This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Nuts and Bolts: some queer pronouns

The Equality Act of 2010, which affects England, Scotland and Wales, contains this clause:

'A child has protected characteristics of gender reassignment as soon as they make their intention known to someone whether that is at school, at home or elsewhere.'

Note the use of the singular they meaning he-or-she. I'm pretty sure this isn't a mistake, but an attempt to avoid assigning to anyone what they call gender but is actually sex.

Is using they the best way to go about this? 

Well, the Boarding Schools Association has come up with various suggestions for genderqueer (neither completely male nor female) and pansexual (attracted to all sorts) people.

One suggestion is for single-sex schools to use, for example, students instead of girls; but another has been to introduce a new set of pronouns for genderqueer and pansexual people.

Here they are:

Zie is laughing
I called zir/zem
Zir/zes eyes gleam
That is zirs/zes.
Zie likes zirself/zemself

(I'm confused by the last one: if zemself is a plural, which I assume it is, then surely it should be zemselves?)

Official attempts to change language tend not to be very successful nor to last very long, but this seems a fair attempt at solving a problem.

The main trouble now, as far as I can see it, is going to be working out about whom it's kind to use the new words.

Word To Consider Using Today: a gender neutral pronoun. They, for instance. This word appeared in Middle English and came from the Old Norse their.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Thing To Consider Being Today: be dainty

Now, here's a conundrum: who wants to be dainty?

For anyone who aspires to be a (female) ballet dancer it's fine, obviously, but what about the (more numerous) brick layers?

How about teachers, doctors, shop-assistants and fishermen?

How about models and actresses? (They're seldom large, but nowadays even they tend towards the gawky rather than the dainty.)

I fear that self-contained elegance wrapped up in a small parcel has gone completely out of fashion, and that the only examples of daintiness we're likely to see are little old ladies and tea cups.

Still, I suppose there's always canapés.

And kittens:

File:20131203 kitten B.jpg
photo by Wouter Hagens

Thing To Consider Being Today: dainty. This word comes from the Old French deintié, from the Latin dignitās, dignity. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Spot the Frippet: something limicolous.

Here's a word to make you feel glamorous: limicolous.

Even if you're a slug then it will make you feel more glamorous:

File:Brown slug.JPG
(photo of a slug by Colae. Do note the slug's smart mantle).

Are you limicolous, yourself? 

File:Winter is a time for waders (8446870687).jpg
(the epitome of elegance: photo of a sanderling by Ian Kirk)

I am, a lot of the time. 

Well, I'm English, aren't I?

File:Joules wellington boots.jpg
(photo by Anna Tesar)

Spot the Frippet: something limicolous. Something limicolous is something that lives in mud or muddy regions. It comes from the Latin words līmus, mud, and colere, to inhabit.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Sunday Rest: stuffocation. Word Not To Use Today Unless You Just Feel Like It.

Stuffocation is a new word to me. It describes the stifled feeling people get from having too much stuff.

Actually, it's brilliant, isn't it?

photo by Tomwsulcer

Word Not To Use Today Unless You Just Feel Like it: stuffocation. This is the title of a 2013 book by James Wallman, who, as far as I can discover, probably coined the word.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Saturday Rave: Telstar

Fifty four years ago today the communications satellite Telstar 1 broadcast the first live USA-to-Europe public television programme. 

There was a tremendous fuss about it, even though Telstar 1 itself was quite little and non-scary: less than a metre long, and covered in solar panels:


The momentous event was supposed to beam the wise words of US President J F Kennedy across the Atlantic (there was a dollar crisis going on at the time and the financial people were, then as ever, doing their headless-chicken routines) but unfortunately the broadcast went live before the president was ready, so the very first thing broadcast was part of a game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs.

I have no idea at all what they were playing, and probably neither did many of their viewers in Europe. The world was a larger place, then.

Anyway, President Kennedy spoke a bit later on, and his remarks immediately strengthened the dollar.

Telstar was at once seen to be a mighty force for bringing the peoples of the world together. Walter Crondike, one of the programme's anchors, said: 'we all glimpsed something of the true power of the instrument we had wrought'.

Still, none of them had an idea of the half of it, did they?

Word To Use Today: Telstar. I can't find the derivation of this word, but I assume it's a mixture of telecommunications, because that was what it did, and star, because in among the stars was where it appeared to be. Tel comes from the Greek tele, meaning far, and star comes from the Old English steorra.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Word To Use Today: nonce.

The meaning of nonce in which I'm interested today is the one found in the phrases for the nonce, or nonce word.

This lovely bouncy word is an example of false splitting. That means it's one of those words like nickname or apron where an n has migrated from one word to another: for example, an apron used to be a napron, and a nickname used to be an ekename.

Nonce is basically the same word as once, and a nonce word is a word coined for a single occasion. These are often deliberately nonsensical words like wud or shulp, designed to be used to research the way people learn language (a question like what's the most likely word for more than one wud? might be asked, for example). 

For the nonce is a similar sort of thing and means for the present occasion.

Word To Use Today: nonce. This word appeared in the 1100s from the phrase for then anes, literally for the once. (The n at the end of then in this phrase, which, as already indicated, means the, is a dative singular. A dative singular is, basically, a bit added onto a word to make it plain exactly what part it plays in the phrase. English used to use them all the time, but it's now sensibly jettisoned very nearly all of them.)

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A Level Playing Field: a rant.

On BBC Radio 4's PM news programme the other day they were discussing the reported industrial-scale swapping of Russian athletes' drug-testing samples.

And, you know something? I'm sure I heard Gary Anderson, the Performance Director of British Bobsleigh, assert on several occasions the importance of a level playing field. 

I don't usually watch sport, but I'd be quite interested to see a bobsleigh competition that took place on a level playing field.

File:Two-man bobsleigh, 2014 Winter Olympics, Germany(08).JPG
photo by Sander van Ginkel

Word To Use Today: bobsleigh. The bob bit comes, astonishingly, from a possibly originally Celtic word meaning a bunch of flowers. Sleigh comes from the Dutch slee, from Old Norse slethi. It's connected with our English word slide.