This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Thursday 31 March 2022

Pings: a rant.

 The National Health Service Covid app pinged to say that for fifteen minutes I'd been within a couple of metres of someone who'd tested positive for Covid. The contact had been made on a date two days before.

Oh, the miracles of modern communication systems!

The trouble was, that I hadn't. I hadn't been within a couple of metres of anyone on that day apart from my husband, who a) didn't have Covid and, b) hardly ever switches his phone on, let alone tells it stuff about his state of health.

On the day in question I'd spent the morning at home. Not even the postman had called (we don't get much post on a Monday). In the afternoon I'd gone for a long walk in the woods. We'd seen a man on a bench, but gone no closer to him than twenty-five metres.

Two weeks later, I've discovered that at the time our next-door neighbours had Covid - and that they charge their phones from a socket on our shared wall.

Luckily, the virus didn't manage to burrow its way through two layers of paint, plaster, and brick, and a load of insulation.

Oh, but the miracles of modern communication systems!

Word To Use Today: miracle. This word comes from the Latin word mīrāculum, from mīrārī, to wonder at. 

Wednesday 30 March 2022

Nuts and Bolts: the languages of Russia.

 Everyone in Russia is expected to be able to speak Russian, but the country has other official languages. There are yet other languages that are probably official, and some that aren't official but are protected, and yet others that are marked as very endangered.

The named official languages of Russia are: Anaza, Adyghe, Avar, Altai, Bashkir, Buryat, Chechan, Chukchi, Chuvash, Chinese Tatar, Erzya, Ingush, Kabardian, Kalmyk, Karachay-Balkan, Knakas, Komi-Zyrian, Hill Mari, Meadow Mari, Moksha, Nogai, Ossetian, Tatar, Tuvan, Udmurt, Ukrainian and Yakut.

(These languages come from a wide variety of language families: Caucasian, Uralic, Turkic, Mongolic, Indo-European, and Chukotco-Kamchatkam.)

Then there are the languages Aghul, Avar, Azerbaijani, Dargwa, Kumyk, Lezgian, Rutal, Tabasaran, Tat and Tsakhur, which are languages spoken in Dagestan. The implication is that these are all official languages, even though they're not actually named in parliamentary law.

The languages Karelian, Vepsian and Finnish also have some protection.

Then we have some very local, but still protected languages: Dolgan, Even, Evenki, Kazakh (local in Russia, that is), Khanty, Komi-Pennyak, Mansi, Nenets, Selkup, Veps, and the Yukaghir languages.

Then there are the languages of migrants: Armenian, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Georgian, and Romanian.

There are some other languages that are near extinction: Enets, Medriy-Aleut, Negidal, Orok, Ter Sami, Tofalar, Udege, Votic and Yupik.

Such treasure, such a variety of cultures.

It makes it difficult to believe that they all always think the same way, doesn't it?

Word To Use Today: according to Wikipedia, only two people speak Ter Sami.  The Ter Sami word for tongue is ныкчым, which is transliterated nıkçım.

How about that?

Tuesday 29 March 2022

Thing Not To Do Today: palter with someone.

 This word is most usually encountered in a historical novel, when some authority figure thunders Do not palter with me! when he fails to get his own way.

As authority figures in fiction are often baddies, this is great fun. We see him (or her (other genders are usually not available in a historical novel)) showing weakness in anger.

To palter means to act, or, especially, to speak, insincerely. It might mean to try to fool someone by wriggling away from an agreement. Sometimes it might mean to haggle, though not over anything as straightforward as money.

Nowadays someone might say stop messing me about, but that doesn't have nearly the same magnificent ring to it.

The Word Den feels some nostalgia for the days when baddies had beautiful clothes, an education, and a vocabulary to match.

Their place, though, is strictly in fiction.

Word To Use Today: palter. This word appeared in English in the 1500s. It started off meaning to speak indistinctly, and then it began to mean to speak of trifling things. Then it moved in meaning to speaking insincerely, and then to describe a deliberate attempt to mislead. No one knows from it came from before it was English.

