This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Tuesday 31 December 2013

Thing To Do Today: toast!

I spent years wondering how people could drink a toast.

In the end I decided that it was probably something to do with croutons - and then I spent a lot of time worrying about people choking.

Yes, I was a weird kid. But then just look how I grew up... best not.

Anyway. It's an odd word, toast. It's one of those words, a contranym, which is its own opposite: the toast of the town is the most cherished and admired person around, but to be toast is to be utterly defeated and quite possibly dead.

Unless you're a pre-recorded track, when toast means to have vocal effects added.

On the other hand if you're toasty then you're pleasantly and happily warm. If you have a toastie then you've got a toasted sandwich.

Hey, but there are worse ways to start the New Year than that.

Cheers and good health!

Toast by Wikimedia Commons

Thing To Do Today: toast. The heating-things word comes from the Old French toster, from the Latin torrēre, to dry with heat. The drink sort of toast word's first meaning was a lady to whom the company is asked to drink, and comes from the idea that her name would flavour the drink like a piece of spiced toast.

So there we are. A weird kid, yes, but in this case only as weird as the weird weird world.

Which I'd say is ample.


Monday 30 December 2013

Spot the frippet: battery.

A battery can be a dozen different things, but the names for all   of them come from the same source.

I love this. I love the way the meaning of a word can flow in strange directions and take you almost anywhere.

How come a line of hens in cages have ended up with the same name as a chess move and a set of cymbals?

Well, you get a clue if you look at some of the different sorts of batteries there are.

There's the sort that have just given up powering your Christmas presents, for a start; then there's a cunning chess ploy; the percussion instruments of an orchestra; the catcher and pitcher of a baseball game; a series of cages for hens live in; a group of psychological tests, or a group of other things, such as questions, lipsticks or pencils;

File:Colouring pencils.jpg
Photo: MichaelMaggs

 ...then there's touching someone in a hostile manner (that sort of battery is an English legal term); a place to arrange your cannons; and an array of guns or searchlights all operated from the same switchboard.

The thing they have in common? Can you spot it?

Yes, it's power, and often power-in-numbers (yes, lipstick is powerful stuff. And so are pens).

Have a look at what you have arranged in a battery, and ten to one you'll find out what sort of power is important to you.

You might even not need to do all those psychological tests, then.

Spit the frippet: battery. All these words come from the Old French batterie, beating, from the Latin battuere, to beat.

Sunday 29 December 2013

Sunday Rest: eructate. Word Not To Use Today.

Yes, you've been eating too much and your stomach contents are stirring uneasily inside you.

But things could be much, much worse.

If you were a cow living in a field then you'd be emitting 600 litres of methane gas per day, 95% of this gas through burping. (The other five per cent is breathed out.)

All this methane is thought to add to global warming, and if you're a cow you can now get an anti-methanogen vaccine to minimize the methane content of your burps.

The other way to stop cattle burping so much is to feed them stuff they can digest properly, like alfalfa, which is more like the grass that they would have eaten if they'd been wild.

And, let's face it: what's worse than burping?

Well, if you're a cow, not burping. That can be fatal, apparently, especially after a rich dinner.

This is why people hardly ever invite cows round for lunch.

Word Not To Use Today: eructate. Look, you don't need this horrible word. I mean, it even sounds painful. The word came from the Latin ructāre, to burp.

I'm afraid eructate is sometimes used of volcanoes, too.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Saturday Rave: A Song of the Weather by Flanders and Swann.

The New Year is almost upon is, and for those of us planning our holidays I thought a little advice from the simply glorious Flanders and Swann

Michael Flanders and Donald Swann 1966.JPG
might be of help.

A Song of the Weather

January brings the snow,
Makes your feet and fingers glow.

February's ice and sleet
Freeze the toes tight off your feet.

Welcome March with wintry wind
Would thou wert not so unkind!

April brings the sweet spring showers,
On and on for hours and hours.

