This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Monday 28 February 2022

Spot the Frippet: pet.

 Are you teacher's (or boss's) pet? If not, who is?

If you have no teacher or boss, or if you have a teacher or boss who likes/hates all his or her (OGAA)* pupils equally, then of course there are non-human kinds of pets.

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes:

photo by Helgi Halldórsson

photo by Andrew Bishop

but it does seem to be a deeply human thing to want to share food and shelter with a creature of a different species.

It's rather puzzling behaviour, especially as many pets don't, as far as I can see, show much sign of appreciating all the care and affection lavished on them.

Are pets child-substitutes? Yes, sometimes. Friend-substitutes? Sometimes. Guard, blanket, ornament substitutes? Tick, tick, tick.

Why anyone would keep cockroaches as pets, though, escapes me.

But people do.

photo from Husond 

Spot the Frippet: a pet. This word appeared in English in the 1500s, but there's no agreement about where it came from before that.

*Other Genders Are Available.

Sunday 27 February 2022

Sunday Rest: quark. Word Not To Use Today.

 This is a good solid word, and very useful.

It can be tricky, though.

I mean, when you hear the quark what do you think of first? James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, quantum physics...or cheese?

Cheese, eh? 

Hmm...I'm afraid that quark is a word to make us wonder if we really are a protean geniuses, after all.

Sunday Rest: quark. This word describes a soft, white, and rather tasteless kind of German low-fat cheese.

It's also a word made up by James Joyce in his book Finnegan's Wake (a book impenetrable to the extent that Joyce himself boasted that its meaning wouldn't be fully understood for two hundred years). 

The physicist Murray Gell-Mann borrowed Joyce's word to mean one of six hypothetical particles which form a small part of an atom. Gell-Mann was actually already calling them kworks in his head, but when he came across the word quark in Finnegan's Wake he decided to take that spelling. The Finnegan's Wake quote goes:

Three quarks for Mister Mark!

Sure he hasn't got much of a bark

And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.

Gell-Mann pronunciation of the word remained kwork, but nowadays most people say kwark.

Saturday 26 February 2022

Saturday Rave: yigga yigga by Elwyn Henaway.

 I wanted to write about songlines. They're precious and remarkable things, the oldest stories in the world, created and tended by the Aboriginal people of Australia.

They describe the landscape by way of a journey through it, being at root an account of the creative spirits or totems which made every feature and creature that is to be seen. These songlines go back thousands and thousands of years. We know this because they include a description of the formation of a volcano which happened tens of thousands of years ago.

If you know a songline then you can go on a journey and never need a map because the countryside will show you its history as you walk.

Songlines are an oral tradition, and I couldn't find an example of even part of one of them written down. Perhaps this is to preserve them in their native state, perhaps this is out of respect for their dignity and power. As a storage system that sounds horribly fragile to me, but that's ridiculous because they have survived longer than any book, let alone any computer storage device.

It still puts them out of our reach, though, so here's a short video of something rather different.

It's good fun, and part of the culture of the same people, at least:

Word To Use Today: songline. The word song was sang in Old English. The word line has a mixed heritage, coming partly from the Old English līn, and partly from the French ligne, from the Latin līnum, both words meaning flax.

Friday 25 February 2022

Word To Use Today: pickle:

 No, you probably don't already know all there is to know about pickles.

For a start, in North America a pickle is a small cucumber preserved in brine or vinegar (I call that a gherkin) but elsewhere a pickle is any fruit or vegetable (or, often, a mixture of the two) preserved in a thick boiled sauce of sugar and vinegar. It's something like a savoury jam.

To be in a pickle is to be in...well, in a jam, I suppose. Or a tight spot, anyway.

In Britain a pickle may also be a mischievous child.

Did you know about all those? 

Well, what about the top-secret pickle, then?

The secret pickle was the invention of Thomas Hancock, who produced the rubber masticator, a machine which chopped rubber into small pieces so that it could be re-formed and recycled (this was necessary because only freshly-cut surfaces would stick together).

Hancock chose not to patent his machine until 1837. Instead he chose to call his invention a pickle, which meant that no one at all was interested in it except for Charles Macintosh (the inventor of, yes, the mackintosh) and soon their factory was the biggest manufacturer of rubber goods in the world.

Which wasn't a pickle at all, but a happy ending!

