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 January 2017

Thing To Do Today: bogey.

To bogey or bogy a hole at golf means taking one more stroke to get the ball into the hole than the number of strokes called par, which is the number of strokes the most expert players are expected to need to sink the ball.* 

Just one more stroke than a great expert. Well, that must make bogeying a hole beyond the dreams of a beginner - and in any case I have not the faintest intention making a public spectacle of myself cluelessly waving golf clubs about.

Luckily, there is another way of bogeying. It might involve a bogey hole but (thank heavens) it's nothing to do with picking the nose, for in Australia a bogey (or bogie) hole is a natural pool, and to bogey means to bathe or swim.

File:Backyard swimming pool in Queensland.JPG
Back yard swimming pool in Queensland. Photo by Kgbo

Now, a bath, a nice long hot bath with bubbles. That I'm prepared to undertake.

Thing To Do Today: bogey. The golf word is probably something to do with the mischievous sprite sort of a bogey and might come from the Scots bogill, or the Middle Welsh bwg, which means ghost, or the Cornish buccaboo, the devil. The swimming word comes from the Australian native language Dharuk. means bathe, and the gi bit is a past tense marker.

*Though, to confuse things, bogey once meant what is now called par.

Monday 30 January 2017

Spot the Frippet: diapente.

The Greek dia means through, and pente means five.

So, diapente: five what?

Well, five nothing, as it happens. This is because musicians are rubbish at counting. 

For example: if you start at your thumb (and assuming your name isn't Frodo) how many steps, finger to finger, does it take to get to your pinkie?

Full marks if you said four - but musicians will say five because they count the beginning of a series as one.

A diapente is a distance of musical jump. If you jump up from doh a diapente jump takes you up to so, which, if we count them (starting on doh, right?) goes ray me fa so, or a jump of four notes. 

(Not wishing to complicate things, but if you count all the notes on a piano from the sound doh to the sound so, including the black ones, then it's a jump of seven notes.) 

Anyway, diapentes can be found near the beginning of Baa Baa Black Sheep or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star: the jump from the second Baa to Black, or the first kle to the second Twin are both diapentes. It's the beginning of Also Sprach Zarathustra, too.

You can also hear the two notes of a diapente by playing two next-door violin strings.

(In a diapente, the notes can be sounded at the same time, or one after the other.)

For the hitherto unmusical, stretch an elastic band round a book, then wedge a couple of pencils under the elastic band, one at either end of one face of the book. Now twang the band between the pencils. No, twang it more softly, so you get a note. Okay? Now wedge another pencil under the band exactly a third of the way from one of the end pencils to the other. Now press a finger down hard on this middle pencil and twang the longer bit of the elastic band: hey presto, the difference between the first note and the second is a diapente!

Neat, huh? So: can you play the beginning of Twinkle Twinkle?

Happy twanging!

Spot the Frippet: diapente. This word comes from the Greek phrase dia pente khordōn sumphōnia, which means concord through five notes.

Sunday 29 January 2017

Sunday Rest: deterge. Word Not To Use Today News Photo 110417-A-5937M-004 - U.S. Army Pvt. Charles Shidler crawls through mud searching for the next covered fighting position during training for individual movement.jpg
US Army training exercise in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan (yes, there are swamps in Afghanistan.)

Deterge may sound like the act of diving into sewage, but as a matter of fact it means the opposite: deterge is to do with detergent, and means to wipe away or cleanse.

The trouble is that once we know that, poor deterge looks annoying as well as ugly: a particularly heavy-handed attempt to form a verb from a noun.

And if you're perfectly relaxed about those, well, then, comment me!*

Sunday Rest: deterge. This word has been around since the 1600s (as has the word detergent), and which came first is uncertain. They both come from the Latin tergēre, to wipe.


Saturday 28 January 2017

Saturday Rave: New York Weather by F Scott Fitzgerald.

This passage is from a rather mad short story by F Scott Fitzgerald called O Russet Witch!.

It was a dark afternoon, threatening rain and the end of the world, and done in that particularly gloomy gray in which only New York afternoons indulge. A breeze was crying down the streets, whisking along battered newspapers and pieces of things, and little lights were pricking out all the windows - it was so desolate that one was sorry for the tops of the sky-scrapers lost up there in the dark green and gray heaven, and felt that now surely the farce was to close, and presently all the buildings would collapse like card houses and pile up in a dusty, sardonic heap upon all the millions who presumed to wind in and out of them.

