This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 25 May 2018

Word To Use Today: zoon.

A zoon may sound like a race of alien beings with a particularly zippy line in personal aircraft, but...

...well, actually, in a way zoons (or zoa) are exactly that. If on a small scale.

A zoon is a colony of animals which live stuck together, like corals or sea pickles (sea pickles are stuck together with jelly). Siphonophorae are zoons, too, but being colonies of jelly fish they're more or less all jelly.

Here's a young sea pickle:

Tunicate off Atauro island.jpg
photo by Nick Hobgood 

some pretty coral:

File:Coral Reefs.jpg
image by Georgemakar

and a siphonophore:

File:Marrus orthocanna.jpg
Photo of Marrus orthocanna by Kevin Raskoff 

Neat, huh?

And now we can all go away and spend at least three minutes wondering about writing an incredible sci-fi story...

Word To Use Today: zoon. Sadly, you say this ZOH-on, not zoooon. It comes from the Greek word zōē, which means life.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Good Readers: a rant.

Ofsted is the British Government Department which...well, this is from from the organisation's website.

Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills. We inspect and regulate services that care for children and young people.

Our goal is to achieve excellence in education and skills for leaders of all ages, and in the care of children and young people.

There's also reassurance that Ofsted's evaluation tools and frameworks are valid and reliable.

Well, that's all good, isn't it. 

Right, then, here's a slide from a talk by Ofsted's Head of English, Sarah Hubbard.   

What do you think?

Personally, not only has it persuaded me that I am not a good reader, but it has also persuaded me that I really can't be bothered to become one.

Somehow I doubt that was Ms Hubbard's intention.

Word To Use Today: slide. This slide was presumably presented via Powerpoint, but in the olden days images to be shared were printed on small squares of transparent film framed in cardboard. Each one had to be slid in front of a bright light which projected the enlarged image onto a screen.

It was much more fun than powerpoint because there was always a chance the image would come up upside-down.

Carousel slide projector, photo by Adamantios. The slides in this incredibly sophisticated device* were fitted into the groves in the disc on the top, and then dropped down in front of the light source by means of a switch.

The word slide comes from the Old English slīdan and is related to various other slippery words such as sliderian, to slither.

*Well, it was once.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Nuts and Bolts: epithalamion.

An epithalamion is usually a wedding poem (though it can be a song, a piece of music, or even a painting).

It seemed appropriate to feature epithalamia in the week of a royal wedding that's been received with glee, rejoicing, loving-kindness, ennui and, in some small dark unhappy quarters, contempt.

Ah well. This has probably been the reaction to weddings down the ages, for they've been around a long time. Epithalamia themselves are ancient. The Song of Solomon is often counted as one, and that was written...well, people argue about that, but certainly earlier than 300 BC; and the Greeks were singing epithalamia even before that, usually at the door of the bridal chamber. One epithalamion would be sung as the couple retired, and then another (possibly even less welcome) would wake the couple up the next morning. Epithalamia were generally full of good wishes and hopes for a happy marriage.

The Romans took up the custom, though they tended to sing theirs at the reception after the happy couple had left - and the words tended to be less suitable for sober society.

The tradition stuttered a bit after that, though the French Ronsard and the Italian Metastasio were part of crazes for ephithalamia, and there was a similar English craze that saw John Donne, Ben Jonson and, very notably, Edmund Spencer write wedding poems (Spencer's takes up a whole book).

Nowadays wedding poetry is rare, though, having just come from doing a Google search of  'poems for a wedding' I can say with great feeling not nearly rare enough

In fact the offers on Google enough to make me wonder if the original custom of singing the epithalamion in private, away from the guests, might really have been the most sensible way of going about it.

Word To Use Today: epithalamion. This is Greek. Epi- means upon, and a thalamos is a bridal chamber. The official plural is ephithalamia, but -mions is also used a lot.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Thing To Do Today: simmer.

Are there as many technical bits of jargon in cooking as there are in computers? 

Well, I don't know, quite honestly, but as cooking terms must occur every language known to man,* and as computer terms are largely international, I suspect the cooks have the larger vocabulary.

So, the term simmer. This originally meant to keep food for a time in water just hot enough to make small bubbles rise to the surface. That temperature is probably, depending upon the weather and how high you are above sea level, about 95 degrees centigrade.

