This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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



Thursday, 2 July 2020

Good news is no news: a rant.

Look, I know they say that good news is no news, but they're wrong, okay?

Have a ten thousand pound bonus!

Mother and child both well!

We've won the cup!

See? None of those is bad news, but it's something to shout about* all the same.

But the media will look on the gloomiest side. It's become a habit with them. I've long told myself that they can twist any story into an outrage or a tragedy, but this headline, in the Telegraph newspaper on line on 18/06/2020, took the biscuit:

Doctors warn of organ shortage as lockdown cuts fatal accidents and violent crime

Still, it was one of the few items in the week's news that actually made me laugh.

Word To Use Today: crime. The Latin word crīmen means accusation, verdict or crime...which makes me glad I'm not likely to be up in front of an Ancient Roman court.

*Well, except that shouting in public is now illegal in England, I think, because it tends to spread germs. Ah well!





Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Nuts and Bolts: anaphora.

It's always flattering to be told that we've been doing really complicated grammar all our lives, so here I present the word anaphora.

Anaphora is when you refer to something that's been mentioned previously, but by using a different word.

You might say Clare bakes bread, and she does it every morning. It's a simple enough sentence, but the words she, does, and it are all examples of anaphora.

There. Aren't we clever.

Anaphora has another meaning, too. If someone says something like:

You may think that the defendant is unreliable; you may think that he is dishonest; you may think he is for those reasons guilty; but that last is not an inference that can be drawn.

The repetition of you may think at the beginning of the clauses is also called anaphora.

That sort of thing is mostly only for show-offs, though.

Thing To Use Today: anaphora. This word comes from the Greek word for repetition. ana- can mean, more or less anything, and pherein means to bear.



Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Thing To Be Today: genial.

Blow this carping lot, let's be genial. 

It's true that only oldish men can really pull this off - if a woman tries to be genial she'll probably be called warm, and a child sweet-natured - but, hey, it's still not a bad project.

Let people know you're pleased to see them. Be generous with offers of help and hospitality (as allowed by your local rules). Let people feel you like and value them.

File:Mr Pickwick 1889 Dickens The Pickwick Papers character by Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke).jpg
illustration by Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke)

Be of good cheer, and chin up...

...speaking of which, genial also means to do with the chin (and so, too, does last week's Thing Not To Be Today, mental).

But that's a compete coincidence.

Thing To Do Today: be genial. The word meaning warm comes from the Latin geniālis, to do with birth and marriage, from genius, which is a guardian god. The word genial which relates to the chin is from the Greek geneion, from genus, jaw.

Mental meaning to do with the chin comes from the Latin word mentum, chin.




Monday, 29 June 2020

Spot the Frippet: knot.

We're terribly high-tech nowadays: we have Velcro, we have those wire twisty things, we have press studs, Sellotape, Blu tack, and self-adhesive more or less everything.

So why would we need knots?

Well, on ties:

File:Necktie (drawing).jpg
illustration by Dave Ring, Europeana Fashion

and straggly plants:

Image titled Stake a Plant Step 3
photo: wiki how

and I suppose a bow is a sort of a knot, too:

File:Boyd Welsh Shoe Company Women's High Lace-up Pointed Toe Boots.jpg

and then there are all those other knots which form themselves by magic (is there such a thing as a knot gnome?) when you aren't looking. These are to be found in hoses, hair, and electric leads of every description.

As you may know, lengths of cotton thread come alive once threaded through a needle. It's the only way to account for all the nasty knotted loops and broken threads.

And how about trees? No, they don't tie themselves into knots very often, but the hard tissue where a branch meets a trunk forms a knot, which can be seen on almost any plank of bare wood:

File:Wood Knot.JPG
photo by F pkalac

Knots: good or bad?

Count the ones you see today, and find out.

Spot the Frippet: knot. This word was cnotta in Old English.






Sunday, 28 June 2020

Sunday Rest: webinar. Word Not To Use Today.

A webinar must be a seminar that takes place over the web, right?

Wrong.

It really is exasperating, isn't it.

Sunday rest: webinar. A seminar is a small group of people with a common interest who get together to discuss a topic. Every member of the group is expected to make a contribution.

If this is done via the internet then it is called a web conference.

A webinar also takes place over the internet, but it is a lecture made by one person (or perhaps a few people) to an audience.

The word seminar comes from the Latin seminarium, meaning seed plot. The word web has been around for ages. The Old English form of the word was webb.



Saturday, 27 June 2020

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

Most of the books I read as a child had on the inside cover the legend Editor: Kaye Webb

By this means Kaye Webb became a legend in more ways than one.

What was it, I wondered, that an editor did? It was clearly something extremely important.

I now know what editors do. The good ones suggest the removal of the best bits of a manuscript; the bad ones do it themselves and hope the writer won't notice.

Ah well.

