This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Tuesday 30 November 2021

Thing Not To Be Today: snooty.

 My adoptive mother seldom went out of her way to spread delight, but she did once declare 'I'm not a snob! I wouldn't speak to people like Mrs Y---- if I was a snob!' a statement which has passed into family lore and still gives joy.

It is necessary, sadly, to be careful when making friends. Is that charming and amusing person honest? Is that beautiful person a crook? Is that ugly person full of intelligence? Is that quiet person over-brimming with love? 

How did that rich person come by his money?

Yes, you have to be careful. 

Does that person's speech display examples of unconventional grammar? Does his job involve physical activity? Is her hair dyed to too bright a hue?

Do they eat their main meal at lunchtime? 

Yes, you have to be careful about making friends.

And being snooty is a really idiotic way of choosing.

Thing Not To Be Today: snooty. Snoot is a form of the word snout (and also a cone for directing television lights). Snoot appeared in English in the 1900s, and snout goes back to 1200s.

Monday 29 November 2021

Spot the Frippet: viola.

 There are three kinds of viola, all beautiful, and the one which gives you most pleasure reveals a great deal about the kind of person you are, and how you'll best find happiness.

Forget horoscopes or counsellors: take a viola test.

So: which makes your heart lift the most?


photo of Viola reichenbachiana by H. Zell


or this lady here?

painting by Frederick Richard Pickersgill (this Viola is a lot more fun than she looks here)

I know I should be saying Viola form Twelfth Night gives me most pleasure, but for me it's actually the flower. Visual beauty gives me the most joy, even more than Shakespeare's words or music. 

But they're all glorious.

So which makes you happiest? Words, the visual, or music? 

Today, I'm going to make a point of enjoying them all.

Spot the Frippet: viola. There is a small problem here in that Viola in Twelfth Night is very often pronounced VI-olla rather than veeOHla, but never mind.

The flower word comes from Italian, probably from Provençal before that, and perhaps before that from the Latin vītulāri, to rejoice.

The plant name is the Latin for violet. 

Sunday 28 November 2021

Sunday Rest: latus rectum. Words Not To Use Today.

 Using latus rectum in its plural form will cause no problems at all (apart from no one's knowing what you're talking about): latera recta.

But anything with the word rectum in it is going to cause embarrassment and/or sniggering - and possibly some concern.

In fact, a latus rectum is nothing to do with the digestive system, but instead it's something to do with the geometry of cones. To be precise, it's a chord that passes through the focus of a conic [I am copying this definition word-for-word as I don't really understand it] and is perpendicular to the major axis.

I'd better see if I can find a picture:

I think the latus rectum is the green line.


...I shall have no trouble at all avoiding using this one.

Words Not To Use Today: latus rectum. This is Latin for straight side. 

The kind of rectum that's found at the lower end of the digestive system is more properly the rectum intestinum, the straight intestine.

Saturday 27 November 2021

Saturday Rave: To Shakespeare by Frances Anne Kemble


The British actress Fanny Kemble (1809 - 1893) was born into a great acting dynasty, and at the age of eighteen wrote a smash-hit play (Frances The First) that enabled her father to pay off all his debts.

She was a massively popular actress - a famous Juliet, Portia and Beatrice - who enabled her family to continue to keep their heads above water for some years.

As if that wasn't enough, Fanny Kemble wrote poetry, and toured America (she was very interested in railways) marrying American Senator Pierce Mease Butler. She retired from the stage, then, until a visit to her husband's slave plantations shocked her into revulsion, protest, and at last (combined with Butler's many infidelities) divorce.

Her most famous work is her abolitionist book Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation.

After her marriage ended she went back to the stage and made a career as a reader of dramatic works. 

Helpfully, she wrote us a poem to describe her attitude to her new career.

To Shakespeare

Oft, when my lips I open to rehearse

Thy wondrous spell of wisdom, and of power,

And that my voice, and thy immortal verse,

On listening ears, and hearts, I mingled pour,

I shrink dismayed – and awful doth appear

The vain presumption of my own weak deed;

Thy glorious spirit seems to mine so near,

That suddenly I tremble as I read –

Thee an invisible auditor I fear:

Oh, if it might be so, my master dear!