Farmers fear unkindly May
Frost by night and hail by day.

June just rains and never stops
Thirty days and spoils the crops.

In July the sun is hot.
Is it shining? No, it's not.

August, cold and dank and wet,
Brings more rain than any yet.

Bleak September's mist and mud
Is enough to chill the blood.

Then October adds a gale,
Wind and slush and rain and hail.

Dark November brings the fog
Should not do it to a dog.

Freezing wet December, then...

...Bloody January again!

Photo by Zeimusu

Or, in other words, wherever you go make sure it's somewhere else.

Word To Use Today: sleet. This word comes from some Germanic source. The German for hailstones is Schlossen.

Friday 27 December 2013

Word To Use Today: curry..

Yes, you've bought a bird too big to fit comfortably into your oven, let alone your stomachs, and now you've eaten it roasted, cold, in a pie, cold again, and now it's time for the curry.

Curry Ist.jpg

That's right, bung a bit of spicy sauce over the stuff to try to disguise the flavour, because you certainly never want to eat turkey again.

(Let's face it, you didn't really want to eat it in the first place, but, hey, it's traditional.)

So, give them all curry (unless you live in Australia, where to give someone curry means to assault them).

If your rug is full of mince pie crumbs from the festivities then you could curry that, too - not, I hasten to add, by pouring a sauce over it, but by hitting it to get it clean.

If you have a horse about the place then that too can be curried - no, again, not the sauce! but by giving it a good grooming.

I don't suppose too many of us have spent Christmas turning hides into leather, but currying is part of that process, too.

Lastly, if you fancy a ride on the horse - or the last mince pie - or something other than turkey for dinner - then you'll need to be very very nice to those in charge.

Yes. that's right. You'll need to curry favour.*

Word To Use Today: curry. The sauce word comes from the Tamil kari, which means sauce or relish. The cleaning word comes from the French correer, to make ready.


Thursday 26 December 2013

A Christmas wish - a rant.

The English language has given us a huge variety of Christmas songs.

Some of them are secular, some of them are Christian, some are pagan. Some, like The Holly and The Ivy, are probably a bit of all three.

Some of the religious ones are quite silly (for instance, those ships that sail into Bethlehem even though it's not on the coast) and some of them are mostly made up.

Some Christmas songs suggest recipes, at least one of which is, frankly, lethal (Mistletoe and Wine, anybody?).

But of all the Christmas songs in the woods (and out of them) there is none so deeply fatuous and markedly unWizzard as the one that goes I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.

No, really, think about it.

'What's for dinner, Mum?'


'Mum, the batteries have run out!'

'We'll have to get some more when the shops...oh.'

'Who's that at the door?'

'Six slightly drunk members of the family we've been successfully avoiding all year.'

'So, what have you been doing this year?'

'Eating too much's about it, really.'

No. Once a year is enough.

In fact, sometimes it seems plenty.

Word To Use Today: wizard. This word comes from wise. But they aren't, always, are they?

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Nuts and Bolts: Happy Christmas!

I'd like to wish all visitors to The Word Den a Happy Christmas.

So here goes:

(deep breath)

Geseënde Kersfees, Een Plesierige Kerfees, Gezur Krislinjden, Melkin Yelidet Beaal, Milad Majid, Feliz Navidad, Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand, Tezze Iliniz Yahsi Olsun,

(those languages are Afrikaans, Afrikander, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Argentine, Armenian and Azeri.)

