This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Sunday Rest: tweakment. Word Not To Use Today.

A tweakment is a very minor procedure. It's not like plastic surgery or anything like that. Nothing scary or permanent. 


A tweakment will make you look a few years younger, that's all. You can inject botulin poison into your forehead to smooth away frown lines, or inject hyaluronic acid into your saggier bits to make them plump. You can have the top layers of your skin dissolved using phenol (and as long as you have your blood pressure and heart monitored during the procedure you probably won't dangerously affect your heart and kidneys).

Or you could go for dermaplaning, which involves someone using a very sharp knife to remove hair (no, no, it's much more glamorous and expensive than shaving).

Well, I mean, what could go wrong?


I mean, you can tell it's completely harmless by the name, can't you?

Word Not To Use Today: tweakment. This word is a clever combination of tweak and treatment. The Old English form of tweak was twiccian, to pluck. Treatment, worryingly, comes from the Latin trahere, to drag.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Saturday Rave: King Solomon's Mines by H Rider Haggard.

King Solomon's Mines has sold over eighty three million copies (and that figure only goes up to 1965).

It's one of the best-selling books of all time.

So, what makes a best-seller?

Well, the book's publisher, Cassell, gave it a big push, describing it on billboards as The Most Amazing Book Ever Written. That must have helped.

The book also established a new genre of "Lost World" books, and at the time (1885) there was much popular curiosity about the mysteries of the interiors of the darker continents.

But is King Solomon's Mines a work of polished phrase, psychological insight, and carefully honed prose?

Well, here's a chunk of the book:

“Listen! What is life? It is a feather, it is the seed of the grass, blown hither and thither, sometimes multiplying itself and dying in the act, sometimes carried away into the heavens. But if that seed be good and heavy it may perchance travel a little way on the road it wills. It is well to try and journey one's road and to fight with the air. Man must die. At the worst he can but die a little sooner.” that would be a no, then.

Well, was the book written as the result of the deepest philosophical conviction?

Nope: it was written for a bet. Rider Haggard's brother bet him five shillings he couldn't write a book half as good as R L Stevenson's Treasure Island, and King Solomon's Mines was the result.

Well, then, it must have been the result of huge and careful artistry and application. You know the idea: genius is ninety nine per cent perspiration and all that.

Nope again. The whole thing might have been written in six weeks, and definitely didn't take more than sixteen.

So: what makes an enormous, earth-shattering best-seller?

I only wish I knew, quite frankly. 

I wish I knew.

Word To Use Today: mine. This word is Old French and appeared in English in the 1200s. Before that it was probably Celtic. The Welsh word mwyn means ore or mine.

Saturday Rave: Magna Carta.

The Great Charter - or Magna Carta as it is usually known (it was written in (very abbreviated) Latin) - was agreed on June 15th 1215.

It has been called (by the judge Lord Denning) "the greatest constitutional document of all time - the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot".

Sounds good, eh?

Magna Carta was agreed between King John of England (also known as Bad King John) and his barons (basically, the posh landowners who ran the country while the king was abroad losing battles).

The need for Magna Carta was twofold. First, Bad King John's principle of government came down to vis et voluntas, force and will, or the idea that as king he was allowed to do anything he could get away with, however unfair it was to anyone else.

The second problem was that Bad King John wasn't just an untrustworthy, unlikable, selfish sort of a man, he was also a useless general (the other name he was given was John Lackland, because of all the lands he lost in France). After one particularly disastrous battle he was required to pay reparations to the French, and, being short of cash, he asked his barons to have a whip-round.

Magna Carta was the price, not so much of the baron's support, but of stopping them tearing him limb from limb.

Magna Carta promised to establish a council of barons to make sure King John kept his promises in the charter, and it also had things to say about taxation without consent, protection from illegal imprisonment, and access to swift justice. Most of it was about the barons, but the serfs (who were many, and not much more than slaves) did get a few look-ins.