With what beseeching would I pray to thee,

To make me equal to my noble task,

Succor from thee, how humbly would I ask,

Thy worthiest works to utter worthily.


A useful example to the world, I'd say.

Word To Use Today: wisdom, The English have been wise for a long time. The Old English version of the word was wīs.

Friday 26 November 2021

Word To Use Today: carceral.

 This is a new word for me, and I came across it next to the word feminism: carceral feminism.

Now, forget the feminism for a moment (because that's actually no help at all) but please (if you don't already know it) have a quick guess at the meaning of the word carceral. Just a very quick instinctive one, no need to be thoughtful or clever.

Have you done that?

To me the word carceral has a clean and hungry look, and brings to mind an image of a nest of fledgling hawks.

I still have no idea what carceral feminism is, but my instincts weren't entirely wrong about the meaning of the word carceral.

It means to do with prisons. Like incarcerate. Of course.

I wonder if somewhere in the depths of my brain some connection was made? 

Was one made, do you think, in yours?

Word To Use Today: carceral. This word comes from the Latin word carcer, prison.

Thursday 25 November 2021

Three Stars of Christmas: a rant.

 How do you persuade someone to buy something?

Do you tell them it's useful, beautiful, amusing? Tell them that it'll make them look clever, sophisticated, classy?

Okay, but what if it's a star on a stick? Or even three stars on sticks?


proclaims my Blooms catalogue next to a photograph of three LED-outlined stars on sticks standing on a fake-snow-sprinkled table.

The text goes on:

Three glittering stars - let's call them Venus, Orion and Sirius after the stars in Orion's Belt - twinkling in the December night sky.

And then, I'm afraid, they lose me.

The thing is, that if you're trying to persuade me to buy something then you have to convince me that you understand what it is you're selling. And there are two problems, here, already.

Firstly, the star Sirius isn't in Orion's Belt. It's in the constellation Canis Major; and Orion and Venus aren't even stars.

Secondly, that twinkling in the December sky bit?

At the bottom of the description it says:

 indoor use only.

Word To Use Today: LED. You say this as three letters, L - E - D, which stand for Light-Emitting Diode. LEDs are semi-conductors which glow when a current is applied to them. 

Diodes were originally called rectifiers because they could convert alternating current to direct current, but the scientist William Henry Eccles renamed them diodes, a combination of the Greek di- two, and -ode, short for electrode. The -ode bit of electrode comes from the Greek hodos, which means path or connection.

Elecktron is Greek for amber.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Nts and Bolts: nonpast.

 All languages have ways of describing whether something has happened in the past, the present, or the future. Mostly this is done by using tenses.

Tenses are ways of changing action-words to let people know whether the action happened/is happening/will happen in the past, present, or future.

(There are other ways of describing when something is happening, though: it's not that some languages can't describe the passage of time.)

Anyway, the nonpast. The nonpast tense is one which isn't the past. That means it can be either present or future.

And what obscure language makes use of such a thing?

Well, English, for one.

Just think, when you say I hope we get the all-clear soon, the verb (get) is in what looks like a present tense, but it's being used for something that happens in the future.

There. You've been using the nonpast tense more or less all your life, and never known it.

Feel free to preen yourself.

Word To Use Today: nonpast. The Latin word nōn means not; the Latin passūs means step.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Thing Not To Do Today: snivel.

Interviews which feature a long pause followed by a muttered sorry and a furtive wiping away of tears are currently very fashionable.

That kind of interview has provided us with some fine professional examples of showing distress (or pretending to) in style. To snivel, however, is to have given up all attempt at dignity, to have acknowledged utter defeat, and to be completely involved in self-pity.

It accuses the rest of the world of abandonment and cruelty, and that's why the rest of the world (apart from the genuinely cruel) gets irritable in the face of it.

The genuinely cruel, on the contrary, are massively rewarded.

So don't give them any satisfaction.

Never, never snivel.

Thing Not To Do Today: snivel. This word is connected to the wonderful Old English word snyflung, which means mucus, and the Dutch snuffelen, to sniff out.

Monday 22 November 2021

Spot the Frippet: nail.