Then we go on (some of the phrases on this list include and a Happy New Year, I'm afraid. If I knew the languages better I'd take these bits out, but I might end up with gibberish. Though not Jiberish, which, as you can see below, is Mithagerrithagy Chrithagistmithagas):

Bahasa Malaysia: Selamat Hari Natal
Basque: Zorionak eta Urte Berri On!
Bengali: Shuvo Naba Barsha
Bohemian: Vesele Vanoce
Bosnian: Cestit Bozic i Sretna Nova godina
Brazilian: Feliz Natal
Breton: Nedeleg laouen na bloavezh mat
Bulgarian: Tchestita Koleda; Tchestito Rojdestvo Hristovo
Catalan: Bon Nadal i un Bon Any Nou!
Chile: Feliz Navidad
Chinese: (Cantonese) Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun
Chinese: (Mandarin) Sheng Dan Kuai Le
Choctaw: Yukpa, Nitak Hollo Chito
Columbia: Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo
Cornish: Nadelik looan na looan blethen noweth
Corsian: Pace e salute
Crazanian: Rot Yikji Dol La Roo
Cree: Mitho Makosi Kesikansi
Croatian: Sretan Bozic
Czech: Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok
Danish: Glædelig Jul
Duri: Christmas-e- Shoma Mobarak
Dutch: Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! or Zalig Kerstfeast
English: Merry Christmas

Eritrean/ Tigrinja: Rehus-Beal-Ledeats
Eskimo: (inupik) Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!
Esperanto: Gajan Kristnaskon
Estonian: Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi
Faeroese: Gledhilig jol og eydnurikt nyggjar!
Farsi: Cristmas-e-shoma mobarak bashad
Finnish: Hyvaa joulua
Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig nieuw jaar
French: Joyeux Noel
Frisian: Noflike Krystdagen en in protte Lok en Seine yn it Nije Jier!
Galician: Bo Nada
Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ùr!
German: Fröhliche Weihnachten
Greek: Kala Christouyenna!
Haiti: (Creole) Jwaye Nowel or to Jesus Edo Bri'cho o Rish D'Shato Brichto
Hausa: Barka da Kirsimatikuma Barka da Sabuwar Shekara!
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
Hebrew: Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
Hungarian: Boldog Karácsonyt
Icelandic: Gledileg Jol
Indonesian: Selamat Hari Natal
Iraqi: Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah
Irish: Nollaig Shona Dhuit, or Nodlaig mhaith chugnat
Iroquois: Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson honungradon nagwutut. Ojenyunyat osrasay.
Italian: Buone Feste Natalizie
Japanese: Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Jiberish: Mithagerithagy Chrithagistmithaas
Korean: Sung Tan Chuk Ha
Kurdish: Serî sallî nwê pîroz
Lao: souksan van Christmas
Latin: Natale hilare et Annum Faustum!
Latvian: Prieci'gus Ziemsve'tkus un Laimi'gu Jauno Gadu!
Lausitzian:Wjesole hody a strowe nowe leto
Lettish: Priecigus Ziemassvetkus
Lithuanian: Linksmu Kaledu
Low Saxon: Heughliche Winachten un 'n moi Nijaar
Luxembourgish: Schèine Chreschtdaag an e gudde Rutsch
Macedonian: Sreken Bozhik
Maltese: Il-Milied It-tajjeb
Manx: Nollick ghennal as blein vie noa
Maori: Meri Kirihimete
Navajo: Merry Keshmish
Norwegian: God Jul, or Gledelig Jul
Occitan: Pulit nadal e bona annado
Papiamento: Bon Pasco
Papua New Guinea: Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas na Nupela yia i go long yu
Pennsylvania German: En frehlicher Grischtdaag un en hallich Nei Yaahr!
Peru: Feliz Navidad
Philippines: Maligayang Pasko!
Polish: Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia or Boze Narodzenie
Portuguese:Feliz Natal
Pushto: Christmas Aao Ne-way Kaal Mo Mobarak Sha
Rapa-Nui: Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi. Te-Pito-O-Te-Henua
Rhetian: Bellas festas da nadal e bun onn
Romanche: Legreivlas fiastas da Nadal e bien niev onn!
Rumanian: Sarbatori vesele or Craciun fericit
Russian: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom
Sami: Buorrit Juovllat
Samoan: La Maunia Le Kilisimasi Ma Le Tausaga Fou
Sardinian: Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou
Scots Gaelic: Nollaig Chridheil dhuibh
Serbian: Hristos se rodi.
Singhalese: Subha nath thalak Vewa. Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Slovak: Vesele Vianoce. A stastlivy Novy Rok
Slovene: Vesele Bozicne Praznike Srecno Novo Leto or Vesel Bozic in srecno Novo leto
Spanish: Feliz Navidad
Swedish: God Jul
Swiss-German: Schöni Wienachte
Tagalog: Maligayamg Pasko. Masaganang Bagong Taon
Trukeese: Neekiriisimas annim oo iyer seefe feyiyeech!
Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai or souksan wan Christmas
Turkish: Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
Ukrainian: Z Rizdvom Khrystovym or S rozhdestvom Kristovym
Vietnamese: Chuc Mung Giang Sinh
Welsh: Nadolig Llawen
Yoruba: E ku odun, e ku iye'dun!