I must say here that the whole agreement failed within weeks, and despite being brought back in various forms over the next few reigns it continued to fail with wearisome regularity. The charter did become important again in the 1600s, a time when kings again decided they should be able to do anything they liked. (That time the affair ended in a very bloody revolution and the beheading of King Charles I.)

But Magna Carta never quite went away. It was, and is, a perpetual remainder of what might be and what should be. It has formed an inspiration for people all over the world campaigning for the rights of their citizens.

And even though these campaigns still fail with wearisome regularity, Magna Carta is still there, an uncomfortable light shining on the thrones of bad kings (or prime ministers or presidents) everywhere.

Words To Use Today: Magna Carta. This means great charter in Latin. So it does what it says on the tin. 

Friday, 14 June 2019

Word To Use Today: cavy.

If you can't afford to go to Iota Geminorum IV for your holiday this year, then don't worry.

The planet's most famous inhabitant, the tribble: 

File:Tribble prop.jpg
exhibit at the New Mexico Institute of Space History (yes, apparently). Photo by Stilfehler

may be banned from Earth, but we have a brilliant substitute which is also nice, soft and furry, and makes a pleasant sound:

File:Guinea pig (1235602438).jpg
black roan abyssinian guinea pig. Photo by Jean.

Yes, it's the guinea pig or cavy.

If the guinea pig seems a little dull, a little sublunary, then consider this: cavies do not exist in the wild, and no one is completely sure where they've come from (unless it's Iota Geminorum IV).

Here's a toddler cavy about eight weeks old:

and as far as I am concerned that photograph is quite enough reason for this post.

Still, the word cavy is itself interesting, too.

Word To Use Today: cavy. Obviously, guinea pigs do not comes from Guinea and they are not pigs. No one knows why they are so called. The word cavy is derived from cabiai, the animal's name in the language of the Galibi tribe from French Guiana.

It's rather satisfying to know a word in Galibi, even if the Galibi might have borrowed the word from the Portuguese, who themselves might have borrowed it from the Tupi word saujà, which means, sadly, rat.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Being radiant: a rant.

Brides are said to be radiant (though the unkind have been known to claim they're merely flushed with victory).

Saints are also said to have a nice line in radiance, but I can't think of any other examples. This isn't surprising, because radiant means shining (though only in a good way. Shiny noses and bald patches, sadly, don't count).

Still, hope springs eternal in the human breast, and so when I received a Lands' End catalogue and saw something described as radiant I was intrigued.

Well, I was until I saw it what it was describing.

Was it a halo with built-in solar-powered fairy lights?


It was a bucket hat in a fabric Lands' End describes as radiant navy.

Radiant navy?

Navy. As in, dark blue.


Ah well. 

I suppose at the worst the thing would at least cover up a bit of my face.

Word To Use Today: radiant. This word comes from the Latin radiāre to shine, from radius, ray of light.

The Latin word radius also means spoke, which is where the geometrical term came in.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Nuts and Bolts: antepenult, penult, ultima.

This sounds terribly complicated, but actually it's as simple as a fried egg.

In a word of three syllables - like, for instance, the word syllables - then the first syllable (syll, in this case) is called the antepenult; the second syllable, (a), is called the penult; and the last, (bles), is called the ultima.

There's no particular point in naming syllables in this way if you're speaking English, though it does have some relevance if you're trying to pronounce Latin or Ancient Greek.

Still, antepenult, penult,'s one of those useless bits of information that's really quite cool, isn't it?

Words To Cherish Today: antepenult, penult, and ultima. Ultima [syllaba] means last syllable in Latin. Penult is short for paenultima, paena meaning almost, and antepenult is short for antepaenultima, ante meaning before.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Thing Not To Do Today: flag.

The builders told me not to bother to trying to strip the paint from the stairs. I'm not saying they were right, but that's a month of my life I'm not getting back.

Ah well, it's finished, now, but there's no denying that towards the end I was flagging a bit.