Word To Use Today: pickle. This word might come from the Middle Dutch pekel. The German word Pökel means brine.

Thursday 24 February 2022

All For The Birds: a rant.

 McCown's longspur (Rhynchophanes mcowniihas recently become the thick-billed longspur. This is because the McCown after whom the bird was named was a Confederate general who is famously (one presumes) one of the bad guys (sorry, I'm English: I don't know much about the American Civil War).

The bird's scientific name hasn't been altered.

I can see why the bird's name has been changed, but where do we stop? I suppose, given that there's more or less no one in history who's lived a completely unblemished life, we could change the names of every creature, town and river named after an individual. Perhaps we should. But that would mean not celebrating many achievements.

They're coming for Audubon, now. John James Audubon is famous as an illustrator and cataloguer of the birds of North America. He was also (much less famously) an owner of slaves and a supporter of slavery.

Should we expunge Audubon from the common names of birds? Do we expunge him from the scientific names of birds? Do we continue to celebrate the good he did, while ignoring the bad?

It's not easy. One possible solution might be that if someone is famous for doing good, then their name should continue to be celebrated; but if they are famous for doing evil, then their name should be expunged.

But then what could we have done if Darwin had had an evil grandfather?

Perhaps we should really be calling everything Red, or Scarce, or Boaty McBoatface.

Word To Use Today: a bird's name that doesn't cause embarrassment. This isn't as easy as it sounds. The word lark, for example, comes from the Old English lawerce, and before that it was a germanic word and there's a suggestion that an early form of the word might be linked to the word treason. So even the word lark isn't without taint.

Wednesday 23 February 2022

Nuts and Bolts: prevocalic sounds

 The word prevocalic is used to describe a few things, but none of them are to do with what happens before someone starts speaking.

Something prevocalic is something that happens before a vowel-sound, and it's especially something that only happens before a vowel-sound.

Occasionally this can be quite interesting. 

Try saying:

 koala in a tree.

Now say it again, slowly. What you probably actually said was:

 koala rin a tree

That r is an example of a prevocalic sound.

Another kind of example is when a sound which isn't normally voiced - like the r in the word car where I live - is sounded before a vowel. As in car-alarm

Sometimes a prevocalic sound can be even weirder, as in raw offal.

We often accuse others of not listening to us. 

The odd thing is that we so seldom listen to ourselves.

Word To Consider Today: prevocalic. The Latin word-beginning prae means before; the Latin word vōcālis means possessed of a voice. The whole word was coined around 1900. 

Tuesday 22 February 2022

Thing To Be Today: on tenterhooks.

 By now we should know whether Vladimir Putin has decided whether it's in his best interests to invade Ukraine. This post is being written on February 15th 2022, and although it's plain that Mr Putin has gone to a lot of trouble and expense to array an invasion force, complete with hospital facilities, around the borders of his country, his government is still assuring everyone that it does not intend to invade.*

Some people seem to believe Mr Putin. The rest of the people of the world don't.

And so here we are, on tenterhooks, with many embassies in Kyiv now operating on a skeleton staff, and huge US bombers flying, coincidentally we are told, into British bases.

This is a tenter hook:

No, it's not actually a hook, but never mind. It's a thing that used to be attached to a tenter, which is a wooden frame used in former times in the process of making cloth.

Woollen cloth would be spun and woven unwashed, and then the cloth would be sent to a fuller (also known as a tucker or a walker) to be cleaned. He would fix the wet cloth to wooden tenters in tenter fields or tentergrounds so that the cloth didn't shrink as it dried.

People have been using the phrase to describe a state of figurative tension since the 1700s.

Thing To Be Today: on tenterhooks. The Old English form of the word hook was hōc. Tenter comes from the Latin word tendere, which means to stretch.

*It is now 21st February, but we're still no wiser. Personally, I can't see anyone getting any useful advantage out of any likely scenario. Can you?

Monday 21 February 2022

Spot the Frippet: rust.

