This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Thursday 30 June 2022

A fond farewell.

 The Word Den began on 23rd January 2011 with a post about the word hippopotamus.

I've thoroughly enjoyed writing something here very nearly every day since then. A writer's life can be quite a solitary one, and it's been lovely to know that there have been people all over the world reading - and I hope enjoying - these brief bits of nonsense on literally thousands of topics. I've learned a huge amount... 

...admittedly I've forgotten most of what I've learned, but hey...

Anyway, this seems to be the moment to stop. I'm very well, thank you, but it's time for a change.

Thank you very much indeed for your company over all these years, and very best wishes (but not kind regards, which is a stupid and boring way to end a message) to you all,

With love from


Wednesday 29 June 2022

Nuts and Bolts: theophoric names.

 There are a lot of theophoric names about. In fact, it's almost certain that you know someone who sports one - and quite likely that you possess one yourself.

The idea behind a theophoric name is that you use the name of a god as a child's name (or just the word god itself in some form) and by doing so you give a strong hint to the god in question to keep a protective eye on the infant. 

It also warns everyone else to play nice, because of the said god's propensity for getting murderously offended.

My middle name is Jane, which means God is gracious (it's basically the same name as John). Other examples include Timothy (one who honours God) Samuel (God-heard) and Daniels (the justice of God). 

Other Gods are, naturally, available. A Thora is named, predictably, after Thor, and a Mark is named after Mars. People called Dennis are dedicated to Dionysus. Hermiones, rather oddly, are called after Hermes.

Jezebels, poor things, are dedicated to Baal, from whom, one would imagine, little help is on offer.

I'm glad to have a theophoric name. If you have one, I expect you are, too. Let's face it, we can do with all the help we can get.

Nuts and Bolts: theophoric names. The Greek word theophorus means carrying a god.

Tuesday 28 June 2022

Thing To Do Today: regale someone.

 It is possible to regale someone with heaps of food and drink, but usually you regale people by telling them a story.

It has to be a happy, comic, or at least a surprising, story, because to regale someone means to delight and amuse them.

(WARNING: the word comic is sometimes used where the words cruel, twisted, or merely self-satisfied would be more appropriate. Luckily, that mistake is most often seen via the media rather than in real life. We ourselves know how to tell a story because we get real-time feed-back.

I mean, none of us are bores, are we? Still, if you're in doubt, make it a story where you yourself are the butt of the joke, and make it no longer then, ooh, five sentences.

You'll be giving pleasure to everyone.)

Thing To Do Today: regale someone. This word comes from the French régaler, from gale, which means pleasure. It's also related to the Middle Dutch word waler, which means riches. 

Monday 27 June 2022

Spot the Frippet: hinge.

 Where are the hinges on your nearest door? 

Yes, durr, they're on the side opposite to the handle, but how are they spaced? Is there an equal gap above the top of the top hinge, and below the bottom of the bottom hinge?

There isn't always. 

Where else might you find a hinge?

Boxes have them:

and some old phones:

and laptops:

photo by D-Kuru

This is the Cutty Sark's rudder hinge:

photo by Dhowes9

and how about these hinges?

marine venerid cockles

Stamps can be stuck into albums with them:

photo by 177777

Even some snake fangs teeth are hinged (but I thought that perhaps you'd rather not see a photo of that).

Even your own jaws have a hinge joint, if not an actual hinge.

So how many hinges can you spot without moving?

Spot the Frippet: hinge. This word appeared in English in the 1200s, and is perhaps something to do with the Dutch henghe, which means hook or handle. Old English has a word hangian, to be suspended, which isn't a million miles away, too.

Sunday 26 June 2022

Sunday Rest: G.O.A.T. Word Not To Use Today.

 The Word Den  first came across G.O.A.T. in football magazines (yes, we'll read anything), but now it's being used to advertise beer on T.V. and it's quite inescapable.

To be clear, The Word Den loves goats:

but G.O.A.T. is hyperbolic madness.

Is there anyone or anything who is genuinely the Greatest Of All Time in any sphere?

I mean, even if someone is the fastest sprinter on Earth then they aren't the G.O.A.T. They can't be. 

They're only the Greatest Of All Time So Far.

And anyway,  G.O.A.T.S.F. is just so much more fun to say.

Sunday Rest: G.O.A.T. The word great was grēat in Old English, and is related to the words grit and groats, which is odd because they are both words for small things. The idea is, though, that the small things are quite large for, er, small things. 

Saturday 25 June 2022

Saturday Rave: Paris barricades.


Daguerreotype by Thibault (1830 - 1927)

This image shows barricades set up in the city of Paris in June 1848.

The situation was, basically, that the French king, Louis Philippe, had abdicated in the Spring, and a provisional government had been formed which had set up National Workshops to provide the unemployed with an opportunity to earn a basic wage.

A tax was raised to cover the cost. Naturally this was much resented, and so after a new government had been elected these National Workshops were abolished - and all hell let loose.

There were massive protests. The National Guard was called out, and over ten thousand people were either killed or wounded. Four thousand people were exiled to French Algeria.

The uprising was squashed.

This Daguerreotype, above, is probably the very first example of photojournalism. It shows the barricades before a clash between the protesters and the National Guard.

Was this the beginning of the end of human conflict? 


Was it the beginning of a more carefully limited kind of fighting? It's hard to believe it.

But perhaps things would have been even worse without these witnesses to war.

Word To Use Today: barricade. This word comes from the Old French barriquer, to barricade, from barrique, a barrel, from Spanish barril, barrel.

Friday 24 June 2022

Word To Use Today: john.

 Today is the feast of St John the Baptist.

It's also, according to some, Midsummer's Day. 

Now, the first day of summer is quite often said to be June 21st, which, logically, must mean that summer ends on June 27th.

So we must enjoy it while we can.

Now, St John the Baptist was, admittedly, not the ideal dinner-party guest - and he certainly would never have been allowed into the Royal Enclosure at Ascot - but he seems to have been a brave man and a good guy. The other biblical St John had some very odd visions, and he did insist on going on about them at great length, but he also is deemed to have been on the side of the angels.

This being the case, I'm not sure why johns have such a bad reputation.

An American john is either a toilet, or a man who has to pay women in order to have a satisfactory physical relationship. In Australia a john is short for John Hop, which is rhyming slang for cop; that term, too, can't be intended to be complimentary.

I don't know when John became an unfortunate name, but in England we had a King John, 1167 - 1216, (often known as Bad King John) who was stupid, horrible, and a disaster.

Having said all that, there are less objectionable Johns.

John Bull is England (or sometimes the United Kingdom) in human form (which sadly means that the British must be fat and pleased with ourselves); and John Barleycorn is alcohol in human form. 

John Hancock, in the USA, is a signature (John Hancock's signature was written in ridiculously large letters on the American Declaration of Independence).

John Doe used to be the name used for an imaginary person bringing a case to court with the intention of testing the law. It's also the name given, in the USA, to any unknown man.

John o'Groats is said to be the most northerly point of the British mainland (though it isn't).

Johns can be lovely. Well, tasty, anyway. A John Dory is a fish. Actually, it's two fish - Zeus faber and Zeus australis

drawing of Zeus faber by David Starr Jordan

And Zeus was, after all, Chief God. 

So it's not quite all bad for poor old Johns.

Word To Use Today: john. Johns are mostly named after people called John, which has been a common name since the 4th century BC. Its original form in Hebrew was יְהוֹחָנָן‎ ,Yəhôḥānān, meaning God has been gracious. In the New Testament it appears as Ἰωάννης, Iōannēs

The John of John Dory, though, may be a version of the French jaune, which means yellow.