This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday 31 March 2021

Nuts and Bolts: -polis.

 The first polis was in Ancient Greek, and the word described a city-state, an entity which included the means of government of the region, that kind of thing. Those were violent times, and the polis usually had a fortified area in the middle that was called the acropolis (which means high city).

There are still plenty of polises about nowa days. A megalopolis (that means big city) will probably be a merger of several smaller cities. A metropolis (mother city) is probably a seat of government (sweetly, there's a word minimetropolis, too). A tripolis is a group of three cities (Tripoli is one of those  - in fact Tripoli is two of those, because there's another one in Lebanon). A similar idea gives us pentapolis, dodecapolis, duododecapolis. An eperopolis is a landmass city, one so big it takes up most of a country. An ecumenopolis is a city that takes up most of a planet.

Then we have cosmopolis (world city (though this is not so much to do with size as diversity)) a necropolis (city of the dead, a cemetery with lots of tombs the size of houses, basically) propolis (a before-city, which can mean either a suburb, or the stuff bees use to glue their hives together) exopolis (outside city: a modern word for urban sprawl) Heliopolis (sun city: they worshipped the sun there), ideopolis (knowledge city) and technopolis (one that makes hi-tech stuff).

So there we are.

Basically, I suppose you'd have to say it's mostly marketing.

Word To Use Today: one ending polis.

Tuesday 30 March 2021

Thing To Be Today: chuffed.

According to the Collins dictionary, this word is only used in Britain. It's marked as slang, as well, but it's still a lovely word for a lovely thing, and I don't see why anyone who likes it shouldn't borrow it.

People are usually either dead chuffed or well chuffed or none too chuffed.

What does it mean? 

It means pleased and delighted, but there's also a sense of being just a bit pleased with oneself, as well: of being a bit more confident, of walking a bit taller, of being a bit more out-going.

You can be pleased without smiling, but to be chuffed shows in a beaming smile and a bit of a swagger.

Etymologically, the smile is important.

Thing To Be Today: chuffed. This word meant chubby before it meant pleased, and before that, in the 1500s, a chuff was a fat cheek (as one has when one smiles).

Strangely, though I've never come across it in real life, there's another word chuff, which might come from the same source, and which means sullen. This seems to have at root the same kind of idea - basically, fat-headed or thick.

Monday 29 March 2021

Spot the Frippet: pony.

 Here's a nice hard-working word: pony.

You might be able to find one of these:

Shetland pony (though this one iss on Dartmoor, confusingly). Photo by Miles Wolstenholme

in a field near you, but if not there are other kinds.

In Britain, a pony is the sum of £25, especially if it's being used as a bet.

Or it can be a small drinking glass, the small kind often used for liqueurs:

Or, a pony can be a literal translation of a foreign text, used by cheating (or lazy) students.

If you can't find any of these ponies then you'll almost certainly be able to spot the back end of a pony, at least, namely its tail:

In fact, with so many hairdressers locked down, you can probably make one of your own.

Spot the Frippet: pony. This word is Scottish. Where it came from before that is a bit of a mystery, but there's a French word poulenet, which means a little colt, from poulain, colt, from the Latin word pullus, which means a young animal.

Sunday 28 March 2021

Sunday Rest: covidiot.

 The global pandemic has changed a lot of stuff - I mean, really a lot of stuff - but what it has hardly changed at all, at least here in Britain, is our vocabulary.

Yes, we all talk about social distancing and coronavirus and Covid-19, and most of us will understand WFH (Working From Home), but most of the new words, with the notable exception of Covid, are actually old ones used in new combinations.

I'm not saying this is bad. Just interesting.

In fact apart from Covid the only new word that I'm aware of as at all widely-used (and even then I've only come across it in the press) is the extension of the word Covid which is covidiot. A covidiot is someone who is reckless about spreading the disease, usually by failing to observe the local regulations.

I'm trying to work out why the new Covid vocabulary has failed to catch on. Covidiot is a fairly horrible word, but that doesn't usually stop people grabbing at a neologism.

There are two possibilities that I can think of. One is that coronavirus is not a thing of fashion, and so there's no status to be had in adopting its language.

The other is that no one wants to give the wretched thing any more prominence and importance than it already has.

