This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Monday 31 January 2011

Spot the frippet 2

Thin Ice

That's what I'm on, thin ice. I may have been a word-obsessive nearly all my life, but I know that any knowledge I have acquired is no more than a fragile crust over a sea of churning kraken-infested ignorance.
Actually, not churning, or the ice would crack.

See what I mean?

Anyway, it's freezing here and there's ice on the pond and the compost bin. Now, ice is easy - Old English is, Old Norse iss (there should be accent-lines over the i s in both those words but I don't know how to do it yet, sorry) but hang on, what about icicle?

Well, I've always thought that an icicle was something made of ice that was...ickle. As in an ickle bit. You know, tiny.

But no. Icle comes from the Old English gicel, which is related to the Old Norse jokull (that o should have dots on top, sorry, I can't do those yet either) which means glacier.

And...hang on...I've come across that word before. Yes, that's right, last year's Icelandic volcano was Eyafjallajoekull. Except that of course it couldn't have been. That must have been the name of a glacier which covered it.

Wow. From a tiny finger of ice to a fire big enough to spread ash over thousands of miles, all in one word.


Thing to find today: ice.

Well, there's always the fridge...

Sunday 30 January 2011


Is a day of rest.

I wonder why it isn't spelled Sonday, though?

You'd have thought the monkish scribes would have latched onto that possibility. Why, it would even have made the word rhyme properly with Monday.

I can only guess that they must have cared about the original meaning of the word very much. And good for them.

Non-activity for Sunday...

Saturday 29 January 2011

Saturday Rave

I know this is supposed to be a weekday blog, but I was thinking about this wonderful book and I couldn't resist sharing a bit of it.

The book is THE LAND OF GREEN GINGER by Noel Langley.

Almost every sentence delights me. This one comes from almost the beginning.

As long ago as long ago, and as long ago again as that, the City of Peking in Ancient China rang with jubilation, for a son and heir had been born to the Emperor Aladdin.

I love the swooping sound of the opening, which makes the setting recede into misty splendour, and then the chongs! of rang and jubilation - you can almost hear the celebratory bells chiming.

And who could resist the promise of a son and heir?

Jubilation is linked to a Latin word, jubilare, which means to give a shout of joy. And why not!

Odd job for today: start a to-do list for a genie. (Just in case.)

Friday 28 January 2011

Word to use today: smattering.

Word to use today: smattering.

I've chosen this word out of pure love. The history of smattering isn't certain, although there's a Middle High German word smetern, which means to gossip (smatter can mean TO CHATTER, as well as, more often, A SMALL AMOUNT).

Why do I love the word so much? It's partly the sound. It's so relishingly satisfying to say: smattering, smattering! - and it's partly the way the word seems in a strange way to echo its meaning. I think it gets mixed up in my mind with splattering, and to me a smattering always seems to be a scattered amount, speckling the whole sentence.

Messy, but utterly gorgeous!

Thursday 27 January 2011


This year is the four hundredth anniversary of the King James version of the bible. Thousands, probably millions, of words have been written about the KJB, but the overwhelming opinion is that it's pretty nifty stuff.

And far be it from me to disagree.

But, you see, that last sentence (and this one) would be banned from pretty much any book written for use in schools.
And so would And they all lived happily ever after - in fact, I've tried to include that very sentence in a piece of educational fiction and it HAS been banned. Well, tweaked, anyway.

The rule of the educational consultants is that no sentence can ever start with AND or BUT.

Why? No idea at all.

So, back to the King James Bible, so widely praised for the excellence of its prose. Well, let's have a look at the first ten sentences of that great book. The first sentence starts, of course, In the beginning. And the next nine sentences? Yes, all of them begin with AND. And so, as it happens, so do the next fifteen, as well.

I rest my case.

Rule to break today: use a sentence beginning with AND!

By the way, that prune contranym from yesterday. Does STONED mean with the stone or without? Probably without, I'd say - but I would bite with caution, all the same.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Nuts and Bolts - working words.

There are some words that nearly everyone understands (NO!) and some words that very few people understand (FETTLING*).

And there are some words NO ONE AT ALL understands. (And I don't just mean nonsense words like MIBBLE and TOVE.).

For instance, if I told you my mug was quite empty, how full would it be? No one can be sure.

Or, as another example, have you ever had that awkward conversation when you've been ill and someone asks you if you're better, and you end up saying, I'm better, but I'm not better?

Words like this, that mean themselves and something pretty much the opposite as well, are called contranyms.

Can you think of another one?

A CLUE: think of prunes!

*Stuff used to line the hearth of puddling furnaces, apparently.

Tuesday 25 January 2011


Thing to do today: smirk.

There are two sorts of smirk - the smug smirk (hey, try saying SMUG SMIRK very quickly five times, because I can't) and the scornful smirk.

A smirk is a smile GONE BAAAAAAAD!

It's the sort of word teachers used to use long long ago when I was at school (perhaps they still do) stop smirking, boy!

I hope something smirk-worthy (in the smug way, there's no need to be horrible) happens to you today.

Smirk has been an English word for a long time. Even before we had the word smirk there was an Old English word smer, which meant scorn, and back further still there was an Old High German word bismer, which meant contempt.

But please only smug smirks, not scornful ones, okay?

I think I'm going to have to practise in front of a mirror...

Monday 24 January 2011

Spot the Frippet

Monday's challenge is to Spot the Frippet.

A frippet, for those who haven't come across this word, is a silly or flamboyant girl. It might be hard to tell if someone's silly just by looking at them, but anyone wearing extraordinary or unusual or splendid clothes will prove their frippetery as far as I'm concerned.

Frippet must I think be linked to the word frippery, which can mean showy clothing, showiness, or trivia. It came into English from an old French word frepe, which means rag or frill.

Good hunting!

Sunday 23 January 2011

The Word Den

Welcome to


This is a place for everyone who uses words, especially the young in years and the young at heart.

I plan to post a word-based challenge every weekday, and short RANT and DISCOVERY features from time to time.

I know it's Sunday, but here's a starter:

Word to use today:  hippopotamus. (This word is made up from two old Greek words: hippos, which means horse, and potamos, which means river.)

Suggestion for use. Do you know anyone simply ENORMOUS? Because if you do, I shouldn't use it when they're listening!