This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Thursday 31 March 2011

Language as she is taught, by Jean Ure. A rant.

The Word Den is hugely honoured today to present a Guest Rant by the acclaimed author Jean Ure.

Jean Ure ran away from school to become a writer. She had lots of adventures while she was waiting to succeed, including becoming a waitress, a translator and an actress.
She lives in England with her husband and a surprisingly large number of rescued cats and dogs.


Well, perhaps not so much a rant as a rantette.

Scene in primary school staffroom.   Teacher showing book to another teacher.

1st Teacher (in tones of considerable irritation)   Why is it that children’s writers will insist on writing sentences beginning with and, but and so?   Why do they write sentences which don’t have any verb?   Do they think that because it’s for children it doesn’t matter?

 2nd Teacher (commiserating)  I really don’t know.

Visiting Author attempts to explain how there is a difference between formal writing and informal writing,  akin to the difference between playground language and “proper” language.   Author suggests that maybe the children should be taught this.

Idea received with total hostility.

This accounts for the fact that I recently read a review of one of my books by a young teenager praising it lavishly for storyline and characterisation, but adding,  “Sadly I have to say that it was very badly written.”   How so?   Well, yes, sentences beginning with and, but or so, sentences without verbs, words such as because shortened to ‘cos.  All the usual culprits, drummed into children from an early age and threatening to stifle any creativity they might possess.

In general I have the highest respect for teachers, but this total lack of literary imagination makes me seethe. 

Word of the day: teacher. This word is related to the Old English word tācen meaning token, and before that from the Old High German word zeihhan and the Old Norse teikn, meaning to sign.

So teaching wasn't originally much to do with words, then!

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Nuts and Bolts: false splitting.

Now, is there anything anywhere tidier than an apple pie?

Er...well, yes, actually. More or less everything. that case what's that apple pie order thing all about?

Well, it's about folded napkins. Not that you usually find folded napkins in apple pies, but the French phrase nappes-pliées, folded linen, has been rather beautifully mangled by English speakers into an apple pie.

It's the word an which caused the trouble. The thing is, you can't tell by listening if someone's saying a napron, for instance, or an apron.
(Originally they were saying a napron as a matter of fact, but, hey, it's too late to do anything about it now. An apron has won.)

The same thing has happened with nuncle, which is now uncle, numpire (umpire) and naitch (as in aitch bone. That's from the Latin nares, meaning buttock).

It's happened the other way round (with the n being transferred from the an to the main word) with ewt and ekename (nickname). And nag, as well, which is from the Swedish word ög.

Neds and Nellies were originally Eds and Ellies, too.

Word To Use Today: I really think nuncle is due for a comeback.

And possibly ewt, too!

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Thing To Do Today - girn.

To celebrate the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 there was a fair on one of the commons near where I live in Hertfordshire, England.

One of the star attractions was a girning-through-a-horse-collar competition.

And, actually, I wish I'd been there.

Thing To Do Today: girn. To girn means to pull a funny face. You don't need a horse's collar.
The thing about your face being stuck like that if the wind changes isn't true, either.
At least, I don't think so...

Girn: this word is a very old form of the word grin. It's from the Old English word grennian, and before that from the Old High German grennen to snarl, and the Old Norse grenja, to howl.

Monday 28 March 2011


Thursday will see The Word Den's second Guest Rant.

This one is by the marvellous and very funny Jean Ure, who has been getting really quite irritated by some teachers.

Not to be missed!

Spot the frippet: dress.

It's not so easy to spot someone wearing a dress nowadays. Try looking out for someone very small.

And probably female.

Every awards ceremony abounds with glorious dresses, of course. I love looking at the red carpet pictures (especially at the "ordinary" people in the background, who practically always look...well, ordinary, which is rather encouraging).

But the stars, eh? This report is from the Daily Telegraph website.

Another red carpet success story for Mila [Kunis] in this emerald green...dress which she pulled off with aplomb.