Sunday Rest: covidiot. The cov- bit comes from COrona Virus. (The word Covid comes from COrona VIrus Disease.) Corona is to do with crowns (as in a king's crown) because the virus is similarly spiky. The word virus comes from the Latin word for slime or poisonous liquid. A close relation is the Old English word wāse, which means marsh.

Idiot comes from the Greek idiōtēs, private person, that is, one who lacks any professional knowledge, and so an ignoramus.

Saturday 27 March 2021

Saturday Rave: S'i' fosso foco by Cecco Angliolieri.

 It's not just writers in English who can be funny, you know. Or people of the modern age.

Cecco Angliolieri lived in Siena in Italy from 1260 - c1312. It sounds as if he had a lot of fun, and his sonnet sounds as if it could have been written yesterday.

This translation is by Lorna de' Lucchi. 

If I were fire

If I were fire, I'd burn the world; if wind,

Around about it furiously I'd blow;

If water, drowning it would suit my mind;

If God, then I'd dispatch it straight below;

If I were pope, I'd have a bit of fun

In setting Christians one against another;

If emp'ror, well, what think ye I'd have done?

All heads chopped off, and so an end to bother!

I would go seek my father were I death;

But were I life from him I'd flee away;

And I'd behave the same towards my mother;

If Cecco, as I am and draw my breath,

I'd choose such ladies as are young and gay,

Leaving the old and ugly to another.

S'i' fosso foco

Si'i' fosse foco, arderei 'l mondo

S'i' fosso vento, lo tempersterei

S'i' fosse acqua, i' l'annegherei

Si'i fosse Dio mandereil' en profondo

Si'i fosse Papa allor sarei giocondo

che' tutti cristiani 'mbrigarei

S'i' fosse 'imperator ben lo farei

a tutti taglierei lo capo a tondo

Si'i fosse morte andarei a mi padre

Si'i fosse vita non starei con lui

similmente faria con mi' madre

Si'i fosse Cecco com'i' sono e fui

torrei le donne giovani e leggiadre

le zoppe e vecchie lasserei altrui.

Friday 26 March 2021

Word To Use Today: bombacaceous.

 The word bombacaceous doesn't mean large, bouncing, amazing and wondrous, it means to do with a group of tropical trees. One of these is the kapok tree:

photo by muffin

and another is the baobab tree:

photo by Bernard Gagnon

Still, could mean bouncing and marvellous, couldn't it?

Jelly and ice cream? That's bombacaceous!

Bombacaceous is certainly far too magnificent a word to waste on only trees.

Word To Use Today: bombacaceous. This word describes trees of the family Bombacaceae. It comes from the Latin bombyx, which means silkworm or silk (kapok is silky stuff that surrounds the seeds of the kapok tree. It's used for stuffing cushions and things) from the Greek word bombux.

Thursday 25 March 2021

Art in the Abstract: a rant.

 You can't make an abstract painting of a cabbage.

You can't make one of a boat, a mountain, poppies, or the interior of a church, either.

You can have an impressionist painting of all these things, or a cubist or even a surrealist one (other schools of art are available) but not an abstract one.

You can have an abstract painting of hate, hope, a new beginning, or, indeed, nothing in particular (in which case you can call it Composition No 4, or Yellow Red Blue or something).

Jaune Rouge Bleu, by Wassily Kandinsky

Abstract art depicts something you can't actually see.

You wouldn't believe how many really quite competent artists do not know this.


Word To Use Today: abstract. This word has been around in English since the 1300s. It comes from the Latin word abstractus, which means drawn off, or removed from, from ab- , away from, plus trahere, to draw.

Wednesday 24 March 2021

Nuts and Bolts: ambigrams.

 Ambigrams are bits of writing that can be read in two different ways. This can be upside down as well as the right way up, or it can be from right to left as well as from left to right (as a mirror image).

The message you read can be the same in both directions, or it can be a different one.

Look at this image upside down, and you'll see that it's just the same as it is the right way up:

this image is By Basile Morin (Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, You can see it rotating on Wikipedia.

Ambigrams have been around for centuries. Here's one outside Hagia Sophia in Istambul:

The writing means wash your soul, not only your face. If you look, you can see that the N s are written backwards in the right hand part of the inscription, but it's still really clever, especially as this inscription is on a font.

Here's a more modern ambigram:

and one more:

that one's by Basile Morin, too.

