This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Saturday Rave: A Fairy Song by William Shakespeare

That William Shakespeare, eh? He wrote some heavy stuff.

Death, race, betrayal, love, hate, treachery, suicide, murder, mutilation. You name it, he was there and, quite frankly, down and dirty with it.

Well, that's the stuff that shows a writer is important and clever, right? Someone like Shakespeare wouldn't be doing with all that stupid fantasy stuff. That's just for idiots.


Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough briar,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon's sphere;
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green;
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours,
I must go and seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslips ear;
Farewell, thou lob of spirits: I'll be gone;
Our queen and all her elves come here anon.


That's from A Midsummer Night's Dream. you think it might be an idea to pause a little before we completely dismiss all writers of fantasy, after all?

Word To Use Today: briar. This word comes from the Old English brēr.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Word To Use Today: gulch..

This is an ugly, gulping word, but it's still good fun to say.


The only gulch I've ever come across, in fact or fiction, is Dead Man's Gulch:

Dead Man's Gulch poster.jpg

a film so little-watched that even Wikipedia doesn't know anything about the plot (though the poster shows two guys and a girl, so we know it was jolly exciting (and it shows hats and horses and a gun, so we also know it was a Western)).

However seldom-watched, the film has brought the word gulch to the attention of England, and for this I am grateful. 

A gulch is a narrow ravine cut by a fast stream, and in order of size as a geological feature it seems to go after canyon and ravine. (I mean, you couldn't imagine a Grand Gulch, could you?)

The word is native to North America, and how those of us in the rest of the world are going to use it today is a puzzle.

It might make a vivid metaphor for the throat, though, mightn't it? Especially one that needs a long, long drink. 

And that'd be linguistically rather clever, too.

Word To Use Today: gulch. This word appeared, mysteriously, in the 1800s, but from where no one is sure. There used to be a dialect word gulsh, which meant to sink in (if it was land) or to gush out (if it was water), and the Middle English gulchen means to drink greedily. 

Disarmingly, in about 1250 a gulche-cuppe was a greedy drinker.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Yours, sincerely: a rant.

I know that yours sincerely is just a formula, and that the same goes for yours faithfully (actually, I wish that some of my correspondents were less faithful: emails from some retailers arrive at a rate of more than one a day).

In any case, what's the alternative when ending a message? Love can be scary, and xx is just an all-too-obvious way of wriggling out of writing Love.

Recently we seem now to have entered a warmest regards period in epistolary history, which is blatantly ridiculous because although I hope I do excite warmest regards in one or two people, I doubt if either of them is my solicitor*.

But although I can myself only hold one single person in my warmest regard, I do wish more or less everyone well and happy, and so best wishes solves most problems.

Despite this, I find myself looking back wistfully, and I can't help thinking it'd be nice, just once, to receive a letter that ends I wish to remain, madam, your most obedient servant.

If it was from a Civil Servant then that would be extra lovely...

...well, it could hardly fail to raise a hollow laugh, in any case.

Word To Use Today: civil. This word comes from the Latin cīvis, which means citizen.

*A solicitor round here is more or less the same as an attorney in the USA, I think.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Nuts and Bolts: aliterate.

An aliterate person is one who can read, but is disinclined to do so.

It's a condition quite often observed in the young, especially those who haven't yet accepted the impossibility of perpetual motion.

Aliteracy can prove chronic and is certainly disabling, but very nearly all humans have some instincts in the direction of aliteracy, particularly when faced with the words Terms and Conditions or Instructions For Safe Use.

This last is an occasion, particularly in connection with chainsaws, when aliteracy may even prove fatal.

Word To Use Today: aliterate. A word with an a- stuck on the beginning is probably, as in this case, something to do with the Greek habit of using a- to reverse the meaning of a word. The word literacy comes from the Latin litterārius, which means concerning reading and writing.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Thing Not To Be Today: mumchance.

Any minute now the fashion for being Tremendously Sensitive (mandatory silent applause, for example, or removing all statues of anyone who's ever done anything) will bump into the fashion for TV talent shows, and there'll be an explosion of astonishing size and magnificence.

I'm quite looking forward to it.

What will emerge from the ashes I do not know, but perhaps a bit of mumchance might fit the bill. Mumchance means being struck dumb by some great emotion, but originally the word described a play without words. 

Well, it'd certainly improve some of the singing acts.

Luckily there is no need for us ever to be struck dumb in ordinary life, because our esteemed politicians have repeatedly shown us how to avoid it. A politician, faced with a difficult question, either says let me be quite clear and then drones on so boringly that everyone's stopped listening before anyone realises that he or she is avoiding the question, or there goes up a cry of fake news.

Or, in an astonishing recent example, I'm not talking to you because you're a horrible person.

Simple, yes?

And the technique's not even that complicated, either. 

Thing Not To Be Today: mumchance. This word comes from the Middle Low German Mummenschanze, a masked serenade, from mummen, which is related to the French word momon, mask, plus schanze, dance.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Spot the Frippet: a percussion instrument.

Almost anything can be a percussion instrument. That table, that wall, that floor (and who needs drumsticks when you've got hands and feet?


Officially, though, a percussion instrument is something specially designed to make a sound when hit. These go from drums:

File:Drummer in The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps 50th Anniversary Tattoo.jpg
photo Old Guard Museum, Washington

to the less obvious piano, where the hammers that hit the strings are usually hidden inside the case:

File:Yamaha CP-70 opened top.jpg
Yamaha piano, photo by Michael Müller-Hildebrand

(Though where that leaves an electric piano or drum-kit I do not know.)

And there are still more percussion instruments around. They may not be musical, but a percussion tool uses the same principle to do its job:

File:Pneumatic drill.jpeg
photo of a pneumatic drill by Anthony Appleyard

Or there are percussion caps, which, sadly, don't protect people from blows to the head, but were formerly used as a means of making a gun fire.

I think I'll try to find something gentler, though...does anyone know where I can find a cow with a bell?

File:CH cow 1.jpg
photo by Daniel Schwen

Spot the Frippet: something percussive. This word comes from the Latin percutere, to hit.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Sunday Rest: waste. Word Not To Use Today.

A third of all British men aged 19 - 22 at the beginning of the First World War were dead by the end of it.

Think of that.

Think of the three young men who live nearest to you, and imagine one of them dead (you don't get to choose which one). Then do the same with the three young men of whom you're most fond; and the three young men whom you see when you're next out; and the three young men in your favourite TV drama.

(Of course it wasn't only the young men who died. My husband's grandfather had five young children, so he wasn't really young. But he died, all the same.)

After you've done all that, be grateful that it didn't happen to your generation. Be grateful that the First World War put an end (once and for all? Oh, I hope so) to the idea that there is anything, anything at all, sweet or noble about war.

Because that's the only thing that's going to stop the whole mess being an obscene, colossal, waste.

Word Not To Use Today: waste. The word comes from the Anglo-French waster, from the Latin vastāre, to lay waste, from vastus, empty.

The Armistice signalling the end of the First World War happened exactly a hundred years ago today.