This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Thursday 30 June 2022

A fond farewell.

 The Word Den began on 23rd January 2011 with a post about the word hippopotamus.

I've thoroughly enjoyed writing something here very nearly every day since then. A writer's life can be quite a solitary one, and it's been lovely to know that there have been people all over the world reading - and I hope enjoying - these brief bits of nonsense on literally thousands of topics. I've learned a huge amount... 

...admittedly I've forgotten most of what I've learned, but hey...

Anyway, this seems to be the moment to stop. I'm very well, thank you, but it's time for a change.

Thank you very much indeed for your company over all these years, and very best wishes (but not kind regards, which is a stupid and boring way to end a message) to you all,

With love from


Wednesday 29 June 2022

Nuts and Bolts: theophoric names.

 There are a lot of theophoric names about. In fact, it's almost certain that you know someone who sports one - and quite likely that you possess one yourself.

The idea behind a theophoric name is that you use the name of a god as a child's name (or just the word god itself in some form) and by doing so you give a strong hint to the god in question to keep a protective eye on the infant. 

It also warns everyone else to play nice, because of the said god's propensity for getting murderously offended.

My middle name is Jane, which means God is gracious (it's basically the same name as John). Other examples include Timothy (one who honours God) Samuel (God-heard) and Daniels (the justice of God). 

Other Gods are, naturally, available. A Thora is named, predictably, after Thor, and a Mark is named after Mars. People called Dennis are dedicated to Dionysus. Hermiones, rather oddly, are called after Hermes.

Jezebels, poor things, are dedicated to Baal, from whom, one would imagine, little help is on offer.

I'm glad to have a theophoric name. If you have one, I expect you are, too. Let's face it, we can do with all the help we can get.

Nuts and Bolts: theophoric names. The Greek word theophorus means carrying a god.

Tuesday 28 June 2022

Thing To Do Today: regale someone.

 It is possible to regale someone with heaps of food and drink, but usually you regale people by telling them a story.

It has to be a happy, comic, or at least a surprising, story, because to regale someone means to delight and amuse them.

(WARNING: the word comic is sometimes used where the words cruel, twisted, or merely self-satisfied would be more appropriate. Luckily, that mistake is most often seen via the media rather than in real life. We ourselves know how to tell a story because we get real-time feed-back.

I mean, none of us are bores, are we? Still, if you're in doubt, make it a story where you yourself are the butt of the joke, and make it no longer then, ooh, five sentences.

You'll be giving pleasure to everyone.)

Thing To Do Today: regale someone. This word comes from the French régaler, from gale, which means pleasure. It's also related to the Middle Dutch word waler, which means riches. 

Monday 27 June 2022

Spot the Frippet: hinge.

 Where are the hinges on your nearest door? 

Yes, durr, they're on the side opposite to the handle, but how are they spaced? Is there an equal gap above the top of the top hinge, and below the bottom of the bottom hinge?

There isn't always. 

Where else might you find a hinge?

Boxes have them:

and some old phones:

and laptops:

photo by D-Kuru

This is the Cutty Sark's rudder hinge:

photo by Dhowes9

and how about these hinges?

marine venerid cockles

Stamps can be stuck into albums with them:

photo by 177777

Even some snake fangs teeth are hinged (but I thought that perhaps you'd rather not see a photo of that).

Even your own jaws have a hinge joint, if not an actual hinge.

So how many hinges can you spot without moving?

Spot the Frippet: hinge. This word appeared in English in the 1200s, and is perhaps something to do with the Dutch henghe, which means hook or handle. Old English has a word hangian, to be suspended, which isn't a million miles away, too.

Sunday 26 June 2022

Sunday Rest: G.O.A.T. Word Not To Use Today.

 The Word Den  first came across G.O.A.T. in football magazines (yes, we'll read anything), but now it's being used to advertise beer on T.V. and it's quite inescapable.

To be clear, The Word Den loves goats:

but G.O.A.T. is hyperbolic madness.

Is there anyone or anything who is genuinely the Greatest Of All Time in any sphere?

I mean, even if someone is the fastest sprinter on Earth then they aren't the G.O.A.T. They can't be. 

They're only the Greatest Of All Time So Far.

And anyway,  G.O.A.T.S.F. is just so much more fun to say.

Sunday Rest: G.O.A.T. The word great was grēat in Old English, and is related to the words grit and groats, which is odd because they are both words for small things. The idea is, though, that the small things are quite large for, er, small things. 

