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 July 2018

Thing Not To Be Today: a delinquent.

Delinquent is such a lovely word. It should mean trailing the scent of lily-of-the-valley, or making a sound like a small brook, or tasting faintly of gooseberries.

Sadly, delinquent describes someone who is repeatedly guilty of minor offences or misdeeds such as breaking windows, shop-lifting, or making something even uglier by spray-painting it.

A delinquent is more or less always a youthful person (though there are delinquent shoe-eating dogs and delinquent fence-destroying horses) so any chance of delinquency is long gone for me.

Which really makes me feel quite wistful.

Thing Not To Be Today: delinquent. This word came from the Latin dēlinquēns, which means offending. Linquere means to forsake. 

Monday 30 July 2018

Spot the Frippet: something acronychal.

(You say this ayKRONiKL (and in the USA it's spelled without the H).)

So, what can we spot that's acronychal?

Well, this:

File:Venus globe.jpg
photo by NASA*

and this:

File:Starling Murmuration - RSPB Minsmere (21446738793).jpg
murmuration of starlings at Minsmere, England. Photo by Airwolfhound

and this:

File:Gin Tonic 5.jpg
photo of a gin and tonic by Achim Schleuning

So: do you know what acronychal means, yet?

Here's something else:

Ocelot. Photo by Tom Smylie US Fish and Wildlife Service

Something acronychal is something that's seen at sunset.

Enjoy it, whatever it is!

Spot the Frippet: something acronychal. This word comes from the Greek akronychos, at sunset, from acro-, which means most, or beginning, and nyx, which means night.

*That's an image of the planet Venus.

Sunday 29 July 2018

Sunday Rest: craftivism. Word Not To Use Today.

I was a Girl Guide, once.

I was reminded of my Guiding days by a story in the Daily Mail newspaper about what used, I think, to be called Interest Badges. 

Partly through natural laziness and incompetence, and partly because I wasn't really that interested in anything, I wasn't awarded many Interest Badges (though I did manage to stumble through my Interpreter's Badge (French)). 

Anyway, I read now that some badges have been made obsolete. Bell Ringing has gone, alas, and so has Laundress, an area of expertise which would have been jolly useful to me over the years but which in my youthful arrogance I despised at the time.

Of the new badges, it's interesting that the names of many consist of very new words: vlogging, upcycling, mixology, and craftivism.

Vlogging (video-blogging) is a word I've always thought does its job rather neatly. Upcycling is logically slightly iffy (can you go up and round at the same time?) but gives people, I think, the right idea; mixology is hideous and ridiculous, but sadly entrenched with verruca-like tenacity in our poor language; but craftivism...

Heaven help us all!

To gain your craftivism (ouch!) badge it seems that you have to put a slogan on an item of clothing.



Or even:


Is there an Elegant English badge, I wonder? 

I'm afraid I doubt it.

Word Not To Use Today: craftivism. This is a really nasty mixture of craft and activism. The Old English cræft meant skill or strength. The Latin word actum is a thing done.

Saturday 28 July 2018

Saturday Rave: Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

If you require your poets to be self-torturing then Gerard Manley Hopkins is the one for you.

The poor man spent a lot of his life being miserable (and probably mentally ill, too, poor man), but he wrote poetry that sparkles with delight in the natural world.

He was also notable for poetry glorying in the discipline imposed by God (he was a Jesuit priest).

Here's one of his nature poems, though it has a religious conclusion. He calls it a sonnet, though it ignores some of the usual sonnet-rules about rhythm and rhyme and line length.

But then Gerard Manley Hopkins believed that English verse had been rather going downhill since the Norman Conquest, so that's no great surprise.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things - 
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow,
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim,
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough,
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow, sweet, sour, adazzle, dim,
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

File:Fringilla coelebs chaffinch male edit2.jpg
Chaffinch. Original photograph by MichaelMaggs, edited by  Arad

Word To Use Today: dapple. This word from the 1300s might be related to the Old Norse depill, which means spot.

Friday 27 July 2018

Word To Use Today: frieze.

All right, frieze may be one of the dullest words on earth, and, all right, it only means either a thick woollen fuzzy fabric or a painted border along the top bit of a wall, but the poor word has come down a long way, okay, and I think we should cherish it, out of pity if nothing else.