It's almost enough to make you fall in love with bad weather, isn't it.


File:Manhattan 1931.jpg
New York, 1931, U.S. National Archives

Word To Use Today: desolate. This exquisite word comes from the Latin dēsōlāre, to leave alone, from sōlāre, to make lonely or lay waste, from sōlus, alone.

Friday 27 January 2017

Word To Use Today: Zugenruhe.

Everyone at The Word Den is surely a magpie when it comes to words, and Zugenruhe is a particularly bright and charming find, though admittedly more relevant to migratory martins than magpies.

Zugunruhe is a German noun, which means that technically you have to spell it with a capital letter. You say it TSOOgnROOa (with the g hard, as in magpie).

Zugenruhe is the feeling of restlessness experienced before and during a migration period, and it's particularly applied to birds. When their time for migration approaches birds will get very excited (especially around dusk), their sleep pattern will change, and they'll eat everything they can lay their beaks on.

How long Zugenruhe lasts depends on how long the birds' normal migration journey lasts - but even birds that don't migrate seem to feel some sense of Zugenruhe.

Humans feel it, too, of course, when the summer comes - or even at the first signs or even hope of spring.

Hang on, where's that holiday brochure...

File:House Martin (Delichon urbicum) (1).jpg
photo by Ken Billington of house martins in Austria.

Word To Use Today: Zugenruhe. This word is German. Zug means movement (and also tug, and train), ruhe means calm, and unruhe means restless.

Thursday 26 January 2017

Tell me about it: a rant.

You know that thing where people say tell me about it when they actually mean don't tell me about it - and then go on about it themselves for half an hour?


Word To Use Today: tell. This word has been pretty much the same for a thousand years. The Old English form was tellan. It's related (third cousin once removed) to the Old High German zellen, which means to tell or count.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Nuts and Bolts: shh!

File:Northern Goshawk ad M2.jpg
photo by Norbert Kenntner

The basic idea with English is that the spelling of a word tells you how to say it. It would more or less work, too, if the language hadn't accumulated a lot of baggage along the way.

Some problems have been caused by letters for which printers don't have type, or which just look a bit odd (the z in Dalziel and the g in night aren't really supposed to be z or g, you know).

Then there are the problems caused by extra letters scholars have bunged in just to show how good their Latin was, like the b in debt.

But still, there are some bits of English you can rely on. Like sh being pronounced, well, sh. Like an s, but with a bit more breath to it.

Sheep, shuttle, bush, mash, perishing, bushy.

See? Simple, or what?

Mishap, goshawk, mishear, dishearten, dishabille, dishonest, mishandle, mishit...


Ah well. 

Looking at that list, even this isn't necessarily always a bad thing, is it?

Word To Use Today: one where a sh isn't pronounced sh. Most of these are words with bits shoved on the front to make them mean more or less the opposite (as in honest and dishonest) but goshawk comes from the Old English gōshafoc, goose hawk.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Thing To Wish We Could Do Today Until We Really think About It: nitriding.

Nitriding: fun, eh? 

I should imagine that nits (they're the eggs of hair lice) are probably quite bouncy, so it'd be something like riding a space hopper.

And, oh, to be small enough to do it (a nit is only about 0.8mm long), well, you'd be inhabiting a different universe. Each hair on your host's head would look wide and strong enough to hold up a suspension bridge. Every pore would be a pot-hole swimming with grease...

...every adult louse would be a cross between a vampire and a cyberman...

Actually, perhaps I'll give the nitriding a miss, if that's all right.

What's that? 

Nitriding is nothing to do with nits? 

Or riding?

Well, what is it, then?

Thing To Wish We Could Do Today Until We Really Think About It: nitriding. Sadly, nitriding is actually an extra-strong surface on a piece of steel. You heat the stuff in ammonia for ages, and it makes some of the nitrogen in the ammonia enter the steel and harden it.

Sadly the first syllable of nitriding is usually pronounced night.

Night-riding is usually done on a bike. Do please use lights.

Monday 23 January 2017

Spot the Frippet: something aculeate.

Aculeate: a spiky, dance-of-the-tongue word. This makes sense, because for something to be aculeate it must be able to cut or stab. 