Now, the thing I want to know is, what's that sort of flagging, the sort that means daunted, fed-up, or discouraged, got to do with, well, flags? Flags are usually to do with striding out to take territory, or drawing attention to things:

File:Royal Standard of the United Kingdom.svg
This is the British Royal Standard, the Queen's personal flag.

I mean, if you fly the flag you're showing a patriotic love for your country; if you show the flag you're probably invading someone else's.

Flags are a symbol of active authority and communication. You flag down a car to make it stop; you flag up a passage of a book for further reference. 

Lowering a flag, conversely, is a sign of surrender - and in New Zealand to flag something away is to dismiss it as unimportant.

So what's the connection with the sort of flag that means to droop, or to lose strength, speed or enthusiasm?


Thing Not To Do Today: flag. Annoyingly, the only definite provable connection between these two words seems to be is that they both appeared in the English language in the 1500s. 

Still, the word meaning to lose enthusiasm looks as if it comes from the Middle English flakken, to flap or flutter, from the Old Norse word flaka, to flicker or hang loose. This may also have suggested the name for the identifying cloth because of course they also have a habit of fluttering about. 

There are those who say that
because flags are recftangular and flat there's just a chance they may alternatively be called after flagstones.

But I don't believe it.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Spot the Frippet: dust.

It won't take you long to spot some dust, but what will you do when you find it? Will you wipe it away, leave it severely alone, or, if it's a cake that's been dusted with cocoa or icing sugar, eat it?

(As far as biting the dust is concerned, this is the strongly recommended way to do it.)

Perhaps the dust will come in the form of a dust bunny, one of those wisps of fuzzy stuff which lurk in corners and under furniture; or perhaps as a dust devil, a miniature whirlwind.

Luckily you will not spot any dust mites (illustrations are available if you want to freak yourself out). They are too small to see, but it is said there can be as many as ten million dust mites (and even more blobs of dust mite poo) in a middle-aged mattress.

Still, never mind. Because we can't spot them, we can all quite happily pretend they're not there. Can't we?

Spot the Frippet: dust. The Old English form of this word is dūst. The word is related to the Old High German tunst, which means storm.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Sunday Rest: insectageddon. Word Not To Use Today.

The Guardian newspaper tells us that the word insectageddon "has entered popular vocabulary".

No it hasn't - and we must all surely hope it won't!

Sunday Rest: insectageddon. This monstrosity of a word does at least have the quality of being easily understood. It refers to the large decrease in the numbers (or perhaps weight) of insects to be found on the planet.

Unfortunately neither of the studies which has foretold insectageddon have had access to enough data to analyse the problem (if there is one) thoroughly. The data for at least one of the studies was collected by searching for published reports with the words "survey + insect + decline" in the summary or title. This means that any analysis, any study showing an increase, and any study referring to bee (for example) numbers, would have been excluded from the study. 

The other problem with the announcement of insectageddon is that most of the published research have been done in Europe, which means that most of the data comes from Europe.

Are we headed for insectageddon? I don't know. It's a worrying thought. But if we are, the use of a silly word like insectageddon  isn't going to give anyone any confidence in the measured neutrality of the study. 

The word Armageddon comes from the Bible. Har megiddōn, the mountain district of Megiddo, in North Palestine, was the site of various biblical battles. The word insect comes from the Latin word insectum, and means animal that has been cut into, from secāre, to cut.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Saturday Rave: fantasy names.

I was wondering what to rave about this week, so I had a look at Wikipedia to see if today is any sort of literary anniversary (and it is, it's seventy years since the publication of 1984. But 1984 is much too miserable a book to think about on a sunny summer morning).

Now, as it happens, I also discovered that the 8th June 1552 was the birth date of the Italian poet Gabriello Chiabrera, aka the Italian Pindar...but none of his poems seems to have been translated into English, and translating sixteenth century Italian isn't a job for a sunny day, either.

But I did find something else in the Wikipedia list of birthdays. Something marvellous and splendid.


