This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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



Saturday, 21 September 2019

Saturday Rave: The Epic of Gilgamesh.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest poetry we have.

It's not the oldest poem ever, of course - that would have been when some individual of an early Homo species asked someone to sit down beside her on the sabre-toothed tiger - but The Epic of Gilgamesh is the first poem we have that's written down.

It was first written as five Sumerian poems in about 2100 BC, which became the basis of a long poem in Akkadian. Our first versions of this translation dates back to perhaps 1900 BC.

It's absolutely terrific.

It begins like this:

Gilgamesh King in Uruk

I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh. This was the man to whom all things were known; this was the king who knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out with labour, returning he rested, he engraved on a stone the whole story.

When the gods created Gilgamesh they gave him a perfect body. Shamash the glorious sun endowed him with beauty, Adad the god of the storm endowed him with courage, the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild bull. Two thirds they made him god and one third man. 

In Uruk he built walls, a great rampart, and a temple of blessed Eanna for the god of the firmament Anu and for Ishtar the goddess of love. Look at it still today: the outer wall where the cornice runs, shines with the brilliance of copper, and the inner wall, it has no equal. Touch the threshold, it is ancient. Approach Eanna the dwelling of Ishtar, our lady of love, the like of which no latter-day king, no man alive, can equal. Climb upon the wall of Uruk, walk along it, I say; regard the foundation terrace and examine the masonry: is it not burnt brick and good? The seven sages laid the foundations. 

***

So that's the very beginning of known poetry. 

And o
bviously, remarkably, it's still a pattern for many fantasy writers today. 

Well, I suppose if it ain't broke...

Word To Use Today: Gilgamesh. This name might mean the ancestor is a hero, from the Sumerian bilga, ancestor, and mes, hero or young man. But that's a bit of a guess, really.

The translation above is by N K Sanders, and the full text can be found HERE.


Friday, 20 September 2019

Tern: Word To Use Today.

The terns are leaving England...

File:Arctic tern 8664.jpg
Arctic tern. Photo by OddurBen

That sounds very mournful and poetic, but it isn't, really, because they'll be back again in the spring. Every year, once the weather starts getting cold, they rise and float on the winds far, far away to the south until they find summer again.

File:Common tern with fish.jpg
Common tern, photo by Badjoby

Among human populations it's only generally the old people who follow them and go to warmer climes for the winter, but if someone younger and fitter wants to travel south then there's a chance they might do it in the sort of tern which is one of these:

File:William P. Stubbs - The American three masted schooner Annie R. Lewis.jpg
The Annie R Lewis by William P Stubbs

This type of tern is also known as a three-masted schooner.

And if by any lucky chance three three-masted schooners sailed off together then you'd have a tern of terns, because a group of three is a tern, as well.

So what's the connection between the word for the bird, and the word for the boat, which are both so beautiful, and both live on the sea, and ride the wind in order to move over it?

If you can believe the dictionary, none whatsoever.

Word To Use Today: tern. The word for the bird comes from the Old Norse therna. The word for the ship and the group comes from the Latin terni, which means three each, from trēs, three.








Thursday, 19 September 2019

Tons of fun: a rant.

The Saddlers Company was fined ten tuns of wine for their part in the great London brawl of 1327. 

And you know how much a tun is, don't you.

No?

Well, a US ton (which is pronounced tun, naturally) is 2,000 lbs (lb is short for pound (yes, I know, but it just is, all right?! Blame the Romans!*) which is about half a kilogram), though a British ton is 2,240lbs. A metric ton (which is a term used in the US and many other parts of the world but not Britain, where it's called a tonne (pronounced, obviously, tun)) is, amusingly, 2,204lbs.

The size of a freight ton depends upon the stuff being shifted, but it can be a unit of either volume or weight. It can be 40 cubic feet (a cubic foot is 0,028 of a cubic metre) or one metric tonne.

But what about a tun?

That's definitely a unit of volume, and is either 252, 256, 240 or 208 wine gallons. A wine gallon is the area of a cylinder of 42 inches height and diameter. An inch is...

...sorry. I seem to lost the will to live.

Ten tuns of wine? 

Ten big barrels.

That'll do.

Word To Use Today: ton or tun. Ton and tun both come from the Old English word tunne.

*lb is short for libra.


Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Nuts and Bolts: penillion.

This word sounds like a number with a very large number of noughts, but it's not. It's something much more interesting.

Penillion is the Welsh art of singing poetry to the accompaniment of a Welsh traditional melody, usually played on the harp. The singer's (often improvised) tune may be in triple time while the harpist plays in duple time, and the harpist will often ;play variations on the traditional tune. 

Here's a beautiful example:




Penillion often, as in that clip, forms part of the Welsh Arts competitions called Eisteddfodau.

Word To Enjoy Today: pennillion. This word is Welsh and means verses, from penill, verse. It's also called certhh dant, which means string music.


Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Thing Not To Tell Someone They Are Today: puisne.

You say puisne the same as you do puny (PYOOnee) and it's basically the same word.

The difference is that whereas puny usually means physically weak, puisne means not so powerful.

It's used for people who have too much authority and dignity to have sand kicked over them when sunbathing. Particularly judges.

There are times when calling someone in great authority puisne can be extremely refreshing.

Best not say it out loud, though.

Thing Not To Tell Someone They Are Today: puisne. This word comes from the Old French puisné, born later, from puis, at a later date, and né, born, from the Latin nascī.



Monday, 16 September 2019

Spot the Frippet: sundial.

There are quite a lot of sundials in England. Yes, it is quite bizarre, because we don't always have very much sun. Ah well!

You can find horizontal:

File:Garden sundial MN 2007.JPG















photo by SEWilco

and vertical sundials:

File:Dali Sundial in Paris.jpg
this one's in Paris. Photo by Ken Eckert

This one from New South Wales is a whopper (though it doesn't seem to be doing much good at the time of the photograph):

File:Singleton Sundial Feb 2010.jpg
Singleton sundial. Photo by Bandworthy


My very favourite sundial is the topiary one at Ascott House in Buckinghamshire, England (follow the link to see a photograph). Around the clipped box numbers is the motto, also in clipped box hedging, Light and Shade But Love Always.

If you don't know where to find a sundial then if you have any sort of stick to cast a shadow you can make your own very easily. It'll only tell the correct time at that particular place at that particular time on that particular day of the year, but, hey, that's better than a clock which loses a second a day. 

Or, of course, its battery.

Spot the Frippet: sundial. The Old English for sun was sunne. Dial comes from the Latin diālis, daily, from diēs, which means day.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Sunday Rest: eutaxia. Word Not To Use Today.

A Greek scholar might guess that eutaxia is the state of enjoying things arranged neatly - and the rest of us the word might suggest the natural disgust felt at having to give money to the government. 

But we would all be wrong, because eutaxia is actually an engineering term which describes something that can be easily melted.

Still, if you can find a work of literature which includes the sentence The butter existed in its usual state of eutaxia then you will at least have some idea what it's going on about, won't you.

Sunday Rest: eutaxia. Eu- is to do with the Greek word eus, which means good; -taxia, I should imagine, comes for the Greek word taxis, which means order. 

What this has got to do with things melting I have no idea at all.

 By the way, eutaxis is the state of having a fifth secondary flight feather. 

This is, however, only likely if you are a bird.