Saturday 25 June 2022

Saturday Rave: Paris barricades.


Daguerreotype by Thibault (1830 - 1927)

This image shows barricades set up in the city of Paris in June 1848.

The situation was, basically, that the French king, Louis Philippe, had abdicated in the Spring, and a provisional government had been formed which had set up National Workshops to provide the unemployed with an opportunity to earn a basic wage.

A tax was raised to cover the cost. Naturally this was much resented, and so after a new government had been elected these National Workshops were abolished - and all hell let loose.

There were massive protests. The National Guard was called out, and over ten thousand people were either killed or wounded. Four thousand people were exiled to French Algeria.

The uprising was squashed.

This Daguerreotype, above, is probably the very first example of photojournalism. It shows the barricades before a clash between the protesters and the National Guard.

Was this the beginning of the end of human conflict? 


Was it the beginning of a more carefully limited kind of fighting? It's hard to believe it.

But perhaps things would have been even worse without these witnesses to war.

Word To Use Today: barricade. This word comes from the Old French barriquer, to barricade, from barrique, a barrel, from Spanish barril, barrel.

Friday 24 June 2022

Word To Use Today: john.

 Today is the feast of St John the Baptist.

It's also, according to some, Midsummer's Day. 

Now, the first day of summer is quite often said to be June 21st, which, logically, must mean that summer ends on June 27th.

So we must enjoy it while we can.

Now, St John the Baptist was, admittedly, not the ideal dinner-party guest - and he certainly would never have been allowed into the Royal Enclosure at Ascot - but he seems to have been a brave man and a good guy. The other biblical St John had some very odd visions, and he did insist on going on about them at great length, but he also is deemed to have been on the side of the angels.

This being the case, I'm not sure why johns have such a bad reputation.

An American john is either a toilet, or a man who has to pay women in order to have a satisfactory physical relationship. In Australia a john is short for John Hop, which is rhyming slang for cop; that term, too, can't be intended to be complimentary.

I don't know when John became an unfortunate name, but in England we had a King John, 1167 - 1216, (often known as Bad King John) who was stupid, horrible, and a disaster.

Having said all that, there are less objectionable Johns.

John Bull is England (or sometimes the United Kingdom) in human form (which sadly means that the British must be fat and pleased with ourselves); and John Barleycorn is alcohol in human form. 

John Hancock, in the USA, is a signature (John Hancock's signature was written in ridiculously large letters on the American Declaration of Independence).

John Doe used to be the name used for an imaginary person bringing a case to court with the intention of testing the law. It's also the name given, in the USA, to any unknown man.

John o'Groats is said to be the most northerly point of the British mainland (though it isn't).

Johns can be lovely. Well, tasty, anyway. A John Dory is a fish. Actually, it's two fish - Zeus faber and Zeus australis

drawing of Zeus faber by David Starr Jordan

And Zeus was, after all, Chief God. 

So it's not quite all bad for poor old Johns.

Word To Use Today: john. Johns are mostly named after people called John, which has been a common name since the 4th century BC. Its original form in Hebrew was יְהוֹחָנָן‎ ,Yəhôḥānān, meaning God has been gracious. In the New Testament it appears as Ἰωάννης, Iōannēs

The John of John Dory, though, may be a version of the French jaune, which means yellow.

Thursday 23 June 2022

Bad stuff: a rant.

 I am a bad person. 

I'm white, for a start; I'm of of a sex (or gender, if you like) quite ordinary and prevalent among the population of the world; and I am broad-minded about politics and people. 

I eat food, and breathe out carbon dioxide. I'm English.

There is no hope for me.

I had a birthday recently (I'm what is called a boomer, too) and received a gift of soap. On the box it declares:






and it seems that just about everything is bad...

...except, just possibly, butterflies.

I can't think of anything bad about butterflies.

I suppose that's something.

Word To Use Today: bad. This word is itself very bad because it probably comes from the Old English bæd-, the first part of the word bǣddel, hermaphrodite, from bǣdling, am actively gay man. 


Wednesday 22 June 2022

Nuts and Bolts: whataboutery.

 Whataboutery is a newish term, and exactly what it means is still in the process of being agreed.

The consensus at the moment seems to be that whataboutery is when, faced with an accusation, blame is deflected by bringing up some other grievance.

