This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday 30 April 2021

Word To Use Today: vulcanology.

 The blood group of Mr Spock, that most famous inhabitant of the planet Vulcan, is T negative. Sadly, this is nothing to do with vulcanology, which is the study of volcanoes.

(By the way, Mr Spock was originally supposed to come from the planet Mars, not the planet Vulcan, but there was a fear that mankind might get to Mars before Star Trek finished being broadcast - which is still possible. Mr Spock's Vulcan wasn't the planet Vulcan which was thought by the French mathematician Urban le Verrier to exist between Mercury and the sun:

illustration by E Jones and G W Newman

but another, equally non-existent one, which has been said to exist in the triple star system 40 Eridani.)

Anyway, vulcanology. It's usually spelled volcanology...

...but that post wouldn't have been nearly so much fun to write.

Word To Use Today: vulcanology. Vulcan was the Roman god of fire and metal-working and his activities were said to cause earthquakes and volcanic activities. The Latin word for lighting was fulmen, which might be something to do with the name Vulcan, but on the other hand there were loads of similarly-named gods all over the place in the ancient world, and the name could really have come from anywhere.

Thursday 29 April 2021

Vote A rant.

 There are to be some elections in Britain next month. One of them is to elect the members of a new Scottish Parliament. (The Scottish Parliament has responsibility for things like Health and Education, but not UK-wide things like Defence.) 

Now, the SNP is the Scottish National Party, but are the Scottish Tories the SNP's friends and coalition partners, or their enemies? 

Can you tell from this headline in the Telegraph newspaper.?

Stop SNP 'wrecking' Covid recovery by voting for Scottish Tories, says Douglas Ross

To discover the answer to this question you really have to know that Douglas Ross is leader of the Scottish Tory (or Conservative) Party.

Yep, though you can't tell from that headline, te SNP and the Tories are deadly enemies. It's like watching a production of Macbeth at times. 

Though, admittedly, with fewer people tramping about carrying trees.

Word To Use Today: vote. The Latin word vōtum means a solemn promise, from vovēre, to vow.

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Nuts and Bolts: the Swedish alphabet.

 Swedish has twenty-nine letters in its alphabet - that's the English twenty-six plus three more vowels, å ä and ö.

The three extras are placed at the end of the alphabet, after the z, and are regarded as completely separate letters from a and o.

This basically Roman alphabet came to Sweden with Christianity, but the old Swedish runes continued to be used into the 1700s, especially in the countryside. More or less everyone could read runes, but it took a long time for everyone to get round to learning to read the Roman script, so literacy actually got worse after the new alphabet was introduced.

In 1889 someone noticed that the letter Q wasn't a lot of use, and from 1900 it was replaced by the letter K in all contexts except proper names like Husqvarna and borrowed words like queer.

W and V were treated as the same letter, and V was generally preferred (except for some ancient families who were proud of their old W-spelled names). But then the World Wide Web came along, which made things trickier, and so from 2006 dictionaries have split up V word and W words into two sections. Before that they were all jumbled up together.

Z is rare, most old uses having been rather sensibly replaced with the letter S.

There's a sound in Swedish called the sj sound. It sounds (to me) a bit like hfwar, and it is said to be spelled in fifty different ways.

I shall not moan about English until at least tomorrow.

Word To Use Today: one of Swedish origin. Perhaps gauntlet, tungsten, or ombudsman. 

Allow yourself an extra biscuit if you can use them all in the same conversation.

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Thing To Do Today: shimmer.

 To shimmer is to glow faintly with a mysterious and beguiling light.

There are, as far as I can see, four ways to make oneself shimmer. Coat oneself in a powder that contains tiny reflective flakes:

photo by Vanessatevesti

 or one could wear a hi-vis jacket with a couple of layers of net curtain draped over it; find some moonlight to pose in; or shove a torch down your bra.

If you're trying to attract someone try the first or third; if you're trying to repel them then the second or last should, I think, be remarkably effective.

Thing To Do Today: shimmer. This word was scimerian in Old English. The word is related to the Low German schēmeren, which means to grow dark, and the Old Norse skimi, which means brightness.

Monday 26 April 2021

Spot the Frippet: squab.

 Squab is a rather unlovely word; but they're useful things, squabs

The only one I knew about before today was the squab that's a young pigeon:

photo by Karthik Easvur

but apparently a squab can be any unfledged bird.

