This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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



Saturday, 28 May 2022

Saturday Rave: When young I never did know, by Xin Quji

 Xin Quji, 1140 - 1207, was a very great poet. He lived all his life, in China, in a time of civil war. 

He started his adult life by failing his exams - twice - and became what might be called a freedom-fighter, and later a military general. He ended up at Court, just in time for appeasement became popular, and in the end, side-lined, he left Court for the countryside. While there he did much for the poor, developed a new form of poetry, and also, worryingly, started raising his own army. 

He was quickly brought back to Court and given a new job, but he was soon found to be raising yet another army, which led to his being sacked and exiled.

This pattern of being (literally) courted and then side-lined was repeated, and in yet another period of favour Xin Quji died. He left us over six hundred poems, all from his later years.

Here's one short one. It's simple, but terrific.


When young I never did know the taste of woe or sorrow,

Up to the top floor, I loved to go;

Up to the top floor, I loved to go,

For to compose new verses, I feigned my sorrow and woe.

Yet now that I've known the taste of woe, sorrow and bitterness,

I hesitate to mention it.

Hesitate to mention it,

What a beautifully chilly autumn! I say, after all.

***

 Word To Use Today: sorrow. The Old English form of this word was sorg.


Friday, 27 May 2022

Word To Use Today: Loughborough or Goonoo Goonoo.

 A man was walking along the A6 in England when a car drew up beside him.

'Is this the way to Loog-Borroo?' asked the Australian driver.

'Yes, mate,' said the man. 'But we call it Luff-br.'

Loughborough Station. Photo by Gordon Cragg

A few months later, the Englishman was lost in Australia, and approached a passer-by:

'Is this the way to Goonoo Goonoo?' he asked.

'Nah, you're lost,' replied the Australian. 'And anyway, we call it Gunna G'noo.'

Goonoo Goonoo station

Word To Use Today: Loughborough or Goonoo Goonoo. Lough was probably someone's name, and borough comes from burgh, which means town. Goonoo Goonoo mean running water in Gamilaraay.


Thursday, 26 May 2022

Not Writing Sonnets: a rant.

 The University of Salford's creative writing course has (or had) a module requiring the writing of poems in traditional formats.

That sounds quite fun, to me.

The University calls these formats pre-established - though how that differs from established I do not know. 

In any case, the University feels a need to decolonise the curriculum (which would surely involve moving out of it and then leaving it entirely to its own devices. Or do they mean decolonialise?).

Anyway, the sonnet is out. Or possibly now optional, I couldn't quite be bothered to read the press-release so I'm relying on an article in the Telegraph newspaper, which finished with the following remarkable statement:

The Shakespearean form [of sonnet] is usually made up of sixteen lines, with three sets of alternatively rhymed quatrains, followed by a couplet. It was often used to express romantic themes.

I don't mind that the writer has added together three quatrains (that is, groups of four lines of a poem) plus a couplet (a group of two lines) and made sixteen. You don't necessarily expect a journalist to be able to count.

But I do mind that the quatrains are alternatively rhymed.

What's an alternative rhyme? Is it when you put in another rhyming word for the one you want, as in rhyming slang?

Shall I compare thee to a summer's jay?

Thou art more lovely and more generate

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of prey

And Summer's lease has all too short a fate...

...hmm. There might be a whole academic career, there - though not at Salford. The only trouble is that the original is approximately a thousand times better than the new version.

But still, perhaps we could do something with the sixteen lines thing...add an extra couplet. 

Well, that's easy enough as far as that particular sonnet goes:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee...


And, more important, lets the world see me/So conquering my own mortality.

I'm sure Shakespeare would have said that, really, if he'd had the nerve.

Word To Use Today: alternate. This word is different from alternative. Alternate comes from the Latin alternus, which means one after the other.


Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Nuts and Bolts: Writing to the trees.