John Clare's editor (and publisher) for The Shepherd's Calendar was John Taylor. It was a complicated sort of a relationship, largely supportive but still controversial to this day.

Here's a section from the June section of Clare's poem (I've updated the spelling a bit):


To willow skirted meads with fork and rake
The scented hay cocks in long rows to make
Where their old visitors in russet brown
The hay time butterflies dance up and down
& gads that tease like wasps the timid maid
& drive the herd boy cows to pond & shade
Who when his dogs assistance fails to stop
Is forced his half made oaten flute to drop
& start and halloo through the dancing heat
To keep their gadding tumult from the wheat
Who in their rage will dangers overlook
& leap like hunters o'er the pasture brook
Brushing through blossomed beans in maddening haste
& [des]stroying corn they scarce can stop to taste
Labour pursues its toil in weary mood
& feign would rest with shadows in the wood

I love the way the quiet scene - even the butterflies are soberly dressed - is transformed in just a few lines by a gadfly into a raging stampede through the suffocating heat; and then it all comes back to rest and quiet again.

John Taylor cut out the whole passage.

Ah well. He probably had his reasons.

But what they might have been, I do not know.

Word To Use Today: gad. This word came into English in the 1200s from the Old Norse gaddr, which means spike.




Friday, 26 June 2020

Word To Use Today: coquelicot.

As all right-minded people must be in thrall to the genius of Jane Austen, then as a service I here introduce the word coquelicot, which has been puzzling me for over forty years.

'Do you know, [says the fickle Isabella in Northanger Abbey to her best friend Catherine Morland] I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine, in a shop in Milsom Street just now - very like yours, only with coquelicot ribbons instead of green; I quite longed for it.'

But what's coquelicot? And how do you say it?

Well, it's COCKleeCOH in English, as in the original French, and it means corn poppy. 

Papaver rhoeas, if you're being particular:

File:Field poppy - Papaver rhoeas (12190335083).jpg
photo by Bjorn S

Oh, and what a relief it is to know that at last.




Coquelicots by Robert Vonnoh, 1890.

Word To Use Today: coquelicot. This word is French, and was first used in English in 1795. Northanger Abbey was probably finished in about 1798, so Isabella, as one would expect, was extremely up-to-date in her knowledge of fashion.



Thursday, 25 June 2020

Virtue-signalling: a rant.

What a world we live in, where making anonymous death threats via social media is described as virtue-signalling!

Word To Use Today: virtue. This will probably get me death-threats of my own, but the truth of the matter is that this word comes from the Latin word virtūs, manliness or courage, from vir, which means man.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Nuts and Bolts: Turkmen.

Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan, and it is also spoken in parts of Iran and Afghanistan.

It's a Turkic language (yes, the clue's in the name) and if you know Turkish or Azerbaijani then you'll probably be able to work out what someone is saying in Turkmen - and, of course, this also works the other way round.

Turkmen is spoken by about seven million people, so it's in quite a healthy state, thank heavens, because it's a great treasure of the world.

How do you write Turkmen?

Well, until 1928 you wrote it in Arabic script. Then a Latin-based script was used until 1940, when all Soviet Republics switched to a Cyrillic alphabet.

And nowadays? 

I'm afraid things have only got more complicated. A Latin alphabet, the Täze Elipbiý was introduced in 1993 after the dissolution of the USSR. This alphabet is strongly associated with the president Saparmurat Niyazov, and this means that opposition politicians tend to use the Cyrillic alphabet to distance themselves from the president's policies.

But still, the Turkmen language is surviving.

So what's Turkmen like? Well, one really neat feature of the Turkmen language is that you can mark a verb so it tells people how sure you are that what you're saying is true. You can distinguish between a statement for which you have direct evidence, one that's been communicated to you by someone else, one for which the evidence is indirect, and one that's just a rumour.

What would the world be like if English used a system like that?

Word To Use Today: Turkmen. This word comes from Old-Turkic Türük and means created, born, or strong.




Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Thing Not To Do Today: go mental.

To go mental is to be mad with rage, to be out of control with anger, to be ranting with wrath.

In other words, to be making a complete idiot of yourself.

(Anyway, why follow the crowd?)

Someone or other, whose name I hardly dare not type for fear of the baying mob (but it was Kipling) begins his poem If: 

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you

(later on in the poem there are the lines If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken/Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, which is sadly relevant to the times, if not this post).

The poem ends you'll be a man, my son...

...but, oh dear, that word man...

...that's going to whip up a lot of hysterical fury among the differently-sexed, isn't it?

People will be going mental.

Whoops.

Thing Not To Do Today: go mental. This word comes from the Latin word mēns, which means mind.






Monday, 22 June 2020

Spot the Frippet: suckhole.

In these times, when debate is conducted at ear-splitting volume and we live in a cave so full of echoes that only the simplest message seems to penetrate, suckholes are something for which we need to be vigilant.

