This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Monday, 19 August 2019

Spot the Frippet: mere.

There are four types of mere in my Collins dictionary, but of course you can't spot the one which means only. 

She is a mere child = she is only a child.

The other three types of mere, however, are out there and fully visible.

The first sort of mere is a lake or marsh, and probably not a very cheerful one. (But then marshes aren't often cheerful.) I associate this sort of mere with Tennyson at his gloomiest:

Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.*

The second mere is a boundary or boundary marker:

File:Tri-States Boundary Marker top view.jpg
tri-state boundary marker, USA. Photo by Cohee

and the third is a flat club usually found in New Zealand:

File:New Zealand; Maori wooden club (mere). Albumen print. Wellcome V0038536.jpg
Wellcome Images.

I suppose this is a grim thing, too, but it does at least sound cheerful: you say it merry, pretty much.

The boundary marker seems the easiest to spot, as well as being the most fun, so I think I'll go off and find one of those...

...would a garden fence count?

Spot the Frippet: mere. The lake word comes from the Old English mere, meaning sea. The boundary word comes from the other Old English word gemǣre. The weapon word is, of course Māori.

*Those are the last lines of Morte d'Arthur.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Sunday Rest: eulogy. Word Not To Use Today.


...well, if there's a word that sounds more like someone throwing up then I don't know what it is.

Still, I suppose they can be a bit sickeningly over-sweet.

Sunday Rest: eulogy. In mediaeval times his word meant high praise. (Eus is Greek for good, and logos means word.) It comes from the Latin eulogium from the Greek eulogia, which means praise, but along the way the word has probably got a bit mixed up with the similar Latin word elogium, which means inscription on a tomb.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Saturday Rave: Hertha by Fredrika Bremer.

Hertha was published in 1856. It was written by Fredrika Bremer, and it managed not only to be both dark and funny, but to start a parliamentary debate in Sweden which resulted in a new law giving Swedish adult unmarried women their legal majority.

It also raised the profile of the argument for formal higher education for women. The result, in 1861, was the opening of a university for women teachers, the Högre Iärinneseminariet. As if this wasn't extraordinary enough, the novel also inspired the publication of the women's newspaper Tidskrift för hemmel.

There can't have been many novels which have has such as effect on the political world.

Fredrika Bremer was born in 1801 and brought up to be a young lady, an occupation that drove her almost mad with boredom and frustration. She started writing in order to raise money for charity, but she found in her writing the opportunity to speak the truth about women's lives in nineteenth century Sweden.

She said:

I would like to become an author to whose works everyone who is sad, depressed and troubled (and especially everyone of my own sex who is suffering) could go, assured of finding in them a word of redress, of comfort, or encouragement.

That's a quote from a letter. Here's one from Hertha:

One day is so terribly like another that people don't know how to distinguish one from another. For this reason many an inhabitant of a little town, that he might not drop fast asleep from sheer weariness, endeavours to keep himself awake by drinking punch, playing at cards, at many other such pastimes, which have the result of making the purse light and the heart heavy. The ladies again, when they do not partake of the gentlemen's pastimes - which sometimes happens - generally amuse themselves with coffee-parties, novel-reading, and petty scandal, by way of a little spice to this thin spiritual soup of daily life.

Sharp, funny stuff.

If you have very good eyesight you can read the whole novel HERE.

Word To Use Today: scandal. This word comes from the Latin scandalium, a stumbling block, from the Greek skandalion, a trap.

Saturday Rave: Taras Shevchenko.

As the sun sets and hills grow dark, as the birdsong ends and fields fall silent, as the people laugh and take their rest, I watch. My heart hurries to the twilit gardens of Ukraine. And I hurry. O, how I hurry with my thoughts, as my heart yearns for rest. As the fields grow dark, as the groves grow dark, as the hills grow dark, I see a star. And I weep. Hey, you star! Have you reached Ukraine? Do dark eyes scour the blue sky for you? Or don’t they care? May they sleep if they don’t. May they know nothing of my fate

Friday, 16 August 2019

Word To Use Today: wotcher.

Exactly how much of a snob are you?

Will you happily say Good morning? Or would that be too posh?

Will you say Hi, or Hey: or would that be too modern?

Are you fussy to the point that you don't even approve of Hello? (It is just about possible: the word, used as a greeting, is less than a hundred and fifty years old, and was coined by an engineer* rather than a classics scholar).

