This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Sunday Rest: quoisexual. Word Probably Not To Use Today.

 Well, quoi is the French for what, and I know what sexual means, so...

...nope. Haven't a clue.

These new words for all these different types of taste are probably a good thing. 

One day we might even get to a stage where people don't feel obliged to pretend to like things they don't, any more than people feel guilty about their taste in coffee...

...except that even coffee has its fashions and virtue-signalling, doesn't it.

Oh dear: we're probably doomed. 

Ah well.

Anyway, quoisexual describes either someone who doesn't understand what people mean by sexual attraction, or someone who is confused about whether their own feelings are sexual.

The major problem with this word is that (according to the internet) you say the first syllable KWAI (to rhyme with why).

I can think of no good reason for doing this at the moment. 

Word Probably Not To Use Today: quoisexual. Quoi in French is said KWAR (but without sounding the R). The word is basically the same as our English word what, and comes from the Latin word quid.

Saturday, 28 May 2022

Saturday Rave: When young I never did know, by Xin Quji

 Xin Quji, 1140 - 1207, was a very great poet. He lived all his life, in China, in a time of civil war. 

He started his adult life by failing his exams - twice - and became what might be called a freedom-fighter, and later a military general. He ended up at Court, just in time for appeasement became popular, and in the end, side-lined, he left Court for the countryside. While there he did much for the poor, developed a new form of poetry, and also, worryingly, started raising his own army. 

He was quickly brought back to Court and given a new job, but he was soon found to be raising yet another army, which led to his being sacked and exiled.

This pattern of being (literally) courted and then side-lined was repeated, and in yet another period of favour Xin Quji died. He left us over six hundred poems, all from his later years.

Here's one short one. It's simple, but terrific.

When young I never did know the taste of woe or sorrow,

Up to the top floor, I loved to go;

Up to the top floor, I loved to go,

For to compose new verses, I feigned my sorrow and woe.

Yet now that I've known the taste of woe, sorrow and bitterness,

I hesitate to mention it.

Hesitate to mention it,

What a beautifully chilly autumn! I say, after all.


 Word To Use Today: sorrow. The Old English form of this word was sorg.

Friday, 27 May 2022

Word To Use Today: Loughborough or Goonoo Goonoo.

 A man was walking along the A6 in England when a car drew up beside him.

'Is this the way to Loog-Borroo?' asked the Australian driver.

'Yes, mate,' said the man. 'But we call it Luff-br.'

Loughborough Station. Photo by Gordon Cragg

A few months later, the Englishman was lost in Australia, and approached a passer-by:

'Is this the way to Goonoo Goonoo?' he asked.

'Nah, you're lost,' replied the Australian. 'And anyway, we call it Gunna G'noo.'

Goonoo Goonoo station

Word To Use Today: Loughborough or Goonoo Goonoo. Lough was probably someone's name, and borough comes from burgh, which means town. Goonoo Goonoo mean running water in Gamilaraay.

Thursday, 26 May 2022

Not Writing Sonnets: a rant.

 The University of Salford's creative writing course has (or had) a module requiring the writing of poems in traditional formats.

That sounds quite fun, to me.

The University calls these formats pre-established - though how that differs from established I do not know. 

In any case, the University feels a need to decolonise the curriculum (which would surely involve moving out of it and then leaving it entirely to its own devices. Or do they mean decolonialise?).

Anyway, the sonnet is out. Or possibly now optional, I couldn't quite be bothered to read the press-release so I'm relying on an article in the Telegraph newspaper, which finished with the following remarkable statement:

The Shakespearean form [of sonnet] is usually made up of sixteen lines, with three sets of alternatively rhymed quatrains, followed by a couplet. It was often used to express romantic themes.

I don't mind that the writer has added together three quatrains (that is, groups of four lines of a poem) plus a couplet (a group of two lines) and made sixteen. You don't necessarily expect a journalist to be able to count.

But I do mind that the quatrains are alternatively rhymed.