 A rustbucket used to mean a very old car:

photo by Tyson Hepburn

 but cars don't rust much any more. There's still plenty of rust about, though. It's a mixture of iron and oxygen and it can be very beautiful:

photo by Laitr Keiows

Iron and steel go rusty if they get damp (unless it's stainless steel) and so you probably aren't far from a bit of rusty metal - an old steel can, perhaps, or a radiator that's leaked a little, or an old road sign, or a screw:

photo by User:Paulnasca

And then there's the kind of rust that infects plants, which is a fungus. It makes parts of the plant go rust-brown:

coffee leaf. Photo by Smartse

In fact the word rust can be used of anything the colour of rust, whether it's a carpet or a dog:

photo by tomcue2

Talents and knowledge rust, too. How good is the foreign language you haven'
t spoken since school? Or your current knowledge of your sacred book? Or your ability to play chess?

Never hard to spot rust, is it.

Spot the Frippet: rust. The word was rūst in Old English.

Sunday 20 February 2022

Sunday Rest: bodycon. Word Not To Use Today.

What's the con with bodycon?

A bodycon dress is tight-fitting:


photo by Kalvin Chan

but some have sleeves, and some are fairly long. They're not all low-cut, either. Still, the one thing you can say about a bodycon dress is that it leaves no room at all for deceiving anyone about what's inside.

So what is the con?

Originally the expression was body conscious (because who could not be body-conscious in a dress that fits slightly more tightly than your own skin?) but later the term morphed into body-confidence.

Then in the 1980s the idea went to Japan, where it became 
ボディコン, or bodykon if you write it in the Roman alphabet.

It's possible to use this word as an adjective: I fancy something quite bodycon. 

But tight-fitting would do just as well, and doesn't sound as if you're trying to fool anyone.

Sunday Rest: bodycon. For the confident and the fashion-conscious!

Saturday 19 February 2022

Saturday Rave: the sound-writing.

 One hundred and forty five years ago today, Eddison patented the phonograph. He wasn't the first person to make a machine that recorded sound or played it back, but he was the first to make a device that did both.

It was an invention would make the world at once a smaller, and a infinitely more varied, surprising, and delightful, place.

Mr Putin, the president of Russia, is not currently making the world a more delightful place,* but here's something to remind us that Russia is a wonderful country, full of people just like the rest of us - brave, generous, and loving enough to live their lives quite happily without hurting other people.

(That's Rimsky-Korsakov's The Young Prince and Princess from the Scheherazade Suite.)

Here's to the phonograph and all its technical descendants, and to the beauty of all the peoples of the world.

Word To Use Today: brother. This Old English version of this word was brōthor. It goes right back to the Sanskrit bhārtar

*Actually, I can't say that I've ever noticed much sign of his even wanting to make the world a more delightful place.

Friday 18 February 2022

Word To Use Today: calomel.

 Calomel just might be the most beautiful word in the English language.

It's a chemical, mercury chloride, Hg2Cl2, which was used by alchemists and is therefore rather romantic.

Here it is as a mineral:

photo by Kelly Nash

The stuff has been known in Iran since 850 AD, but it didn't make much of an impact in Europe until the 1600s.

It had even more of an impact in the 1800s, when it was decided that giving people large doses of calomel would be a help in curing syphilis, bronchitis, ingrowing toenails, tuberculosis, 'flu, cancer - and more or less everything else, including teething. In 1863 the American surgeon-general, William A Hammond, having noticed that the stuff was making people sicker than they were to start with, announced that calomel should no longer be used in the US Army. This caused a lot of controversy (calomel was still being used in the British Army during the First World War) and it also led to the sacking of poor Mr Hammond. Mr Hammond, though, was quite right to be alarmed. By that time calomel was being prescribed in huge amounts and the mercury in it was poisoning people and causing gangrene, tooth-loss, facial deformities, and brain damage.

Did the beauty of its name make people trust it? It does sound so very sweet and calm.

On a much happier note, calomel is now used in electrochemistry for measuring the pH and and electrical potential of solutions.

I'm not honestly sure why I might want to use this word. 

But it might make a good name for a very gentle, beautiful and deadly witch.

Word To Use Today: calomel. This word comes from the Greek kalos, beautiful, and melas, which means black. This might be either because it turns black when you expose it to ammonia, or because you can make the stuff from a black mixture of mercury and mercuric chloride.

Thursday 17 February 2022

The Limits of Language: a rant.

 From the Culture Vulture catalogue, an offer of a plate. It has writing on it.

It says:

The Giving Plate

This plate shall have no owner

for its journey never ends

the food that's placed upon it is made for 

all to share

So pass it on with

Love and care


Its journey never ends?

Not if I drop it, it won't.

