This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Monday 31 May 2021

Spot the Frippet: beccafico.

 Beccafico are songbirds:

Eurasian blackcap, photo by Ron Knight

They're especially songbirds of the genus Sylvia, which are small birds usually known as warblers or babblers. You only find them in Europe and Africa, but in the general melée that has occurred since scientists started being able to look at DNA samples, and therefore since the scientists have realised that more or less everything they'd ever known about the relationships between species is wrong, the Sylvia genus has been shifting about quite a bit.

This means that the Sylvia genus definition of beccafico is quite out of date. 

So how can we find a new definition for a bird designated beccafico? One that can be spotted more or less anywhere in the world?

Prothonotary warbler (New World) Photo By Mdf, edited by Fir0002 

Well, by looking at the origin of the word, of course.

And here it is:

Spot the Frippet: beccafico. This is Italian. Beccare means to peck and fico means fig, from the Latin ficus. A beccafico is any tiny songbird eaten as a delicacy.

This practice is illegal in Britain, though not if the bird is eaten by a non-human animal, so this is a day to look at the world through the eyes of a cat. Or a fox. Or a hawk.

And then going home and eating some vegetables.

Sunday 30 May 2021

Sunday Rest: cheugy.

 You say this word CHOO-gee (the g pronounced as in go).

Cheugy was coined in 2013 and then almost forgotten. Sadly, it's had a recent revival.

It describes someone (a cheug) who is devoted to the rather conventional but highly fashionable styles of a few years ago.

Basically, a cheug is someone who doesn't notice when a fashion becomes a cliché.

The good thing about this word is that the people who use it will soon have to stop because the word will become, well, cheugy.

And thank the Lord for that.

Sunday Rest: cheugy. This is word of TikTok, said originally to have been coined by a schoolgirl. 

But, look, just for today, why not let's stop judging people for their slightly dodgy fashion sense and try being broad-minded and kind, instead?

Saturday 29 May 2021

Saturday Rave: The Donkey by G K Chesterton

 T S Eliot wrote that G K Chesterton:

was importantly and consistently on the side of the angels

and there is actually a campaign to have him beatified (a step towards having him made a saint).

Here he is at work:

Two things to note: first, he was famously bulky, and so to keep on the side of the angels he is going to need a considerable width of wing; and, second, you never thought the company of saints was going to look anything like that, did you?

(I love that picture. It displays the quotidian gloom of the career of writing.)

Anyway, apart from all his radio broadcasts, novels, philosophy and theology (which all tended to come comfortingly wrapped in the literary equivalent of plain brown paper), he wrote some verse, too. 

This is one of his:

 The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then surely I was born.


With monstrous head and sickening cry

 And ears like errant wings,

The devil’s walking parody

On all four-footed things.


The tattered outlaw of the earth,

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;

One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

 And palms before my feet.


A poem with some autobiographical elements, I'd say. 

Bless him!

Word To Use Today: donkey. This is a rather mysterious word that first came to be used in the 1700s. Theories of the word's origin range from: short for Dom, because the donkey has a serious face like a Spanish lord; meaning small dark thing (dun-coloured,     with -key on the end, as in the word monkey); and a little Duncan. Dick, or Dominic.

photo by Gazebo

But all the same, donkeys can be rather beautiful, can't they.


Friday 28 May 2021

Word To Use Today: quagga.

 The quagga is, sadly, no more.

It was very like a zebra (in fact, genetic studies have recently shown it to be a zebra sub-species) and it looked like this:

this (stuffed) one is at London's Natural History Museum. Photo by Sarah Hartwell (Messybeast).

This is the only photograph that exists of a live quagga, taken at London Zoo in 1870:

The quagga lived in South Africa until people killed them all. 

Still, the quagga project is an attempt to breed quaggas from their closest living relative, Burchell's zebra; so, you never know, we may live to see live quaggas again. Or, at least, beasts that look like them.

The big question is, why did the quagga lose (or never develop) a striped behind? Well, some say the stripes are to put off biting insects - and it's true that quaggas did live in less buggy places than most zebras. Some say that stripes help keep the animals neither too hot nor too cold, and the quagga did live in rather kinder climates than some other zebras.

But no one knows, for the quagga is a rather mysterious beast. Sir William Cornwallis Harris wrote about them in the mid 1800s. He tells us that the quagga:

is almost invariably to be found ranging with the white-tailed gnu and with the ostrich, for the society of which bird especially it evinces the most singular predilection. 

