This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Considerably richer than you: a rant.

Hey, I've been offered a new credit card. It's a really good one.

You see, it's a mastercard, which has to be good, right? I mean, obviously, it's a card for masters. 

And that's not all. 

This card, you see, it's not for your ordinary masters, oh no. It's designed for elite people - in fact for world elite people.

And it's not just for any old master of the world elite, either.

You see, this card I've been offered is actually a Premier World Elite Mastercard.

How about that?

Impressive, huh?

Yep, I thought so.



...perhaps I'll wait to be offered a Superior Premier World Elite No Riffraff Mastercard. 

Because suddenly this one's started seeming rather ordinary.

Though, to be honest, they really lost me at For an annual fee of £195...

Word To Use Today: elite. This word comes from the Old French eslit, chosen, from eslire, to choose, from the Latin ēligere to elect.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Nuts and Bolts: the making of the Koran.

After the dreadful events in Manchester, I thought I should write about the holy book of Islam, the Koran. 

Here's a quotation from the Koran: 

Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them  7:157.

So we can take it as established that the Prophet Muhammad could neither read nor write. This was quite usual for someone in Mecca in the 600s. There was, moreover, an established tradition at the time (as nowadays) of learning texts off by heart, so it would have been quite natural for the Archangel Gabriel to convey God's words verbally to Muhammad, as we have been told was the case.

The revelation of God's words didn't come to Muhammad all at once, but on various occasions, the first one happening in Mecca when Muhammad was forty years old. That was twenty two years before his death in the year 632 CE (CE stands for Common Era, but it's the same as AD). 

Of course the possibility of another message arriving from God meant that a complete Koran couldn't be compiled while the Prophet lived. So: where was the incomplete text of the Koran kept between Muhammad's first revelation and his death? It would have been in the memories of Muhammad and his followers, of course, but was the text written down, too? 

I was going to say that no one's sure, but it would be nearer the truth to say that plenty of people are sure, but no one has the sort of proof that convinces everyone else.

So there we are. The wise scholars disagree, and I, certainly, do not know.

It seems to me that this is a matter for humility...

...but then I remember the Manchester Arena and I wonder what act, what act in all the world, could be more full of terrible pride than the taking of a life?

Word To Use Today: Koran. This word comes from the Arabic qur'ān, which means reading, or book, and comes from qara'a, to read or recite.


This is the Basmala, a phrase that appears many times in the Koran. It means in the name of God, the Most Gracious, the most Merciful.

If only man were more like God.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Thing To Do Today: rewild somewhere.

To rewild an area is to encourage it to return to its natural state. In particular, it's associated with reintroducing wild animals such as wolves or beavers or lynx.

It is, obviously, controversial, especially if it puts people under threat of being flooded (beavers) or eaten (wolves and lynx (although, really, you're very very unlikely to get eaten by either unless you go and break your leg: and then, really, being eaten would just be a way of putting you out of your misery, wouldn't it?)).

Lynx lynx poing.jpg
Eurasian lynx by Bernard Landgraf (User:Baerni) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In any case, anyone not trying to raise livestock is likely to find the idea of rewilding both romantic and virtuous, especially as it's almost certainly going to be happening a long way away.

The other advantage of rewilding, of course, is that it gives one the perfect excuse to put off mowing the lawn.

Thing To Do Today: rewild somewhere. This word comes from wild, of course, the Old English form of which was wilde.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Spot the Frippet: verso

You might never have noticed it, but there are versos all over the place.

A verso can be the back of a sheet of printed paper; the left-hand pages of a book (these are also sometimes called reversos, and are the even-numbered ones);

File:Open Book B&W.jpg
photo by Creigpat

or the side of a coin without a big head on it (though, admittedly, this is more usually called the reverse):

File:Moneta del Regno d'Italia da 10 lire 'Biga' del 1927 - verso.jpg
Moneta del Regno d'Italia 10 lire 'Biga' photo by Franco aq

So, verso. Well, that was dead easy, wasn't it?