File:Frieze on the Royal Albert Hall - - 1430602.jpg
frieze on Royal Albert Hall, London. Photo by David Hawgood  CC BY-SA 2.0

Word To Use Today: frieze. The fabric word comes from the Old French frise and may be something to do with Frisian, but is more likely something to do with frizz, which is from the French friser, to curl. This fabric sort of frieze was occasionally fashionable, but mostly it was a fabric made for the poor, especially the poor of Ireland. (This form of the word hasn't really come down in the world because it had nowhere lower to go, poor thing.)

The painted-border word comes from the French frise, from the Latin Phrygium. The Phrygians (who lived from about 800BC - 600AD, first in the Southern Balkans and then in Turkey) were famous for their gold embroidery.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Bigenders: a rant.

Last week's rant included the following words:

agender, bi-gender, cisgender, demigender, intergender, genderqueer, transgender and thirdgender 

and as I typed it I wondered why there was a hyphen in bi-gender, and not in the others? 

The whole naming-of-sexualities thing has got horribly complicated. Apparently trans-gender, with a hyphen, is offensive to some transgender people. Now, I don't want to offend anyone - well, not because of their (I daren't use his or her, here) sexuality, anyway - but I don't really understand why the hyphen should matter.


...and then I realised.

Well, it made me laugh.

Word To Use Today: bi-gender. Or, if you like, Big Ender. Bi-gender describes someone who describes themselves as bi-gender. Big enders (technically known as big endians in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels but often known as big enders) were inhabitants of the islands of Lilliput and Blefuscu who insisted on opening their boiled eggs at the large end. They remained the established authority (despite an assassination and a coup) on Lilliput, but in Blefuscu the little endian heresy took hold. 

The argument between the two sides was the cause of the war between the countries during Gulliver's visit.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Nuts and Bolts: -cide.

Although very nearly all words ending in -cide involve the death of someone (homicide, matricide, genocide) or something (avicide, acaricide, algicidebarmecide is, fortunately, nothing at all to do with getting rid of silly people.

Undecide is nothing to do with the casting away of lingerie, either.

Just so you know.

Word To Use Today: one ending with -cide. Avicide is the killing of birds, algicide the killing of algae, and acaricide the killing of mites and ticks. Homicide, matricide and genocide describes the killing of humans, mothers, and peoples respectively.

Barmecide entered the English language as a noun in the 1700s. It means imaginary and, therefore, disappointing. Barmakī was a prince in the Arabian Nights tales who gave a beggar a feast on beautiful but empty plates. 

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Thing To Consider Today: miscibility.

Oil and water don't mix, goes the saying.

Have these people never made salad dressing?

Well, okay, oil and water do mix if you beat them hard enough, but they aren't miscible, which describes two liquids that mix together so thoroughly that the resulting liquid turns out clear.

Sometimes the results of being immiscible can be quite pretty:

diesel on water: photo by John

even commercially pretty:

File:Marbled papers and book covers.jpg
work and photo by Gabriela Ruellan

and sometimes they're even commercially useful: the Parkes Process relies upon the immiscibility of silver and lead - and the miscibility of silver and zinc - to produce very pure silver.

Alcohol and water are miscible, thankfully, or else a glass of beer would need constant agitation to stop itself reverting to something very near to a thin layer of neat alcohol with a long water chaser.

Above all, read the label on the paint tin before trying to clean your brushes...

...and thank heavens for mayonnaise, milk - washing up liquid.

Thing To Consider Today: miscibility. This word comes from the Latin miscēre, which means to mix.

Monday 23 July 2018

Spot the Frippet: something in technicolour.


Yes, that will be a movie filmed simultaneously on two or three cameras, each one with its filter adjusted to produce a particularly lush, hot, and slightly migraine-ish picture.

The first Technicolor film was produced, go on, guess*...

...and the first general release film, which was The Toil of the Sea, in 1925. 

But there were various technical problems with the Technicolor process, and filming required very bright lights and very big cameras, and it was some time before a big studio became willing to take on the risk and expense of it. 

And then Disney's Technicolor Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became the most profitable film of 1937, and more people began to see the point.

There were still, though, technical difficulties. The bright lighting meant that temperatures on the set of The Wizard of Oz were sometimes as much as 38 degrees centigrade (that poor lion!), and the colour expert supplied by the Technicolor company was often Natalie Kalmus, who wasn't the easiest person to work with. But still, Technicolor was the most widespread colour system in use from 1922 to 1952.

Eventually, other, easier ways of making coloured film were made available, and Technicolor stopped being used except for archive purposes. But in its time it made a lot of popular films, including Gone With The Wind, The Lady Killers, and Calamity Jane.

