This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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



Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Thing To Be Today: erudite.

 To be erudite is to display knowledge, but in a good way. No one likes a show-off because show-offs are rude, but to be erudite is to share knowledge because knowledge itself is a precious thing.

To be erudite is the opposite of rude: which, for someone interested in the origins of words, is immensely satisfying.

Thing To Be Today: erudite. Erudite means, at root, not rude. The e at the beginning is short for ex- which means outside of, and the rud bit comes from the Latin word rudis, which means unpolished or rough.

To be myself erudite for a moment, the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream, are rude in the same way (as, actually, are all rude people).



Monday, 30 November 2020

Spot the Frippet: wattle.

 There are two words that are pronounced wattle.

The first can mean a frame with twigs woven inside it, especially used as a fence or gate:

This one was drawn in the 1400s. The illustration is at Rouen.

or it can describe the dangling fleshy bits sometimes found on the heads of  birds:


turkey. Photo by Paul VanDerWerf

There are at least two different types of wattle tree in Australia and South Africa:


photo by Melburnian

And there are also wattlebirds in Australia and New Zealand.


photo by JJ Harrison This is a Little Wattlebird. The bigger ones have, um, wattles.

If you can't find any of these kinds of wattle, then the other sort of wattle is a word of the British Midlands and means of poor quality. 

That stuff is everywhere.

Spot the Frippet: wattle. The British Midland word I don't know much about, but the other wattle comes from the Old English watol, and is related to wethel, which means wrap.


Sunday, 29 November 2020

Sunday Rest: wigwag. Word Not To Use Today.

 To wigwag means to move backwards and forwards.

Yes, that is just the same meaning as the word wag.

The word wigwag, however, is especially for people who are pretending to have a sense of humour.

Sunday Rest: wigwag. This word dates back to the 1500s. The wig bit is probably short for wiggle (so the whole word is tautologous, as well as wince-making). The Middle Dutch form of wiggle was wiggelen

Wag comes from the Old English waglan, to shake. Rather sweetly, vagga is the Old Norse for cradle.

photo by M Todorovic



Saturday, 28 November 2020

Saturday Rave: The Tyger by William Blake.

 Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand, dare seize the fire?


And what shoulder, & what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & what dread feet?


What the hammer? what the chain,

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp,

Dare its deadly terrors clasp!


When the stars threw down their spears

And water'd heaven with their tears:

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?


Tyger, Tyger, burning bright

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


Screen by Ganku Kishi


William Blake (1757 - 1827) was something between a visionary and a madman (which is to say he was a human being and an artist).

Many many words have been written about the meaning of The Tyger. I'll just say three things: that Blake spent a lot of time revising it, and so we can assume that nothing is accidental; that someone who writes a poem is himself a creator; and that great artists have the courage to stare unflinchingly even at problems which give them answers they do not wish to know.

In fact, come to think about it, that last may be as good a definition of great Art as any.

Word To Use Today: tyger. (Usually spelled tiger nowadays.) This word comes from the Old French tigre, from Latin tigris and back through Greek, perhaps to the Iranian tigra meaning pointed or sharp, and perhaps to the Avestan tigrhi, meaning arrow. 

But then again, perhaps not.








Friday, 27 November 2020

Word To Use Today: nark.

 Nark is a British, Australian and New Zealand word.

It's not vulgar, exactly, though I doubt you'd hear the Queen using it, or any but the trendiest possible vicar.

A nark is usually a police informer, but it can also mean to annoy or irritate someone (it's usually found in a form like: I was really narked by him turning up at the party wearing his football shirt, I can tell you). 

In Britain (though I've never come across this usage myself) a nark can also describe someone who keeps on and on and on complaining. In Australia and New Zealand a nark can be a spoilsport.

None of this is pleasant, but then nark is a good word for expressing powerful feelings of annoyance and disgust.

I feel a similar word was probably used by the fiercer dinosaurs when some animal they were hoping to eat for dinner made it to the swamp.

Nark!

 Word To Use Today: nark. No one is quite sure about the origin of this word, but it might be something to do with the Romany word nāk, which means nose.



Thursday, 26 November 2020

Minorities: a rant.

 You hear the word BAME a lot in Britain. Sometimes it's pronounced as an initialisation, B-A-M-E, and sometimes it's pronounced as an acronym, baym. In both cases it stands for Black Asian Minority Ethnic, and the underlying idea is that people of these ethnicities require special attention and kindness and respect and help.

I do agree completely and wholeheartedly with this...

...especially since I've realised that everyone in the world is Minority Ethnic.

Word To Consider Today: BAME. The term BME has been used since the 1970s in the USA. BAME is derived from that.

