This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Sunday 31 May 2020

Sunday Rest: dogcart. Word Not To Use Today.

There's nothing wrong with the word dogcart except that I've really never got over my disappointment that there aren't any dogs big and strong enough to pull one.

I don't know, though...


Anyway, a dogcart was originally a small two-wheeled vehicle pulled by a single horse that used to have a section in it for transporting gun dogs. Later on, it could be any similar very light vehicle:

Mind you, gun dogs aren't nearly as interesting as they sound, either.

Word Not To Use Today: dogcart. The Old English form of the dog word was docga. Cart comes from the Old Norse kartr and is related to the words carriage and car.


I was looking for a picture to illustrate this post and came across this:

Milk sellers in Brussels, Belgium.

Now I'm feeling sorry for the dog...

Saturday 30 May 2020

Saturday Rest: The Spring breeze melted snow by U T'ak

Sigo is a form of Korean poetry. It has only three lines, though they're quite long lines - the total number of syllables will be forty two to forty eight.

Sigo may be short, but they do stuff, do sigo: there'll be an introduction of a situation or theme in line one; a development in line two; and then a twist and conclusion in line three.

(Although there's a twist, it won't be a humorous one; sigo were first written in the 1200s at a time of great political turmoil in Korea, and the themes are usually more to do with hopeless loyalty or aging or unfruitful love than anything actually cheerful.)

The sigo has been around for a long time, and it has at various times been abandoned and resurrected and evolved. It started off as a work of the aristocracy, and it was centuries before the poems were even written in a language understood by most of the Korean people. Sometimes they are spoken, and sometimes sung.

Here is the oldest example we have, written by U T'ak, 1262 - 1342.

The spring breeze melted snow on the hills then quickly disappeared.
I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair
And melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.

I'd say that was very elegant, and rather wonderful.

Word To Use Today: breeze. This word probably comes from the Old Spanish word briza, north-east wind.

Friday 29 May 2020

Word To Use Today: bumfuzzle.

It doesn't really matter what this word means, it's way too much fun to leave in a dictionary.

It's used more in the USA than in England (in fact I've never heard anyone use it in England) but it has a long English history, all the same.

Bumfuzzle means to confusedor fluster.

Don't bumfuzzle me!

It's unlikely that anyone will know what you mean if you use it, but, hey, that just means that everyone will be bumfuzzled.

Poetic justice or what?

(Well, possibly not that poetic...)

Word To Use Today: bumfuzzle. The Old English form of this word is dumfoozle, an unusual instance of the meaning of the Old English form of a word being easier to guess than its modern equivalent.

Thursday 28 May 2020

But not yet: a rant.

St Augustine of Hippo (354 - 431) prayed make me virtuous - but not yet. 

I have a lot of sympathy with this point of view, but all the same I didn't expect delayed morality to become part of the Covid-19 debate. Really, if you've got Covid-19 then you'd think that the time to delay getting yourself virtuous had well and truly passed.

The commentator whom I came across using the phrase delayed morality was saying that many of the poor people who have died as a result of Covid-19 were already very ill and would soon have died, anyway, and that this would show up in the mortality figures by the end of the year.

Hang on...


Ah! Now I understand!

Words Not To Get Confused Today: morality and mortality. The word morality, which is to do with doing the virtuous thing, comes from the Latin word mōrālis, from mōs, which means custom.

The word mortality comes from the Latin word mortālis, from mors, death.

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Nuts and Bolts: paralipsis.

It actually doesn't matter too much what paralipsis is, it's enough to enjoy saying the word...


it's a word to murmur to nightingales in the moonlit groves of Illyria.

Sadly, at the moment I should imagine Illyria is closed to tourists, so, hey, what is paralipsis, exactly?

Paralipsis is usually called apophasis, but that's not nearly such a lovely word.

Anyway, whatever it is, it's still really good fun. Paralipsis is when you say you're not going to say something and then you, well, do.

