This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Monday, 19 December 2016

Spot the Frippet: holly.

Have you decked your halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la lah, la la la lah?


Well, I'm not surprised, for there are few shocks quite as unwelcome as treading on a cast-off holly leaf as you grope your barefooted way towards your first cup of tea of the morning.

Still, it's nice cheerful stuff, holly, especially the female trees (yes, holly has two sexes - and, just to show it's thoroughly up-to-date and non-sexist etc, the variety called Golden King is female, and Golden Queen male).

As if that's not odd enough, the female trees have bones (that's another name for the berries).

Magicians have used holly for ages to make a tea to cure measles, though holly berries are poisonous. (Mistle thrushes, though, will guard a holly tree's berries from all-comers.) Magicians have also applied mashed holly leaves (thoroughly mashed, I hope) to ease the pain of broken bones. 

Holly is said to protect against lightning, poison and goblins, and to promote fertility. But I wouldn't rely on that, either.

In any case, there's no need to find odd magical uses for holly, because it's wonderful just as it is. Apart from brightening up the winter forests, its shed leaves make a dry bed for hedgehogs, and the timber is very white and fine-grained and is used in furniture and engraving and walking sticks. It burns well, too (though it's said to be unlucky to cut holly trees down).

If you see a picture of a stage coach this Christmas, look at the driver's long whip. If it's a good one the stock will be made of holly, of four or five years growth of the second cutting, grown on stony ground.

What could be more marvellous and magical than that?

Spot the Frippet: holly. This tree grows all over temperate zones. If you're somewhere too hot or cold, then there's always this:

or this:

The word holly comes from the Old English holegn, and is related to the Old Slavonic kolja, prick.

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