Well, I suppose the whole point of the event is to get yourself noticed, after all.

Spot the frippet: dress. This word is from the Old French word drescer, which means to arrange. Further back we have the Latin directiāre, which means to direct.

So we've had two words in a row which have come from pretty much the same place: dress and dirge.

Who'd have thought those two words were linked!

Sunday 27 March 2011

Sunday Rest - dirge.

Gosh, this is a real horror. Dirge. You can tell it's something boring and gloomy even if you haven't come across the word before.

A dirge is an unhappy song about someone who has died. Imagine the sound made by a resentful lawnmower, and you'll have the idea. 

Word Not To Use Today: dirge. This word is a shortened form of the Latin word dirīgē. Dirīgē means direct [us]
Direct us is nothing at all to do with the meaning of the word dirge, of course, but dirīgē is the first word of one of the Latin prayers for the dead. 
And hardly anyone has ever understood Latin prayers.


Saturday 26 March 2011

Saturday Rave: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Not many writers like The Lord of the Rings very much.

I accept that it's spawned a colossal number of imitators, most of whose books are dreadful, but that's true of the first book in every genre, after all.

I think TLOTR is marvellous.

It's a book in which the small and feeble are more important than the strong and powerful, and in which beauty is more important than evil.
It's about temptation. And love of all kinds. And the marvels of the world. And about how language reflects the way people think.

But autumn was waning fast; slowly the golden light faded to pale silver, and the lingering leaves fell from the naked trees...But low in the South one star shone red...burning like a watchful eye that glared above the trees on the brink of the valley.

And I love it.

Word To Use Today: lord. The word lord comes from the Old English word hlāford, which means loaf-keeper.
JRR Tolkien would have known this because he was an expert in Old English.

Friday 25 March 2011

Word To Use Today: baboon.

Well, we're all different.

When a stag is thinking about having children, it bellows a lot and fights the other stags.

When a man is thinking about having children, he worries a lot and gets a mortgage.

When a baboon is thinking about having children, it grows an enormous bright red bottom.

Makes the mortgage option seem quite palatable, really.

Word To Use Today: baboon. This word is from babewyn, meaning gargoyle, and from the Old French baboue, which means grimace. The word is also related to the Old French babine, a thick lip.

I think this is a bit unfair, myself. Baboons really do need their long faces because they eat lots and lots of grass.

Thursday 24 March 2011

Advise - a rant. By Liz Bankes.

Today I am delighted to announce The Word Den's first-ever
Guest Rant

This one is by Liz Bankes, who not only is one of the brains behind Armadillo Magazine, but also works for NATURE magazine.

Quite often on my train to work the guard will make an announcement like this:
I would like to advise you that the train is running 15 minutes late.
Cue lots of grumpy tutting and exhaling. Now I don’t mind the lateness at all (more sleeping time), but I just sit there thinking
                How is that advice?
                Surely you are just telling me this?
The announcement is repeated at every station and soon I’ve built up visions of bursting into the guard box (I don’t know if that is a thing) and shouting
                WHAT IF I DON’T TAKE YOUR ADVICE??
But I remember the sign at the station that advises me not to verbally abuse train staff, and so I stay in my seat.

And obviously I realise that the man would just have been reading from the train company’s list of approved announcements or ‘list of things you wouldn’t actually say in real life’ (Anyone noticed the inclement weather today?) So really I should direct my anger towards the train company, or just all companies that use needless, overly formal language.

And I know that the word advise, along with the definition ‘to give advice’, has a formal definition of ‘to inform/notify’, but outside of a legal context (the client was advised of her rights) and in situations when it should just be people talking normally to other people, it sounds pretentious and annoying.

In my old job working for a Business2Business building magazine (oh yes) I’d frequently get this sort of email:

Dear Miss Bankes,
I do not know whether you got my last email. Please advise.
Regards, Hector

Dear Hector,
I advise that I did not get your email. I advise you send it again and then I can advise you whether I get it. Actually, I can’t be sure that you will get this email… Please advise.
Regards, Liz

Dear Liz,
I am writing to advise that we have recently been chosen to represent a market-leading provider of roofing solutions.