Will you say Good day? or is that too ridiculously formal (unless, of course, you're Australian)?

And how about wotcher? That manages to be out-of-date, slang, and never used in middle-class society...


Are you a snob?

Go on, then, prove it: greet the next person you see with wotcher.

I'll let off the Americans amongst you saying the next word in the traditional greeting: 

Wotcher cock!

Word To Use Today: wotcher. This is Cockney (that is, east London slang) for What cheer? It was coined in the 1800s.

Actually, I do wish What cheer would come back as a greeting: it might stop everyone grumbling the whole time.

The word cheer, in the sense of a welcoming face, comes from the Greek kara, which means head.

*Thomas Edison. It was originally an exclamation of surprise at the workings (or lack of them) of his newly invented telephone.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

The Minister for the Eighteenth Century: a rant.

Britain has a long and glorious tradition of eccentrics, and now, to add to the bounty, we have Jacob Rees Mogg. 

Mr Rees-Mogg is a Member of Parliament (and is known, mostly affectionately, as the Member for the Eighteenth Century). He has been recently elevated to the position of Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council.

In what way is Mr Rees-Mogg eccentric? There isn't room here to make a list, but let me just say that he admits cheerfully to having taken his nanny (that is, the lady paid to look after him when he was a child) on political canvassing expeditions. (Though I'm not sure that Mr Rees-Mogg would approve of the trip's being called an expedition as the ped in the middle of the word tends to imply that the journey was done on foot, and it's said (with how much truth I do not know) that he actually used his Daimler.)

Anyway, Mr Rees-Mogg has provided his new government department with a list of rules to be applied to official correspondence. Some of these rules are matters of taste, some of them are matters of convention; some of them logically justifiable, some of them aren't.

Here they are in full.

  • Organisations are SINGULAR
  • All non-titled males - Esq.
  • There is no . after Miss or Ms*
  • M.P.s - no need to write M.P. after their name in body of text

  • Male M.P.s (non-privy councillors) - in the address they should have Esq., before M.P. (e.g Tobias Ellwood, Esq., M.P.)

  • Double space after fullstops
  • No comma after 'and'
  • CHECK your work
  • Use imperial measurements

Banned words/phrases

  • Very
  • Due to
  • Ongoing
  • Hopefully
  • Unacceptable
  • Equal
  • Too many 'I's
  • Yourself
  • Lot
  • Got
  • Speculate
  • 'invest' (in schools etc)
  • No longer fit for purpose
  • I am pleased to learn
  • Meet with
  • Ascertain
  • Disappointment 
  • I note/understand your concern

Actually, I think it's all rather sweet, in a British-eccentric sort of a way.

Two particular comments:

First, don't put two spaces after a full stop in any manuscript sent to a publisher. Most of them hate it!

Second, the no comma after the word and rule. Well, how about this sentence?

The elderly actor finished his plate of fried eggs and old ham that he was bowed to the ladies as he left the room.

A comma (in fact two) would have helped there, wouldn't it?

Word To Use Today: now, are you a rebel or not? If you are, the word speculate is quite interesting. It comes from the Latin specula, a watchtower, from specere to look at.

*The third rule, There is no . after Miss and Ms is, I suspect, an example of the exception that proves the rule, the implication being that the abbreviation Mr should have a full stop. I don't agree, myself - and I spell full stop as two words - but, hey, if it keeps Mr. Rees-Mogg happy...

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Nuts and Bolts: -ode suffixes.

I have a fondness for words ending in -ode because they remind me of the wonderful Professor Unwin, who used them very often.

Having said that, -ode words are slightly annoying because you can never be quite sure what that ending means. It might mean resembling, as in the words nematode or cytode; or it might mean a path or a way, as in electrode or episode.

Or it might just be a word that happens to end in the letters -ode, like code, lode and abode, where the -ode bit doesn't really mean anything in particular.

The annoying word cephalopode ( which is the old form of the word cephalopod) is different again, because the -ode bit here is really part of the ending -pode, which comes from the Greek word pous, foot. 

The same is the case with the extraordinary birds called megapodes:

File:Megapodius eremita.jpg

As Professor Unwin might have said himself, it's all a bit complexico unsimplode.

Ah well.

Word To Use Today: one ending in -ode. This ending might come from the Greek word eidos, which means shape, or the other Greek word hados, which means way.

Nematode, by the way, comes from the Greek ma, which means thread.