Squab is also a name for a short plump person:

illustration by Fred Barnard

as well as a well-stuffed cushion:

photo by Scrumshus

or any other short and fat thing:

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

So, really, the puzzle with the word squab is how any of us have ever managed to get through a day without it.

Spot the Frippet: a squab. This word is probably of Germanic origin. There's a Swedish dialect word sqvabb that means flabby skin, and sqvabba is a fat woman (which is a bit odd, because you wouldn't expect a fat woman to have flabby skin). The German word Quabbe is a soft mass and the Norwegian kvabb is mud.

Sunday 25 April 2021

Sunday Rest: devastated. Word Not To Use Today.

 There is nothing at all wrong with the word devastated, but what word are you going to use if something worse happens than your team losing a match?

Sunday Rest: devastated. This word comes from the Latin dēvāstare. Vāstare means to ravage, from vastus, which means waste, or empty. 

Mohave Desert, photo by Mr Johnson

Saturday 24 April 2021

Saturday Rave: April from the Shepherd's Calendar by John Clare.

 The Word Den has noted before the many cuts the editor of The Shepherd's Calendar, John Taylor, made to John Clare's original text.

Here's the last published verse of April. This verse wasn't cut, it was inserted: and whoever wrote it, it wasn't John Clare:

Though at her birth the northern gale

Come with its withering sigh;

And hopeful blossoms, turning pale,

Upon her bosom die;

Ere April seeks another place,

And ends her reign in this,

She leaves us with as fair a face

As e're gave birth to bliss!

Competent, isn't it? Sums up the whole month in a nice obvious way.

Meanwhile, here's a (cut) verse from earlier in the poem by John Clare himself:

Young things of tender life again

Enjoys thy sunny hours

& gosslings waddle o'er the plain

As yellow as its flowers

Or swim the pond in wild delight

To catch the water flye

W[h]ere hissing geese in ceaseless spite

Make children scamper bye.

photo (of a Canada Goose gosling, which John Clare is unlikely to have seen on his village pond) by Mike's Birds

I mean, aren't hopeful blossoms just so much more poetic than goslings, for heaven's sake?


Word To Use Today: gosling. Goose - geese - gosling. Oh, how I do love the English language! The word gosling comes from the Old Norse gæslingr, and both words are of course related to the word goose, a word which goes all the way back to the Sanskrit hainsas.

Friday 23 April 2021

Word To Use Today: squirrel.

 This choice of word is a bit mean, quite honestly, because squirrel is a really hard word to say if your native tongue (are we allowed to call them that any more?) is French, for instance. (Other hard-to-pronounce words, according to a survey on Reddit, involve the words sixth, rural, isthmus and choir).

But, hey, squirrels are cute:

photo of a red squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris, by Peter Trimming

...well, they are as long as they're not in your garden digging up the tulip bulbs (which they can't be, because all the squirrels in the world are currently wreaking havoc in mine).*

The other sort of squirrel is human, and then the word describes someone who hoards things - not in a massive, about-to-be-buried-by-a-mountain-of newspaper way, but more in the sense of keeping things like sweet-wrappers just in case, um, you want to make a picture using sweet-wrappers...or wrap some sweets.

The bushy-tailed type of squirrels usually squirrel nuts, but that's actually completely sensible behaviour. Unlike digging up bulbs you don't even eat.

Still, the derivation of the word is beautiful.

Word To Use Today: squirrel. This word comes from the Old French esquireul, from the Latin sciūrus, from the Greek skiouros, from skia, shadow plus oura, tail.

*Though, to be fair, it might have been the blasted badgers, instead. 

Thursday 22 April 2021

Getting the blues: a rant.

 Harvey Tweats and Tom Whitehurst are a pair of enterprising teenagers from Staffordshire in England. They have set up a company breeding rare amphibians and reptiles with the aim of reintroducing them into the countryside.

I'll let The Telegraph newspaper take up the account of what happened when the young men tried a new method inducing moor frogs, aka Rana avalis, to breed.

They created a breeding enclosure in a plasterer's bath, and played sounds of males mating so they felt like they were surrounded by rivals, and turned bright blue.

I'm naturally full of admiration for the dedication, empathy, and scientific rigor displayed by these two young men; they are apparently the first people ever to persuade the moor frog to turn fully blue in captivity.