Now, don’t get me started on roofing solutions…

Word to use today: advise. This word seems to be from the Vulgar Latin word advīsāre, which means to consider, which is itself possibly from vidēre, to see.

No one, though, seems to have been interested enough in the poor word to do the research to make certain.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Nuts and Bolts - homonyms.


Now, that looks a nice simple word.

But is it?

Oooooooooh no.

It has at least six different meanings, for a start.

1. A frame-type thing for holding things, or fitting together with other things. This word comes from the Old Norse rekja, to spread out.

2. Destruction. As in rack and ruin. This is partly linked to the meaning above, but also probably to the Middle Dutch wrak, meaning wreckage, and wrack meaning seaweed.

3. A way a horse sometimes moves. From rock (the side-to-side sort of rock), from the Old High German rücken.

4. A group of wind-torn clouds. From the Gothic wraks, meaning, oddly, persecutor.

5. To clear beer or wine by siphoning it off from the dregs. From the Old Provençal arraca, dregs.

6. A neck or rib section of mutton, pork or veal. From the Danish harka, from Swedish harkla to clear the throat.

See? Words borrowed from all over the place - though, typically, we English couldn't pronounce any of them properly and so they all ended up as rack!

Homonyms: words which look and sound the same, but have quite different meanings.

Use some today and confuse everybody!

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Thing to do today: make a kerfuffle.

Is there a softer or bouncier word than kerfuffle in the whole English language? The featheriness of the word is even more surprising when you think that kerfuffle means a commotion, which is rather a lumpy sort of thing.

If you're Scots you can use kerfuffle as a verb: you can kerfuffle something, which means to disarrange it.

Actually, let's borrow that usage for all the other sorts of English. It's too good to ignore.

Thing to do today: make a kerfuffleKerfuffle is from the Scots word curfuffle, from the Scottish Gaelic car, twist or turn, and fuffle to disarrange.

Go on - let the wind kerfuffle your hair!

Monday 21 March 2011


Thursday will see the posting of The Word Den's first ever Guest Rant. This one will be from Liz Bankes of NATURE magazine and ARMADILLO.

All visitors will be very welcome indeed!

Spot the frippet - coach.

All the very best coaches are, of course, drawn by horses.

I like the new ones that look like giant caterpillars, though, too.

Getting on a coach is always exciting. Even a trip somewhere like a stately home or power plant always has the possibility of thrilling disaster: the coach's getting stuck on a hump-backed bridge, for instance; or someone opening the emergency door as you go along; or the driver suddenly stopping in the middle of nowhere and announcing that he isn't allowed to drive any further that day; or the engine overheating so that people have to keep stealing water from cow troughs to keep the coach moving.

What? Doesn't that sort of stuff happen to everybody on coach trips?

Ah. Just me, then.

Spot the frippet: coach. This word is from the French word coche, which is from the Hungarian kocsi szekér, wagon of Kocs, which is a village in Hungary where coaches were made.
In the tennis coach sense, it's probably from the idea that a coach carries his pupils along with him.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Word Not To Use Today - rissole.

There can't be any need to comment on this word, can there?

I mean, rissole. It's all hissing disgust. No wonder we now tend to call them croquettes, instead.

But tell me: does a rissole by another name taste quite as much of glue and sawdust?

Word Not To Use Today: rissole. This word is French, and probably originally from the Latin russus, which means red.

Not that I've ever seen a red rissole, but there you go.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Saturday Rave - Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels is a slightly odd book.

Actually, no. Gulliver's Travels is a very VERY odd book. But what I mean is that Gulliver's Travels is peculiar because it's an adults' book which has somehow become seen as a book for children.

