This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Saturday 31 January 2015

Saturday Rave: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne.

'A soldier,' cried Uncle Toby, interrupting the corporal, 'is no more exempt from saying a foolish thing, Trim, than a man of letters.' - 'But not so often, an' please your honour,' replied the corporal.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (Gentleman) was published in nine volumes, the first of which were published in 1759.

Nine volumes? Yes, Tristram Shandy does go on a bit - and more than a bit - but then the idea that a life examined leaves little time to have a life worth living is partly the point.

If this sounds dull then, well, I'm afraid the book is dull if you're wanting something to happen - Tristram Shandy isn't even born until Volume Three - but although the book was written when poor Laurence Sterne was ill, poor and unhappy (and he persisted with it even after his first attempt was rejected by his publisher) it's also very funny if you have plenty of time and (as always) a willingness to be amused.

The book proved hugely popular and Sterne was ultimately rewarded with the curacy of a parish in Yorkshire; but happily this proved to be not nearly as grim as it sounded, and Sterne made a garden there.

Word To Use Today: Tristram. The original Tristram was one of the Knights of the Round Table, but recently, in Britain at least, it's come to mean an executive working in the TV industry, promoted because of his fashionable connections rather than for (or sometimes despite the lack of) any wisdom, knowledge, or innate ability. Tristram seems to have first been used in this sense by AA Gill.

Friday 30 January 2015

Word To Use Today: pricket.

I love words that describe things I've never noticed.

I mean, I knew prickets existed, both sorts of them, but I'd never noticed them until I discovered the word.

A pricket is a stag in his second year, when he has antlers, but not branched ones. (Gosh, it must be just about impossible to use fake ID if you're a stag, mustn't it. Unless you can squeeze in as one of group. Or get antler-extensions...)

The other sort of a pricket is the spike on a candle stick that goes up into the candle to stop the candle falling off. Or it can be a candle stick so equipped.

File:BLW Candlesticks.jpg
Photo: David Jackson, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

There. Knowing that has made the world slightly larger and even more wonderful, hasn't it.


Word To Use Today: pricket. This word comes from the Old English prica, which means point or puncture. It's related to various Scandinavian words that mean stick.

Thursday 29 January 2015

A truth universally acknowledged: a rant.

One of the very best novels ever written* begins with one of the very best opening sentences:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

It's wonderful, isn't it? But look, writing something similar often only reveals the chasm between the copy and the original.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date. 

Elizabeth Eulberg, Prom and Prejudice

And sometimes the truth-universally-acknowledged doesn't actually even begin to pass for true. Like this:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any diva worth her salt must record, at some time in her career, a Christmas album. 
Radar magazine 

Or this:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every year since 2001 has been labelled the 'year of mobile'.

Anyway, look, if you must pinch the formula, then at least give us some added value in the form of a joke:

 It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. 
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Graham-Smith.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a wife, must be in want of a good fortune. 

Pied and Prodigious by DM Andrews

But whatever you do, at least get the grammar right:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a TV Scheduler in possession of the daily audience figures that radio stations attract would be in want of a bottle of smelling salts.
Radio Times (I think, I can't find the cutting. I think I may have torn it into a thousand pieces and stamped on it.)

Finally, while researching this post I came across an essay titled with this quote on It has 82 footnotes and cites a host of authorities from Simone de Beauvoir to Max Weber. But it gets the quote wrong:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

And it gets it wrong twice. 

Heaven help us all.

Word To Use Today: pride. This word comes, rather sweetly, from the Old English prāda, and is related to the Latin prodesse, to be useful and the Old Norse prūthr, stately.  

*Pride and Prejudice, of course, by Jane Austen.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Nuts and Bolts: metro.

What does metro mean?

All sorts of things.

Metro itself, the small urban railway that sometimes runs underground, is short for the French chemin de fer métropolitain.

So how about metropolitan, then? That's from the Greek mētēr, mother, and means, literally, mother city.