It's a technique as old as speech. Possibly older.

It's not something like:

You've eaten all the cake, haven't you?

Well, you keep insisting I have salad for dinner, and no one can survive on that.

because that's a valid(ish) argument based on the original question.

An example of whataboutery might go:

You've eaten all the cake, haven't you?

Do you know that I had to run out in my pyjamas this morning because you forgot to put the bins out again?

Whataboutery is not clever, but it does sometimes work, especially if the new point of issue is so sensitive that it can't be addressed without causing utter mayhem, such as racial history or transgender rights.

The thing to remember, though, is that it's only people who are afraid of the truth who are afraid of logic.

Word To Use Today: whataboutery. This term seems to have originated in Northern Ireland during The Troubles of the 1970s. It's a portmanteau of the words what and about (obviously).

In previous times whataboutery was called tu-quoque, which is Latin for you too.

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Thing To Do Today: snarf something.

 With any luck the pandemic has now subsided into dull grumbling inconvenience.

It's still making everything slightly less fun, though. 

Hey, let's go to the zoo - or the theatre - or the restaurant - but no, we can't, because we needed to have booked it yesterday.

What can we do that's light-hearted and unplanned? We can go for a more or less solitary walk. 

Or we can snarf something.

Snarfing doesn't involve sitting down to eat a proper meal at the proper time. Snarfing is hogging a handful of biscuits, or a pork pie, or a piece of cake just because it's there. You snarf something not because you're hungry, but through pure greed; through pleasure at getting your teeth into something. Through sudden impulse.

You may be half way through eating it before you even notice.

It may not be healthy. It may not be virtuous.

Oh, but the joy of giving in to a sudden urge for once.

photo by Alan Fryer

Where's that biscuit barrel?

Thing To Do Today: snarf something. This word is American and emerged in the 1960s, perhaps as a variation on the word scarf, which also means to eat greedily. Some people think it's a combination of scarf and snort. Some people think the word is onomatopoeic, and imitates the sounds of pigs eating at a trough.

Monday 20 June 2022

Spot the Frippet: quarry.

 There are three kinds of quarry that are possible to spot.

There's the kind where people dig out rock:

quarry, Adelaide. Photo by Peripitus

the kind that's a hunted animal (which might be human):

and the kind that's a diamond or square shape:

photo by Storye book

This is the shape of a quarry tile.

There is just a possibility of seeing a quarry through a quarry in a quarry. But even if you did it would still sound ridiculous.

Good hunting!

Word To Use Today: quarry. The digging place word is probably something to do with the Old French word quarre meaning a square-shaped stone, from the Latin quadrāre, to make square. The being-square word is related, and comes from the Old French quarrel, pane, from quadrellus, a diminutive of quadrus, which means square. As for the hunted-animal word, the old French quirre describe animal innards which were offered to the hounds on the animal's hide, from the Old French cuir, hide, from the Latin corium, leather. The history of this word was probably influenced by the Old French coree, entrails, from the Latin cor, which means heart. 

Sunday 19 June 2022

Sunday Rest: quad bike.

 Look, bike is short for bicycle, yes? And the the word bicycle basically comes from two bits of some ancient languages, one bit meaning two and the other meaning wheel, right?

So how many wheels does a quad bike have, then?

Honestly. Some people have no logic at all...

photo by Peter Ellis

Compound Noun Not To Use Today: quad bike. The Latin bis means twice; the Greek kuklos means wheel. The Latin quadrangulum means having four corners.

Saturday 18 June 2022

Finest Hour speech by Winston Churchill.

 In 1940 the German army chased British forces off the continent of Europe. The retreat was so hurried that a call had to be put out for anyone with a boat capable of crossing the English Channel to sail to Dunkirk to help with the evacuation.

The whole thing was an utter disaster. A lot was made of the plucky little ships saving our brave boys, but that didn't mean that the only sensible thing to do wasn't to make peace with Hitler.

And then, on June 18th 1940, the new British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, got to his feet in parliament and gave a speech.

The disastrous military events which have happened during the past fortnight have not come to me with any sense of surprise. Indeed, I indicated a fortnight ago as clearly as I could to the House that the worst possibilities were open; and I made it perfectly clear then that whatever happened in France would make no difference to the resolve of Britain and the British Empire to fight on

was the uncompromising beginning. Winston Churchill went on to speak of the dangers of invasion, and of bombing raids, and the efforts being made to strengthen the armed forces. At no point did he say any of it was going to be easy. He did, however, declare that Britain and its allies would win in the end.

