This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Where Not To Go In 2014: a rant.

Someone in Ireland once remarked to me how funny English place names are.

As we were in the Dublin parish of Sallynoggin at the time, I was slightly bemused.

It's certainly true that there are certainly a lot of odd and sometimes unfortunate English place names about, though. My county of Hertfordshire has places called Ugly and Nasty, goodness knows what idiot named them. Even worse, there used to be a place just a mile or so from here called Piccotts Bottom.

Hey! No sniggering at the back, there! It's not funny!

Worst of all, in Kent the other week I came across a place called Bedlams Bottom which is situated right at the bottom of Raspberry Hill. Obviously my outrage at this example of silly naming knew no....

...oh, all right.

It's brilliant isn't it.

Brightened up my whole day.

Raspberry Background
Photo by Petr Kratochvil

Word To Use Today: raspberry. This word comes from raspis, but no one seems to know where it came from before that. To give someone the raspberry means to refuse them whatever it is they want. To blow a raspberry is to make a rude spluttery noise by blowing through the closed lips. These expressions both come from the Cockney rhyming slang raspberry tart. I expect you can complete the rhyme yourself.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Nuts and Bolts: sarcmark

Obviously one can never have enough punctuation, so I'm delighted to bring to your attention THIS SITE where for a limited period you can download a new punctuation mark for free.
What is it? It's a sarcmark. You use it to show when something you've written is sarcastic.
Personally, I can't imagine how on earth we've managed without one of those for so long. I mean, how much better would Shakespeare and Jane Austen have been if only they'd had sarcmarks?

Never again be misunderstood! say the sarcmark people of Michigan USA. Never again waste a good sarcastic line on someone who doesn’t get it!
Well, thank heavens to have a solution to this problem at last. In the late 1800s the French poet Alcanter de Brahm did try to get people to use a backward-facing question mark to show sarcasm, and nowadays we do have the emoticon ;) but how much classier would Alexander Pope, for instance, have been if he'd had an official bit of punctuation to bung in between couplets?

Well, now we have the sarcmark (phew!) all our troubles are over.
Its Time Has Come - SarcMark sarc2
For the further efficiency of human communication I'd like to suggest we extend this idea to speech. So, whenever you say anything sarcastic in future, do remember that a simple touch of the tongue to the tip of the nose will make your intentions clear.
Sarcasm - Punctuate It - SarcMark sarc
 No, no. No need for thanks. Really.
Thing To Bear In Mind Today: sarcmark. This was invented in 2010. The sign consists of the Hebrew letter Pe with a dagesh. Its name comes, obviously, from sarcasm, which comes from the Greek sarkazein, to rend the flesh.


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Thing To Do Today: change your mind.

So there I was, just getting launched into a nice post about the word worry, when I was stricken with a sudden worry that I'd written about worry before. And it turns out that I have, so I'm going to have to change my mind.

Pity. I was looking forward to sharing the thought that it's possible to be worried about being worried by a dog.

Anyway: changing my mind.

Now. If you know and understand absolutely everything about a subject; if what you know has come from places that are absolutely to be trusted; if Time and Place and the evolving ways of the world will never have any effect on it; if Science can never throw any new light upon it; if sticking to your guns isn't going to make you more of a nuisance than a hero; and, if you aren't mistaking a principle for a fashion, then don't change your mind.

Otherwise, you really will have to move in order to keep up.



Thing To Do Today: change your mind. The word change comes from the Old French changier, from the Latin cambīre, to exchange or barter.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Spot the frippet: something trochoid.

 Something trochoid moves like this:
File:Cycloid f.gif
animation by Zorgit

(it's the black dot that's trochoid).