The word suckhole is Australian slang. It describes someone who uses flattery to win favour from people in power.

(And imitation is, obviously, the sincerest form of flattery.)

Once you consider this word, and also consider where exactly every kind of power lies, then a lot of the mysteries of the modern world are mysteries no more.

And, once identified, the word suckhole can act as a much-needed relief.

Spot the Frippet: suckhole. The Old English form of the word suck was sūcan. The Latin word sūgere means to suck, too. The word is related to our words soak (which has a history to do with cooking). 

The Old English form of hole was hol.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Sunday Rest: halfpace Word Not To Use Today.

Now, does the word halfpace mean half as fast as normal, or sort of waddling?



Neither, sadly.

Word To Use Today: halfpace. A halfpace can be either a platform at the top of a flight of steps, perhaps for an altar or throne, or the oddly shaped landing where stairs change direction (though if the stairs only change direction by ninety degrees then that's a quarterpace).

I can't think how I never realised I didn't know the word for that. 

Though admittedly I don't have a throne in the house, yet.


Saturday, 20 June 2020

Saturday Rave: nonet.

I've been writing about some short froms of literature, and have come to the nonet. (The word rhymes with sonnet.)

nonet has, yes, nine lines, and the first line contains nine syllables. The next line has eight, and the next seven, and so on to the last line, with just one.

Rhyming is optional.

If this sounds a bit of a novelty, that's because it is. I haven't been able to find this meaning of the word in any of the major dictionaries, and all the examples I've found are modern (and copyright).

So here's one I made earlier.

They shout loud, with muscular voices
Their chants bouncing off the buildings.
All the people know their cause.
'Their hearts are huge,' men say
'Their heads full of truth!'

But here this child,
New, still, seems
No less
Wise.

Well, this poetry stuff probably needs a bit of practice...

(...having said that, my husband Roger, a man who has hardly read, let alone written, a poem in decades, came up with this on the back of an envelope:

The siren's scream dragged Fred from his bed
Panicked, he ran to the pit-head.
In the lift 'it's bad,' they said.
Along the seam men fled,
Their hearts grey with dread:
Then beams like lead
On his head
Poor Fred
Dead.

I post this here to encourage everyone, however clueless, to have a go.)


Word To Use Today: nonet. This word usually means a piece of music played by nine players, or the group of players themselves. The word comes from the Italian nonetto, from the Latin nōnus, nine.






Friday, 19 June 2020

Word To Use Today: biblioklept, acnestis or meldrop.

The commonest words in the English language are the, of, and and.

Three of the rarest (according to the Merriam-Webster website) are biblioklept, acnestis, and meldrop.

I'm not suggesting that rare is better than common, but if you find yourself stuck inside with people who have little new to say then you might try forbidding the use of the words the, of and and. You'll need them, of course, but you might use a click, a sniff and a kissing sound instead.

Any use of the words biblioklept, acnestis or meldrop should, of course, be acknowledged with groans.

Word To Use Today: a rare one. Biblioklept means someone who steals books. It comes from the Greek words biblion, book, and kleptes, thief; acnestis is the area of the back between the shoulder-blades downwards that you can't reach to scratch, and comes from the Greek aknestis, spine, from knestis, spine or cheese grater; and a meldrop is a drop on the end of the nose, the foam that drips from a horse's mouth, or a dew drop. This word started off as the horse-foam and comes from the Old Norse mel-dropi.


Thursday, 18 June 2020

Giving It Our Best Shot: a rant.

The world needs a vaccine for Covid-19.

(What? You think vaccines are a way to make us all the slaves of alien lizards? Nurse! I think it must be time for his medication!)

AstraZeneca, Oxford University, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, Gavi Vaccines Alliance, and the Serum Institute of India have got together to produce two billion doses of a new Covid-19 vaccine. This will cost a lot of money, so obviously they think it's going to work. AstraZenica boss Pascal Soriot has said he expects to know for certain if the vaccine is indeed effective by August. If it is, then distribution could begin in September.

Mr Soriot added: 'The only thing I can tell you for sure is that we're going to give this our best shot.'

There we are: good news, and a laugh, too.

Our best shot...

What more can we ask?

Word To Use Today: shot. This word is more often used to mean injection in America than in Britain, and my Collins dictionary marks its use as informal. It's basically the same word that means missile. The word comes from the Old English scot, and is related to the Old High German scoz. The Old Slavonic word iskydati means to throw out.





Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Nuts and Bolts: lip-smacking good.

Humans talk: some might say they talk too much.

The great apes are very close to us in evolutionary terms, but they don't talk. Not at all. They don't obviously do anything like talking. Some can be taught to communicate in a speech-like way using signs, but it doesn't involve actually, well, speaking.

Why the sudden leap to speech?

Recent research is beginning to suggest that it's not quite as big a leap as was previously thought. 

The physical part of human speech involves opening and closing the mouth while squeezing air out through the vocal cords and past their tongues and teeth. 