As in: I'll not bring up her treachery in stealing my boyfriend as it's irrelevant to her qualifications for this job.

Or: this is long forgotten and forgiven, so I won't even mention how your behaviour destroyed my friendship with Martin.

Loyalty forbids me to suggest that the Headteacher is a raving lunatic.

Of course there's no need to remind the reader of the campaign of General Bloodspiller which ended in the Battle of Gorefield in the year 1857.

It's not my place to criticise your actions, ma'am, even if they verge upon the criminally insane.

As I say, good fun.

Rhetorical Device To Use Today: paralipsis. As I don't need to tell you, learned reader, paralipsis/apophasis is also sometimes known as paraleipsis, occupatio, praeteritio, preterition and parasiopesis.

Neither is there any point at all in noting that the Greek prefix para- means - well, more or less anything - or that it comes from the Greek word meaning alongside or beyond; nor, for that matter, that the Greek word leipein mean to leave, and paraleipein means to leave aside.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Thing Not To Do Today: pontificate.

Who pontificates?

Well, the pontiff, of course.

Well, you can't blame him for doing it, can you: I mean, it's in the job-title.

As more or less everyone knows, the word pontiff (to whom we more usually refer as the pope) comes from the Latin pontifex, which means bridge builder, because the pontiff makes a bridge between the people of the world and God.

However, as with many things more or less everyone knows, this is almost certainly completely wrong.

Ah well!

For those of us who are not popes, which is practically all of us, (though popes aren't as rare as they used to be) then pontificating is to be avoided.

For one thing, it'll make everyone hate you; and, for another, nearly everything you know is quite probably wrong.

So best keep quiet, eh?

Thing Not To Do Today: pontificate. The Pontifex Maximus was the chief priest in Ancient Rome, who often had a political, as well as a religious role in the state. The word pontifex might be Etruscan, but because the Latin pons means bridge and facere means to make, then deciding that this is the derivation of the word  pontifex was just to tempting a story for most of us to resist.

Monday 25 May 2020

Spot the Frippet: puku.

We don't have so very many English words borrowed from the Maori language of New Zealand, and of those we do, hongi - the greeting consisting of the rubbing of noses - is currently prohibited by law in a lot of the globe (though we can still use the verbal Maori greeting kia ora, which means, literally, be healthy!).

Similarly, we aren't allowed to visit Rotorua, and the huia is, sadly, (probably) extinct.

But there are plenty of pukus about. Okay so no one is going to know what the word means, but in the circumstances that might be quite tactful because a puku is a stomach or belly.

They come in all shapes and sizes:

well, except square. And triangular. And octagonal...

...but you know what I mean.

Spot the Frippet: puku. This word is Maori.

There is another kind of puku, the Zulu puku. This is a beautiful thing:

File:Puku - Male-1, in South Luangwa National Park - Zambia.jpg
this one's from Zambia. Photo by Hanay

but for most of us very hard to spot.

Sunday 24 May 2020

Sunday Rest: unideological. Word Not To Use Today.

The basic trend is for compound nouns to start off as separate words: life style - then get themselves a hyphen: life-style - and then end up as one word: lifestyle.

Where we are in this process might depend upon where you are, or how old you are, or to whom you are writing.

To make things worse, some words don't follow this pattern. I've seen quite a few hotdogs, and very many hot dogs, but never a hot-dog. Ice cream, on the other hand, persists in its two-word form.

But that isn't the only problem. How about a bowtie? You know, that thing men wear round their necks on formal occasions. 

See what I mean? Some words really shouldn't follow the usual pattern.

The other day I came across the word unideological. Like bowtie, it tripped me up completely.

Uni- means single; deo- means to do with God; -logical means to do with reasoning. It's a perfectly good word - except that it didn't make sense in its context.


Ah! Not uni-deo-logical: un-ideo-logical.

Sometimes I wish people would forget the ideology, and concentrate on getting across their ideas.

Sunday Rest: unideological. The word ideological comes from the Greek forms ideo- to do with ideas, and -logical, to do with reasoning. 