The great revelation is that so very many English speakers lurch into Navaho after their third glass of sherry. And why not.

A very Merry Keshmish to one and all.

File:Christmas candles.jpg
Photo by Michael Henderson

Phrase To Use Today: Happy Christmas! Bo Nada, the Galician version of Happy Christmas, is quite easy if you want to show off.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Thing To Do Today: deck.

This is a dangerous word for Christmas Eve, when the mulled wine will be flowing and the mince pies will be giving off heady wafts of brandy. People will get excited, and relations will be annoying, and the last thing I want anyone to do is deck someone.

You see, I was thinking more of the decking-the-halls-with-boughs-of-holly sort of thing.

So, load a tree with lights:

File:Christmas trees orniments.jpg

Deck yourself out in that nice novelty reindeer sweater.

Or your small female acquaintances in angel wings.

Or the mince pies with tiny stars.

Or Grandad with those tasteful felt antlers.

And if anyone does get over-excited and looks as if they might start a fight, keep out of the way. Get out of range. Lie low, okay?

And if a fight, perhaps with yule logs, becomes an absolute certainty, I suggest you hit the deck.

Thing To Do Today: deck something. This word comes from he Middle Dutch dec, which means a covering.

Monday 23 December 2013

Spot the frippet: manger.

There are mangers everywhere at the moment. This manger is very like the one in my hall at home:

Knitted Nativity set
This nativity set was on display at the Salvation Army's headquarters in Waterbeach, England.

(It's not often you find a knitted manger, you know.)

There are also mangers to be found on Advent calendars, in High Streets, schools and churches.

And, of course, farms.

Well, I say of course, but it took me decades to realise that mangers have a life outside Christmas. They're used to hold food for the animals. No wonder the cows and horses came along to have a good look on Christmas Day.

If you're in Norway you just might get to see a Manger manger. There's probably one in here:

That's the church of the village of Manger. Beautiful, isn't it?

Then there's Pret a Manger, which is sort-of-French for ready to eat. It's a posh sandwich shop with branches in the UK, Hong Kong, Paris and the USA. Presumably that's as opposed to fast food outlets where the food isn't ready to eat. "I'm afraid you'll have to boil the ham yourself, sir..."

Lastly, how about one of these?

Yes, it's a mince pie. The pastry symbolises the baby Jesus's manger and the mince meat the baby Himself.

Odd, when you come to think about it. But definitely tasty.


Spot the frippet: manger. This word comes from the Old French maingeure, food trough, from the Latin manducare, to chew. Pret a manger is based on the French Prêt à Manger, which is based on Prêt à Porter, ready to wear.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Sunday Rest: dancical.

This word should have been strangled at birth. Actually, it should have been strangled slightly before birth. Unfortunately it's made it into the Collins dictionary to cause pangs of revulsion and generalised despair.

I'm afraid dancical means what it appears to mean. You say it DANCE-i-CL, and it's defined by Collins, with magnificent hauteur, as 'a type of dance show in which choreographed performers dance to pop songs.'