What's the point of ambigrams

Well, they make you feel grateful to the creator, which in turn makes you think properly about the message, doesn't it?

But the sheer fun, cleverness and beauty are enough for me.

Word To Use Today: ambigram. This word was coined by the American cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter (no relation, as far as I know, to Leonard). The ambi- bit is Latin and means round, both, or on both sides; the -gram bit comes from Latin, too, from Greek, where gramma means letter.

Tuesday 23 March 2021

Thing Not To Be Today: thrasonical.

 The British don't much like people who boast. If one of us is given an opportunity to boast (which won't happen very often) then the correct thing to do is to reject the opportunity with self-deprecating humour.

Many societies in the world do not understand this behaviour at all. In fact, I'm not even sure that I do.

(The British also don't much like people who expect to be the centre of attention, either, and it's possible the two things are linked.)

Still, if you want to describe someone as boastful without making an enemy then you can always use the word thrasonical

Even if the person in question is listening - and boastful people often don't listen - then it's very unlikely he or she will understand it.

Thing Not To Be Today: thrasonical. Thrasō is a boastful soldier in a dodgy but very-successful-at-the-time play, Eunuchus, by the Roman writer Terence. 

woodcut by Albrecht Dürer 

The Greek word thrasus means forceful.

Monday 22 March 2021

Spot the Frippet: hub.

 You find hubs in the middles of things. 

It's usually a wheel:

photo of Opel wheel hub  by Cschirp

photo of a cartwheel by Sarang

but it might be an air-travel network:

photo of Heathrow Airport by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz (Mariordo)

or any kind of electronic network:

photo of a media hub by mastermag.

Hub is also now a fashionable word to describe anywhere where people come together in order to cooperate. Yes, that's right, they used to be called offices or classrooms or churches.

I probably should have called this blog The Word Hub, really. 

But never mind.

Spot the Frippet: hub. This feels as if it should be a really old word, especially when you consider that wheels have had hubs for thousands of years, but it isn't. It is probably linked in some way to the word hob (as in oven) and that only dates from the 1500s. Hob used to be hubbe, but no one knows where it came from before that.

Sunday 21 March 2021

Sunday Rest: cynosure.

 A cynosure (you say it SInohSHOR) is something that people notice because it's so brilliantly wonderful or lovely. It's the kind of thing that's so marvellous that people want to copy it.

All the same, a word that sounds more lacking in brilliance and natural enthusiasm I have yet to see. It sounds like a criticism, like something cynical.

And, actually, that's no coincidence.

Sunday Rest: cynosure. The cyno- bit is from the Greek kude, which means dog. Kunosoura means dog's tail, and is to do with the constellation Ursa Minor. 

image by Keesscherer

I suppose the constellation is quite dazzling, if you like that kind of thing. 

And it's the middle of the night. 

And not cloudy.

The word cynic is from kude, too. 

I can only suppose that dogs in Ancient Greece must have been quite grumpy.

Saturday 20 March 2021

Saturday Rave: The Shepherd's Calendar. March. By John Clare.

 Spring, the sweet spring

Is the year's pleasant thing

...or so says the sane, if unwise, Thomas Nashe. 

But John Clare, who was called mad, tells it like it really is:

March month of "many weathers" wildly hums

In hail & snow & rain & threatning comes...

...Yet winter seems half weary of its toil

& round the ploughman on the elting soil

Will thread a minutes sunshine wild & warm

Thro the ragged places of the swimming storm

& oft the shepherd in his path will spy

The little daisy in the wet grass lye

That to the peeping sun enlivens gay

Like Labour smiling on a holiday

photo by Willow

Anyone who's lived through an English winter knows the joy of spotting a daisy at last! 

John Clare is the poet-genius of small things. How glorious that nearly two hundred years after that daisy gave him a jolt of hope and joy his vision is still shining through the darkness of this year.

Word To Use Today: elting. This is a dialect word and means softening, or muddy. It comes from the Old Norse elta which means to knead.

Friday 19 March 2021

Word To Use Today: xenogenesis.

English doesn't have nearly enough words beginning with the letter X, and those we have tend to be rather technical and useless (like xenocryst, which is a crystal which forms as lava is cooling, but disappears before it is cold. That's what the dictionary says it is, anyway).