I

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Nuts and Bolts: Kalau Lagau Ya

 Kalau Lagau Ya is a language of the Western Torres Strait Islands. It used to be spoken widely, being the lingua franca of an area that stretched into parts of mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea. Kalau Lagau Ya doesn't have quite so many speakers nowadays, but it still has a 'light' simplified-for-foreigners form, as well as a pidginised form.

Kalau Lagau Ya is a wonderful thing. Instead of English's dull past, present and future tenses, Kalau Lagau Ya has tenses for the remote past, the recent past, the today past, the present, the today or near future, and the remote future.

Kalay Lagau Ya has three different major spelling systems, and, as well as these, spelling will depend upon age, family, island, village (and other factors such as whether you're transcribing poetic speech). 

And everywhere people have very strong opinions about 'correct' Kalau Lagau Ya spelling!

Cases in the language of Kalau Lagau Ya include nominative, acusative, instrumental, dative, purposive, ablative. avoidative, specific vocative, specific locative, global locative, privative, similative, resultative and proprietive.

I am never going to learn Kalau Lagau Ya. In fact I can't help but be slightly glad I don't have to.

But what a wonder of the world it is, all the same.

Word To Use Today: I think that today might be a time to admire the sophisticated command you have of the grammar of your own first language.


Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Thing To Do Today: cavort.

 How do people know what a word means?

Yes, I know they sometimes look up words in dictionaries. In this case the answer will be authoritative, if probably incomplete and quite possibly a hundred years or so out of date; but most words we use we've never looked up in a dictionary.

We understand these (or we think we do) through a mixture of context and guessing.

(Let's stop here for a moment to admire the genius of the human infant...)

So, cavort. I've always thought this means to throw oneself into attitudes of careless joy (and basically that's right, because the dictionary says it means to prance or caper) but I've only just realised that I've always associated cavort with the word contort just because it sounds similar. So the prancing about of someone cavorting, for me, has always involved extravagant gestures.

My understanding of the joyful part of the word must have come from the context. People nearly always cavort with joy, don't they? (Well, that's human nature: we don't prance about when we're feeling sad: we trudge, instead.)

Anyway, many people tell us that exercise is cheering, so perhaps a little cavorting might make us happy even if we're glum. 

It must be worth a try.

Mustn't it?

Thing To Do Today: cavort. This word sounds old, but it isn't. It appeared in the 1800s, perhaps from curvet, which is an all-feet-off-the-ground jump made by a horse.



Monday, 23 November 2020

Spot the Frippet: spot.

What easier spot can there be than a spot?

(Just hope it's not on your nose.)

The nearest spot to me is on this keyboard. There are actually quite a few of them: (look, there are two, one on top of the other. And there's another one! Punctuation is just full of them.).

Can you spot a spotty scarf or spotty tie? Do you have your own spot on the sofa? Do you have a spot (of something strongly alcoholic) from time to time? There's a spot ball at billiards, and other spots to be found on the snooker table and soccer field.

Can you spot a dalmatian:


photo by 
Desaix83

 or a thrush, or a trout?

Or a leopard:


photo by 
Haplochromis

 - or (I hope, if it's a coat) fake leopard?

Do you have a weak spotMost of us do. 

Just as long as your own spot isn't a tight one.

Spot the Frippet: a spot. This word came into the English language in the 1100s, when it meant a moral failing (Which is interesting in view of Lady Macbeth's damned spot). The word is basically Germanic.



Sunday, 22 November 2020

Sunday Rest: awsomesauce.

 I haven't come across this word myself, except online, but apparently some people (especially in America) are using the word awesomesauce.

It's a truly horrible conglomeration, exquisitely painful to anyone with any sensibilities at all.

I mean, I'm only just beginning to avoid wincing when people day awesome.

Stop it. Stop it!

Please?

Sunday Rest: awesomesauce. I do not really know exactly what this word means. I assume it's something like excellent, but doubt it's ever applied to anything which does truly excel.

Adequate considering you're not very experienced or particularly gifted is probably nearer the mark.

The word awe comes ultimately from the Greek word akhesthai, which means to be grieved. 

The word sauce is to do with the word salt.





Saturday, 21 November 2020

Saturday Rave: The Shepherd's Calendar. November, by John Clare.

 What can one say in favour of an English November? It's often a dreary time. John Clare's poem speaks of this so precisely, with so much knowledge and affection...and yet, of his twenty verses on the subject, eleven were cut before publication.

All twenty verses are really well worth reading, and to make a choice of one to feature here is difficult. I love Clare's sun that shines so palely through the clouds it seems to be the moon; I love the owlet that flies by day and spooks the inhabitants of the village; I love the old woman trying to spin with her cold hands, her aching corn foretelling harsh weather.

But here, in the midst of the November gloom, is a little bit of determined respectability, a little bit of mischief, and a little bit of something tender. 