Well, that's Technicolor, but how about technicolour

That'll cover anything that looks as if it's been filmed in Technicolor: a fruit stall at a market:

File:Market Stall in Liverpool.JPG
photo taken in Liverpool by Tetrisforaliens

 Ali Baba's laundry basket, or any toy shop or butterfly:

File:Lycaenidae - Leptotes pirithous-003.JPG
Common Zebra Blue. Photo by 

near you.

Have your sun glasses at the ready, won't you.

Spot the Frippet: Technicolor/technicolour. Technicolor is named after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the inventors of Technicolor, Herbert Kalmus and Daniel Frost Cornstock, studied. The Greek word tekhnē means art or skill.


Sunday 22 July 2018

Sunday Rest: laevorotation.

A matter of laevorotation solves the mystery in one of Dorothy L Sayers marvellous novels (I won't say which one because I don't want to spoil anyone's fun) but as far as I can remember she doesn't use the word laevorotation once - and if Dorothy L Sayers can avoid it then so can the rest of us.

It means round in a leftwards direction and was coined to describe what happens when you shine light through various chemicals. 

In the real world, no one needs it. 

If you are a practitioner of ancient magic then widdershins will do.

For the rest of us, then, to speak plainly, anticlockwise will make you look much less of a dork.

Sunday Rest: laevorotation. The Latin laevo- comes from laevus, which means left. 

This word is used without shame among chemists, but even then only, surely, when safely disguised in their white coats.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Saturday Rave: An Ode by Matthew Prior

Matthew Prior was born poor and lived to be a politican, a writer of profitable poetry (profitable poetry!) and a prisoner.

Let us stop for a brief moment and give thanks to Almighty God that our politicians seldom inflict their verses upon the general public...although, I don't know, could anything be more revealing of their True Selves? 

Which must be the reason they don't do it.

Anyway. Matthew Prior was, luckily for everyone, a very good poet, famous for his polished verse as well as his easy temper. He was also funny, sharp-witted and a sure hand at a memorable line.

Here's An Ode. The really famous bit are the last two lines of the first verse.

Think of it, if you like, as an early version of Love Island.

An Ode

The merchant, to secure his treasure,
Conveys it in a borrowed name.
Euphelia serves to grace my measure,
But Cloe is my real flame.

My softest verse, my darling lyre,
Upon Euphelia's toilet lay;
When Cloe noted her desire
That I should sing, that I should play.

My Lyre I tune, my voice I raise,
But with my numbers mix my sighs;
And whilst I sing Euphelia's praise,
I fix my soul on Cloe's eyes.

Fair Cloe blushed; Euphelia frowned;
I sung and gazed; I played and trembled;
And Venus to the Loves around
Remarked how ill we all dissembled.

Word To Use Today: toilet. This word comes from the French toilette, dress, from toile, a transparent fabric, from tēla, a loom. It means lavatory nowadays, but has meant, consecutively, a cloth for covering the head, a cloth for covering the dressing table, the dressing table itself (the meaning it has in this poem) the articles to be found on the dressing table, the process of getting washed and dressed, and the place where the washing and brushing was done. From there it was but a small blushing step to the other activities, and the necessary equipment for performing them, which might be performed in the same place.

Friday 20 July 2018

Word To Use Today: clusterfunk.

This is a computer term to describe a group of terrible things that go wrong because of one single action.

Yes, we've all been there: making changes to a computer system seems to be about as predictable and effective as playing spillikins blindfold. And in mittens.

But still, people will do it.

On the positive side, all these disasters have given us the word clusterfunk, which can also be used to describe the atmosphere in a room full of anxiously sweaty programmers - and, more generally, any widespread disaster anywhere that's set off by one single action.

Fights sometimes start in this way.

So there we are: clusterfunk. A glorious word that's used in terrible circumstances, but which is bound to make everyone feel quite a bit better.

Word To Use Today: clusterfunk. Cluster comes from the Old English clyster, and is a relative of the words clod and clot. Funk meaning to be afraid is 1700s university slang and is perhaps something to do with the sort of funk that describes a smoky room. 

On the other hand, funk might be a polite variation of something ruder.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Mixedsex school: a rant.

James Tooley, Professor of Education Policy at Newcastle University, England, is setting up a low-cost private school in the City of Durham.

'We're recruiting at the moment, and hope to have 65 mixed sex pupils, aged four to nine, in our classrooms when we open on 17 September', he is quoted as saying in an article in the Telegraph newspaper last week.