Still, even xenocryst is useful as a spur to the imagination...what if a xenocryst had some quality or magical power, the need for which involved a quest into the crater of a volcano? That's an idea upon which to hang a story...and, you never know, I might do just that.

But the word which I'm actually intending to present to you as a gift to your imaginations is xenogenesis. This is the (unreal) process by which parents give birth to a child completely unlike themselves.

photo by Alan D Mason

You could create a whole epic, or a whole religion, around that idea.

Have fun as you do.

Word To Consider Today: xenogenesis. The Greek word xenos means strange. Genesis is an Old English word, from the Greek word gignesthai, to be born.

Thursday 18 March 2021

Logic: a rant.

 'Life is about storytelling,' said a titled lady recently, 'about the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we're told, and what we buy into.'


...but what happens when the stories of different people clash? As another titled lady has said, recollections may vary.

Whom do we believe?

Should it be the person who is most like you? The person who speaks her story loudest? The person who appears to be most upset? The person who claims the right to most sympathy? The person who claims to be kind? The person who has the longest track-record of truthfulness? The person with the biggest gang? The person who doesn't claim the right to most sympathy?

Or might there be some other criterion?

Word To Use Today: story. This word comes from the Anglo-French estorie, from the Latin historia, which means history.

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Nuts and Bolts: typographical paranomasia.

 Oh, don't you just love grammarians?

(Don't answer that!)

I mean, what is the point of grammar, anyway? Isn't it something to do with clarity of meaning?

The reason I'm asking is that the rest of us call an example of typographic paranomasia a pun.

Still, I suppose if sticking long words together makes people feel clever...

Words Probably Not To Bother With Today: typographical paranomasia. The word paranomasia comes from the Greek word paronomazein, which means to call someone by slightly the wrong name. Para- means, well, almost anything you want it to mean, really, and onoma means name. The Greek word graphein is to do with writing, and the other Greek word tupos means type.

Tuesday 16 March 2021

English Thing To Be Today: a caution.

 Long ago, when I was young, I'd hear elderly Londoners saying ooh, she's a caution! By which they meant, not that she was a living example of What Not To Do, but that she was full of fun, an extrovert, an original, and the Life and Soul of every party.

The expression was sometimes used sarcastically of someone who either imagined herself wrongly to be the Life and Soul of the party, or who did something staggeringly foolish.

It was used of men, too.

The same phrase in the USA seems to have begun as a caution to snakes (or turtles, or some other creature) and to have there more or less its expected meaning of warning. Even in the USA, though, there's a feeling of original behaviour running through the expression, so perhaps there's a link between the two expressions somewhere.

English Thing To Be Today: a caution. This word comes from the Old French, from the Latin cavēre, to beware.

Monday 15 March 2021

Spot the Frippet: Eton Mess.

 An Eton Mess is not an alumnus of the famous British school - and particularly not one who has somehow failed to imbibe even the most basic rudiments of honesty, generosity, truthfulness, and kindness - but is instead a kind of pudding.

Traditionally it is made of strawberries mixed with broken pieces of meringue and whipped cream:

Any other kind of Eton Mess is really best ignored, or, at least, avoided.

Though that, sadly, is sometimes hardly possible.

Spot the Frippet: Eton Mess. Eton Mess as a compound noun first appeared in print in 1893. It is traditionally served at Eton School on the day of the annual cricket match against Harrow School, and the recipe may have originated there. 

It can and has been made with ice cream, bananas, and any other soft fruit, but strawberries and cream are usual. 

The name Eton comes from the Old English ēa-tūn, which means River-Town. Eton is situated on the River Thames.

Mess might describe the appearance of the pudding, or it might be the word that describes a quantity of food (as in a mess of pottage). In both cases the word comes from the Old French mes, a dish, from the Latin missus, a course of a meal, from mittere, to set out.

Sunday 14 March 2021

Sunday Rest: Word Not To Use Today: glamdigan.

 A glamdigan is a cardigan that makes the wearer look glamorous.

I don't know whether to marvel more at fashion journalists' desire for ever more hideous and unnecessary words, or the public's ability for eternal hope and self-delusion.

Still, we wouldn't want to be without eternal hope and self-delusion, would we? 

The world would be so much grimmer a place.