In metrorrhagia, though, metro is from a different Greek word, mētra, which means womb. 

Metronome? From the Greek metron, which means measure.

Metronidazole? (It's a medicine.) Cobbled together from me(thyl ni)tro n (im) id (e) azole.

Metrongagen? (The phenomenon that the weather forecast is not necessarily to be relied upon.) From Met (Office is w)rong ag(ain) en.

Okay, I made that last one up. But why not? Everyone else seem to be doing it.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Thing To Do Today: embrace

From the Telegraph on line 2/1/15.

'If, like me, you think something should be done about the social chasm that exists between state and private schools, you should embrace this guide [Tatler's Guide To State Schools] with open arms.'

Can you spot the difficulty in following that advice? 

It's a tiny thing, a mistake that anyone might make.

Still, it made me laugh.

What's wrong?

Well, go to the man you love best in all the world, and try 

embracing him with open arms.

File:Giulio Romano - Nude Child with Open Arms - WGA09624.jpg
Drawing by Giulio Romano

Thing To Do Today Though Not With Open Arms: embrace. This 

word comes from the Old French brace, a pair of arms, from the 

Latin bracchia, arms.

Monday 26 January 2015

Spot the Frippet: roulette.

Photo by Uutela

So: am I encouraging gambling, here?

No, not really, but if you must gamble, use money you won't miss and throw it away in a good cause, whether a charity or a starving bookie.*

But where else can you spot roulette, apart from a casino?

Well, all over the place, actually, though in Britain not as all-over-the-place as a few years ago. 

A roulette is a wheel used to make perforations, and it's also the name of the small hole so made. So all postage stamps had roulettes until the fairly recent introduction to Britain of self-adhesive stamps.

Still, my teabags come in pairs so spotting a roulette is easy for me. In fact I've already seen some teabag roulettes this morning, or I wouldn't have the energy to write this.

Failing teabags, you can make your own roulette as long as you have two coins to rub together, because a roulette is the path taken by a point on a curve when it rolls against another curve. The illustration below is from wikipedia.

So all you have to do is get two coins, put them flat on a table, make a note of a point on the edge of one of them, and roll this coin round the other. The path taken by your noted point is a roulette.

Best of all, you get to keep all your money.

Spot the Frippet: roulette. This word comes from the French rouelle. a little wheel, from roue, wheel, from the Latin rota.

*Now spotting one of those would be a challenge.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Sunday Rest: exurbs. Word Not To Use Today.

Sometimes you have no alternative but to use a thoroughly nasty word. One horror from a short time ago, ethmoid,  is sadly unavoidable if you need to talk about the sponge-like bit of skull that sits at the top of your nose.

Some revolting words, though, have plenty of alternatives. So why do people use them? Tin-ears? A distressingly small vocabulary? Sadism?

In the case of (brace yourselves) exurb, I wonder if snobbery might be a factor. Exurb is rather obviously a word with classical roots, and there's nothing a certain sort of person likes more than extruding a few classical roots for other people to fall over.

But never mind why. The simple fact is that anyone who uses the word exurb should be...I won't say shot, but certainly sniffed at, and probably shunned.

Why not say commuter town? Dormitory town? Bedroom Community (which is nearly as horrid as exurb, I admit, though it does sound a lot more fun)? Bedroom Town?

So, look, there's reason at all for using exurb, is there, now you have so many alternatives.

Unless it really is sadism.

Word Not To Use Today. Exurb is short for extra-urban, which is sort-of Latin and means out-of-town.

Saturday 24 January 2015

Saturday Rave: The Old Stoic by Emily Bronte

How much of a work reflects the writer?

Can we take a quotation from a writer's work and say that's what the writer believed?

Take Shakespeare, for instance. He wrote: "I love long life better than figs" (Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene II) but then he also wrote, in Measure for Measure, Act III, Scene I, "I am so out of love with life, that I will sue to be rid of it"  

Now, Shakespeare might have meant both of them from the bottom of his heart at some point of his life, but we can't say that, as an overarching principle, this is Shakespeare's point of view for either of them.