So, yes, a quagga's best friend was an ostrich. 

Sir William also tells us how the quagga got his name: which is really, quite honestly, the main reason for this post.

Word To Use Today: quagga. Sir William says the quagga utters 'a shrill, barking neigh, of which its name forms a correct imitation'. Others have described the quagga's call as kwa-ha-hakwahaah, or oug-gaThe word is said to come from the Khoikhoi language (Khoikhoi! How about that?). 

 The Xhosa word i-qwara means something striped.

Thursday 27 May 2021

A warning: a rant.

 In the headline (from The Telegraph newspaper online):

Enforcing local lockdown on Bolton could cause 'unrest', Matt Hancock warned

does this mean that Matt Hancock (he's the British Government's Chief Health Minister) warned others that this might happen? Or was he warned by someone else?

Well, don't ask me, I didn't read the piece. There didn't seem much point. I mean, taking offence is so fashionable that almost anything could cause unrest. 

And, usually, does, too.

Word To Use Today: warn. This word is warnian in Old English and is related to the Old Norse word varna, to refuse.

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Nuts and Bolts: polysemy

 Is polysemy all Greek to you? Well, that's not surprising because it's all Greek to me, too (though, admittedly,with a Latin phase on the way).

Polysemy is dead simple unless you start thinking about it too hard, because then it gets murkier and murkier.

The basic idea is that for polysemy to exist there have to be words that look and sound the same, but they have to have different meanings.

That's easy enough, but polysemy has a further twist, because these words have to be related, and fairly obviously related, too.

For instance, to give you an example which isn't polysemy, the words mogul, meaning a powerful person, sounds and looks just the same as the word mogul meaning a bank of hard snow. One comes from Persian, and the other probably comes from a South German dialect word, but, even without knowing where the words come from, you wouldn't expect the two words to be connected. And they aren't. So mogul and mogul aren't polysemous.

On the other hand, the words bell, meaning thing which makes a clanging noise, and bell, a slang word for telephoning someone (I'll give them a bell) obviously are connected, and so they're an example of polysemy. 

And give, when you think about it, is another.

The difficulty is that sometimes people will see connections which aren't there (an ear on a head is nothing to do with an ear of corn, for instance) and miss connections which are (like toast, the drink, and toast, the piece of charred bread, perhaps). There's also no clear cut-off as to how far back the connection has to go.

Still, it's an interesting concept, and an oddly essential one. As G K Chesterton has pointed out, if we didn't hold the idea of polysemy in our heads (and we all do) then describing someone who shot his grandmother from a distance of five hundred yards as a good shot would imply approval of his action. 

Word To Consider Today: polysemy. The Latin form of this word is polysēmia, from the Greek polus, much, plus sēma, sign.

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Thing To Do Today But Only In A Good Way: slink.

 Villains slink. They creep from corner to corner, squinting balefully at happier, brighter souls...

...well, all right, they're more probably sitting in a dingy call-centre trying to scam money out of elderly people, but, hey, perhaps that's digital slinking.

On the other hand, to slink like a tiger is cool. It involves moving in a graceful yet powerful way. It might be athletic, it might be alluring, it might be both.

It's not easy, but if you can do it you'll draw every eye. 

Mind you, if you try it and can't do it, you'll probably draw every eye, too. Ah well.

My Collins dictionary surprised me by having an entry under slink which began of animals, especially...

...and then the next word was cows.

Conjuring up a slinking cow took a fair bit of imaginative power, but, upon perusing the entry further, I discovered that in cows to slink means to give birth prematurely.

This is not recommended, either.

photo by Mathias Appel

Thing To Do Today But Only In A Good Way: slink. This word is slincan in Old English. The Middle Low German slinken means to shrink, and the Old Swedish slinka means to creep.

Monday 24 May 2021

Spot the Frippet: tine.

 Here are some tines:

that's a caribou (though we call them reindeer in Europe). The tines are the prongs of the antlers.

If you're hunting red deer stag then the number of tines tells you how old and important the stag is. 

this beast is in fine form. Photo by Bill Ebbesen 

There may, however, be those of us who don't have large deer hanging around the place, and in this case then there are other tines to be found.