Sunday Rest: glamdigan. The glam bit is presumably from the word glamour, a Scottish form of the word grammar and meaning to do with magic (because anyone who can read and write was in former times thought to be up to no good). The -digan bit comes from the word cardigan, after the 7th Earl of Cardigan who led the Charge if the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. He probably didn't have that much to do with cardigans, really, but he was a popular figure at a time when the garment was looking for a name.

For fans of knitted garments, The Charge of the Light Brigade was part of the Battle of Balaclava.

Saturday 13 March 2021

Saturday Rave: "Hope" is the thing with feathers - by Emily Dickenson

 Here's something short, sweet, simple, beautiful, infinite and true.

What more could anyone want?

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all - 

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm - 

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land - 

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

photo by Hariadhi 

Word To Use Today: hope. The Old English form of this word was hopa

Yes, it's been around a long time.

Friday 12 March 2021

Word To Use Today: wimple.

 Here's a plain, unassuming word. In a world of shouters and show-offs, that's rather endearing.

I don't see nearly as many nuns as I used to, but they sometimes used to wear wimples:

photo by Bryan Ledgard

(The wimple is the cloth that goes over the head and under the chin. They were quite fashionable in the Middle Ages (though that was just a bit before my time):)

painting by Robert Campin

In Scotland a wimple is a bend or curve in a river:

photo by Gareth Hart

and to wimple can mean to ripple.

There is also a very old meaning which is rather lovely: to arrange a piece of cloth so it falls in folds.

Whatever it means, it's a gentle word. 

And sometimes, you know, that's just what you need.

Word To Use Today: wimple. This word was wimpal in Old English, so people have been using it for a long time.

Thursday 11 March 2021

A Notice: a rant.

 Not long ago we went for a long walk along a track through some woods. At its end we came to a wide common with view over the hills and copses of the Chilterns:

photo by Steve Daniels

And there we found a small car park

Now, you may doubt my word about this. Was it really a car park? You may be thinking. Does Sally Prue have the necessary qualifications in car parks to make a definite identification? Does she, moreover, have enough experience in car park statistics and measurements to justify that description of it as small?

But it's all right, because there was a notice.

It said:

This car park is small

(so you see, no expertise on my part was required).

The notice went on:

Sorry - 

if you can't find a parking space, please leave and try again later

I suppose the people who put up that notice meant to be kind.

But they're still worth ridiculing on The Word Den, aren't they?

Word To Use Today: park. This word comes form the Old French parc, enclosure. Before that there are various similar Germanic words which mean pen (as in fenced area for keeping animals). One Old English one of those is pearruc.

Wednesday 10 March 2021

Nuts and Bolts: Toki Pona.

 Do you want to learn a whole new language in just a couple of days? 

Well, Toki Pona might be the one for you.

As a considerable bonus, it's designed to make you happy, too.

Toki Pona was invented by the Canadian linguist and translator Sonja Lang, partly to help her recover from her depression. It has its roots in Buddhist philosophy, and also in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (which says that the language you use affects the way your mind works).

Toki Pona has about 125 words (there are also 14 extra bits that are stuck on to make the grammar work). You can stick words together to make extra meanings, so for example, jan (person) plus utala (fight) means warrior or soldier. All the sounds are designed to be easily pronounceable by speakers of all languages. 

Names of people and places are transcribed phonetically according to certain rules (Toki Pona doesn't have as many sounds as most languages). John, for instance, becomes San.

Toki Pona has changed just a little since it was invented in about 2001. The words for eye and see have merged, for example, and a few words have been changed because they were too similar, but in its current form it functions as an effective means of communication.

There are several ways of writing Toki Pona, but here's one of them:

by Sonja Lang and Bryant Knight

Simple, easy, and makes people happy?

You never know, it might even be worth a try.

Word To Use Today: Tok Pona. Toki means language, and comes from the English word talk. Pona means good or simple (interesting combination of meanings, that) and comes from Esperanto, from the Latin bonus, good.   

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Thing Possibly Not To Get On Today: the bandwagon.

 I was discussing the positioning of my latest book the other day and my agent said it's definitely not YA [Young Adult] - it isn't miserable or about gender fluidity.

And I thought: what is a bandwagon, exactly?

