This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Nuts and Bolts: plain and purly.

Row, row, row the boat...
...or are we rowing something else?
Next row: Sl1, p16, p2tog, p1, turn.
Next row: Sl1, k5, skpo, k1 turn,
Next row: Sl1, p6, p2tog, p1, turn.
Next row: Sl1, k7, skpo, k1, turn.
The above passage is in an extraordinary language. I'm afraid I don't understand it, but that example was very kindly sent to me by the great Jane Brocket
who is a writer, knitter, quilter, and baker of cakes, and whose beautiful blog can be found at
What's so great about this language? Well, for one thing it consists of a very few abbreviations - so few, indeed, that Jane tells me that the French and German versions of it can be very quickly grasped and understood.

Not many languages are as easy as that.
And what does it say? Well, once you can read it (and Jane assures me it's very simple: basically it's all a matter of variations on a k or a p*) then it actually tells you how to make these:

Now, as we discovered last week, socks can be very scary indeed, but these socks have a nuturing, happy look, and as far as I know they've never so much as attempted to strangle anyone. The full pattern for them can be found in Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Knitting.

Not knowing the language, I can't judge the book; but I can say that her The Gentle Art of Quilt-Making is beautiful.
Word To Use Today: purl. This word comes from a dialect word pirl, which means to twist into a cord. There's another purl, too, which means the curling movement of water (related to the Norwegian purla, to bubble) but no one can be sure whether they're connected.

Purl was also a drink (originally made with poisonous wormwood but later a sort of spiced ale). It was mentioned by Shakespeare and Dickens and drunk by Pepys.
Many thanks to Jane Brocket for her help with this post, and to Adele Geras, who put me in touch with Jane.

*Knit or purl, apparently.



  1. My maths tutor told me that mathematics is a universal language. As someone whose brain melts whenever I try and tackle anything even approaching a maths problem, I don't believe him.

    1. I always remember in Anthony Buckeridge's brilliant Jennings books someone asking a teacher how you say something like 'what a lovely day it is today' in Maths.

    2. I bet someone somewhere has developed an equation for this. And I don't like him.

  2. How honoured I am! To be linked with Jane and in your blog! I will tweet this at once, of course....

    1. The honour is entirely The Word Den's, Adele. And thank you!