Like these:

photo by ArnoldReinhold

photo by Hansmuller

or even these:

photo by Crisco 1492

So if you eat or have hair then this spot should be easy.

Spot the Frippet: tine. This word was tind in Old English.

Sunday 23 May 2021

Sunday Rest: Asperger's. Word Not To Use Today.

 The conversation went like this:

ME: Yes, she is a lovely person...though she is quite surprising in her manner, at times. I wonder if she might have Asperger's Syndrome.

YOUNG PERSON: You can't say Asperger's Syndrome any more. You have to say autistic spectrum.

ME: Oh, really? All right, then. I think she must be a high-functioning - 

YOUNG PERSON: You can't say that, either. You can only say on on the spectrum.

ME: Oh. Um...gosh. Right. Um...hasn't it been cold, this week?


Ah well. At least I got the pronoun right.

Sunday Rest: Asperger's. Johann Friedrich Karl Asperger 1906 - 1980 did a lot of work on children's neurology. His work was largely ignored during his lifetime, but became better known in the 1980s. He was Austrian.

Living under a Nazi regime, as he did during World War II, provided researchers with many opportunities for disgusting behaviour, and having read just a little about Herr Asperger I am not now inclined to use his name to describe anything, whether it happens to be fashionable or not.

The word spectrum is Latin for appearance or image. Specere means to look at.

Saturday 22 May 2021

Saturday Rave: doha, by Kabir.

 A doha is a two-line verse. They've been around in India for a long time, perhaps from as early as 500AD.

Kabir, a weaver by profession, lived in the 1400s AD. His poems, written in the vernacular Hindi of his time, are still read and admired today.

माला फेरत जुग भया, फिरा मन का फेर
कर का मन का डार दे, मन का मनका फेर

You turned your rosary but never turned your heart

Turn away from solemnity, and try to turn out the evil inside you.

Postage stamp honouring Kabir

Word To Use Today: rosary. A rosary is a string of beads used for keeping track of a long string of repeated prayers. The word comes from the Latin word rosārium, a rose garden or garland, from rosa, which means rose. The link comes partly through the idea of prayers creating a garden for the soul.

Friday 21 May 2021

Word To Use Today: ikat.

 Just as a dustbin man has (quite rightly) grown in status by being renamed a refuse collector, and will soon probably be further promoted to recycling operative or environmental health facilitator, so has the word ikat stepped in to bring a fresh wave of fashion and Eastern glamour to something...well, a bit tacky, quite honestly.

In 1970s England, we used to call ikat methods of colouring cloth tie-dye. It was mostly the preserve of hippies, who were known for their reeking goatskin coats, strangely-smelling tobacco, and tie-dyed T shirts:

photo by WayneRay

rather than for their surfeit of worldly goods.

To be in fashion you had to get a plain T shirt, tie it up really tightly with string, dip it a bowl of dye, and hope it'd turn into something kind of wheel-of-lifeish, you know? 

Generally, though, it just turned out blotchy. Ah well.

I've trawled through wikimedia commons for photos of people of the time wearing tie-dyed clothes, but it seems that most people were too busy being really really calm (or protesting) to bother with all the dyeing stuff. 

Things have changed since then (though there are some signs that they're changing back again). Nowadays we tend to like things a bit sparklier. Cleaner. More apparently expensive. 

And, perhaps for this reason, tie-dye has a new name, and ikat cloth has stormed its way into our homes.

Mind you, the faded splodges that were tie-dye is a glorious art form when it's ikat

The basic difference is that it's the yarn that's tie-dyed before weaving, not the finished cloth. Look at that T shirt, above. Then look at this :

photo of a sari by Sujit kumar

and this:

this was made in the middle of the 1800s in Samarkand

These are things of wonder.

And now?

Now in western homes ikat-style cloth is usually found in soft furnishings:

and it has all the excitement of an under-manager's sales meeting.

Ah well.

Word To Use Today: ikat. This is an Indonesian or Malay word which can mean cord, thread, knot, or bundle, or tie.

Thursday 20 May 2021

Continuing to agree: a rant.

 This is from the Telegraph Online, May 6th 2021:

In late April, French fishermen blockaded ports to prevent UK-landed fish arriving in Europe in protest. UK-EU talks are continuing to agree on an alternative way of proving past fishing activity. 


