This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Monday, 23 September 2019

Spot the Frippet: repeat.

Well, this must be the easiest Spot the Frippet ever. It's actually harder nowadays to find something on TV that's original.

Still, for those of us (and us in this case doesn't include me) too refined and/or sensitive to watch TV, all kinds of music includes repeats.

It might be interesting to note how every repetition is different, even if all the notes are the same and are played in exactly the same manner and order.

I can only think it works rather in the same mysterious way that makes your wine tastes horrible after your pudding.

Spot the Frippet: repeat. This word comes from the Old French repeter, from the Latin repetere, from petere to seek.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Phrase Not To Use Today: big girl's bouse.

The Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is known for his colourful turn of phrase, and recently (and ungratefully, considering that the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition had just voted in Parliament to reject a General Election, thus forcing the Prime Minister to continue in being in charge of the country*) he called the Leader of the Opposition a big girl's blouse.

This is an expression that's always puzzled me. Is it the blouse of a big girl? Or merely a blouse that's too big?

I know the expression implies cowardice, but what's that got to do with women's clothing?

Well, probably, this:

Sunday Rest: Phrase Not To Use Today: big girl's blouse. This phrase seems to come from Lancashire in North West England, and its earliest recorded use was in the TV sitcom Nearest and Dearest. The origin of the phrase is not completely clear, but it's strongly associated with sport, and the best guess seems to be the idea that a weak or over-sensitive (there's an old-fashioned idea for you) man might literally as well as metaphorically get in a flap if, as a rugby or soccer player, he wore a big girl's blouse instead of his team strip. 

The word blouse comes from 1800s France, but no one knows any  more than that.

So this means the phrase probably refers to neither a big blouse nor a big girl, but a big man. 

*The word bonkers has been used to describe Britain's current political shenanigans.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Saturday Rave: The Epic of Gilgamesh.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest poetry we have.

It's not the oldest poem ever, of course - that would have been when some individual of an early Homo species asked someone to sit down beside her on the sabre-toothed tiger - but The Epic of Gilgamesh is the first poem we have that's written down.

It was first written as five Sumerian poems in about 2100 BC, which became the basis of a long poem in Akkadian. Our first versions of this translation dates back to perhaps 1900 BC.

It's absolutely terrific.

It begins like this:

Gilgamesh King in Uruk

I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh. This was the man to whom all things were known; this was the king who knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out with labour, returning he rested, he engraved on a stone the whole story.

When the gods created Gilgamesh they gave him a perfect body. Shamash the glorious sun endowed him with beauty, Adad the god of the storm endowed him with courage, the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild bull. Two thirds they made him god and one third man. 

In Uruk he built walls, a great rampart, and a temple of blessed Eanna for the god of the firmament Anu and for Ishtar the goddess of love. Look at it still today: the outer wall where the cornice runs, shines with the brilliance of copper, and the inner wall, it has no equal. Touch the threshold, it is ancient. Approach Eanna the dwelling of Ishtar, our lady of love, the like of which no latter-day king, no man alive, can equal. Climb upon the wall of Uruk, walk along it, I say; regard the foundation terrace and examine the masonry: is it not burnt brick and good? The seven sages laid the foundations. 


So that's the very beginning of known poetry. 

And o
bviously, remarkably, it's still a pattern for many fantasy writers today. 

Well, I suppose if it ain't broke...

Word To Use Today: Gilgamesh. This name might mean the ancestor is a hero, from the Sumerian bilga, ancestor, and mes, hero or young man. But that's a bit of a guess, really.

The translation above is by N K Sanders, and the full text can be found HERE.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Tern: Word To Use Today.

The terns are leaving England...

File:Arctic tern 8664.jpg
Arctic tern. Photo by OddurBen

That sounds very mournful and poetic, but it isn't, really, because they'll be back again in the spring. Every year, once the weather starts getting cold, they rise and float on the winds far, far away to the south until they find summer again.

File:Common tern with fish.jpg
Common tern, photo by Badjoby

Among human populations it's only generally the old people who follow them and go to warmer climes for the winter, but if someone younger and fitter wants to travel south then there's a chance they might do it in the sort of tern which is one of these:

File:William P. Stubbs - The American three masted schooner Annie R. Lewis.jpg
The Annie R Lewis by William P Stubbs

This type of tern is also known as a three-masted schooner.

And if by any lucky chance three three-masted schooners sailed off together then you'd have a tern of terns, because a group of three is a tern, as well.

So what's the connection between the word for the bird, and the word for the boat, which are both so beautiful, and both live on the sea, and ride the wind in order to move over it?

If you can believe the dictionary, none whatsoever.

Word To Use Today: tern. The word for the bird comes from the Old Norse therna. The word for the ship and the group comes from the Latin terni, which means three each, from trēs, three.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Tons of fun: a rant.

The Saddlers Company was fined ten tuns of wine for their part in the great London brawl of 1327. 

And you know how much a tun is, don't you.


Well, a US ton (which is pronounced tun, naturally) is 2,000 lbs (lb is short for pound (yes, I know, but it just is, all right?! Blame the Romans!*) which is about half a kilogram), though a British ton is 2,240lbs. A metric ton (which is a term used in the US and many other parts of the world but not Britain, where it's called a tonne (pronounced, obviously, tun)) is, amusingly, 2,204lbs.

The size of a freight ton depends upon the stuff being shifted, but it can be a unit of either volume or weight. It can be 40 cubic feet (a cubic foot is 0,028 of a cubic metre) or one metric tonne.

But what about a tun?

That's definitely a unit of volume, and is either 252, 256, 240 or 208 wine gallons. A wine gallon is the area of a cylinder of 42 inches height and diameter. An inch is...

...sorry. I seem to lost the will to live.

Ten tuns of wine? 

Ten big barrels.

That'll do.

Word To Use Today: ton or tun. Ton and tun both come from the Old English word tunne.

*lb is short for libra.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Nuts and Bolts: penillion.

This word sounds like a number with a very large number of noughts, but it's not. It's something much more interesting.

Penillion is the Welsh art of singing poetry to the accompaniment of a Welsh traditional melody, usually played on the harp. The singer's (often improvised) tune may be in triple time while the harpist plays in duple time, and the harpist will often ;play variations on the traditional tune. 

Here's a beautiful example:

Penillion often, as in that clip, forms part of the Welsh Arts competitions called Eisteddfodau.

Word To Enjoy Today: pennillion. This word is Welsh and means verses, from penill, verse. It's also called certhh dant, which means string music.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Thing Not To Tell Someone They Are Today: puisne.

You say puisne the same as you do puny (PYOOnee) and it's basically the same word.

The difference is that whereas puny usually means physically weak, puisne means not so powerful.

It's used for people who have too much authority and dignity to have sand kicked over them when sunbathing. Particularly judges.

There are times when calling someone in great authority puisne can be extremely refreshing.

Best not say it out loud, though.

Thing Not To Tell Someone They Are Today: puisne. This word comes from the Old French puisné, born later, from puis, at a later date, and né, born, from the Latin nascī.