 Well, you've got ten nails on your fingers, for a start. But why are they called nails?

Is it just that they both get hit with hammers?


There doesn't seem to be much connection between a fingernail or a toenail and the kind of metal nail that's used to hold bits of wood together, or to hang up pictures (hint: it's usually better to use a screw).

The oldest meaning of nail is actually the fingernail one, and the link between the two kinds of nail seems to be an animal's claw.

It all begins to make sense, then.

Why not see if you can find an iron nail. They're not as common as they used to be as so many things are made of plastic, or stapled together. Shoes don't usually have nails any more, though some do:

painting by Edwin Landseer

and the rafters of your roof are probably nailed together:

illustration by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc 

And there are bound to be a hundred nails in that cobwebby jam jar in the shed.

My nearest metal nails are holding on the handles of my grandmother's bureau.

Where are yours?

Spot the Frippet: nail. This word was nægel in Old English. It's basically a German word, but it shares an ancient root with the Latin Latin unguis and the Greek onux. 

Sunday 21 November 2021

Sunday Rest: nosocomial.

 Given that the world's hope of getting out of this wretched pandemic resides in Science in the hands of doctors, it's a pity that the word nosocomial has been seen around the place recently.

Nosocomial describes a disease that's caught in hospital.


Sunday Rest: nosocomial. The Greek word nosokomos describes someone who tends the sick. Komein means to tend. Nosos means disease.

Saturday 20 November 2021

Saturday Rave: A Birthday by Christina Rossetti.

 Is happiness catching? Can a poem lighten a dreary day? Can it bring joy?

Read this and see.

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.


Well, it works for me.

Word To Use Today: vair. Vair is the heraldic word for a pattern used on shields to resemble squirrel fur. It's actually nothing like squirrel fur: 

illustration  by Zigeuner

but it's interesting, anyway. In French the word vair sounds the same as verre (which means glass) and this explains why, in the French story of Cinderella, her shoes don't shatter into pieces when she dances at her ball: they were actually made of squirrel-fur, and not glass at all.

Vair comes from the Old French, where it meant of more than one colour, from the Latin varius, variegated.

Friday 19 November 2021

Word To Use Today: nosophobia.

 You say this nozzaFOHbeea, which rather gives away the fact that it isn't an unreasonable fear of noses (that would be rhinophobia (which is therefore, confusingly, not an unreasonable fear of rhinos. In any case, being afraid of rhinos isn't unreasonable.).

No, nosophobia is an unreasonable fear, a terrible dread, of disease. 

Though quite where sensible precaution, fate, and nosophobia give way to each other is anyone's guess at the moment.

Word To Use Today: nosophobia. Noso- comes from the Greek word nosos, which means disease. Phobos means fear.

Thursday 18 November 2021

Shameless: a rant.

 As an English person, I write in a language where shameful behaviour is pretty much the same as shameless behaviour.

(Not that either is actually pretty.)

No wonder I find it difficult.

Word To Use Today: shame. This word was scamu in Old English.

Wednesday 17 November 2021

Nuts and Bolts: lambdacism.

 Lambdacism is the unconventional use of the symbol or sound represented in English by the letter L.

This is sometimes a matter of the custom - some natives of the British town of Bristol sometimes put an unexpected L sound at the ends of words: pianol or bananal, or even drawling (drawing) - or it may happen because someone whose native language doesn't have an R sound is speaking one that does: flied lice.

Other kinds of lambacism involve doubling the letter L in words that are usually spelled with one (which means that from an American perspective everyone who uses British English spelling does this all the time with words like travelling).

Lambacism can also involve putting a Y sound after a double L. This would turn The Mill on the Floss into The Mill yon the Floss, but I've never come across anyone who did this, myself.

Word To Use Today: lambdacism. The Greek letter that corresponds to the Roman letter L is called lambda, but for some reason the Romans called the habit of using Ls non conventionally labdacismus. Our English word has put back the Greek M.

Tuesday 16 November 2021

Thing Not To Be Today: sanctimonious.

 Sanctimonious: the word that put the moan into saintliness.