But I do hope the colour faded before Harvey and Tom had to go back to college.

photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0,

Word To Use Today: blue. Yes, this word does come from the French word bleu. It's really a Germanic word, though, and way back it is connected as well to the Latin word flāvus which means, of course, yellow.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Scrabble words: Nuts and Bolts

 Most of us who play Scrabble use a dog-eared old dictionary to settle disputes about the validity of words like zydeco or qui, but for the people who play in serious tournaments there's an official list of allowable words.

It's a long long list, but the most skillful players will know all the possible three-letter words, at least, off by heart (even if they don't know their meanings. But then, if you think about it, you don't have to know the meanings of the words to play Scrabble).

Anyway, this list has just got shorter by about four hundred words, and the problem here isn't the three-letter words, but the four-letter ones. I don't know exactly how many words have been lost because Mattel, the owners of the rights to Scrabble in most of the world (though not North America) isn't providing a list. Research suggests, however, that many of the banned words are unflattering ones to do with racial attributes. Ray Adler, who's in charge of this stuff, says he wants to make Scrabble 'more culturally relevant'.

Relevant...interesting use of that word...

Three matters arising from this decision: does pretending that nasty words don't exist make the feelings behind those words disappear, or does it encourage the nastiness to thrive unchallenged?

Some words get ruder as time goes on, while others become polite. If you ban a rude word that describes a feature displayed by a group of people, have you lost a means to express your admiration for that feature?

And is there anything more likely to encourage the use of a word than banning it?

Double points for any rude word, anyone? 

Or how about half points?

Hmm...but you'd need an official list for those, too, wouldn't you, or there'd be quarrels about what's rude enough to count!

Words To Consider Today: high-scoring ones at Scrabble. In theory, the highest possible scoring word is oxyphenbutazone. That's a phenylbutazone derivative, C19H20N2O3, and a kind of medicine. First used in 1959.

Zydeco is a type of Cajun music and qui, a legal term, is Latin for who or which.

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Thing To Be Today: colloquial.

 JRR Tolkein said that cellar-door was the loveliest word in the English language, but I think there's an argument to be made for colloquial.

Colloquial...a lovely ripple of a word.

Colloquial means to do with conversation, but there's usually an implication of informal speech - a colloquial expression is the kind of thing you might say, but that you'd not write down in an official document. 

In other words, it's the kind of language more or less everyone uses more or less all the time.

There are thousands of examples - not on your nelly is one that The Word Den investigated recently. 

Colloquial language is different from slang or non-standard language, though very nearly everyone's speech includes expressions that are all of these. 

To be colloquial is to speak without necessarily having worked out very much about the end of your sentence. At times it will involve being perhaps not strictly logical - and perhaps not strictly grammatical, too.

Importantly, it involves not caring in the slightest.

To be colloquial is to be relaxed about the language you use. To feel that the form of it isn't the most important part of the message.

And usually, of course, that's quite right.

Thing To Be Today: colloquial. This word comes from the Latin word colloqium, conversation, from com- together plus loquī to speak.

Monday 19 April 2021

Spot the Frippet: something imaginal.

 Despite appearances, something imaginal isn't usually imaginary.

It's true that imaginal can mean to do with an image, and images are in some ways not entirely real, but usually imaginal means to do with an imago.

An imago is the adult form of an insect - one that's emerged from an earlier, often very different form.

Butterflies are an obvious and well-known example, but an adolescent dragonfly looks a bit like this:

photo by Totodu74

and an adolescent ladybird looks a little like this:

and every transformation into an imago is as close to miraculous as anything I expect to see:

photo by Charles J Sharp,

photo by Jon Sullivan

One last kind of imago is imaginary to some extent: it's the idealised image held by a child when it thinks of one of its parents; an image which sometimes doesn't fade even with adulthood.

Mostly, though, these imaginal images are as transient as, well, butterflies.

photo by KimonBerlin

Spot the Frippet: something imaginal. The word imāgō is the Latin for likeness. 

Which is strange, because it's rather the point that it isn't.


Sunday 18 April 2021

Sunday Rest: exaggerative. Word Not To Use Today.

 If the world truly has a need for the word exaggerative then I do not know what it is, and I just wish that people would forget about the blasted thing.