 You can find almost anyone's email address nowadays (unless it belongs to the customer services dept of a major company, obviously). In Melbourne, Australia (yes, there are other Melbournes in the world) you can even email the trees.

The forests of Melbourne are extra-important because, among other qualities, forest cover encourages rainfall, which is sometimes in short supply. Apart from a plan to plant many more trees, all the trees of Melbourne have been given an ID number and an email address. The idea was that members of the public could alert tree surgeons to any damage the trees might have sustained.

But the trees have begun to receive fan mail, and even personal stories. 

Occasionally, a trees will even respond.

Dear Oliver,

said one such email

Thank you for your lovely words. I am very well. Enjoy your day. Yours sincerely, Tree 1441724.

I'm surprised no one has thought of providing people with the addresses of trees before. A tree must be the best listener. They don't interrupt, or try to cheer you up before you're ready, and they can absorb any amount of agony without even wincing. 

And at the end of it all they are still there, and will be there for longer than most of us.

People have talked to trees for a long time, but writing is much less public and embarrassing.

It's an idea that should catch on.

Word To Use Today: eucalypt. Most of the trees in Melbourne are eucalypts, a lovely word that comes from the Greek eus- which means good, plus kaluptein, which means to cover or hide. The word was coined by the French botanist L'Hériter in reference to the flower bud, which has a cap, later discarded, which protects the developing flower.





Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Thing Possibly To Do Today: bike.

 Yes, you may say, biking is healthy and green and all that, but I don't have a bike



But that's all right, because you don't necessarily need one.

In Britain, on your bike! means go away, you don't fool me. On the other hand, to get on your bike means to set out with a determined purpose, probably to find a job.

In Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, to get off your bike is to lose all self-control,

And in Scotland to bike means to swarm (a bike is a bees' nest).

So there we are. Several kinds of biking, and some of them without even breaking sweat.

On the whole, though, the pedalling kind is probably the easiest.

(Except that I don't have a bike...)

Thing Possibly To Do Today: bike. The word bicycle comes from the Latin bis, which means twice, and the Greek kuklos, which means wheel. The origin of the Scots word no one knows. 


Monday, 23 May 2022

Spot the Frippet: bill.

 The internet has many marvels, and one of them is that we get many fewer bills. There was a time when bills for fuel and water and taxes came along very regularly, and then you had to find a cheque book, write a cheque, find a stamp of the right denomination, lick it, stick on the return envelope, and then take it out to a post box and post it.

Luckily, there are other types of bill to spot. In Britain a record of the amount due in a restaurant is called a bill; a small poster advertising a play or a film or a circus is a bill:



 and in America a piece of paper money is a bill, too.

And then there's the other kind of bill, which birds:

Eurasian spoonbill, photo by Hari K Patibanda

and platypuses*

illustration by Heinrich Harder

and some insects:

bluegrass billbug. Photo by By Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org - https://www.invasive.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=5402440, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77470420

carry on the front of their faces.

They can be lovely things, bills.

But I'm still glad that the kind you have to pay has mostly gone.

Spot the Frippet: bill. The money word comes from the Latin word bulla, which means document. The pecking word comes from the old English bile, and is related to bill, sword, and the Old High German bil, pickaxe.

*All right, platypodes if you must.



Sunday, 22 May 2022

Sunday Rest: effigy. Word Not To Use Today.

 Casting around the internet for a horrid word with which to regale you, I came across several posts containing lists of negative words starting with the letter E

What's so special about the letter E? 

Well, I had a look, and I still have no idea.

The word that stood out for me in the lists, though, was effigy, because I'd never before thought of it as a negative word (not like egocentric and emaciated, for example). But, come to think about it, if someone makes an effigy of you then the chances are that you're either dead:

William of Wyckham, Winchester, photo by Poliphilo

or someone is planning either to throw the thing on a bonfire or to stick pins in it - neither exactly a sign of popularity.

As a word, though, personally, I think it's actually rather cuddly.

