This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 26 February 2021

Word To Use Today: centimetre.

 Just in case there's anyone in the world who hasn't already heard this story:

Liam Thorp, the Political Editor of the Liverpool Express Newspaper, was surprised when he was called in for his Covid-19 vaccination. He's thirty-two years old, quite healthy, and his turn for a jab should have been a couple of months away.

Further investigation (he's a journalist, after all) revealed that on his medical notes his height had been entered as 6.2 centimetres instead of six feet two inches. 

This gave him a BMI* of about 28,000.

Mr Thorp's actual BMI is much lower than that, but he's thinking of going on a diet, anyway.

Word To Use Today: centimetre. Centum is Latin for a hundred. The Greek word metron means measure. Mita means measure in Sanskrit.

A metre was defined in 1793 as one ten-millionth of what the distance from the North Pole to the Equator would be if the Earth was a perfect sphere. They got that a bit wrong, so later the metre became defined as the length of a metre-long bar - and then after that the length of a different metre-long bar - and then later still as the length of a certain number of krypton-86 waves. 

Now it's defined as the distance travelled by light in a vacuum in one two hundred and ninety nine million seven hundred and ninety two thousand four hundred and fifty eighth of a second.

I think they should make that number a three hundred millionth of a second. 

I doubt it'd make much difference, most of the time.

*BMI = Body Mass Index. Ideally it's between about twenty and twenty five.

Thursday, 25 February 2021

The size of a battery: a rant.

 I've been wondering about putting up some solar panels.

You can install a system nowadays which includes a battery to provide electricity when the sun isn't shining (this is, after all,  Britain). This battery would typically go in the loft. 

But would it go in the loft, that's the thing? Our loft is no more than four feet high at its highest point, and it slopes steeply down from there. 

So how big is this battery?

Scroll down...scroll down...

Ah. Here we are.

The battery is the size of a fridge.


...but - but - but - but how big is a fridge, for heaven's sake?

If they'd said as big as a standard domestic washing machine then that would have conveyed some useful information.

Or, here's an original thought: how about using some generally understood system of comparison. Like, I don't know, centimetres?


Wird To Use Today: fridge. (They're very nearly always called fridges in Britain, not refrigerators). The Latin word refrīgerāre means to make cold. Frīgus means cold.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Nuts and Bolts: commuovere.

 English has more words than any other language, but it's still full of holes.

We don't quite have a word for commuovere.

Commuovere means to induce intense emotional participation, arousing feelings of pity and pain and passion.

You can use it of a story that moves you to tears.

Angelica Kauffmann: Ariadne deserted by Theseus

I find there are more of those as I get older. 

Still, I suppose that's better than getting cynical.

Word To Consider Using Today: commuovere. It isn't a very British kind of thing, being moved to tears, and perhaps that's why we need to borrow a word for it. The word comes from the Latin commoveō, to move or affect.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Thing Not To Be Involved In Today: deception.

 Deception is a contranym - that is, a word that means both itself and the opposite thing, as well.

In the phrase your deception was simple, who is doing the deceiving? And who is being deceived?

Your assumption as to which way to interpret that phrase might just reveal something very deep about your personality: do you, basically, associate yourself with a victim or a perpetrator?

In fact I may have just solved the whole how-do-we-tell-who-is-evil? problem.

But, on the other hand, I probably haven't.

Thing Not To Be Involved In Today: deception. This word comes from the Old French deceivre, from the Latin dēcipere, to ensnare, from capere, to take.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Spot the Frippet: a moiety.

 Moiety is an old-fashioned kind of a word.

It can mean a half, especially a half of something that comes in two pieces.

So what comes in moieties?

Lentils, I suppose:

photo by Mx. Granger

Actually a moiety doesn't have to be one of two equal parts, and in fact it's more often the smaller of two portions.

So you could have the moiety of a cake:

The ownership of an estate is quite often divided so there's a moiety, too.

I suggest you watch the helpings at meal times today. 

It's really just a question of being fair. 

Well, or slim, I suppose. 

Spot the Frippet: moiety. This word comes from the French moitié, from the Latin mediētās, middle.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Sunday Rest: twindemic. Word Not To Use Today.

 I came across the word twindemic the other day. Yes, it was quite a shock.

A twindemic describes two epidemics happening simultaneously: as, for instance, 'flu and Covid-19.

I do not wish to think about that even as a possibility, but if it happened there'd be not much twinnish about it. 'Flu and Covid-19 are rather different diseases. 

Calling it a didemic would make more sense - if you know any Greek it would, anyway - except that in that case you'd also know about the derivation of the -demic bit and then the whole word falls to pieces anyway.

In any case, are we having a singletondemic at the moment? 

Of course not.


Word Not To Use Today: twindemic. This word is a mash-up of twin and epidemic. Epidemic comes from the Greek epidēmis, which means among the people. the demia bit meaning people. The Old English form of twin is twinn

The Old Norse tvinnr means double, but that's still no excuse.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

The Shepherd's Calendar: February, by John Clare.

 February brings the first hope of Spring to John Clare's village in his Shepherd's Calendar

Spring is an easy topic for a poet because it's a time to make even the crustiest of us dream a little of warmth and sunshine and new life. Clare does show us the obvious things - the flowers and the sunshine.

But Clare sees marvels that other poets overlook:

Odd hive bees fancying winter oer

& dreaming in their combs of spring

Creeps on the slab beside their door

& strokes its legs upon its wing

While wild ones half asleep and humming

Round snowdrop bells a feeble note

& pigions coo of summer coming

Picking their feathers on the cote

I love that observation of the bee stroking its own wings. It brings the world vividly to life. 

But then to Clare all life, however humble, is bewitching:

Neath hedge & walls that screen the wind

The gnats for play will flock together

& een poor flyes odd hopes will find 

To venture in the mocking weather

From out their hidey holes again

Wi feeble pace they often creep

Along the sun warmed window pane

Like dreaming things that walk in sleep.

Does it take a madman to take delight in such creatures?

If so, then bring it on.

Bring it on.

Word To Use Today: fly. The Old English form of this word was flēoge. It's to do with flying.