Monday 28 March 2022

Spot the Frippet: shell.

 Shells can be things of great beauty:

photo by Wilfredor

things of use:

conch shell trumpet, Papua New Guinea. Photo by Daderot

things that are protective:

photo by Utahcamera

(often of things that are tasty):

photo by Kazvorpal 

They can be a sign of new life:

photo by Wilfredor

and a sign of destruction:

shell of building, Serbia. Photo by Albert Horáček

and deliberate murder:

World War I shell-filling factory. Photo by Horace Nicholls

I could be bounded in a nutshell*, said a poor tortured soul, once, and count myself a king of infinite space.

If only we could. 

If only we could.

Spot the Frippet: shell. This word comes from the Old English sciell, and is related to the words scale and shale.

*That was Hamlet, of course.

Sunday 27 March 2022

Sunday Rest: mantelscaping. Word Not To Use Today.

 People have long arranged ornaments on their mantelpieces:

fireplace painted by Arthur Ferraris, late 1800s.

but now we have a word for the action: mantelscaping.

I think the idea of this new word is to make people unsure about their own taste, so they turn to a professional for help (a professional, naturally, who's just written a book about the craze). Or perhaps it's an invention of ceramicists to encourage us to buy new vases to anchor the wreaths of ivy and hothouse flowers that we are now supposed to weave with chaotic artistry through our candlesticks. Or perhaps by the decorators who hope to get the job of re-painting after the candles have set the ivy on fire...

Still, do have fun with your mantelscaping

If you should want to.

Sunday Rest: mantelscaping, The word mantel came into English in the 1300s from France. It's basically the same word as mantle, meaning cloak, and comes from the Latin word mantellum, which means a little mantum, which also means cloak. The -scape part of the word echoes landscape (and that other recent coinage, tablescape). 

The word landscape comes from the Middle Dutch landskap, which means region. The -skap part is more or less the same kind of thing as the -ship in a word like governorship.

Saturday 26 March 2022

Saturday Rave: propaganda by Eric Hoffer.

 Eric Hoffer was born in 1902. He went blind at the age of seven, and recovered his sight, quite unexpectedly, at the age of fifteen. 

He spent a long time wandering about the USA, just about keeping himself afloat. He worked at various times as a migrant harvester, a longshoreman, and panning for gold. 

He read Montaigne, was impressed, wrote some stuff, and suddenly found himself a professor at Berkeley. 

He retired early, and lived long.

No one knows (or ever knew) quite what to make of him. Philosopher? Perhaps. Intellectual? Again, perhaps, but he didn't recognise that as a label for himself. He just wrote about Life - and it had taught him a lot.

Whatever you call him, he was a wise man, and never wiser than when he said this:

Propaganda does not deceive people, it merely helps them to deceive themselves.

Wherever we are, it seems a good basis upon which to listen to the news.

Word To Use Today: propaganda. This word is Italian, and came to English in the 1700s. It comes from propāgandā from the book title Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith. 

In the Roman Catholic Church, the word propaganda describes people who direct the work of foreign missionary organisations.

Friday 25 March 2022

Word To Use Today: pettitoes.

 Pettitoes might sound like something you glimpse under the skirts of a Beatrix Potter character:

this is Goody Tiptoes

and, actually, they might be:

Pigling Bland leaving home

for pettitoes are pig's trotters (though usually the word describes them when they've been cooked and are ready to be eaten).

The origin of the word, pleasingly, has nothing whatsoever to do with pigs, but with an entirely different kind of animal.

Can you guess what it might be?

Word To Use Today: pettitoes. The pettit- bit comes from the Old French word petite, which means little. The leaves us with -oes, or oie in Old French, which means, yes, goose. Petite oie means the giblets of a goose. 

I'd guess the change to the word's describing a pig's extremities was probably down to marketing.

Thursday 24 March 2022

Foraging: a rant.

