This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Upon Westminster Bridge

There was once a revolutionary who, crossing Westminster Bridge, found that he wanted to give the world a message. 

The man's name was William Wordsworth, and, although his journey took place over two hundred years ago, today he is revered and his words seem clearer and more precious than ever. 

I've written about his poem BEFORE, but here are his words in full.

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Ne'er did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!


Let us never forget that sometimes a quiet voice can enter our hearts when a noisy one is obscured by ugliness and echoes.

Word To Use Today: Westminster. Mynster is an Old English word probably from the Latin monastērium, monastery.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Nuts and Bolts: speaking with forked tongue.

The trouble with research is that sometimes it tells you stuff you don't want to know.

A joint study by Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin Universities has been looking at bilingual people to find out how good they are at judging the accuracy of their own guesses.

I don't know exactly who decided to do this study, or, indeed, why, but thirty one bilingual and thirty one monolingual people were shown circles containing dots, and these people had to estimate which circle had the most dots in it, and also to say how likely they thought their answer was to be right.

Now, being bilingual has several advantages: it means you have to do a lot less sign-languages in shops; it prevents you doing things like confusing a piscine*, say, with a pissoir**; it seems to stave off dementia for a few years; and the general belief is that bilinguists are particularly empathetic and tolerant.

But bilinguists aren't as good at estimating how good their answers are when it comes to dots in circles. In fact, they are ten per cent worse.

Why this should be the case, no one knows, but good for Dr Roberto Filippi, director of the Multilanguage & Cognition Lab at Anglia Ruskin University for making these findings public.

Though, as an academic at an English university with a name like that, the chances are he himself is bilingual. And so...

...but no. I'm sure we can rely on Dr Filippi's judgement entirely.

Word To Use Today: bilingual. Lingua is the Latin for tongue (and it gives us the word linguine, too).

*French: swimming pool.

**French: building containing a urinal.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Thing To Be Today: devil-may-care.

Cheerfully careless of consequences, that's devil-may-care - and it's quite often cheerfully careless of authority, too.

Now, the thing is, should I be so lightly encouraging this lack of planning, respect and sensible caution? 

Quite possibly not - but what is life if we never throw caution to the winds?

After all, even creeping along the most familiar path with the greatest possible care isn't going to stop sea gulls pooping on our heads, is it?

Thing To Be Today: devil-may-care. The original expression seems to have been the devil may care, for I won't and devil-may-care itself has probably been around since the late 1700s. The word devil comes from the Old English dēofel, from the Greek diabolos, enemy or accuser, from diabellein, to throw across, hence to slander.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Spot the Frippet: xanthrochroism.

English doesn't have nearly enough words beginning with an x, so we must celebrate those we have.

Xanthrochroism is a condition found in animals which turns their normal colours yellow or orange,

Like this:


(this is the wild version:

File:Carassius auratus grandoculis by OpenCage.jpg)

or this:  

Xanthochromistic Argentine horned frog
(That's an Argentinian Horned Frog. They usually look like this:

Regular Argentine horned frog
photos by Grosscha )

Or the budgie on the right:

File:Melopsittacus undulatus - albino and lutino.jpg
photo by Jhwodchuck 

English also has the word xanthrochroid, too, but that refers to a race of people who have pale hair and faces.

I worry that xanthrochroid might be an offensive term, but as there doesn't seem to be such a thing as a xanthrochroid race on Earth I can't see that it can be.

It makes one hard to spot, though.

 I think I'll stick with looking out for a goldfish.

Spot the Frippet: xanthrochroism. This word comes from two Greek words, xanthos, which means yellow, and khroia, skin.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sunday Rest: meatspace. Word Not To Use Today

Ooh, I hate this word.

 I think I'd hate it even if meatspace was just somewhere for you to put your, yes, meat - but it's far, far worse than that.

Meatspace is a term used by those poor sad people who live as much as they possibly can in cyberspace*. For them, I'm afraid, meatspace means the real world.

I know that to use the words pathetic, purblind, and pedestrian in this context would be unkind.

But they're tempting.

Word Not To Use Today: meatspace. It's not clear who first came up with this word, but it's certainly been around since 1993 (it was used, jocularly, in the Austin Cyberspace Journal). It got into the Oxford English Dictionary in the year 2000.

*Why poor and sad? Because, basically, the universe (or God, if you wish) has been going for thirteen billion years (or about six thousand if you're going for the Biblical option) and the internet has been going for less than thirty and is all made up by humans.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Saturday Rave: together, not apart.

Even today, with Twitter and Facebook (and, let's face it, blogs) it's hard for the voice of a single person to speak loudly enough to make much of a difference, especially when their message is about the evil deeds of the Big People.

What's needed, of course, is a chance for all the small voices in a place to speak together.

Twenty five years ago today the people of South Africa - all the people of South Africa - got a chance to say whether they wanted the government apartheid system to continue.

Guess what?

Their voice came over so loud and clear that no one on Earth could ignore it.

Word To Use Today: democracy. This word comes from the Greek dēmokratia, goverment by the people, from dēmos, people, and kratos, power.

While we are on the subject on democracy, on this day in 1990 the German Democratic Republic finally lived up to its name (and they say that Germans don't have a sense of humour) and held its first democratic elections.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Nugget: Word To Use Today.

Here's a tough, knobbly sort of a word.


(Nugget, by the way, is how I pronounced the word nougat when I was young, but nougat (NOOgar) is entirely different from nugget.)

Anyway, a nugget is something small but excellent and valuable, often to be found in a heap of dross. Nuggets used usually to be pieces of gold:

File:Gold nugget (Australia) 3 (16848650019).jpg
photo by James St. John

but nowadays they're generally dry bits of chicken in a fried crust:

File:Foster Farms breast nuggets frozen.JPG
Photo of Foster Farms Frozen Breast Nuggets by BrokenSphere


Luckily, sometimes you can come across nuggets of satisfying information, like the fact that in Australia or New Zealand something nuggety is likely to refer either to a stocky powerful human or other animal; and that Nugget is a sort of shoe polish, and that in New Zealand people sometimes nugget their shoes.

Word To Use Today: nugget. This word has only been around since the 1800s, and where it came from no one is sure, but there's a West-England dialect word nog, meaning a wooden block built into a masonry wall to provide a fixing for nails, which might have something to do with it.

Nougat comes from the Provençal nogat, from noga, nut, from the Latin nux.