It tell of the human spirit refusing to be cowed.

This verse was cut, too.


The cleanly maiden thro the village streets

In pattens clicks down causeways never drye

While eves above head drops - were oft she meets

The school boy leering on wi mischiefs eye

Trying to splash her as he hurrys bye

While swains afield returning to their ploughs

Their passing aid wi gentle speech apply

& much loves rapture thrills when she alows

Their help wi offerd hand to lead her oer the sloughs


Why was this verse cut? Was the gentle speech of the ploughmen potentially of offence to Clare's city-based readers? How could a ploughman be gentle? Surely only gentlemen are gentle? 

I suppose, also, the implication that gentlemen should be, well, gentle, was a rather revolutionary idea...

...actually, though we no longer speak of those in power being gentlefolk, I'm afraid those ideas are still just as revolutionary today.

Word To Use Today: gentle. The Old French word gentil meant noble. The Latin gentīlis means belonging to the same family. Gens means race.


Friday, 20 November 2020

Word To Use Today: darcy.

 All right-thinking people, when they see the word darcy, think immediately of Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire.

Illustration by Hugh Thomson (1860 - 1920).

(He's nothing to do with this post, I'm just mentioning him because he's such a cheering person to think about, even though he was never the man for me. For one thing, I don't think he'd look kindly on my current jeans-and-a-jumper outfit (though I do probably play the piano as well as Elizabeth Bennett).

Anyway, darcy.

A darcy is a unit of the permeability coefficient of rock. Its symbol is D. A rock has a permeability of one darcy if it lets through one cubic centimetre of one-Poise-thick fluid in a pressure gradient of one atmosphere per centimetre acting across an area of one square centimetre. 

(Or something like that, anyway.)

Entertainingly, you can also have a millidarcy

Presumably a millidarcy is a thousandth of a darcy; but I'm going to pretend that's the name of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam's slightly scatty daughter.

Word To Use Today: darcy. The darcy unit is named after Henri-Philibert-Gaspard Darcy (1803-58). The Poise unit was named after Jean Léonard Marie Poiseuille.


Thursday, 19 November 2020

Swearing on Screen: a rant.

YouGov is an international research data and analytics group headquartered in London - or so it says on their website. Basically, as far as I can see, they do surveys.

One survey they've done looks into attitudes about swearing on TV. In it, people's answers are spit into groups reflecting voting intention, age, sex, class, and area of the country (it's an English survey).

And what I want to know is, why?

Does the opinion of a posh young person in the capital city matter more than that of a poor pensioner in the northern town of Bolton? 

(Answer: very probably yes, though that's nothing to do with this survey.)

It's a good thing that all kinds of people were asked, of course (though as it happens none of the categories showed much difference in people's opinions.). But should their answers have been published in this way? 

Should there have been extra sections to analyse ethnicity and religion?

Hmm...

...personally, I'm wondering if there are some things it's handiest just not to know.

Word To Use Today: poll. The Middle Low German word polle means hair of the head. 

I suppose polls in those days didn't count the views of bald people.



Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Nuts and Bolts: paracosm.

A paracosm is a detailed and intensely imagined world, created over a long period, especially one created by children.

 Terry Pratchett's Discworld is an example of a paracosm, and so is Tolkien's Middle Earth, and so are the Kingdoms invented by the Brontes as children.

 A paracosm has to be carefully imagined. It might have its own politics, physics, and even its own languages.

 Paracosms have been around, I suspect, as long as there have been humans to invent them, but the idea of paracosms as something distinct is quite new. It was first described in 1976 by Robert Silvey, a BBC researcher (I'm sorry, I don't know the context). The idea was developed by Stephen A MacKeith and David Cohen, a psychiatrist and a psychologist, respectively.

 The term paracosm was coined by Ben Vincent, who helped with Silvey's study.

 Since then, various interested parties have leapt upon the idea and prodded it all over to see what went ouch! There are those who associate the invention of a paracosm with high intelligence and high creativity, and those who link it to bereavement in early childhood. Some think paracosm is an extension of the 'invisible friend' idea.

 Now, as a serial paracosmist, myself, I should be able to answer these questions. Do I have high intelligence? Oh dear...I'm not even sure what intelligence is, let alone whether I have an unusual quantity of it. High creativity? I'm always making stuff, whether it's pictures or books, so I suppose I should probably give that one a cautious tick, if only for effort. Bereavement as a child? Well, I'm adopted, so for all practical purposes yes to that one.

 It's odd though. I suppose I've always known that not everyone has their own paracosm, or paracosms. But I can't imagine why not.

 It seems such a delightful and obvious thing to do.