What's an alternative rhyme? Is it when you put in another rhyming word for the one you want, as in rhyming slang?

Shall I compare thee to a summer's jay?

Thou art more lovely and more generate

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of prey

And Summer's lease has all too short a fate...

...hmm. There might be a whole academic career, there - though not at Salford. The only trouble is that the original is approximately a thousand times better than the new version.

But still, perhaps we could do something with the sixteen lines thing...add an extra couplet. 

Well, that's easy enough as far as that particular sonnet goes:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee...

And, more important, lets the world see me/So conquering my own mortality.

I'm sure Shakespeare would have said that, really, if he'd had the nerve.

Word To Use Today: alternate. This word is different from alternative. Alternate comes from the Latin alternus, which means one after the other.

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Nuts and Bolts: Writing to the trees.

 You can find almost anyone's email address nowadays (unless it belongs to the customer services dept of a major company, obviously). In Melbourne, Australia (yes, there are other Melbournes in the world) you can even email the trees.

The forests of Melbourne are extra-important because, among other qualities, forest cover encourages rainfall, which is sometimes in short supply. Apart from a plan to plant many more trees, all the trees of Melbourne have been given an ID number and an email address. The idea was that members of the public could alert tree surgeons to any damage the trees might have sustained.

But the trees have begun to receive fan mail, and even personal stories. 

Occasionally, a trees will even respond.

Dear Oliver,

said one such email

Thank you for your lovely words. I am very well. Enjoy your day. Yours sincerely, Tree 1441724.

I'm surprised no one has thought of providing people with the addresses of trees before. A tree must be the best listener. They don't interrupt, or try to cheer you up before you're ready, and they can absorb any amount of agony without even wincing. 

And at the end of it all they are still there, and will be there for longer than most of us.

People have talked to trees for a long time, but writing is much less public and embarrassing.

It's an idea that should catch on.

Word To Use Today: eucalypt. Most of the trees in Melbourne are eucalypts, a lovely word that comes from the Greek eus- which means good, plus kaluptein, which means to cover or hide. The word was coined by the French botanist L'Hériter in reference to the flower bud, which has a cap, later discarded, which protects the developing flower.

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Thing Possibly To Do Today: bike.

 Yes, you may say, biking is healthy and green and all that, but I don't have a bike

But that's all right, because you don't necessarily need one.

In Britain, on your bike! means go away, you don't fool me. On the other hand, to get on your bike means to set out with a determined purpose, probably to find a job.

In Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, to get off your bike is to lose all self-control,

And in Scotland to bike means to swarm (a bike is a bees' nest).

So there we are. Several kinds of biking, and some of them without even breaking sweat.

On the whole, though, the pedalling kind is probably the easiest.

(Except that I don't have a bike...)

Thing Possibly To Do Today: bike. The word bicycle comes from the Latin bis, which means twice, and the Greek kuklos, which means wheel. The origin of the Scots word no one knows. 

Monday, 23 May 2022

Spot the Frippet: bill.

 The internet has many marvels, and one of them is that we get many fewer bills. There was a time when bills for fuel and water and taxes came along very regularly, and then you had to find a cheque book, write a cheque, find a stamp of the right denomination, lick it, stick on the return envelope, and then take it out to a post box and post it.

Luckily, there are other types of bill to spot. In Britain a record of the amount due in a restaurant is called a bill; a small poster advertising a play or a film or a circus is a bill:

 and in America a piece of paper money is a bill, too.

And then there's the other kind of bill, which birds:

Eurasian spoonbill, photo by Hari K Patibanda

and platypuses*

illustration by Heinrich Harder

and some insects:

bluegrass billbug. Photo by By Joseph Berger, -, CC BY 3.0,

carry on the front of their faces.

They can be lovely things, bills.

But I'm still glad that the kind you have to pay has mostly gone.

Spot the Frippet: bill. The money word comes from the Latin word bulla, which means document. The pecking word comes from the old English bile, and is related to bill, sword, and the Old High German bil, pickaxe.

*All right, platypodes if you must.