The headline said:

Three of the best foraged recipes

Well, there's not that much around in England to forage at the moment, but there's wild garlic, and bread-and-cheese (bread-and-cheese is the new sprouts of the hawthorn trees). 

Still, perhaps you can find roots to dig up that, if boiled for four hours, taste almost like a turnip.* 

It might be worth walking a fair way with a bag, some secateurs, and a trowel, if there's a chance of fresh free food.

The first recipe in the newspaper article was for Lyme Bay scallops with wild boar black pudding

Lyme Bay? 

Wild Boar?

,,,but that would involve chartering a fishing boat. It would also involve borrowing a hunting gun.


Only an army of occupation would call that foraging.


Well, I suppose it might come in useful, then. 

Better an army is hunting wild boar than innocent people, anyway.

Word To Use Today: forage. This word comes from the Old French fourrage, and probably from a German language before that. It's probably basically the same word as food and fodder.

*That's a line stolen from a short story by the glorious Diana Wynne Jones.

Wednesday 23 March 2022

Nuts and Bolts: deaffrication.

 This is a word, like niggardly, which might be taken by the ignorant to mean something objectionable. As this is the case, The Word Den cannot recommend its use.

There's also, predictably, an opposite process to deaffrication called affrication. This word might be more acceptable (but if people are determined to take offence, which they so often are, there still might be trouble. Ah well.).

Deaffrication and affrication most commonly occur when children are learning to speak. Deaffrication happens when instead of an affricate sound (that's a ch or a j sound) another sound is used instead. Jump might end up as shump, for instance.

In affrication, the ch or j get put in where they're not conventionally required. So, a shovel might be called a chovel.

Children tend to get all this sorted out by the time they're three or four. 

But they do become just slightly less cute when they do.

Process to consider Today: deaffriction. This word was made up in the 1800s. It comes from the Latin words ad, meaning to and fricare, to rub.

.People are still arguing about the origin of the word Africa, but there was a tribe in the north of the continent whom the Romans called Afri, or Afer, or Ifir, and the name might have something to so with that.

Tuesday 22 March 2022

Thing Not To Be Today: viscous.

 Oh, the joy of a good typo!

The Word Den has just seen someone describe Mr Putin a a viscous tyrant.

Presumably that means he's thick and likely to come to a sticky end.

Thing Not To Be Today: viscous. This word comes from the Latin word viscōsus, sticky, from viscum, which means mistletoe or birdlime.

Monday 21 March 2022

Spot the Frippet: bracket.

 Well, here's a bracket

photo by Fructibus

(they aren't hard to spot, are they?)

Here's another kind:

[the brackets are the bits that are stuck to the teeth]

and here's another:

{bracket fungus, photo by Trish Steel}

Brackets can be quite fancy things:

photo by Herzi Pinki

but the real reason for The Word Den featuring the word bracket is that its derivation is hilarious.

Spot the Frippet: bracket. This word comes from the Old French braguette, which means codpiece. Bragues are breeches, from the Old Provençal braga, and before that from the Latin brāca.

Sunday 20 March 2022

Sunday Rest: advice. Word Not To Use Today.

If you are the leader of a great people, and have dedicated a lot of time and effort to making sure you remain the leader of your great people, then you are bound to possess a lot of self-belief. 

Your officials exist to realise your great and wise ambitions, and, if the wretched underlings can't, then they must be replaced with those who can.

This, unfortunately, isn't the best set-up for being given reliable information and advice.

But then what great leader needs advice?

Sunday Rest: advice. This word came into the English language in the 1300s from French, from the Latin phrase ad vīsum, which means literally to view, or according to my opinion.

Saturday 19 March 2022

Saturday Rave: Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? by George Herbert.

 George Herbert, 1593 - 1633, was born in Wales to a wealthy and influential family. He was noticed by King James I and became a Member of Parliament.

And what did the silly man do then? Well, he gave it all up and went and spent the rest of his short life as a clergyman, tending most carefully and lovingly to his parishioners in the village of Fugglestone St Peter.