Sunday Rest: effigy. This word comes from the Latin effigiēs, from effingere, to portray, from fingere, to shape.



Saturday, 21 May 2022

Saturday Rave: Carrion Comfort by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

 The fashion nowadays is to seek to destroy anything of which one disproves. In fact, the fashion is to destroy anyone of whom one disapproves. 

Even memories must be obliterated.

But what will happen to our heroes, then? St George is nothing without the dragon, after all.

Here's a poem. It says things with which many of us will not agree, but it's still interesting, and worth thinking about carefully. 

It's about God, but the idea is transferable to other mighty and difficult powers - like, for instance, war, or love.


Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;

Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man

In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;

Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me

Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan

With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,

O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

 Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.

Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,

Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.

Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród

Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year

Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

***

Much love to all those wrestling valiantly with mighty powers.

Word To Use Today: carrion. This word comes from the Anglo-French word caroine, and before that from the Latin carō, which means flesh.



Friday, 20 May 2022

Word To Use Today: tank.

 We've been on holiday, and on the afternoon when it poured with rain the sculpture exhibition was closed, and the Museum of Purbeck Stone was closed, and Monkey World was only letting people in if you'd booked yesterday, and so the only place left was the Tank Museum

It proved fascinating - and sobering, too - but we were glad we'd visited.

Challenger Tank. Photo by Fiorellino - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10763828

There were huge tanks, and really quite small tanks, and armoured vehicles (they have wheels instead of caterpillars tracks (not that caterpillars have tracks, but hey...)), and there was even a tank that was basically a motor bike. We marvelled at the way the First Aid kits, if any, tended to be made of something no thicker than cardboard and were stuck onto the outside of the tank.

The very first tank was made in Britain during the First World War. At the time there were men dug into trenches that stretched from the northern European coast to Switzerland, and in between the lines, in no man's land, were coils of barbed wire which meant that no side could reach the other (though many, many lives were lost in repeated attempts to do so (which was literal madness)).

The museum was impressive and horrible, and I came away not at all bothered that women featured almost not at all.

The reason for this post, though, is the derivation of the work tank. Because a tank isn't actually a tank, is it?

Well, that's deliberate.

Word To Use Today: tank. This word comes from the Gujarati word tānkh, which means artificial lake, influenced on the way by the Portuguese word tanque, from estanque, pond, from estancar to block up, from the Latin stanticāre

The military tank is so called because when it was being developed it was top secret, and a name was needed to disguise its function. It was going to be called a water carrier, but the people behind the design refused to be on the WC Committee, and so it became a tank.



Thursday, 19 May 2022

The Pot of Basil: a rant.

 If you want to make something classy, well, then you attach a classy label to it.

The supermarket Tesco has introduced a new kind of basil. It's sold planted in pots, and it's part of their highest-quality FINEST range.

They've called it Isabella.

Now, that's really posh, because of course Isabella, or the Pot of Basil is the title of a narrative poem by Keats (who stole the story from Boccaccio).

Personally, though, I think the stuff would sell better if someone at Tesco had got round to reading either Keats or Boccaccio before they named it.

Word To Use Today: basil. This word comes from the Old French basile, and originally from the Greek basileus, king. There are various unconvincing stories connecting the plant with kings - Alexander the Great is said to have brought it from India to Europe, and some people have said that it should only be picked by a king with a golden sickle. Basil also has the quality of being quite harmless and occasionally helpful when used as a medicine, which at one time might have made it seem a king of healing.

As for Isabella...

In her story, Isabella's brothers kill her lover Lorenzo, and she promptly goes bonkers and plants his severed head in a pot of basil seed, where it sprouts in the most ghastly way.

Can't say I fancy eating any basil called Isabella, myself.


Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Nuts and Bolts: words ending -archy.

 One ring to rule them all,

One ring to find them

One ring to bring them all

And in the darkness bind them.