The word unideological comes from someone in too much of a hurry.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Saturday Rave: a six word story by Evonne.

Six word stories are an actual thing. 

Why, Ernest Hemingway himself wrote a horribly sad one.

As in all writing, it's comparatively easy to make people sad; but to make someone smile in just six words, that takes some doing.

This example by Evonne I found on a site called, appropriately enough, Six Word Stories.

(It's worth a browse.) 

 Penniless weirdo. Struck Lottery. Overnight genius.

(Six words is just the right length: if it were longer we'd probably see him get above himself, and then crash and burn.)

If you're feeling particularly bitter and cynical, of course, you could turn this story back to front and make it, well, particularly bitter and cynical.

Great things, short forms!

Word To Use Today: weird. This word comes from the Old English gewyrd, which means destiny, and is distantly related to our modern word worth.

Friday 22 May 2020

Word To Use Today: larder,

It is so achingly fashionable to have a larder in Britain at the moment that a full-height kitchen cupboard designed to hold food can sell for, literally, thousands of pounds.

Yes, really.

File:Built-in pantry.jpg
photo by Downtowngal

It makes me wish I'd appreciated my own larder more when I had one. Our first house was ten feet wide and seventeen feet deep. It gave a comfortable home to moulds of many species, but for humans it was grim, especially as the doorways were not designed for anyone over five feet six inches tall.*

It wasn't love that was making us see all those stars, you know: well, not entirely.

But the house did have a larder under the stairs. You could put food in there and it would sit, growing dustier and drier and basically mummifying, until at last you got up the courage to pick it up on a shovel and throw it away.

Still, as I say, larderare very expensive and fashionable, now. 

Well, a fool and his money...

Word To Use Today: larder. It had never occurred to me before, but a larder is somewhere where you keep lard, which is pig fat. The word comes from the Latin lāridum, bacon fat.

I wonder if there's a single larder in London which actually contains lard?

*About 1 m 67 cm.

Thursday 21 May 2020

The first words: a rant.

The first thing I learned to say in a foreign language was je m'appelle Colette: I'm called Colette. (No, I know I'm not actually called Colette, but we were allowed to choose new names especially for French classes, which was cool.)

When I started German we began in the same way, with ich heisse Sally. (We didn't get to choose special German names, boo! and we very soon got on to (I think) Straßenverkehrsknotenpunkt, road traffic interchange, at the sight of which, I'm afraid, a lot of my enthusiasm fled).

And then there was Latin. The first noun I learned was domina, which means mistress. Even at the time it seemed a word of limited utility in a twentieth century English New Town (and our Latin teacher, by the way, was a man).

Around this time there was quite a bit of Italian floating about, too. For a butter-fingered piano player like me, adagio was quite useful - but presto wasn't.

Ancient Greek came later. I've just come across my first Greek exercises hiding inside the manuscript of an old novel. It has my first ever attempt at a Greek sentence written down:   ή θεά 'έχει τιμήν: the goddess has honour.

I'm really pleased for her: but not round here, she doesn't.

So here's a plea to all teachers of languages. The first sentence of any language that anyone should speak should surely be I can't speak much [of the xx language] yet.

It's a sentence that's probably going to be useful to us for the rest of our lives, after all.

Word To Use Today: yet. This is such an important and overlooked word. The Old English form the gēta.

PS: Just to show how much I know, my first grandchild was born on the thirtieth of May 2020, soon after writing this post. Her name is Thea, or θεά in Greek script. So ή θεά 'έχει τιμήν: isn't so absolutely useless after all.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Nuts and Bolts: Sussex mud.

People are still arguing about whether or not Eskimo people have a surprisingly large number of words for snow (I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure that they have a lot more words for snow than the Tupian languages of the Amazon rain forest).

On the same principle, the dialect of Sussex, on the clay soils of the southern coast of England, has a lot of words for mud.