If you live up a mountain, or there's a thunderstorm brewing, then your simmering water will be cooler, and the cooking will take longer.

If you have someone around who does all the cooking for you then I am sorry for you, for you are missing a great pleasure, but in that case there are other ways to simmer. You can always look forward to your dinner in a state of simmering anticipation; an approaching trip or celebration might find you in state of simmering excitement; a difficult colleague might cause you to exist in a miasma of simmering anger; a difficult boss might induce simmering resentment; and a difficult computer might lead to simmering frustration.

In all these cases, we in England try our best not to come too obviously to the boil.

Except when watching the news and the football, obviously.

Thing to do today: simmer. This word first appeared in the 1600s. The best guess is that it's an imitation of the sound of a simmering pan.

*Possibly not Klingon**.

**Actually, even in Klingon. I just looked it up, and the word for to boil, for instance, is pub.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Spot the Frippet: tack.

Here's a little word that does a lot of work.

It can be a sort of nail with a big flat head:

photo by S.J. de Waard 

a large temporary stitch for holding fabric in position:

File:Basting (PSF).png

the stickiness of wet paint, a sailing direction that takes you diagonally towards the wind, poor-quality food, anything cheap and gaudy, riding harness for horses:

File:Balimore the beautiful horse.JPG
this photograph is entitled Balimore the beautiful horse. Photo by Revital Salomon

 or a tack can be (in Scotland) an area of land held on a lease.

A thumb tack is what British people call a drawing pin:

File:Brass thumbtack.jpg

I'd feel sorry for the small word having to do so much work, except that it's a spiky little thing, full of energy and bounce, and it seems to be thoroughly enjoying itself.

Spot the Frippet: tack. In the 1300s the word tak meant fastening or nail. It's related to the Middle Low German tacke, a pointed instrument, and the theory is that it goes right back to a Proto-Indo-European word meaning tip or point or prong or twig, and which word is also connected to another Proto-Indo-European word meaning to rip or fray. Tack meaning food is the same thing as hardtack, which word appeared in the 1800s though no one knows from where. The word tack meaning cheap and gaudy appeared around the same time and started off meaning an inferior horse. The Scots lease word is from tak, the Scots form of take.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Sunday Rest: bromance. Word Not To Use Today.

'Who can trace to its first beginnings,' asked PG Wodehouse in The Clicking of Cuthbert 'the love of Damon for Pythias, of David for Jonathan, of Swan for Edgar? Who can explain what it was about Crosse that first attracted Blackwell? We simply say, "These men are friends", and leave it at that'.

And so it was, until some cretin coined the word bromance.


File:Cima da Conegliano - David and Jonathan - WGA04912.jpg
Despite appearances, this pair is not Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, but David and Jonathan plus the top bit of Goliath. Painting by Cima da Conegliano (1459 - 1517).

Word Not To Use Today: bromance. I think, if I could be bothered to look it up, this word would prove to be a mixture of brother and romance...

...okay, in the end I just had to look it up. The word is said to have been coined by Dave Carnie, editor of the skateboard magazine Big Brother, to describe a relationship that develops between skaters.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Saturday Rave: Go Seek Her Out by James Joyce.

May all the blessings of heaven descend upon Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and I hope their wedding proves to be the prelude to a fairy tale marriage...

...though, now I come to think about it, fairy tales aren't generally the happiest or safest places to live. Step-relations, for instance, are notoriously unreliable.

But still, away with doom and nay-sayers, this is a day to celebrate the happiness of two young people, and here to help is a wedding poem by James Joyce. As a bonus it's much shorter than Ulysses and much easier to understand. 

The poem is addressed to the wind, and it's a rather simple thing: but then so, at its best, is love.

Go Seek Her Out

Go seek her out all courteously,
And say I come,
Wind of spices whose song is ever

O, hurry over the dark lands
And run upon the sea
For seas and lands shall not divide us
My love and me.

Now, wind, of your courtesy
I pray you go,
And come into her little garden
And sing at her window;
Singing: The bridal wind is blowing
For Love is at his noon;
And soon will your true love be with you
Soon, O soon.

Word To Use Today: courtesy. This word was originally to do with having courtly manners. It comes from the Old French, from the Latin cohors, which meant cohort.

Epithalamium is the spelling of this word used in all the various on-line versions of this poem, from which I have copied the text. It's quite often spelled epithalamion. It means a wedding-poem either way.