Spot the Frippet: verso. This word was made up in the 1800s from the Latin phrase versō foliō, which means the leaf having been turned, from the Latin vertere to turn (which also gives us the words vertebra and vertigo), plus folium, a leaf.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Sunday Rest: sloganeer. Word Not To Use Today.

We are bombarded and peppered with slogans, nagged and prodded by them. 

Elections, advertisements, campaigns...we stumble from recognition to boredom to exasperation to dull acceptance, until in the end the wretched things have wormed their way so deeply into our minds that their presence is longer consciously noted at all.

You and I could very easily come up with some examples, but personally I think we've suffered enough.

Who makes up these bite-sized bits of fatuity?

Why a sloganeer, of course.

Sloganeerslogan ear...

Ah well. There never was much chance of peace for our time, was there.

Sunday Rest: sloganeer. Slogan comes from the Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, a war cry, from sluagh, army, plus gairm, cry.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Saturday Rave: the legacy of Thomas Thorpe.

Who was Thomas Thorpe?

Well, the chances are that you've never read a word he wrote - as far as I know none of his words have survived - and some people regard him as a great villain.

On the other hand...

Thomas Thorpe was the son of an innkeeper. Born in 1569 in a small town north of London, he was apprenticed to a bookseller, and after his apprenticeship ended Thorpe became...well, something that hadn't really existed in Elizabethan England before, but which today we'd probably call a publisher. That is, he arranged for works to be printed and sold, while not being a printer or owning a bookshop himself.

No one knows how that worked as a commercial enterprise, but he seems to have stayed in business reasonably successfully all his life.

So why do some call him a villain?

Well, he published, and therefore saved for posterity, several of Christopher Marlowe's and Ben Jonson's plays, and, most famously, he also published Shakespeare's sonnets. 

And what was so villainous about that? 

The thing is, it's been claimed that the sonnets were published without Shakespeare's permission (though that wasn't Thorpe's general way of working: Jonson's play Sejanus His Fall is so carefully reproduced that it was almost certainly prepared for printing by Jonson personally). 

Mostly, nowadays, though, Thorpe is reckoned to be a man deserving of our gratitude. One thing's for sure: if he was a crook then he was a crook who had some popular and longstanding friends.

Thorpe may have dedicated Shakespeare's sonnets to the mysterious Mr W H, and decided on the order in which they were printed in the book. If he did, then all I can say is that he could presumably have dedicated them to someone a lot richer than Mr W H, and that the order of the sonnets seems to be about as logical anyone can get them.

So here's to Thomas Thorpe, publisher, and probably one of the good guys.

Thank you.

Word To Use Today: publisher. This word is to do with making things public. It comes from the Latin pūblicāre.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Word To Use Today: didgeridoo.

Where does the word didgeridoo come from?

Well, I didn't know, either, but if I'd had to guess I would have said it came from one of the native Australian languages. 

Surprisingly, however, this doesn't seem to be the case. There are, of course, many native Australian words that mean didgeridoo, it's just that none of them bear any resemblance to the word didgeridoo. Favourites of mine include Gunbarrk, lipirra and ngarrriralkpwina.

So who made up the word didgeridoo

There's more than one theory about that. One is that it's an imitation by an English-speaker of the sound a didgeridoo makes.

What do you think?

Personally, I think I'd have put more wow whirr and buzz sounds into an imitation of a didgeridoo - called it a buzzwerwhirrer, perhaps - but didgeridoo isn't an impossibly bad attempt.

On the whole, though, I prefer the rival explanation of the word didgeridoo's derivation. 

But that's mostly because it's just so utterly unexpected and bizarre.

Word To Use Today: didgeridoo. This word first appeared in print in 1908 in the Hamilton Spectator, and it was noted soon afterwards that the instrument produced just one sound, which was written down didjerry, didgerry, didjerry.  I can't deny this is quite convincing.

However, the word didgeridoo just might come from the Irish Gaelic phrases dúdaire dubh or dúidire dúth, which might mean anything from native trumpeter to black long-necked person, eavesdropper, or chain smoker.

I think this may be a case where ignorance really is bliss.