Sunday Rest: exaggerative. This word first appeared in 1797, but very nearly all the millions of English-speakers who have lived since then have shunned it entirely, thus demonstrating the good taste of the general populace, and providing us with an example which we would all do well to follow.

The word came from France, and before that from the Latin word exaggerāre, to magnify, from aggerāre, to heap, from agger, heap.

Saturday 17 April 2021

Saturday Rave: The Critical Review 1813. The Battle of Bannockburn, Anon.

 The Word Den has one particular guilty pleasure: it just loves a one-star review.

Ooh, the sheer delight of a storming take-down. Well, it's a delight as long as it's not my work that's the subject of the review, obviously. Or a friend's. Or someone I admire. Or someone not very successful. Or someone who's down in the dumps...

Anyway, the star system wasn't operating in 1813, when this review of Bannockburn, a poem, In Four Books was published (the book itself came out in 1810). 

But the review...

...well, it starts like this:

THIS is an extraordinary poem, a very extraordinary poem indeed, and for once we Critics, who are seldom known to plead incapacity, confess ourselves wholly unable to appreciate its merits.


The review goes on to marvel at the lines:

retreating paces three,

With terror struck, kneeled on his knee.

And, at the end, the review does what every review should do, which is to sum up the various qualities of the subject ('gibberish, hobbled, singularly original') in a few neat sentences:

But now to be serious, we will no longer detain our readers with an account of a book which nothing, we conceive, but uneducated vulgarity could have produced; it is as contemptible a performance as we have ever witnessed in our critical capacity, nor would we, after it had laid in the grave for nearly two years, have roused it for a moment from its place of rest, but as a lesson to those buzzing flies who teaze some popular author, as the author in question does Walter Scott, by a professed imitation of a style the beauties of which they cannot comprehend, the defects of which they cannot avoid.

Ouch again!

Still... is quite satisfying, all the same.

illustration by James William Edmund Doyle

Word To Use Today: critic. The word comes from the Latin criticus, and before that from the Greek kritēs, a judge.

Friday 16 April 2021

Word To Use Today: nelly.

 I don't know what happened to nelly. 

To be honest, I was never even sure who (or what) nelly was. When I was a child, and spending even more time than I do nowadays wondering what the heck was going on, the answer to a question like Is it all right to come into the house in my wellies? Might be Not on your nelly, I've just scrubbed the floor!

It meant certainly not, that was clear enough, but otherwise the expression was entirely opaque.

The expression is (or has been) used in Australia, too.

I know now that the expression was originally not on your nelly duff, which is rhyming slang for puff. 

Not on your puff means not on your life (life here being equated with breathing or puffing). PG Wodehouse uses puff in this way in The Code of the Woosters: 'Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?'

This, sadly, still doesn't tell us who Nelly Duff was, but nelly has long been established as a term for a fool, and something that's duff is something that's useless or broken; and so there would never have been very much expected of a Nelly Duff, poor girl.

Still, she's famous, now; which is a fact to encourage us all.

Word To Use Today: nelly. This used to be used commonly as a short form of Helen. Rather strangely, given the associations of nelly, the name Helen might come either from the Greek elane, torch or Selene, moon. But in either case it's something bright.

Thursday 15 April 2021

HRH the Duke of Edinburgh: a rant.

 Prince Philip, who has died recently at the age of ninety-nine, was a magnificent man. He was very intelligent and brave and energetic and handsome. His death is a great loss to the world.

Prince Philip was also known both as a man of ready humour, and as a man not to suffer fools gladly; and so what he would have made of a certain national newspaper offering up-to-the-minute news on his passing under the heading LIVE UPDATES we cannot know.

But personally, I think he'd have laughed.

Word To Use Today: duke. This word comes from the French duc from the Latin dux, leader.

Wednesday 14 April 2021

Nuts and Bolts: Herve-Bazin's punctuation.

 Jean-Pierre Hervé-Bazin (1911 - 1996) was a writer (and French, obviously). He invented an almost completely phonetic way of spelling the French language (which is actually a sensible idea: if you think English spelling is bizarre...) and as part of this system he invented six new punctuation marks or points d'intonation.

These weren't actually anything much to do with intonation, more to do with clarity. This one, for instance:

makes the shape of a heart (more or less) and implies love. There were also symbols for acclamation, authority, doubt, conviction and irony.