My impulse is to say heaven preserve me from them. But actually I've never seen one, so perhaps dancicals can be brilliant.

I suppose (deep breath) I suppose I'm willing to give one a try if anyone knows of a really terrific one.

But calling it a dancical...

File:Carmen dancing.jpg

Word Not To Use Today: dancical. This word is a mixture of dance and musical. It makes me want to scream.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Saturday Rave: In The Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti

This poem is beautiful, short, and mostly easy to understand.

In The Bleak Midwinter sets a scene. It makes a point. It asks a question. It answers it.

Just in the same way that you don't have to believe that Cinderella was a historical person to enjoy her adventures, you don't have to believe in the setting of Christina Rossetti's story to enjoy her poem.

It's been set to music many times. The best known setting is by Gustav Holst, but this is the version by Harold Darke, written when he was a student at the Royal College of Music.

Word To Use Today: bleak. This word comes from the Old English blāc, pale, and is related to the Old Norse bleikr, white.

Friday 20 December 2013

Word To Use Today: hoatzin.

Yes, yes, hoatzin might be the least user-friendly word ever featured on The Word Den, but, hey, it's dead interesting.

For a start, hoatzin comes from a really really unusual language. Nahuatl, in fact. This makes clear, if not what a hoatzin is, then at least where it comes from. Yes, that atl ending points straight towards Central or Southern America.

So, what is a hoatzin? (You can spell it hoactzin if you must. Or you could call it a Stinkbird or a Canje Pheasant.)

It's one of these:

File:Hoatzin in Peru.jpg

Apart from the fact that the hoatzin is a dead ringer for a phoenix, a young hoatzin is unique in a very special way.

It's born with claws on its wings. This means it can clamber about in trees when it's too young to fly.

The claws drop off as it gets older, but in fact a hoatzin never gets much good at flying, and the reason for this is bound up in its Stink Bird alternative name.

No, it's not that the hoatzin is so smelly that it doesn't need to fly because no one will go anywhere near it (though there may be some truth in that: people don't eat hoatzin much).

The hoatzin smells strongly of manure. This is because a hoatzin eats mostly leaves, and digesting leaves is jolly difficult. Now, while you or I would simply decide to forget the leaves and stick instead with chocolate and chips, what the hoatzin does is to keep the leaves in its crop for ages and ages; until, in fact, the leaves have got all rotten and squidgy like baby food and it can digest them.


The trouble is that the poor bird has to keep so many leaves inside it that its flight muscles don't have much room to grow, and so it never gets to be an acrobat of the air.

And you know something? Given the choice between flying and eating I don't think it made such a daft decision.

Word To Use Today: hoatzin. This word comes from the  Nahuatl uatzin, which means pheasant.

How can you use the word hoatzin? Well, who would not be charmed and fascinated to hear about its digestive processes? I mean, could there possibly be a better chat-up line?


You could invent a new dish involving fermented cabbage and call it à la hoatzin, I suppose.

Or how about: what's the national bird of Guyana?

Thursday 19 December 2013

extreme make-over: a rant

Being young isn't easy, you know.

Wanna be in my gang? people ask.

And, well, why not join in? We ourselves don't have a clue what we're supposed to be doing, and these people seem so full of thrilling confidence.

The British Government is worried about young people taking up with terrorists and other idiots.

Personally, I think it'd be a help if the Prime Minister got rid of his Extremism Taskforce and ran an Anti-Extremism Taskforce, instead.

After all, if what we wanted was confusion and muddled-headedness then we could manage it quite adequately by ourselves.

Word To Use Today: extremism. This word comes from the Latin exterus, which means on the outside.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Nuts and Bolts: splitting the atom.

So, what's a bluebell?

Well, even someone who'd never seen one could probably guess which of these flowers it is:

File:Bluebell flowers.jpg
Photo by Jim Champion, Southampton


File:Sunflower head.jpg
photo: Brandon Weeks

Yes, it's the one that's blue and bell-shaped. Well done.

