This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 25 May 2012

Word To Use Today: ramp. By Katherine Langrish

Today we are honoured to have a guest post, hurray!

Katherine Langrish was obliged to start writing really seriously when she discovered as a ten-year-old that CS Lewis hadn't written nearly enough Narnia books. Her books of historical fantasy include the marvellously atmospheric Troll Fell trilogy and Dark Angels. She blogs at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.


Ramp.  Not a very promising word, you might think.  One of those concrete slopes for wheelchair access, useful but boring. 

File:Non-wheelchair Ramp IMG 0908.JPG

Or so I thought, if I ever gave it any consideration; till a couple of days ago, when my daughter asked what some lines from a poem by Coleridge (called ‘France: An Ode’) might mean.  And I have to say they seemed, on the face of it, quite difficult.  The poem is all about the French Revolution, and how upset Coleridge felt when it all turned into a bit of a bloodbath.  He describes France as being like a woman, wearing a wreath of victory to hide her scarred and wounded face (‘front’ in this poem means ‘face’), and advancing with her arm raised to deal with her enemies.  So – when we read:

When France her front deep-scarred and gory
Concealed with clustering wreaths of glory;
When, insupportably advancing,
Her arm makes mockery of the warrior’s ramp

- are we supposed to imagine the warriors rushing towards her (France) up some kind of ramp? 

I thought not.  A vague memory stirred of ‘lions rampant’ which we see on the Royal arms: a term from the colourful and archaic language of heraldry.  It describes a lion standing on one back leg and waving its front paws in the air in a manner which you may regard as threatening, or cheerful, or helpful, if it’s actually trying to hold up that shield?

File:Lion rampant element.svg

So I looked it up.  And yes, ‘to ramp’ is a verb which deserves to come back into fashion and not merely be used for lions. 

To ramp:

1          To act threateningly or violently: rage.
2          To assume a threatening position.
3          (Heraldry) To stand in the rampant position.

So the warriors in the poem haven’t got anything to do with ramps that slope up (or down); they’re acting threateningly, as warriors tend to.  Which makes much more sense.

In fact I quite fancy the idea of ramping.  It gives a whole new slant on losing your temper.  You’d have to raise your fists like paws and rush about the house, growling or roaring. And it might be colourful, the next time your mother yells at you for not picking up the socks from your bedroom floor, to describe her as ‘ramping about the house.’

Ramp’ has another meaning, too.  It’s the name of the bitter herb rampion, which is what got Rapunzel shut up in that tower…

but that’s a whole other story.

Word To Use Today: ramp. This word comes from the Middle English rampen, from Old French ramper, to rear, rise up, of Germanic origin. 


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    1. Thanks so much, Wheelchair, you're hugely welcome.