This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Sunday 30 June 2019

Sunday Rest: seagan. Word Not To Use Today.

Yes, you've guessed right, a seagan is a sort of vegan. It's the sort of vegan who eats no animal products apart from seafood.

As far as I can see this means, basically, that you get the unsustainability and cruelty, but without the butter and cream.

Ah well. 

It takes all sorts, doesn't it?

Word Not To Use Today: seagan. This diet, and the word which goes with it, was created in 2016 by Amy Cramer and Lisa McComsey. 

Being a seagan does, apparently, make a nutritionally balanced diet easier to obtain than being purely vegan.

Adding meat and dairy products would make it even easier, I should imagine, but I don't think there's a word for that.


The Old English form of the word sea was sǣ.

Saturday 29 June 2019

Saturday Rave: Gereration to generation by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, is most famous as the author of The Little Prince.

He adored flying aeroplanes, and a lot of his written output concerns flying in some way. 

He died after his plane ditched in the Mediterranean when on a reconnaissance mission during World War II. At the time he was much too old to be a military pilot, he was drinking a lot, and he had a further habit of reading literature - whole books - while piloting his planes. Indeed, he once, infuriatingly, circled a landing strip for an hour because he didn't want to come down to land until he had finished his book.

He wrote poetry as well as fiction, and here's an example. 

It's worth bearing in mind that Saint-Exupéry's father died when his son was only three years old, and that Saint-Exupéry never had any children.

In a house which becomes a home,
one hands down and another takes up
the heritage of mind and heart,
laughter and tears, musings and deeds.

Love, like a carefully loaded ship,
crosses the gulf between the generations.
Therefore, we do not neglect the ceremonies
of our passage: when we wed, when we die,
and when we are blessed with a child;
When we depart and when we return;
When we plant and when we harvest.
Let us bring up our children. It is not
the place of some official to hand to them
their heritage.
If others impart to our children our knowledge
and ideals, they will lose all of us that is
wordless and full of wonder.
Let us build memories in our children,
lest they drag out joyless lives,
lest they allow treasures to be lost because
they have not been given the keys.

We live, not by things, but by the meanings
of things. It is needful to transmit the passwords
from generation to generation

Word To Use Today: generation. The Latin word generāre means to conceive, and the word genus means sort.

Friday 28 June 2019

Word To Use Today: KuToo.

KuToo is a new word based on another new word, namely Metoo, as in the #Metoo movement.

(For those who have been reading nothing but Jane Austen for the last couple of years, the #Metoo movement is a campaign to highlight and outlaw sexual harassment in the workplace. The campaign was started, as it happens, by Hollywood actresses.)

Now, unusually, the word KuToo is not only new, but clever.

Well, it's clever if you're Japanese, anyway.

What's it all about? There's a law in Japan which says that high heels in the workplace can be necessary and appropriate.

Yumi Ishikawa, who used to work in the Japanese hotel industry, left her job because her feet were killing her. Now she has started a campaign called #Kutoo with a petition to have that law changed.

There is some resistance to the idea of change, but any government official who supports the law promoting high heels must, surely, be prepared to wear high heels all day himself.

Personally, I look forward very much to seeing the next meeting of the Japanese government.

Word To Use Today: KuToo. This word echoes the #MeToo campaign, and also gives a nod to the Japanese word for shoes, kutsu, and the Japanese word for pain, kutsuu.


Thursday 27 June 2019

Eating discs: a rant.

In the ancient and excellent BBC TV series Yes Prime Minister the European authorities, keen for clarity, insisted that the type of sausage traditionally consumed in Britain should be relabelled a high-fat offal tube.

That was fiction; but now there is similar a real-life proposal. It is called Amendment 41, and it has been proposed by the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee. It would ban the use of the word sausage if the said sausage does not contain meat.

(I must point out here that the word milk to describe vegetable-based milks has already been banned.)

The suggestion is that it might be better to call a vegetable sausage a tube; and there is a further suggestion to rename a vegetable burger a disc.

Meat producers seem fairly pleased about this, but vegetarians are exasperated. Who, the vegetarians demand, is going to want to eat a tube or a disc when they can have a sausage or a burger?

In any case, argues Mark Banahan, campaigns and policy officer for the Vegan Society, the words burger and sausage don't call to mind only the contents of the products, but also their texture and shape, and how they are served and cooked.

Meat producers, on the other hand, conjure up horrifying visions of consumers, expecting a mouthful of meaty goodness, deceived into trudging through dinners of mashed lentils spiked with onion powder.

What do you think? 

For myself, I'm afraid that the EU Parliament's Agricultural Committee has got above itself. Language is a wild thrusting lively beast, and those who seek to control it are likely to find themselves in reviled, resented, and ignored. 