...which would, I suppose, make Sauron's projected rule of Middle Earth a dactylethronarchy, or rule by a ring, but as far as I know no one in this world has ever tried it.

Rule by many kinds of other authorities have been tried, though. Autocracy is rule by a single rapidly-degenerating-into-madness person (though if they're selected by a lottery system then that's demarchy; and if the system is hereditary then that's a monarchy); biarchy is the same thing, but with two people rapidly degenerating into mutual hatred; decarchy has a committee of ten people in charge, and there are also words for rules by other numbers of people: octarchy, pentarchy, polyarchy. tetrarchy, and triarchyEndarchy is any centralised system of rule (unless you're a botanist, when it's a system where fluids spread out from the centre of the plant). Futarchy is a system devised by Robin Hanson where people are ruled by principles that will tend to make them happy; gynarchy is rule by women; hierarchy is the system where the rulers are ranked in order of importance; holarchy is rule by...well. people are still arguing about that, but the basic idea seems to be that everyone is valuable for themselves; kritarchy is rule by judges.

Then we have rule by:

children - paedoarchy 

male head of family/group/everything - patriarchy

female head of family/group/everything - matriarchy

tribe/class - phylarchy

saints - hagiarchy

groups that take it in turns, depending - heterarchy

more or less anyone, but they're all horrible - kyriarchy

a group - oligarchy

the church - ecclesiarchy

someone the church hates - heresiarchy

rich people - plutarchy

poor people - ptochocarchy (except that this word doesn't actually seem to exist, which is no surprise at all. However, there is a word ptochocracy).

And, finally, depressingly, anarchy is rule by no one.

Personally, I just wish to know as little as possible about any of them.

Word To Use Today: one ending -archy. In Greek, arkhein means to rule.



Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Thing To Suggest To A Bear With A Sore Head Today: a regmaker.

 A regmaker?

Well, reg in English words generally stands for something to do with ruling or reigning, so a regmaker is, obviously, someone who's trying to push forward a new head of state, yes?

Nope.

Not even close.

Thing To Suggest To A Bear With A Sore Head Today: regmaker. A regmaker, in South Africa, is a hang-over cure, or a pick-me-up. You say the g as in the ch of the Scottish loch, and the a as in father. Reg in Africaans means right, and maker means, er, maker.



Monday, 16 May 2022

Spot the Frippet: railings.

 There's no special reason for spotting a railing. They're just lovely:

photo by Man vri


photo by Tynishashafs


photo by Annatsach

photo by Jimmypader

aren't they?

Spot the Frippet: railings. The word rail comes from the Old French raille, rod, from the Latin rēgula, which means a ruler or other straight piece of wood.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Sunday Rest: frayromantic. Word Not To Use Today.

 There comes a point when people of taste begin hoping that the love of their lives won't buy them a Valentine's card.

Or a scarlet teddy bear, either.

Frayromantic is an excellent word to describe the erosion of that kind of starry-eyed obsession, and the emergence of something slightly more clear-eyed.

Sadly, it doesn't describe anything of the sort. It actually describes someone who only experiences romantic feelings towards people they don't know, who hardly know.

Ah well.

Sunday Rest: frayromantic. I have found a source online which says that the fray- bit of this word comes from an Old English word for stranger, but, as far as I can see, there isn't any such Old English word for stranger, so that's a bit of a puzzle. 

The romantic bit of the word is to do with telling stories, and is basically the same word as Roman.



Saturday, 14 May 2022

Saturday Rave: Corinna's Going a-Maying by Robert Herrick

 This looks like a long poem, but it's full of such eager joy that I couldn't bear to leave out any of it.

Maying traditionally involves girls going out at dawn into the fields and woods to pick flowers. 

Young men are usually more than willing to accompany them.

Queen Guinevere's Maying by John Collier

Get up, get up for shame, the Blooming Morne

Upon her wings presents the god unshorne.

