This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Sunday Rest: womxn. Word Not To Use Today.

Even those who feel passionately that having the word man inside the word woman is demeaning (and who also know that, according to the people who made it up, womyn doesn't include women who started off as men) then they're still not going to be saying the word womxn today, are they.

And why is that?

Because, as far as I can discover, no one has the faintest idea how to pronounce it.*

Sunday Rest: womxn. This word was made up to include transsexuals (though the inclusion of the letter Y, as in womyn, would have done this better than an X, given the genetics of the thing. Womyn, however, is apparently already bagged by the XX-only brigade.)

The word woman is late Old English and started off as wiman, plural wimmen (which pronunciation we've kept). Before that a female adult human was called a wif or a quean. Wiman was a changed version of wifman, which meant woman-man, man standing for all human beings, as it often still does.

*Wuhmix'n sounds insultingly like vixen: but then perhaps we should be reclaiming vixen as a term of dignified respect...

...although on the whole joining an order of Trappists might be easiest.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Saturday Rave: L'Oreste by Giovanni Rucellai.

L'Oreste is one of the first Italian classical tragedies to be written in blank (ie non-rhyming) verse, and the very first to be written in hendecasyllables (that just means that each line has eleven syllables. Yes, that is an odd number. Literally.). 

L'Oreste is based on the Aeschylus's trilogy of plays the Oresteia (Orestes was the son of Agamemnon).

I can't find an on-line translated version of L'Oreste, but there are a few quotations. The play was written before 1516 but, sadly, despite the half millennium that has been available for their message to sink in, many people are still too dim to have taken them on board.

Quest' oltraggio è fatto ai Dei,
I quai, se non han cura di se stessi,
Non vi curate si vendicarli.

This is an insult offered to the Gods,
And if the Gods themselves make light of it
It is not in your hands that vengeance lies.

Oh, but I wish they would.

Word To Use Today: vengeance. This word comes from Old French, from the Latin vindicāre, to punish.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Word To Use Today: widget.

We all have gadgets - heaven knows we all have gadgets! - and a widget is a gadget's small brother.

They're useful things, widgets. Sometimes they're useful things whose name you've forgotten (can you pass me the widget?) and sometimes they're useful things which don't really have a name, like those credit-sized metal things with the holes punched out of them that are supposed to be able to perform the function of at least fifty-six different tools, or the thing on penknives for getting stones out of horses' hooves.

At some point someone has actually invented something - it's a device that adds nitrogen gas to beer when its can is opened to give it a head - but has been so stymied by the task of thinking up a name for it that it is now known, officially, as a widget.

Various computer bits and pieces are known as widgets, too. As is, peculiarly, an airliner.

As you can see, widget is a small but very useful sort of a word.

A widget of a word, in fact, isn't it.

Word To Use Today: widget. This word was invented in the 1900s. It's an altered form of gadget. Gadget entered the English language in the 1800s, perhaps from the French gâchette, a trigger, from gâche, a staple. 

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Picking up germs: a rant

This is from a recent letter to the Daily Telegraph newspaper:

SIR - The worst place to pick up harmful germs...must be the supermarket trolley. The handles are often sticky, which must attract millions of microbes.

I try to take a wet wipe to clean the handle before use, but the problem then is safe disposal of the wipe.


It just makes you wonder what the writer does when he's in the best place to pick up harmful germs, doesn't it.

Word To Use Today: worst. This word comes from the Old English wierrest.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Nuts and Bolts: doggish.

A universal language would be useful, wouldn't it? Various languages at various times have come some way towards performing this function. Currently it happens to be the turn of English to be very widely used. 

But there's at least one language that really is universal all over the world - and the only problem is that it's spoken by dogs. 

Yes, a Turkish dog will understand a Latvian dog, who will understand a Brazilian dog, who will understand an Indian dog.

Back off! Hello-hello-hello! I'm completely harmless.

But our human languages aren't so versatile. English dogs, for instance, say woof-woof! or sometimes bow-wow (or so English people say) but although these beliefs do have some wider support among other languages they're not in complete agreement. Welsh people's dogs, for example, go wff wff, French ones wouf wouf, and Afrikaans ones woef-woef. The bow-wow sound is recognised even more widely, from India (bow-bow), Hungary (vow-vow), Lebanon (how-how), China (wow-wow) to Malaysia (ow-ow).

On the other hand in Israel dogs say hav-hav, in Albania ham-ham (which is understandable), in Burma woke-woke, and in Indonesia guk-guk.

But the dogs? They understand it all

Even, mysteriously, when the message is sprayed on a lamp-post.

Thing To Do Today: try to hear a dog say guk-guk, perhaps.

A really thorough and excellent article on this topic has been written by Stanley Coren and can be found HERE.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Thing Not To Be Today: virescent.

The Word Den has visitors from all over the world, and recently this has included large numbers from somewhere called Unknown Territory. This is thrilling, because, well, surely everywhere is known to the Great God of the Internet.

I can only think that Unknown Territory is somewhere under the sea (or on it: a cruise liner?) or some sort of a secret hideaway (Tracy Island? Could it be real?) or just possibly on Mars.

If the last is in fact the case then please, Martians, don't be offended by the title of this post. I have nothing against the naturally virescent (that is, things which are, or are becoming, green). Really. Trees in the spring: fine. Parrots: fine. Bank notes: fine. 

It's just not very healthy for humans.

Chinese girl tretchikoff.jpg
The Green Lady by Vladimir Tretchikoff (though on my screen she actually looks bright blue)

You see, a virescent human will be either seasick or envious or inexperienced or gullible.

They say that poison is green, too: but I think that was just a rumour put about by someone who didn't like broccoli.

Thing Not To Be Today: virescent. This word comes from the Latin virēre, to be green.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Spot the Frippet: ladder.

Ladders can be spotted in libraries:

File:Library of the Catholic Seminar in Budapest, former monastery of the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit 03.JPG
Library of the Catholic Seminar in Budapest. Photo by JezW

 in (mainly British) knitwear and hosiery:

File:Stocking run.jpg
photo by Molly from Bronx

(in America they're called runs, but ladder is rather good, I think)

 They're used in building:

File:Steeplejack on a chimney in 1960 arp.jpg
photo by Adrian Pingstone of 1960s Bristol. (Look at that safety, there isn't, is there. Eek!)

and on tower blocks:

ไฟล์:NYC - Buildings with fire exit ladders - 0200.jpg
photo of New York fire escapes by Jorge Royan

There are also virtual ladders. If you want to get higher up a, well, a hierarchy, then you may find yourself on a social or professional ladder - and it may well feel even more precarious than a job as a steeplejack.

Mind you, you can climb some ladders without taking any risks at all...

...but watch out for snakes, do.

File:The ladder of life is full of splinters.jpg
photo by Mykl Roventine

Spot the Frippet: ladder. This word comes from the Old English hlǣdder. I wish we still had common English words that begin hl.