Now, goodness without generosity is just boasting, but still...if any of those show-offs is actually offering you anything useful, I should grab it and run. 

Do make sure you can keep a safe distance between you and the saintly one, though, afterwards.

Word Not To Use Today: sanctimonious. This word comes from the Latin sanctimonia, sanctuary, from sanctus, which means holy.

Your sanctimonious person is quite likely nowadays to be nagging you about the size of your carbon footprint rather than the regularity of your prayers. 

I can only suggest inviting them to come round some time for a cup of cold dandelion coffee. And a lentil sandwich.

And telling them to bring a blanket when they come.

Monday 15 November 2021

Spot the Frippet: sun.

 Yes, yes, all right, this is probably a really easy spot if you don't happen to be in England in November, but there's no need to be so smug about it.

Still, even here we can spot a sunbeam easily enough - as long as it's the Australian kind of sunbeam, which is an item of crockery or cutlery unused after a meal.

An English person will also be able to spot sunblinds, even if they are folded up and spotted with mould.

There will be sunglasses abandoned in drawers, and sun tan lotion in the bathroom cabinet, and sun hats shoved into the top of the wardrobe.

We might come across sunburst pleats:

lady of Etaples, France. Photo by Pir6mon 

or a sundial:

photo by adam sommerville

or a sunroof:

And I suppose that one day, if we have a good summer, perhaps, the whole lot of them won't seem quite so annoyingly futile.

Spot the Frippet: sun. This word was sunne in Old English.

Sunday 14 November 2021

Sunday Rest: fauxliage. Word Not To Use Today.

 I came across the word fauxliage the other day.

I do hope it doesn't happen again.

Sunday Rest: fauxliage. Faux is French for false. Being French, the idea is that it conjures up an intriguing sparkle of sophistication and daring.

Foliage comes from the Old French word fuellage, from fuelle, which means leaf. The reason that the spelling has changed such a lot is probably due to the influence of the Latin word folium.

Saturday 13 November 2021

Saturday Rave: Bright is the ring of words by Robert Louis Stevenson.

 “To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

So wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in An Inland Voyage, and, this being his belief, he shouldn't object to my saying that I like his poetry much better than his books.

And that's even the rhythm is a bit awkward in places, as in Bright is the ring of words, below.

Robert Louis Stevenson came from a family of engineers, but it was clear almost from the beginning that he had to be as a writer. He was a writer in exile, too, for his health, always poor, meant he had to live far from his native Scotland.

Perhaps this poem explains why Robert Louis Stevenson was so sure he had to be a writer.

Bright is the ring of words

When the right man rings them,
Fair the fall of songs
When the singer sings them.
Still they are carolled and said –
On wings they are carried –
After the singer is dead
And the maker is buried.

Low as the singer lies
In the field of heather,
Songs of his fashion bring
The swains together.
And when the west is red
With the sunset embers,
The lover lingers and sings
And the maid remembers.


Robert Louis Stevenson died at the age of forty-four. 

He is remembered.

Word To Use Today: swain. This is a word only usually found in old poetry. It means male lover. The word comes, rather oddly, from the Old English word swān which I'm afraid means swineherd.

Friday 12 November 2021

Word To Use Today: last.

 We all know that a cobbler should stick to his last, meaning that people should keep to their own area of expertise.

We'd probably even recognise a cobbler's last when we saw one:

photo by Neomi Singer

But does a cobbler's last have anything to so with last, as in last Thursday?

Well, rather surprisingly, yes.

Word To Use Today: last. The word meaning at the end of a series, or the series item that's most recently happened* comes from the Old English lǣstan, which is related to the Old Gothic laistjan, to follow.

The word meaning mould for making a shoe comes from the Old English lāst, which means footprint. 


Cool, or what?

photo by Rosendahl

*The difference can matter. For instance, is someone's last illness the one from which he's just recovered, or the one from which he died?

Thursday 11 November 2021

The origin of Covid: a rant.

 Where did Covid 19 originate?

Well, don't ask me. Some tweets, which seem to come from China, have claimed that Covid-19 was imported to the Wuhan seafood market with a shipment of Maine lobster; but as other viruses similar to Covid-19 hang out in bats, that seems more than a bit unlikely.