George Herbert is noted for his religious poetry, works of great strength and tenderness. They're wonderful things, even to those of us with no faith.

Here is a meditation on peace. It isn't be religious at all, unless you want it to be.

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? I humbly crave,
Let me once know.
I sought thee in a secret cave,
And ask'd, if Peace were there,
A hollow wind did seem to answer, No:
Go seek elsewhere.

I did; and going did a rainbow note:
Surely, thought I,
This is the lace of Peace's coat:
I will search out the matter.
But while I looked the clouds immediately
Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden and did spy
A gallant flower,
The crown-imperial: Sure, said I,
Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digged, I saw a worm devour
What showed so well.

At length I met a rev'rend good old man;
Whom when for Peace
I did demand, he thus began:
There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who lived with good increase
Of flock and fold.

He sweetly lived; yet sweetness did not save
His life from foes.
But after death out of his grave
There sprang twelve stalks of wheat;
Which many wond'ring at, got some of those
To plant and set.

It prospered strangely, and did soon disperse
Through all the earth:
For they that taste it do rehearse
That virtue lies therein;
A secret virtue, bringing peace and mirth
By flight of sin.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
And grows for you;
Make bread of it: and that repose
And peace, which ev'ry where
With so much earnestness you do pursue,
Is only there.


Word To Use Today: peace. This word comes from the Old French word pais, from the Latin pacem which means agreement, peace, tranquility or absence of war. Long ago, it came from a word meaning to fasten, which has also given us the words Pacific, pact, peasant - and patio.

Friday 18 March 2022

Word To Use Today: mediocre.

 In a world of terror, strife, and people trying to sell us AMAZING things, The Word Den finds itself full of affection for mediocrity.

For things that are just good enough. Stuff that'll do. The adequate, the unexceptional, the blandly competent.

Not an intricately-devised tasting menu of twelve courses, but a supermarket sandwich. No massive array of hot-house flowers, but some daffodils happily dumped in a jam jar.

A phone that just makes phone calls. Someone or something I don't have to bother to analyse or praise. Someone just doing the job.

In short, the mediocre.

The word has an interesting derivation, too.

Word To Use Today: mediocre. Well, yes, the medi- part of the word comes quite boringly from the Latin medius, which means middle, but the -ocre bit comes from the Latin word ocris, which means stony mountain. So something mediocre is halfway up the mountain.

photo by Tim Rains

Hope you're on the sunny side.

Thursday 17 March 2022

A Cold War: a rant.

 People keep talking about a new Cold War.

Good grief. If this is a cold war then goodness knows what a hot one would look like. It would probably incinerate the whole Earth.

And it just might.

Heaven help us all.

Word To Use Sensibly Today: cold. The Cold War was so called because on the whole people weren't fighting each other. It was cold-blooded. It was bleak and depressing - and frightening at times, but looking back it was almost civilised compared with this one.

The expression Cold War was first used in the nineteenth century in a dodgy translation of a fourteenth-century work by Don Juan Manuel, who was writing about the conflict between Islam and Christianity (Manuel's description should have been translated as tepid, not cold). The term was re-used at various points during World War II, and then George Orwell established it as a description of the USSR-Western stand-off soon after it.

The word cold was ceald in Old English. The Old High German form of the word is kalt. 

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Nuts and Bolts: the mediopassive voice.

 According to the Wikipedia entry on the Ukrainian language, the majority of Ukrainian speakers live in 'European Russia' which includes Belarus and Ukraine.

I've made a request to get that changed soon.

Anyway, the Ukrainian language sometimes uses a mediopassive voice. That's quite odd, because if there's one thing the Ukrainians are not, it's medium-passive.

We don't really have a mediopassive voice in English, though you see something pretty much like it in expressions like these apples cook down well

The mediopassive is used in various ways in various languages. It's sometimes used if you're doing something for your own benefit. 

If you sacrifice a bull in order to cure your acne (unlikely, I know) then you might use the mediopassive voice; but if you sacrificed it to cure your girlfriend's bad breath then you'd use an active voice. 