Which leads me to The Old Stoic. The OS has some unexpected ideas which I think that Emily Bronte the vicar's daughter would have been reluctant to acknowledge. Mind you, this may be why she put them in a poem narrated by someone else. But we just don't know.

The Old Stoic

Riches I hold in light esteem,
And Love I laugh to scorn;
And lust of Fame was but a dream
That vanished with the morn -

And of I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me
Is - 'Leave the heart that now I bear,
And give me liberty.'

Yes, as my swift days near their goal,
'Tis all that I implore - 
Through life and death, a chainless soul,
With courage to endure!

Word To Use Today: stoic. This word is, oddly, named after a porch - the porch in ancient Athens where Zeno taught. The Greek word was stōikos.

Friday 23 January 2015

The Sign of Four: Word To Use Today

File:Conrad von Soest, 'Brillenapostel' (1403).jpg
Conrad von Soest, 1403

It's a small word, is four, but it pops up bravely all over the place,  and half the time it's shouting I am not a number I am a free man!

Well, possibly not man...

For instance, a four-by-four is a car, and four-by-two is a size of timber. 

Then there's four-colour, which describes a printing system which produces an infinite variety of colour; four-eyed fish, which have two eyes (though they are divided so they can see both above and below water); and of course a speccy-four-eyes, who also has two eyes, in this case assisted by spectacles.

And it doesn't stop there. A four at cricket is a single stroke that sends the ball to the boundary after hitting the ground. In America a four-flusher is someone who is trying to deceive. 

In four-four time in music, although the first four means, well, four, the second doesn't. 

A 404 is a stupid or useless person, a fourpenny one is a powerful punch, foursquare means solid, strong, and forthright, and the fourth estate are journalists. 

Fourplay, just for the avoidance of doubt, is the supply to a customer of television, internet, and mobile and landline telephone services by the same provider.

What else is four? 

Well, the Word Den. It's four today.

Happy Birthday To Us!

Word To Use Today: four. The Old English for four was fēower, but its history can be traced right back to the Sanskrit catur.

Thursday 22 January 2015

not reticent: a rant

There's been a battle fought - and, most people say, lost - and I've only just noticed it.

An interior design magazine first alerted me to the carnage. Articles repeatedly said things like: 'Mary was reticent to tear out the kitchen cupboards because they were still solid.'

The third time I came across this misuse of the word reticent I stopped buying the magazine. This entirely solved the problem.

But then, the other week, I came across this in a British national newspaper:

'She has also noticed that fern modules (or plugs) are reticent to grow because micropropagated ferns produce lots of crown, but little root.' 

And then, as if that wasn't bad enough, in a much-praised book, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, I found: 

...he's normally reticent to show affection in public.

And when I look online I find that in America this use of reticent instead of reluctant has been going on for so long that it the meaning even has a perch in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Should I give up and accept that reticent now means reluctant?

Probably, except that 1) reticent is a jolly useful word, and 2) every time I come across reticent used instead of reluctant I feel as if I've witnessed someone treading on a hamster.

Reticent is to do with deciding not to speak. That's all. People may even be reticent without being reluctant if they're keeping quiet through duty or fear.

That's why the word reticent is precious, you see: sometimes people are reticent, but not reluctantly so.

Now, you're not the sort of person who goes around treading on hamsters.

Are you?

Word To Use Today But Only If It Doesn't Endanger Hamsters: reticent. This word comes from the Latin reticēre, to keep silent.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Nuts and Bolts: Police Motu

Police Motu (or Pidgin Motu, or Hiri Motu) is one of the official languages of Papua New Guinea.

Why Police? Because the language spread partly because of its adoption by the Royal Papuan Constabulary, though before that it was carried along by the Hiri, the trade that swapped clay pots for sago along the Papuan coast.