In any case, I do wish the designer had made up his or her mind about whether the inscription was going to rhyme or not. 

Especially as ends rhymes so obviously with friends.


Word To Use Today: any you like, as long as you don't put them on a plate. The word plate, or something very similar, has described flat things since Ancient Greek times, when it was platus.

Wednesday 16 February 2022

Nuts and Bolts: autofiction,

 Autofiction is a genre that exists between fiction and non-fiction where the narrator has the same name as the writer of the work (often a novel) and the outline of the story does to some degree follow the writer's life.

It will feature nonfictional events, but will also include incidents and characters which are partly, and sometimes wholly, invented.

Karl Ove Knausgaard's series of books My Struggle, is a well-known example.

One thing autofiction probably has to feature is a protagonist (or perhaps a narrator) who is a writer.

Autofiction is often trying to give a "truer" impression of a writer's life than the actual truth might - and of course any account of anything can never be entirely factual.

But a reader's reaction to fiction is rather different from that to nonfiction (and fiction has to be vaguely likely, which nonfiction doesn't) so autofiction remains a tricky and delicate kind of thing.

And it's not as if autobiography is usually exactly factual, is it?

Word To Use Today: autofiction. The Greek word autos means self. Fiction comes from the Latin fingere, to shape.

Tuesday 15 February 2022

Thing To Be Today: an angel.

 Angel-type beings come in quite a few shapes and sizes. One Christian league-table goes (most powerful first) seraphim, cherubim. thrones, dominions. virtues, powers, principalities, archangels and then, at the bottom, angels.

So, given that angels are the weakest and weediest,  being an angel can't really be that hard, can it?

Be an angel and make me a cup of tea.

Oh! Just what I wanted, a pair of socks. You're an angel!

You've finished that report? You really are an angel.

(I must note, here, that angels in religion are usually male, and those on Earth are almost always female. I don't even dare to think about why this might be.)

Technically, angels are heaven-inhabiting servants of God. Occasionally one goes bad, but they're usually helpful, doing stuff like carrying messages, guarding people, driving malefactors out of the Garden of Eden, that kind of thing.

Oh, and painting floors.

Oh yes. I've been painting a floor myself, and the instructions on the tin of varnish says that it's re-coatable in two hours, but that you can't walk on the stuff for twenty-four.

Angels is the only possibility I can imagine.

angels by Raphael

Thing To Be Today: an angel. This word was engel in Old English. The Latin form was angelus and the Greek form was angelos, which meant messenger. Before that, in Mycenaean Linear B, the word was a-ke-ro. There's a Persian word, angaros, which means mounted courier, which might be linked to the word angel, too.

Monday 14 February 2022

Spot the Frippet: a bee.

 But what has Valentine's Day got to do with bees?

The story goes like this:

One day Cupid came across a hive oozing with honey, and the greedy boy lost no time in scooping out a handful to eat.

But the bees, alerted to the honey-thief, rose up in a swarm and began to sting Cupid, so that he ran away (or perhaps he flew) to his mother the goddess Venus, crying both with pain, and with outrage that such little creatures could cause such agony.

But Venus told the little boy that perhaps it was a good thing that he should know what it was like to be caused such distress and anguish with a sting.

watercolour by Walter Crane

Spring is just beginning here in England, and the first bumblebees are buzzing round the winter honeysuckle that grows by my front door.

There are over 16 000 known species of bees, and the vast majority of them live solitary lives, but it's the honey bees that attract the most attention. 

honey bee, photo by Maciej A. Czyzewski

Apart from being furry and dangerous, honey bees are important for pollinating vast numbers of flowers, some of them important food crops. But the sweat bees, for instance, don't have so many fans; and some stingless bees, the smallest of which come in at under 2 mm in length, are seldom noticed.

Flowers provide bees with both nectar and pollen. The first gives them energy, and the second is chiefly used as baby food.

Where can you find a bee? Anywhere where there are flowers. That's everywhere except Antarctica and very watery places.

a mason bee, which nests in dead wood. Photo by Beatriz Moisset

Once you've spotted one, listen and see if you can hear it, too.

teddy bear bee. Photo by aussiegall

Spot the Frippet: a bee. This word is bīo in Old English.

Sunday 13 February 2022

Sunday Rest: quaranteen.