Still, let's be generous. Perhaps the owners of all these Twitter accounts aren't liars or idiots (or both). No. Perhaps they know something I don't.

They were certainly anxious to get their message across, because they tweeted the information in several languages including English, French, Spanish, Korean, and Latin.


Well, in that case it's hard to argue they aren't idiots, anyway.

Word To Use Today: Latin. This comes from the Latin word latīnus, which means of Latium, which is the area round Rome.


Wednesday 10 November 2021

Nuts and Bolts: cue scripts.

 Okay, so you've written a play, and now you're heading towards your first rehearsal.

What do you need?

A place to meet and a script, of course. In fact, several scripts. At least one-between-two for the number of actors involved.

All right. 

Now, the problem is that you have no photocopier or printer. You don't even have a typewriter. You have someone who'll copy out the scripts, but it'll take too long - and cost you too much - for him to copy it out a dozen times. So what do you do? 

You produce cue scripts.

A cue script consists of all the lines one particular actor has to say, and, as well, the line that acts as a cue for each speech.

This has its advantages. It means that actors are forced to listen carefully to what the other actors say, which is a real help in making a piece come to life.

Now, if you're thinking what kind of amateurs would use a system like that? Or, but doesn't everyone have a printer? then may I introduce you to one W Shakespeare, who had neither photocopier nor electric printer, and so used the cue script system. 

How do we know? Because of a mistake an amateur actor makes in a play rehearsal scene in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Here's a bit of the scene:


Must I speak now?


Ay, marry, must you; for you must understand he goes but to see a noise that he heard, and is to come again.


“Most radiant Pyramus, most lily-white of hue,

Of colour like the red rose on triumphant brier,

Most brisky juvenal, and eke most lovely Jew,

As true as truest horse, that yet would never tire,

I’ll meet thee, Pyramus, at Ninny’s tomb.”


“Ninus’ tomb,” man. Why, you must not speak that yet. That you answer to Pyramus. You speak all your part at once, cues and all. Pyramus, enter. Your cue is past; it is “never tire.”


O—“As true as truest horse, that yet would never tire.”


Poor Flute! He's a bellow's-mender by trade, and he's been bullied into playing the female role of Thisbe, for which he considers himself far too grown-up.

And poor Quince, too. 

I wonder if Shakespeare played Quince himself? 

There's certainly real feeling behind his words.

Nuts and Bolts: cue scripts. The word cue appeared in English in the 1500s. It's probably the same word as the letter q, which was used in actors' scripts and in that case stood for the Latin word quando, which means when.

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Thing To Do Today: gussy yourself up.

 Yes, track suits are comfortable, but, come on...why not give the world a treat? Gussy yourself up a bit!

You don't need to wear to wear six-inch stilettos, but a bit of lipstick will brighten the heart of both wearer and viewer. A string of beads will add a pop of brightness. Ties may nowadays be seldom worn, and braces* may be associated with weddings and bankers, but a cheerful sock or two will add cheer to almost any occasion.

So go on. Put on something without holes in it. Perhaps even have a wash, first. Show everyone how bright and beautiful you are.

Give the world a treat!

Thing To Do Today: gussy yourself up. No one is sure how this expression originated. Some point to the word gusset, a bit of fabric sewed into clothes to make them fit better, but the majority favour a derivation from the name Augustus. In 1900 a gussie in Australia and America was a weak or effeminate man, but something must have happened somewhere because by the 1930s gussy was being used in America to mean dressed-up - or, usually, too dressed-up.

Then in the 1940s the tennis player 'Gorgeous Gussie' Moran appeared at Wimbledon wearing frilly knickers (and a skirt short enough to allow glimpses of them) and to be gussied up became something to be celebrated.


*I think in America what an English person calls braces are known as suspenders (but take care, because in Britain suspenders are a belt with dangly bits for holding up stockings...stocking as in nylons...

...I do wish sometimes that Britain and America shared a common language!).

Monday 8 November 2021

Spot the Frippet: fleuron.

 Fleuron must be some rare and deadly gas, yes?