I'm indebted to the completely fascinating book Wilding by Isabella Tree (strongly recommended) for alerting me to this interesting fact - and to Wikipedia for this list.

Smeery: mud with a wet surface
Clodgy: wet mud, especially on a path
Stug: watery mud
Slurry: mud so wet it won't drain
Stodge: mud like a pudding
Slob/slub: thick mud
Slab: even thicker mud
Pug: yellow mud
Swank: mud forming a bog
Slough: mud in a hole
Ike: messy mud
Gawm: smelly mud
Gubber: mud full of rotting plants
Sleech: mud used for manure
Stoach: mud trampled by cattle or in a harbour

I must now find out about the dialects of Arabic spoken in Saudi Arabia and their words for sand.

Word To Use Today: mud. This word probably comes from the Middle Low German mudde. Interestingly, the Swedish word modd means slush.

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Thing Not To Be Today: limp.

How are you? As we move out cautiously into the sunlit world once again are you bristling with energy and full of enthusiasm to grab life by the scruff of the neck...

...actually, we can't do that, can we? Not while maintaining social distancing. Neither can we seize the day: even grabbing our chances might be slightly hazardous.

Still, never mind, the principal is still there. We may be exhausted from kneading endless loaves of sourdough, learning the beautiful Turkmen language, and investigating the darkest corners of the loft, but this is not a time to be limp.

New opportunities are out there and need to be embraced...

...well, perhaps not actually embraced...

Ah well. At least we can stiffen our sinews, can't we?

Thing Not To Be Today: limp. The word limp meaning not stiff appeared in the English language in the 1700s. The Icelandic word limpa means looseness, so the word might have come from Scandinavia.

On the other hand there's a German word lampen which means to hang loosely, so that may be a (probably much older) connection.

Yet again, in Middle English, limpen meant to happen or what I'm really saying is that no one's sure about this one.

Monday 18 May 2020

Spot the Frippet: yeast.

Now, here's a difficult spot. In lock-down England everyone has decided to make their own bread and so I haven't even heard of their being any yeast in the shops for months. 

So, given that ready-packaged yeast isn't available to spot, where else might we find it? 

Well, more or less everywhere, really, and the existence of sourdough bread proves it.

Sourdough bread relies on the fact that there is wild yeast already present in flour and in the air, and so that, given a bit of encouragement (that is, warmth and moisture) the yeast will soon start, um, giving off gas to make bubbles in the dough to make the bread rise.

This is all a bit odd, when you come to think about it.

A yeast is a single-celled fungus, and this means it's too small for us to see a single yeast organism. Strangely, yeasts seem to have have evolved from multi-celled organisms, but are now quite happy living a simpler life. The habit of one kind of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, of turning carbohydrates into carbon dioxide and alcohol may explain this contentment. (This yeast can also produce ethanol to make biofuel.)

There is yeast in alcoholic drinks, bread, yeast extract (obviously) and also drinks like root beer and kvass and kefir.

And there are other yeasts about. The velvety bloom on the skins of grapes and other fruit shows the presence of a yeast colony. Other sorts of yeasts exist in the moist places of animals, including man, and can occasionally cause disease.

A substantial amount of medicines are produced with the help of ordinary baking yeast. These include insulin and even some vaccines.

So, you never know: in this time of plague yeast might even be our saviour, yet.

Spot the Frippet: yeast. This word was giest in Old English. The Sanskrit form of the word is yasati.

Sunday 17 May 2020

Sunday Rest: mint bush. Words Not To Use Today.

I came across the compound noun mint bush today, and for a moment I thought that someone had discovered a compact version of the magic money tree:

Magic Money Tree Illustration

Ah well! 2751 rbgs11jan.jpg
photo by Raffi Kojian, Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens

Sunday Rest: mint bush. The word mint meaning herb goes right back to the Greek word minthē. The word meaning a place where coins are made comes from the the Roman Temple of Juno called Monēta, which was used for making coins in ancient Roman times.