 Thing To Consider Today: a paracosm. I would imagine this word is made up of the Greek para, meaning beyond, or alongside, and the Greek word kosmos which means order, world, or universe.


Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Thing To Do Today: be all over something.

 If I'm all over you, does that mean that I never want to see you again for the rest of my life, or that I want to hold you in my arms until the stars fall?

Well, don't ask me, I'm just a flipping writer.

Word To Use Today: over. This word has been around for ever. In Old English it was ofer, in Old Norse yfir, in Latin it was super and in Greek it was huper.

Monday, 16 November 2020

Spot the Frippet: mess.

 There are those - and I live with one of them - who rather like to live in a mess.

These are the kinds of people who, if they see a neat pile of papers, will unconsciously push it askew as they walk by.

The way to deal with them, I find, is to put things away in their proper place. An untidy person will never find them. They're too busy prodding hopefully through the slithering piles of things on the floor.

Anyway, mess: a cocooning balm to some souls, the visual equivalent of serial music to others.

Today, I'm going to try to appreciate mess.

And then, tomorrow, I'm going to tidy it all up.

Spot the Frippet: mess. This word arrived in the 1200s from France, where mes was a dish of food (military institutions in Britain still eat in mess halls). 



Officers mess, Tidworth, Wiltshire, England. Photo by Chris Talbot

Missus is Late Latin for a course of food, and mittere means to send forth or set out. So the word has flipped from a sense of order to the exact opposite.

There are no illustrations of mess in this post. But then you know what mess looks like, don't you.


Sunday, 15 November 2020

Sunday Rest: Cosy Corner. Words Not To Use Today.

 Not very far from here, in the village of Aston Clinton, someone has built a small development of houses.

As far as I can see (I've only driven past along the main road) there's nothing wrong with them as houses. They probably have more than enough bathrooms, and at least one window in a non-standard size. 

But I literally wouldn't live there if you paid me (unless it was really a lot of money).

Why?

Because the road is called Cosy Coner.

And I do have some artistic principles.

Word Not To Use Today If It's A Road: cosy. (You can write it cozy if you must.) This word is Scots, and there's nothing wrong with it in most contexts. No one is sure where it came from (apart from Scotland), but the Old Scots from was colsie, and the German word kosen means to cuddle, so there's probably a connection there somewhere.


Saturday, 14 November 2020

Saturday Rave: A Word To Husbands by Ogden Nash.

 In these times of lock down, when we are spending so much time with our nearest and dearest (well, nearest, anyway...) here is some advice from that excellent and wise American poet Ogden Nash (1902 - 1971).

The only thing wrong with this poem is that nowadays it should called A Word To The Married. But in Ogden Nash's young days, of course, chivalry was really quite fashionable.

To keep your marriage brimming

With love in the loving cup,

Whenever you're wrong, admit it;

Whenever you're right, shut up.

Word To Use Today: marriage. The Old French for marry was marier. Before that the Latin was marītāre, from marītus, married [man]. The word might come from mās, which means male.  




Friday, 13 November 2020

Word To Use Today: bingle.

A few days ago we looked at darg, a word from the Scottish North; here, today, is a word from the South: bingle.

Bingle (in at least one of its meanings) is Australian. I'm afraid it's a bit old-fashioned, nowadays, but it's a word of such charm that it's surely still worth celebrating.

If you've had a bit of a bingle then you've had a minor accident, perhaps in a car or on (off?) a surfboard. The word speaks of a sturdy courage in the face of hardship and I love it.

After all, what could be a better way of approaching Friday 13th?

There are other bingles, too: a hairstyle which is half way between a bob and a shingle:



 (though I can't honestly see the difference between this and a bob); and a hit at base ball where, as far as I understand it, the batter gets safely to first base but no further. (Whether that's good or not I'm afraid I have not the least idea.)

Word To Use Today: bingle. The Australian word is probably a mixture of bing (as in bump) and -le, which makes the bump sound smaller. The baseball word is a mixture of bat and single.


Thursday, 12 November 2020

Closing the gap: a rant.

 Our branch of the bank used to be close, but now they've decided to close it, it won't be.

Sometimes I wish I wrote in some other language.

Word To Use Today: close. The word meaning shut arrived in the 1200s from France: clos means enclosed, from the Latin clausus, shut up, from claudere, to close.

By the late 1300s other meanings attached to the Old French clos, such as confined, and concealed and secret, had begun to emerge. Fairly soon the word came to have the sense of closing the gap between two things, and from there it came, by the later 1400s, to mean nearby.



Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Nuts and Bolts: syncope.

I thought that syncope was when you faint because of a lack of blood in the brain - and, as it happens, I was right - but it's also a language term.

How many syllables are there in the word camera?

Three? Cam-er-a?

Now say camera out loud.