We tend to concentrate on the squeezing-air-past-obstacles part of speech, but what about the opening-and-closing-of-the-mouth thing?

All human speech involves opening and closing the mouth between two and seven times a second. A study of four chimpanzee populations, two wild, two captive, has found that chimps also use open-and-closing the mouth techniques at the same sort of speed.

What does this show? Well, Dr Adriano Lameira, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick, says that this is strong evidence that human language has its basis in ape-language, and that the development of human speech isn't such a surprise as used to be thought.

"We found pronounced differences in rhythm between chimpanzee populations," Dr Lameira says, "suggesting that these are not the automatic and stereotypical signals so often attributed to our ape cousins.

"instead, just like humans, we should start seriously considering that individual differences, social conventions and environmental factors may play a role in how chimpanzees engage 'in conversation' with each other.

"If we continue searching, new clues will certainly reveal themselves."

And, from the study itself:

it is impossible to deduce whether this variation is attributable to intra-individual variation, context or inter-individual variation.

...which means, I think, that chimps could be discussing last night's dinner or Bonzo's body odour for all we know...

...and that, quite possibly, they could be doing it in some kind of Morse code.

Thing To Do Today: consider what you mean when you smack your lips. 

And then contemplate your razor.





Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Thing Not To Be Today: louche.

To be louche is to have a bad reputation, to be loose in morals, and quite possibly a lush.

Louche, loose, lush...

..is there a connection, there?

Not a traceable one, no.

Ah well.

Thing Not To Be Today: louche. This word is French and means squinting. The word loose comes from the Old Norse lauss, free, and is perhaps related to the Old English lēas, and also to the word less. Lush meaning an alcoholic person appeared in English in the 1800s, but no one is really sure from where it came. There's a nice story that it comes from a London actors' drinking club called The City of Lushington. (Lush is an old name for strong beer.) It's tempting to say the club was named after the drink (the club did go in for silly names) and the alcoholic person was named after the club. But the proof just isn't quite there.

The word lush meaning strong beer may be the Irish Shelta word lush which means to eat and drink, or come from the German word for strong beer, Loschen.


Monday, 15 June 2020

Spot the Frippet: sarcocarp.

Despite appearances, a sarcocarp is not a goldfish with a sharp line in withering put-downs (isn't it a good thing that goldfish can't talk? I mean, what might they say? Mind you, they'd make brilliant witnesses to a crime. Yeah, right, like my tank is so interesting that I wouldn't notice when the accused entered the room wearing only his underpants and a bowler hat...).

No, a sarcocarp is not a fish, though a sarcocarp is something just as juicy.

A sarcocarp can be any fleshy fruit, but especially the mesocarp of a peach or plum:

File:Drupe fruit diagram-en.svg
illustration by LadyofHats

It's a rubbish name, I admit, sarcocarp being about a spiky a word as you can get. 

But, hey, at least it's an easy spot.

Spot the Frippet: sarcocarp. The sarco- bit comes from the Greek sarx, which means flesh. The -carp bit comes from the Greek karpos, which means fruit.

I'm not saying it's not a good well-made word. But it doesn't quite work in English, all the same.




Sunday, 14 June 2020

Sunday Rest: gobo. Word Not To Use Today.

I was looking through a comments section of a national newspaper (The Guardian, as a matter of fact) where people were sharing their favourite words.

Two of them were oblong and goblet, which are two of my least favourite words because, obviously, oblong makes you sound as if you've got a heavy cold, and a goblet sounds like something you spit in.

Anyway, this led me to considering the word gobo. A gobo is either a shield placed round either a microphone or a sound source to absorb unwanted noises, or a stencil placed in front of a light to cast a particular shadow, or to make a particular shape:

File:Gobo projected illustration.png



It can be in the shape of anything...a rising moon...summer leaves round a window...

Yes, the word gobo is such an efficient way to destroy the romance of the theatre.

Ah well.

Sunday Rest: gobo (it's said gohboh). This word appeared in the 1930s and is probably an acronym for goes between optics or goes before optics or graphical optical black out.



Saturday, 13 June 2020

Saturday Rave: Landay by Rahila Muska.

Landay (you say it LANDee) are poems sung by Afghan women, often in the rural areas of the country.

Landays are mostly anonymous (because singing is regarded as unislamic, and so performing a landay can be extremely dangerous).

The teenage poet who called herself Rahila Muska's life ended when she set herself on fire after her marriage to her cousin was forbidden.

She left many landays. 

Here's one:

I call. You're stone.
One day you'll look and find I'm gone.

A landay in its native Pashto has nine syllables in its first line and thirteen in its second. Usually it doesn't rhyme, but the second line ends with a ma or a na sound.

Landays are traditionally about love, war, separation, grief or homeland. They sound like lullabies, but are known for being sarcastic, rude, and biting. They show the women behind the burqas to be lively, earthy, contemptuous and furious.