The word bush is basically German, but similar words still pop up all over the place, for example in the Italian bosco, which means wood.

Saturday 16 May 2020

Saturday Rave: The Shepherd's Calendar by John Clare. May

Utter and complete joy and bliss:

Come queen of months in company
Wi all thy merry minstrelsy
The restless cuckoo absent long
And twittering swallows chimney song
And hedge row crickets notes that run
From every bank that fronts the sun
And swathy bees about the grass
That stops wi every bloom they pass
And every minute every hour
Keep teazing weeds that wear a flower

Just two points for reflection: first, John Clare started work in the fields at the age of seven (and yet look, just look, at the treasures he found in his little, harsh world); second, imagine if John Clare given that piece of verse (it's the beginning of a much longer poem) to a teacher. How many red measle-like corrections there would have been all over it! Poor John Clare was really rather bad at writing...

...wasn't he?

He should have spent his childhood in the classroom learning a bit of standard grammar instead of wasting it in:

...childhoods humming joys
For there is music in the noise
The village childern mad for sport
In school times leisure ever short
That crick and catch the bouncing ball
And run along the church yard wall
Capt wi rude figured slabs whose claims
In times bad memory hath no names

In these times, when so many children are deprived of schooling, what will come of it?

Well...let's hope it's a few more works of wayward genius and joy, shall we?

Word To Use Today: minstrelsy. This word comes from the French menestral, from the Latin ministeriālis, which means, rather sadly, an official. It's basically the same word as minister, which originally, and this is one to remember, meant servant.

Friday 15 May 2020

Word To Use Today: yngling.

The Norwegians gave us this lovely word (thank you, Norway!).

You say it INGling (without any sounded G sounds).

What is an yngling

An yngling is a boat designed for three people:


When we're shut up inside so much of the time this word doesn't on the face of it look very useful.

But out of a few cushions we could make ourselves an yngling that could sail excitingly across even the most dangerous carpet. (If there's a rug you could even make some waves.)

Why, as long as you have some rations with you, you can sail to anywhere in or beyond the world.

image: NASA

Bon voyage!

Word To Use Today: yngling. This word is Norwegian, and means youngster.

Thursday 14 May 2020

The experience of a lifetime: a rant.

Someone has sent an email to my husband offering him a Virgin Experience Day.

He seems quite keen...

Personally, I blame Richard Branson.

Word To Use Today: virgin. This word comes from the Latin virgō, which also means virgin.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Nuts and Bolts: seeds of inspiration.

How big is your vocabulary? Rather large, I would suspect, as you're here. Playing in The Word Den is certainly improving mine.

So: how would you describe the surface of a seed?

Or, for that matter, the surface of a louses's shin?

Here are a few possible answers:

(Sorry about the formatting: this is the best I can get it.)

Harris1970Plate1.jpg  Harris1970Plate2.jpg

Fig. 1, Substrigulate. Fig. 2, Finely Strigulate. Fig. 3, Substrigulate to Finely Strigulate. Fig. 4, Strigate or Costulate. Fig. 5, Strigate. Fig. 6, Strigate or Costulate.   Fig. 7, Costulate. Fig. 8, Costate. Fig. 9, Costate. Fig. 10, Porcate. Fig. 11, Broadly Strigate (or Tranversely Carinate) and Axially Sulcate. Fig. 12, Strigate-Rugose

...and that's only a few of the possible descriptions from R A Harris's magnificent 1979 Glossary of Surface Sculpturing, which goes on to speak of all sorts of surfaces from the Coriarious-Punctate (where cracks are an artifact of coating) to the Obscurely Variolate (which looks sort of scaly as far as I can see).

I don't know about you, but I feel as if my vocabulary has just shrunk to about a twelfth of its actual size.

Word To Use Today: errmm...strigulate? The Latin word striga means a bristle, and is connected to the word for stubble, as in corn.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Thing To Do Today: learn something.

Actually, this is probably something to do every day.

There are two sorts of things to learn: facts which don't obviously attach themselves to everyday life, and facts which do.