Sadly, the speakers of Police Motu are now nearly all old: the young people of Papua speak Tok Pidgin, or English, or Motu itself. 

This is a great pity because Police Motu is a wonderful language

Ba mahuta! in Police Motu means goodbye. Well, actually it means Sleep well, but it's used in the daytime as well as at night. 

How relaxed is that?

My very favourite thing about Police Motu, though, is the way it's got the who's-doing-what problem sorted out so elegantly. In English you can tell who's doing what by the word order (The boy kills the pig, for example). Latin has a horribly complicated system where you do it by looking at the ending of each word (a pig that's doing something is porcus; a pig which is being killed is porcum*). But in Police Motu you just put an extra word, ese, after the thing who's doing the action: Unai mero ese boroma ta ia alaia. Which means the boy kills the pig.

Simple, but fool-proof. 

I do wish the Romans had thought of it when they were making up Latin. 

Word To Use Today: one you've learned from the police. Forensic, perhaps.

*I think.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Thing To Do Today: journey.

It's all right for you lot in Australia and New Zealand and South Africa, basking in the flipping sunshine, but today I got up in the black middle of the night and discovered that it was a quarter to eight.

It's a dismal, dank, dark and dreary day. I can't see any further than the end of the garden, and there the trees are dripping sullenly, whether with tears of boredom or with bad colds I do not know.

It seems, in fact, to be the perfect day to stay in and huddle by...I was going to say the fire, but nowadays it would probably be a hot radiator. Unless you have under-floor heating, when the only solution would seem to be to burrow under the rug.

But no, I know we should make the most of the foul weather and have a brisk tramp through the mud and drizzle and...

The BBB urges fun run participants to be cautious in light of new scandals.
Photo: Slick-a-Bot

...and I'm not even convincing myself, here.

Ah well. I suppose could always go on a virtual journey. Anyone know where I left Murder on the Orient Express?

Thing To Do Today: journey. This word comes from the Old French journee, a day (and hence a day's travelling) from the Latin diurnum, a day's portion.

Monday 19 January 2015

Spot the Frippet: jollop.

Jollop is a word to brighten the whole world, if only the whole world knew it.

Even better, jollop comes in dollops.

What is it? 

Jollop, according to the dictionary, is some sort of medicinal cream or ointment. (Though as a Trade Name it's stuff to make getting a wet suit on easier.) 

To the oldest British people, however, especially those who've been in military service, jollop is any kind of medicine.

File:Medicine Bottles IMG 9734.JPG
photo by Deror_avi
I hope you don't have any need of medicine today, but if you do, calling it jollop is, as well as being intrinsically cheering, of great help in asserting the dignity of the patient.
Well, I think so, anyway.
Spot the Frippet: jollop. This word probably started off as jalap, a drug made from the root of the Jalap bindweed, Convolvulus jalapa, also known as Ipomoea jalapa or I purga.
The purga gives you a clue as to what it does. It's even said to accelerate the action of rhubarb. (Which is a sentence I never thought I'd write.)
The drug comes from Xalapa Enriquez, which is also known as Jalap, in Mexico. Jalapeño chillies come from the same area.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Sunday Rest: lumbersexual: word not to use today.

So what's a lumbersexual when he's at home?

He's a man who lives in a city, is immaculately groomed, works in some clean and probably creative or nerdy industry, and wears a checked lumberjack shirt, very sturdy shoes, and a full (but exquisitely trimmed) beard. 

Or so they say.

I suppose there's no reason why there shouldn't be a new word to describe one of these people.

It's just a pity it's something so wince-makingly self-admiring as lumbersexual.

A lumbersexual looks a bit like this, but with eyebrow tweezers instead of an axe.

Sunday Rest: lumbersexual. This word seems to have been coined by Tom Puzak of on October 30th 2014. It's a mixture of lumberjack and metrosexual. Metrosexual is from the Greek metropolis, chief city, from mētēr, mother, plus polis, city.

Saturday 17 January 2015

Saturday Rave: Adlai Stevenson.