If you are fighting in the mediopassive voice then the implication is that you're fighting each other, and not an outsider. You might use the mediopassive voice if you're going on a diet, or becoming invisible, or describing some state that isn't active, like being frightened or pleased, or perhaps being a citizen of a country. 

Of course there are also all kinds of special times it is used in various languages just as a matter of convention.

It should go without saying that every language that uses it, as every language that doesn't, it a shining treasure of the world.

Word To Consider Today: mediopassive. The medio- bit is to do with being medium, from the Latin medius, middle. The passive bit comes from the Latin passīvus, which means susceptible of suffering, from patī, to undergo.

Tuesday 15 March 2022

Thing Not To Indulge In Today: vranyo.

 This word is Russian.

Wikipedia tells us that vranyo consists of white lies, or any lies told without the intention of malicious deceit. The idea is that vranyo will summon up an agreeable social fantasy for us to share.

The same kind of thing is sometimes attempted in Britain, where it is called a joke. Vranyo and a joke can be similarly confusing for foreigners, but the intention with a joke is always to celebrate the falseness of the described possibility. If no one acknowledges the joke, then it's clear something's gone wrong.

Dostoyevsky wrote (a long time ago) that it is impossible to live in educated society in Russia and not tell lies. Even completely honest people, he says, tell lies. Lying is a social dance, a collaboration.

Sometimes, he says, the perpetrator and victim engage in more serious lying, as well.

The way vranyo works is that you know I am lying, and I know you know I am lying, and you know that I know that you know, but I carry on, anyway, we both keep serious, and you take notes.

The Russian government uses vranyo all the time. The West doesn't really understand it. It means The West believes things that a Russian would never have dreamed of believing. It means that negotiation (and, to some extent, trade) has become more or less impossible.

This, obviously, is not the only thing that's got us into this current  mess. 

But it hasn't helped.

Thing Not To Indulge In Today: vranyo. In Russian this is written враньё and means lying or lies. It comes from врать, to lie.  

Monday 14 March 2022

Spot the Frippet: something pinguid.

 As it happens, penguins are pinguid, though there's no link between the words (penguin is Welsh and means white head...yes, I know that penguins tend to have black heads, but presumably it's their white faces that show up when you see them at sea).


These are pinguid:

photo by Berthold Werner

and so is this:

photo by Malene Thyssen

and so are these:

photo of sardines by Etrusko25

to which we might add sun tan lotion, beef burgers, and bicycle chains.  

Yes, pinguid means oily or greasy or soapy. By extension, the word can also be applied to a fat person (or other animal) especially if they are of a comfortable or lazy disposition.

Altogether an easy spot.

Spot the Frippet: something pinguid. This word comes from the Latin pinguis, which means fat or rich. The Proto-Indo-European pei- meant fat or sap or juice. There are also the glorious words pinguidity and pinguidinous if you're feeling in the mood for that kind of thing.

Sunday 13 March 2022

Sunday Rest: invasion. Word Not To Use Today.

 It's reported that you can now get fifteen years in prison in Russia if you repeatedly use the word invasion.


Yes, that's right invasion.

Someone there must be really scared.

Really? Of the word invasion?

Yes, of the word invasion, that's right.

Oh. But it's a bit odd to be afraid of the word invasion, isn't it?

I think it probably is.

Oh dear. Poor old Mr Putin, eh?

Word Not To Use Today: invasion. (Shhh! You'll frighten him!) This word comes from the Latin word invādere, from vādere, which means to go. 

I hope that no one who has a house in Russia is troubled by exploring ants this summer.

Saturday 12 March 2022

Saturday Rave: The Sail by Mikhail Lermontov

 Russian school children, I am told, learn a lot of poetry. This poem by Mikhail Lermontov is said to be a favourite.

Knowing children the world over, I'd guess that's largely because it's short. But that's not, I should imagine, the only reason it's cherished.

In any case, it seems to be a good poem for these times, and I hope that many of the Russian people are remembering it now.

