mobile phone signal (how on earth can anyone think with people jabbering away at you all the time?) but mostly I'm one of those.

Still, even I can work the off-switch, so I can't say it causes me any great problems.

Word To Consider Today: nomophobia. This word was coined by the UK Post Office in 2010. It's short for no-mobile-phone-contact-phobia. Ugh.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Thing Not To Make Today: a boob.

It's boobies who make boobs.

File:Abbotts Booby (Papasula abbotti) facing camera.jpg

No, no, not that sort of a booby!

The booby in question is an foolish or ignorant person, and a boob, in Britain, is an embarrassing blunder. It's something like asking a woman her due date when she's not pregnant, or expressing an opinion about the intellectual abilities of policemen and then discovering that your companion is in plain clothes.

Stuff like sending back the gazpacho because it's cold, or asking for a half-price ticket at an adult-rated film.

If you're in Australia, however, a boob is a prison, and anything that's boob is the sort of low quality stuff that is, I'm told, provided in jail.

Someone who's boob-happy is suffering mentally from the strains of prison life, and a boobhead is a someone who's been in prison repeatedly.

How to avoid making boobs?

Either stop talking entirely, or develop a habit of caution and kindness, I suppose.

But it's probably easier just to shrug and enjoy the boobs as they come.

Thing Not To Make Today: a boob. This word comes from booby, which is from the Spanish bobo, from the Latin balbus, stammering. Boob meaning prison comes from the unfortunate American expression booby-hatch which means mental hospital.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Spot the Frippet: bonnet.

The very silly BBC Radio 4 programme I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue has just begun a new series. 

I know British humour can be a bit baffling in the saner parts of the world, but here's one of their jokes anyway.

Two nuns are driving along and suddenly Dracula falls down onto the bonnet of their car. Well, they're absolutely terrified. 'What shall we do, what shall we do?' says one of them, and the other one says 'show him your cross!' 

So the first one shouts 'Get off my flipping bonnet!' 


Well, I told you the programme is very silly.

Bonnet, as I expect you know, is British for the front flap of a car, the bit that in the USA is (I understand) called the hood. In the USA a bonnet could be a feathered Native American headdress - whereas in Britain a feather bonnet is worn by Scottish soldiers.

Feather bonnet at the Battle of Waterloo. Painting by William Lockhart Bogle

Even more confusingly, a Scotch bonnet is a sort of hot pepper:

File:A Scotch Bonnet.jpg
seldom worn by Scottish soldiers. Photo by Thegeeb

In all parts of the world a bonnet is a lady's hat of a sort that hasn't been worn since about 1900, and only by very old ladies even then. 

painting of Mrs Kathleen Newton by James Tissot

A Tudor bonnet, however, is modern: it's the current academic dress if you happen to have a British doctorate.

There are other bonnets all over the place, too.

A cowl on a chimney can be called a bonnet:

File:Common chimney cowl Oregon.JPG

so are a couple of plumbing tools, and it's also an extra bit of sail you tie to the bottom of a foresail in light winds.

If you're in Southern India (hello, there!) then you may just be lucky enough to see a Bonnet Macaque, Macaca radiata.

Bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata) Photograph By Shantanu Kuveskar.jpg

Unfortunately, though, I think I'm going to have to make do with the front of a car.

Spot the Frippet: bonnet. This word comes from the Latin abonnis, but before that its origin is a mystery.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Sunday Rest: puisne. Word Not To Use Today.

So, guess how you say this word.

No, not like that.

No, not like that, either. It's PYOOnee. Yes, exactly the same as puny.

And so what does puisne mean?

Well, as it happens it means something dangerously close to puny. It doesn't quite mean physically weak and scrawny, but it does mean of lower rank, and it does imply of less power.

Puisne is usually used (though I'm using the word usually here to mean more than in any other case, rather than often) to describe a subordinate judge.

Illustration by John Kay. The one on the right is Lord Monboddo, judge and founder of modern historical comparative linguistics.

I must here remind the reader, though, that describing any sort of judge as something that sounds like puny is an act of utter, utter madness. 

Word Not To Use Today: puisne. Even if you do say this word then everyone will think you mean puny, so it really is a complete waste of time. The word comes from Anglo-French, from Old French puisné, born later, which is from puis, at a later date, and né, born.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Pincher Martin by William Golding

Cover artist Anthony Gross

Pincher Martin, a lieutenant on a naval ship, is thrown into the sea when a U boat sinks his ship. His struggle to survive on the small rocky island upon which he finds himself makes up most of the story.

Pincher Martin's strong sense of self-worth demands the reader's attention, although any interest in him as a person is increasingly strained as his memories reveal himself to have been a thoroughly dangerous and unpleasant character.

And then there's the famous nothing-was-as-you-thought last line...

No one but a Where's Wally fan would read William Golding for his humour. Or the loving and supportive relationships, for that matter. Or the three-dimensional women. Or the three-dimensional men, really. Golding's books tend to be rather dry and cold stuff (I think) about deeply flawed people meeting their destruction. 

Yes, it's all very modern and Nobel-Prize-For-Literature-Winning.

Still, some of his books are quite short.

So that's good, isn't it.

Word To Use Today: martin. A martin is a small migratory swallow-type bird, often with a slightly forked tail. It may be so called because it migrates about the time of Martinmas, November 11th...

...except that any sensible martin will be long gone from its breeding grounds by then.