The thing is, when it says that talks are continuing to agree on an alternative method of proving past fishing activity, naturally it actually means that talks are continuing not to agree on an alternative method of proving past fishing activity.

Now I come to look at that whole quotation again, it occurs to me that the fish were probably past protesting, too.

I wouldn't mind, but these people get paid for writing this stuff.

photo of 'Respect' by Jeff Tomlinson

Word To Use Today: continue. This word comes from the Old French continuer, from the Latin continuāre, to join together, from continuus, continuous, from continēre, to hold together or contain.

Wednesday 19 May 2021

Nuts and Bolts: the shaggy dog story.

 A shaggy dog story is one which goes on and on for far too long, turns down may dead ends, and finally ends up with either an anticlimax, or with forgetting where it was going in the first place.

There are various stories which are said to be the original shaggy dog story, and, predictably, they are all about shaggy dogs. Many of them involve a competition to find the shaggiest dog, and one involves a hunt for a lost shaggy dog, but at the end of them all the dogs in question fail to win the prize, or be claimed as the lost dog, because the dog is either not shaggy enough or else too shaggy.

Yes, you might think, but doesn't this mean that shaggy dog stories are just...rubbish?

Well, yes, most of them are, but a really good story-teller can make even a ramble to more or less nowhere quite fun. This is usually done by inventing a narrator of the story and giving him a frustrated audience as a focus of our sympathy and laughter.

An example of a shaggy dog story might go like this:

Did you hear about the man we called the murderer? Well, he lived along Goodman Terrace, where my Aunt Alice used to live - she was a strange woman, used to keep hens, they used to drive her neighbour's cat mad just looking at them - it was a fine cat, mind, and a good mouser, but it used to hate the coal man something terrible. The coal used to come by lorry, and they used to have to carry the coal right through the kitchen. Anyway, this man, the murderer they called him, he was a nice little man. Used to play the fiddle. But I don't know why he was called the murderer, because he never killed anyone that I heard.

(I am desperate to finish that story properly by making it so that what he was murdering were the tunes he played on his fiddle. It would make such a good children's book. Hm...I might even write it, one day...but then, of course, it wouldn't be a shaggy dog story.)

Word To Use Today: shaggy. This word was sceacga in Old English, related to the Old Norse skegg, which means beard, and skōgr, which means forest.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Thing Not To Be Today: shickered.

 There are a lot of words that mean the same thing as shickered - intoxicated, drunk, inebriated, tipsy, tight, merry, pie-eyed, plastered, sloshed, pickled...and those are only a few of the polite and old-fashioned ones.

If you're shickered then you probably have some connection with Australia or New Zealand (if you use that word, I mean - there are, obviously, drunks to be found more or less everywhere).

If you're pie-eyed, on the other hand, you're probably a character in a fair amount of trouble in a story by PG Wodehouse; and if you're intoxicated then you might well be in a police station.

So, while The Word Den cannot recommend any of these states, there are worse things to be, I suppose, than shickered.

The word comes from somewhere unexpected, too.

Thing Not To Be Today: shickered. This word seems to mean affected by drink, but not necessarily completely plastered. It comes from the Yiddish שיכּור‎, shiker, which means drunk, from the Hebrew שיכּור‎.

The Drunkness of Noah by Jacopo Chimenti

Monday 17 May 2021

Spot the Frippet: rigmarole.

 I heard the other day (on the podcast The Rest Is History, as it happens) about a board game based on the World War II campaign in North Africa. The game requires (as I remember it) ten players, is expected to take over a thousand hours to complete, and has a hilarious feature whereby each turn a player takes causes 3% of his fuel supply to evaporate (unless he's British because apparently the British stored their fuel differently from the rest).

Personally, the prospect of taking part in such a game is enough to make me grow a moustache, change my name, and emigrate. I mean, can you imagine the rule book? What a lot of rigmarole that must be!

But even without war-gaming, the world is full of rigmarole. Anything you buy that needs to be plugged in, like a hairdryer, say, comes with, what, ten pages of safety advice? 

Even a tin of soup is covered in warnings and instructions and nutritional charts and serving instructions.

Today I plan to buy a sledgehammer. I'm hoping that it doesn't come with a load of rigmarole about only hitting things you want to break.

But I wouldn't count on it.

Spot the Frippet: rigmarole. Rigmarole is everywhere, both in writing and spoken (the gabbled bit at the end of an advert for any kind of investment is an example). 