It could describe a rose bush:

File:Rose bush.jpg
photo by Rangbaz

 the hedgehog snuffling around underneath it:

File:West European Hedgehog.jpg
photo by Hrald

 the knife used to cut a bloom:

File:Grafting knife 005.jpg
photo by Victor M. Vicente Selvas

 or the bee hiding among the petals:

 File:Native bee in an imported rose.jpg
photo by Narellesg

and each, magically, assumes a new sharp elegance with the word. 

Spot the Frippet: something aculeate. This word especially describes bees, ants and wasps. It comes from the Latin acūleātus, from aculeus, which is a diminutive of acus, needle.

Sunday 22 January 2017

Sunday Rest: parkour. Word Not To Use Today.

Parkour involves getting from one place to another as quickly as possible.

No, it doesn't involve an aeroplane. That would be sensible. No, nor a rocket (which would be less sensible). In parkour you aren't allowed any form of transport apart from your own limbs. 

Parkour started off as a sort of assault course used in military training. Parkour does have the advantage that you don't have to assault anyone at the end of it, but on the other hand you may be expected to do more jumping about over city roofs than soldiers usually do except in the more expensive kind of film.

What's wrong with parkour, apart from the occasional possible inconvenience of a foot appearing through your bedroom ceiling?

Well, the word itself is the oddest sort of an object. It's as if someone's taken a French word and then shoved a k into the middle of it just to be awkward.

Though, actually, it wasn't just to be awkward...

Sunday Rest: parkour. This word comes from the French phrase parcours du combattant, which is an obstacle course used for military training. Raymond Belle developed a system of physical training based on this, and called it le parcours. His son David, a stuntman,  further refined his father's method, and his colleague the actor and director Hubert Koundé suggested changing the c to a k and deleting of the (silent) s to make the word look stronger and more dynamic...

...which is possibly why every time I see the blasted thing it's like being jabbed by a pin.

Saturday 21 January 2017

Saturday Rave: Now We Are Six by A A Milne


Now We Are Six

Yes, that's right, for we are! Or very nearly, anyway.

The Word Den began (with the word hippopotamus) on 23rd January 2011. I think there's been a post every day since then (and occasionally two) though there's a chance I might have got muddled once or twice and missed the odd one.

The original plan was to take a break on Saturdays and Sundays, but my friend, the very sadly missed Norm Geras, of normblog, gave The Word Den a plug on its first Friday, and, as he'd taken the trouble to recommend TWD it seemed only polite to give visitors something new to read over the weekend. To start with Sunday Posts were actually about the word Sunday, but I soon began Words Not To Use Today. It's been good fun.

Actually, it's all proved to be good fun.

My only slight problem today is that I don't like most of Now We Are Six very much. It's hard to forgive AA Milne for writing a poem called Pinkie Purr, and several of the other poems are stinkers. Still, there are some highlights: King John was Not A Good Man has a terrific hero, but it's the wrong time of year for that poem, so today I think I'll recommend another poem with an anti-hero, Sir Thomas Tom, The Knight Whose Armour Didn't Squeak.

And whatever you think of the poems, the illustrations by E H Shepard are lovely.

E. H. Shepard illustration of King John for A. A. Milne's poem "St. John's Christmas."
(This is not a good man.)

Happy Birthday To Us!

Word To Use Today: six. This word goes all the way back to the Sanskrit sastha. Highlights on the way include the Old Norse sex and the Greek hex.

Friday 20 January 2017

Word To Use Today: constable.

In Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain, and in various European and Commonwealth countries, the constable you're most likely to come across is a police officer of the lowest rank.

Mind you, in Denmark he'll be a soldier, and in the Channel Islands a local politician.

Confusingly, in Britain, at least, a police officer of the highest rant is called a constable too. Between an ordinary constable and a deputy chief constable everyone has different titles (sergeant, inspector, superintendent).

In the USA a constable is also an officer of the law, though not necessarily a policeman.

A constable can also be the man in charge of a royal castle (in which case he may have a rather splendid hat) 

Sir Richard Dannatt, Constable of the Tower

and in mediaeval times, in England and France especially, the constable was a the man in charge of the king's army - or he could be the man in charge of conscripting men in his local hundred (an area that could provide a hundred armed men, or perhaps contained about a hundred homesteads),

Of course, if the law bores you, you could always discuss table mats. 