Sadly, in that time of typewriters and lead type new punctuation marks were never going to catch on.

Still, now we have emojis:

illustration by Google -, Apache License 2.0,

 so the principle has a life, even if the symbol itself didn't.

Thing To Use Today: a question mark? The word question comes from the Latin word quaerere, to seek.

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Thing Not To Be Today: snarky.

 Snarky is such a brilliant word. It's not been around that long (1906, originally, but it faded away and then re-emerged in the very late 1900s. There was also a slightly older snarky (1866) which meant to snort).

The reason this word is brilliant is that it's so obvious what it means. The sn- beginning suggests it as a cousin in meaning to sneer and snipe and snarl; the -narky bit reminds us of the word nark meaning annoying or quarrelsome; and altogether there never was a word that suggested more plainly a cobbled together version of sarcastic and nasty.

There are sources online which confirm this sarcastic + nasty derivation, too.

Strictly speaking they're probably wrong, but hey...

Thing Not To Be Today: snarky. This word comes originally from snark, to find fault or to nag. There are similar words in Low German and Frisian. When the word re-emerged in 1997 it meant hostile, knowing and contemptuous. 

I suspect that this new snarky really is a combination of sarcastic and nasty/nark, and that this is an example of convergent evolution. But I can't imagine how anyone could prove it.

The creature in the Hunting of the Snark (Lewis Caroll, 1876) is entirely unconnected - unless it put the sound of the word into people's minds as an inspiration.

Anyway, let's not be snarky. Let's be kind, eh?

Monday 12 April 2021

Spot the Frippet: something fake.

 Is fake the word of the 2020s?

Well, I hope not, because I'm not even sure what fake means any more. If you have a comb that looks like tortoiseshell, for instance, then you'd probably rather it was fake rather than made of a real tortoise. In this case, fake is a good thing.

It's the same with leopard skin and all kinds of fur. (There was a report last year about some fake fur coats that turned out to be genuine fur because apparently they were cheaper to make. Mind you, the genuine fur would have been bio-degradable, which leaves us in a real ecological muddle.)

And how about fake house plants? Are they pretending to be real? Even when they're kept in a windowless bathroom?

And fake eyelashes?

Diana Dors. Photo by Anefo

And is there any news that isn't fake from someone's point of view?

Fake started off meaning intended to deceive and then changed its meaning to similar in form and function but not intended to deceive; and at the moment seems to mean something which I personally don't wish to be true


...this is going to be an easy spot, isn't it?

Spot the Frippet: something fake. This word started off in the 1700s as thieves' slang meaning to mug or cheat someone. It probably came through Polari from the Italian facciare, to make or do.

Sunday 11 April 2021

Sunday Rest: psychophily. Word Not To Use Today.

 There's a strong literary tradition of women falling under the spell of truly terrible men. There's Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights; Mr and Mrs Grimethorpe in Clouds of Witness (whoops, that's two couples from the Yorkshire Moors, I'd better think of someone from somewhere else); and Billy Sykes and Nancy from Oliver Twist.

Are these all, as you'd expect, examples of psychophily?


Sunday Rest: psychophily. This word describes the process of a plant being pollinated by a butterfly. The psycho- but comes from the Greek word psukhē, spirit or breath, and the -phily bit comes from the other Greek word philos, loving.

The symbol of the goddess Psyche (a girl who was supposed to marry a terrible man (but didn't)) is a pair of butterfly wings.

Saturday 10 April 2021

Saturday Rave: Sonnet 98: From you I have been absent in the Spring, by William Shakespeare

 This sonnet has been dismissed for being simple, and it's true that apart from the reference to Saturn (a traditionally gloomy God) there's nothing here to confuse anyone. It has a single message: it may be lovely out there, but I can't enjoy it if you're not with me.

In some ways this is the perfect poem for our time - except that over the last year most of us seem to have realised that we are made of sterner stuff than this. And there's Zoom, too, of course.

Still, even the receipt of a poem can be extremely cheering, can't it?

From you have I been absent in the Spring,

When proud pied April dress'd in all his trim

Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,

That Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him.

Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell

Of different flowers in odour and in hue

Could make me any Summer's story tell.

Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;

Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,

Nor praise the deep vermilion of the rose;

They were but sweet, but figures of delight,

Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.