This means that, very sadly, practically no one nowadays enjoys it in its original form. The fact that quite a lot of the book satirises Sir Robert Walpole doesn't help either, because, although Walpole makes the average present-day Member of Parliament look as pure as a detoxed St Francis of Assisi, on the whole people have stopped being angry about Walpole.

Well, he died in 1745, after all.

Luckily there are lots of simplified versions of Gulliver's Travels written especially for children.
Why, come to think about it, I've even written one myself.

Do try to get hold of a version which includes the lands of giants, ghosts, bent-necked boffins, crazy inventors and horses, or you'll be missing half the fun.

Here is an excerpt from the land of the giants:

[After] I...sat down at my table to eat a piece of sweet cake for my breakfast, above twenty wasps, allured by the smell, came flying into my room, humming louder than the drones of so many bagpipes...
I had the courage to rise and draw my hanger, and attack them in the air.

Think of that - an attack by giant wasps AND cake for breakfast. Good, eh?

Word to use today: sweet. This word is from the Old Saxon swōti, and before that the Latin suādus, which, rather oddly, means persuasive (but then I suppose we use sweet-talking now in this sense).
Before that it's from the Sanskrit svādu, which again means sweet.

Friday 18 March 2011

Word to use today: bogey.

Bogey is a word with a host of meanings: an evil spirit; something persistently annoying; a score of one-over-par on a golf hole; an unidentified or enemy aircraft; a detective; or something disgusting in, or that's come out of, a nose.

I'm afraid it's the last meaning that's especially interesting to me. When I went to Ireland a couple of years ago to talk at the Children's Literature Festival it was the one word I used that people didn't understand.

In one place, the wonderfully named Sallynoggin, the word I should have used was mer-mer (sorry, I don't know how to spell that, but that was how you said it). A dozen miles up the road, however, no one had ever heard of a mer-mer - or a bogey, for that matter.

There it was, rather delightfully, a snotter!

Word to use today: bogey. The word seems to be related to the Scots word bogill and the Welsh bygel, meaning scarecrow, and perhaps to the Middle Welsh bwg, which means ghost, and the Cornish buccaboo, the devil.

Thursday 17 March 2011

A common language - a rant.

I use British English on the whole. 

Well, I sort of use British English, because of course most of the words I use have been borrowed from other languages.

This certainly leaves me in no position to criticise the English of other parts of the world - and neither do I want to, because I think words like the North American boondocks (I'd say the sticks), the Australian chuddy (chewing gum) and, indeed, the Indian chuddies (underpants) all add to the fun of the language. 

Having said all that, I must say it's JOLLY ANNOYING when people brag that their particular from of English is better than mine because their words are older.

Yes, I'm talking about the word gotten.

For one thing, is old necessarily good? Prithee, speak presently, churl!

And for another, if it is, WHY every morning am I faced with the infuriating enquiry forgot your password?

Word to use today: forget. This very useful word has been around for ages. It's Old English form is forgietan, and before that we had the Old Saxon fargetan and the Old High German firgezzan.

In British English the long-serving past participle is forgotten.

Just saying...

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Nuts and Bolts: clbuttic mistakes

Yes, that's right: clbuttic.

I think this is the only word in the English language that starts CLB, so that makes it a word to be cherished as far as I'm concerned.

The really wonderful thing about clbuttic mistakes is that you've never made one. No, never. Me neither.

Hey, let's stop here for a moment and feel pleased with ourselves, shall we?

So, who makes clbuttic mistakes?

Well, computers.

A clbuttic mistake is when a computer decides to replace a rude word with a more polite one.

As in President Lincoln was buttbuttinated by an armed buttailant.

Nice to know that we're all much cleverer than computers, isn't it.

Clbuttic mistake: this word has a short but fascinating history. It's the word classic with the ass bit taken out and butt put in instead.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Thing to do today - gymnastics.

Well, perhaps not actual gymnastics. I must say that not having to do gym is one of the chief pleasures of being grown up as far as I'm concerned.

But each to his own.