 Yes, sorry, this is a hideous word, so let's get this over as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, this a word without much purpose. It means nothing interesting or useful, it's just been presented to the world in an attempt to...what? Be clever, perhaps.

The word describes a teenager who has survived the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yes, that is exactly the same as...a teenager.

No use at all.

Sunday Rest: quaranteen. It's easy to see how someone came up with this word. The word quarantine comes from the Italian quarantina, a period of forty days, from quaranta, forty, from the Latin word quadrāgintā.

Forty days...good grief!

Saturday 12 February 2022

Saturday Rave: A Glimpse by Walt Whitman.

 We will soon be reaching that hellish breeding-ground of bad verse that is Valentine's Day.

So here, for some relief, is something lean and clean and not at all mushy or mawkish. It's by the remarkable American poet Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892).

A Glimpse

A glimpse through an interstice caught,

Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the stove late of a winter night, and I unremark’d seated in a corner,

Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,

A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking and oath and smutty jest,

There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word.

Word To Use Today: interstice. The obvious question is, what is a stice? Sadly, the answer is quite boring. The word interstice comes from the Latin interstitium, which means interval, from sistere, which means to stand. 

In physics, an interstice is the gap between two next-door atoms in the lattice of a crystal.


Friday 11 February 2022

Word To Use Today: petal.

 I think it's quite interesting that the word petal comes from the Greek word petalon, which means leaf.

photo by Tiago Fioreze (these aren't, strictly-speaking, petals, but tepals. Still, never mind)

photo by kazuend

photo by Martin Cooper

I wonder if this is partly to do with the Ancient Greeks having such a different idea of colour from us? Their word khlōros, which we think of as green, had something of the meaning of growing thing.

Word To Use Today: petal. Petal comes from petalon (which also can mean a thin sheet of something) and petalon is basically the same word as petalos, which means spread out, or flat.


Thursday 10 February 2022

The Thin Blue Lines: a rant.

Is it wrong to split infinitives? If it is, why is it wrong? I ask, because some people seem to think splitting infinitives a sign of moral decay, and not just a sign of carelessness, fashion, or general illiteracy.

Are split infinitives more or less wrong than prepositions at the end of sentences? Do they both make you froth at the mouth? 

How about missing apostrophes? Do you despise greengrocers? Do you carry a pen specifically for your preferred marking of the genitive case?

Well, even if all three of these quirks have you climbing the walls, you've got nothing on an online grammar program.

The red-line spelling "corrections" I don't mind, even though I often don't agree with them. If I want to write civilisation with an s then I will. But the grammatical "corrections" are annoying because they're harder to dismiss.

What's wrong with this sentence?

 If I thought about it properly I'd hate them, too. 

Well, don't ask me, but Hotmail puts blue lines under the word properly.*

There have been hundreds of excellent writers in the world (perhaps thousands. I haven't counted) and they're all different. It's the difference that makes them great.

But if everyone is to be nagged if they write something which doesn't fit in with a computer's idea of correctness then we're in danger of losing a great deal of difference.

I propose that all such systems should be opt-in.

Then language will be free again to wander in strange, magnificent avenues, and we shall live in a world where humans program computers, and not the other way round

Word To Use Today: one which annoys a computer. The word proper comes from the Latin word prōprius, which means special.

*On reflection, there is a case to be made for a comma after the word properly. But I still don't want to include one. So there!

Wednesday 9 February 2022

Nuts and Bolts: nudge theory.

 What works best, the carrot or the stick?

Nudge theory works on the carrot-stick (or else the stick made of carrot) principle: that is, it offers a very small reward or penalty (sometimes one of which the recipient isn't conscious) to nudge people in the desired direction.

For example, a chain of stores in the USA, Pay and Save, put green arrows leading to the vegetable section on the floor. People followed the arrows (for fun? Or did it just save them having to make a decision?) and sales of vegetables increased.

In the UK, people in arrears with tax payments have been sent messages telling them that nine out of ten people in their area are up to date with their tax. Does this make the debtors feel particularly inadequate? Or can't they stand being poorer than their neighbours? In any case, they pay up.

There's nothing new about nudges. Here's an Austrian referendum form from 1938 about whether Adolf Hitler should become head of state:

The theory of nudges, however, is quite recent. It was popularised in the 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago, but the idea was first described before 1995 by James Wilk.

Nudge: cynical manipulation or careful benevolence? It's easy enough to work out which each example is.