Yet seem'd it Winter still, and, you away,

As with your shadow I with these did play.

But then things don't have to be complicated, do they? And the line Nor praise the deep vermilion of the rose has to be one of the most sumptuous in the whole language.

Word To Use Today: vermilion. This word comes from the Old French vermeillon, from the Latin vermiculus, which describes both insects of the genus Kermes and the red dye which comes from them. Vermiculus means little worm.

Well, the whole thing was lovely until then, wasn't it?

Friday 9 April 2021

Word To Use Today: treacle.

 Treacle is delicious, but is it bad for you?

It's basically sugar, after all, whether it's black:

By Badagnani - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

or gold:

photo by Ivan Trpkov

(Yes, some people call this golden version golden syrup, but round here it's treacle - and, after all, everyone makes treacle puddings of the stuff!)

So is it potentially deadly?

Not necessarily. In fact, on occasion it can be life-saving.

Word To Use Today: treacle. Apart from the sweet sticky stuff, treacle also means antidote for poison. The Old French form of the word is triacle, and the Latin form is thēriaca, which has the antidote meaning.

Thursday 8 April 2021

Vaccine news: a rant.

 There's a large electronic noticeboard on the main road into town. It's one where the letters are made out of dots, rather like the ones on motorways:

The motorway signs usually say things like:

queue after jcn 16

but this one said:

over book vaccines given 

(I think it probably referred to my home county of Hertfordshire in England.)

over book vaccines given  ?

What did this mean? Had there been some unfortunate mix-up somewhere?

It wasn't until I'd been round the next roundabout that I realised that instead of the book, I should have read 600K.

Abbreviation To Use Today: k. In the SI system of units, kilo- denotes a thousand (as in kilogram, which is aa thousand grams) and sometimes k is used in a number instead of writing 000. 600 000 = 600K. Kilo- comes from the Greek khilioi, a thousand.

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Nuts and Bolts: zero.

 The story of the number zero is old and interesting and important, but this post is about the zero that's to do with language.

Zero is actually a really easy idea: a zero feature is one that's usually, or often, or could be, used - but isn't.

One word that's is optional a lot of the time is that. So, you can write (or say) she said she'd be honest with me, without bothering with the that of she'd said that she'd be honest with me. That's a zero that-clause.

But grammatical zero isn't always so, well, grammatical. Someone might say You ready? Instead of Are you ready? for instance, and this kind of thing is often a feature of a dialect. British people go to hospital; people in the USA go to the hospital. Some other dialects won't bother much, for instance, with plural forms: give me three banana. (You can also count the plural s missing at the end of a word like moose as a zero feature, in the same way.)

And what's the plural form of the English indefinite article, otherwise known as a (as in a cow)? 

That really is zero.

There are also zero aspects of language that change the meaning of a sentence. I like horses in the countryside means something different from I like the horses in the countryside.

Altogether, it's amazing what an absence can do.

So [you] enjoy omitting words, now, okay?

Nuts and Bolts: zero. This word came to English in the 1600s from Italian, from the Latin zephirum, from  Arabic sifr, empty.

Tuesday 6 April 2021

Thing Probably Not To Do Today: zorb.

 Zorbing is the action of travelling downhill inside a large air-cusioned hollow ball.

photo by Reptonix

Now, as Jane Austen so wisely remarks, one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.

I try to be broad-minded, but I can't help being a bit glad that half the world, at least, does not indulge in the past-time of zorbing.

It would have made my walk up Ivinghoe Beacon yesterday rather less peaceful and scenic.

And would probably have flattened rather a lot of sheep.

Thing Probably Not To Do Today: zorbing. This word comes from orb, meaning sphere, with a z put on the front to make it look crazy and exciting. In this it succeeds admirably. The Latin word orbis means circle or disc.

Monday 5 April 2021

Spot the Frippet: trefoil.

 Four-leaved clovers are supposed to be lucky, but the three-leaved varieties are very beautiful, too:

birds-foot trefoil, photo by lawn weeds

There are lots of different plants with trefoil leaves, many of them members of the pea family, so I suppose that if there was no other way to spot a trefoil then you could always plant a pea.