You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your house, I was your daughter.

Landay now sometimes feature suicide vests and bombs, and they are performed and distributed via the internet. It's a voice, a life-line. 

Now say that poetry is useless.

Word To Use Today: landay. This word means short poisonous snake in Pashto.



Friday, 12 June 2020

Word To Use Today: ermine.

Ermine is used to make fur coats:

File:-La Comtesse in Ermine Cape- MET DP235183.jpg

(though on a heraldic shield it tends to look like this:)

File:Skydas ermine ermine.png

but obviously the only ermine fur coat that actually looks good is the one worn by, well, an ermine:

File:The Lady with an Ermine.jpg
painting  by Leonardo da Vinci

When an ermine is not wearing its white winter coat it is generally called a stoat, and it comes from the same family as the weasel and the badger (gosh, I wonder what a family get-together is like an ermine's house). The black tufts of hair are from the tip of the ermine's tail, so every black streak you can see represents the life of an ermine.

Mind you, ermines are wreaking disastrous havoc on the precious wildlife of New Zealand (where some idiot introduced them to control the rabbits introduced by some other idiot) and so there I'm afraid one has to say the fewer the better.

There's a nice story told of G.B.Shaw. A lady was talking to him with great enthusiasm about the word ermine, how soft and smoothly luxurious it feels on the tongue.

He asked her what she thought of the word vermin.

Word To Use Today: ermine. This word comes from the Old French hermine, from the Medieval Latin Armenius mūs, Armenian mouse.






Thursday, 11 June 2020

A Legacy: a rant.

I have received a dreadful warning from Blogger, the magnificent and generous organisation which hosts this blog.

It says:


In late June, the new Blogger interface will become the default for all users. The legacy interface will still be available as an option. We recommend trying the new interface by clicking 'Try the new Blogger' in the left-hand navigation. Please file any critical issues encountered


I have not clicked 'Try the New Blogger' in the left-hand navigation (what's a navigation when it's at home?) because the mere thought of 'critical issues' brings on a headache.

In any case, I quite like the idea of a legacy interface. It sounds dignified and elegant. If Blogger really wants to chase people away from it they should have called it the antediluvian, or old-fashioned, or musty, or worn-out interface.

As it is, I shall ignore the thing and hope.

If The Word Den fails to appear one day, just listen out for the anguished screaming: it'll be your very own frumpy blogger. 

Otherwise known as me.

Word To Use Today: legacy. The Latin word lēgtāia means commission. The word legacy first appeared in the English language in the 1300s, when it meant the office of a legate, who was an official messenger (a bit like a delegate, nowadays). The word is connected to the Latin word lēx, which means law.




Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Nuts and Bolts: how to say van Gogh.

You know how it is: you want to be accurate and respectful to a great artist, but you also want to be understood (and not to look an idiot).

Well, good luck with saying van Gogh, then.

When in Rome do as the Romans do, we're told. I don't actually know how the Romans pronounce van Gogh, but a Parisians tend to say van Gog, a Londoner might say van Goff, and an American could well say, for what reasons I cannot imagine, van Go.*

As for someone, like van Gogh, from the Netherlands, if he were speaking to a compatriot then he'd probably say something like fun Khokh, where the kh sound is the throat-clearing noise you hear at the end of loch and the f of fun is really much close to a v sound than a normal English f. 

So: how should we say van Gogh?

Luckily we can go to the horse's mouth, so to speak. Vincent van Gogh lived in London and in France, and he found a simple solution. You can even see it on his paintings.

In a letter to his brother Theo, van Gogh wrote 'my name must be put in the catalogue in the way I sign it on the canvases, i.e. Vincent and not Van Gogh for the excellent reason that people here wouldn't be able to pronounce that name.'

(I notice that van Gogh capitalises the Van in his name, and that's another reason to go with Vincent.)

I suppose we could call Vincent's solution the Leonardo option...

...though, now I come to think about it, people don't go around saying Leonardo da vincky, do they?


Vincent van Gogh's signature on a painting in the Kröller-Müller Museum.


Name To Say Today: probably not van Gogh! The name Vincent comes from the Latin word vincere, which means to conquor.

*Rather sweetly, here in Britain Van Go is a vehicle hire firm.


Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Thing To Wish To Perform Today Until You Think About It: xenoglossia.

There's a Tom and Jerry cartoon where Tom learns to play the piano. He sits down at the stool, reads Page One of his piano tutor, and plays the single note indicated. Then he turn the page and plays two notes...and so on and so on until in about, ooh, ten seconds or so, he is a dazzling virtuoso.

I've been playing the piano really quite badly for over fifty years, and I taught piano for twenty nine of them, and, oh, I do wish it was like that!

I feel rather the same way about xenoglossia. It's a talent claimed by some clairvoyants, and it means being able to speak a language with which one is unfamiliar.