But only, of course, if you've spotted the nudge, first.

Word To Consider Today: nudge. This word appeared in English in the 1600s from Scandinavia. The Icelandic word nugga means to push.

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Thing Possibly To Do: resign.

 Continuing last Tuesday's football theme, if a player resigns, has he left his club, or has he written his signature on a document agreeing to stay with it?

Unless we can all agree that some hyphens are necessary, we're never going to know.

Word To Use Today: resign. This word comes from the Old French resigner, which means to renounce. Before that it came from the Latin word resignāre, to unseal, cancel or give up, from signāre to seal, or to make an entry in an account book. The Latin word signum means a sign. 

The confusion has come about because re- at the beginning of an English word usually means again (as in rebuild or retrace) but in this case means pretty much the opposite. This difficulty goes right back to Roman times, when re- could mean again, against, back, or anew. 

Monday 7 February 2022

Spot the Frippet: oil.

 What's an oil?

It's not that easy to describe. It'll be a liquid, and one that usually won't mix with water. It'll be smooth. Quite thick, possibly. Probably not cloudy. A bit sticky. And, well, oily.

Luckily we all know oil when we see it, whether it comes in a bottle:

photo by margenauer

or on a canvas:

painting by Yano Ayako

In a dropper:

photo by

or in a lamp (oils are often flammable):

By Arne Hückelheim - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

You may smear oil on your skin (or hide your oily skin with powder); or you may put it on a salad; you may also put it on a squeaky hinge or an engine. It's in perfume. It's found in whales, under the ground, and in many many plants.

In Australia and New Zealand the good oil means facts or news.

Oil is all over the place, doing all kinds of things. It's very close to you.

I mean, look in a mirror. How shiny is your nose?

Spot the Frippet: oil. This word comes from the Greek elaia, which means olive.

Sunday 6 February 2022

Sunday Rest: fauxfence.

 Fauxfence is a word we do rather need at the moment, but that doesn't stop it being a monstrosity.

It's obvious what it means (isn't it? It's a pretence of being offended) and the word does rhyme quite cleverly with offence. But that faux...Faux is horrible even when it's used to describe artificial flowers, or artificial animal horns or even (because we live in a strange, strange world) artificial concrete.

Faux manages, heaven help us, to be pretentious about fakery.

But still, fauxfence is a concept we really need at the moment.

Could we not use pretence-offence?

It's not nice, but it'd do.

Sunday Rest: fauxfence. Faux is French for false. It's been around in English in the phrases faux pas and faux-naif for ages, but faux used by itself is fairly recent. The word offence comes from the Old French offendre, to strike, from the Latin offendere, from ob- against and fendere to strike.

Saturday 5 February 2022

Saturday Rave: Cantilena by Don Esteban Manuel de Villegas

 Esteban Manuel de Villegas, 1589 - 1689, was a curious character. He was born into a rich family but struggled all his life with debt. He was prosecuted by the Spanish Inquisition for being a bighead (believing himself in possession of absolute truth) and tried to defend himself by declaring that at least he knew a lot more than the Church Fathers. 

Later, the Inquisition found that, although he dressed in fine clothes he lived a simple life - and at that threw up their hands and decided he was nuts, and therefore not their problem.

Here he is:

It seems to have been true that Don Esteban was a bighead, but he left us some good verse.

This (free) translation was made in the 1800s by H.K.

"What whim is this, Don Stephen,"

Our merry wenches cry;

"That all your strains are songs of love

And none of Chivalry!"

Dear girls, such shapes as Nature

First gives us, we must wear;

Hence all we men are ugly

And all you women fair!

The lute's not formed to echo

The trumpet's loud alarm;

Beside one scarce could thrum it

With clumsy shield on arm.

The laurel's leaves are green enough, - 

Ye faith! - 'tis little boot

To shake a tree whose branches

Drop never wholesome fruit.

Who think a hero's glory

In wound and scar to find,

May patch his mangled carcass

With plasters to his mind.

Who for mere mercenary greed

Would drench a field in gore;

Heaven send him thence - or thence he 'scape - 

A beggar evermore!

To treat of broils and bloodshed

My peaceful Muse were stupid:

I sing but of the wars I wage.

And they're the wars of Cupid.

And so, my merry maidens,

Enough of reasons why

Don Stephen's songs are all of Love,

And none of Chivalry.