And then came the magnificent peroration.

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”


That speech was given eighty two years old today.

It is, sadly still relevant; and still shiveringly inspiring, too.

Word To Use Today: abyss. This word comes from the Greek abussos, bottomless, from a- not, or without, plus bussos depth.

Friday 17 June 2022

Word To Use Today: something succinic.

 Something succinic sounds as if it sucks, but it doesn't. 

Not at all, in fact, because it's this:

Yes, it's something made of amber.

Amber has given its name to the amber fluid also known as the amber nectar (that's beer, especially in Australia), and to an Amber alert, which is an American public-warning announcement which may perhaps be about traffic conditions, or perhaps about a missing child.

An amber gambler is a British expression to describe a driver who jumps amber traffic lights.

You'd think the most obvious feature of amber was its colour, but there's grey amber - or ambergris - which comes from the intestines of the sperm whale (lovely!), is mostly cholesterol, and is used on perfumery. 


photo by Brian Gratwicke

are not used in perfumery, but can be eaten (though not all at once: they can weigh up to eighteen kilograms).

Amberoid is a mixture of amber and resin, and used to make a cheap amber look-alike.

Amber is fossilised tree sap, of course. I found a piece once on a family holiday on Dover beach. I still look for amber on every beach. 

But I've yet to find any more.

Word To Use Today: amber. This word comes from the Arabic anbar, and at first referred to ambergris. When the word was first used to mean the fossilised sap, that was known as white or yellow amber

So what's the connection between ambergris and amber

Well, they are both found washed up on sea shores, of course.

The origin of an Amber Alert is very sad, because the first one was made after the disappearance in Texas of Amber Hagerman, who was later found murdered.

Thursday 16 June 2022

An Invitation to Exit: a rant.

Hotmail has started putting advertisements at the top of my Inbox. It's slightly annoying, but Hotmail provides an excellent and necessary service at no cost, so that's fair enough. 

The advertisements are in any case easily ignored - except for one. It's from The subject line says:

Automate Your Normalizations. High Acc

Well, I didn't know I had any normalizations, and, if I had, I'm not sure I'd want to automate them. 

I don't want to open the email because then I shall be dogged for months with dozens of increasingly-earnest offers of normalization automation services, and, quite frankly, my technical enthusiasm is such that I haven't yet worked out how to switch on the TV.

But Automate Your has an intriguing ring to it.

Blast it. I'm going to have to look it up, now.

Word To Use Today: normalization. Normalization in sociology refers to the way some new social behaviour becomes accepted as normal. In data-control, normalization seems to mean first throwing out superfluous data, and then making sure the stuff you're left with is all joined up correctly.

The word normal comes from the Latin word normālis, which means conforming to a carpenter's square, from norma, which means norm.

Wednesday 15 June 2022

Nuts and Bolts: spiel.

 A spiel is a prepared speech. It's designed either to recommend a product, or to present the merits of some idea, scheme or investment opportunity.

A spiel is glib, a spiel is plausible, and a spiel sends every antenna of any averagely cynical listener fizzing with suspicion.

A spiel may not be insincere - that may be the best vegetable box/loft insulation/county councillor in the country - but the fact that the spiel has been recited so often will mean that the speaker's brain is not fully engaged with the words that are issuing from his mouth. And this will be sadly obvious.

Have pity on the poor salesman. An actor only recites his stuff half a dozen times a week. A priest probably not even so much as that. But a salesman might be declaring the delights of Soapo a dozen times an hour.

And often it'll be rejected a dozen times an hour, too.

It must be utter drudgery. 

Which is one reason why the origin of the word spiel is so odd.

Nuts and Bolts: spiel. The word Spiel is German for game. Mind you, it also means play, as in the theatre, which does make a bit more sense.

Tuesday 14 June 2022

Thing To Do Today: sew something.

 The Word Den came across a new word the other day: sewist, meaning someone who sews

New words are fragile things, but The Word Den hopes that the word sewist gets taken up by the whole world. 

It's always such a pity when such people are described as sewers.

What to sew? Perhaps something glorious:

By Natasha2006 - Own work, Public Domain,

or perhaps something merely useful:

It doesn't even have to be fabric that you sew:

surgical stitches. Image: Olek Remesz

There's bound to be some small sewing job that needs doing somewhere: a hem that's come down, or a button that's come off. 