In my experience they mostly involve this image:

File:John Constable - Flatford Lock - Google Art Project.jpg
Flatford Lock, by John ConstableYale Center for British Art

Word To Use Today: constable. This word comes from the Latin comes stabuli, attendant or count of the stable. 

This knowledge will make me look at constables in a new light for ever.

Thursday 19 January 2017

A planned announcement: a rant.

I'm at the stage now where I've made so many mistakes that one more isn't going to make much difference. It's really rather relaxing.

As far as language is concerned, what is a mistake, anyway? 

There's more than one reason why the phrase We don't need no education probably wouldn't go down very well with an English teacher, but it clearly isn't a mistake. It's quite deliberate - and, again, for more than one reason.

On the other hand...

Here is the beginning of an announcement by a West Yorkshire Police spokesperson after a (very rare in Britain) incident in which a man was shot by police.

I repeat, this was announced by a spokesperson. Someone whose job is speaking.

'During a pre-planned policing operation near to the M62 in Huddersfield...'

Now, is that pre-planned a mistake? The pre- is clearly unnecessary (what would a post-planned operation look like?) but I rather doubt it's a mistake. I think the spokesperson is following a convention that started off as an attempt to make something simple look a tiny bit more official and clever.

But look: sometimes, just sometimes, accuracy really does matter, and this is a case in point. Pre-planned is ridiculous, and it's vitally important we have confidence in every single word of an announcement like this.

Especially one from someone who's paid to speak.

Word To Use Today: plan. This word comes from French from the Latin plānus, which means flat.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Nuts and Bolts: semasiography.

I use a semasiographic recording system in my Books I've Read Journal. 

No, no, it's all right. I just mean I give them star ratings. Out of five, as it happens.

Semasiography is the very ancient method of noting things down by some means that doesn't involve forms of speech.


Like this:

or this: File:Quadratic formula.svg
(image by Jamie Twells)

or this:
File:Philippines road sign R3-8.svg

Isn't it great when something turns out to be much simpler than it sounds?

Thing to Use Today: a piece of semasiography. This word comes from the Greek semasia, meaning, plus the other Greek word graphia, writing. 

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Thing Not To Do Today: niggle.

Ah, diddums... the bus five whole minutes late?

...have they run out of cheese and tomato sandwiches again?

...are you wondering if you might be getting a cold?

...have they moved the football programme?

...was that another split infinitive in a national newspaper?

...has all this happened on the same day?

Well, try not to niggle about it the whole time, do. All that whining and complaining is just for toddlers - 

- and irritating toddlers, at that.

Gebhard Fugel Kleines Mädchen weinend.jpg
painting by By Gebhard Fugel - Own work (fotografiert in der Ausstellung "Gebhard Fugel 1863-1939. Von Ravensburg nach Jerusalem". Galerie Fähre, Altes Kloster, Bad Saulgau, 2014), Public Domain,

Thing Not To Do Today: niggle. This word comes from Scandinavia, but when it first came to England it meant do in an ineffectual way. It seems to be related to the Norwegian nigla

Monday 16 January 2017

Spot the Frippet: booty.

If two words look the same, and sound the same, then by golly they...

...might not have much to do with each other at all.

Booty is like that. Its two meanings, treasure (especially when not paid for, or got cheaply) and buttocks are two quite different words with different origins.

Having said that, the fact that they do sound the same and look the same has led to some cross-pollination of meaning, and so they aren't quite as distinct as the dictionaries would have us believe. Booty is always something to be admired and valued, whatever you're talking about.

This is an easy spot. If you want to spot some of the treasure-type booty then all you have to do is give way to the nagging and buy a child some sweets (there has to be some effort involved in acquiring booty, even if it's only whining).

If you want to acquire some booty yourself then burglary is the obvious option (but not recommended). Visiting the Sales or collecting berries is safer, as well as much more respectable.

File:Treasure chest inside bergdorf castle.JPG
Treasure chest, Bergdorf Castle. Photo by Gunasekar

Spot the Frippet: booty. The treasure-word comes from the Old French butin, from Middle Low German buite, exchange, related to the Old Norse býti, barter. The other booty comes from butt.

Sunday 15 January 2017

Sunday Rest: pongid. Word Not To Use Today.