862 - Emperor Xizong of Tang (d.888)
1236 - Violant of Aragon, queen consort of Castile and Leon (d. 1301)
1332 - Cangranda II della Scala, lord of Verona (d. 1359)
1508 - Pimoz Trubar, Slovenian Protestant reformer (d. 1586)

...and then, in 1552, we get to Gabriello Chiabrera.

The Emperor Xizong of Tang. How exotic and full of possibilities is a name like that?

And the same goes for Violant of Aragon and Leon (evil witch-queen with a lion familiar, obviously (though I'm sure that in real life she was lovely)).

Cangranda II della Scala, lord of Verona. A mighty aristocrat, clearly, dripping with wealth and pride, and with a ladder (scala) that leads...where? Well, I'd have to write a book about someone like him to find out.

Pimoz last, an honest man. Not a hero, with a name like Pimoz, but he could be the heroine's father, perhaps. Luckily heroes are easy to name....why, I'll call him Gabriello, and let him be a bit of an angel.

So there we are: a cast of characters for a fabulous book.

You know something? N
ext time someone asks me where do you get your ideas from? I'll be able to say Wikipedia.

It'll make a change from what I usually say, which is Tesco.

Word To Use Today: Wikipedia. Wikiwiki is Hawaiian for fast or quick. The word was first used, to mean a website which users could edit, by Ward Cunningham in 1995 when he created the software called WikiWikiWeb. 

-pedia comes from the Greek word encyclopedia. Paideia means education, from pais, child.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Word To Use Today: easement.

Easement is a legal term to do with rights to a neighbour's property.

There might be, for instance, a right to cross the neighbour's land, or to protect a view, or to allow workmen to maintain power supplies.

This means that it is possible for a lawyer to have a career entirely consisting of arranging gas easements.

A piece of information surely to fill us all with delight.

Word To Use Today: easement. The word easement also means to be made to be comfortable; a seat of easement is (well, used to be) a lavatory. 

The word ease was aise in Old French and meant ease or opportunity. It comes from the Latin adjacēns, neighbouring [property].

Thursday, 6 June 2019

A misalliance: a rant.

The animals [they say] went in two by two, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The animals went in two by two, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The animals went in two by two, the elephant and the kangaroo...

...hang on. 

The elephant and the kangaroo?

But I thought the animals went into the ark in, you know, matched pairs.

Well, the elephant and the kangaroo...

...they must have had a challenging time repopulating the earth, aren't they?

And there must be some great big holes all over Australia.

photo by PanBK

Word To Use Today: kangaroo. Rather sadly, despite the stories, this word is not a native Australian version of there he goes! It is from a native Australian language, Guugu Yimidhirr, but the word means, well, kangaroo (a large black one, as it happens). The original word in Guugu Yimidhirr is gaNurru, which must have been slightly misheard by Capt Cook and Joseph Banks.

By the way, elephants and kangeroos aren't kosher, so they would have gone into the ark in pairs. Kosher animals went in, of course, in sevens. 

Presumably five of those got sacrificed or eaten.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Nuts and Bolts: a livelier gender.

Gender has caused problems for a long time. Why, it even caused problems when it was merely a grammatical term. 

It's not easy to remember that a Spanish chair is feminine but German one masculine, nor to avoid feeling slightly aggrieved that while the French words amour (love) and orgue (organ) are masculine when they're singular, they become feminine when in the plural.

Norwegian has words where you can choose the gender, and your choice might depend upon which district you live in, or how formal you want to sound (choosing the masculine gender tends to be more formal).

For the purposes of today, though, I'd just like to point out that some languages differentiate between animate and inanimate genders.

On the face of it, this seems like a perfectly reasonable.

Though which gender you'd put a leaf in, or a glacier, for example, I have not the faintest idea.

Word To Use Today: gender. This is basically the same word as genus, which means sort.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Thing Not To Be Or Have Today: wattle.

Every part of the world has its own special words, and the Midlands of England have, generously, given us the word wattle.

It describes something of poor quality, which is, clearly, a concept we all need on a more than daily basis.

So that's the sort of wattle not to be.