Think how much greener it is to mend a garment than to throw it away.

And just think how much fun it'll be to go through your button pot looking for a button that very nearly matches.

And then use one that really doesn't.

Thing To Do Today: sew. This word was sēowan in Old English and goes right back to the Sanskrit sīvjati, which means he sews.

Monday 13 June 2022

Spot the Frippet: bean.

 Isn't it odd that, although we eat baked beans

photo by Gordon Joly

we never eat baking beans?

In America a head can be a bean, but a British old bean is a friend.

You might have coffee beans with your breakfast:

photo by Jeff Kubina

and kidney beans with your dinner: 

photo by Jon Richfield

If you have no money, but are still full of life and enthusiasm, then you both haven't got a bean and are full of beans.

(But, curiously, a hill of beans is worth more or less nothing.)

You may spot a bean bag, or some bean curd (which is, admittedly, usually known nowadays as tofu).

In fact one of the few places where beans might be hard to spot is on the table at those British celebrations the beanfeast or the beano.

Finally, if you climb a beanstalk you might find a man-eating giant; and if he's the BFG, even though he'll call you a human bean, he won't eat you. 


Spot the Frippet: bean. This word was bēan in old English.

Sunday 12 June 2022

Sunday Rest: brocialist.

 A brocialist is a person who has left-wing beliefs, but doesn't like women, or, at least, ignores them as far as politics is concerned.

That's more or less the definition on Wiktionary, anyway.


...but I always thought that meant wishing to promote the freedom, power, welfare and comfort of the common people.

How can someone be both left-wing and be dismissive of women?

It's beyond me.

Sunday Rest: brocialist. The bro- bit is from brother, a word that goes right back to the Sanskrit bhrātar and the -cialist bit is from socialist. The word social comes from socius, which means comrade.

Saturday 11 June 2022

Fame and Success: a rave.

Who invented the telephone?

Well, there's a question.

Twenty years ago today the US House of Representatives acknowledged Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci as the inventor of the telephone. Mind you, the Senate didn't agree, and so now no one is sure what the official position is.

But if you ask people (especially people who aren't Italian) who invented the telephone, a vote would be very likely to go in favour of Alexander Graham Bell.

The question is: would you rather be famous for inventing something; or would you rather have actually invented it?

I can't find a telephone poem by anything who's out of copyright, but here's a quote from War in Heaven by Charles Walter Stansby Williams (1909 - 1975).  If you want to know how to write an arresting sentence, then study this.

The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse.


Word To Use Today: fame. This word comes from the Latin word fāma, report. Fārī means to say.

Friday 10 June 2022

Word To Use Today: subcontrary.

 Two statements that cannot both be false, but can both be true, are called subcontrary.

For example, the statements

some apples are red


some apples are not red

cannot both be false, but they can both be true.

Personally, though, the main reason for cherishing the word subcontrary is just that it sounds so delightfully cross-grained and stubborn.

Word To Use Today: subcontrary. Sub- is Latin, and can mean almost anything, but most commonly it means under. The contrary bit of the word is also basically Latin: the word contrārius means opposite, and contrā means against.

Thursday 9 June 2022

Sustainability: a rant.

 Surely something labelled sustainable is made in a way that allows its manufacture to continue in the same manner and place forever.

Fishing which doesn't result in overall fish numbers decreasing might be sustainable, or the use of wood from a tree that will be replaced in its plantation with a similar one.

But then yesterday, in a Culture Vulture catalogue, I came across a soapstone dish which claims to be sustainably mined.

What? Most soapstone is 300 - 400 million years old. Mining it can't be sustainable. Can it?


soapstone carving at the Hoysala temple, Belur, India. Photo by Calvinkrishy

Word To Use Today: sustainable. The Latin word sustinēre means to hold up, from sub-, meaning under, or less, or something like that, plus tenēre, to hold.

Here's a link to the soapstone dish. It's clear from the online entry that the writers of the paper catalogue are well-meaning, even if their meaning has nothing, unfortunately, to do with sustainability.

Wednesday 8 June 2022

Nuts and Bolts: Ogham Script.

 How do you say Ogham?

I wish you hadn't asked that.

It can be ogg'm; oh-'m; awm; ohm; or it can have a sound like an h only spittier and garglier in the middle: ohh'm.