Rigmarole can also mean a long chunk of confused or essentially meaningless speech. For that I recommend listening to a politician.

Or, indeed, a critic.

Pleasingly, the word rigmarole might actually derive from the instructions for a game, a mediaeval one where the characters are introduced in rhyme on a scroll of paper. The first such character was Ragemon le bon (Ragemon the good), and all that stuff was written on Ragemon's roll.

On the other hand,the word rigmarole might derive from the statute of Rageman, who was the pope's representative in Scotland, who did everything he could to induce the clergy give a true account of their incomes for tax purposes.

Sunday 16 May 2021

Sunday Rest: irregardless. Word Not To Use Today.

 Look, think about it: if you regard something you are looking at it with attention.

It therefore follows, as the night the day, that if you are regardless then you are not looking at something with attention.

It also follows, therefore, that if you are irregardless, then logically that should mean that you are paying close attention again.

It doesn't, of course. Irregardless means exactly the same as regardless. 

I know that doesn't make sense, but it's true (although, come to think about it, minus one plus minus one does equal minus two...). 

Anyway, never mind the logic, the basic difference between regardless and irregardless is that using the word irregardless will make you look like a woolly-headed illiterate.

Just saying.

Word Not To Udse Today: irregardless. The Old French (and, for that matter, Modern French) regarder means to look at, and garder means to guard.

Ir- has more or less the same meanings as in-.

Saturday 15 May 2021

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

 This is, sadly, the last of The Word Den's regular visits to The Shepherd's Calendar. These posts weren't originally intended as a pandemic special; the idea for the series was sparked by my getting John Clare's book as a birthday present, which was in turn sparked by my discovering that I have family links to the Clares of Helpston in Lincolnshire (and also that some members of the family actually used to live in John Clare's cottage). 

But, serendipitously, Clare's verse couldn't have given us a better example of how to be happy at home.

Clare is overbrimming with the delights of May, and it's hard to pick just one passage to quote here. There's a whole catalogue of flowers, for instance, and the same of birds, each characterised carefully.

Perhaps, as this is The Word Den, we should leave Clare among his happy memories of childhood pleasures with his account of the writing lark.

The yellowhammer builds his nest

By banks where sun beams earliest rest

That dries the dew from off the grass

Shading it from all that pass

Save the rude boy wi ferret gaze

He finds its penciled eggs agen

All streaked wi lines as if a pen

By natures freakish hand was took

To scrawl them over like a book

& from these many mozzling marks

The schoolboy names them "writing larks"

Photo by Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Word To Use Today: mozzling. To mozzle is Australian slang for to hamper or impede. My copy of the OED doesn't record it as an English word, but it makes sense in this context (as camouflage to fool predators) and my guess is that it came to Australia from Helpston, or somewhere close by.

Friday 14 May 2021

Word To Use Today: weevil.

 The real reason for featuring this word on The Word Den is that it is related to the Old High German word wibil.

Well, it makes me smile.

Anyway, weevils are beetles with long snouts. You can often tell what they feed on by their name. The rice weevil feeds on rice, the maize weevil feeds on maize, the wheat weevil...well, you get the idea.

There are, however, thankfully, exceptions to this useful trend. 

The giraffe weevil:

By Frank Vassen - Flickr: Giraffe Weevil, Andasibe, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0,

feeds on the leaves of trees, but has a long neck (which, like a real giraffe, it uses for fighting); and the drugstore weevil, though it does feed on the kinds of dried herbs you can often find in a drugstore, isn't actually a weevil. It's just an ordinary beetle. It hasn't got the nose.

A weevil's schnozzle is actually more properly called a rostrum, and unlike most beetles, a weevil can use it to chew:

But I really don't want to think too much about that.

Word To Use Today: weevil. The Old English form of this word is wifel. The Old Norse word tordȳfill means dung beetle, and a weevil is basically a small beetle. Wee, meaning small, comes from the Old English wǣg, weight.

Thursday 13 May 2021

Small soldiers: a rant.

 Once upon a time there was a very small knight in very small shining armour. 

He was so small he couldn't ride a horse, so he used to ride a dog, instead.

Now, one day there was a great storm. The knight and his dog (who had been caught out in the nasty weather, which had given the poor dog a nasty cough and cold) were sitting by the fire in their great hall chewing on thigh bones of pigs (the pigs had been cooked, so they weren't complaining) when among the cracks of thunder and the howling of the wind they heard a knocking on the door, and the old  steward ushered in an old man dripping with rain and shivering with cold.