Perhaps I might recommend a little mild waggling of the odd extremity, though. It's said to improve the circulation, and, if nothing else, it's great when you stop.

Gymnastics: I chose this word because its history is fun. The word gymnastics comes from the Greek word gumnazein, which means to exercise naked.

And that'd sell some tickets at the Olympics, wouldn't it.

Monday 14 March 2011

Spot the frippet: willow.

Here in Southern England the twigs of the weeping willows are a bright blazing ochre, and on the pussy willow the first furry silver paws are emerging.

Mind you, it's so cold that I keep expecting the daffodils to change their minds and start retreating back down into the ground again - but you can't have everything.

Spot the frippet: willow. If you can't find a willow tree (try near a river or somewhere else wet) then baskets are sometimes made of willow, and so are woven fences. If all fails, try watching the cricket world cup: the bats are made of willow!

Willow. This word is from the Old English welig, which is related to the Old Saxon wilgia, which means wicker basket. Before that there was the Greek word helikē, and this meant willow, so the meaning of this word has gone off in a long circle.

If you can have a long circle...

Anyway, the Greek word helikē comes from helix, which means twisted. And I suppose very old willow trees do become hunched and twisted, now I come to think about it. 

All rather neat, I think.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Sunday Rest. Word Not To Use Today: echidna.

Echidnas* are lovely.

They really are. (Do follow that link, you'll find the most gorgeous picture of a baby echidna.)

Oh, but what a name. Echidna. It's all lumpy and burpish.

And I, for one, shall be sticking with the much more informative and dignified Spiny Anteater.

So there.

Word Not To Use Today: echidna. Not only does this word sound horrible, it comes from the Latin word for viper.
And that's just not fair.

* Yes, all right, echidnae if you're feeling Latinate.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Saturday Rave - The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe by CS Lewis.

The Lion The With And The Wardrobe should have been the subject of my first rave, really, because it's by far the most important book of my life.

The thing is, no one young is really free. Sometimes young people are lucky enough to find themselves in such a big and enjoyable sort of prison that they hardly notice the walls that hem them in. But they're still there.

The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe was the first book I came across that gave me a place to go outside my particular prison, so that for the first time I was free to be who I really am.

And how important is that?

"As she stood...wondering why there was a lamp-post in the middle of a wood...she heard a pitter patter of feet coming towards her. And soon after that a very strange person stepped out from among the trees into the light of the lamp-post."

Could anyone resist reading on?

Word to use today: strange. This word is from the French word estrange, which means foreign, and from the Latin word extrā, which means outside.

Outside the walls of the prison.

Free at last.

Friday 11 March 2011

Word To Use Today: nightmare

If there's one thing worse than a nightmare, it's being woken up from one by something leaping onto your chest out of the pitch darkness.

How did next-door's cat get into the house, anyway? That's what I want to know.

And if there's one thing worse than that, it's waking up from a nightmare to find a cold hand clutching your throat.

Still, it's almost worth it for the relief of discovering the hand is actually your own.

Nightmare. There's a story that this word comes from the habit of taxi-drivers of using their most broken-down old horses (female horses are of course mares) during the night shift where they couldn't be seen very well.
Actually it's from night, meaning, guess what, night, plus mare, evil spirit. There are similar words in Old Norse and Polish.  The Polish one begins rather pleasingly with a z: zmora.

Nightmares also used to be evil spirits which bothered or suffocated sleeping people, but luckily these have all now become completely extinct.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Jargon - a rant

Language changes all the time, of course. Sometimes new things come along which need names, and sometimes people want to make up their own special names for their own special things.

For instance, the invention of aeroplanes gave us gremlin (an invisible creature to blame when something goes wrong. This has proved a very useful word for all sorts of technologies) and window (metallic strips thrown out of aircraft to confuse radar systems).

The invention of computers has given us loads of new words including RAM (Random Access Memory) and software.

New words like this are bound to make things difficult for newcomers, of course, but sometimes it just can't be helped.