A fleuron can either be a design representing a flower, leaves or leaf:


(that one is used to mark divisions in blocks of type)

(that's one from the top of a building)

Spanish grandee's crown, illustration by Einzelheiten zur Genehmigung

or a fleuron can be a twiddly bit of pastry on the top of a pie:

photo by Matman from Lublin

They're both deeply good things as far as I'm concerned. 


Spot the Frippet: fleuron. This word comes from the Old French flor, flower.

Sunday 7 November 2021

Sunday Rest: cation. Word Not To Use Today.

 We all know about vacations and staycations (although opinions vary as to whether a staycation is a holiday taken while living at home, or merely one taken in the home country).

But what about a cation?


No, not a KAY-shn, as it happens, but a katt-eion (to rhyme with flat-iron).

The person who coined that word was called William Whewell. 

Now, I myself pronounce Whewell HYOO'll to rhyme and scan with fuel; but at least one internet pronunciation guide insists it's hyoo-ELL.

So it's quite possible that when William Whewell made up the word cation he was having a bit of fun after a life-time of having his own name pronounced wrongly.

I like to think so, anyway.

Sunday Rest: cation. The Greek word kation means going down. It is made up of the Greek kata- which means down (or against, through, or concerning etc) and ienai, to go.

An ion is usually an atom with an extra bit either missing or stuck on, which means it has an electrical charge. A cation has an extra bit stuck on; an anion (an-ei'n) has a bit missing.

cation is negatively-charged and it is attracted to a cathode during electrolysis (so they go down towards them, geddit?).  

The word cation was coined in 1834, and championed by Michael Faraday.

Saturday 6 November 2021

Saturday Rave: November, by Louisa May Alcott and Alexander L Fraser

 "November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frost-bitten garden.

"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo pensively.
                              Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, 1868

Really, one must have some sympathy for Margaret and Jo. November is, after all, always Winter and never Christmas. 

But people have done what they can. In England we have fireworks to lighten up the beginning of the month, and there is Thanksgiving in the USA near the end. Then there's the black-necked crane festival in Bhutan, Dias de los Muertes in Mexico, and the Kite Festival in Guatamala. 

All Saints' Day on the first day of the month is usually worth a lusty hymn in any Christian community.

But still, in most of November there isn't a festival going on, so how do we cope? Well, we could move to the Southern hemisphere, but an easier for most of us is simply closing the door.

Fear not November's challenge bold—
We've books and friends,
And hearths that never can grow cold:
These make amends!

            Alexander L. Fraser (1870–1954), "November," c.1918

Makes sense to me.

Word To Use Today: hearth. The Old English form of this word is heorth. The word is said to be related, though surely no closer than eight cousin, to the Latin carbō, which means charcoal.

Friday 5 November 2021

Word To Use Today: posset.

 My Collins dictionary says that a posset is a drink of milk curdled with ale or beer, etc, flavoured with spices, and used as a remedy for colds.

It sounds quite revolting, and if you were poor and your posset was indeed made with ale (or, as some were, thickened with bread), it probably was. But if you were rich, and your posset was made with sack (a drink like sherry) and put together so it consisted of a foamy top, a spicy custard made of egg yolks, and at the bottom a layer of some potent alcoholic drink (the top layers eaten with a spoon, the last sipped through the spout of your posset pot):

photo by Daderot  

then you probably felt much cosseted by your posset.

Nowadays, though, this lovely word has come to mean something rather different:

photo by jules

A modern posset only really has two ingredients - cream and sugar - but they're usually flavoured with something, and that is usually an acidic fruit (most often lemons) and/or something boozy.


Take 600ml of double cream, 200g of caster sugar and the zest of three lemons, plus 75ml of the juice. Heat the sugar and cream in a saucepan, stirring, until the sugar has melted. Bring to a simmer and bubble gently for a minute. Take off the heat and stir in the lemon zest and juice. Divide between pots, cover, cool, and then refrigerate for at least three hours.

I don't know if it cures colds, but it has to be worth a try.

Word To Use Today: posset. This word has been around since the 1400s, when it was spelled poshoote but no one really knows from where it came before that.

Thursday 4 November 2021

Purity: a rant.

