This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 31 October 2014

Word To Use Today: zombie.

The strange thing about zombies - well, one of the strange things about zombies - is that they used to be good luck.

Admittedly that was a long time ago.

Nowadays the best you can hope for from a zombie is that he's a)alive and completely human, and b) totally lacking in independent thought and judgement. This might be because he's tired. On the other hand, it might be because he's stupid.

You see the thing is that zombies are only half-there. Some zombies have human bodies (usually dead ones), but their spirits have been replaced by some foreign thing. Alternatively, a zombie astral is a part of a human spirit without any body at all. You can buy them in bottles to help you with your business dealings, but they have a limited shelf-life because eventually God takes them back. Or so they say. 

A zombie company is one which can pay the interest on its debts, but not pay off the debt itself.

A zombie computer code spreads a virus to another computer.

So where have all these zombies come from? Well, West Africa, probably, where Zombie is a voodoo snake god.

Where do you find them today, at Halloween?

On your doorstep.

Give them some sweets. That's my advice. They say that feeding zombies salt cures them, but it's not worth the risk.

Just give them some flipping sweets!

Word To Use Today: zombie. Zombie was first used in English in 1819, though  it was the 1929 novel The Magic Island by William Seabrook that brought it into general use. The word is West African, and is probably related to the Kongo words nzambi, god and zumbi, good-luck fetish.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Give a dog a bad name: a rant.

I once read two books in a row which had as characters old ladies called Baby.

You'd have thought that their parents would have given them some more suitable a name. Like, well, Teenager or Oldie.

(And before you start telling me that's just as bad, may I point out that you're a teenager and an oldie for a lot longer than you're a baby, so it's not as bad. Though equally cruel.)

There was once a child called Depressed Cupboard Cheesecake.

Copii sub prosop

No, really, there was. I think it was one of those open-a-dictionary-at-random disasters.

More common, at least in days gone by, were the open-a-bible-at-random disasters.

The dictionary principle would give me a child called....hang on, I'll just give it a go...Footman San Juan Mountains Twaddle (rather nice, actually) and the bible method would name it Hilkiah David Husbandman.

Now, you may not think very much of parents who saddle their children with such ghastly collections of names, but what should a child be called?

The market research company Acorn has records of the names and incomes of 51 million people. It turns out that if you are called Crispian, Greville, Lysbeth or Penelope you are about 200 times more likely to be wealthy than if you are called Seaneen, Terriann, Sammy-Jo, Jamielee or Kayleigh.

So why aren't all children called either Crispian or Penelope?

You know, that's an extremely interesting question.

Isn't it.

Word To Use Today: baby. This word came into English in the 1300s and is probably an imitation of the first sounds of, yes, a baby.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Nuts and Bolts: acyrologia.

Acyrologia is the use of the wrong worm.

Even those among us aware of every perpendicular of grammar are guilty of acyrologia from time to time, but it isn't going to bring the four horsemen of the acropolis down upon us, so there's no need for gilt or dismay.

The existential point is that it is the pineapple of rudeness to point out an era to the speaker.

Word Probably Not To Use Today: acyrologia. This word is Greek and comes from kuros, authority, and logia, speech. The a at the beginning means not.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Thing To Do Today As Well As You Can: be a popsy.

Keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved, says the old (very old: 1933) song.

Actually, while I'm here, here's the song:

(here's a link if the recording won't play:
And if you can listen to that without smiling then I feel sorry for you. I mean, dancing is practically irresistible.
Anyway, being a popsy. You can't really do this successfully if you're male, but never mind, you can still try. Being old makes being a popsy difficult, too, but the same applies.
Be charming; be non-threatening; be sweet.
Look your best.
Flutter your eyelids.
Be wide-eyed at everyone else's marvellousness.
Joyfully embrace your own ignorance.
Oh, and wouldn't a world full of popsies make the world a happier place?
Thing To Do Today As Well As You Can: be a popsy. This word is a diminutive formed from pop, which is a shortened form of poppet, which is an early form of puppet, which comes from the Old French poupette, little doll.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Spot the Frippet: velum.

No, not vellum: velum.

Vellum, the prepared skin of calves, kids or lambs, you'll find in very old and precious books. If you're lucky enough to have any around.

A velum you carry around with you all the time.

Velum comes from the Latin word for veil, and you can find vela running round the rims of jellyfish, or in the mouths of some baby molluscs.

If you don't fancy looking into the mouth of a baby mollusc (and who could blame you) then your own soft palate is a velum, too.

It's Autumn here in England, and perhaps you have vela on toast for tea. A velum is the thin bit of skin-type stuff that in a young mushroom joins the cap to the stem.

The jiuces of fried vela running over the roof-of-the-mouth velum.

Mmmm....I think I might have to go shopping...

Spot the Frippet: velum. This word is the Latin for veil.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Sunday Rest: scutiform. Word Not To Use Today.

A scut is the white bobbing tail of a rabbit, but scutiform, (pronounced skyootiform) is nothing so joyful or innocent.

These things are all scutiform: the cartilage that stops your ears from being floppy; a nasturtium leaf; the body of a male black-legged tick; my old school badge.

What do they all have in common?

Well, they're all, more or less, shield-shaped. If you're being really picky (though I've never actually come across anyone this picky) then it should be something in the shape of the Roman scutum, which, to put a stop to any wild imaginings you may be having, is, well, a shield.

Scutum -

I suppose we must, if reluctantly, allow anatomists, entomologists, and botanists to use the word scutiform, but even then only for purely professional purposes.

Otherwise, if you wish to be loved, or even tolerated, then shield-shaped really is a much much more lovable option.

Word Not To Use Today: scutiform. This word comes from the Latin words scūtum, shield, and forma, which means shape. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Saturday Rave: A Leave-Taking by Algernon Charles Swinburne

I've been on the Isle of Wight, speaking at the Literary Festival, so I thought I'd celebrate one of the Isle of Wight's literary inhabitants.
Actually, there wasn't a lot of choice. Some people visited and some people stayed, but the nearest I could find to someone who can be said to have belonged to the Isle of Wight is the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, who, though being born and dying in London and thinking of himself as a Northumbrian, was bought up and is buried in Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight.
The Leave-Taking is a poem about moving on after a love affair that never seems actually to have, well, got as far as happening.
It's full of sorrow, bitterness, regret, anger, beauty, despair and courage.
And the sea.
...Let us give up, go down; she will not care.
Though all the stars made gold of all the air,
And the sea moving saw before it move
One moon-flower making all the foam-flowers fair;
Though all these waves went over us, and drove
Deep down the stifling lips and drowning hair,
She would not care...
 If you're young and spurned, or remember being young and spurned, it's gloriously, terrifically, satisfying stuff.

Word To Use Today: foam. This word, like unrequited love, goes all the way back to the Sanskrit phena, and probably further.