They should remember Humpty Dumpty, who believed that words mean what he said they meant.

And we all know what happened to him.

Word To Use Today: burger. This word is short for Hamburger steak, that is, steak in the style served in Hamburg in Germany. 

Whether the ham bit of the word was abandoned because the thing doesn't actually contain ham I don't know. But I doubt it.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Nuts and Bolts: zetta-

The universe is getting bigger. It really is, literally: everything is still rushing outwards from the place where the Big Bang occurred.

(Though I'm not sure the Big Bang can be said to have existed in a place.) 

Anyway, one of the results of everything's getting bigger is that we have run out of words. One of my daughters, when small, used to count one-two-three-four-five-lots, but most of us need hundreds, thousands, millions, billions and even (when it comes, to debt, usually) trillions.

Zetta- means lots. In fact, lots and lots and lots. It describes a sextillion, in fact, which has twenty one noughts when you write it in numbers.

There are zettahertz, ZHz, which are a sextillion hertz, and zettabytes, ZB, which are a sextillion bytes of computerised information.

You can have zettagrams, zettalitres, and zettametres

To give you some idea how many lots this is, all the seawater on Earth is less than one and a half zettalitres, and according to some estimates the Milky Way may be less than a zettametre wide. 

Even zettabytes, describing units of computer information, look fairly modest in zetta- numbers. In 2013 all the digital information generated in the world was only expected to reach about 4 zettabytes.

The thought of all that counting is slightly appalling. 

So on the whole, I might fall back on lots.

Word To Use Today If You're Feeling Strong Enough: one beginning with zetta- . This prefix was added to the SI International system of Units in 1991. It has the symbol Z. It's to do with the Latin word septem, which mean seven, except that the words has been changed a bit, probably to make it look cooler. (Zetta- is something multiplied by a-thousand-to-the-power-of-seven.) 

Amusingly, although Zeta is the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet, used as a numeral it means seven.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Thing To Do, But Possibly Only In Australia Today: chiack/chyack.

It's probably best not to do this outside Australia.

In Australia, to chiack is to enjoy a bit of good-natured teasing or banter, although sometimes chiacking can turn to jeering (perhaps at an umpire, for instance).

In Britain, it's always to jeer at or deride.

It's really interesting that the word has the same nasty double-edge as the word banter, isn't it.

Thing To Do, But Possibly Only In Australia Today: chiack/chyack. Some people say this word comes from the word cheek (the word for both the part of the mouth and for insolence) from the Old English ceace, related to the Dutch kaak; some other people say it comes from the costermongers' cheery greeting chi-ike! which was also a word of praise.

Monday 24 June 2019

Spot the Frippet: cherub.

A cherub is a type of angel, but how senior an angel a cherub is depends upon which God they happen to be attending. They can be in either the second or ninth rank (the ninth rank is second from bottom).

A cherub's distinctive gift, it has been said, is knowledge, and one of their main jobs is guarding things, particularly the entrance to the garden of Eden.

There are other distinctive things about cherubs (or cherubim, if you prefer). The fact that they have two pairs of wings tends to make them stand out in a crowd, and the four faces (lion, ox, human, eagle) is also a bit of a give-away. Their hooves, it is said, are of polished brass (I wonder who polishes the hooves of a cherub?).

Having said that, there are those who say the cherubs they have spotted look more like small fat winged toddlers which sometimes dissolve into cloud below the chest.

So how do you spot a cherub?

Well, you get them carved onto buildings and walls: 

photo by Wolfgang Sauber

and they often appear in illustrations:

File:Wenceslas Hollar - Concert of cherubs in the clouds.jpg
illustration by Wenceslas Hollar

and because very young people are all very beautiful:

File:Portrait of a toddler girl seated on a patterned rug on the grass (AM 76336-1).jpg
Auckland Museum collection

 they are quite often called cherubs.

Anyone hoping to find anything else angelic about them may be disappointed, so I would advise observing them rather briefly, and at a distance.

Spot the Frippet: cherub. The Assyrian word kirubu means great or mighty. The Babylonian word karâbu might have the same sort of meaning, or might mean propitious. There's also an Assyrian word kāribu, which are beings who convey messages to the gods. The word came into English through Hebrew, hence the -im plural ending.

Sunday 23 June 2019

Sunday Rest: warchest. Word Not To Use Today.

The question prompted by the word warchest is, of course, what is warch?

Hang on, I'll go and look it up in The Big One, the Oxford English Dictionary...

...hmm...well, it says that warch might be something to do with the word warish, which is either something to do with warts or another word for cure (as in people who have disease or trouble).

The problem is that the context in which I recently came across the word warchest seemed to imply that it was something to do with money - with savings for an emergency, in fact.