Slightly disappointingly, a bandwagon turns out to be a wagon that carries, yes, a band. This band is of the musical kind. Highly decorated and noisy processions featuring a bandwagon used to parade through towns to whip up audiences for visiting circuses. 

photo by 

This was a definitely American phenomenon, and the history of the word gets more American yet, because these bandwagons were also used to publicise political rallies (Britain doesn't do that kind of thing: we'd find any kind of obvious enthusiasm for a politician deeply embarrassing) and so jumping on the bandwagon came to mean hitching a ride with anything already popular and successful.

Of course there's nothing wrong with jumping on the bandwagon

Well, there isn't as long, obviously, as you have something new, or at least deeply sincere, to say.

But then that lets most of us out, doesn't it.

Thing Possibly Not To Get On Today: the bandwagon. The first record of this word comes from 1849, and by 1890 it had its joining-in-a-craze meaning. The word band comes from the Old French word banda, and might be originally from the Gothic bandwa, which is basically the same word as banner. The word wagon comes from the Dutch wagen.

Monday 8 March 2021

Spot the Frippet: an infant prodigy.

 Picasso could draw so well at the age of twelve that his father gave up his own career as an artist.

Mozart was writing elegant music at six years old:

The pianist Lang Lang could play The Minute Waltz at the age of five.

Thomas Chatterton was writing in Greek at...I can't remember when, exactly, but it was ridiculously early. Five or six?

But where, you may ask, am I going to spot an infant prodigy today as I go about the place?

It's easy. Just ask any mother of any small child. 

Or the granny.

Spot the Frippet: an infant prodigy. The word infant comes from the Latin infāns which means, literally speechless. Fārī means to speak.

The word prodigy comes from the Latin word prōdigium, an unnatural happening.

Sunday 7 March 2021

Sunday Rest: thinkfluencer

 It's hard to credit this, but people have started claiming to be thinkfluencers.

Well, we'll be the judge of that.

Word Not To Use Today: thinkfluencer. The good thing about this word is that it does sound a bit like influenza...and both are probably equally fun to catch. 

I'm not sure who coined this word, but Rurik Bradbury was using it to describe his satirical internet expert character Professor Jeff Jarvis in 2012. 

Sadly, the word has now stopped being a joke and people have actually started to take it seriously. 

The Old English form of thank was thencan. The Latin word influere means to flow into.

Saturday 6 March 2021

Saturday Rave: Daisy Time by Marjorie Pickthall.

 Poor Marjorie Pickthall! She lived in a time (1883-1922) when poetry was becoming exuberantly experimental, but what she wanted was to create sweet harmonies and pleasant images. She was all for sense and justice and unfashionable stuff like that.

This made her quite a hit with some of the older folk, but saw her despised by the intellectuals (who, of course, always make a lot of noise).

Anyway, here's a poem for Spring - or early Summer, anyway. It's not tortured or original, and it doesn't obviously have anything to say except the sight of daisies makes me feel happy. It's very simple, and the ending is a bit wince-makingly twee, but it's cheerful and bright. 

And sometimes that's enough.

Daisy Time

See, the grass is full of stars,

Fallen in their brightness;

Hearts they have of shining gold.

Rays of shining whiteness.

Buttercups have honeyed hearts,

Bees they love the clover.

But I love the daisies' dance

All the meadow over.

Blow, oh blow, you happy winds

Singing summer's praises.

Up the field and down the field

A-dancing with the daisies.

photo by Editor5807

Word To Use Today: daisy. The Old English form of this word was dægesēge, which means day's eye.

Friday 5 March 2021

Word To Use Today: granola.

 Granola is a fairly horrid word for a sickly-sweet baked musli (which is also a fairly horrid word: why the stuff attracts such revolting monikers I really don't know; but it's possibly because it resembles floor sweepings.

Mind you, floor-sweepings would probably be better for you).

Anyway, some people eat it for breakfast.

Things could be worse, though - and they have been. The stuff was originally devised as a commercial product by James Caleb Jackson in the USA of the 1800s, and he called it Granula, which sounds like a disease. Then W K Kellog came along and made the same stuff. He called his stuff Granula, as well, but he later changed it to Granola to avoid legal difficulties with Mr Jackson. 

The word Granola is still a trademark in Australia and New Zealand, but they tend sensibly to call it musli, anyway, so it doesn't bother them.