Cam-ra.

It's two, now, isn't it.

The same sort of thing happens with the words chocolate and aspirin. That's a syncope.

Syncope sometimes depends upon which dialect of a language you speak - or, indeed, if you're speaking at all. Favourite is often fayv-rit, but not if you're singing about Raindrops on Roses. On the other hand if you're singing about memory in the musical Cats, then it'll be Mem-ree.

The general rule, though, is that our speech is much sloppier than we like to think it is.

Yes, there are syncopes just evrywhere.

There reely are.

Words To Use Today: one with a syncope. (You say it SINkoppee). This word comes from the Greek word sunkopē, a cutting off, from sun- together, plus koptein, to cut.


Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Thing To Do Today: a darg.

 My heart leapt when I came across the word darg in the dictionary.

A darg...that is just so obviously the name of an alien life-form. An enemy alien life-form. Something slightly mechanical. The kind of terrible beings who vaporise people and never even consider taking afternoon tea.

(Actually, why is afternoon tea so seldom a part of people's reaction to an alien invasion? Next time we get invaded it must be worth a try. Whose hearts aren't softened by an offer of scones with cream and jam piled on top? 

Err...beings without hearts, probably. Ah well.)

Anyway, to get back to darg. This word is Scots and Northern British, and a darg is a day's work. If you can fill the unforgiving minute/With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, and all that.

Well, I can certainly do sixty seconds of working. But a whole day of just...working?

I think, personally, I've arrived back at the great importance of afternoon tea.

Milk, no sugar, please.

Thing To Do Today: a darg. This is a squashed-up version of day's work.



Monday, 9 November 2020

Spot the Frippet: Engler degrees.

 A lot of us are in lock-down of one sort or another at the moment, so here's something to look for in the home.

Engler degrees.

C Engler (1842 - 1925) was a German chemist who came up with Engler degrees

I assume the name wasn't a coincidence.

The basic idea of Engler degrees is that your pour a fluid into a standard-size hole and measure the speed with which it goes through it. Then you compare that with the speed of water.

I can't find out much about this system online, but I think you're supposed to take the measurement at 50 degrees centigrade.

Now, I don't suppose that many of us have the equipment around to measure this accurately, but it's still possible to appreciate the pouring motion of honey, say:


photo by Dino Giordano

or maple syrup, or yogurt, or a smoothie, or soap, or lotion, or oil:



photo by Netojinn


 or paint or polish:


photo by Disco-Dan

Yes: this is a day to observe the gloopiness of things.

Enjoy!

Spot the Frippet: Engler degrees. The word degree comes from the Latin de- which can mean more or less anything, and gradus, which means step.




Sunday, 8 November 2020

Sunday Rest: fungineer. Word Not To Use Today.

 Oh the horror, the horror!

There are probably more repulsive words in the English language than fungineer, but I can't think of one at the moment.

What does it mean?

The word is so new that people are still arguing about that. (This gives me some hope that the wretched thing will be discarded before it gets entrenched in our minds.)

Some say a fungineer is someone who uses genetic engineering to manipulate fungi. I'm sure such people are a laugh a minute, but the use of the alternative mycologist must be more likely to get you a research grant.

The commoner idea about fungineers seems to define them as people who create stuff for fun, and without bothering much about, or having much respect for, the actual engineering bit. 

Yes, an artist. 

No, obviously not a serious artist.

I'd be surprised if anyone calling himself or herself a fungineer can get a grant from the Arts Council, either.

Word Not To Use Today: fungineer. Fun appeared as a word in the 1500s and might come from fon, which means to make a fool of. Engineer comes via French from the Latin ingenium, skill or talent.



Saturday, 7 November 2020

Saturday Rave: Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux. Historiettes.

 Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux (1619 - 1692) was born into a moderately prosperous Protestant family in France. His father had him trained as a lawyer, and then wangled him a job, but Gédéon decided he'd rather get an income through marriage to his cousin Elisabeth de Rambouillet.

This introduced him to rather higher society, and this gave him scope for his great relish and talent for gossip. He was soon privy to all sorts of first-hand tittle-tattle about France's great men, from the king downwards, and he used it in his series of mini-biographies of the (according to Gédéon not-so) great and good of the times.

He seems to have had great fun, and at the same time it seems that his sources were very largely accurate.

Gédéon, in his own endearing style, converted to Catholicism in 1685. Had virtue claimed him? Or was it because as a Catholic he managed to get hold of a pension of 2,000 livres which paid off his debts?

Here's a translation of the opening of Gédéon's Historiettes. It's on the subject of Henry IV of France.