For instance, yesterday I learned that Superman only learnt to fly when they were making the animated film of his adventures, and they decided it was too much like hard work to keep drawing him bending his knees in preparation for making a mighty leap.

That's useless, but satisfying information. On the other hand something like gossips will gossip about everyone, including you, is something we've all wished we'd known sooner.

Useful learning, sadly, often comes from bitter experience, but neat facts are to be found all over the place.

Here's a fact which perhaps combines the two.

You have about 86 billion neurons in your brain which communicate at speeds of up to 250 miles per hour, or about 400 kilometres an hour.

This means that you really don't need to worry about your brain getting filled up.

So go on: learn something.

Word To Use Today: learn. The Old English form of this word was leornian.

Monday 11 May 2020

Spot the Frippet: lichen.

It's lovely stuff, lichen, if you stop to look at it:

Lobaria scrobiculata R1.jpg
Lobaria scrobiculata. Photo by Richtid 

And I think we should.

Lichen (You say it LIKE-n in most places, though in Britain you can say it LITCHn if you like) is said to cover six per cent of the land surface of the earth. You find it on walls, stone, trees...all over the place:

Wolf lichen, photo by Jason Hollinger 

Common orange lichen, photo by Norbert Nagel 

crustose lichen, photo by roantrum

So what exactly is a lichen? Trevor Goward (an expert) said that lichens are fungi that have discovered agriculture. The fungus part of a lichen can be farming either cyanobacteria or algae. 

Lichens don't have roots, they can be thousands of years old, and they can make food out of the air by photosynthesis. There are about 20,000 kinds to spot. Some reproduce sexually and some don't, but even the ones which don't are continuing to evolve into nee species.

How many centimetres from your front door do you have to go before you spot one?

Spot the Frippet: lichen. This word comes almost unchanged from the Greek leichen, which originally meant something like which eats round itself, and before that probably from leikhein, which means, oddly, to lick.

Sunday 10 May 2020

Sunday Rest: luge. Word Not To Use Today.

No, no: there are luges that can be used in summer:

File:Classic luge 1.jpg

That is, apparently, a classic luge or street luge. Photo by Calixtocapi

but here is the usual sort of luge, which is used on snow:

photo by Mmartling

Yes, it is hardly more than a tea tray. You lie down on it and encourage the thing to hurtle downhill at getting on for a hundred and fifty kilometres and hour. 

The funny thing was that the sport was invented in St Moritz in the 1800s when the town was principally a health spa.

Well, I suppose those doctors needed to eat just the same as the rest of us.

Anyway, the word luge. It sounds like someone throwing up. 

But then, given the lunatic dangers involved, perhaps that's fair enough.

Sunday Rest: luge. This word is French, and before that Savoyard. It comes, probably, from the Latin sludia, sled, and is probably connected to the English word slide.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Saturday Rave: Oscar Wilde and temptation.

I wouldn't exactly say that The End Times Are Upon Us, but life does seem more uncertain than usual, and this is why lately I've been turning to short forms of writing.

I'm not sure how many thousand-page novels I've got time to read (and that's if I live to be a hundred). 

Anyway, if you want something short and deliciously sharp - an epigram, in other words - then Oscar Wilde will always be a good bet.

I can't decide between:

I can resist everything except temptation


genius is born - not paid

so today we have two for the price of one. 


Word To Use Today: temptation. The Latin word temptāre means to test. 

Friday 8 May 2020

Word To Use Today: snollygoster.

I am very much indebted to my lovely new sister Clare for introducing me to the word snollygoster.

A snollygoster, for those who don't know, is an unprincipled throttlebottom.

Word To Use Today: snollygoster. No one is sure where this word came from (except mid-1800s USA).  It describes a clever but unscrupulous person, usually a politician, devoted to his own private gain. The word snallygoster probably derives from the German schnelle Geister, fast ghost, and describes a vast and terrifying monster, half reptile, half bird, which was invented to frighten ex-slaves out of voting. A connection between snallygoster and snollygoster must be likely.