The Word Den's rave choices are usually examples of what I think of as literary accuracy. 

But of course most language isn't literary. This example from an American politician isn't literary at all, and yet it says what it wants to say clearly and very briefly and then it shuts up to allow the idea to penetrate our heads without distractions.

'A free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.'

That was Adlai Stevenson in Detroit in 1952.

It occurs to me that this short sentence also illustrates the other test of great language - that it continues to illuminate the world long after the echoes of the voice which spoke it have died away.

File:Adlai Stevenson 1952.jpg

Word To Use Today: free. This word comes from the Old English frēo, and long before that from the Sanskrit priya, which means  dear.

Friday 16 January 2015

Word To Use Roday: jorum.

Have you heard of Dry January? The said dryness refers not to the weather, nor to an abstention from baths, washing up, or chicken soup, but to the shunning of alcohol in all its forms.

Dry January seems to be partly designed to boost the health, partly to take advantage of a common self-loathing after the excesses of midwinter, partly as a reassurance that alcoholism has not taken hold, partly as an endurance sport, and partly as a platform for smugness and boasting.

Shall I be having a Dry January? Yes, because alcohol gives me migraines, but The Word Den is nonetheless a place for joy and so today I give you the word jorum.

Jorum is a word of magnificent generosity and celebration, for a jorum is a large drinking bowl (or the contents thereof). You can have a jorum of punch, for instance, or a jorum of warming mulled wine. 

If necessary, the punch and the mulled wine don't have to contain alcohol - but what a jorum must contain is something to lift the shrinking hearts of all around. 


Word To Use Today: jorum. This word appeared in the 1700s and probably is named after Jorum, who brought vessels of silver, gold and brass to the King David of the Bible (Samuel 8:10).

PS For the determinedly teetotal and asocial, the Jorum Glacier is in Antarctica.  The UK Antarctic Place-Names Committee so named it because the head of the glacier looks like a punch bowl. 

The only problem is that it's on the thrillingly-named Forbidden

 Plateau, so I doubt there are many package tours to see it. 

Thursday 15 January 2015

Mr Adam: a rant.

Adam and Eve

' is a fake intimacy to start calling someone by their first name whom you do not know from Adam.'

That's from  the Telegraph Online, 4/1/15.

It made me laugh, but then that not-knowing-someone-from-Adam expression usually does. I mean, unless you're in the habit of meeting completely unclothed people, or those wearing aprons of leaves, then I would say that not-knowing-someone-from-Adam was fairly surprising. 

Anyway, apart from that, if you don't know someone from Adam then how can you call him by his first name?

...I suppose, on reflection, in those circumstances you'd just say hello Adam, wouldn't you?

Word To Use Today: Adam. There's a lovely bit of Cockney rhyming slang, would you Adam and Eve it, which means would you believe it? Adam's ale or Adam's wine is water. The Adam's apple is the voice box. Adam's needle is a sort of American Yucca plant.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Nuts and Bolts: anastrophe.

Right, you know what a catastrophe is?

The word catastrophe is from the Greek strephein, to turn, and kata, which means...well, pretty much anything, really...down, away, against, thoroughly...

Anyway, so that means that anastrophe, with the Greek beginning ana (up, back, again) at the front must mean...


It's not necessarily simply going to mean something to do with disaster, is it.

And, indeed, disaster, it is not, though simple it is. In fact it's so simple I managed to get two examples of anastrophe into that last sentence. 

Yes, I know it made me sound like Yoda, but never mind.

Anastrophe is where you put words into an unusual order in order to emphasise your point.

You come across it a lot in poetry. This is a splendid example from Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

"Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

Normally someone would say Soon he dropped his hand...except that that line doesn't really mean Soon he dropped his hand, but 'Very soon indeed he dropped his hand'; otherwise the whole exchange is even more ridiculous than it is at the moment. 

Dear old Coleridge! 

Thing To Use Today: anastrophe. This word comes from...but I've done all this already, haven't I.