.If pongid meant smelly then there could be no objection to the word, but instead it describes some of the greatest and noblest creations of the Earth.

This is a pongid:

Orang Utan, Semenggok Forest Reserve, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.JPG

and so is this:

Male gorilla in SF zoo.jpg

and this :

Hylobates lar pair of white and black 01.jpg
(those are Lar gibbons.)

For a pongid is any member of the family Pongidae, which includes (or used to include) the gibbons and the great apes (though, not, sadly, Homo sapiens). 

At least, that's what a pongid is according to my Collins dictionary, though Wikipedia and everyone else says the pongids consist only of the great apes.

Either way, I feel rather left-out.

Word Not To Use Today (particularly if a gorilla is listening) pongid. This word comes from the Kongo mpongi, which means ape.

Saturday 14 January 2017

Saturday Rave: Picander.

Who ends up with just one name?

Well, Canute, Liberace, Beyoncé, Homer, Sting, Atahualpa, Madonna, Molière, Cher, Napoleon, Björk, Gandhi, Farinelli..,

...and Picander.

Who? You may well be asking, and it's true that despite the confidence he showed in taking on a pen name consisting of just one single word, Picander never really achieved very much fame in his lifetime. 

His real name was Christian Friedrich Henrici. He trained as a lawyer but to keep body and soul together he worked as a tutor and civil servant in Leipzig while he wrote his poetry.

He wrote poetry?

Yes, that's right. In Advent 1725 he started writing religious verse, which he collected and published as Sammlung Erbauchlicher GedankenIt didn't shake the world to its foundations (though his book did go through a couple of editions) but the local church choir master saw it and thought enough of it to set some of the verse to music. They ended up having quite a fruitful partnership.

One of the results, miraculously, was the St Matthew Passion.

Wiewohl mein Herz in Tränen schwimmt
Daß Jesus von mir Abschied nimmt
So macht mich doch dein Testament erfreut:
Sein Fleisch und Blut o Kostbarkeit.
Vermacht er mir in meine Hände
Wie er es auf der Welt mit denen Seinen
Nicht böse können meinen
So liebt er sie bis an das Ende.

Although my heart swims in tears
Because Jesus takes his leave of us,
Yet his testament makes me glad.
His flesh and blood - O what treasure
He gives into my hands.
In the world, with his own hands,
He could not mean evil:
So he still loves to the very end.

Picander's fame may not have come in the direction he'd hoped for when he started out. I don't know how much he cared about this.

But if he was disappointed after the first performance of the St Matthew Passion then I have no sympathy with him at all.

Word To Use Today: testament. This word comes from Latin, a will, from testis, witness.

Friday 13 January 2017

Word To Use Today: nostril.

I have no great insight to relay as regards the word nostril - but then who would want an insight into a nostril?

File:Nostrils by David Shankbone.jpg
Photo by David Shankbone 

The word, nevertheless, is one of the most reliably comic in the English language. No one has ever spoken of a nostril without conjuring up a desire to snigger in his listeners. An acquaintance who, when falling of a bike, got a twig painfully poked up his nostril caused only hilarity in even his dearest friends. 

I recommend the word nostril for just for that reason - and if that's not enough of an argument, well, Shakespeare uses it,* and that is surely recommendation enough.

Word To Use Today: nostril. This word comes from the Old English nosthyrl, from nosa, nose, plus thyrel, hole.

*Shakespeare's Falstaff describes the experience of hiding in a laundry basket as surrounding him with the rankest compound of villanous smell that ever offended nostril. See how the nostril makes it much funnier than nose would have done? 

That Shakespeare: he knew what he was doing, didn't he.

Thursday 12 January 2017

The biggest jobs of the year: a rant.

I like to receive friends' end-of-year newsletters. Whether people have been partying in Preston, pogoing in Panama, potting up pickles, or playing Polonius, it's good to hear their news.

Mind you, I was somewhat dismayed when one friend informed me that enclosed with her letter was a photo-montage of her family's doings.

Luckily the photo-montage turned out mostly to consist of lines of grinning people obscuring views.

Well, that was a relief.

Word To Use With Care Today: doings. Apparently the use of doings to mean something best left euphemistically undefined is confined to Britain and New Zealand. This is rather a pity: but, hey, it might be something to bear in mind when you're visiting. 

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Nuts and Bolts: the buck starts here.