'We need your help, sir knight,' he gasped. 'A troll has come to the village and is destroying the houses one by one. When the last house has been destroyed he will find us all and he will eat us!'

Well, the knight was small, but he was very brave. 

'Saddle up my dog,' he said to the steward. 'I will rescue you all!'

But the steward shook his head.

'You must be mad,' he said. 'Look at the state of the poor animal. Why, I wouldn't put a knight out on a dog like this!'


Yes, sorry about that, but I was reminded of that story by the modern trend for leaving out the hyphen in the word week-night.



Word To Use Today: week. An Old English form of this word was wice. It's related to the Gothic word wikō, order.

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Nuts and Bolts: irony punctuation.

 Irony punctuation is, yes, that's right, well done, punctuation which indicates irony.

Is it necessary?

No, or it would have caught on long ago.

There have, after all, been enough attempts at popularising a sign to flag up irony. In 1668 John Wilkins suggested an upside-down question mark; in 1841 the Belgian printer suggested a thing like an upward-pointing arrow; in 1899 the French poet Alcanter de Brahm's suggestion looked more or less like a mirror-image question mark. 

Then there was Hervé Brazin, who used the Greek letter psi with a dot underneath it: 

In more modern times,Tom Driberg was all for italics that slope backwards.

Nowadays people will sometimes type




after a statement that's intended to be sarcastic, and there are those who have used 


in the same way.

Then there's the 


emoticon, which I rather like (but only because it reminds me of Worzel Gummidge); the combination 


the word kappa; the tilde; or even alternate upper and lower case lettering.

Wikipedia claims that some people are using a small picture of SpongeBob Squarepants dressed as a chicken for the same purpose. 

But that statement itself must surely be ironic.

Nuts and Bolts: irony marks. Are unnecessary. The word irony comes from the Latin word ironia, from the Greek eirōn, dissembler, from eirein, to speak.

Tuesday 11 May 2021

Thing To Do Today: show your mettle.

 The fashion nowadays is to cave in at the slightest difficulty and then moan piteously - or perhaps aggressively - that the world is against you and IT'S NOT FAIR!

This trend does have its advantages. I mean, how easy life is if everything is someone else's fault.

Oh, but I do feel nostalgic for the challenge; for the fight against the odds; the do-or-die; the can-do spirit; the forlorn hope.

The opportunity to show one's mettle.

What mettle actually is, though, I've never had much of a clue. Surely it can't be anything to do with, well, metal, can it? That would be silly.

Wouldn't it?

Thing To Do Today: show your mettle. It turns out that mettle is exactly the same word as metal. The two spellings only diverged in the 1700s. 

I suppose the idea is that metal is shining, strong and flexible, and jolly useful in a crisis.

(Though that does rather depend on what the crisis is. I can't help thinking that this expression was invented by a man.) 

Anyway, the word metal comes from the Latin word metallum, which means mine, or product of a mine, from the Greek word metallon.

Monday 10 May 2021

Spot the Frippet: bank.

 There are three banks - three different words all sounding the same, that is. One's basically Italian, one's Scandinavian, and one's French.

One's a slope, one's a place to keep money, and one's a load of stuff arranged so you can see it easily.

Two are closely related.

Which do you think those are?

Answer later. 

Anyway, while these kind of bank:

High Street bank: HSBC, London, photo by Stanley Howe

are getting rarer as we all are obliged to move online; and these, too:

1965 Shelby Dash. Photo by Joe Mabel

 have been replaced with smart hard-to-read digital displays (again, there's progress for you), these:

Sloping verge of the A377, UK. Photo by David Brinicombe

are still everywhere, and are very good for sitting on and watching the world go by.

And according to Shakespeare, they're visited by fairies.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in

Whether that is an inducement to linger must be an individual decision.

Take care!

Spot the Frippet: bank. The money word comes, probably, from the Italian banca, which means bench or money-exchanger's table. The arrangement word comes from the Old French banc, which also means bench (both these words have similar Germanic origins). The word meaning a slope is Scandinavian. The Old Icelandic word bakki means hill.

Sunday 9 May 2021

Sunday Rest: shigella. Word Not To Use Today.

