This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Nuts and Bolts: Gesta Romanorum.

The Gesta Romanorum is a thirteenth-century version of an after-dinner speech anecdote book.

There are admittedly a few differences. The Gesta Romanorum are mostly in Latin (a bit of which still goes down very well in speeches, though it makes for a poor punchline) and instead of being aimed at well-oiled business-men, or self-congratulatory charity administrators, the Gesta Romanorum was aimed (officially, at least) at preachers.

The Gesta Romanorum tends to expound a moral, too.

I can't say the Gesta Romanorum are much read today, but the anecdotes therein (which might have originated in England or France or Germany) were snaffled up by Chaucer (in The Man of Lawe's Tale), and Shakespeare (King Lear), and Boccaccio, among others. 

Cordelia being tragic, by Sir John Gilbert

It was a best-seller in its time, and is available in translation still - which is more than most of those after-dinner anecdote books are going to be in eight years, let alone eight hundred.

Nuts and Bolts: the Gesta Romanorum. This means Deeds of the Romans, which is a bit confusing as not all the stories are about, um, the Romans.

Ah well, never mind.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Thing To Do Today: jest.

 The French president M Macron has complained that the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, is not un homme sérieux, a serious man. 

M Macron seems to think that this a bad thing, but to the British being serious has very few attractions.

Anyway, jesting is interesting.

Why do people suddenly start making neighing noises and falling over when they are surprised by a movement or expression? 

Why does a sudden twist in a path of meaning give us such a rush of pleasure?

What's the point of jesting?

Well, happy people don't usually bother about starting wars, for one thing. 

If someone is funny then it shows they're creative, and almost certainly clever, for another. 

Jests very often rely on illuminating the grain of truth somewhere in an often murky mix, for a third.

Jesting may not be fashionable among the intellectuals of Paris (though M Macron did once liken himself to the god Jupiter, which still makes me laugh) but perhaps we'd be better off with more or it.

To be Jupiter, after all, as M Macron must know, is to be jovial.

Thing To Do Today: jest. The Latin word gesta means deeds, and gerere is to carry out something (but not in a coal scuttle-type way).

Monday, 6 December 2021

Spot the Frippet: ink.

 We're just surrounded by this stuff. Just about every physical page you see will have some kind of ink on it, making a dark trickle of connection and knowledge down the millennia. Even though so much of what we see in now online, we still spend twenty billion dollars a year on good old ink.

The first ink was free, and probably made of soot. The Ancient Egyptians were using it in about 2600 BC, and the Chinese have been using more sophisticated glue-bound inks for a few millennia.

Ming Dynasty Moon Goddess

In mediaeval Europe, ink involved oak galls (the homes of insect larva):

photo by Franco Folini

 and wine.

woodcut by Albrecht Durer

Ink is an easy spot - and an easy blot, too - and there are other inky things around. the inkberry is a kind of American holly with black berries; a shaggy inkhorn is a European mushroom.

In Australia an inky smudge is a judge.

Today is a day to appreciate the joys of ink.

Spot the Frippet: ink. This word comes from the Old French encre, from the Greek enkauston, a purplish ink, from enkaiein, to burn in.

Sunday, 5 December 2021

Sunday Rest: Yoon. Word Not To Use Today.

 A Yoon is someone who opposes Scotland becoming a country independent of England and Wales and Northern Ireland. 

There are, obviously, arguments for and against Scottish independence (in the referendum seven years ago fifty-five per cent of Scottish voters were against independence) but calling your opponents by silly names isn't going to win them round, so it's really best avoided.

It is good for convincing yourself you're superior to those who think differently from you, though.

Sunday Rest: Yoon. Yoon is short for Unionist (that is, someone who supports the United Kingdom). The word union comes from the Latin ūnīo, oneness, from ūnus, which means one.

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Saturday Rave: Gee, Officer Krupke. Words by Stephen Songheim.

 Today is the five hundred and twenty eighth anniversary of Christopher Columbus first spotting Puerto Rico.

His sponsors were hoping the voyage would bring them wealth and spices, but, as with all human activity, the sight of that first mountain peak caused a spring to ping inside the great pin-ball machine of the universe, and by the time it had finished ricocheting around off a guy called William who was trying to scratch a living writing plays in Elizabethan London, and then back to America to knock together the son of a Ukrainian Jewish couple and the son of a New York Jewish dress-maker and designer (Leonard loved music and Stephen loved musicals) it was 1957 and we reaped the rewards in the glorious West Side Story.

This is the opening of the 1957 stage version of the song Gee Officer Krupke.

Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
You gotta understand:
It's just our bringin' upke
That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are junkies,
Our fathers all are drunks.

Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!

Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset;
We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get.
We ain't no delinquents,
We're misunderstood.
Deep down inside us there is good!

There is good!

There is good, there is good,
There is untapped good.
Like inside, the worst of us is good.


Half way through writing this post the news broke that Stephen Sondheim had died. 

He is gone from the world, but the pin-balls he fired into motion will bring us wisdom and delight for centuries to come.

Rest in Peace.

 Word To Use Today: officer. The Latin word officium means service or duty, from opus, work, and facere, to do.

Friday, 3 December 2021

Words To Consider Today: amateur/dilettante.

 An amateur doesn't get paid for, and a dilettante doesn't put much time or effort into, a chosen activity.

Or - to look at it another way - an amateur does what he does for love rather than for profit, and a dilettante does what he does purely for fun.

Does being paid mean the worker is more highly skilled? 

What kind of value does profit add?

Does doing something all the time mean it's done better than something done only fleetingly?

painting by Jan Vermeer

I leave it to yourself to determine.

Words To Consider Today: amateur/dilettante. The word dilettante comes from the Italian dilettare, to delight, from the Latin dēlectāre. The word amateur comes from French from the Latin word amāre, to love.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

One Man's Meat: a rant.

 This isn't so much a rant as an exasperated sigh from long ago. Well, from 1977.

It takes the form of an introductory note from the novel One Man's Meat by Colin Watson.

It was necessary for the plot of this book to invent the names of a couple of processed dog foods and to ascribe to their supposed manufacturers titles which would neither duplicate nor suggest those of any real firms. The most diligent inquiries ere made. They led rapidly to two discoveries: first, that the pet food industry dwarfs in size and complexity some of the biggest enterprises in the field of human nutrition; second, that no word in the English language (nor, indeed, out of it) can safely be discounted as a potential brand name, however tenuous its canine connections.

Having regard for the difficulties and hazards presented by this situation, and in pursuance of my aim to avoid causing moral, aesthetic, patriotic, religious or commercial distress to any one of the several thousand patentees, proprietors and distributors of food-stuffs for domestic animals, I hereby solemnly declare that all such substances and their manufacturers mentioned in this book are purely imaginary and have nothing to do with the real and beautiful world in which we live.

In particular, I affirm that the imaginary product Woof! referred to in this book is in no way connected with or intended to resemble the actual product which is an expanded complete dog food manufactured and marketed by BP Nutrition (UK) Limited, under that name.


I know the feeling!

Oh, but what a beautiful writer Colin Watson was.

And how grateful I am to write in the age of the Internet!

Word To Use Today: diligent. This word comes from the Latin dīligentia, care or attentiveness.