File:Core Banks - Whelk - 1.JPG
A lightning whelk (yes, that's right, a lightning whelk) by Jarek Tuszyński 

So: what do a buckaroo, a buckle, buckshee and a bucket have in common?


...not a lot, really.

Word To Use Today: one beginning with buck. Buckaroo is a variant of the Spanish vaquero, from the Latin vacca, cow (a buckeroo is a cowboy). Buckeen (a poor young man who tries to appear as wealthy as he can) comes from the Irish Gaelic boicín, the diminuative of boc, which means an important person. Bucket is from the Anglo-French buket, from Old English būc, and is probably some relation to the German Bauch, belly. Buckhorn is named after, yes, a male deer, and comes from the Old English bucca, a billy goat. Then there's buckie, which can be either a whelk or a boisterous young person, and is related to the Latin bucinum, whelk, from bucina, a trumpet or horn. Buckle comes from the Old French bocle, from Latin buccula, little cheek, because you got them on the cheek straps of Roman helmets. Buckling the small fish comes from the German Bückling. Buckra (a Black American contemptuous term for a white man) probably comes from the Efik mba-ka-re, master. The fabric buckram comes from Bukhara in Uzbekistan, which made textiles. Buckshee (which means costing nothing) comes from the Persian bakhshīsh, from bakhshīdan, to give. Buckwheat comes from the Middle Dutch boecweite, beechwheat - and buckyballs, a carbon-based molecule, is named after Richard Buckminster Fuller.


Tuesday 10 January 2017

Thing For Other People To Be Today: punctilious.

'How much do we owe you?'

'Oh, call it a quid.'

Call it a quid? Well, that's no good, is it. That means that either we're being cheated or we now owe someone a favour, which we'll have to repay at some point with interest. Basically, we lose out either way. So what do we do? We fish out a handful of change and discover that all we have are five pence pieces, a screw that might have come from somewhere important, and a stray Euro.

Yes, other people should always be punctilious. I mean, how about capital letters? texting is much easier if you don't bother, and, let's face it, when we ourselves fail to use capital letters among friends then the effect is charmingly informal. but is this person who hasn't bothered with capital letters in his email quite friends enough? 

Is anyone quite friends enough?

How about those dirty mugs in the sitting room? Are our hosts treating us with an affectionate lack of ceremony, or failing to treat us with proper respect? 

But then how about the man who insists on giving up his seat on the train? Am I to feel attractive or just old?

Hang on: that Am I to feel attractive or just old question. This is perhaps punctilious, but I must point out that that's a rhetorical question. I really really don't want to know. 


Thing For Other People To Be Today: punctilious. This word comes from the Italian punctiglio, small point, from the Latin punctum, point.

Monday 9 January 2017

Spot the Frippet: spline.

This is a rather ugly word, but it might make your world sparkle a little more brightly.


You get splines all over the place, though perhaps you've never really noticed them. A spline is basically a sticky-out bit on the edge of a cylinder that makes it act like a cog, fitting into a groove on something else and turning it.

Here are some splines:

Where can you spot splines? On bicycles, food mixers, cassettes. 

In fact any long narrow strip of wood or metal (or anything fairly rigid, really) can be a spline. You sometimes use them to connect two grooved tiles or boards together.

Spline is also an slightly old-fashioned term for those plastic bendable strips used to help people draw curves.

There are also multivariate adaptive regression splines, or MARS. They're something to do with statistical modelling. 

They're terribly useful and interesting, probably, but they make me very glad I'm a novelist, and have to deal with nothing much more complicated at the moment than the Georgian Criminal Legal System.

Or putting the food mixture together.

Spot the Frippet: spline. This word appeared in the 1700s. It comes from an East Anglian dialect word, perhaps related to the word splint, which comes from the Old High German spaltan, to split.

Sunday 8 January 2017

Sunday Rest: anticipointment. Word Not To Use Today.

Look, if you must shove two words together to make a new one, then at least don't hack them about in such a way that you mislead everybody.

Yes, anticipointment, I'm looking at you.

So what might an intelligent person imagine anticipointment means? 

No, no, no, that's all wrong. All wrong. I can see why you thought that, but really, it's all wrong. The anti is nothing to do with against, and any link between pointment and appointment was left behind centuries ago.