Good heavens. I mean, I'm happy to embrace LGBTQetc diversity, and I try my hardest to keep up-to-date with agender, bi-gender, cisgender, demigender, intergender, genderqueer, transgender and thirdgender categories, but a whole school of mixed sex pupils? Aged four to nine?

I suppose it might - just might - be a good idea...'s hard to believe that a school founded by someone who can't distinguish between mixed sex pupils and mixed sex classes is one, though.

But still, perhaps Professor Tooley was misquoted.

Word To Use Today: class. The Latin word classis means class, rank, or fleet. It's related to calāre, to summon.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Nuts and Bolts: locus classicus.

A locus classicus sounds a knobbly sort of a thing, but it's actually quite simple.

The locus classicus is the text everyone quotes to prove they're right.

A famous (okay, not entirely unknown) one occurred in Victor Hugo's poem Quant à Paris, ton poing l'étreine, which was seized upon by those who were dismayed by Haussmann's plans to make the city of Paris more rational and orderly (which involved knocking down quite a lot of the old bits). Hugo described: de rues de caprice...

...and the protesters, who rather liked things anarchic and capricious, seized upon this as authority to support their point of view.

(No, of course it wasn't proof of anything, but it was seized upon as a valid argument by plenty of people so it's still a locus classicus.)

As the phrase suggests, the idea of a locus classicus was first applied to Latin and Greek texts, but nowadays it's applied more widely. A host of obvious examples can be found in religious texts: Thou shalt not kill, for instance.

As I said, nothing has to be proved by a locus classicus. It just has to be written down (or, at the least, attributed to somebody) and then cited quite often as an authority.

I just wish that last one was cited a whole lot more.

Phrase To Use Today: a locus classicus. But upon what authority does your example rest?

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Lifestyle Trend To Try Today: pantsdrunk.

I'm using the word päntsdrunk because that's the accepted English form of the word, but the clever Finnish people invented the concept and they call it kalsarikänni.

Having said that, the English form could hardly be more endearing, and it does communicate the basic idea of päntsdrunk, which is, yes, drinking alone at home in your pants.*

This means that there's no need for any layering of lovely, expensive, fluffy things; no outrageously expensive candles; and no simple snacks which take four hours to put together and no one really fancies in the end.

There's no need to be shiningly photogenic (they don't even have to be your best pants); no need to cover up the cheerful pineapple wallpaper  with a stuffed moose head; no need to try to think of enough friends to invite who can be trusted not to spill beer on the white rug.

You don't have to buy anything (except your favourite drink); neither do you have to talk to anyone, or even switch off the telly. You can eat snacks from packets and check your phone (though not your work phone) whenever you like. 

And all without having to wash your hair, run out to buy some new woollies, or smile.

You know something? I think Miska Rantanen, who's written a book to introduce the English-speaking peoples to this re-charging-of-mind-and-body concept (the book is called Päntsdrunk. The Finnish Art of Drinking Alone. At Home. In Your Underwear) might be going to prevent more nervous breakdowns than the inventor of the fluffy white rug...

...who, come to think about it, if anything, probably caused quite a few of them.

Lifestyle Trend To Try Today: päntsdrunk. This is the English form of the Finnish kalsarikänni. Kalsari means underpants and känni means drunk.

(Mind you, I've just checked kalsari känni on Google translate and got the answers, firstly, The fisherman tugged and then, on another attempt Shoe coversSo I'm not guaranteeing anything.)

*Pants in England are what some other countries call underpants.

Monday 16 July 2018

Spot the Frippet: garnishee.

A garnishee is, unsurprisingly, someone who's been given a garnishment.

Now, a garnishment can be various things. It can be a notice or warning; in English Law it can be either a summons to attend court proceedings already in progress, or it can be an order to hold onto some money received from a debtor, so that all the debtor's liabilities can be sorted out and fairly distributed.

A garnishment can also be a decoration or garnish.

As for spotting one: well, if you don't know someone who's entangled with the Law, then you just have to give them a warning - don't eat the salmon will do - or else look out for someone with a sparkly tie pin or hair clip.

Of course, if all else fails, you just have to find someone with a sprig of parsley on his head.

File:Green Chana Kabab.jpg
This garnish would make anyone look distinguished. Photo by Geeta ram2003

Spot the Frippet: garnishee. This word comes from the Old French garnir, to adorn, and before that from some Germanic source.

Sunday 15 July 2018

Sunday Rest: Word Not To Use Today: garboil.

Despite appearances, a garboil is nothing much to do with either gargoyles or boils.

So that's a relief.