                     See how Aurora throwes her faire

                     Fresh-quilted colours through the aire:

                     Get up, sweet-Slug-a-bed, and see

                     The Dew-bespangling Herbe and Tree.

Each Flower has wept, and bow'd toward the East,

Above an houre since; yet you not drest,

                     Nay! not so much as out of bed?

                     When all the Birds have Mattens seyd,

                     And sung their thankful Hymnes: 'tis sin,

                     Nay, profanation to keep in,

When as a thousand Virgins on this day,

Spring, sooner than the Lark, to fetch in May.

 

Rise; and put on your Foliage, and be seene

To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and greene;

                     And sweet as Flora. Take no care

                     For Jewels for your Gowne, or Haire:

                     Feare not; the leaves will strew

                     Gemms in abundance upon you:

Besides, the childhood of the Day has kept,

Against you come, some Orient Pearls unwept:

                     Come, and receive them while the light

                     Hangs on the Dew-locks of the night:

                     And Titan on the Eastern hill

                     Retires himselfe, or else stands still

Till you come forth. Wash, dresse, be briefe in praying:

Few Beads are best, when once we goe a Maying.

 

Come, my Corinna, come; and comming, marke

How each field turns a street; each street a Parke

                     Made green, and trimm'd with trees: see how

                     Devotion gives each House a Bough,

                     Or Branch: Each Porch, each doore, ere this,

                     An Arke a Tabernacle is

Made up of white-thorn neatly enterwove;

As if here were those cooler shades of love.

                     Can such delights be in the street,

                     And open fields, and we not see't?

                     Come, we'll abroad; and let's obay

                     The Proclamation made for May:

And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;

But my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.

 

There's not a budding Boy, or Girle, this day,

But is got up, and gone to bring in May.

                     A deale of Youth, ere this, is come

                     Back, and with White-thorn laden home.

                     Some have dispatcht their Cakes and Creame,

                     Before that we have left to dreame:

And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted Troth,

And chose their Priest, ere we can cast off sloth:

                     Many a green-gown has been given;

                     Many a kisse, both odde and even:

                     Many a glance too has been sent

                     From out the eye, Loves Firmament:

Many a jest told of the Keyes betraying

This night, and Locks pickt, yet w'are not a Maying.

 

Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;

And take the harmlesse follie of the time.

                     We shall grow old apace, and die

                     Before we know our liberty.

                     Our life is short; and our dayes run

                     As fast away as do's the Sunne:

And as a vapour, or a drop of raine

Once lost, can ne'r be found againe:

                     So when or you or I are made

                     A fable, song, or fleeting shade;

                     All love, all liking, all delight

                     Lies drown'd with us in endlesse night.

Then while time serves, and we are but decaying;

Come, my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.

 

Word To Use Today: May. This word comes from Old French, from the Roman goddess with the same name as the Greek goddess Maia. Maia is a goddess of the Earth, and a notably sparky creature. Her name is probably something to do with the Greek word maiores, which means great, with the same kind of meaning as in our own English word great-grandmother.



Friday, 13 May 2022

Word To Use Today: epicaricacy.

 The Word Den is all for the brotherhood of all man, so here's the word epicaricacy to help. 

Well, a bit.

Until now, most English-speaking people have believed that there's no English word for the German Schadenfreude (that is, pleasure gained from witnessing the misfortunes of others, particularly big-headed others. There's a definite sense that the misfortune is in some way deserved).

This has allowed English-speakers to kid themselves that they are in some ways less envious, and more generous and forgiving, than German-speakers. 

What it actually means, though, is that English speakers don't know their own language.

The English word for Schadenfreude is the lovely word epicaricacy

You say it eppiCArikassy.

At least, when I say it's English, it's obviously originally Greek. And almost no one has ever used it - it's not even to be found in my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. But Richard Burton used it in 1621 in his The Anatomy of Melancholy, and Nathan Bailey put it in his 1721 dictionary, so that's English enough for me.

