This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Thing Not To Be Today: a tattie-bogle.

Here's a lovely example of the Scots tongue:


A tattie is a potato (tattie-peelin, bafflingly, means to be affected or pretentious) and a bogle is an evil sprite.

And a tattie-bogle?

Would that be some nasty power which makes potatoes go bad? Some sort of blight sprite, in fact?

Or would that be the unfortunate habit potatoes have of shrinking the waistbands of all one's favourite clothes?


A tattie-bogle is a scare crow.

File:Scarecrow. Drawing by Carus.jpg
Illustration by Carus.

Potatoes were a vital and common crop in Scotland in the 1800s, but I've never heard of birds eating potatoes (wouldn't they have to dig them up, first?) so I can only guess that perhaps the tattie-bogle was put there to frighten spirits away from stealing the potatoes. 

In any case, the principle remains: it's best to avoid the tattie-bogle look if you can.

Thing Not To Be Today: a tattie-bogle. Bogle comes from the Scots bogill, perhaps from Gaelic. The Middle Welsh bwg means ghost.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Spot the Frippet: phyllotaxis.

Well, everyone knows what taxis are, and phyllo means to do with leaves, so...

...*scratches head*...

Here are some examples of phyllotaxis:

By Anders Sandberg from Oxford, UK - PhyllotaxisUploaded by Jacopo Werther, CC BY 2.0,

photo by Stan Shebs

photo and diagram by Jean-Luc W 

Phyllotaxis concerns the arrangement of leaves round a stem.

It's a thing to induce a sense of wonder in the mathematician, the artist and the mystic.

Choose which of those categories describe you best: and admire!

Spot the Frippet: phyllotaxis. This word comes from the Greek word phullon, which means leaf. The Greek word taxis means order. 

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Sunday Rest: never. Word Not To Use Today.

In the words of the old saying, never say never...


...which just goes to prove, as the expression requires us to say the thing we're not supposed to be saying - twice! - that the old ones aren't necessarily the best.

Doesn't it.

Word Not To Use Today: the n word. That is, the one that starts with an n and ends with ever. It means, basically, not ever, and it comes from the Old English æfre, ever, with an n bunged on the front, which was a common Old English way of creating opposite meanings.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Saturday Rave: The Lost anf Fabulous Work of Omar Khayyam.

Omar Khayyam? He was a poet, of course - 

- except that actually he might not have been a poet at all.

What Omar Khayyam (1048 - 1131) definitely was, was a mathematician and astronomer. No, really. He wrote all sorts of serious stuff about the real number concept, the theory of parallels, binomial theory, and the solution of cubic equations. He invented a calendar, too.

He also wrote a treatise on extracting the nth root of natural numbers. But that, sadly, has been lost.

So why is he famous as a poet, if he didn't write poetry?

Well, what seems to have happened is that when people came across odd bits of orphan poetry about the place (which was Persia, nowadays known as Iran), they tended to attributed it to Omar Khayyam just because he was someone famous. Some of the poetry may even have been his, but the vast majority of it probably isn't.

This is plainly all deeply unfair, but, hey, it just goes to prove that what will survive of us is Art.

Here's a verse which may or may not have been written by Omar Khayyam. 

Whoever wrote it was a terrific poet, anyway.

Khayyam, who stitched the tents of science,
Has fallen in grief's furnace and been suddenly burned,
The shears of Fate have cut the tent ropes of his life,
And the broker of Hope has sold him nothing!

Word To Use Today: Khayyam means tent maker.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Word To Use Today: maccaboy.

I accept that using this word is going to be a challenge, but it's such a lovely word, maccaboy, so full of energy and bounce, that it will add exotic grace any vocabulary.

Maccaboy is a dark rose-scented sort of snuff. (Snuff is powdered tobacco. You sniff it. It makes you sneeze. Yes, very odd.)

I can just remember people taking snuff. Well, I can remember one person taking snuff. There was an old man who was sometimes on the bus to town when I was a very little girl (this was in the 1960s). He was smelly, filthy and fat, poor man, and his handkerchief, when he dragged it out of one of his many pockets after he'd sneezed, was a thing of dreadful, horrid fascination.

I doubt this man's snuff was anything as refined as maccaboy, but I note the essences used in vaping also involve exotic scents.

So, it seems, the folly of man is constant, if not the fashions.

Word To Use Today: maccaboy. This word comes from the French macouba, from the name of the district of Martinique where it was made. 

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Pulling the trigger: a rant.

This is from the Telegraph online, 5th May 2019:

A Dundee University professor could be in for a £400m payday of one of Britain's brightest biotech companies decides to pull the trigger on its market debut plans

but what I want to know is, will the trigger start a race or shoot someone?

Word To Use Today: trigger. This word appeared in English in the 1600s as tricker, and came from the Dutch trekken, which means to march or journey, and before that to pull (as in an ox cart). Trek is basically the same word.

Having now read the whole thing, it seems that this trigger will start a race - though apparently, according to the article, the backers of the company haven't nailed down which Stock Exchange it will float on, yet.

Mind you, if they do nail it down, I can't see how it's going float, can you?

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Nuts and Bolts: micro aggression.

Micro aggression occurs when assumptions are made about a group of people because of their inherent identity.

It doesn't have to be an derogatory assumption. It can be positive (people from your country are all so clever!) neutral (so, where do you come from, originally?) or negative (the only place you men are any use is in bed or under the kitchen sink).

(If you don't see anything wrong with the positive assumption, above, then think what it would be like to be, say, a stupid child from that country. Or a very hard-working one. Mortifying, eh?)

Another troubling aspect of micro aggression is that it positions one group as normal and another as odd. There are all sorts of other difficulties, too. For one thing, micro aggression is almost impossible to study scientifically to find out what's really going on. For another, the idea of micro aggression can encourage people to see themselves as victims, thus taking up valuable head space which might be better employed in being happy.

Yet other problem, of course, is that it's such a misleading term - being not necessarily either tiny or aggressive - that most people don't have a clue what it is.

Thing To Consider Today: micro aggression. The word aggression comes from the Latin aggrēdi, to attack. The term micro aggression was coined by Chester M Pierce in 1970.