A beggar evermore...

...some things, sadly, don't change.

Word To Use Today: chivalry. This word is basically the same as chevalier. The Latin caballārius means horseman.

Friday 4 February 2022

Word To Use Today Except That It's A Bit Horrid: minaudiere.

 This is a moaning kind of a word, but it has an interesting derivation.

This is a minaudière:

illustration by David Ring

and here's another (none of them have handles):

photo by Bongoramsey

It might be used as an evening bag, or as a container for cosmetics.

I've had several during my life and never known it.

I'm really not sure I'll be able to bring myself to use this word today.

Perhaps tomorrow.

Word To Use Today Except That It's A Bit Horrid: minaudière. This looks the kind of word that was coined in the early nineteenth century, but in fact it came into English in the 1930s. In France minaudière used to mean a coquette (a flirt) or a girl with artificial manners. It's the feminine form of minaudier (men can affect fashionable manners, too). Before that mine meant facial expression, a word which probably came from the Breton word min, a muzzle.

Thursday 3 February 2022

Headline News: a rant.

 By the time this post appears, those of us who can be bothered will have read Sue Gray's report into whether people working in British Government Offices held illegal parties during any of England's Coronavirus lockdowns.

There's a chance the report may result in the resignation, or defenestration, of the Prime Minister, so it is important.

Several national news programmes in the days leading up to the release of the Sue Gray report* have featured possible infractions of the rules as their lead story - it seems that the year before last someone made Boris a cake - thus relegating the massing of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border to a matter of relatively small importance.

What's going on? How can the possibility of war in Europe be less important than an eighteen-month-old cake? 

I do not want to live in a country ruled by journalists, but this seems to be an attempt to create one. Annoyingly, I cannot find a word to describe it.


It's a fairly horrible word, but the Ancient Greeks did not have newspapers, so for now it might have to do.

Word To Use Today: journalarchy - or a better word meaning this if you know or can think of one. Amararchy would be more consistently Greek. The word journalist comes from French. Journal is Old French for daily and comes from the Latin diurnālis. Diēs means day. Amar is the Greek for day.

*As it happens, almost all of Sue Gray's findings have not been released, at the request of the Metropolitan Police, who are conducting their own enquiry.

Wednesday 2 February 2022

Nuts and Bolts: Inspirational Quotations.

 Inspirational quotations clearly have their roots in proverbs, but a full-on inspirational quotation, that is, something to encourage and inspire (and inscribe on a pendant or print on a tea towel) is rather a new thing. 

To me, anyway. 

Not that I'd have one of the blasted things anywhere I could see it.

(Oh, and by the way: despite the name, they're not usually quotations.)

A quick search on Google yields five typical examples:

When you have a dream, you've got to grab it and never let it go. 

[Unless, presumably, it involves the destruction of all the trees on the planet, the elimination of people with ears, or dancing with puff adders.]

Nothing is impossible

[Yeah, right. Look, word of advice: learn how to fly up to the top of a building before you try flying down.]

There is nothing impossible to they who will try

[Which is the same thing as the one before, but with agonisingly pompous (and some would say dodgy) grammar.]

The bad news is time flies

[Has this person never waited for a train?]

Keep your face always towards the sunshine and shadows will be behind you

[And you won't be able to see the lorry that's about to run you over, either.]

So, it's an interesting genre, the inspirational quotation.

But on the whole I hope it's going to be short-lived.

Thing To Test Today: the inspirational quotation. These are basically designed for morons. The word inspire comes from the Latin word spīrāre, to breathe. The word quote comes from the Latin word quotāre, which means to assign reference numbers to a passage, from quot, which means how many?.

Tuesday 1 February 2022

Thing To Be Today. Or Possibly Not: outgoing.

 That outgoing football manager - is he always ready to engage with his players, staff, fans, and interviewers? 

Is he full of ideas and opinions, and more than ready to share them with the world? 

Is he socially generous, with a streak of rare-as-gold charisma..?


...or is has he just been sacked?


I'm afraid it's probably the latter, isn't it.

Oh dear.

Thing To Be Today. Or Possibly Not: outgoing. This word has a long history, but it just meant leaving somewhere until the 1950s, when people started being interested in ideas of introversion and extroversion. The Old English form of outgoing is utgangende, and the word out goes right back to Proto-Indo-European. In Old English the word going was gang.