That habit of shoving two words together to make a new one is generally rather a help. It gives us a clue as to what a cupboard originally looked like, for instance; and it tells anyone who doesn't know already the purpose of a funfair.

Sometimes, though, it's not easy to see where we should be splitting up words to get at their meanings.

Now, I don't want to get into trouble, here, so all I'm saying is that the words titrant and tittup often cause me moments of confusion.

And as for the many plants called superbum...

Word To Use Today: a titrant is a liquid that helps with measuring how strong chemicals are. This word comes from the French titre, meaning the portion of gold or silver in an alloy. I can't pretend this words is much use in everyday life, but tittup is useful. It means to prance or frolic, or it can describe the sound of tapping high heels.

File:Plateau High Heels.jpg
Photo by Stevelefrancais

Tittup first appeared in the 1700s, probably as an imitation of the sound of a galloping horse.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Thing To Do Today But Only In A Good Way: hum.

So, what will you hum?

If you're not musical, then a dead steady hum will be the least likely thing to get you hit over the head with a frozen turkey. The noise will still annoy people, but you can pretend it's coming from the boiler, or the fridge.

But there are other sorts of hum. In fact, more or less everything is humming (feverishly busy) in these weeks leading up to Christmas. We're all getting and spending like mad, and if you're in New Zealand or Australia then you may be forced to hum in a different way, for there to hum is to scrounge.

That sort of humming is bad enough, but humming is even worse in Britain, where if something is humming there's a fair chance that means it smells so bad you can detect it at some distance.

I'll leave you with something much much sweeter:

Happy humming!
Thing To Do Today But Only In A Good Way: hum. This word has been around in English since the 1300s, and is an imitation of the sound it makes.
A hummingbird's hum is made by its wings, which it flaps at an incredible sixty to two hundred times a second.

Monday 16 December 2013

Spot the frippet: quarry.

The trouble with spotting a quarry is that they're usually hidden behind high safety gates. The other trouble with trying to find a quarry is the       

                                                     ...splut thing.

Luckily there are other sorts of quarry about. For a start, a  quarry can be more or less anything you're trying to find. For a hedgehog that'll include slugs, and for a robin it'll include worms.

"European Robin with Earthworm" by Rasbak, Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Rasbak.

Mm. Nice slippery slurpy worms. Yum!

Even easier, a quarry is a square or diamond shape. This is why quarry tiles are so called, and not because the clay of which they are made has come from a quarry, though it probably will have done.

Lastly, a quarry can be a small diamond-shaped pane of glass:

File:Old window, Camowen - - 626977.jpg
Photo by Kenneth Allen
or a square-sectioned cross-bow bolt.

Right. So I'm going out to see if I can find a worm, then.

Good hunting!

Spot the frippet: quarry. The big hole word comes from the Latin quadrāre, to make square; the catching prey word comes from the Old French cuireé, what is placed on the hide [of an animal] ie entrails, from the Latin corium leather, probably with a bit of the French coree, entrails, mixed into the word; and the square shape comes from the Old French quarré, from the Latin quadrus, square.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Sunday Rest: bunodont. Word Not To Use Today.

It's said BYOOnaDONT.

Yes, horrible, isn't it.

Look, I'm sorry to have to break this to you, but you almost certainly join with bears and pigs in having bunodont features.

That's not features as in the things stuck on your face, luckily, but features as in...well, as in things stuck inside your mouth.

Actually, that's even worse, isn't it.

Your bunodont teeth are the big fat ones at the back of your mouth, the ones with four low rounded hummocks on them.

It's usually animals which will eat more or less anything that have them (which is where the pigs, bears and humans come in) because  bunodont molars are excellent at crushing anything that looks as if it might be tasty.

But, I mean, something bunodont. In your mouth. Eu.

I don't think I'll go as far as asking a dentist to remove them, though.

In fact, the chances are I'll be completely reconciled to the things by lunch.