Sometimes, however, it can.

Lady Justice Hallett has been hearing about London's 7/7 bombings. She has been told a story of great wickedness, great bravery, great kindness, and great confusion.

Some of the confusion was preventable. What is a "conference demountable unit from a management centre"?

Not enough people knew.

"All you senior people of ...[the emergency services] are allowing yourselves to be taken over by... jargon," said Lady Hallett. "...people don't understand".

Words are fun, fascinating, and valuable.

And sometimes, sadly, using them with respect really is a matter of life or death.

Word of the day: jargon.  This word seems to have started out as an imitatation of the sound people make when they talk nonsense.

Very fitting.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Nuts and bolts - assonance.

So I was in a branch of a well-known chemist looking for something to give my hair a bit of life (see photo opposite - which, I must point out, is an AFTER shot).


Some sort of a mousse or gell-type thing, I thought. I mean, I don't want to look like an electrocuted poodle, I just need something to give my roots a bit of a lift.

Everything was quite expensive, though, and I couldn't find an own--brand.
So I looked around for someone to ask about a Boots Root-Boost Mousse...

...and decided to get the Phil Smith one, instead.

Assonance. I have always understood that assonance is when a vowel sound is repeated, as in cool moon, or past-master or I may reply to Hugh through you.
Everyone I have consulted seems to agree with me apart from the Collins dictionary, which includes mystery/mastery as an example of assonance.
I would have called this a half-rhyme, or slant-rhyme, or para-rhyme, myself.

I suspect I might even be right, too.

Assonance: from the Latin word assonāre which means, rather dully, to sound.

Hey, I bet you can't say Boots Root-Boost Mousse, either!

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Thing to do today: quench

Quench. What a fabulous word. You can almost hear the juices being squeezed out of it when you say it.
 It means to put an end to a thirst, or a fire.

The word quench is from the Old English word ācwencan, which means to put out (as in flames) and before that it came from the lovely Old Frisian word quinka, to vanish.

And now I must go and get myself a cup of tea...

Monday 7 March 2011

Spot the frippet: ketchup.

Lovely stuff, ketchup.

There are various flavours but of course tomato is the best.

Why oh why, though, do they sell the stuff in bottles?
(I speak as someone whose husband once shook a badly capped ketchup bottle and managed to get the stuff on all four walls and the ceiling of a room.)

A ketchup jar. That's what we should have. Then you could scoop the stuff out with a spoon. (I know about squeezy bottles, but I can't cope with wormcasts on my plate.) 

Should I start a campaign?

Ketchup: this looks like a Germanic word, so I was surprised to discover that it's actually Amoy (which is the variety of Chinese spoken in and near Taiwan). Kōetsiap means a brine of pickled fish, and that word is made up of kōe, seafood and tsiap, sauce.

*Or catsup if you want to look old-fashioned and, quite frankly, perverse.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Sunday Rest: crapulent.

Crapulent is a hard word to say, especially when drunk.

And drunk is what it means.

Oh, but there are so many much lovelier ways of saying drunk. Sozzled, for instance. Rat-faced. Merry. Or the Scots fou as a wulk. Or the sailors' four sheets to the wind...

...and politicians tend to be emotional.

Word not to use today: crapulent. This word is from the Greek word kraipalē, meaning hangover.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Saturday Rave - My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

"The gulls had been tumbled inland over the town, and they now drifted above the house-tops on taut wings, whining peevishly.'

The English summer is awful, all the family are ill, and so Larry, exasperated "I can't be expected to produce deathless prose in an atmosphere of gloom and eucalyptus" persuades the others to go to live in Corfu.

It's quite hard with this book to find a sentence not to quote. Gerald Durrell's family is extraordinary and funny and loveable, and the animals - the wild-life of Corfu, with which the ten-year-old Gerald Durrell is obsessed - are described with a glowing precision which fills me with envy.

"the cyclamen...looked as though they had been made from magenta-stained snowflakes."