Word To Use Today: epicaricacy. This word is made up of three bits of Greek: epi, which means upon, karis, which means joy, and kakos, which means evil. 

Aristotle wrote about it, so the idea's been around for quite a while.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Getting The PIP: a rant.

 Disabled people in Britain are eligible for a support payment called PIP. 

Note that I'm not saying they actually get it, because as far as I can make out nearly every application is rejected, but that's the theory, anyway.

Once you're rejected, the next step is to fill in a Department of Work and Pensions Mandatory Reconsideration Form CRMR1. The person who has been rejected can fill in the form, or it can be filled in by their representative, and naturally enough there's a section to fill in about the identity of this representative (if any). 

The second question in this section is: Relationship to Representative, which would be a perfectly reasonable question, except that it goes on:

 (For example parent, carer, legal Deputy etc.)

from which, it's clear that the Department of Work and Pensions doesn't want to know the Relationship to Representative, they want to know the Relationship of Representative. 

This form CRMR1 is of vital importance to very many people, seems to have been last updated four years ago, and must have been filled in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of time.

And every time the stupid thing has been wrong.

Word To Use Today: representative. This has been an English word since the 1300s. It comes from the Latin word reprimere, to press back. 

Which figures.



Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Nuts and Bolts: Homeric Infixes.

 What did Ancient Greece ever do for the English language?

Well, quite a lot, actually. As we all know, one of its inmates was a guy called Homer, who is said to have written The Iliad and The Odyssey, and thus more or less started off long-form European fiction.

So, a Homeric infix is something to do with Ancient Greek, yes?

Nope. 

It's to do with The Simpsons.

Yes, that Homer.

Doh!

A prefix is what you get when you bung some letters on the front of a word, usually in order to change its meaning; a suffix is where you add some letters at the end of a word, also usually to change its meaning; and an infix has the extra letters stuffed into the middle, which usually doesn't really do much to its meaning at all.

Have people have been doing this kind of thing long? 

Abso-flipping-lutely!

The Homeric infix, however, is a bit different in that it doesn't exist either to change the meaning of a word or, as in abso-flipping-lutely, to make the word sound more forceful. It exists to make the speaker sound witty. 

It's quite easy to do. You just put the sound ma in the middle of a longish word. When Homer Simpson does this he is trying (and failing) to sound clever. When anyone else does this, in imitation of Homer, it's to give a sense of ironic sophistication - in fact, a sophistication so great that it can afford to be ironic about it.

It's a great trick - and anyone can do it.

Intellimagent, eh?

Word To Use Today: examples can easily be made, but examples have included saxo-ma-phone and edu-ma-cation

The Word Den quite likes sophisti-ma-cation.


 

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Thing To Be Today: ritzy.

 For something to be ritzy it must be elegant or luxurious.

Or, indeed, both.

Ideas of ritzy will vary. It might involve champagne and stilettos; it might involve a scrape of lipstick and a cup and saucer; it might involve a Porsche.

Something ritzy will encourage feelings of extravagant well-being.

Today is a day for luxury.

Even if that's just some bubbles in a really long bath.

Thing To Be Today: ritzy. This word comes from the chain of luxury hotels founded by César Ritz (1850 - 1918).


Monday, 9 May 2022

Spot the Frippet: Harlequin.

 Harlequin is a character from the Italian commedia dell'arte:

photo by Chris Brown: https://www.flickr.com/people/92496717@N00

That Harlequin is quite hard to spot in most of the world - except in one place:

photo by Trocche100   

yes, as the joker in a pack of cards.

Harlequin's clothes sense, though (or, let's face it, lack of it), means that his name has been quite widely borrowed.

This is a harlequin ladybird:

photo by David Short

and this is a harlequin Great Dane:


and this is a harlequin tusk fish:

here's a harlequin shrimp:

photo by Chad Ordelheide

and here's a harlequin sunflower:

photo by S. G. S.

