This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Nuts and Bolts: the coulomb.

The SI System - the Système Internationale of measurement, used, as its name suggests, throughout the world - has been designed to be easy. No fourteen-pounds-to-a-stone, but a thousand grams to a kilogram; no 1,760-yards-to-a-mile, but a thousand metres to a kilometre; and a litre of water has a mass of 1 kilogram, pretty much, whereas a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter.


A coulomb is the SI unit of electrical charge. It is the charge transported by a constant current of one ampere in one second.

Unfortunately this means that a faraday (the unit of charge of one mole of electrons) has a value of about 96,487 coulombs, and in terms of the Avogadro constant (you can find an entry about it on Wikipedia if you're interested) one coulomb equals approximately 1.036 x 10 to the minus five mol x NA elementary charges.

Now, as far as I understand it, this is partly caused by Nature being jolly awkward; but I do wonder if the SI system really should have embraced a method of measurement where a second is an 86,400th of a day.

Mind you, the idea of a day is pretty whoozy and non-scientific, isn't it?

Word To Use Today: coulomb. The coulomb is named after the French scientist Charles-Augustin de Coulomb.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Thing To Be Today, Perhaps: tractable.

Is it a good thing to be tractable, that is to be easily persuaded?

Well, it depends who your friends are.

Sadly this means
that the responsibility for your actions is entirely in your own hands.

Ah well!

Thing To Be Today, Perhaps: tractable. The word tract meaning a stretch of land, a short morally persuasive pamphlet, an old steam-powered heavy vehicle:

File:Princess Tammy an 1895 Peerless Steam Engine (9438347034).jpg
photo of a very fine traction engine by Ian Kirk.

 as well as to be easily persuaded, all come from basically the same roots, which are the Latin words tractāre, to handle, and trahere to pull.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Spot the Frippet: tsantsa.

Among the Shuar group of the Jivaro people of Ecuador, a tsantsa is the shrunken head of an enemy kept as a trophy.

On the whole, I rather hope you don't have one to hand. Still, it might be therapeutic to make one - to draw a face of an enemy on an eggshell, perhaps, for display and/or target practice purposes.

But just whose head would it be?

Word To Use Today: tsantsa This word comes from the Ecuadorian Shuar language. How tsantsa qualifies as an English word I'm not sure, but it's rather a nice thing to have available.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Sunday Rest: tuan. Word Not To Use Today.

Tuan is a very lovely word which could easily be slipped into a piece of Science Fiction as the name of the heroic leader of the Resistance against the Evil Regime.

(Science Fiction doesn't have much of a taste for the cuddly, does it. Though there are, of course, Ewoks.)

The trouble with the word tuan is that, while in Malay tuan is a word used as a sign of respect, in Australia it's something much too much like a flying rat:

Lithograph by John Gould FRS

To make things even worse, the poor male tuan die as a result of the stress caused by breeding, so that none of them live beyond the age of one year.

And, r
eally, the possibilities for misunderstanding are simply terrifying.

Word Not To Use Today: tuan. This word used in Malaysia is, predictably, Malay. The animal word comes from a native Australasian language of Western Victoria.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Saturday Rave: Roget's Thesaurus.

Peter Mark Roget (1779 - 1869) was an extraordinary man. He was a distinguished doctor who investigated the effect of the water supply on disease, and in his spare time he invented a new type of slide-rule (that, for the young ones among us, is a sort of calculating device) and also worked on the theory of the persistence of vision. He even claimed to have invented the Phenakistoscope.  

What Roget is mostly remembered for, though, is his Thesaurus. He suffered from mental problems all his life, and from childhood found making lists a useful coping mechanism. His Thesaurus emerged from that.

Here's an entry from his original work, and, as it was original, here's the entry on nonimitation:

Nonimitation. - no imitation; originality; creativeness, invention, creation.
Adj. unimitated [0bs3], uncopied [obs3]; unmatched, unparalleled; inimitable &c. 13; unique, original; creative, inventive, untranslated; exceptional, rare, sui generis uncommon [Lat], unexampled.

Some of it is a bit muddled, and the punctuation seems rather random; but still, Roget's great work must have helped many creative people from going mad just trying to think of another word for original.

Word To Use Today: thesaurus. (Not theAsaurus, by the way. That's probably some sort of a dinosaur). This word is the Greek for treasure.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Word To Use Today: nudnik

This isn't an elegant word but, oh, it is one we need.

A nudnik is someone who habitually leaves unjustifiably bad reviews on websites.

(You say it to rhyme with bud weak.)

To some people this seems harmless fun (and how glad I am not to live inside a mind like that) but it destroys businesses and livelihoods.

A nudnik is made more powerful by the star system of reviewing. In my own experience, apart from the sort of one star book review which says I loved everything about this book, it is the best story I have ever read, which is just annoying (though still damaging) there will be the one star review which says this book is rubbish because it isn't about guinea pigs and I only like books about guinea pigs; the one star review of the same book which says this stupid book is boring because it's about guinea pigs; and the one star review which says I suppose this book may be all right for children, but I am much too clever for it.

And there we are: a whole year's work and investment by writer, illustrator and publisher, down the drain. Perhaps a whole career, too.

And nudniks are just as damaging for plumbers and taxi firms, of course.

I understand that attempts are being made to create computer systems which will decline reviews (and, importantly, business) from nudniks.

The world will be a happier and more reliable place once they have.

Word To Use Today: nudnik. This word is Yiddish for a boring nag  (though of course in this context they're worse than that). It comes from the Russian nudyĭ, which means tedious.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Fully respecting my wishes: a rant.

I gave a donation to the Salvation Army recently. They do a good job, it seems to me, especially at Christmas; and I like to hear their brass band playing.

I got a real proper thank-you letter, which I wasn't expecting. As the Post Script to the letter said:

We have noted your request that you'd prefer not to hear from The Salvation Army by post. I fully understand and we will respect your wish.

Well, that demonstrates a whole new meaning of the phrase we will respect your wishes

But never mind, I still think it's a good cause.

I do wish, though, that they hadn't spent some of the money I sent them on sending that letter.

Word To Use Today: respect. This word comes from the Latin rēspicere. to look back or pay attention to, from specere, to look.