I still have no idea how to sort out these intermittent spacing problems. Sorry.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Thing To Be Today: Charlie.

Je suis Charlie...

Je suis is French for both I am, or I follow. So the je suis Charlie placards that have been seen round the world in the last few days could mean either that the horrible attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo was an attack also on me, because I share its values (and I suspect I do share quite a lot of Charlie Hebdo's values, though as I've never read the magazine I can't honestly be sure*) or perhaps they mean I follow Charlie Hebdo's way of thinking.

And who or why Charlie

Charlie Hebdo used to be known as used to be L'Hebdo Hara-Kiri (Hebdo is short for hebdomadaire, which means weekly), but in November 1970 the magazine was banned by the French authorities for publishing an article which mocked the press coverage of both the death of Charles de Gaulle and the Club Cinq-Sept fire, which killed 146 people. 

To get round the ban, the title of the magazine was changed. The name Charlie was suggested by the existence of the comic Charlie Mensuel (that is, Charlie Monthly), which featured the Charles Schultz strip Charlie Brown. It was also a sly joke on the Charles de Gaulle controversy.

The terrible events in Paris have cast all other meanings of the word Charlie into the shadows at the moment. Will Charlie come to represent Western freedom? It's too early to say.

We can only hope that wisdom and goodness prevail, and that one day the word Charlie will not always cast horror and despair into our hearts and minds.

Thing To Be Today: Charlie. The name Charlie, short for Charles, comes from the Germanic karlaz meaning free man. 

*Though, to be clear, I think the attack on the magazine was both cowardly and unjustified to the point of insanity.

Monday 12 January 2015

Spot the Frippet: myriapod.

Here's a lovely rippling word:


Can you guess what it is? I know that words can squirm their way into all sorts of unexpected meanings, but this one has trundled along in a nice predictable line. So, yes, that's right, a myriapod is something that has lots of feet, in particular a centipede or a millipede.

*Exactly how many legs? Well, no millipede that we know about has as many as a thousand legs (some have as few as 34) but Illacme plenipes may have 750, which is even more than the longest millipede, the African Archispirostreptus gigas has, even though Archispirostreptus gigas can be nearly 40 cm long and is sometimes kept as a pet. 

A pet? Well, millipedes are jolly interesting creatures, you know. They've been known to cause railway crashes (they sometimes swarm in great numbers on railway tracks, and their innards are very slippery) and in Malaysia their poison is used to tip arrows. Not only that, but Spirobolus bungii juice is said to inhibit the division of human cancer cells, some millipedes are eaten with tomato sauce by the Bobo people of Burkina Faso, and they've been the inspiration for much robotic engineering.

And that's only millipedes. Centipedes...well, there isn't space to say much about centipedes, but some do a courtship dance, some stay with their eggs until they hatch, licking them to prevent them being attacked by fungi, lots of centipedes are venomous, and their bite can sometimes kill.

Man holding the centipede Scolopendra gigantea, Trinidad.

Centipedes also have a habit of running towards people rather than away, and it may be this that made the Tibetan poet Zabs-Dkar Tshogs-Drug-Ran-Gro warn that if you enjoy frightening others you will be reborn as one.

But how can you spot a myriapod if you live in a myriapod-free zone (ie Antarctica, though big cities are not always spotting-myriapod-friendly)? Well, you could always look for something else with lots of feet and use the word figuratively.

I'm not sure what people queue for in Antarctica, but elsewhere almost any supermarket or station will oblige with queues of myriapod proportions.

Spot the Frippet: myriapod. This word comes from the Greek murias, ten thousand, and pous, foot.

*I've been having spacing difficulties with Blogger recently, and the text of the rest of this post won't enlarge without cutting off the tails of the letters. Sorry.

Sunday 11 January 2015

Sunday Rest: goblet. Word Not To Use Today.

It wouldn't be so bad if a goblet was a young goblin.

It wouldn't be so bad if a goblet was a little gob. On a mouthy toddler, perhaps.