What is Ogham script?

That's a bit easier. It's an alphabet consisting of straight lines cutting across or into a vertical line, sometimes at right angles, and sometimes diagonally. Quite often the vertical line is a corner of an upright stone:

pillar in Ratass church, Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland. Photo: User:Jaqian

The script was used by Celtic people from about the fourth century onwards (perhaps earlier) and usually the inscriptions give a name, with the implication that the named person owned the land, or was perhaps buried under it. Most of the inscriptions are found in Ireland, but Wales and Scotland and England have examples, too.

Sometimes Ogham script is found on portable objects, too. Here's a modern alphabet:

photo: Runologe

Ogham script was invented some time after the first Romans came to Britain, and the script is probably based on the Roman alphabet, perhaps as a cypher to stop the Romans reading it, or perhaps as a special writing for Christian texts. On the other hand, there's a story that it was invented after the unfortunate events at the Tower of Babel; and another story that it was invented by someone called Ogma to exclude fools.

Here's an alphabet which gives some idea of the sounds of the letters:

Nowadays Ogham script is sometimes used by modern pagans, and is cherished and studied by enthusiasts of Celtic culture.

Word To Use Today: Ogham, but probably not out loud because most people are going to claim you've pronounced it wrongly. This word's origin is disputed. It might be named after Ogma, or it might  be from the Irish og-úaim, point-seam, meaning the line made by a sharp weapon.


Tuesday 7 June 2022

Thing To Do Today: arm somebody.

 Why are arms, as on the weapons, called arms?

What have they got to do with, well, arms?

photo by Joe lope

As a matter of fact, absolutely nothing whatsoever.

Thing To Do Today: arm someone. The word for the body-part is Old English, and goes back to the Greek harmos, which means joint. The word for the weapons comes from the Latin word arma, which means arms or equipment.

Some countries have been having great difficulty in fulfilling their promises to arm Ukraine, whose people are currently the object of invasion and murder by a foreign army.

But then what can you expect of a country whose leader appears to be a reincarnation of Colonel Kurt von Strohm?

Monday 6 June 2022

Spot the Frippet: finger.

 Well, there couldn't be an easier spot than this, so how about being a bit original?

Gloves have fingers, and so do monkeys:

squirrel monkey, photo by Adrian Pingstone

and so, surprisingly, do fish:

Spirits come in fingers, too:

image: Vincent Le Moygn

not that kind of spirit!

By Benjamin Thompson - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

that's better.

you might see a finger of land stretching out to sea, or a fingerboard on a stringed instrument:

photo Dmbruley

or a fingerpost to show you the way, or a fingerling, which is a very small fish. 

If it's a very unlucky very small fish, you might even see it at a finger buffet, too.

Spot the Frippet: finger. This word hasn't changed for over a thousand years. It's related to the words five and fist.

Sunday 5 June 2022

Sunday Rest: coronated. Word Not To Use Today.

 Yes, the word coronated does exist, and yes, it can describe the act of putting a crown onto someone's head. Generally, though, it's used only by people who don't know the word crowned...

...and, to be fair, some biologists who want to describe a structure that looks a bit like a crown or a corona (ever heard of a thing called a coronavirus? Because they are coronated:

as it happens, that's MERS).

So if you're not a medievalist or a biologist, using the word coronated is just going to make you look like an ignoramus.

Still, for most of us that's fair enough.

photo of Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton

Sunday Rest: coronated. The Latin word corōnāre means to crown. This word came into English after the Norman Conquest. Corōna means wreath or crown, and comes from the Greek korōnē, which means crown or something curved.

Saturday 4 June 2022

Saturday Rave: Oh Mountain of my Native Country by Appollon Nikolayevich Maykov.

 Much of the world is trying to understand Vladimir Putin at the moment: to understand him, and also his country, Russia.

I can't say we're having a lot of luck with either, but here's a Russian poem from the 1800s with an interesting theme. I don't know if it helps with understanding Vladimir Putin, but it's certainly a novel way of thinking about one's homeland.

In this translation the poem comes out as pretty much doggerel. In the original it might be very fine. 

Still, who doesn't enjoy a little doggerel from time to time?

"O mountains of my native country! O valleys of my home!
On you gleam Winter's snowflakes white and twinkle lambs of Summer--
On you the rosy sunlight glows, you know no deathly shudder!"