A sail is passing, white and frail.
What do you seek in a far country?
What have you left at home, lone sail?

The billows play, the breezes whistle,
And rhythmically creaks the mast.
Alas, you seek no happy future,
Nor do you flee a happy past.

Below the mirrored azure brightens,
Above the golden rays increase —
But you, wild rover, pray for tempests
As if in tempests there was peace!

Translated by Vladimir Nabokov

Sailing Boat, Evening Effect by Claude Monet

Word To Use Today: azure. This is the colour of a clear blue sky. The word came into English from the Old French azur, from Old Spanish, from Arabic lāzaward, lapis lazuli, from Persian lāzhuward.

Friday 11 March 2022

Word To Use Today: autocephaly.

 Amongst the horror and madness in Ukraine, a new word: autocephaly.

It describes a right of an organisation to appoint its own head, and to be independent of any outside authority.

The word is most often used with reference to the Orthodox Christian churches. Some Orthodox churches in Ukraine have rejected their traditional association with the Russian Orthodox church, which has failed to condemn President Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Now the Orthodox church in Istanbul, the Constantinople Patriarchy, which is traditionally recognised as the first among all the Orthodox churches, has accepted the autocephaly of Ukrainian Orthodox churches.

And so of course the Russian Orthodox church has split with the Istanbul church. 

The whole thing would be almost comic if it didn't take place in the middle of so much tragedy.

But it does.

Word To Use Today: autocephaly. If more people had reason to use this word then the world might be a safer place. The word autocephalia is Greek. and means the property of being self-headed.

Thursday 10 March 2022

An Unknown Russian: a rant.

 What's the truth?

Is it what we see with our own eyes? 

No, that's often misleading. 

So - is it what we're told?

That might depend upon who's speaking.

All right, then: whom can we trust to tell us the truth?

That's not easy, either.

The UN Resolution deploring the military action in Ukraine was opposed by only five of all the countries of the world. They are Russia, Belarus, Syria, Eritrea, and North Korea. 

The good thing is that the infamy of their decision is not going to cause the world's Travel Agents much loss, but it does show what the vast majority of the world understands to be the truth about the presence of Russian forces in Ukraine.

But still some of the combatants promulgate a story not supported by the evidence.

I'm fed up with the Russian Beliakin my husband said to me the other day. 


I try to keep informed about current politics, but that name was new to me.

It turned out my husband had actually said belly-aching.

Word To Use Today: belly-ache. The Old English form of belly was belig, and it has relations in the Old Irish bolg, sack, and the Sanskrit barhi, chaff. The word ache was acān in Old English. It has its modern spelling because Dr Johnson of dictionary fame mistakenly decided that the word came from the Greek word akhos, which means pain.


Wednesday 9 March 2022

Nuts and Bolts: The Russian and Ukrainian languages.

Claims are made that Russians and Ukrainians are the same people. In that case, you'd expect them to have the same language, or very nearly the same language.

And do they?

Well, let's put it this way: they both come from the Indo-European family (as do English and French and German), and both come from the East Slavic branch of it. But the languages split nearly a thousand years ago, probably in the 1100s, with Ukrainian being influenced by Polish and Slovak languages, and Russian by Old Church Slavonic.

Over the subsequent millennium there have been other reasons for the languages to diverge. For one, Peter the Great did what he could to Westernise Russian, and at times Ukrainian has been banned in the Russian Empire, which has had an influence on some of the Eastern parts of Ukraine. After the Soviet occupation of Ukraine in the early twentieth century Russian became the primary language used in all schools. This is the main reason why there are many Russian speakers in Ukraine today.

The Russian and Ukrainian alphabets may look the same to an outsider, but there are differences. Ukrainian has the letters Ґ ґ, Є є, Ї ї, and І і. Russian has the letters  ы, Ё ё, and ъ. But even if the alphabets are similar, well, so are the alphabets of English and Italian but that doesn't make them the same language. 

Even so, a Russian reading a Ukrainian text could probably make some sense of most of it.