 It was bad enough when I bought some KOKOH Himalayan Salt and Roasted Almond chocolate and discovered that:

Himalayan Pink Salt was formed over 250 million years ago from ancient unpolluted seas. Full of 84 minerals that we benefit from and one of the purest salts on the planet...

- 84 minerals? How is that pure? -

but being sent several leaflets for a company offering Pure Cremation takes the biscuit.

Good grief, what does impure cremation look like?

Does it leave you with the odd toe untoasted, or what?

Word To Use Today: pure. The Latin word pūrus means unstained.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Nuts and Bolts: hearts of oaks.

 A tree is a tree is a how do you name them?

They are all (as you may have noticed) green with brown sticky bits, so if you're trying to distinguish them then you're going to have to rely on some quite minor feature. But which one to choose?

Well, it depends upon who you are.

The Common Oak (which is actually quite common, at least in Europe) has been so called by English-speaking people for hundreds of years; but scientists call it Quercus robur, which means not common oak at all, but strong oak

photo by RegalShave

The Sessile Oak (sessile means without stalks, which its acorns indeed haven't) has the scientific name Quercus petraea, of the rocks, presumably because it grows on hills. 

The Turkey Oak does indeed come from Southern Europe, but scientists call it Quercus cerris, which has been its name since classical times.

Mirbeck's Oak (presumably introduced or discovered or named by someone called Mirbeck) is Quercus canariensis, which means from the Canary Islands (even though it isn't).

The Bur Oak (which has fuzzy bur-like cups to its large acorns) is to scientists Quercus macrocarpa, the big-fruit oak.

The Water Oak (which has shiny leaves which look as if they have a drop of water on the tip) is Quercus nigra (nigra means black (the trunk is a dark grey); but what non-botanists call the Black Oak is known to scientists as Quercus velutina because the young leaves are velvety.

The Shingle Oak (yes, the wood is used to make roof shingles) is scientifically classified as Quercus imbricaria, the overlapping oak. At least there you can see a connection.

And then at last we come to the White Oak, which the boffins call Quercus alba. Alba means white (the colour of the bark of old trees).

Which is half a relief, and half a disappointment. as far as I'm concerned.

Word To Use Today: oak. Quercus is the Latin name for the Common Oak. The word oak was āc in Old English.

Tuesday 2 November 2021

Thing Not To Be Today: a twerp.

 Is there room for twerps, these days?

I do hope so, because surely everyone loves a twerp

My Collins Dictionary tells us that a twerp is a silly, weak-minded or contemptible person, but I don't think that's quite right. 

A twerp is someone who accidentally puts salt in his coffee instead of sugar. A twerp is someone who loses his train ticket. A twerp is someone who doesn't realise until he's got home from the shops that the person he thought was the butcher was actually the vicar.

I fear the world is too fond of slinging foul insults at well-meaning people to hold back, now.

But next time someone nice makes a silly mistake (and it's quite likely, after all, to be you) do consider using the word twerp.

I'm sure it'd make the world a happier place.

Thing Not To Be Today: a twerp. This word appeared in the 1900s, but no one is sure from whence it came.

Monday 1 November 2021

Spot the Frippet: nave.

 A nave is the main central part of a basically rectangular church - the bit between the west end (which is the opposite end to the main altar) and the bit near the altar, the chancel, where people sit sideways so that everyone can hear them singing.

Ely Cathedral nave (in this case the chancel is behind a screen)

On either sides of the nave there are often side-areas, which often focus on smaller altars. These areas are called aisles, which is confusing because the passageway between the rows of seats of pews in the nave is called an aisle, too. Well, it is if a bride is walking up it.


The other kind of nave is much smaller and moves about a lot, but is still easier to see because this kind of a nave is the hub of a wheel.

photo by Judi Berdis

But is there a connection between naves and the navy? Are naves naval?

Well, yes and no.

Spot the Frippet: nave. The wheel word comes from the Old English nafu or nafa. It has nothing to do with ships, but might have something to do with navels, being similarly central (the Old English for navel is nafela). The church-word comes from the Latin nāvis, a ship. This is probably because a nave is vaguely ship-shaped, though it might also be a reference to the ship of St Peter or Noah's ark.