This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Thing Not To Have Today: embonpoint.

 You say this, if you should wish to, in the French way. There's a recording of how to do that HERE.

Em bon point as I've said, is French - Middle French, to be precise. It means in good condition, but it really describes someone who's plump.

Worse than that, it describes someone who's plump and smug with it.

Some say that it usually refers to the bosom, but as far as most authorities are concerned it's assumed to refer to the paunch or the general outline.

Thing Not To Have Today: embonpoint. It's fine to be plump, but not to be smug. 

And for an English-speaker to be smug in French is just terrible.

Monday, 27 September 2021

Spot the Frippet: a heart.

 Human hearts are best hidden away - as are most animal ones - but you might spot someone with their heart on their sleeve, I suppose.

Otherwise, we're probably going to be looking out for vegetable hearts: (sorry, images aren't loading onto blogger this afternoon. Please imagine a lettuce heart, which is the pale inside bit the slugs haven't yet eaten).

Now please imagine a cabbage heart, which is similar.

But the very centre of many things is known as its heart. The kitchen might be the heart of the home; the main shopping centre is probably the heart of the town or village (or perhaps that's the Post Office or church).

Of course the heart-shape design:


 can be seen everywhere, despite not looking very much like an actual heart. There's speculation that this heart shape is a representation of the seed of the Roman plant silphium, now extinct, but which may have been something like fennel or asafoetida. It was immensely valuable, and used as an aphrodisiac.

In fact, it was so valuable that I can't help wondering if it might have worked, too.

Perhaps it's a good thing it's extinct.

Spot the Frippet: a heart. This word was heorte in Old English. The Greek form of this word was kardia, from which we get words like cardiology.

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Sunday Rest: AUKUS. Word Not To Use Today.

 AUKUS is an acronym based on the words Australia, United Kingdom and United States. It's a new defence alliance covering some aspects of defence in those three countries (and covering other stuff, too, but if I told you about that then I'm afraid I'd have to kill you).

It's quite a harsh sound AUKUS, but the main reason not to use this word today is that the formation of the alliance has upset poor M Macron, the president of France, quite terribly. He thought they were all friends together, and then it turned out that the others had formed a gang and they'd left him out.

Ah well. 

Never mind, eh?

Sunday Rest: AUKUS. As I've said, AUKUS is quite a harsh sound (and also might be triggering to people who've been previously attacked by auks) but then USUKA was probably deemed to be too feminine, and UKAUS hides the USA's involvement, which would, of course, never do.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Saturday Rave: In September by Edward Dowden.

 Edward Dowden (1843-1913) was Irish, is best known for his commentaries on Shakespeare, and wrote some poetry.

That's all I know about him, but here's a poem of his which describes better than any other poem I know the joy, tempered always by the winter-warning of the ever-earlier darkness, of the September countryside.

Spring scarce had greener fields to show than these
Of mid September; through the still warm noon
The rivulets ripple forth a gladder tune
Than ever in the summer; from the trees
Dusk-green, and murmuring inward melodies,
No leaf drops yet; only our evenings swoon
In pallid skies more suddenly, and the moon
Finds motionless white mists out on the leas.

Autumn Landscape, September, by Lucas van Valkenborch

Word To Use Today: lea. This is a useful word in poetry, having just one syllable and a very common rhyme-sound. It means meadow or field, or anywhere sown with grass. The Old English form of the word was lēah.

Friday, 24 September 2021

Word To Use Today: hipparch.

 A hipparch is, sadly, neither an arch designed by an achingly trendy architect, nor a system of government by horses.

As anyone who's read Gulliver's Travels will know (the whole book, I mean, not just the bit featuring the giants and the little people (I think we're probably allowed to say little people in this context)) rule by horses might be a rather benign and marvellous thing:

Gulliver Taking His Final Leave of the Land of the Houyhnhnms by Sawrey Gilpin

but, as I said, the horses weren't hipparchs, because a hipparch was a commander of cavalry in Ancient Greece:

There were never a lot of hipparchs - cavalry numbers were small because keeping horses was expensive, and also because without much in the way of a saddle and nothing in the way of stirrups, they couldn't actually do much fighting without falling off their horses.

Still, fighting horsemen could throw spears and draw bows, and get places quickly, all following their hipparch.

Word To Use Today (though I can't imagine why you should need to) hipparch. Hippos is the Greek for horse. -arch comes from the Greek arkhein, to rule.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

A dreadful warning: a rant.

 And so Covid-19 goes on its way...

The subject of today's rant is a minor matter compared with the blasted bug's ravages, but if we humans can't control a semi-alive entity a two-millionth the size of a man - and perhaps especially because we can't control a semi-alive entity only a two-millionth the size of a man - we need to keep a tight rein on the things we can control, such as the meaning of what we're saying.

This is a headline from The Telegraph newspaper on 3rd September 2021:

Allowing mass infection of schoolchildren would be 'reckless' Gavin Williamson warned

So who did the warning? Did Gavin Williamson warn everyone else? Or did someone warn Gavin Williamson?

Gavin Williamson was Britain's Minister for Education (he's just been sacked) and, given that the press's instinct is always to attack politicians, I think we can guess the answer to that question.

But really there should be no room for doubt.

Word To Use Today: warn. This word was wearnian in Old English Given that we've had about a thousand years to practise* using the thing, you'd have thought we'd have got the hang of it by now.

*No, that's how we spell the word practise in Britain when it's a verb. Well, all right, most people don't - but, according to the dictionary and all pedants, they should!

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Nuts and Bolts: international cheating.

 I'm still thinking about the word defraud. The word is Anglo-French, which means it came into English after England was invaded by the Normans in 1066.

But we don't just defraud people in England; we also swindle, cheat, deceive, dupe and double-cross them.

Where have all those words come from?

Well, the word swindle arrived in the 1700s from the German Schwindler, from the Old High German swintan, to disappear. Cheat is short for escheat (now a term for a legal way of being able to take someone else's land). Escheat originated in the 1300s, and comes from the Old French eschete, from escheoir, to fall to the lot of, from the Latin cadere, to fall. Deceive comes from the Old French deceivre, from the Latin capere, to take. Dupe also comes from the Old French, from de huppe, which means [of] a hoopoe:

 from the Latin upupa, because of the bird's reputation for great stupidity. Double-cross....well, the double bit comes from the Old French, from the Latin duplus, which means two-fold (as does the word duplicity), and cross comes from Old Irish, from the Latin crux, which means cross.

As you'll have noticed, not one of these words originates in England.

Does this mean that the English are a fine honest bunch?

Or that they're the most cunning people of all?