Or look out for a Girl Guide:

one of the symbols of the Girly part of the Scouting Movement

This is another trefoil symbol, but of something even more dangerous than a Girl Guide:

warning sign of a radiation source

There was a fashion for trefoil windows in the 1800s:

or if you're stuck, why not draw your own?

drawing by AnonMoos

Actually, now I come to think about it, three is a lucky number, so who needs four leaved clovers?

Let's hope three is lucky for you.

Spot the Frippet: trefoil. This word comes from the French trifoil, from the Latin trifolium, three-leaved herb, from tri, which means three, and folium, leaf.

Sunday 4 April 2021

Sunday Rest: technoking.

Elon Musk's Twitter account features a one-word description: technoking.

Now, I have no more chance of understanding the engineering behind Elon Musk's inventions than I have of having a picnic on Mars. 

But still, what is technoking, exactly?

And can I, myself, technoke?

Sunday Rest: technoking. Techno- comes from the Greek tekhnē, which means skill. The word king was cyning in Old English and is, entertainingly, related to the Danish word konge.

Saturday 3 April 2021

Saturday Rave: Prologue from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

 Many of us are locked down at the moment, but Spring has been filling people with a yearning to make journeys for...ever. Perhaps there's some ancient link to when our ancestors were birds. Or reindeer. Or butterflies. Or humpback whales...

This verse doesn't go as far back as that, but it's about the oldest substantial piece of work in a language that's more or less Modern English. It was written by Geoffrey Chaucer, whom I suppose you would call a senior civil servant, in about 1400. It's wonderful: funny and sad, and full of vivid characters.

Here's the very beginning. I've updated the language slightly to make it a bit easier for those whose first language isn't English.

And for those whose first language is!

When April with his showers sweet

The drought of March has pierced to the root

And every vein has soaked up every shower

As brings forth blossoming the flower

When Zephirus with his sweet breath

Has sprouted every field and heath

With tender crops, and the young sun

Rises halfway through the starry ram

And little birds make melody

That sleep all night with open eye

(As Nature tells them at her college)

Then folk they long to go on pilgrimage.

I can't go far, today, but my pilgrimage will show me many impossibly wonderful things.

And so will yours. 

If you can but see them.

Word To Use Today: pilgrimage. The word pilgrim comes from the Provençal pelegrin, from the Latin peregrīnus, foreign, from per, through, and ager field or land. It's basically the same word as peregrine.

Friday 2 April 2021

Word To Consider Today: zoophilism.

 Zoophilia, zoophilism and zoophilous.

Similar words with similar antecedents - but very different meanings.

Let's start with zoophilia, which is the very intimate association of human and non-human animals. Apart from any other concerns (and there are obviously several) this is one way global pandemics can begin (though almost certainly not this one). Really not recommended.

You can't be zoophilous, unless you're a plant, because it means pollinated by animals. 

photo of a Rufous hummingbird by Dean E Biggins

You can take part in the process, though, if you have a paintbrush or cotton bud and want to raise a particular plant that isn't going to be pollinated any other way - like a date palm, for instance (because it's cheaper than giving up space to growing male date palms) or vanilla (because you're growing them in a place where the natural pollinators don't exist) or a new variety of tomato (so you get exactly the mix of old varieties that you want).

That sort of activity is, admittedly, a minority sport, but zoophilism can be confidently recommended. Zoophilism is a tendency to become emotionally attached to non-human animals. Nearly all of us have some experience of that, and it brings great comfort and joy to many.

photo by Nicolas Suzor

Rusty, photographed by Christina Telep


Word To Consider Today: zoophilism. All these words comes from the Greek words zōion, animal, and philos, loving.  

Thursday 1 April 2021

Craftpersonship: a rant.

 I see that a titled gentleman has taken up a position in American company which aims to facilitate craftpersonship.

This makes me wonder two things:

First, what on earth might craftpersonship be when it's at home?

And, second, is it inevitable that I will gradually lose any ability I presently have to communicate clearly with other people?

Word To Consider With Bafflement, Fear and Loathing Today: craftpersonship. The word craft comes from the Old English cræft, skill or strength, and is related to the Old Norse kraptr, power. The word person comes from the Latin word persona, which means actor's mask, or a character in a play. The ending -ship comes from the Old English -scipe, and here probably implies skill. So craftpersonship might mean the skill of being a skilled person.

And what that might imply I really haven't a clue.

PS: No, I only wish this were an April Fool!