It would be nice, wouldn't it, to be able suddenly to burst forth in Serbo-Croat, or Southern Min, or Rundi, or Sylheti?

The trouble is, even if we could, would we have the faintest clue what we were saying?

Dangerous, dangerous stuff, is xenoglossia

Thing To Wish To Perform Today Until You Think About It: xenoglossia. Xeno- comes from the Greek xenos, which means strange. The Greek glossa means tongue.

Here, beginning at at 4.22, is an example of spoken Southern Min:



Wouldn't it be completely appalling to find oneself joining in, without knowing what one was saying?

Be careful what you wish for...



Monday, 8 June 2020

Spot the Frippet: lobe.

Philosophers have directed their super-powered brains at all sorts of knotty questions, but one they seem to have ignored is why do people have ear lobes?

It's true that they're useful for dangling pretty things:

File:Girl with a Pearl Earring.jpg
painting by Johannes Vermeer

and Sherlock Holmes found them useful for identifying a murder victim in The Adventure of the Cardboard Box:

Sherlock Holmes - Adventure of the Cardboard Box illustration 1893.jpg
illustration by Sidney Paget

There's also a theory that, being basically small pouches of blood, ear lobes might help to keep our ears warm: but no one's come up with an really satisfactory answer to why we have them.

There are many other lobes which form part of the human body but as the rest are to be found in the innards I hope very much you don't spot any of those. But if you don't see another person all day - or a mirror - then leaves sometimes have lobes:

File:Sassafras albidum 3 lobe variations B.JPG
Variation in the lobes of Sassafras albidum. Photo by Rlevse

Lobes on leaves may help a plant with getting rid of heat, or they might help with the drawing up of water; but basically the reason leaves have lobes is just one more mystery.

Rather romantic, really, isn't it.

Spot the Frippet: a lobe. The Greek word lobos meant the lobe of the ear or the liver.


Sunday, 7 June 2020

Sunday Rest: Pantoloc. Word Not To Use Today.

When I visit a pharmacy I always find my eyes drawn to the proprietary medicine Pantoloc.

Pantoloc always strikes me as an excellent name for a medicine. It sounds effective. It sounds powerful. It sounds as if it locks stuff in your pants. 

Now, Pantoloc probably does give great relief to those suffering from gastrointestinal tract problems.

The trouble is, despite its name, it treats heartburn.



Ah well.

Word Not To Use Today: Pantoloc. The panto bit in this word is, I assume, more to do with the Greek panto- meaning all than the English word pants. The -loc is puzzling. The Latin word locus means place, but I can't see how that can be relevant. 

The English word lock was loc in Old English: but I can't see that that's relevant, either.

Any suggestions welcome.





Saturday, 6 June 2020

Saturday Rave: Infant Joy, by William Blake.

William Blake here gives us a short poem about something uncomplicated, yet at the same time tremendously powerful and important.

I have no name
I am but two days old. -
What shall I call thee?
I happy am
Joy is my name,-
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee;
Thou dost smile.
I sing the while
Sweet joy befall thee.

***

Sweet joy befall thee...

Word To Use Today: joy. This word comes from the Old French joie, from the Latin word gaudēre, to be glad.

Friday, 5 June 2020

Word To Use Today: nudiustertian.

This word might sound like a particularly arduous skinny-dip, but, sadly, it's not.

Nudiustertian refers to the day before yesterday. 

Yes, I agree: it is unusable in normal conversation.

It might be good fun to use among friends, though: our nudiustertian walk took us up onto Sheethanger Common.

On a practical level, you can probably feel quite pleased with yourself if you can remember anything at all about the day before yesterday, and the word should probably be prescribed by doctors as brain-preserving.

What was your nudiustertian dinner?*

Answering that would be a good every day mental exercise for all of us.

Word To Use Today And Probably Quite A Lot On Other Days, Too: nudiustertian. This word was made up by Nathaniel Ward (1578-1652) in his 1647 book The Simple Cobler of Aggawam in America.

The word comes (it is assumed) from the Latin nudius tertius, which means the third day. (Romans counted like musicians: what we would now usually call zero is called one.) The Latin dies means day, nudius means the day before, and tertius means third. 

The Latin word nugae is to do with nonsense, and there's probably a bit of that implied in the word, too.

*Butternut squash and blue cheese stew, as it happens.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

A Sense of an Endi: a rant.

A professional printer knows how big his pages are. His lines of type will come out in full:

She was thine


and not be cut-off before the end of the line: 

She was thin


A writer of copy for a screen, however, doesn't always have that luxury.

The Word Den is lucky enough to have wrap-round text (thank you, Blogger!) but the advertisements which pop up along the sides of other on-screen windows often don't, especially in in headlines.

I got an offer for some cut-price Samsung phones the other day.

The headline was:

Oh hello!


but sadly the screen had cut out the last two characters. 

Still, I suppose we all needed the laugh.