A garboil is a disturbance or uproar.

Fortunately the word is itself such a gargoyle of an object that good sense has prevailed and it's very rarely used nowadays.

I think we can all say thank heavens for that.

Word Not To Use Today: garboil. This word came to us from France, but it was a long time ago and I expect people in those days didn't know any better. The Old French garbouil in turn came from the Old Italian garbuglio, from the Latin bullīre, to boil, and with it came the associated idea of boiling with rage.

Saturday 14 July 2018

An Old Tune by Gerard de Nerval

Gérard de Nerval is most famous as the poet who (it is said) took his pet lobster for walks through Paris on a lead made of a blue ribbon.

Hilarious, or what?

Well, as with so many jokes, it depends on how you tell it, and de Nerval may have been tying to make a serious point about the respect and empathy we should feel for all life.

Sadly, de Nerval seems never to have understood that it's quite difficult to be serious about a lobster.

'Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog?' he asked. '...they know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark, and they don't gnaw upon one's monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn't mad.'

More sadly still, poor de Nerval was what a former time would have called mad. He killed himself at the age of forty six while very ill. During his life he introduced France to some important German poetry, wrote travel books, and gave us some poetry of his own.

Here's one of his poems, An Old Tune

There is an air for which I would disown
Mozart's, Rossini's, Weber's melodies, -
A sweet sad air that languishes and sighs,
And keeps its secret charm for me alone.

When'er I hear that music vague and old,
Two hundred years are mist that rolls away;
The thirteenth Louis reigns, and I behold
A green land golden in the dying day.

An old red castle, strong with stony towers,
The windows gay with many coloured glass;
Wide plains, and rivers flowing among flowers,
The bathe the castle basement as they pass.

In antique weed, with dark eyes and gold hair,
A lady looks forth from her window high;
It may be that I knew and found her fair,
In some forgotten life, long time gone by.

Word To Use Today: lobster. The Old English was lobbestre, from loppe, spider. (Yes, Tolkien fans, like Shelob.)

Friday 13 July 2018

Word To Use Today: latchbolt.

I was writing a story the other day about a girl entering a scary room who wanted to make sure that if the door slammed behind her she was going to be able to open the door from the inside. So she turned the inside door handle to make sure the little quarter-circle-shaped chunk of metal that goes into the door frame reinforcing-plate thingy went in and out as it should.

I'm sure you know the bit of metal I'm talking about, but I could hardly describe it like that in a piece of professional writing.

The thing is, how come I had no idea what the thingy on the door was called? I mean, I haven't lived a life devoid of door-handle malfunction, but, as far as I can remember, communicating this fact has consisted of shouting something like: Help, the thingy's bust! or Hello? Hello? Is there anybody there? HELP!

So I looked it up, and it's called a latchbolt.

Knowing that fact is of no use, of course, because no one will understand what I'm talking about. But knowledge has its own satisfactions.

It's quite cool knowing that the room in which I'm writing this features two armoured fronts, too.

Word To Use Today: latchbolt. The Old English læccan meant to seize. The Old English word bolt meant arrow.

Thursday 12 July 2018

A new low: a rant.

This headline was in the Telegraph on-line edition of 26 June 2018:

Scottish Government accused of failing cancer patients as waiting times hit new low

I don't know what sad excuse for a sub-editor came up with the headline, but he* meant high.

Why don't they teach logic at these schools?

Word To Use Today: low. Or high. But the right one. In the 1100s the word low was lāh. The Old English for high was hēah. It is related (distantly, but charmingly) to the Sanskrit kuča, which means bosom.

*Do I have to say he-or-she all the time? I mean, can't he stand, as it always did, for both sexes? 

What's that? What do I mean both??

Oh, good grief...

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Nuts and Bolts: verbiage.

There's a story about a translator who fell silent while translating German at an international conference.

'What's wrong?' demanded a hundred helpless delegates.

'I'm sorry,' said the translator, 'but all the verbs are on the last page.'

It's a nice story, though very unlikely to be true. German verbs can arrive at the end of hundred-word sentences, but only when people are showing off: German sentences, like all sentences, are usually much shorter.

Putting a verb at the end of a sentence may seem odd to an English speaker, but they have to go somewhere and if you think about it a simple sentence containing only a person who does something (the Subject, also known as S) the thing he does (the Verb, V) and the thing to which he does it (the Object, O) then there are only six possible ways of putting that sentence together:* SOV, SVO, OSV, OVS, VSO, and VOS. 

