This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Good news is no news: a rant.

Look, I know they say that good news is no news, but they're wrong, okay?

Have a ten thousand pound bonus!

Mother and child both well!

We've won the cup!

See? None of those is bad news, but it's something to shout about* all the same.

But the media will look on the gloomiest side. It's become a habit with them. I've long told myself that they can twist any story into an outrage or a tragedy, but this headline, in the Telegraph newspaper on line on 18/06/2020, took the biscuit:

Doctors warn of organ shortage as lockdown cuts fatal accidents and violent crime

Still, it was one of the few items in the week's news that actually made me laugh.

Word To Use Today: crime. The Latin word crīmen means accusation, verdict or crime...which makes me glad I'm not likely to be up in front of an Ancient Roman court.

*Well, except that shouting in public is now illegal in England, I think, because it tends to spread germs. Ah well!

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Nuts and Bolts: anaphora.

It's always flattering to be told that we've been doing really complicated grammar all our lives, so here I present the word anaphora.

Anaphora is when you refer to something that's been mentioned previously, but by using a different word.

You might say Clare bakes bread, and she does it every morning. It's a simple enough sentence, but the words she, does, and it are all examples of anaphora.

There. Aren't we clever.

Anaphora has another meaning, too. If someone says something like:

You may think that the defendant is unreliable; you may think that he is dishonest; you may think he is for those reasons guilty; but that last is not an inference that can be drawn.

The repetition of you may think at the beginning of the clauses is also called anaphora.

That sort of thing is mostly only for show-offs, though.

Thing To Use Today: anaphora. This word comes from the Greek word for repetition. ana- can mean, more or less anything, and pherein means to bear.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Thing To Be Today: genial.

Blow this carping lot, let's be genial. 

It's true that only oldish men can really pull this off - if a woman tries to be genial she'll probably be called warm, and a child sweet-natured - but, hey, it's still not a bad project.

Let people know you're pleased to see them. Be generous with offers of help and hospitality (as allowed by your local rules). Let people feel you like and value them.

File:Mr Pickwick 1889 Dickens The Pickwick Papers character by Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke).jpg
illustration by Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke)

Be of good cheer, and chin up...

...speaking of which, genial also means to do with the chin (and so, too, does last week's Thing Not To Be Today, mental).

But that's a compete coincidence.

Thing To Do Today: be genial. The word meaning warm comes from the Latin geniālis, to do with birth and marriage, from genius, which is a guardian god. The word genial which relates to the chin is from the Greek geneion, from genus, jaw.

Mental meaning to do with the chin comes from the Latin word mentum, chin.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Spot the Frippet: knot.

We're terribly high-tech nowadays: we have Velcro, we have those wire twisty things, we have press studs, Sellotape, Blu tack, and self-adhesive more or less everything.

So why would we need knots?

Well, on ties:

File:Necktie (drawing).jpg
illustration by Dave Ring, Europeana Fashion

and straggly plants:

Image titled Stake a Plant Step 3
photo: wiki how

and I suppose a bow is a sort of a knot, too:

File:Boyd Welsh Shoe Company Women's High Lace-up Pointed Toe Boots.jpg

and then there are all those other knots which form themselves by magic (is there such a thing as a knot gnome?) when you aren't looking. These are to be found in hoses, hair, and electric leads of every description.

As you may know, lengths of cotton thread come alive once threaded through a needle. It's the only way to account for all the nasty knotted loops and broken threads.

And how about trees? No, they don't tie themselves into knots very often, but the hard tissue where a branch meets a trunk forms a knot, which can be seen on almost any plank of bare wood:

File:Wood Knot.JPG
photo by F pkalac

Knots: good or bad?

Count the ones you see today, and find out.

Spot the Frippet: knot. This word was cnotta in Old English.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Sunday Rest: webinar. Word Not To Use Today.

A webinar must be a seminar that takes place over the web, right?


It really is exasperating, isn't it.

Sunday rest: webinar. A seminar is a small group of people with a common interest who get together to discuss a topic. Every member of the group is expected to make a contribution.

If this is done via the internet then it is called a web conference.

A webinar also takes place over the internet, but it is a lecture made by one person (or perhaps a few people) to an audience.

The word seminar comes from the Latin seminarium, meaning seed plot. The word web has been around for ages. The Old English form of the word was webb.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Saturday Rave: The Shepherd's Calendar. June, by John Clare.

Most of the books I read as a child had on the inside cover the legend Editor: Kaye Webb

By this means Kaye Webb became a legend in more ways than one.

What was it, I wondered, that an editor did? It was clearly something extremely important.

I now know what editors do. The good ones suggest the removal of the best bits of a manuscript; the bad ones do it themselves and hope the writer won't notice.

Ah well.

John Clare's editor (and publisher) for The Shepherd's Calendar was John Taylor. It was a complicated sort of a relationship, largely supportive but still controversial to this day.

Here's a section from the June section of Clare's poem (I've updated the spelling a bit):

To willow skirted meads with fork and rake
The scented hay cocks in long rows to make
Where their old visitors in russet brown
The hay time butterflies dance up and down
& gads that tease like wasps the timid maid
& drive the herd boy cows to pond & shade
Who when his dogs assistance fails to stop
Is forced his half made oaten flute to drop
& start and halloo through the dancing heat
To keep their gadding tumult from the wheat
Who in their rage will dangers overlook
& leap like hunters o'er the pasture brook
Brushing through blossomed beans in maddening haste
& [des]stroying corn they scarce can stop to taste
Labour pursues its toil in weary mood
& feign would rest with shadows in the wood

I love the way the quiet scene - even the butterflies are soberly dressed - is transformed in just a few lines by a gadfly into a raging stampede through the suffocating heat; and then it all comes back to rest and quiet again.

John Taylor cut out the whole passage.

Ah well. He probably had his reasons.

But what they might have been, I do not know.

Word To Use Today: gad. This word came into English in the 1200s from the Old Norse gaddr, which means spike.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Word To Use Today: coquelicot.

As all right-minded people must be in thrall to the genius of Jane Austen, then as a service I here introduce the word coquelicot, which has been puzzling me for over forty years.

'Do you know, [says the fickle Isabella in Northanger Abbey to her best friend Catherine Morland] I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine, in a shop in Milsom Street just now - very like yours, only with coquelicot ribbons instead of green; I quite longed for it.'

But what's coquelicot? And how do you say it?

Well, it's COCKleeCOH in English, as in the original French, and it means corn poppy. 

Papaver rhoeas, if you're being particular:

File:Field poppy - Papaver rhoeas (12190335083).jpg
photo by Bjorn S

Oh, and what a relief it is to know that at last.

Coquelicots by Robert Vonnoh, 1890.

Word To Use Today: coquelicot. This word is French, and was first used in English in 1795. Northanger Abbey was probably finished in about 1798, so Isabella, as one would expect, was extremely up-to-date in her knowledge of fashion.