This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Saturday Rave: The Love-Sick Boy by W S Gilbert.

It may not be very poetic, nor very burnishing to the self-importance, but the fact remains that most love-affairs turn out to be comedies rather than tragedies.

Well, they do if we would only let them.

When first my old, old love I knew,
My bosom welled with joy;
My riches at her feet I threw -
I was a love-sick boy!
No terms seemed too extravagant
Upon her to employ -
I used to mope, and sigh, and pant,
Just like a love-sick boy!
Tink-a-tank! Tink-a-tank!

But joy incessant palls the sense;
And love, unchanged, will cloy,
And she became a bore intense
Unto her love-sick boy!
With fitful glimmer burnt my flame,
And I grew cold and coy,
At last, one morning, I became
Another's love-sick boy.
Tink-a-tank! Tink-a-tank!


Tink-a-tank indeed.

Well, probably. (Sorry, no idea at all.)

Word To Use Today: bosom. English-speakers have had bosoms since Old English times. The word then was bōsm

This song is sung during Gilbert and Sullivan's Trail by Jury.

The trial is, of course, one for breach of promise.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Word To Use Today: temperature.

I think I've got a temperature...

...well, of course I have. Even dead people have a temperature, although it tends to be low.

What I really mean, of course, is that I think I have got a fever.

Ah well. 

I suppose the great thing is that I feel only half dead.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Word To Use Today: temperature. This word came into the English language in the 1500s, when it meant a mingling. It comes from the Latin word temperātūra, proportion, from temperāre, to temper.


Thursday, 23 May 2019

Beast Police: a rant.

A policeman's lot is not a happy one, says the old song, and it's certainly true that despite all the work the police forces of the world do to keep us all safe (yes, I do realise that some of you will be laughing mockingly) the public isn't shy about hurling insults at the boys in...well, they used to be boys in blue round here, but nowadays they tend to come in luminous green.

Scum, Pigs, Bœufs (French, because of their supposedly blank stare) Chimps (Completely Hopeless In Most Policing Situations), Chien (dog) Filth, Fuzz, Plod (Enid Blyton character), Moosor (Russian, garbage), Rati (Argentinian, from word for rat), Schmier (Swiss, grease (as in corruption)).

Hey, but what was that about fuzz? That's an odd one. It's not even obviously an insult. Where did that come from?

Well, the common view is that it refers to the static interference to be heard on police radios, but a sentence in the Telegraph online of May 14 may provide a different explanation. It describes a police investigation into a man who had claimed that various very high-ranking officials in British life had been members of a murderous ring of child abusers.

The man, the report tells us

was now the suspect as police officers pawed over the allegations with a fine-tooth comb.

Well, if the police have paws then I think we can see where the word fuzz came from, can't we?

Word To Use Today: paw. This word comes from the Old French powe, paw or fist. Before that, no one's sure, but there's a lovely German word Pfote which might be related to it.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Nuts and Bolts: contractions.

Contractions happen when you miss out a bit of a word (or two).

Don't is an obvious example. And I'll, can't, won't...there are plenty of them.

In English they're used a lot, but they aren't compulsory; you can always say (or write) do not, I will (or I shall) cannot or will not.

Some other languages are different. In French, for example, a lot of contractions are compulsory in both in speech and writing - c'est, l'arbre.

Spoken contractions are common everywhere. (How many of us say, for example, the word everywhere, ev-er-ee-wair, and not evreewair?). And I remember with affection the wonderful Alan Coren's stories featuring taxi drivers who seemed to end every sentence narmean?*

The important thing is to remember is that when you use a contraction you're not being wrong, or sloppy: you're doing grammar!

Word To Use Today: contraction. The Latin word contrahere means to draw together.

*Do you know what I mean?

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Thing Not To Be Today: a tattie-bogle.

Here's a lovely example of the Scots tongue:


A tattie is a potato (tattie-peelin, bafflingly, means to be affected or pretentious) and a bogle is an evil sprite.

And a tattie-bogle?

Would that be some nasty power which makes potatoes go bad? Some sort of blight sprite, in fact?

Or would that be the unfortunate habit potatoes have of shrinking the waistbands of all one's favourite clothes?


A tattie-bogle is a scare crow.

File:Scarecrow. Drawing by Carus.jpg
Illustration by Carus.

Potatoes were a vital and common crop in Scotland in the 1800s, but I've never heard of birds eating potatoes (wouldn't they have to dig them up, first?) so I can only guess that perhaps the tattie-bogle was put there to frighten spirits away from stealing the potatoes. 

In any case, the principle remains: it's best to avoid the tattie-bogle look if you can.

Thing Not To Be Today: a tattie-bogle. Bogle comes from the Scots bogill, perhaps from Gaelic. The Middle Welsh bwg means ghost.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Spot the Frippet: phyllotaxis.

Well, everyone knows what taxis are, and phyllo means to do with leaves, so...

...*scratches head*...

Here are some examples of phyllotaxis:

By Anders Sandberg from Oxford, UK - PhyllotaxisUploaded by Jacopo Werther, CC BY 2.0,

photo by Stan Shebs

photo and diagram by Jean-Luc W 

Phyllotaxis concerns the arrangement of leaves round a stem.

It's a thing to induce a sense of wonder in the mathematician, the artist and the mystic.

Choose which of those categories describe you best: and admire!

Spot the Frippet: phyllotaxis. This word comes from the Greek word phullon, which means leaf. The Greek word taxis means order. 

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Sunday Rest: never. Word Not To Use Today.

In the words of the old saying, never say never...


...which just goes to prove, as the expression requires us to say the thing we're not supposed to be saying - twice! - that the old ones aren't necessarily the best.

Doesn't it.

Word Not To Use Today: the n word. That is, the one that starts with an n and ends with ever. It means, basically, not ever, and it comes from the Old English æfre, ever, with an n bunged on the front, which was a common Old English way of creating opposite meanings.