If for some reason the animation isn't working on your computer, then a trochoid path is the boing boing boing line followed by a frantic frog.
If you're in Antarctica, where frogs are in short supply, then to see something trochoid all you have to do is stick a bit of chewing gum to the edge of a food can and then roll it along a table.
Neat, huh?
You can do the same thing by rolling a coin marked with eraser fluid, or by attaching a small piece of paper to the side a car tyre. Do be sure to ask the owner of the car, first.
And, whatever you do, don't stick it on with a pin.
Spot the frippet: something trochoid. This word comes from the Greek trokhos, which means wheel.  In this sense trochoid was coined by Gilles de Roberval, who died in 1675.

To make things even easier, anything that can roll or rotate can also be described as trochoid.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Sunday Rest: diurnal. Word Not To Use Today.

The poet William Wordsworth was a genius. He was so often sublime, so often breathtakingly graceful, simple and profound:

A slumber did my spirit seal;
          I had no human fears:
          She seemed a thing that could not feel
            The touch of earthly years.

One of Wordsworth's rules for his poetry was to use "language really used by men". But sometimes he just couldn't help himself getting a bit poetical.

          No motion has she now, no force;
            She neither hears nor sees;
          Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
            With rocks, and stones, and trees.


Diurnal usually means to do with the daytime (as opposed to nocturnal). Diurnal flowers open in the daytime, diurnal animals sleep at night, and a diurnal is a book containing all the church services except matins (which, although its name means morning, used to have an irritating habit of being held in the middle of the night).

Apart from the fact the I don't think I've ever heard anyone say diurnal in my whole life, diurnal is a horrible word. Well, it's made up of DIE and URN and ALL, which add not a jot to the gaiety of the nation.

Ah well, the word is with us, now.

But the least we can do is leave it to the long-dead poets.

Evening Dawn
Photo publicdomain

Word Not To Use Today: diurnal. This word from the Latin diēs, which means day.


Saturday, 19 April 2014

Saturday Rave: Samuel Butler.

Samuel Butler (1835 - 1902) wrote Erewhon. He wrote The Way Of All Flesh. He wrote a lot about evolution, and a lot about the follies of mankind.

He didn't write, or try to write, the same sort of thing as anyone else; and no one tried to write the same sort of thing as him.

He could be very funny. Here's a letter to his long-standing friend, Miss Savage. It was written, not for money, but out of sheer fun. 

15 Clifford's Inn, E.C.
Friday, Nov. 21st 1884

Dear Miss Savage,

....Yes, it was good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another and so make only two people miserable instead of four.

Believe me, Yours very truly,

S. Butler.

Wicked, yes.

But thoroughly cherishable, all the same.
Word To Use Today: butler. A butler is the servant in charge of the wines and the table in a household. He (or nowadays sometimes she) is usually the head servant. The word butler comes from the Old French bouteillier, from bouteille, bottle.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Word To Use Today: gramophone.

Yes, yes, I know. Gramophone is a word for old people. For wrinklies.

But think: those wrinklies. They don't have to work, their children have grown up, and they can dye their hair blue without anyone thinking they're disreputable. Why should they have all the fun?

I mean, record-player sounds so dull. (I know we say vinyl now instead of record, but I haven't come across vinyl-player yet. And if I did it would still be DULL.)

It's true that gramophones are usually powered by clockwork (but then how green and modern is that?) and that the sound of a gramophone is traditionally amplified by a large horn (yes, yes, that is exactly the same principle as all those no-battery phone amplification systems that are all over the place nowadays) but I don't see why the word gramophone shouldn't be used for an electric machine.

Record Player
Photo by public domain

Actually, come to think about it, I think the coolest thing would be if we all went back to hand-cranked gramophones.

File:Gramophone 1914.png

Think of the fun of dancing to music that can be accelerated and slowed down, from frenzy to zombie, in a couple of beats.

Now that's what I call music.

Word To Use Today: gramophone. In the US and Canada gramophones are called phonographs, but the word gramophone is freely available for borrowing purposes to anyone who likes it. The word gramophone was originally a trade name, perhaps a mixed-up version of phonogram, which means written-down sound.