If this prince had been born king of France, and a peaceful king, probably he would not have been a great personage; he would have been drowned in pleasures, since, in spite of all he went through, he did not, to follow his pleasures, abandon the most important matters. After the battle of Coutras, instead of pursuing his advantages, he went to play with the Countess de Guiche, and brought her the flags he had won. During the 4th siege of Amiens, he ran after Madame de Beaufort, without worrying about the cardinal of Austria, from Archduke Albert, who was approaching to try to help the place. He was neither too liberal nor too grateful. He never praised others, and boasted like a Gascon. As a reward, we have never seen a prince so human, nor who loved his people more.


If only there'd been a Gédéon Tallemant de Réaux in every country and age!


Word To Use Today: gossip. This word comes from the Old English godsibb, godparents. From there it came to mean familiar friends, especially those helping a woman in childbirth.

The original French text can be found HERE.


Friday, 6 November 2020

Word To Use Today: forcipes.

 The only real reason for letting this word into The Word Den is because it's such a peculiar plural that it's not even obvious that it is a plural, let alone what it means in the singular.

Still, it's got a cool derivation, too...

...in a matter of speaking.


photo by William Rafti of the William Rafti Institute

Word To Use Today: forcipes. (Forceps can also be the plural of forceps, and is a much more sensible word to use if you want people to understand what you're going on about, but it's not as eccentrically lovable.) This word comes from the Latin words formus, hot, and capere, to seize.



Thursday, 5 November 2020

Exponents of the exponential: a rant.

An exponent of something is someone who recommends it, or explains it (or sometimes someone who performs it: a musician might be an exponent of the violin, for instance. Or the triangle, for that matter.).

If you're doing maths, however, an exponent is something quite different. In fact it's something so different that I wish that the mathematicians used a different word for it.

To a mathematician, an exponent is the small-font number that sits up in the air to the right of a larger-font number. It's an instruction to multiply the big-font number by itself that many times.

For instance

 433 
means forty-three multiplied by itself three times: 43 x 43 x 43. (It equals 79,507. Which is a lot, if it's badgers.)  

On the same principle, this means that

431

will just mean forty three. Because it's forty three just once, and not multiplied at all.

430

means one. (Sorry, I do not really understand this, but it is.)

431/2

however, means a bit over six and a half. Yes, that is smaller than forty-three: it's because a-bit-over-six-and-a-half multiplied by itself two times gives you forty three. 

(Yes, sometimes this idea is called a square root.)

As this is the case, I do wish that scientists would stop using the word exponential to mean getting bigger quickly.

I mean, that's not ordinary speech, and nor is it science. Use it carefully!

Word To Use Carefully Today: exponential. The Latin word expōnere means to set out or expound.





Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Nuts and Bolts: Basic English.

What single thing will unify all humanity in respect and cooperation?

Well, a common language might be a start.

(The word might is important, here: I mean, having a common language doesn't even guarantee peace and harmony among one's own family, let alone the world.)

Basic English is a simplified form of the English language designed to be taught as a second language to...well, everyone who doesn't speak English as their first language. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea after Word War II, and it's still the basis for quite a lot of English-as-a-Second-Language teaching, especially in the Far East.

Basic English only has 850 core words, and only eighteen of them are verbs (though they aren't called verbs, but are lumped in with various other kinds of words such as prepositions and pronouns. In Basic English these are termed operators).

HERE is a list of the 850 core words of Basic English.

In addition to these, a student is supposed to know another two hundred words relevant to his own everyday work, and a further fifty in some relevant specialist subject. 


Lastly, it was assumed that he would already know another two hundred 'international' words: that is, words that are more or less the same the world over, such as beer, internet and piano.

As well as all these, there was an expectation that the vocabulary would edge up towards two thousand words which would deal with trade and economics and science.

This vocabulary still forms the basis of Simple English Wikipedia.

Of course Basic English is criticised for its choice of vocabulary, and for being restricted. 

But, I don't know: it's been quite useful to a lot of people, and its influence is still felt today.

I think we should probably put it down as a well-meaning try.

Word To Use Today: one from Basic English. The idea of Basic English came from C K Ogden's book Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar (1930), which he wrote with Ivor Richards. 

Both men were English.


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Thing To Be Today But Not So You'd Notice It: nocireceptive.

 To be nocireceptive is to feel pain.

It can be a heck of a nuisance at times - like now, actually, when I've done my shoulder in - but even at the moment I can just about see that the pain is a useful way of telling me to stop doing stuff that will injure me further.

Being nocireceptive is certainly useful for alerting you to the fact that you're sitting on an ants' nest, or that your soup is at boiling point, or that you've trodden on a drawing pin.*

No pain no gain, say various people who want to improve themselves. And they may be right.

In any case, how would the world work if we didn't feel pain? We'd all have ant-bitten bottoms and burned mouths and tiny holes in our feet, obviously; but what if we couldn't cause each other pain?

