This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 18 June 2021

Word To Use Today: conjury.

 The word conjury is, of course, a close relation of the word conjuring. Conjury, however, is much classier, more romantic - and more dangerous.

Conjuring is a clever and amusing trick; conjury is dangerous and serious and almost always used by those of ill intent.

Although conjury can just mean magic, it has a strong sense of changing the essence of things, and, especially, of summoning up unearthly powers.

photo by Sean McGrath

Today the word is rarely used because, mostly, the practice of conjury is now known as economics.

Word To Use Today: conjury. The Old French conjurer means to plot. The Latin conjūrāre means to form a conspiracy. Jūrāre means to swear.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

A Taste of the Orient: a rant.

 A slightly tacky catalogue arrived recently. It was advertising (as nowadays most catalogues do) medical devices, hideous duvet covers, droppable ornaments, and ways to clutter up the garden.

On page twenty (yes, thank you, I do quite enjoy looking through this kind of thing) was a solar-powered lantern. It casts, the text under the illustration informs us, a Turkish-inspired shadow.

The claim is the lantern will provide some Mediterranean mood. And it might. It might even give your garden A Taste of the Orient.

But I doubt, as the text claims, that even if you licked the thing it'd give you A Taste of Turkey.

Still, it could be worse. 

It could have claimed to give you A Taste of Greece.

Word To Use Today: Turkey. The bird is named after the country because guinea fowl (then called turkey cocks) used to be sent through Turkey on their way to Europe. The American bird turkey, being also edible, was later given the same name.

The country of Turkey is the land of the Turks. Turk has been used to describe various different people from various places in the world (rather as has the word Indian) but the country, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, officially claimed the name in 1923.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Nuts and Bolts: paralipomena.

 Yes, more Greek.

Paralipomena describes bits of a text that have been left out of the main body of a work and then put in later in a separate chunk. This may be because they're believed to be a bit dodgy (I don't mean dodgy in the sense that they're encouraging people to do deeply unwise or unpleasant things, but in the sense that they're believed to be later additions, so they don't have the authority they appear to have) or because they aren't so much a stand-alone work of art, but more of a commentary on another part of the work. 

The latter is the case with the biblical books of Chronicles, which are the most famous example of paralipomena

Mind you, being a kind of commentary on some of the rest, they were also, obviously, written later than the bits of the bible upon which they comment.

Nuts and Bolts: paralipomena. The Greek word paraleipomena comes from para- on one side, and leipein, to leave.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Thing To Be Today: saltatorial.

 Grasshoppers are saltatorial.

And so, to a lesser degree, are you.

You share this attribute with kangaroos, goats, frogs, spiders, fleas, and dolphins.

Do you know what it is?

Yes, you're adapted for jumping.

(Actually, why are grasshoppers called grasshoppers and not grassjumpers? I mean, have you ever seen one hop?)

Sand and soil is also saltatorial (or so the geologists say) when it is washed about by water or blown about by the wind. 

Biologists also use the word saltatorial to describe a species of animal that's suddenly changed its appearance due to genetic changes. This used to be an alternative to Darwin's theory of gradual changes (and gave rise to the rather lovely idea of the hopeful monster) but it's mostly discredited now, even though occasional examples of large changes happening in a single generation have been observed in some plants, a centipede, and some moths.

Anyway, today's a day to jump - with joy, with any luck - but extra credit if it's to get away from a spider or a kangaroo.

illustration by Adolph Friedlander

Thing To Be Today: saltatorial. This word comes from the Latin word saltātor, which means a dancer.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Sopt the Frippet: something vernicose.

 Leaves can be vernicose.

No, not vermicose, which would presumably imply they'd been chewed at by worms; vernicose.

These leaves are an example:

Angelica pachicarpa. Photo by Devra

Vernicose means shiny.

Petals can be vernicose, too:

buttercups. Photo by Carine06

and so can the bark of trees:

Yellow birch bark. Photo by Joseph O'Brien

But the botanical word vernicose can describe anything very shiny. Poets sometimes have used the word to describe other very shiny things, too. 

So today is a day to look out for gloriously shining hair, or a richly polished table. Or a ladybird.

What can you see now that's shining?

Spot the Frippet: something vernicose. This word is basically the same word as varnish. The Old English form of that word is vernisch, and it goes back to the Latin veronix and to the Greek berenikē. Some say that this word is named after the town Berenice, where varnish derived from pine tree sap is first said to have been made. But most people who have an opinion about this disagree. 

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Sunday Rest: belfie. Word Not To Use Today.

 A belfie is a photographic self-portrait featuring the buttocks.

The worst thing about this word is that it might give people ideas - and, sadly, they're all going to be really really bad ones.

Sunday Rest: belfie. The b is for bottom or buttocks or bum, and the rest rhymes with selfie, which is a shortened form of self-portrait. 

The Old English form of self is seolf.

photo of the Belgian Federal Parliament building by KoS

I don't know why this comes up as the first image on a Wikimedia Commons image search, but it was a considerable relief. 

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Saturday Rave: Willingness, by Chairil Anwar

 Chairil Anwar was brought up in Medan, in North Sumatra, and his work is credited with helping to establish Indonesian as the official language of his country. Most of his writing life was spent under Japanese occupation during the Second Word War, so his poems were liable to censorship.


He died in 1949 at the age of twenty seven.

This poem is, I think, a simple, and rather lovely thing.


If you like I'll take you back
With all my heart.

I'm still alone.

I know you're not what you were,

Like a flower pulled into parts.
Don't crawl! Stare at me bravely.

If you like I'll take you back

For myself, but
I won't share even with a mirror.

Word To Use Today: mirror. The Old French mirer means to look. Before that, the Latin mīrārī means to wonder at.