This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Saturday Rave: The Beguiling of Gylfi by Snorri Sturluson

What do you do if there is a new and powerful religion in the land, and you are afraid that the glories of the old (if false) one will be discarded and forgotten?

If no one makes a record of the old religion it will all be lost - but being the author of such an account is likely to make you very very unpopular.

The Icelander Snorri:

Snorre Sturluson-Christian Krohg.jpg
illustration by Christian Krohg

 (called Snorri Sturluson by those who feel uneasy about someone having a name with no surname or patronym attached) solved this problem, in the Iceland of the 1220s, by writing The Beguiling of Gylfi, or Gylfaginning, where the old lore is inserted into the story of a king who stumbles upon the hall of the old gods.

The format is odd - a section of prose followed by a few lines of verse. Admirers of Tolkien will hear the echoes of his work in it - and those who can't stand Tolkien can admire it just for what it is.

Surtr fares from the south / with switch-eating flame, --
On his sword shimmers / the sun of the War Gods;
The rock-crags crash / the fiends are reeling;
Heroes tread Hel-way; / Heaven is cloven.

The Beguiling of Gylfi forms part of Snorri's Younger Edda. It's 20,000 words long, and the reason it's called the Younger Edda is that there might have been an older one, which, very sadly, has been lost. 

Thank every heaven that Snorri saved this treasure for us all.

Word To Use Today: Edda. This word might be to do with the place in Iceland called Oddi; it could be something to do with the fact that edda means great-parent, and therefore suggests that the work holds the wisdom of the old; it could be because of the Latin edo, meaning I write, suggests poetic art.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Word To Use Today: ojama-shimasu.

As I come to the end of my second month of living with builders, plumbers, plasterers and electricians, I find myself wishing for an English equivalent of the Japanese ojama-shimasu.

It's a phrase that's said whenever a visitor enters someone else's house, and it means sorry to cause bother.

There's an idea behind the words of being modest, and aware that you're intruding, as well.

It's a conventional phrase in Japan, and it's used so often it probably doesn't always mean very much. But still, for someone like me watching as her house degenerate into a building site, it would give quite a lot of comfort.

Word To Use Today: ojama-shimasu. It's possible, of course, to say the same thing as ojama-shimasu in English, although it takes a lot longer and a lot of care. Still, if you are planning to wreck someone's house, it might be worth doing from time to time.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Ta: a rant.

Twitter can be a truly great platform full of amazing and beautiful things, but may I just point out that the thank-you tweet is an idleness, an evasion, a scandal, and an abomination?

Thank you so very much to everybody for this kind opportunity to express my gratitude.

Word To Use Today: platform. This word comes from the French plateforme, from plat, flat, and forme, lay-out.

File:Bond Street tube Westbound Platform 1.jpg
Bond Street Tube Station, London, westbound platform. Photo by Oxyman

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Nuts and Bolts: the largest possible capers.

This post isn't about the wildest leaps of dancers:

File:1953 Ballet Grand Pas - Jean-Paul Andreani au Foyer de la danse de l'Opera de Paris.jpg
Jean-Paul Andreani, photo by Christjeudi10  

No, the capers to which I refer are the buds of the Mediterranean bush Capparis spinoza, which we usually come across salted or pickled and used as a flavouring.

Illustration Capparis spinosa0.jpg
Illustration by Otto Wilhelm Thomé

The smaller the capers are the higher their quality is deemed to be, and so there needs to be a clear grading system.

So: do we have minuscule, minute, tiny, small, and medium?

No, the truth is much more lovely. We have non-pareil, surfines, capucines, capotes, fines, and grusas.

And just how gloriously bonkers is that?

Words To Use Today: one that describes a caper. Non-pareil means without equal; surfines means very fine; capucines and capotes are coats or cloaks with hoods; fines means fine; and grusas means dashed in Swedish (though I doubt very much that's relevant as the rest of the words have basically ended up French). My guess is that it's something to do with the French gross, meaning, well, gross. Gruesa is Spanish for bulky.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Thing To Do Today: reel.

Cotton reels were invented about a decade after the invention of cotton thread, which was itself invented after Napoleon's 1806 Edict of Berlin banned countries in continental Europe from trading with Britain (which made silk and linen thread hard to obtain)

I don't know what people did during the decade they were waiting for the cotton reel to be invented, but the Edict certainly did wonders for innovation and the smuggling industry.

Anyway, reeling. The word started with the sort of reels that fishing line and film come on, and then migrated into meaning the sort of reeling people do when surprised, thumped, or drunk. The word then migrated in another direction to cover certain extraordinary folk dances which involved chasing each other round in circles (though squares and lines also have a major role to play). Here's a Scottish reel:

All in all, reeling presents an opportunity to those of more or less every lifestyle and preference. Whether contemplative fisherman, convivial party-goer, or all-too-convivial-trying-to-find-his-way-home-er.

We're all good for a quick reel.

Thing To Do Today: reel. All these words are connected. They started off with the Old English hrēol, which is related to the Old Norse hrǣlī, weaver's rod and the Greek krekein to weave.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Spot the Frippet: tiller.

A tiller is a lever used to steer a boat:

File:Miss March manning the tiller of the narrowboat 'HEATHER BELL' nas it carried flour from Worcester to Tipton during 1942. D7652.jpg
This photograph shows Miss March manning the tiller of the narrowboat HEATHER BELL as it carried flour from Worcester to Tipton in 1942.

but of course we mustn't forget the dancing Tiller Girls:

Tiller Girls, London Plaza 1928.

though they're no longer in existence (a revival is planned).

Luckily for those of us who live far from both very old-fashioned nightclubs and navigable water, a tiller is also both a grass shoot which comes up from the base of a stem, and another name for a young tree or sapling.

File:Rowan sapling in Gullmarsskogen.jpg
photo: W.carter

though the main question for you to answer is: which of these three meanings gives you most joy?

Spot the Frippet: tiller. The boat-steering word comes from the Anglo-French teiler, the beam of a loom, from the Latin tēlārium, from tēla, a web. The tree/grass word comes from the Old English teīgar, twig. The Tiller Girls were founded by a Mr John Tiller.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Sunday Rest: normcore. Word Not To Use Today.

I've come rather late to the word normcore, which is really sad, because if only I'd been a bit later I might have missed it altogether.

Normcore is now most usually used as a way of mocking old people. I think the idea might be that old folk are so hilariously unattractive they're asking for it. 

What young, beautiful and desirable people do in their mockery is to put on their grandparents' clothes (not literally, of course, or we'd have lots of aged people going around in a state of undress. This would benefit absolutely no one. I mean they put on their grandparents' style of clothes).

This, of course, involves a lot of beige and comfy elastic.

See? Utterly hilarious.

Of course it means these bright young things are forced to wear a permanently ironic expression and go everywhere at a haughty strut, just in case people failed to understand the joke.

But, hey, at least they got to wear some nice comfy flats for a change. So not all bad, hey.

File:Normcore example.jpg
photo by Rossco wm

Word Not To Use Today: normcore. Normcore is a mixture of normal and hardcore. The word appeared in the webcomic Templar Arizona before 2009. To start with the word implied the satisfaction to be obtained in being nothing special, but later it came to signify an ambition to dress so as not to be noticed. This was perhaps a reaction to the tyranny of the fashion world, but, as seen above, the fashion world soon managed to make being unfashionable in this way one of the most fashionable things on earth. 

Ah well.