How would war be different? And crime? And injuries? And illness?

Now there would be a bit of sci-fi I'd be interested to read.

But, even so, here's hoping none of us notice that we're nocireceptive today.

Thing To Be Today But Not To You'd Notice It: nocireceptive. The Latin word nocēre means to injure. Recipere means to receive.

*I believe these are called thumb tacks in America. All nice words.



Monday, 2 November 2020

Spot the Frippet: bishop.

 A bishop is the man in charge of the religious stuff in a large area.

You can usually tell him by his purple shirt (but not always):

Bishop Adelakun 

Of course bishops are pretty thin on the ground (though not always round the middle) but there are other kinds of bishop which can be found much more easily: 

photo by MichaelMaggs


These bishops are everywhere and even come in at least two fashionable colours.

If you can't find a chess set, then you can make your own bishop by getting some wine (usually port) and warming it up with some cloves and slices of orange. Very comforting on a cold night, too.

In Africa there are bishopbirds:

photo by Derek Keats

In Europe there are bishop's mitres:


photo by gbohne

and everywhere there are bishop sleeves, which are full and gathered at the wrist.

If you do see a real live human bishop you could call him My Lord or My Lady...

...except that nowadays he'd probably much rather be called Alan.

Sopt the Frippet: bishop. This word was biscop in Old English, from the Greek episkopos, from epi- which mean on or above or stuff like that, and skopos, which means watcher.



Sunday, 1 November 2020

Sunday Rest: bibliotherapy. Word Not To Use Today.

 Actually, there's nothing wrong with the word bibliotherapy. You can see what it means, and it's Greek all the way through.

It's even perfectly straightforward to pronounce.

The reason I object to the word bibliotherapy is that it gives credence to the idea that it's worth paying money to ask someone to suggest books to make you happy.

I expect someone will legislate on this, soon, and then we'll have degrees in bibliotherapy, and unqualified people will be banned from making our own suggestions. So I'm going better get in quick.

If you feel low, then these books might well make you feel better:

Anything by Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, or Dorothy L Sayers. PG Wodehouse's golf or Mr Mulliner stories. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones.

Obviously, I could go on and on and on. But I won't.

After all, fleeting rays of sunshine are more cheering than the noon-day sun.

Word Not To Use Today: bibliotherapy. The Greek word biblion means book, and the other Greek word theraps means an attendant.

Now I think about it, you can probably get some excellent bibliotherapy from any bookshop or library near you.



Saturday, 31 October 2020

Saturday Rave: This living hand, by John Keats.

 Just to prove that Halloween doesn't have to be all orange plastic and disease-inducing snacks:


This living hand, now warm and capable

Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold

And in the icy silence of the tomb,

So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights

That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood

So in my veins red life might stream again,

And thou be conscience-calm'd - see here it is - 

I hold it towards you.


John Keats, who is now acknowledged as one of the greatest poets in the English language, died in 1821 at the age of twenty four, largely unappreciated.

His birthday seems to have been on October 31st; but as far as I know all his haunting has been done, not through his hand, but through his pen.

Word To Use Today: grasp. This word comes from the Low German grapsen.



Friday, 30 October 2020

Word To Use Today: wigwam.

 This is a wigwam:


Ojibwe wigwam. Painting by Paul Kane 1846

Please note the domed roof. They're also called wickiup, wetu (that's the Wampanoaq term) or wiigiiwaam (which is how you write it in the Ojibwe language). 

People tend to say wigwam in the North East of the USA and wickiup in the South West. 

People used to live in wigwams full-time, though nowadays they're only really used for ceremonial purposes and by people who like being solitary.

A wigwam is perhaps eight feet across, made with a frame of saplings lashed together. A wigwam will usually have a central hole for smoke to escape, and is covered with leaves or mats or hides. A wigwam might have grass beds inside, and are said to be snug even in snowy weather (though I find this hard to believe).

Best of all, when a wigwam gets a bit old and grubby and past repair, you can burn it and erect a new one in the same place, using the same holes to hold the poles steady, in about three days.

Obviously this system entirely does away with the concept of Spring Cleaning, which can only be A Good Thing.

(While I'm here: a tepee, strictly speaking, has straight sides and is more temporary, and possibly even portable; but the word wigwam is quite often used for both types of dwelling.)

Although wigwams aren't lived in, much, anymore, similar buildings called aqal are used by nomadic Somali people. In Britain, wigwams are sometimes constructed by New Age travellers. These tend to be covered in plastic tarpaulins, and called bender huts.

Word To Use Today: wigwam. This word comes from the Abnaki and Massachuset wīkwām, which means their abode.


Thursday, 29 October 2020

Transparently obvious: a rant.