Word To Use Today: granola. This word is probably based on the word grain, and, at a guess, also tries to conjure up some of the delightful surprises of a tombola. The word grain comes from the Latin word grānum. The word tombola comes from the Italian word tombolare, to tumble.

Thursday 4 March 2021

Thursday Holidays Count: a rant.

 This from The Telegraph online on the 24 February 2021:

EU leaders will call for the continuation of tight coronavirus restrictions, including bans on non-essential travel such as holidays on Thursday...

Well, I'm not really surprised they disapprove of Thursday holidays. I mean, if you have a holiday on a Thursday then you spend Friday telling everyone about your day off, and then by the time you've got your head into work-mode again it's the weekend.

I'm still quite surprised that EU leaders actually want to pass a law about it, though.*

Word To Use Today: Thursday. This day is named after the Norse god Thor, the god of thunder, the one with a hammer. In Old English the word is Þūnresdæg.

illustration by Ludwig Pietsch

Just love those dinky shorts!

*I know the piece meant to imply that on Thursday there was going to be a call for restrictions on travel. 

Still it's more fun this way, isn't it.

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Nuts and Bolts: freight-train eponyms.

 Stigler's Law states that any scientific law named after a person refers to science that was discovered by someone else.

I heard about Stigler's Law on the BBC Radio programme Laws That Aren't Laws, which you can hear HERE. It even has an interview with Professor Stigler himself in it.

The part of the programme which particularly struck me was the idea of the freight-train eponym. (An eponym is a person's name given to something else, like, say, Halley's Comet.)

The thing about freight trains, as far as freight-train eponyms are concerned, is that they come as a long series of trucks one after the other.

Now, think again about Halley's Comet:

It's called after the astronomer Edmund Halley, who was the person who worked out when it was going to been seen again from Earth. But the comet had been noticed by people long before that (the illustration above is from the eleventh century Bayeux Tapestry).

Named people associated with the comet before Halley include Tigranes the Great of Armenia (140 - 55 BC), who put the thing on his coins; the Roman Cassius Dio; and the Frankish King Louis the Pious (he was Charlemagne's son).

To name Halley's Comet more fairly it should be called the Tigranes the Great-Cassius Dio-Louis the Pious-Halley's Comet.

Four names is generally reckoned to be the limit for a freight-train eponym

But that doesn't stop them being ridiculous, does it.

Word To Use Today: an eponym. The Greek word epōnumos means giving a significant name.

Tuesday 2 March 2021

Thing Not To Do Today: lurch.

 These times are not cheerful, and so although my first thought upon coming across the word lurch was of Ted Cassidy's character in The Addams Family:

Lurch is on the right. He's here with Jackie Coogan's Uncle Fester

 my next was a reaction to it.

Thus sings Ariel, the (sometimes) invisible sprite in The Tempest:

Come unto these yellow sands,

And then take hands:

Courtsied when you have and kiss'd

The wild waves whist,

Foot it featly here and there;

And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.

Ariel by Henry Fuseli

That's a vision of paradise from where I'm sitting. But still, I saw a robin with some moss in its beak the other day: summer is coming, and one day we will take hands and dance again.

But for now it's a steady march along the narrow path to better things, and no lurching wildly to left or right into the path of lurking evils.

Well, here's hoping.

Thing Not To Do Today: lurch. We've only had this word in English since the 1780s. It might be from the nautical term lee-larches, which is what happens when a large wave hits a ship when it's sailing with the wind in a high sea and tips it suddenly over to one side. Or it might come from the French lacher, to let go. The Latin laxus means loose.

Monday 1 March 2021

Spot the Frippet: lute.

 You might possibly have a picture of a lute about the place:

painting by Bernardo Strozzi 1581 - 1644

though you're unlikely to have a real one:

lute by Sixtus Rauchwolff, 1590s

But still, there are lots of lutes you can listen to on YouTube (this very short introduction to the lute is completely charming):

But did you know that there may well be lute in your house - and perhaps some in your mouth?

One kind of lute is a mixture of cement and clay used to fix the joints between pipes; and the other kind is the cement used to stick crowns or veneers onto broken teeth.

There, you see? Closer than you thought.

Spot the Frippet: lute. The musical instrument word comes from the Old French lut, and before that it came through Provençal from the Arabic al'ūd, which means the wood. The cement word also comes from the Old French, but from the Latin lutum, clay.