A throttlebottom is a harmlessly useless person who holds public office. This word, also American, is the name of a character in the musical comedy Of Thee I Sing (1931) by George S Kaufman and Morris Ryskind.

Thursday 7 May 2020

All rather wearing: a rant.

'Look!' I said, wiggling my feet proudly. 'New shoes!'

My husband sort of grunted, which is the most you can expect. He doesn't really get the joy of shoes.

'Are you going to wear them?' he asked, in some surprise, as I walked off (he himself likes to keep his clothes in a cupboard for a year or two before he actually puts them on).

'I thought I'd wear them in,' I said. 

Later, as we were leaving the house to go for our daily exercise, he asked again if I was going to wear my new shoes - which was silly as I'd already told him I was wearing them in.

' you're going to wear them out, as well, then,' he said.

And that was when I understood the problem.

As I explained, I was wearing them in by wearing them out because I could hardly wear them in by just wearing them in, could I?

Mind you, I have to admit that if I wear them out too much then I'd probably wear them out.

Oh dear...

...I suppose I'll get the hang of this English language thing eventually. 

But meanwhile it's all rather wearing.

Word To Use Today: wear. The Old English form of this word was werian

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Nuts and Bolts: eponyms

Eponyms are names of people, real or fictional, connected to a product or place. They work in both directions, as it were: the waterproof boots called wellies are named after the Duke of Wellington; so the word wellies is an eponym of Wellington, and Wellington is the eponym of wellies.

The word eponym is also used loosely to describe something which is named after a place. Denim, for instance, comes originally from the French city of Nîmes. 

File:Mannequin with jeans.jpg
photo by Lion Hirth (Prissantenbär)

Mind you, if you're going to use technical terms then you might as well be accurate as well, and call something named after a place a toponym.

Thing To Use Today: an eponym. This word comes from the Greek word epōnumos, which means giving a significant name. 

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Thing To Try Today: pronking.

Still stuck inside far too much? Waist expanding? Not in the mood for dancing a jig?

Well, how about trying a little light pronking?

I do realise that technically you need four legs to pronk, but pronking is such good aerobic exercise it must be worth a try.

If nothing else, it'd give the rest of us a laugh.

Thing To Try Today: pronking. This word came to English in the late 1800s from Afrikaans, where it means to show off. Before that, it comes from the Dutch pronken to strut.

Although these gazelles seem to pronking for joy, pronking is also used as a way to confuse predators - or possibly just to make them laugh so much they can't run fast.

Monday 4 May 2020

Spot the Frippet: exoskeleton.

Do you keep your skeleton hidden away inside your skin?

Most of us do, but there are those who flaunt theirs:

File:Land crab 3.jpg
photo by Alex Barabas

There are good things about having an outside skeleton - an exoskeleton. If you decide you want to change shape, for instance, you can take if off like an old jacket and walk away a new creature:

discarded exoskeleton of some huge insect. Brrr! Photo by Ghazi

An exoskeleton also makes a good protection from the weather and predators. And they sometimes shines beautifully:

File:Shiny beetle 2.jpg
Slovenian beetle. Photo by Tiia Monto

But there are disadvantages to having an exoskeleton, too: skeletons are heavy, and there's a limit to how much muscle you can get inside one that's hollow. This means there are no three metre grasshoppers out there. 

But even so, an exoskeleton does very well for a host of cockroaches, crabs, snails, mussels, and many other creatures.

But the cleverest arrangement?

Well, how about a tortoise, which has both an inside (endo-) and an exoskeleton?

File:Indian star tortoise by N. A. Naseer.jpg
photo by N A Naseer

Clever animals, tortoises. I mean, I've never heard of anyone eating a tortoise. 

And that's even though they come with their own pie dish.

Spot the Frippet: an exoskeleton. Exō is the Greek for outside. Skeleton in Greek means something dried out, from skellein, to dry up.