But a goblet is supposed to be elegant and civilised and sophisticated. It's supposed to be redolent of history and inheritance.

File:WLA brooklynmuseum Wine Goblet mid 19th century Blue glass.jpg
Photo by  Trish Mayo.

And yet it's called a goblet.

Something really did go wrong somewhere, didn't it.

Word Not To Use Today: goblet. This word comes from the Old French gobelet, a little cup, from gobe mouthful or lump. It's probably from a Gaulish word because of its similarity to the Irish gob, mouth, and Gaelic gob, beak. 

Saturday 10 January 2015

Saturday Rave: Chester Forgets Himself by PG Wodehouse

The other day I found myself having a conversation with an editor of golf brochures.

Yes, he was an editor, though he seemed a perfectly nice man. He hadn't ever read PG Wodehouse's golf stories, though. I do hope he reads them soon, because even for someone like me, with absolutely no interest in any kind of sport, they are one of the joys of life.

Chester, the hero of Chester Forgets Himself, is a fine golfer and he also is a nice man, though inclined to ripe language in moments of high emotion. When he falls in love with Felicia it seems vital that he both reins in his tongue, and that he also pretends not to loathe Felicia's absent brother Crispin.

The unfortunate result of all this holding-back is a stiff and repellent manner, and a firm refusal of his proposal of marriage.

All that the heart-broken Chester can do, as he and Felicia finish their round of golf, is to try to break the course record as a tribute to her perfections. He's very nearly succeeded when someone plugs him in the seat of his plus-fours with a golf ball and makes him muff a vital shot.

And it is at that point that Chester forgets himself.

" '! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ' said Chester.

Dimly he was aware of a wordless exclamation from the girl beside him, but he was too distraught to think of her now. It was as if all the oaths pent up within his bosom for so many weary days were struggling and jostling to see which could get out first. They cannoned into one another, they linked hands and formed parties, they got themselves all mixed up in weird vowel-sounds, the second syllable of some red-hot verb forming a temporary union with the first syllable of some blistering noun.

'-!-!!-!!!-!!!!-!!!!!' cried Chester.' "

Has ever true passion been more vividly described?

I'm really not sure it ever has.

Word To Use Today: oath. This word comes from the Old English āth.

Friday 9 January 2015

Word To Use Today: galatea.

Why use the word galatea?

Um...well, just for fun, really.  

Here is Galatea

by Auguste Ottin

She's being embraced by her lover Acis. The big green guy at the top is the giant and baddy Polyphemus. It's the usual story: girl loves boy, boy gets killed by jealous giant, girl turns boy into river.

Well, perhaps the end's not entirely usual, but you know what I mean.

The young lady in the statue isn't the only Galatea: there's the one 
who prayed for her daughter to be turned into a son; (no, no, she 
wasn't being sexist, it was to save the daughter's life); there's the 
one who started off as the statue that Pygmalion sculpted who later 
came to life; and there's the ship:

StateLibQld 1 254247 Three masted sailing ship H.M.S. Galatea, ca. 1868.jpg
There have been a whole series of ships called Galatea. I hope this is the right one. It was launched in 1859.

It's the ship that's the important one as far as the word galatea is concerned.

So what is galatea? It's a strong cotton twill fabric, often white with blue stripes, used for children's clothes and skirts.

Can you see the connection with the ship? 

No, I thought not. The thing is, that when the fashion for dressing 
little boys in sailor uniforms came along, the fabric used to make 
them was given the name galatea after the ship.

This is the future Edward VII in 1846, who started the trend for sailor suits. Painting by Winterhalter.

So there we are. Not the most useful word, I know, but I like the way it's wriggled its way from meaning statue-made-to-come-to-life to...well, looking at poor Prince Albert Edward, more or less the opposite.

Word To Use Today: galatea. Galatea is Greek and means she who is milk-white.

PS I've no idea why this post has come out in different formats. I do hope you can read it okay.