Anticipointment is the feeling you get when something cultural like a film or a book is praised to the stars but then fails to be at all enchanting when you get to experience it.


...hey, that's really just the same as disappointment. Isn't it.

Word Not To Use Today: anticipointment. This word is a mix of anticipation, which comes from the Latin anticipāre, to realise beforehand, from ante, previous to, plus capere to take; and disappointment, which originally meant to remove from office and comes from the Old French disapointier, from dis- apart, plus apointer to put into a good state.

Saturday 7 January 2017

Saturday Rave: The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that some of the Bafut Beagles really are dogs.

The young(ish) Gerald Durrell is on an animal-collecting expedition in the Cameroons. The Fon is the local...well, I suppose he's the local king. In any case, he's a man of immense charm and presence with a huge capacity for  joy, dance, and alcohol. (His name (though it isn't mentioned in the book) was Achirimbi II.)

'In order to hunt for the various members of the Bafut fauna I employed, besides the four hunters the Fon had supplied, a pack of six thin, ungainly mongrels, who, their owners assured me, were the finest hunting dogs in West Africa. I called this untidy ensemble of men and dogs the Bafut Beagles. Although the hunters did not understand the meaning of the title they grew extremely proud of it, and on one occasion I heard a hunter, when arguing with a member of the local population, proclaim in shrill and indignant tones, 'You no go shout at me like dat, ma friend! You no savvy day I be de Bafut Beagle?'

As must be already clear, the story of The Bafut Beagles is full of energy, affection and mirth.

The book is full of animals, too. Here's a Golden Cat:

'Glaring at me was a face of such beauty that I gasped. The fur was short, smooth, and the rich golden-brown of wild honey. The pointed ears were flattened close to the skull, and the upper lip was drawn back in a series of fine ripples from the milk-white teeth and pink gums. But it was the eyes I noticed more than anything else...They were green, the green of leaves under ice, and they glittered like mica in the evening sun.

As must be clear from that passage, it's all gloriously well written - and a complete treat from beginning to end, too.

Word To Use Today: beagle. This word has been around since the 1400s, but no one is sure where it came from. It might come from the French begueule, meaning open throat (beugler means to bellow) or from the Gaelic beag, small (the first beagles were only twenty centimetres tall), or from the German word begele, to scold.

Friday 6 January 2017

Word To Use Today: gigue.

A gigue is either an old dance, or a piece of music you could dance a gigue to if you felt like it. 

It's a skipping sort of an affair, rather joyful, and, as its name suggests, it's based on the old-fashioned and not-nearly-so-posh dance called the jig.

But but but...the thing is, although the word gigue sounds quite like th word jig, and the dance looks and sounds like a jig, and in fact is in every way like a jig (except for perhaps tending to be more intellectual and restrained) the similarity of the words seems to be a coincidence.

At least, that's what my Collins dictionary says, and other dictionaries are similarly cautious. 

Well, there's etymologists for you.

The word gigue does have some real connections, though - to the gigot, which can either be a leg of lamb or mutton or a leg of mutton sleeve:

File:Leg-of-mutton sleeve.jpg
drawing by David Ring to a commission from Europeana Fashion

and to the gigolo, who is a man paid to please ladies in various ways, most publicly by dancing with them: though a foxtrot, I should imagine, rather than a jig.

Word To Use Today: gigue. This word comes from French, from the Italian giga, a fiddle. The word jig, surprisingly, no one is quite sure about.

Thursday 5 January 2017

Taxis: a rant.

What do you want from a taxi?


Well, a safe, punctual, direct journey; a courteous driver; and a fair price.

I suppose there are also various optional extras, like phoning an alert to your house as the car glides up, seeing a picture of the driver before he arrives, choosing the type of vehicle you need, getting a lecture on the state of the world.

CHOICE TAXIS will, according to their leaflet, do everything you could possibly want and more.


Well, as it says on the flyer they put through my letterbox the other day WE ALWAYS GO THAT EXTRA MILE.

I'm just hoping they don't always charge people for it.

Word To Use Today: taxi. This word is short for taximeter cab, from the French taximètre, from the Latin taxāre to appraise, from tangere, to touch.

Wednesday 4 January 2017

Nuts & Bolts: rhyming scones

Scone, for the purposes of this post, isn't the Australian slang word for head and neither does it encompass its connected meanings angry or insane.

