This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Monday, 23 January 2017

Spot the Frippet: something aculeate.

Aculeate: a spiky, dance-of-the-tongue word. This makes sense, because for something to be aculeate it must be able to cut or stab. 

It could describe a rose bush:

File:Rose bush.jpg
photo by Rangbaz

 the hedgehog snuffling around underneath it:

File:West European Hedgehog.jpg
photo by Hrald

 the knife used to cut a bloom:

File:Grafting knife 005.jpg
photo by Victor M. Vicente Selvas

 or the bee hiding among the petals:

 File:Native bee in an imported rose.jpg
photo by Narellesg

and each, magically, assumes a new sharp elegance with the word. 

Spot the Frippet: something aculeate. This word especially describes bees, ants and wasps. It comes from the Latin acūleātus, from aculeus, which is a diminutive of acus, needle.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Sunday Rest: parkour. Word Not To Use Today.

Parkour involves getting from one place to another as quickly as possible.

No, it doesn't involve an aeroplane. That would be sensible. No, nor a rocket (which would be less sensible). In parkour you aren't allowed any form of transport apart from your own limbs. 

Parkour started off as a sort of assault course used in military training. Parkour does have the advantage that you don't have to assault anyone at the end of it, but on the other hand you may be expected to do more jumping about over city roofs than soldiers usually do except in the more expensive kind of film.

What's wrong with parkour, apart from the occasional possible inconvenience of a foot appearing through your bedroom ceiling?

Well, the word itself is the oddest sort of an object. It's as if someone's taken a French word and then shoved a k into the middle of it just to be awkward.

Though, actually, it wasn't just to be awkward...

Sunday Rest: parkour. This word comes from the French phrase parcours du combattant, which is an obstacle course used for military training. Raymond Belle developed a system of physical training based on this, and called it le parcours. His son David, a stuntman,  further refined his father's method, and his colleague the actor and director Hubert Koundé suggested changing the c to a k and deleting of the (silent) s to make the word look stronger and more dynamic...

...which is possibly why every time I see the blasted thing it's like being jabbed by a pin.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Saturday Rave: Now We Are Six by A A Milne


Now We Are Six

Yes, that's right, for we are! Or very nearly, anyway.

The Word Den began (with the word hippopotamus) on 23rd January 2011. I think there's been a post every day since then (and occasionally two) though there's a chance I might have got muddled once or twice and missed the odd one.

The original plan was to take a break on Saturdays and Sundays, but my friend, the very sadly missed Norm Geras, of normblog, gave The Word Den a plug on its first Friday, and, as he'd taken the trouble to recommend TWD it seemed only polite to give visitors something new to read over the weekend. To start with Sunday Posts were actually about the word Sunday, but I soon began Words Not To Use Today. It's been good fun.

Actually, it's all proved to be good fun.

My only slight problem today is that I don't like most of Now We Are Six very much. It's hard to forgive AA Milne for writing a poem called Pinkie Purr, and several of the other poems are stinkers. Still, there are some highlights: King John was Not A Good Man has a terrific hero, but it's the wrong time of year for that poem, so today I think I'll recommend another poem with an anti-hero, Sir Thomas Tom, The Knight Whose Armour Didn't Squeak.

And whatever you think of the poems, the illustrations by E H Shepard are lovely.

E. H. Shepard illustration of King John for A. A. Milne's poem "St. John's Christmas."
(This is not a good man.)

Happy Birthday To Us!

Word To Use Today: six. This word goes all the way back to the Sanskrit sastha. Highlights on the way include the Old Norse sex and the Greek hex.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Word To Use Today: constable.

In Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain, and in various European and Commonwealth countries, the constable you're most likely to come across is a police officer of the lowest rank.

Mind you, in Denmark he'll be a soldier, and in the Channel Islands a local politician.

Confusingly, in Britain, at least, a police officer of the highest rant is called a constable too. Between an ordinary constable and a deputy chief constable everyone has different titles (sergeant, inspector, superintendent).

In the USA a constable is also an officer of the law, though not necessarily a policeman.

A constable can also be the man in charge of a royal castle (in which case he may have a rather splendid hat) 

Sir Richard Dannatt, Constable of the Tower

and in mediaeval times, in England and France especially, the constable was a the man in charge of the king's army - or he could be the man in charge of conscripting men in his local hundred (an area that could provide a hundred armed men, or perhaps contained about a hundred homesteads),

Of course, if the law bores you, you could always discuss table mats. 

In my experience they mostly involve this image:

File:John Constable - Flatford Lock - Google Art Project.jpg
Flatford Lock, by John ConstableYale Center for British Art

Word To Use Today: constable. This word comes from the Latin comes stabuli, attendant or count of the stable. 

This knowledge will make me look at constables in a new light for ever.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

A planned announcement: a rant.

I'm at the stage now where I've made so many mistakes that one more isn't going to make much difference. It's really rather relaxing.

As far as language is concerned, what is a mistake, anyway? 

There's more than one reason why the phrase We don't need no education probably wouldn't go down very well with an English teacher, but it clearly isn't a mistake. It's quite deliberate - and, again, for more than one reason.

On the other hand...

Here is the beginning of an announcement by a West Yorkshire Police spokesperson after a (very rare in Britain) incident in which a man was shot by police.

I repeat, this was announced by a spokesperson. Someone whose job is speaking.

'During a pre-planned policing operation near to the M62 in Huddersfield...'

Now, is that pre-planned a mistake? The pre- is clearly unnecessary (what would a post-planned operation look like?) but I rather doubt it's a mistake. I think the spokesperson is following a convention that started off as an attempt to make something simple look a tiny bit more official and clever.

But look: sometimes, just sometimes, accuracy really does matter, and this is a case in point. Pre-planned is ridiculous, and it's vitally important we have confidence in every single word of an announcement like this.

Especially one from someone who's paid to speak.

Word To Use Today: plan. This word comes from French from the Latin plānus, which means flat.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Nuts and Bolts: semasiography.

I use a semasiographic recording system in my Books I've Read Journal. 

No, no, it's all right. I just mean I give them star ratings. Out of five, as it happens.

Semasiography is the very ancient method of noting things down by some means that doesn't involve forms of speech.


Like this:

or this: File:Quadratic formula.svg
(image by Jamie Twells)

or this:
File:Philippines road sign R3-8.svg

Isn't it great when something turns out to be much simpler than it sounds?

Thing to Use Today: a piece of semasiography. This word comes from the Greek semasia, meaning, plus the other Greek word graphia, writing. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Thing Not To Do Today: niggle.

Ah, diddums... the bus five whole minutes late?

...have they run out of cheese and tomato sandwiches again?

...are you wondering if you might be getting a cold?

...have they moved the football programme?

...was that another split infinitive in a national newspaper?

...has all this happened on the same day?

Well, try not to niggle about it the whole time, do. All that whining and complaining is just for toddlers - 

- and irritating toddlers, at that.

Gebhard Fugel Kleines Mädchen weinend.jpg
painting by By Gebhard Fugel - Own work (fotografiert in der Ausstellung "Gebhard Fugel 1863-1939. Von Ravensburg nach Jerusalem". Galerie Fähre, Altes Kloster, Bad Saulgau, 2014), Public Domain,

Thing Not To Do Today: niggle. This word comes from Scandinavia, but when it first came to England it meant do in an ineffectual way. It seems to be related to the Norwegian nigla