There are also harlequin bugs, dahlias and quail. And ducks. And Volkswagens.

As if that wasn't enough choice, any clown or buffoon can be called Harlequin.

And you never have to go far to find one of those.

Spot the Frippet: Harlequin. This word comes from the Old French Herlequin, from Hellequin, who was the leader of a band of demon horsemen. It might also be something to do with the Middle English Herle King, who is often called by his other name of Woden.

There's also an astonishing connection, claimed by some, with the erlking, the child-killing elf of legend, poem, and song.









Sunday, 8 May 2022

Sunday Rest: midaxi. Word Not To Use Today.

 A midaxi is a type of skirt. In fact, it's a length of skirt.

You can probably guess the rest, but just in case you've never got into skirts, a midi skirt has a hem that ends mid-calf, that is, at the widest part of the lower leg. A maxi skirt goes down to cover the ankles. The midaxi hem sits in between, a little way above the ankle.

Given that people come in different heights, a skirt can't be guaranteed to be a midaxi. On tall people it might be a midi, and on short people it will be a maxi.

If it's a maxi then it is usually possible to turn the hem up to make it shorter, but ninety nine per cent of people will a) take or send it back; b) wear it as it is; or c) leave it hanging in the wardrobe until maxis come back into fashion.

Very few people really care that much.

Sunday Rest: midaxi. This horrible word is made up, obviously, of mid- and maxi-. Mid- has been in use in English since before the Norman Conquest, but maxi-, a short form of the Latin word maximum, which means greatest, has only been around since the 1900s.



Saturday, 7 May 2022

Saturday Rave: My Last Duchess by Robert Browning.

 Robert Browning is a famous and established Victorian poet, the romantic lover of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But it didn't start like that.

He was born in South London, the son of a musically gifted mother and a Bank of England clerk. He hated school so much that he was allowed to give it up, and he went on to drop out of University, refuse to get a job, and live at home until his mid-thirties writing unsuccessful poetry. Then he eloped to Italy with a young woman of means, an invalid, thereby getting her disinherited (though she did retain enough money for them both to live quite comfortably). That woman was, of course, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. They were very happy together, and had a son.

It wasn't until after Elizabeth's death, and Browning's return to England, that he began to be properly successful. He wrote some long poems (The Ring and The Book has over 20,000 lines) and some short ones, and he developed a form of poetic monologue where a character speaks directly to the reader and gradually reveals a story - and himself.

Oscar Wilde said of Browning that He used poetry as a medium for writing prose, and you can see what Wilde means in My Last Duchess

It's still terrific verse, though - and a murder mystery, too.

Here's just a bit of it. To read the whole creepy story (it's only a page or so) you can find it HERE.

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her?

Portraits can be spooky things, especially in fiction. But I think that The Last Duchess might have the edge of them all when it comes to sheer dawning horror.

Word To Use Today: wonder. The English have been wondering for a long time. The word is barely changed from its Old English form wundor.



Friday, 6 May 2022

Word To Use Today: molar.

 We all have molars (or at least, most of us do) but we only tend to think about them when they get holes in them that need mending.

This is a shame, because they are marvels of efficiency and engineering:



Think of a mincing machine. Think of all the faff of getting the thing out of the cupboard and setting it up, then feeding the food into it, then dismantling it and cleaning it and putting it away again.

Then think about eating a piece of meat (or perhaps, for the vegans among us, chewing a liquorice stick).

Yes, they're marvellous thing, are molars.

The word has a neat derivation, too.

Word To Use Today: molar. This word comes from the Latin word molis, which means millstone.

There's another kind of molar, which is to do with chemistry and describes the amount of a substance in terms of its molecules - or, sometimes, in terms of the number of molecules in a measured amount of a solution. That word comes from another Latin word, mōlēs, which means mass. 