As for the sort of wattle not to have, well, this is a bit anthropocentric, but I really don't aspire to one of these:

File:Icelandic chicken rooster 9 months old, with a large multi-point rose comb and large wattles.jpg
Icelandic rooster. The wattles are the red dangly bits. Photo by Landnamshaenan

or these:

File:Red Wattle pig.jpg
Red wattle pig. Photo by Mark Whitby:

or either of these:

File:Double-wattled Cassowary or Kasuari (Casuarius casuarius).jpgor

double wattled cassowary, photo by 22Kartika

...or to its human equivalent.

Mind you, given the choice, as we probably will one day, between scraggy wattles and a double chin...


Thing Not To Be Or Have Today: wattle. No one knows where the word for the droopy fleshy things comes from. The Midlands word for something of poor quality is puzzling, too, but might have something to do with the wattle that describes the wooden frames filled with twigs which have been used to make the walls of buildings. This word was watol in Old English and is related to wethel, which means wrap (as in bandage) presumably because you filled in the gaps between the twigs with whatever you had available to stop the draught.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Spot The Frippet: navel.

Actually, given the present fashion for selfies and self-absorption, I probably shouldn't be encouraging navel-gazing.

Ah well.

Why not have a look for some navel oranges, instead?

File:Navel Oranges.JPG
navel oranges: photo by Brandizzi

All mammals have navels, but American cattle are unusual in having three, the two extras being found in the front part of the cut of meat called the plate:

It's used for pastrami.

There are a couple of cocktails called navels, the fuzzy navel consisting of one part vodka, one part peach schnapps and four parts orange juice.

On a larger scale, there are several places claiming to be the navel of the earth or the navel of the world. Some are religious sites, some are geographical oddities.

Where do you think should be the navel of the world? 

And where is the navel of yours?

Spot the Frippet: navel. This word comes from the Old English nafela, and its connections go right back to the Latin word umbilicus. Ray Foley came up with the name of the cocktail, fuzzy for the peach ingredient and navel for the orange. 

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Sunday Rest: fleagan. Word Not To Use Today.

A fleagan?

A part-time vegan, apparently.

Assuming, as one surely must, that part-time vegan includes anyone who eats the occasional bag of chips or crisps, or has been known to eat an apple, then that means a fleagan is...

...well, basically, someone with a sharp and hypocritical eye for fashion and boasting rights.

I think we should of course treat him or her with exactly the amount of respect that deserves.

Word Not To Use Today: fleagan. Well, the -gan bit must be to do with the -gan in vegan, I suppose, but the flea- is puzzling. I'd expect this to be called a flexigan (though I must admit that sounds like a one-size knitted garment). 

Ah, but perhaps the flea- is a small biting insect which hops from one thing to another. Yes, that makes sense. In that case, the word comes from the Old English flēah, flea.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Saturday Rave: Seven Poems II by John Masefield

John Masefield wrote some rather obvious poetry. He wrote some utterly magnificent stuff, too, of course, but nowadays his sentimentality can be a bit squirm-making.

But how about this. It's the second of Seven Poems, and it's about as original a way of thinking as one could imagine.

You may still squirm, though. 

I know I did.

What am I, Life? A thing of watery salt
Held in cohesion by unresting cells
Which work they know not why, which never halt,
Myself unwitting where their master dwells.
I do not bid them, yet they toil, they spin;
A world which uses me as I use them,
Nor do I know which end or which begin,
Nor which to praise, which pamper, which condemn.
So, like a marvel in a marvel set,
I answer to the vast, as wave by wave
The sea of air goes over, dry or wet,
Or the full moon comes swimming from her cave,
Or the great sun comes north, this myriad I
Tingles, not knowing how, yet wondering why.

Word To Use Today: salt. This word was sealt in Old English, sāl in Latin and hals in Greek.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Word To Use Today: splat.