Most languages use a mixture of these (think how word order changes, for instance, if you are asking a question) though most languages have one order commoner than the others. A few languages (Finnish, Persian, Romanian and Basque, for example) aren't too bothered, generally, about word order (though Finnish uses SVO if you can't be sure what the sentence means otherwise). Japanese sentences usually end with a verb, but whether the Subject or Object comes first is flexible.

So what's the commonest way to put a sentence together? SOV is used by about 45% of languages, and is believed to be the original way, historically, that people put sentences together. It's still used in, for example, Hindi and Korean. Next commonest (42%) is the SVO of English, Italian, Mandarin and Russian.

The rest are much rarer: VSO (Irish, Malay, Tuareg-Berber) 9%; VOS (Malagasy, Baure) 3%; OVS (Apalai, Hixkatyana) 1%, and poor old OSV, which is used in the Warao language of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname, counts statistically as 0%.

The great thing is that as far as I know no one has ever gone to war over word order...

...but then I mustn't be putting ideas into people's heads.

Word To Use Today: any verb at all. Just place it carefully.

*Unless you're speaking a language where verbs, for instance, are split up, but I'm ignoring those for now.

Tuesday 10 July 2018

Thing Not To Be Today: parboiled.

It's England, it's summer, and it's hot.

The last is naturally a surprise to everyone.

We English loved the first few days of not-having-to-wear-scarves-for-once, but then of course we discovered that we had nothing to complain about.

Conversation died.

Now, fortunately, we're totally fed up with the heat and so we're talking to each other again, shaking our heads over moorland fires and water shortages. 

Not that the water shortages have happened, yet: but, hey, they might.

Anyway, here we are, either lurking inside behind heavy curtains, or getting parboiled by the unaccustomed sunshine. 

The palest of us are turning an unattractive shade of lobster.

File:Lobster meal.jpg
photo by Hartmut Inerle

To make things worse, those among us too old to care have cast off far too many garments and are inflicting agonies on anyone with artistic sensibilities. Actually, anyone with any sensibilities at all.

Meanwhile, our green and pleasant land is turning into a vast crispy doormat.

Still, things could be worse: it could be cold and raining.

(We don't like that, either.)

Thing Not To Be Today: parboiled. Parboiled means partly boiled. It's the sort of thing you might do to a potato before you roast it, but it's also used to describe people in hot weather. It comes, oddly, from the Latin perbullīre, to boil thoroughly.

The change in meaning occurred because it's commoner for a person to fail to pronounce his Ts than to speak Latin, and so the par- in parboil has been misunderstood to be short for part, rather than a variation on the Latin per- which means through.

Monday 9 July 2018

Spot the Frippet: angledug.

No, no, this isn't difficult: an angledug is, obviously, the same as an angletwitch...

...or, as those of not from the South West of Britain call them, earthworms:

                                            photo by Aruna

You'll find them in, well, earth, but there are angledugs more or less everywhere - in water, up trees, and even on sea shores. Some are only a centimetre long, and some in the Mekong Delta reach three metres.

Blackbirds and other thrushes are particularly good at finding angledugs:

File:Common Blackbird (turdus merula).jpg
photo by
Charles J Sharp   Blue pencil.svg wikidata:Q54800218

but they provide a good dinner for all sort of creatures - gulls, crows, snakes, bears, foxes, hedgehogs, pigs, moles, beetles, snails, slugs - and people: noke is a Maori delicacy consisting of earthworms (which is worth remembering if you're in New Zealand and faced with a menu).

The saddle-type thing on an angledug shows the worm is adult, and it is used for producing eggs. (All angledugs are female - but then they're all male, too, at the same time.) They're born as tiny worms that can shift five hundred times their own weight in soil, which is more than you can.

Be careful about touching an angledug. If it's the Australian Didymogaster sylvaticus, or blue squirter earthworm, it will throw up spectacularly over you. If it's a more ordinary worm then you will poison it with the salt from your fingers. No wonder the poor things writhe.

Lastly, if you cut a worm in two then there's just a chance both halves will regenerate into two new worms - but almost certainly they won't, and you'll end up with a single dead worm.

Or, just possibly, a noke garnish.

Spot the Frippet: angledug. I have no idea at all where this word came from, but it's valid in Scrabble.

Sunday 8 July 2018

Sunday Rest: hanger. Word Not To Use Today.

File:A bunch of clothes hangers.JPG
photo by High Contrast

But without the word hanger then where should I put my coat? you may be asking. 

But it's not the word hanger I'm talking about. It's the word hanger.