So, 'neath the earth did wistful yearn three homesick youths in Hades,
Who fain from out that under world to worlds above would hasten.
  The first declared "We'll go in Spring!" The second "No, in Summer!"
"No," cried the third, "at harvesting, in time the grapes to gather!"
A listening maiden fair, o'erheard with heart resistless throbbing;
Upon her breast her arms she crossed and begged of them imploring--
  "O take me to the upper world!" Alone the youths made answer,
"That cannot be, you fairest maid, that you with us be taken!
Your heels would clatter as you speed, your dress would rustle silken,
Your rattling ornaments warn death to hear us all escaping."

"My rustling dress I will unlace,--my ornaments forsaking,
Barefooted up the stairway steep will mute and cautious follow!
Ah, but too gladly would I gaze again on earthly living!
I fain my mother would console, sad for her daughter grieving--
would my brothers twain behold, who for their sister sorrow!"
  "O do not yearn, thou wretched child, for those thou lovest, ever!
Thy brothers in the village street now joyful lead the wrestling--
And with the neighbours on the street thy mother gossips zestful!"


Perhaps the point is that the physical country is valuable, but the people are not.

Yes. Perhaps that does make sense of Vladimir Putin.

Word To Use Today: native. This word comes from the Latin nātīvus, which means innate or natural, from nascī, to be born.

Friday 3 June 2022

Word To Use Today: quadrat.

 They say you are never more than ten feet from a rat - but that's not true, because there are many places rats don't go. You're safe from rats in Antarctica, for a start, and also, usually, driving along major roads. 

Hang-gliders tend to be rat-free, too.

But the word quadrat, echoing quadbike as it does, raises all kinds of terrible possibilities. Rats are intelligent, so is it only a matter of time before they invent some kind of vehicle which will enable them to travel everywhere and take over the whole world? Will we look out and see small rat-cars weaving smartly through the lanes of the motorways?

Well, no, quite frankly.


It is quite possible, in fact, to find a genuine live rat on a quadrat, but it won't be driving it anywhere because a quadrat is a square of ground, usually with sides a metre in length, used for biological study.

Is this a relief or a slight disappointment?

Personally, I'm wondering about writing a story about techno-rats.

Word To Use Today: quadrat. This word has been around since the 1300s, when it meant square. The word is a variation of the word quadrant, which cones from the Latin word quadrāns, which means a quarter.

Thursday 2 June 2022

A moth by any other name: a rant.

 I can see why the Entomological Society of America might want to rename the Gypsy Moth, an insect which famously wanders the globe looking for crops upon which to feed its voracious young.

I think they're probably wrong to worry, as it happens, but I can see where they're coming from. Joe Rominiecki from the ESA says he has had what he calls a cultural awakening and feels the name is offensive.

I don't really think this renaming matters very much (though the new name, the Spongy Moth is beyond useless, being a description of the way the insect's eggs are laid, which almost no one is ever going to know about, let alone see).

What really worries me is that next we'll be cancelling Amy Johnson for flying a Gypsy Moth plane.

By User Dabbler on en.wikipedia - "Original photograph taken by my grandfather, image scanned and edited by me, Dabbler.", CC BY-SA 3.0,

Word To Use Today: gypsy. This word is a form of Egyptian, though the original gypsy people are thought to have come from India.

Wednesday 1 June 2022

Nuts and Bolts: alumna, alumna, alumnam, alumnae, alumnae alumna.

 I came across this, below, in a reputable national newspaper:

Mary Beard, the renowned classicist and an alumni of the college

Now, you don't have to be a professor of classics like Mary Beard to spot that she cannot be an alumni of a college, because the word alumni only applies to students in the plural, and even then they have to be either all male, or in a group including both male and female people.

The word for a female student of a particular college is alumna; if there is more than one female student then they're alumnae. If the student is male then he's an alumnus...

...except that I'm suddenly full of awful doubts. If we must use they to describe someone who, well, wants to be called they, then perhaps we should apply Latin plurals to singular people (and Mary Beard is a singular person) if they so ask.

I'm pretty sure that Mary Beard hasn't so asked, though, being a professor of classics and everything. So I'm happy to mark alumni down in that quotation as just plain wrong.

Nuts and Bolts: alumnus/alumna/alumni/alumnae. This Latin word means nurseling, foster child or pupil, and comes from the word alere, which means to nourish.