One may regret the passing of the seventeenth century, and with it the passing of both Shakespeare and piccadill collars:

one may look back with longing at the Age of Reason, and feel that perhaps the couplets of Alexander Pope:

Spin all your cobwebs o'er the eye of day
The Muse's wing shall brush you all away.

 were a trifle more elegant than those of Dizzee Rascal:

I gaze quite a lot, in fact I gaze always
And if I blaze, then I gaze always my days

It may even be the case that civilisation just suddenly seems much too much and nothing appeals more than a chance to sit round a camp-fire and gnaw at the leg of a mammoth.

I get all that. I really do.

But what do we have that none of those times had?

Something simple, free, and at the same time hugely satisfying?

The word splat.

The best things in life, eh?

Word To Use Today: splat. This word wasn't coined until the 1800s. As well as being a lovely wet slapping sound a splat is also a long flat piece of wood, especially one that makes the centre strut of the back of a chair.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Safe words: a rant.

A new clause is being written into the contracts of some Hollywood actresses.

If an actress's role involves a scene of intimacy then 'safe words' are now available to bring a halt to the proceedings if some other person in the scene is beginning to get over-excited.

Examples of such words are, apparently, pineapple, sweet potato or mayonnaise.

Now, they say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and if that is in fact the case then these words would be unlikely to cool his ardour. But the principle of using a word that'll shine a bit of daylight into a steamy situation is sound enough.

There must be better ones than mayonnaise, though.

How about bubonic plague? 

Or Income Tax Return?

Or, better still, it might be a good idea, if you want legal force and clarity, to stick with the simple word stop.

Word To Use Today: intimacy. In Roman times an intimus was a very close friend,. The word comes from intus, which means within.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Nuts and Bolts: monsters and microwaves.

Which animal do the French call after a snake-haired monster?

Some clues: if you were Danish you would call it vandman, which means water man.

If Spanish aguamala, or bad water.

In Hungarian, it would be an erélytelen ember, or feckless one.*

Any ideas?

I was led to this subject after being told that in Welsh this animal is called a pysgod wibli wobli. Sadly that turned out not to be quite true. The term pysgod wibli wobli has become very popular in Wales (it is, after all, utterly delightful) but the normal Welsh word for this animal (all right, it's the jellyfish) is pysgod môr.

Still, to console us, there's also another new and popular Welsh term, this time for the microwave, the popity ping, or oven that goes ping. 

The idea of it warms me to the core of my being.

Word To Use Today: your local one for jellyfish.

*Or so the notoriously inaccurate Google translate tells me.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Thing Not To Be Today: prissy.

The one thing that everyone's agreed upon about prissy people is that they're annoying.

Prissy people are correct - correct, I mean, in the sense of conforming to the pettier rules of good manners.

A prissy person will surround a guest with napkins and an appetite-extinguishing anxiety about crumbs.

A prissy person will cock her little finger when taking tea (why does anyone do that???).

A prissy person will always wear an outfit exactly three and a half degrees more formal than is suitable for the occasion, and therefore give the (completely justified) impression of disapproving of everyone else in the room.

Yes, there's a lot of parade with a prissy person.

And there's never any doubt at all in the mind of the prissy person who should be be leading the show.

Thing Not To Be Today: prissy. This word first appeared, in America, in 1895. It seems to have been made up by the writer Joel Chandler Harris, but whether it's a mixture of prim and fussy, or an alteration of precise, no one knows.

It's a jolly good word, however it came about. I mean, you can practically hear the purse-mouth, fuss and frills, can't you?

Monday, 27 May 2019

Spot the Frippet: jingo.

A jingo is, according to my dictionary, a loud and bellicose patriot.

Fortunately, they're not usually hard to spot.

Spot the Frippet: jingo. This word appeared in the 1600s, probably as a polite version of Jesus. The aggressive-patriot meaning probably came about in the 1800s because of a music hall song which used By jingo! in its chorus.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Sunday Rest: Word Not To Use Today: megaphanerophyte.

A megaphanerophyte is a term used by botanists to describe a tree - any tree - over thirty metres in height.