No, I can't see any difference, either, but the pronunciation of the word I'm talking about is hang-ger, with a hard g, as in goat.

Yes, it's a silly word. 

Yes, it rhymes with anger.

Yes, there's a good reason for that.

Hanger (hanGer? Hangger?) comes from the new word hangry, which describes the irritability experienced when hungry.

A new study, Feeling Hangry? When Hunger is Conceptualized as Emotion by Jennifer MacCormack and Kristen Lindquist at the University of North Carolina, has shown the effects of annoying people when they are hungry,and also when they are full. The results show that people tend to be a bit less positive about things when they're hungry, though only if they don't realise that hunger is the problem. If they do realise that hunger is the problem then instead of snapping at people they tend to go off and buy themselves a sandwich instead.

Hangry has now entered the Oxford English Dictionary, where, let's face it, hardly anyone will see it so it can't do much harm. 

But will the presence of the word in the real world give people an excuse to be horrible before lunch, or encourage them to eat a bit sooner? 

I don't know that: but what I do know is that hangers should only be for garments.


Garments and aircraft.

Word Not To Use Today: hanger. I don't know who coined this word, but he or she was a fool. The Old Norse angr meant grief, and the Latin angere means to strangle.

I know how they felt.

Saturday 7 July 2018

Saturday Rave: Adam lay y-bounden. Anon.

Here's a very old, very simple, poem. At least, the story it tells is simple, though the English is a bit odd (even updated, as it has been here, by Edith Rickert).

The original poem was written in about 1400, and is known from a single manuscript in the British Library.

No one knows who wrote it, but in this complicated world sometimes simple stories are what we need more than anything else.

Deo gratias means thanks be to God.

Adam lay y-bounden
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter
Thought he not too long;
And all was for an apple
An apple that he took,
As clerkes finden written
In theire book.

Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne hadde never our Lady
A been heaven's queen.
Blessed be the time
That apple taken was!
Therefore we may singen
'Deo Gratias!'

Word To Use Today: bond. This word comes from the Old Norse band.

The four thousand years refers to a belief that Adam was kept in chains from his death until the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Friday 6 July 2018

Word To Use Today: mousseline.

There can't be many more seductive words in the English language than mousseline (you say the last syllable LEEN, by the way).

Try whispering mousseline de soie, [you say that d swa] or mousseline de laine [d lenn] to your loved one (that's silk mousseline and woollen mousseline, respectively) and you'll conjure up (at least to someone who doesn't speak French) echoes of the willow leaves whispering below you on a warm evening on the terrace of some glorious hotel.

Well, it might be worth a try, anyway...

Mousseline, when turned into English, gradually morphed into the much less glamorous word muslin, but mousseline is still used to mean the sort of very fine fabric you wouldn't dream of using for draining cheese.

File:1950 Jean Dessès evening dress in blue silk mousseline.jpg
1950 silk mousseline dress by Jean Desses, photo by Πελοποννησιακό Λαογραφικό Ίδρυμα

Mousseline is also a type of thin blown glass used to make fine wine glasses.

Lastly, but most commonly, there is mousseline sauce, which is (WARNING: even the following description might adversely affect those with heart problems) hollandaise sauce with whipped cream folded into it.

Wearing a dress of mousseline while eating salmon mousseline and drinking from a glass of mousseline?

That really can't be very far from heaven.

Even, I should imagine, for a bloke.

Wor To Use Today: mousseline. This word is the French for muslin, and comes from the Italian mussolina, from the mawşilly, which means of Mosul, where the fabric was first produced.

Weep, oh weep, for a world where Mosul was famous for its fine fabric!

Thursday 5 July 2018

Technical terms: a rant.

When I was wheeled into the operating theatre the other week I didn't expect to understand all the technical terms the surgeon and her team were going to use during the procedure.

To be frank I didn't want to understand all the technical terms they were going to use. I had a basic idea what they were planning to do, and that was enough. In fact, it was plenty. 

And when I heard the surgeon ask twice for a mushroom, and once for a spear, as far as technical terms were concerned I could have done with more of them.

Word Not To Use In An Operating Room Today: spear. This word was spere in Old English. The Greek sparos means gilthead, which is an edible fish, Sparus aurata

(I'm fine.)

Wednesday 4 July 2018

Nuts and Bolts: from sacred songs...downwards.

A psalm ( you say it sarm) is one of the one hundred and fifty songs that are published together as one of the books of the Bible.