Word Not To Use Today: bunodont. Look, no one is interested in your teeth, anyway, okay, so there is no reason at all to use this word. It comes from the Greek words bounos, hill, and odōn, tooth.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Saturday Rave: A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day by John Donne.

This poem is by John Donne 1572–1631. It was written soon after the deaths of both his daughter and of a great friend, both called Lucy.

St Lucy's Day, December 13th is, in some traditions, celebrated as the shortest day of the year.

A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day

'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world's whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar'd with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night's festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's, and the day's deep midnight is.
No one is really sure exactly what this poem means (it probably wasn't designed for publication) but that doesn't stop it being glorious.
John Donne lived on for many years after this poem was written, became a famous preacher, and went on to write much more hopefully about the transforming power of love.
Word To Use Today: alchemy. There are lots of words in this poem that are to do with alchemy, one of the aims of which is turn base metal into gold. Alchemy comes from the arabic al-kīmiyā , from al, which means the, plus kīmiyā, transformation, from the Greek khēmeia, the art of transmutation. 



Friday 13 December 2013

Word To Use Today: culaccino

How many words are there in the English language?

Ooh, loads. I mean, a really massive amount.

The Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words (though if they're in an in-print dictionary surely that means they aren't obsolete, doesn't it?). There are also 9,500 words included as subentries. That makes 218,632 words - and that's without counting different forms of the same word, such as counter, counts, counted, etc.

And then there are all the technical terms, and the new words not yet in the dictionary, and the local words of which the learned folk of the OED have never heard.

But, you know what? However many words there are, there aren't enough.

Never mind. English are great word-stealers, so we can easily add some more to our hoard.

For today may I suggest the Italian word culaccino. (The Italians would pronounce the single c as in cat, and the double c rather like the ch in church.)

A culaccino is the mark left on a surface by a cold glass.

The great and magical thing about this word is that once we know it our eyes will be opened to a new piece of science and a new form of beauty.

File:Macro photo of condensation on glass.jpg
Photo: Flickr user Clearly Ambiguous

Mind you, I suppose there will still be those who'll merely reach for a cleaning cloth.

Their loss, eh?

Word To Use Today: culaccino. This word also means the end of a piece of sausage or bread, the bottom of a glass. It is a diminuative of culaccio, which means rump.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Sticks and Stones: a rant.

I'd just like to say that whichever gimboid knuckle-dragging cretin made up that sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt me thing - and this also goes for the empty pin-headed morons who use it to excuse bullies and jeer at vicims - he and they are half-witted plonkers with the brains of backward stick insects.

And they only have those brains because they're so idiotically lacking in intelligene and taste that they do actually eat stick insects (though they're too dumb to catch the clever ones).

But do you know what's most frustrating? The fact that ten to one those imbecilic wood-pated quisquilious blockheads won't care what I call them, anyway.

Blast. anyone got any sticks handy?

Word To Use Today: gimboid. This word was coined in the British TV series Red Dwarf, possibly from gimp. It means someone incompetent, and is as such a hugely useful addition to anyone's vocabulary.

A gimp is a person who is lame, and this word comes from the USA of the 1920s. It may have been coined because it rhymes with limp.



Wednesday 11 December 2013

Nuts and Bolts: vowels? Who needs'em?

English rather likes vowels.

Yes, there are words like Eschscholtzia:

but that flower is obviously named after someone foreign (he was Baltic German, apparently, whatever that means).

Then there's weltschmerz, another word that can be found in English dictionaries but that has not really bedded itself into the Emglish language at all comfortably.

And about the consonant string tchphr? Could that be part of ordinary everyday English, the sort of thing you'd find in the catchphrase of a joke?

What about tchstr? Is there any way that odd combination could be part of the latchstring to open the meaning of a home-grown word?

Ghtsbr? Come on, a word like that is going to be dead posh, isn't it? Not an ordinary supermarket word, but the sort of thing you'd have to go to Harrods in Knightbridge to find.