How about vocabulary? The two languages share about sixty per cent of their words, and that means there's more difference between Russian and Ukrainian than there is between Italian and Spanish, which are eighty-two per cent similar as far as vocabulary is concerned. 

The difference in pronunciation is about the same as between Italian and Spanish.

Ah, but what about the politics?

Well, speaking Russian makes people want to be ruled by Russia in just the same way that speaking English makes an American want to be ruled by England. 

Inside Ukraine, communication between people speaking the different languages tends to use a mixture of the two. It's normal, and it works.

And, when something is working, trying to fix it with bombs is stark raving madness.

Word To Use Today: well, хай живе Україна, (khay zhyve Ukrayina) according to Google translate, means long live Ukraine. That'll do.

Tuesday 8 March 2022

Thing To Do Today: rule.

 Every war is about who controls a piece of territory. 

The Battle of Borodino by Louis-François, Baron Lejeune

That's all a war can do.

The word comes from the Old French riule

Before that, it's quite interesting.

Thing To Do Today: rule. This word comes from the Latin word rēgule, which means a straight edge. 

And if only rulers were straight, then we wouldn't be in this mess, would we?

The Latin word rēgulāre means to control. 

Monday 7 March 2022

Spot the Frippet: calvities.

 You say this kalVISHI-EEZ.

Calvities can be spotted easily, though it's harder if you're outside in the winter.

Here's an example:

and here's another:

photo by Venish14

What do they have in common?

Yes, they're both bald.

There used to be a lot of bald men about with very shiny heads, but you don't see those so much any more. Scalps are naturally quite oily, to keep the hair (when there is any) in good condition:

Photo of Bruce Willis by Gage Skidmore

 but nowadays you can buy stuff to dull down the shine.

The Word Den thinks that's just being a spoil-sport.

Spot the Frippet: calvities. This word comes from the Latin word calvus, which means bald.

Sunday 6 March 2022

Sunday Rest: don't mention the war!

 As everyone knows, the Russian forces that have recently arrived in Ukraine in their tanks and armoured vehicles and warplanes, propelling bombs and ammunition in every direction including at residential buildings as they come, are not waging a war. 

Well, they can't be, can they: President Putin has ordered that the word war is not to be used in connection with the...continuing incident...on pain of fifteen years' imprisonment. 

Still, I understand that Mr Putin does not use the internet, and he has forced independent Russian television stations to close, so he might not understand quite what is happening.

Unfortunately for him, his are not the only words.

Still, let's be kind. What shall we call it?

Hostilities, criminality and wholesale murder, perhaps.

Sunday Rest: war. Word Not To Use Today If You Want To Be Kind To Poor Old Mr Putin. The word war comes from the Old Northern French werre. The Old High German form of this word was werra. Surprisingly, the word has only been around in English since the 1100s.

Saturday 5 March 2022

Saturday Rave: De revolutionibus orbium coelestium by Nicolaus Copernicus.

 What do you do if you want as few people as possible to read the book you've written?

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was a Polish astronomer who came up with a revolutionary theory about the structure of the solar system. Copernicus had discovered (following the word of the thirteenth century scholar Mur'ayyad al-Din al-'Urdi) that the Earth went round the Sun, and not the Sun round the Earth. This idea, inconveniently, contradicts the Bible (Joshua 10:3), and Copernicus was fairly sure it was going to upset all manner of powerful Christian folk (and he was right: both Martin Luther and the Catholic Church hated it). 

Copernicus's book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium was published in 1543, and Copernicus succeeded in his ambition to the extent that Arthur Koestler described it as the book that nobody read.

So how was the reverse-publicity for the book managed?

The boldest move was dedicating the book to the pope (so it must be all right, yes?). There were also two other precautionary measures: one was that there was a preface explaining that the book was just an aid to astronomical calculation and not intended to be an expression of the actual truth; the other was that it was deliberately written in a very boring and technical way that only an astronomer was going to be able to understand. (In fact a lot of astronomers did read it, but they mostly treated it (or pretended to treat it) as just that - an aid to calculation - and tactfully glossed over the great revolution in thought Copernicus was presenting.)