Sunday 3 May 2020

Sunday Rest: Buggin's turn. Words Not To Use Today.

Of course we believe what the experts tell us. 

Well, they wouldn't have attained their positions of power and influence unless they were really wise and knowledgeable and clever, would they?

This is why the British expressions Buggin's turn (or occasionally, and I suppose technically more correctly, Buggins' turn) must be banished completely from our lips and minds.

Buggin's turn is the phenomenon whereby people are given jobs because they are next in line in seniority, and not through any actual, um, merit.

As I say, best not even to think about it at the moment.

Words Not To Say Today: Buggin's turn. There probably wasn't an original Buggins, it's more likely the expression arose because the name Buggins doesn't exactly resound with dignity and incisive wit. The British Admiral Lord Fisher (1841 - 1920) noted that as regards Royal Navy promotions Buggin's turn has been our ruin and will be disastrous hereafter!

There's also a reference to Buggins in a Robert Herrick verse:

Buggins is Drunke all night, all the day sleepes,
This is the Levell-coyle that Buggins keeps

levell-coyle being a party game which involves swapping places. But whether that Buggins is related to Buggin's turn I don't know.

Saturday 2 May 2020

Saturday Rave: In chaos sublunary by Ogden Nash.

The American poet Ogden Nash (1902 - 1971) failed to earn his living as a bond seller. His career as a teacher was brief, and he never made very much of a splash in his various jobs in publishing, either.

It wasn't as if he didn't come from a distinguished family - Nashville, Tennessee, is named after an ancestor of Ogden Nash - but somehow the greatness of his forebears eluded him.

He knew he was a man of considerable talent, and wrote serious Romantic poetry (luckily he realised it was ridiculous before he got round to showing it to anyone else). Then, after some time spent scribbling bits of nonsense during periods of boredom in his copy-writing job, he published a book of silly verse and suddenly became feted and famous. 

He even managed to earn a living with his verse about Life as it is Usually Lived. He wrote a successful musical, too, One Touch of Venus, and he appeared on the radio and television, and of course he wrote lots and lots more verse.

Here's a tiny taster to show that even great short art lives long:

In chaos sublunary
What remains constant but buffoonery?

I find the thought comforting.

Word To Use Today: buffoon. This word comes from the French bouffon, from the Italian buffone from the Latin būfō - which means, I'm afraid, toad.

File:Anaxyrus americanus - American toad.jpg
photo by Brian Gratwicke

Friday 1 May 2020

Word To Use Today: cushie-doo.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Scots for hundreds of superbly punchy and powerful words.

Who could fail to be galvanised by the information that a sassenach in a scuipit bunnet is scungeing with a scoosher?*

And then there's cushie-doo, which is not, as most English people might guess, a very pleasant party, but one of these:

File:Columba palumbus -garden post-8.jpg
photo of a wood-pigeon by Tristan Ferne

Yes, a pigeon. You get them all over the place. Some of them are really magnificent:  

File:Victoria Crowned Pigeon RWD4.jpg
Victoris Crowned Pigeon. Photo by DickDaniels (

and some of them are very rare:

File:Pink Pigeon RWD4.jpg
pink pigeon. I'm hoping this is the Mauritian one. This photo is also by Dick Daniels, as above

In London pigeons tend to be referred to as flying rats; but then perhaps the pigeons in Scotland are more adorable and less germ-ridden than most.

I'm rather fond of a cushie-doo, myself: they are ridiculously pleased with themselves, and they make a pleasant noise. 

I suppose they're rather like politicians...

...well, except for the pleasant noise they are, anyway.

Word To Use Today: cushie-doo. This means specifically a wood-pigeon in Scotland, but I don't see why the word shouldn't be used for other kinds of pigeon. Cushie comes from cushat, from the Old English cūscote, which is perhaps something to do with sceōtan, to shoot (poor cushie-doos!). Doo is Scots for dove.

*An English person in a peaked cap is prowling about with a water pistol.