This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 19 October 2018

Word To Use Today: widget.

We all have gadgets - heaven knows we all have gadgets! - and a widget is a gadget's small brother.

They're useful things, widgets. Sometimes they're useful things whose name you've forgotten (can you pass me the widget?) and sometimes they're useful things which don't really have a name, like those credit-sized metal things with the holes punched out of them that are supposed to be able to perform the function of at least fifty-six different tools, or the thing on penknives for getting stones out of horses' hooves.

At some point someone has actually invented something - it's a device that adds nitrogen gas to beer when its can is opened to give it a head - but has been so stymied by the task of thinking up a name for it that it is now known, officially, as a widget.

Various computer bits and pieces are known as widgets, too. As is, peculiarly, an airliner.

As you can see, widget is a small but very useful sort of a word.

A widget of a word, in fact, isn't it.

Word To Use Today: widget. This word was invented in the 1900s. It's an altered form of gadget. Gadget entered the English language in the 1800s, perhaps from the French gâchette, a trigger, from gâche, a staple. 

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Picking up germs: a rant

This is from a recent letter to the Daily Telegraph newspaper:

SIR - The worst place to pick up harmful germs...must be the supermarket trolley. The handles are often sticky, which must attract millions of microbes.

I try to take a wet wipe to clean the handle before use, but the problem then is safe disposal of the wipe.


It just makes you wonder what the writer does when he's in the best place to pick up harmful germs, doesn't it.

Word To Use Today: worst. This word comes from the Old English wierrest.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Nuts and Bolts: doggish.

A universal language would be useful, wouldn't it? Various languages at various times have come some way towards performing this function. Currently it happens to be the turn of English to be very widely used. 

But there's at least one language that really is universal all over the world - and the only problem is that it's spoken by dogs. 

Yes, a Turkish dog will understand a Latvian dog, who will understand a Brazilian dog, who will understand an Indian dog.

Back off! Hello-hello-hello! I'm completely harmless.

But our human languages aren't so versatile. English dogs, for instance, say woof-woof! or sometimes bow-wow (or so English people say) but although these beliefs do have some wider support among other languages they're not in complete agreement. Welsh people's dogs, for example, go wff wff, French ones wouf wouf, and Afrikaans ones woef-woef. The bow-wow sound is recognised even more widely, from India (bow-bow), Hungary (vow-vow), Lebanon (how-how), China (wow-wow) to Malaysia (ow-ow).

On the other hand in Israel dogs say hav-hav, in Albania ham-ham (which is understandable), in Burma woke-woke, and in Indonesia guk-guk.

But the dogs? They understand it all

Even, mysteriously, when the message is sprayed on a lamp-post.

Thing To Do Today: try to hear a dog say guk-guk, perhaps.

A really thorough and excellent article on this topic has been written by Stanley Coren and can be found HERE.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Thing Not To Be Today: virescent.

The Word Den has visitors from all over the world, and recently this has included large numbers from somewhere called Unknown Territory. This is thrilling, because, well, surely everywhere is known to the Great God of the Internet.

I can only think that Unknown Territory is somewhere under the sea (or on it: a cruise liner?) or some sort of a secret hideaway (Tracy Island? Could it be real?) or just possibly on Mars.

If the last is in fact the case then please, Martians, don't be offended by the title of this post. I have nothing against the naturally virescent (that is, things which are, or are becoming, green). Really. Trees in the spring: fine. Parrots: fine. Bank notes: fine. 

It's just not very healthy for humans.

Chinese girl tretchikoff.jpg
The Green Lady by Vladimir Tretchikoff (though on my screen she actually looks bright blue)

You see, a virescent human will be either seasick or envious or inexperienced or gullible.

They say that poison is green, too: but I think that was just a rumour put about by someone who didn't like broccoli.

Thing Not To Be Today: virescent. This word comes from the Latin virēre, to be green.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Spot the Frippet: ladder.

Ladders can be spotted in libraries:

File:Library of the Catholic Seminar in Budapest, former monastery of the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit 03.JPG
Library of the Catholic Seminar in Budapest. Photo by JezW

 in (mainly British) knitwear and hosiery:

File:Stocking run.jpg
photo by Molly from Bronx

(in America they're called runs, but ladder is rather good, I think)

 They're used in building:

File:Steeplejack on a chimney in 1960 arp.jpg
photo by Adrian Pingstone of 1960s Bristol. (Look at that safety, there isn't, is there. Eek!)

and on tower blocks:

ไฟล์:NYC - Buildings with fire exit ladders - 0200.jpg
photo of New York fire escapes by Jorge Royan

There are also virtual ladders. If you want to get higher up a, well, a hierarchy, then you may find yourself on a social or professional ladder - and it may well feel even more precarious than a job as a steeplejack.

Mind you, you can climb some ladders without taking any risks at all...

...but watch out for snakes, do.

File:The ladder of life is full of splinters.jpg
photo by Mykl Roventine

Spot the Frippet: ladder. This word comes from the Old English hlǣdder. I wish we still had common English words that begin hl.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Sunday Rest: vitellogenic. Word Not To Use Today.

File:New Forest calf.jpg
photo from the New Forest, England, by Jim Champion

Vitellogenic is a perfectly good word, really. I just can't imagine any occasion upon which anyone might want to use it.

Word Not To Use Today: vitellogenic. This word means producing or stimulating the production of egg yolk. It comes from the Latin vitellus, which originally meant little calf but later, somehow, came to mean egg yolk. Vitulus means calf.

I suppose if you were a member of a family of biologists who had been trying out some new sort of chicken feed you might just use the word vitellogenic. The Universe is vast and multifarious, so such a family might even exist. 

Though the chances of them speaking English can't be great.

Still, if you hear anyone say it, do let us know.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Saturday Rave: A Girl by Ezra Pound

Understanding a subject is a good thing, naturally, but luckily it's not always necessary.

Sometimes understanding something isn't even desirable:  fascinating mysteries, when researched and analysed, sometimes turn out to be mere mistakes, or stupidities, or gaps.

Here's a short poem by Ezra Pound.

A Girl

The tree has entered my hands,

The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast-
The branches grow out of me, like arms.

Tree you are,

Moss you are,
You are violets with wind behind them,
A child - so high - you are,
And all this is folly to the world.

Yes...sometimes I'd choose mystery over complete understanding.

Wouldn't you?

Word To Use Today: violet. This is a lovely word as long as it's pronounced with three syllables. It comes from the Latin viola  which is an even more horrid word when pronounced with two.