 I don't know how internationally famous Nigella Lawson is, but, for those who don't know, she's a British-Italian TV cook, and a spectacularly voluptuous and beautiful one, too:

As it happens, her dad is Nigel Lawson (now Baron Lawson of Blaby), who used to be Britain's top finance chief (or Chancellor of the Exchequer, to give him his proper job title). Nigella is named after him. 

Now, Nigella is a very unusual name indeed, and I don't know of anyone else who's had it (apart from the genus of plants which includes Love-in-the-Mist, of course). Nigella is an odd word, too, to an English-speaker, and so when one comes across the other odd word shigella, it's Nigella which tends to spring immediately to mind.

This is a bit unfortunate, really, as shigella is a bacterium which causes dystentary.

Ah well.

Sunday Rest: shigella. word Not To Use Today. This bacterium was named after K Shiga, 1870-1957, who discovered it.

Saturday 8 May 2021

Saturday Rave: May and the Poets by James Henry Leigh Hunt

 I apologise to all of you who live in the Southern hemisphere. For you, dearest readers, the month of May must be a dreary time: Winter is approaching, and there's not even any sign of Christmas.

But still, I'm trying to keep our spirits up in difficult times, and the world is full of poets who have had a cheery crack at carolling the delights of May.

So here's James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), who made that observation long before I did.


There is May in books forever;
May will part from Spenser never;
May's in Milton, May's in Prior,
May's in Chaucer, Thomson, Dyer;
May's in all the Italian books:--
She has old and modern nooks,
Where she sleeps with nymphs and elves,
In happy places they call shelves,
And will rise and dress your rooms
With a drapery thick with blooms.

Come, ye rains, then if ye will,
May's at home, and with me still;
But come rather, thou, good weather,
And find us in the fields together.


Word To Use Today: May. This word comes from French, and before that probably from the Roman goddess Maia, who's basically the same person as the Greek god Maia who was the eldest of the group of nymphs called the Pleiades. 

Here she is with her son Hermes:

Friday 7 May 2021

Word To Use Today: scuttle.

 What's the connection between a scuttle as in a place to keep coal:

photo by Hustvedt

 the action of an alarmed crab:

 and the deliberate sinking of a ship?


...well, they just sound the same, really.

Still, it's a lovely crisp word, isn't it.

Word To Use Today: scuttle. The coal-container word (in some part of Britain you can carry plants in a scuttle, though personally I'd call that kind of shallow basket a trug) comes from the Old English scutel, a carving plate, from the Latin scutella, a little bowl. The running-away word probably comes from the word scud, with a bit of the word shuttle put in there as well to make it sound more, well, scuttle-like. The ship-sinking word comes from the Spanish escotilla, a small opening, from escote, an opening in a piece of cloth, from escotar, to cut out.

Thursday 6 May 2021

Discrimination: a rant.

 You know, I can remember a time when discrimination was a good thing.

Word To Use Today: discrimination. This word comes from the Latin discrīmināre, to divide, from discrīmen, a separation, from discernere, to discern.

photo by Monica Georgescu

Wednesday 5 May 2021

Nuts and Bolts: apodosis and protasis

 No, no, come back! Apodosis and protasis do look like difficult words, but that's only because grammarians like sticking posh labels on stuff. You've been using apodosis and protasis all your life.

Well, nearly all your life.

If I give you an example you'll be able to understand apodosis and protasis without any trouble at all...

...and, guess what, I just did - though you almost certainly wouldn't have realised it. 

That sentence:

 If I give you an example you'll be able to understand apodosis and protasis without any trouble at all.

is made up of two basic chunks. The first chunk:

If I give you an example

tells you what needs to happen for the second chunk:

you'll be able to understand apodosis and protasis wihtout any trouble at all.

to come into effect.

The chunk-that-tells-you-what-has-to-happen is called the protasis and the chunk that tells you what-will-happen-then is the apodosis.

See? Simple.

Sometimes the protasis and apodosis come the other way round in a sentence, as in:

I'd give you a beer if the dog hadn't buried the bottle-opener.

but basically it's just the same thing.

Grammatical Structures To Preen Yourself On Being Able To Use Today: apodosis and protasis. Protasis is Greek for a proposal, from pro- before, and teinein to extend. Apodosis is Greek too, and means a returning or giving back. It comes from apodidonai, to give back.