Thursday, 5 May 2022

Sunseting: a rant.

 I've received a message from Google.

We will begin to sunset Google Analytics in 2023

it says.

If I knew what Google Analytics was, or did, and it said 2022 instead of 2023, and to sunset was actually a verb in British English, then I'd probably be a lot more bothered about it.

As it is, I hardly have to energy to sigh.

Word To Use Today: sunset. To sunset is a legal term in North America. It means to cause some programme, agency or whatnot to expire automatically, or to be terminated, after a certain period unless renewed by legislative action. The word sun was sunne in Old English. The word set comes from the Old English word settan, which is part of the verb sittan, to sit.


Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Nuts and Bolts: Aurebesh

 May the force be with you!

This post is written in Galactic Basic. Please forgive the use of Roman Earth Alphabet, but if necessary translation can be made to Galactic Basic Aurebesh using the following chart:

illustration by AnonMoos  

The letters of Aurebesh are based on designs by Joe Johnson used in the original Star Wars trilogy. This original design-work, called Star Wars 76, was developed into a font by Stephen Crane of West End Games.


Google Translate had an Aurebesh translation feature 2015 - 2016, and there are currently several translation facilities available via Google.

Word To Use Today: Aurebesh. This word is formed from the first two letters of the Aurebesh alphabet. In this it is exactly like the word, well, alphabet.


Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Thing To Do Today: duck.

 What's the connection between the water birds:

photo by Adrian Pingstone

and a sharp downwards movement to avoid an incoming missile?

Strangely enough, there actually is one.

Thing To Do Today: duck. The Old English word for duck is dūce, which means diver (even though a lot of ducks don't ever dive). To duck, the movement, came into English in the 1300s and is related to Old High German tuhhan, which also means to dive.

The cotton fabric called duck is different. It came in the 1600s from the Middle Dutch doek.

The WWII amphibious vehicle called a duck looks as if it should be related to the birds, but isn't, really. It's named from its code name DUKW. That's (in General Motors abbreviations) D dating it to 1942, U for Utility. K meaning front-wheel drive, and W meaning tandem rear axles, both driven.



Monday, 2 May 2022

Spot the Frippet: hawk.

If you spotted a mortar board last week with actual mortar on it then you have also spotted a hawk:



Yes, hawk is the technical name for that kind of a mortar board. (The academic-hat kind of mortar board cannot be called a hawk. An academic with a hawk on his head is either conducting some extremely strange research, or is, sadly, more than eccentric.)

What else is a hawk? It depends upon where you are. In Britain it's a bird of prey of the family Accipitridae:

Northern Goshawk. Photo by Francesco Veronesi

These are the birds of prey which aren't owls, eagles, vultures or falcons (falcons tend to have longer, narrower wings). In North America, however, falcons are regarded as types of hawk.

A human hawk will be a politician who is keen on action rather than passivity. This may be to do with fighting a war, but it may be to do with something duller, like interest rates. 

Hamlet is famous for boasting about being able to tell a hawk from a handsaw, even though on the face of it that sounds quite easy. Now, I'm not saying that Hamlet wasn't nuts, all is not as it appears. His hawk was a bird - but then so was his handsaw. The most likely thing is that some idiot printer misread the word heronshaw (or perhaps Shakespeare's writing was awful), a bird which nowadays we just tend to call a heron.

Then we have hawk moths:


Convolvulus hawk moth, photo by Charles J Sharp of Sharp photography

which are large and fly like helicopters (and, more relevantly to their name, can hover like kestrels (which aren't strictly speaking hawks, but hey...)) and we also have hawk owls:

Northern Hawk Owl. Photo by Dan Frendin


which are exra big and extra scary.

And, lastly, of course there are hawk eyes. Always handy, especially when trying to Spot a Frippet.

Spot the Frippet: hawk. The Old English form of the word hawk was hafoc. No one knows why the mortar board is called a hawk.