The Catholic Church did eventually catch on that the book was what they called blasphemous, and it was withdrawn from circulation only seventy three years after publication. A 'corrected' version was prepared but never published, and in fact Pope Benedict IV removed the ban in 1758.

It's still the case that very few people have read De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, but its fame resounds.

And it's hard, after all,  to regard Copernicus's reverse-publicity campaign as a failure.

Word To Use Today: publicity. This word comes from the Latin word pōplicus, which means of the people.

Friday 4 March 2022

Word To Use Today: deluded.

 Now here's a word with an interesting derivation.

Word To Use Today: deluded. This word comes from the Latin dēlūdere, which means to mock or pay false, from lūdere, which means to play.

Nowadays, of course, deluded describes someone whose mind is full of false notions. It also contains the idea that he or she has been deceived deliberately.

Such delusion is often self-inflicted, often because of some mental incapacity.

Thursday 3 March 2022

Crunch: a rant.

 How can a country accept as leader someone who has demonstrated publicly by his own words that he has lost his grip on reality?

How can a country go to war on the orders of someone obviously insane?

How can a country believe someone who has lied and lied and lied again, and boasted about his lies?

In the whole tragic mess that is the attack on Ukraine I've seen just one tiny chink of lightness, from the excellent writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Telegraph newspaper. 

He described the probable temporary shortage of some components for computers caused by sanctions against Russia as a worldwide chip crunch.

But all the rest is tears.

Word To Use Today: sanity. This word comes from the Latin sānitās, which means health, from sānus, healthy. So someone insane is diseased.

Wednesday 2 March 2022

Nuts and Bolts: perfectly cromulent words.

 The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says on its website: While we don't yet enter cromulent in our dictionaries, it's a perfectly cromulent candidate for future entry.

And is it?

The word cromulent was first used in the February 18th 1996 episode of The Simpsons. In the script, someone at a school event uses the word embiggens, and a teacher remarks that in her experience the word's use is confined to the town of Springfield. But a colleague replies that it's a perfectly cromulent word.

Cromulent must mean acceptable, or established, but it can't have been established on the date of its first use. So the question is: at what point does the word cromulent become cromulent?

Many millions of people would have heard the word in that first showing of the episode, and understood its meaning (and most of them probably wouldn't even have realised that it was a joke) so perhaps the word cromulent was established as soon as it was uttered. Certainly its status as a quotation would have given a strong and instant basis for acceptability.

In any case, The Word Den is determined to use the word cromulent as much as possible. 

Especially in the presence of people who think they know everything.

Word To Use Today: cromulent. This word was invented after a challenge to the writers of The Simpsons to come up with some new words which sounded as if they were already part of the English language. Cromulent, meaning acceptable, or fine, or established, is David X Cohen's elegant and cromulent solution to this problem.

The word is still around, so quite a few people seem to agree that it's a real and usable and above all cromulent word.

Tuesday 1 March 2022

Thing Not To Be Today: pettifogging.

To be pettifogging is to quibble and fuss over unimportant details.

This word is usually applied to rules and regulations, but you can find pettifogging in other places, too.

The first three pages of instructions for any electrical appliance, for example, will basically boil down to a) HAVE A BIT OF COMMON SENSE and b) DO NOT INSERT YOURSELF INTO THIS PRODUCT.

Recipes are often pettifogging, too. Does it really matter in which direction you stir your polenta? No. Does it really matter where the salt you use was mined? No. Must you use one particular variety of chilli? No.

And don't talk to me about lawyers...

...except that, actually, as it happens I am:

Thing Not To Be Today: pettifogging. The original pettifoggers were lawyers who took on minor cases, especially those who sought to exploit loopholes to trick people. The petti- bit is to do with the Old French word petit, which means little, and the -fogging bit may be to do with the family of mediaeval German financiers called Fugger.