And if you came across ndspr you'd probably do a backwards handspring with sheer amazement, and as for ghtscr...well, its appearance in an English sentence would be so dazzling you'd probably have to erect a sightscreen or hand out sunglasses.

Ah, but English is a wonderful thing, and in its many variations, all mixed up together into rich borshchts of meaning, more or less anything can happen.

Can't it.

Word To Use Today: one with lots of consonants in it.

Do try not to spit, though.



Tuesday 10 December 2013

Thing Not To Do Today: blush.

So why are you blushing?

What have you done wrong?

Or is your blush a sign of innocence?

Yes, I know that blushing is traditionally connected with guilt, but are you ever as likely to blush as when being given the once-over by customs officials?

Or policemen?

Or librarians?

But it's all right. There's no need to worry. All these people know that any serious criminal will have long surmounted the blushing problem.

Apart from guilt or innocence, a blush can be a sign of youth and health (that's what blusher is trying to convey) and, most of all, embarrassment.

But of course by far the commonest cause of blushing is a fear of blushing. A degree of this is normal. If it gets really out of hand it's called erythrophobia.

Mark Twain said that man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to; but in fact the Pharaoh hound (which is a rabbit-hunting dog from Malta):

Pies faraona e34.jpg

blushes: its ears and nose go bright pink when excited.

Hmmm...I wonder if what we've always thought of as Rudolf the reindeer was actually an excited Pharaoh hound wearing high-altitude Sat Nav aerials?

Just a thought.

Thing Not To Do Today: blush. This word comes from the Old English blȳscan, and is related to blȳsian, to burn, and the Middle Low German blüsen to light a fire.

Monday 9 December 2013

Spot the frippet: canine.

The trouble is, if you do spot a canine you may well not want to hang around too long to admire it.

A lion's roar, for instance, will show off several beautifully.

On the other hand a domestic cat's yawn is unlikely to be very threatening - and a gorilla's is designed to keep the peace.


In the UK they found a 'vampire' skeleton



 and the walrus:

Photo of several walruses, with prominently displayed white pairs of tusks

show off their canines pretty much all the time. (Though, if you're a vampire, you won't be able to see yours. Except possibly with a selfie.)

The best canines to spot are a dog's, because canine means anything to do with a dog (or, indeed, a dog itself), and so a dog's canines are, very pleasingly, a canine's canines.

File:Dalmatian liver yawn.jpg
Photo by Miro Cacik.

Or I suppose you could even term them a canine's canine canines: so three hundred and three points if you see him and all his friends.

Do watch out for Cruella, though.

Spot the frippet: canine. This word is from the Latin canis, which means dog.


Sunday 8 December 2013

Sunday Rest: diphthong. Word Not To Use Today.

Diphthong...well, it's got too many aitches in it, hasn't it?

And they're in such awkward places that no one can say it (yes, all right, dipthong may be an alternative pronunciation, but it's even more annoying than difthong, isn't it).

I could never work out what a diphthong was, anyway. At least I've got that sorted out, now.

It's a tongue thing, is a diphthong: a vowel sound where your tongue moves as you say it.

The a of mate, for instance. If you say the word mate very very slowly you'll be able to notice that between the m and the t your tongue does a bit of a curtsey. You get the same sort of thing happening with the u of music.

That's because the sound changes half way through, so that the u in music, for instance, is actually an ee-oo sound.

Diphthong covers any vowel-changing type sound, even when it's not all written down in, well, vowels. Like the ow of how, that's a diphthong. And so is the ere of there.

As if that's not spreading itself about enough, a diphthong has another meaning, just different enough from its first meaning to confuse everyone, which is two vowels physically joined together, such as œ and æ. 

Ah well. At least now I know why I was never really sure what  

anyone was talking about when they used the word diphthong.

It was because no one else was quite sure, either.

Word Not To Use Today: diphthong. This word comes from the

Greek phthongos, which means sound.