"the toads...squatted there like two obese, leprous Buddhas, peering at me and gulping in the guilty way that toads have."

Beauty and fun and joy in abundance on every page.

Word to use today: magenta. This word is named after a place in Italy where in 1859 there was a very bloody battle.
Strangely, though, the colour we call magenta isn't blood red at all, but a more purplish colour.

Friday 4 March 2011

Word to use today - dome.

Happy birthday to London's St Paul's Cathedral, which was finished 300 years ago.

Well, it's finished apart from some of the decorating, anyway, but you know how it is with DIY.

London has many newer marvels - its Eye and its Gherkin - but I think the dome of St Paul's is still the best thing on the skyline.

A good word, dome. It always sounds to me as if someone has struck the huge bell-shape of it with an enormous clapper:      

The word comes from the Italian word duomo, which means cathedral, and duomo is from the Latin word domus, which means house. I think the word's at its best in English, meaning dome, though.


Thursday 3 March 2011

Underestimate - a rant

This blog's heart belongs to Millwall FC, but even so it seems a bit harsh when pundits say you can't underestimate Chelsea.
And the football pundits do say that sort of thing rather a lot.

Let's go through it slowly.

To underestimate means to believe something is less, or worse, than it really is.

So you can't underestimate Chelsea means that Chelsea are so bad that no one could imagine a worse team.
Which is slightly harsh, I think.

You mustn't underestimate Chelsea is probably the form of words towards which the pundits are groping.

Ah well, perhaps the pundits will learn. I mustn't underestimate them. As Stuart Pearce once said, 'I can see the carrot at the end of the tunnel'.

On the other hand, like Paul Gascoigne, 'I never predict anything and I never will.'

Word to use today: pundit.  From the Hundi pandit, from the Skanskrit pandita, meaning learned man.
You have to laugh.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Nuts and bolts - things that count

Unicycle, bicycle, tricycle, quadbike.

All as easy as one two three. Well, one two three four, anyway.

Uni means one, as in unicorn (one horn) uniform (one sort of clothes, probably ugly) and Unicef (hang on, though, not as in Unicef: that stands for United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. But never mind).

Bi means two, as in binary (which is counting using only two numbers, zero and one. It's what computers do) and binoculars (two eyepieces) and biology...
...hang on, though. I'm sure my biology teacher told me that biology was the two sciences of botany and zoology put together. But the dictionary says biology is actually from the Greek word for life, bios.


Well, tri is certainly the same word as three. So a triangle has three sides, a trident has three prongs, and a third in music describes two notes which are...
...two notes apart.


Ah yes, but quad, that's such an odd word that it MUST always mean four. Like a quadrille is a square dance, and a quadrilateral has four sides, and a quaternary fever is one which keeps coming back every...

...three days.


Okay, I give up! These people just can't COUNT, can they?!

Word to use today: bilge (which is what we used to call biology at school). It really means the bit of a boat where the hull goes inwards at the bottom, and also the dirty water that tends to end up there. Bilge also, of course, means rubbish, and is probably linked to the word bulge.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Thing to do today: scout around.

I was never a scout - they didn't have girl scouts in those days, rats - but I was a Brownie and a Girl Guide. Well, it was probably my only opportunity to dance round a truly GIANT toadstool without recourse to hallucinogenic stimulation.

Seize the day, I say.

To scout means to search for some thing, or perhaps some information. Football clubs scout for new talent (if you want to be spotted then Sunday Football is the place to be, I understand), and armies scout out the enemy.

The word scout is from the Old French word ascouter, to listen to, and from the Latin auscultāre meaning to listen to someone else's insides thumping and squishing and creaking and gurgling.
Weren't the Romans lucky to have a word for that?

Actually, we've borrowed it, though we've changed it slightly to auscultate.
So if you fancy listening to your friends' dinners squishing round in their stomachs, that's what you'll be doing.

After all, there's no accounting for taste.