Word To Use Today: hello. This word might originally be a variant of halloo, which is something excited people shout at hounds when hunting. 







Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Nuts and Bolts: camels and coffee.

How many coffee-related English words can you think of in five seconds? (I think I might have got into double figures, and I don't even drink coffee.)

English has lots of words for coffee.

The Somali language has, according to this excellent article, at least forty six words for camels of various kinds and conditions.

What philosophical differences can be deduced about the English and Somali-speaking peoples from this?

Yes, that's right: more or less none at all.

Once you get to the metaphorical and extended uses of words, though, then things can get interesting. For instance, camels froth at the mouth when mating, and one of the Somali words for camel froth is doobbo. Doobbadillaacso means (of a camel) to reach adulthood - or, alternatively (of a human) to be capable of public-speaking, or intellectually mature.

From this we may (and should) deduce that public-speaking is a particularly important part of Somali culture; and also, it would seem, that in Somalia reaching sexual maturity is linked in some way with reaching intellectual maturity.

The last is interesting, because in England we tend to think rather the opposite.

So what, if anything, can be deduced from the English use of the word capuchin to give us words for coffee and kinds of monk, pigeon and monkey? 

Not much, really.

Sorry!

Word To Use Today: doobbo, if you fancy a challenge. Camel, if not. The word camel comes from the Greek word kamēlos, and is related to the Arabic word jamal.

Capuchin means, basically, hood, from the Italian cappuccio.




Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Thing To Indulge In Today: pandiculation.

The pandiculation The Word Den is encouraging today hasn't got much to do with pandas.

This is a pity, because otherwise we would be able to eat for fourteen hours a day, sleep most of the rest, and never have to bother to apply mascara.

Even so, pandas might well pandiculate, because to pandiculate is to have a good stretch upon waking.

The act of pandiculation can also take in yawning - either by itself, or as part of the stretching process.

Many inhabitants of the earth pandiculate if we're talking about yawning, though it's not always part of the waking-up process. A guinea-pig's yawn is aggressive; a penguin's yawn is part of a courtship process (as it is very often with humans); a snake might yawn after a good meal (also a trait shared with humans).

And, yes, pandas yawn, too:




(Yes, that's an example of panda pandiculation.)

Yawning is rather ridiculous behaviour, I'm afraid: but pandiculation...that has some weight and dignity to it. 

So I think we can now all become just slightly more pleased with ourselves.

Thing To Indulge In Today: pandiculation. This word comes from the Latin pandiculari, from pendere, to stretch.







Monday, 1 June 2020

Spot the Frippet: a predator.

A predator is a life-form (not always animal) which eats other life-forms, its prey, and thus causes the prey's death.

File:Polarbär 12 2004-11-17.jpg
photo by Ansgar Walk

Nature, being red in tooth and claw, is full of predators: we tend to think of them as romantic and dashing (tigers, wolves, tyrannosaurus reges*); or, sometimes, nasty and terrifying (spiders and snakes). 

We hardly ever consider predators such as dragonflies:

File:Dragonfly ran-177.jpg
Blue Dasher dragonfly, photo by R. A. Nonenmacher

Even a mouse is said by some to be a seed predator, but that's really stretching the meaning of the word predator into something too soupy to be useful.

We humans sometimes call ourselves the ultimate predator, but we're just flattering ourselves. How often do you stalk, catch and kill your own dinner?

Yep.

Sorry about this, but humans are mostly scavengers - and those fake claws are fooling nobody.

File:Ugly set of fake nails ever made- 2014-06-20 04-46.jpg
photo by User:Saramerie

Spot the Frippet: a predator. The Latin word praedārī means to pillage, and praeda means booty.

*Or rexes, if you like. (I was thinking of flirting with tyrannosauri rex, but that would be madness on several counts.)


Sunday, 31 May 2020

Sunday Rest: dogcart. Word Not To Use Today.

There's nothing wrong with the word dogcart except that I've really never got over my disappointment that there aren't any dogs big and strong enough to pull one.

I don't know, though...

...huskies?

Anyway, a dogcart was originally a small two-wheeled vehicle pulled by a single horse that used to have a section in it for transporting gun dogs. Later on, it could be any similar very light vehicle:



Mind you, gun dogs aren't nearly as interesting as they sound, either.

Word Not To Use Today: dogcart. The Old English form of the dog word was docga. Cart comes from the Old Norse kartr and is related to the words carriage and car.

**

I was looking for a picture to illustrate this post and came across this:

File:Dogcart.jpg
Milk sellers in Brussels, Belgium.

Now I'm feeling sorry for the dog...


Saturday, 30 May 2020

Saturday Rest: The Spring breeze melted snow by U T'ak

Sigo is a form of Korean poetry. It has only three lines, though they're quite long lines - the total number of syllables will be forty two to forty eight.

