This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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



Sunday, 25 July 2021

Sunday Rest: ombudsman. Word Not To Use Today.

 Ombudsman is a heavy lurching kind of a word, and an ombudsman sounds as if he's going to be a lumpen, awkward kind of a person: the sort of man (other genders are available) whose suit should have gone to the dry-cleaners several months before.

His (ogaa) job is to negotiate in disputes between members of the public and officials, but the title alone is surely enough to drain any poor complainant of hope. 

Perhaps that's the point of it.

And, anyway, what is an ombud?

Sunday Rest: ombudsman. This word is Swedish (and the Swedes invented the job). It means representative, and it may well be a word of great elegance when spoken with a Swedish accent. 

The word comes from the Old Norse umboth, commission, and mathr, which means man.


Saturday, 24 July 2021

Saturday Rave: The Truth, by Oscar Wilde.

 Whenever I contemplate the tangle of feelings, passions and doubts that obscures the debates on trans issues, or racism, or populism, or anything else for that matter, I hear the words of Oscar Wilde:

The truth is rarely pure and never simple, he said, in The Importance of Being Earnest

To which I'd add and never finally revealed.

That speech in The Importance of Being Earnest goes on to say Modern life would be very tedious if it were either; but, I don't know, sometimes I feel as if a little tedium might be good for us so we can get a chance to clear our heads.

The speech concludes:

and modern literature an impossibility!

And if you count modern as any time since the invention of writing, then he is quite right.

That speech, by the way, is said by Algernon. In the play he gives every appearance of being an idiot. 

But he gets his girl, in the end.

Word To Use Today: truth. The Old English form of this word is triewth. A related word is the Old High German gitruiwida, which means fidelity.

 A photograph of the original production's Algernon can be seen HERE.





Friday, 23 July 2021

Compound noun To Use Today: flos ferri.

 Yes, all right, this compound noun has no relevance to everyday life, but it sounds lovely and its physical beauty has brought out the poetry in the souls of geologists (and before now you might not have been completely confident that there was any poetry in the soul of geologists).

This is an example of flos ferri:

photo by Zbynek Burival

You may think it looks like coral, and you wouldn't be alone because its other names include Aragonite coralloide and Stalagmites coralloides

Flos ferri is also called flowers of iron, which is a translation into English of the Latin flos ferri. The Germans call it Eisenblüte, iron blossom. But it's basically a rock. 

(The rock's chemical formula is CaCO3, so the chemists among you will spot at a glance that there's absolutely no iron in the stuff at all.)

Still, it's pretty, isn't it? 

Well, it is except when it looks like a scouring brush:


photo by Tiia Monto

Flos Ferri is a manifestation of the mineral called Aragonite, and Aragonite is found in many kinds of sea shells, so perhaps the resemblance to coral isn't coincidental. 

As far as I know flos ferri has no practical uses whatsoever, except to bring beauty into our lives, and to bring out the poetry in the souls of geologists.

But, you know, I really think that's achievement enough.

Compound Word To Use Today: flos ferri.




Thursday, 22 July 2021

The bedding-in process: a rant.

 My husband and I been married for forty-two years. It's been amusing enough. In fact, I'd recommend it.

The trials of marriage have been often rehearsed, but in TheTelegraph Online on the 9th July there was presented a whole new way of looking at the institution.

The first year of a marriage 

it said

is famously hard

(is it? I'll tell you something, the last year is jolly dodgy, as well)

 and, on top of the already complicated bedding-in process the universe has served you up...a panoply of hurdles.

My immediate reaction was to snort tea down my nose at the phrase bedding-in process.

And then I began trying to imagine being served up a panoply of hurdles, and my ears started to smoke.

Word To Use Today: panoply. A panoply is a complete or magnificent arrangement of something, or it can be the full armour of a warrior. The word comes from the Greek panoplia, full armour, from pan- all, and hopla, armour. Hopla is the plural of hoplon, which means tool.

This means, yes, that a Greek warrior in full armour was all tooled up.



Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Nuts and Bolts: TED talks.

 I never really thought that a TED talk involved an small automated stuffed bear. 

I wish it did, though.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TED talks are free online lectures. Perhaps the most attractive thing about them is that they're a maximum of eighteen minutes long.

TED talks are produced by the TED Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation based in the USA, and many of the talks are given by really famous people you've actually heard of, like Bill Clinton and Elon Musk.

Are they any good? 

Well, try one and see.

Are they reliable? 

Probably, most of the time, but the point of the talks isn't so much to give definitive answers as to convey excitement and possibility. The aim is for the talks to be mostly true - or, at least, to present a reasonable and expert opinion.

Well, that's about the best we can get, isn't it.

Nuts and Bolts: TED talks. These were established in 1984 and have been available free on line since 1990. The talks started off being about technology, but now there are talks on science, culture, politics and humanitarian subjects.

The word design comes from the Latin dēsignāre, to mark out, from signum, which means a sign.




Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Thing To Do Today: scrimp.

 To scrimp is to be very sparing. It's making your pie with more crust than filling (and not that much crust); it's cutting your curtains so there's only just enough fabric for them to meet; it's having only two pairs of underpants; it's planting your seedlings in rolled-up newspaper; it's wearing your clothes until they're threadbare.

Scrimping used to be a sign of poverty or meanness. Now it's really rather fashionable and really very virtuous

It's still no fun, though.

Thing To Do Today: scrimp. This is a Scottish word, but no one is sure from where it came before that. There are various Scandinavian words that look as if they're related, though: the Swedish skrumpna, for example, means to shrink or shrivel.



Monday, 19 July 2021

Spot the Frippet: chain.

 Where's the nearest chain to you?

Will you spot it round someone's neck?

photo: Auckland Museum


In a fence?

photo by Micke


Attached to a padlock?




Or will you see just one link of it, as in a chain store?



Or perhaps you'll see something a chain in length, such as a cricket pitch (that's 20.12 m long).

photo by SovalValtos


It has been said (by Jean-Jacques Rousseau) that man is born free but that everywhere he is in chains.

What do yours look like? 

And are they comfortable?

Spot the Frippet: chain. The Old French form of this word was chaine. Before that the word is probably connected with the Latin word for chain, which is catena.