And, you know something? 

Sometimes I wonder how well these botanists really understand the point of language.

Sunday Rest: megaphanerophyte. The word is made up of Greek bits: mega, huge or powerful, phaneros, visible, and -phyte, plant.

Yes, I'm wondering how many invisible plants there are about the place, too.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Saturday Rave: The Love-Sick Boy by W S Gilbert.

It may not be very poetic, nor very burnishing to the self-importance, but the fact remains that most love-affairs turn out to be comedies rather than tragedies.

Well, they do if we would only let them.

When first my old, old love I knew,
My bosom welled with joy;
My riches at her feet I threw -
I was a love-sick boy!
No terms seemed too extravagant
Upon her to employ -
I used to mope, and sigh, and pant,
Just like a love-sick boy!
Tink-a-tank! Tink-a-tank!

But joy incessant palls the sense;
And love, unchanged, will cloy,
And she became a bore intense
Unto her love-sick boy!
With fitful glimmer burnt my flame,
And I grew cold and coy,
At last, one morning, I became
Another's love-sick boy.
Tink-a-tank! Tink-a-tank!


Tink-a-tank indeed.

Well, probably. (Sorry, no idea at all.)

Word To Use Today: bosom. English-speakers have had bosoms since Old English times. The word then was bōsm

This song is sung during Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury.

The trial is, of course, one for breach of promise.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Word To Use Today: temperature.

I think I've got a temperature...

...well, of course I have. Even dead people have a temperature, although it tends to be low.

What I really mean, of course, is that I think I have got a fever.

Ah well. 

I suppose the great thing is that I feel only half dead.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Word To Use Today: temperature. This word came into the English language in the 1500s, when it meant a mingling. It comes from the Latin word temperātūra, proportion, from temperāre, to temper.


Thursday, 23 May 2019

Beast Police: a rant.

A policeman's lot is not a happy one, says the old song, and it's certainly true that despite all the work the police forces of the world do to keep us all safe (yes, I do realise that some of you will be laughing mockingly) the public isn't shy about hurling insults at the boys in...well, they used to be boys in blue round here, but nowadays they tend to come in luminous green.

Scum, Pigs, Bœufs (French, because of their supposedly blank stare) Chimps (Completely Hopeless In Most Policing Situations), Chien (dog) Filth, Fuzz, Plod (Enid Blyton character), Moosor (Russian, garbage), Rati (Argentinian, from word for rat), Schmier (Swiss, grease (as in corruption)).

Hey, but what was that about fuzz? That's an odd one. It's not even obviously an insult. Where did that come from?

Well, the common view is that it refers to the static interference to be heard on police radios, but a sentence in the Telegraph online of May 14 may provide a different explanation. It describes a police investigation into a man who had claimed that various very high-ranking officials in British life had been members of a murderous ring of child abusers.

The man, the report tells us

was now the suspect as police officers pawed over the allegations with a fine-tooth comb.

Well, if the police have paws then I think we can see where the word fuzz came from, can't we?

Word To Use Today: paw. This word comes from the Old French powe, paw or fist. Before that, no one's sure, but there's a lovely German word Pfote which might be related to it.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Nuts and Bolts: contractions.

Contractions happen when you miss out a bit of a word (or two).

Don't is an obvious example. And I'll, can't, won't...there are plenty of them.

In English they're used a lot, but they aren't compulsory; you can always say (or write) do not, I will (or I shall) cannot or will not.

Some other languages are different. In French, for example, a lot of contractions are compulsory in both in speech and writing - c'est, l'arbre.

Spoken contractions are common everywhere. (How many of us say, for example, the word everywhere, ev-er-ee-wair, and not evreewair?). And I remember with affection the wonderful Alan Coren's stories featuring taxi drivers who seemed to end every sentence narmean?*

The important thing is to remember is that when you use a contraction you're not being wrong, or sloppy: you're doing grammar!

Word To Use Today: contraction. The Latin word contrahere means to draw together.

*Do you know what I mean?