 Hey, what's with all this transparently obvious stuff people keep mentioning?

I mean, if it's transparent then obvious is the last thing it is.

Duh...

(Sorry, couldn't find a picture that showed anything...)

Word To Use Sensibly Today: transparent. The Latin version of this word was transpārēre, to show through, from trans-, across, through, beyond, and pārēre, to appear.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Nuts and Bolts: F ligatures.

 Have you ever noticed how some fonts miss out the dot over the letter i?

No, I don't expect you have (unless you read a language like Turkish, where the distinction between an i with a dot and one without is important).

But you'll have seen loads of i s (or ies, if you prefer) without dots, all the same.

They come after f s.

In the font used on The Word Den it doesn't happen - look - 

fiction 

- see? the dot is there, though it's squashed up against the end of the hood of the f. But quite often the letters f and i together will be one joined letter with a slightly rounder end of the hood which forms the dot of the i.

Like this:


Font by Claude Garamond. The letters after the Qu are old-fashioned long esses.

Letters have been joined by ligatures almost as long as there has been writing. It makes writing quicker, and it makes printing with movable type quicker, too.

The f ligatures are especially interesting because they fell out of fashion when word-processing first started in the twentieth century because there was no typewriter key to make them, and the machines didn't have the processing power to think of putting them in automatically.

Now, however, computers have caught up, and we're getting them back again.

I know they are only really matters of beauty. But I'm very glad to see them, all the same.

Thing To Spot Today: one with an fl or an ff or an fi in it. If you're lucky you might be able to find it in a book printed before 1970 or so, and you can admire the ligature.











Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Thing Not To Do Today: bound.

 Did you bound from your bed this morning with a cry of joy and enthusiasm?

You did?

Really?

How annoying that must have been for everyone else in your household.

Ah well.

There are four kinds of bound - the jumping kind, the tied-up kind, the direction kind (as in homeward bound) and the edges-of-an-area bound (as in beating the bounds, or boundary).

I suppose it would be just about possible with bound arms to bound over the bounds of a town while homeward bound, but that wouldn't make it a good thing.

In any case, the tied-up kind of bound is a part of the verb to bind, so that's cheating.

I suppose the jumping kind of bounding is all right if you're a young dog or a deer or something. Or possibly a small child newly released from a car or a buggy or a classroom. But for the rest of us...

...I don't know, though. It might make the world a livelier place. Think of old ladies bounding merrily to church, or the business-men bounding determinedly along to their offices in the city, or policemen bounding heavily along the streets.

Think of everyone bounding around supermarkets and cafes (you'd have to stick your cup to your tray, though).

I fear this isn't practical. But still, I can dream. Just one day a year, perhaps. October 27th: National Bounding Day.

It would make the world a happier place.

Thing To Do Today: bound. This word comes from the Middle French bondir, to rebound or resound or to echo, from the Old French bondir to jump, from the Latin bombus, a booming sound.  It's also connected to the word bomb.

Monday, 26 October 2020

Spot the Frippet: echelon.

 This word is usually encountered in the phrase the upper echelons, meaning the people in charge, or the people who think they are in charge, or the people who fancy they should be in charge.

This may be anyone from a general to a politician to a bishop to a teacher to someone whose great-aunt's father was a baronet.

It's a useful phrase because you know anyone who uses it is best avoided immediately and forever.

Some of us will see people from these upper echelons daily, but luckily there are other things which come in echelons.

The echelon I'm mostly likely to see is one of these:


By Hamid Hajihusseini -
https://web.archive.org/web/20161017014407/http://www.panoramio.com/photo/43585282, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31237576

though the echelon I see will consist of Canada geese rather than the cranes in the photograph.

But in some places you may see this kind of an echelon:


photo: United States Air Force, Alaska

You sometimes get the same effect in an auditorium where everyone wants to get a good view of the stage...

...though you probably won't be seeing that this year.

Ah well. We'll hope for 2021 for that one, then.

Spot the Frippet: an echelon. This word comes from the French échelon, which is the rung of a ladder, from the Latin scala, which means ladder.



Sunday, 25 October 2020

Sunday Rest: unsame. Word Not To Use Today

Unsame your ceiling!


urges the paint company Craig and Rose.

Unsame it?

You mean...change it?

Repaint it?

Renovate, update, transform, or restyle it?

It's fine to make up a new word if you need to sell something (not that Craig and Rose do need to make up a new word) but for heavens' sake make up one that makes your product sound attractive.

Unsame??

What do you think of our new kitchen?

Um, well, I suppose it's...unsame.

It's enough to make one's host spit in the soup.

I'll give you flipping unsame.

Word Not To Use Today: unsame. The word same goes right back through Old Norse sami and Greek homos to the Sanskrit sama.