This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Monday, 18 October 2021

Spot The Frippet: slug.

 Slug is an interesting word.

It starts with the animal:

Arion afer. Photo by Prashanthns

and then two different attributes of the animal diverge into different paths of meaning.

The first is the shape of the thing, which gives us a word for a bullet:

shotgun cartridge, photo by Divingpetrel

and also for small pieces of the lead type used for printing, and (in Canada) tokens for slot machines. It gives us the word which describes a small amount of powerfully alcoholic drink, too.

If you slug someone then you're hitting them with the force of a bullet (or perhaps a drink); but a person who's a slug isn't rushing round like Superman, and this is because the animal slug doesn't itself exactly frisk and scamper as it goes about its daily tasks. For this reason a human slug don't slug people, because a slug means lazy person. (A sluggard can hardly be bothered to get up because he's originally a slug abed.)

To end on something regally lovely, here's a sea slug:

Chromodoris dianae. Photo by Bernard DUPONT

I hope you spot your slug before you tread on it!

Spot the Frippet: slug. This word probably came from Scandinavia, and in English it first of all meant a slow person or animal.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Sunday Rest: polydemic.

 Even though polydemic isn't an outbreak of several diseases simultaneously, The Word Den cannot recommend the use of this word.

It's likely to cause alarm and despondency.

Sunday Rest: polydemic. This word describes a plant or animal which exists in two or more separate regions of the world. It comes from the Greek polus, which means much, and endemic, which comes from the other Greek word endēmos, which means native.

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Saturday Rave: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

 Britain's leaving of the European Union has led to a lot of squabbling.

There's currently a flare-up over fishing rights. I don't know the truth of what's going on, but there are French fishermen, now banned from British waters, who claim passionately their right to work there. The British say that this is because the French fishermen can't prove their claim. The French call the British treacherous and have threatened to cut off electricity supplies to Jersey.

It's all rather amusing (as long as you don't live in Jersey).

The art of insult has long been practised in the French language. The chanson de geste were written (if they were written, not memorised or extemporised) from the 1100s onwards, and among these very long poems (over eighteen hundred verses in one case) are some wonderful duels of disparagement.

The Word Den's rave for today, though harking back to those chansons de geste, were written more recently. And by someone British, John Cleese. And for a film.

But the insults, spoken by in the film by a French guard (though acted by Cleese) are still exquisite.

“I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

And that even got past the censor, too.

Word To Use Today: elderberry. Elderberries aren't any older than any other type of berry. The word comes from the Anglo-Saxon word æld, which means fire, because the hollow stems were used like straws to encourage a flame to take hold and grow into a fire.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Word To Use Today: gaggle.

 It's worth saying this word just for the fun of it.

Gaggle gaggle gaggle gaggle...

While you do, notice how differently you hold your tongue when you say the first g of gaggle and the middle two.

It's the group term (the collective noun, if you like) for a small flock of geese:

photo by AnemoneProjectors 

 but you can't use it if the geese are flying, because then they're called a skein: 

or, if there are lots of geese (more than fifty? I don't know the precise upper number for a gaggle), either flying or on the ground, they're a flock:

photo by D Severson

The word gaggle can be applied to a small and disorganised group of people, too, and gaggle also means to make a gabbling or cackling sound. 

Just like saying gaggle gaggle gaggle gaggle, in fact.

Word To Use Today: gaggle. This word has German ancestry. It's an imitation of the sound that geese make when they're gossiping.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Hyp-hens again: a rant.

 A hyp-hen is not a variety of chicken with a penchant for lumberjack shirts, but a badly placed hyphen.

The latest example I've come across is demandled - which, yes, strictly-speaking isn't a hyp-hen at all because in that case the necessary hyphen has been left out altogether, but it's the same kind of thing. Demand-led, please (though demandle is a lovely word, if obscure in meaning. Could it mean to cuddle a needy child? We could do with a word for that.).

Then there are mincep-


I came across that one the other day in a Trollope short story. You eat them at Christmas. Yes, mince-pies

Then, from an advertisement for a Men's-wear Catalogue:




Now, these mish-

aps are bound to occur because writers are all idiots. They're human, for one thing, and, for another, they tend to have their minds on other things than grammar.

But where are the steely and eagleeyed (yes, all right, eagle-eyed) copywriters?

Swept away in a wave of costcu-

tting, I fear. 

But don't we just miss them?

Word To Use Today: one with a hyphen. The word hyphen comes from the Greek word huphen, which means together, from hupo- which means under, plus heis, which means one.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Nuts and Bolts: unicode.

 Unicode is the International Standard for writing the world's languages on a computer screen.

It has its roots at the company Xerox in 1987, when Joe Becker, together with Lee Collins and Mark Davis from Apple, began to create a universal set of letters and characters. Later input came from, notably, Peter Fenwick and Dave Opstad.

At the moment there are 144,762 Unicode characters covering 159 scripts. Some of the languages that can be written are current, some historical. There are, in addition, many emojis and various formatting codes. 

The great thing about Unicode is that all the characters are compatible with each other, so multi-lingual texts are possible.

Unicode is maintained by the Unicode Consortium, which consists of computer big guys such as Adobe, Microsoft and Netflix, as well as various governments. However, the only political entity which is a full member with voting rights, is the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs of Oman.

The most recent scripts to be added to Unicode are Toto, Vithkuqi, Old Uyghur and Tangsa. Unicode also now has a way of representing the som currency symbol of Kyrgyzstan, and Znamenny musical notation.

The Word Den thinks that the whole world should really be jolly grateful.

Word To Use Today: well, anything you type on a computer probably relies on Unicode, but how about thanks? The Old English form of thanks is thancian.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Thing To Do Today: surge.

 Being measured is sensible, yes: but it's dull, dull, dull.

Let yourself experience a surge of joy (your favourite dance music might help):

 or go for a surge of creativity (even if you only find a new way of arranging your sock drawer).

Try for a surge of energy, or a surge of love.

Clouds, hills, stars and electricity surge, and don't we want to be like them? To reach beyond ourselves for a while?

And of all this fails then just catch up with The News

Irritation surges, too.

Thing To Do Today: surge. This word comes from the Latin surgere, to rise, from sub- which in this case means up from below, plus regere, to guide.