This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 27 February 2015

Word To Use Today: ortanique.

I don't usually like portmanteau words very much. Portmanteau words are the ones where half of one word is jammed together with half of another, often to distressingly ugly effect.

I mean, I still haven't got over the shock of homillionare, yet. Let alone beefalo. Or biopic.

Even so, occasionally something elegant emerges from the portmanteau process, and we end up with a word that isn't still bleeding from having been cobbled together with baling twine and a blunt needle.

Such a one is ortanique.

As it happens, an ortanique is a hybrid of an orange and a tangerine. 

Ortaniques may well taste disgusting, and I admit that no one has a chance of guessing what an ortanique is from the name. But at least they sound delicately refined.

And that's something.

Photo ortanique.JPG

Word To Use Today: ortanique. Although this sounds French (generally a good ploy, with food) it's actually made up of or[ange], tan[gerine] and [un]ique. I think I'd have to call that process hideously clever.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Xylophones: a rant.

From the Telegraph online, 7/2/15.

'...everyone (even babies) knows that wooden xylophones make a rubbish noise.'

This sort of very fine xylophone comes from Mozambique. They are called Timbila.

Now, it would be unreasonable to complain of a journalist to whom Greek was, well, all Greek, but really the smallest amount of research would have revealed that if xylophone isn't made of wood then it isn't a xylophone. It's a glockenspiel.


Word To Use Today: xylophone. Or glockenspiel. The first comes from the Greek xulon, which means wood, and phōnē, voice or sound; the second comes from German words meaning bell and play.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Nuts and Bolts: more cavorting hyp-hens.

I'm a long-standing collector of hyp-hens.

No, hyp-hens aren't poultry of any kind, but they're my word for the sort of hyphen that shows that the rest of a word continues on the next line.

You get them a lot in broadsheet newspapers, where the narrow columns of type make hyphenating long words very often una-

As far as I know no one has come up with any rules for the use of hyp-hens, but there are two things to bear in mind: firstly, don't confuse your reader by changing the pronunciation of the word between the front part of the word and its rear portion (as in on-
ion, for example); and, secondly, don't lead your reader ast-
ray by creating words that shouldn't be there. (Rays? What rays?).

Sometimes a really inspired use of a hyp-hen can create two new words, and then the meaning can end up momentarily scram-

Here are three recent examples of hyp-hens going, well, ape.


(presumably one of those annoying people who think it's acceptable to give a three-letter answer to an email.)


(which makes me wish I hadn't already written a book called CLASS SIX AND THE NITS OF DOOM.)


(so, have the apples in that recipe been peeled, or are they also cored and chopped?)

So there we are, some lovely hyp-hens. They always hold out the hope of a bit of fun in even the dullest article, so all power to them!

Nuts and Bolts: hyp-hens. This word is Latin and means the combining of two words, from the Greek huphon, together, and heis, one.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Thing To Do Today: glow.

File:Lampyris noctiluca glow worm.jpg
Glow worm, Photo: Lampyridae2.jpg: Herky

There was a time when a young lady who declared herself to be sweating would be met with the gentle assurance that only horses sweat.* 

If you've been in England lately the opportunities for sweating have been few, but of course the Southern Hemisphere is basking in glorious summer.

Yes, quite - but do try not to be quite so smug about it, will you?

Luckily for us up here, it's possible to glow with cold as well as heat. It's the nose that's best at this, and I've often wondered if this is the reason a) for Rudolf, and, b) why headlights are so seldom seen fitted to husky sleds.

In any case, however hot or cold we are, we can still glow. Triumph helps (you're a loser? Perhaps, but not a complete loser: bask in your ability not to drop custard down your shirt or something).

Beauty imparts a glow, too - and if beauty is in short supply then you can always try that face powder that has shiny bits in it.

Then there are those lucky enough to be glowing with love.

But what if you're an ugly, lukewarm, custard-splattered misanthropist?

Well...I suppose you could always try buying some solar-powered fairy lights and wearing them as a collar.

Word To Use Today: glow. This word comes from the Old English glōwan, and is related to the Icelandc glōra, to sparkle.

*Horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Spot the Frippet: cilice.

The word cilice, pronounced silliss, comes from Cilicia, which was an ancient country in the bottom right-hand corner of Turkey:

Location of Cilicia

And what do we associate with Cilicia?

Well, not a lot, to be quite honest, but it was invaded again and again, by the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Romans, the perhaps it's not surprising that a cilice doesn't reflect a very comfortable view of life.

cilice is a hair shirt. 

Now, I never could understand why hermits wore hair shirts, which seemed to me to occupy the luxury end of the lingerie market, but the hair in question comes from a goat (though not a cashmere-type goat) and is apparently very prickly and uncomfortable. I think the principle might be that suffering now is better than suffering later...or something...


Spot a hair shirt? you may be saying. How can anyone do that?

Well, it's true that hair shirts are designed to be worn invisibly as underwear, and also that their use has largely (I believe) died out. Even the more radical fashion designers, who think nothing of forcing a model into six-inch heels, ten-inch leather belts, and a four-foot-wide ruff, don't seem to have got as far as reintroducing the hair shirt. 


But still, there are modern equivalents to the cilice everywhere. 

The glass of wheat-grass juice, for example.

The cold shower.

Rye crispbread.

It's all rather puzzling, but perhaps these modern cilices fulfill some deep psychological need.

Or, I don't know...

...perhaps people are just nuts.

File:Carter - Syrian Goat.jpg
Engraved by W. Holl after John Carter. (A Syrian goat was the closest I could get.)

Spot the frippet: cilice. This word comes from the Old English cilic, from the Latin cilicium, shirt made from Cilician goat's hair.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Sunday Rest: nacelle. Word Not To Use Today.

I've often seen nacelles - from my desk I have a distant view of a fairly busy flight-path - but until a moment ago I've never known what I've been looking at.

Of course I knew you get nacelles on space-ships in the movies: the nacelle is over-heating - it's going to blow, Captain!

(Though I must say in the nacelles' defence that in films the nacelles rarely do blow: in fact I've seldom known them cause any but the most minor character so much as a bout of indigestion.)

Anyway. Nacelle. It's one of those cigar-shaped things stuck on the wings of aeroplanes. They can have engines or fuel or people in them, and are obviously jolly useful things.

And, in simple justice, I must admit that it's not their fault they have the name of a 1950s backing-singer, is it?

These Boeing 707 nacelles have engines in them.

Sunday Rest: nacelle. This word is French for small boat. Before that it comes from the Latin nāvicella, which is a diminuative of nāvis, ship.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Saturday Rave: Heggs.

...and on the subject of crossword clues, my own personal favourite is the classic:

Heggs (11)

It's great, isn't it? Pithy, funny, and, best of all, a wide knowledge of the conventions of clue-setting and solving won't help a bit. 

This might make experienced cruciverbalists a bit exasperated, but then they say that the occasional humiliation is good for the soul.

And in this case might well help with the answer: because it, too, is exasperated.

Eggs, aspirated.


Elegantly and rompingly glorious, I'd say.

Word To Use Today: exasperate. This word is from the Latin exasperāre, which rather surprisingly means to make rough.