So what on earth...?


Of course.

Not a warchest. A war chest.

Ah well, I've learned something. And warish is a lovely new word for me, anyway.

Word Not To Use Today: warchest. The word war comes from the Old Northern French werre. The word chest comes from the Old English cest, from the Latin cista, wooden box, from the Greek kistē, box. The word warchest comes from people not thinking things through properly.

Saturday 22 June 2019

Saturday Rave: Sonnet No 18 by William Shakespeare

This poem has been named by some people who claim to be serious the greatest poem ever written.

That seems an odd claim to want to make, quite honestly, but I wouldn't argue that it isn't up there with the best.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

What do you think? I find it slightly disappointing that it turns from a love poem to a boost-your-own-brand job. 

But it's still terrific. 

Best poem ever?

Well, do please let us know if you think you know of a better one.

Word To Use Today: trimmed. This word isn't to do with tinsel or ribbons, but to do with sailing ships. You trim the sails of a ship, that is adjust them, to allow you to maintain your desired course. Both meanings of trimmed come from the same root, the Old English trymman to strengthen. Rather sweetly, it's related to the Old Irish druma, which means tree.

Friday 21 June 2019

Word To Use Today: quicksilver.

Quicksilver is an old name for mercury.

It's poisonous stuff, but if you ever get a chance to play with it you'll see how it got its name. If you drop a dollop (as I have done) on a physics laboratory bench then it breaks into dozens of tiny shiny spheres like ball bearings. 

File:Mercury escaped.jpg
photo by Tavo Romann

They will scatter all over the place like runaway mice, but can be rolled patiently back together into one shining sphere again.

I think that Physics lesson was probably about atmospheric pressure (quicksilver is used in barometers) but, more romantically, the Mayans are thought by some to have used bowls of quicksilver as mirrors for telling the future. Less romantically, quicksilver has been used to make wobbler lures. The idea of these is that the heavy liquid inside them makes them wobble erratically as they move through the water, and this attracts the attention of fish.

Quicksilver is astonishing stuff. Look at this:

photo by Alby

You probably have a little quicksilver about your person as you read this. Metallic fillings often contain mercury, and tuna always does.

I hope that's not the most romantic thing about you; but it might be.

Word To Use Today: quicksilver. The Old English cwicu means alive, and the Old English seolfer means silver.

Thursday 20 June 2019

Rogues: a rant.

We've been having an exciting time in Britain. The British voted to leave the European Union three years ago, but most of the people whose job it is to sort out all the legal details don't want to leave the European Union, and so they've been trying to wangle their way out of it.

It's caused a certain amount of ill-feeling.

Anyway, the latest piece of legal cunning that's come forward as a possibility is that Parliament will be prorogued (that is, suspended) until after the leaving-the-EU deadline has passed, and that means there'll be nothing that Parliament can do about it.

What will actually happen, of course, I have no idea at all, but the whole process of leaving (or not leaving) has been made much clearer by a simple hyphen. It occurred in the Telegraph newspaper comments section and spoke of Parliament being pro-rogued.

Pro-rogued: designed to encourage rogues, obviously.

And, you know something? It seems to me that it's the pro-rogueing of Parliament that's caused most of the problems in the first place.

Word To Use Today: pro-rogue. Or prorogue. Pro- means in favour of, supporting, and comes from the Latin prō, which means forward, or onward or away; prorogue comes from the Latin prorogāre, from prō- which means in this case publicly and rogare, to ask. No one is quite sure where the word rogue comes from, but it appeared in the 1500s and might be linked to rogāre in the sense of to beg.

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Nuts and Bolts: Archi.

Archi is a language spoken in the village of Archib, in Southern Dagestan, in Russia.

It's spoken in the smaller villages surrounding Archib, too.

It's a wonderful, rather horrifying thing, is the language Archi. Have you ever struggled to learn verbs in another language? To sort out the difference between catch and caught, between bin and ist, between vouloir and voudrais?

Well, an Archi verb has (mathematically, at least) 1,502,839 possible forms.

Yes, I feel faint, too.

Archi nouns are simpler, but still very far from simple. They come in ten cases (including the simulative*) - and that's without counting the five spatial cases (inessive, intrative, superessive, subessive and pertigent, which give the meanings in, between, above, below and against, respectively).

Yes, the language of Archi is a wonderful thing, and if I ever went to Archib I would learn some phrases as a courtesy to the inhabitants.

In fact, I'll learn one now, just in case.

Dogi ebku.

It means the donkey fell.

I suppose that's about as likely as needing to communicate something about the pen of my aunt, isn't it?

Word To Use Today: any irregular verb in your native language - and be grateful you can do it!

*No idea: sorry!

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