Number 117 was my favourite as a child. Well, it has only two verses. It's also cheerful and snappy, and you can understand what it's going on about:

O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.

For his merciful kindness is great towards us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord.

The word psalm has given us various other English words. A psalmist writes psalms (the Psalmist, with a capital P, is King David); psalmody is to do with singing psalms, or setting them to music; a psalter is a book with the psalms in it.

And then it's not much of a stretch to get to a psaltery, which is a sort of stringed instrument:

This very fed-up psaltery player comes from an illustration in the Gorleston psalter.

But what about a psalterium, which is..., guess...

Yes, you're quite right. Of course: you've guessed it.

psalterium is the third stomach of a cow.


Well, because of this:

Word To Use Today: one beginning with psal-. The song word comes from the Latin psalmus, from the Greek psalmos, song accompanied by a harp, from psallein, to play the harp. (This explains psaltery nicely, doesn't it.)

Psalterium comes from the Latin psaltērium, which means psalter, because a psalterium has many folds that look a bit like the pages of a book.

Here's a model of one which completely fails to illustrate this:

File:Didactic model of a bovine omasum and abomasum-FMVZ USP-26.jpeg
Model of the psalterium and abomasum of a cow. Photo by Wagner Souza e Silva, Museum of Veterinary Anatomy FMVZ USP The psalterium is the spiral bit.

Still, this photo of one of the leaflets inside the psalterium helps just a little:

Tuesday 3 July 2018

Thing Not To Be Today: fucoid.

Please note: this word is pronounced FYOOkoid.

It's to do with seaweed.

Fucus ceranoides, Pieterburen, the Netherlands.jpg
photo of Fucus ceranoides by Bj.schoenmakers

Fucus vesiculosus Wales.jpg
photo of Fucus vesiculosus by Stemonitis

In the nineteenth century there was a craze for seaweed. People collected it, dried it, and placed it in albums. And if it made people happy, why not?

Sadly, sea weed is much less admired today, and being at all fucoid would I'm afraid involve having a very very bad hair day, or else require either a strong dose of deodorant or an immediate change of diet.

Surely best avoided, if possible.

Thing Not To Be Today: fucoid. This word describes seaweed of the genus Fucus, which is found on almost all the coasts of the world.

(Fucus seaweed may not be rare or fragrant, but it can be used as fertiliser, and in glass and soap making. Bacteria found on the surface of Fucus seaweed have recently been found to be able to combat MRSA. It has also been used in thalassotherapy, in which people are smothered in seaweed-based gunk (to no known scientific benefit, but never mind).)

The word fucoid comes from the Greek phukos, which means seaweed.

Monday 2 July 2018

Spot the Frippet: fuddy-duddy.

A fuddy-duddy is a person, usually elderly, who is dull and set in his or her ways.

Yes, that's right, someone a bit like a zombie, but with an added tendency to tut, and with any bandages more professionally applied.

Spotting fuddy-duddies is a natural human instinct, and most of us have been on the alert to escape their clutches all our lives.

But beware: they can creep up on you. 

Most horrifyingly of all, you sometimes find them staring at you... 

...straight from the depths of the mirror.

Spot the Frippet: fuddy-duddy. This word is used in Britain, but the first mention of it actually comes from Texas in 1889. Some people wonder if the word has Scottish ancestors - fuddy meant buttocks in Scotland, and duddy meant ragged - but as those words are nothing to do with the meaning of fuddy-duddy, basically, we're left admitting that no one's got much of a clue.

Sunday 1 July 2018

Sunday Rest: midaxi. Word Not To Use Today.

Well, what do you think midaxi means?

It has a vaguely Aztec flavour. though the beginning looks English...some sort of spicy sauce used obliterate the taste and healthy qualities of salad?


Midaxi is a skirt length. 

I've done some research via Google images, and there is no agreement as to exactly how long midaxi is, but it seems to be somewhere between the bottom of the knee and the top of the ankle.

This means that a short midaxi is the same as a midi, the medium ones are mid-calf, and the longer ones are ankle-skimming.

Why have we been landed with the revolting term midaxi when there are more precise terms available? 

Because fashion is all about the new, that's why, and a new word, it is hoped, will give the impression of a new style.

The trouble is, with a word like midaxi, although the style may sound new, it doesn't sound the least bit elegant or beautiful.

Word Not To Use Today: midaxi. This is a very recent horror. It is a mixture, of course, of midi and maxi. Mid has implied middle since Old English times. Max- has implied large since the 1700s. Maximum is Latin for greatest.