It's not Scone the Scottish parish, either.

No, the scone we're talking about is the food item somewhere between a bun and a cake, made either in the oven or on a griddle, and usually split open and spread with...something.

File:Scones cream jam.jpg
photo of scones by Takeaway

Now, the question is, do you say scone to rhyme with bone or with Ron?

The online polling organisation YouGov has been doing a survey of the British Isles, and the answer is, of course, that it depends. Northern parts tend to go for the Ron pronunciation. Ireland is bone territory.

Overall, the Ron pronunciation is commoner (though not if you are considering the social class of the speaker).

What's really fascinating is that the pronunciation of a word for a sort of cake is reckoned important enough to be a) the subject of a YouGov survey and b) reported in national newspapers.

As it happens, Oxford Dictionaries has also found the subject worth studying (Oxford Dictionaries!and their poll had an international scope. It found that Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans favour the Ron pronunciation, but Americans favour bones. As it were.

The Oxford poll made one more discovery, too: it is that almost no one uses both pronunciations. This scone thing is a matter of deep passion and firmly drawn red lines.

And what I want to know is, for heaven's sake, why?

Word To Use Cautiously Today: scone. This word may come from the Dutch schoonbrood, fine white bread, from schoon, pure or clean; or it may come from the Scots Gaelic sgonn meaning a large mouthful or a shapeless mass. Some people even claim it for the Scots parish of Scone - which, by the way, is pronounced to rhyme with moon.

I don't mind which way people say scone, but the YouGov survey found that most people put the jam on their scone before the cream - which is absolutely ridiculous.

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Thing To Consider Being Today: thifty.

The Sales are in full swing, and have been for...well, it seems to be more or less for ever.

Save! screens scream from every direction. Save Fifty Per Cent! (though naturally they don't point out that not buying whatever-it-is will save us fifty per cent more).

But, oh dear, what chance does logic have in the face of a bargain? Those orange leggings are marked down by eighty per cent! 

So is that electric belly-button brush!

That camera has a hundred features (and no instructions, most probably, so you're never going to get round to working out how to use them, but it's still wonderful, isn't it?). 

That garden storage bench will just come in so useful, especially if we move to a place with a garden and want something.

And that Danish pancake pan! I mean, you couldn't make a Danish pancake without one of those, could you? And it'd might be quite good for homemade blinis, which we'd probably eat quite often if we had a pan, even though all anyone ever wants in the morning is a bowl of cereal and some toast.

Still: it's such a bargain, isn't it, and that means it must be about saving.

In the long run.

Thing To Consider Being Today: thrifty. This word is the Old Norse for success, and seems to be something to do with the other Old Norse word thrīfa, to grasp.

Monday 2 January 2017

Spot the frippet: gill.

Here's an easy spot as we emerge from the party season into a brand new year.

What sort of a gill will you see first? One on a fish or a young frog?

Photo by Andre Karwath, aka Aka (This is actually a young Alpine Newt, which helpfully wears its gills (the feathery things) on the outside.)

 Or one on a mushroom?

By Luridiformis at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0,

Will it be the official sort of gill which is a quarter of a pint? Or the more generous Northern English gill, which is a half?

Will it be a narrow stream, or a wooded ravine, or a pot hole?

Will it be ground ivy? Or a female ferret? 

photo by גיא חיימוביץ The gill is on the right.

A girl?

Or, best of all, will it be a sweetheart?

It occurs to me that the one we spot will tell us a lot about our lives...

...hey, I think we may have just invented the gill test.*

Spot the Frippet: gill. The fish and mushroom word came from Scandinavia in the 1300s. The liquid measure came from the Old French gille, which meant vat, from the Latin gillō, cooking vessel. The geographical feature came in the 1000s from the old Norse gil, steep-sided valley. The sweetheart is a short form of the name Gillian.

*I expect my first gill to be on a mushroom. This is just slightly depressing.

Sunday 1 January 2017

Sunday Rest: bang! Word Not To Use Today.

Did you have a good party last night?

Ah, you can't really remember...

...right then, we'd probably better keep things a bit quiet for you, hadn't we.

Still, never mind, never mind. The year can only get better from here on.

Can't it. 

*Tiptoes away carefully.*

Word Not To Use Today: bang. This word comes from the Old Norse banga, which means hammer. 


File:Hammer tapissier.jpg