Sigo may be short, but they do stuff, do sigo: there'll be an introduction of a situation or theme in line one; a development in line two; and then a twist and conclusion in line three.

(Although there's a twist, it won't be a humorous one; sigo were first written in the 1200s at a time of great political turmoil in Korea, and the themes are usually more to do with hopeless loyalty or aging or unfruitful love than anything actually cheerful.)

The sigo has been around for a long time, and it has at various times been abandoned and resurrected and evolved. It started off as a work of the aristocracy, and it was centuries before the poems were even written in a language understood by most of the Korean people. Sometimes they are spoken, and sometimes sung.

Here is the oldest example we have, written by U T'ak, 1262 - 1342.

The spring breeze melted snow on the hills then quickly disappeared.
I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair
And melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.

I'd say that was very elegant, and rather wonderful.

Word To Use Today: breeze. This word probably comes from the Old Spanish word briza, north-east wind.


Friday, 29 May 2020

Word To Use Today: bumfuzzle.

It doesn't really matter what this word means, it's way too much fun to leave in a dictionary.

It's used more in the USA than in England (in fact I've never heard anyone use it in England) but it has a long English history, all the same.

Bumfuzzle means to confusedor fluster.

Don't bumfuzzle me!

It's unlikely that anyone will know what you mean if you use it, but, hey, that just means that everyone will be bumfuzzled.

Poetic justice or what?

(Well, possibly not that poetic...)

Word To Use Today: bumfuzzle. The Old English form of this word is dumfoozle, an unusual instance of the meaning of the Old English form of a word being easier to guess than its modern equivalent.


Thursday, 28 May 2020

But not yet: a rant.

St Augustine of Hippo (354 - 431) prayed make me virtuous - but not yet. 

I have a lot of sympathy with this point of view, but all the same I didn't expect delayed morality to become part of the Covid-19 debate. Really, if you've got Covid-19 then you'd think that the time to delay getting yourself virtuous had well and truly passed.

The commentator whom I came across using the phrase delayed morality was saying that many of the poor people who have died as a result of Covid-19 were already very ill and would soon have died, anyway, and that this would show up in the mortality figures by the end of the year.

Hang on...

...mortality?

Ah! Now I understand!

Words Not To Get Confused Today: morality and mortality. The word morality, which is to do with doing the virtuous thing, comes from the Latin word mōrālis, from mōs, which means custom.

The word mortality comes from the Latin word mortālis, from mors, death.


Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Nuts and Bolts: paralipsis.

It actually doesn't matter too much what paralipsis is, it's enough to enjoy saying the word...

paralipsis...

it's a word to murmur to nightingales in the moonlit groves of Illyria.

Sadly, at the moment I should imagine Illyria is closed to tourists, so, hey, what is paralipsis, exactly?

Paralipsis is usually called apophasis, but that's not nearly such a lovely word.

Anyway, whatever it is, it's still really good fun. Paralipsis is when you say you're not going to say something and then you, well, do.

As in: I'll not bring up her treachery in stealing my boyfriend as it's irrelevant to her qualifications for this job.

Or: this is long forgotten and forgiven, so I won't even mention how your behaviour destroyed my friendship with Martin.

Loyalty forbids me to suggest that the Headteacher is a raving lunatic.

Of course there's no need to remind the reader of the campaign of General Bloodspiller which ended in the Battle of Gorefield in the year 1857.

It's not my place to criticise your actions, ma'am, even if they verge upon the criminally insane.

As I say, good fun.

Rhetorical Device To Use Today: paralipsis. As I don't need to tell you, learned reader, paralipsis/apophasis is also sometimes known as paraleipsis, occupatio, praeteritio, preterition and parasiopesis.

Neither is there any point at all in noting that the Greek prefix para- means - well, more or less anything - or that it comes from the Greek word meaning alongside or beyond; nor, for that matter, that the Greek word leipein mean to leave, and paraleipein means to leave aside.


Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Thing Not To Do Today: pontificate.

Who pontificates?

Well, the pontiff, of course.

Well, you can't blame him for doing it, can you: I mean, it's in the job-title.

As more or less everyone knows, the word pontiff (to whom we more usually refer as the pope) comes from the Latin pontifex, which means bridge builder, because the pontiff makes a bridge between the people of the world and God.

However, as with many things more or less everyone knows, this is almost certainly completely wrong.

Ah well!

For those of us who are not popes, which is practically all of us, (though popes aren't as rare as they used to be) then pontificating is to be avoided.

For one thing, it'll make everyone hate you; and, for another, nearly everything you know is quite probably wrong.

So best keep quiet, eh?

Thing Not To Do Today: pontificate. The Pontifex Maximus was the chief priest in Ancient Rome, who often had a political, as well as a religious role in the state. The word pontifex might be Etruscan, but because the Latin pons means bridge and facere means to make, then deciding that this is the derivation of the word  pontifex was just to tempting a story for most of us to resist.