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Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

old-damascus

A romantic painting of old Damascus by Frederic, Lord Leighton, 1874

The city of Damascus is in the news for all the wrong reasons in 2012 as the awful bloodshed goes on in Syria. Forgive me if, for a moment, I sidestep the political and humanitarian issues and instead look at the glories that have been. For Damascus once meant luxury and craftsmanship for us, here in the west of Europe.

Damascus, whose name comes from roots meaning “a well-watered place”, is the capital of Syria and its second-largest city. It is in the south-west of the country and is sometimes (more…)

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station-400

Cardiff Central railway station mosaics, in Welsh and English

On most days I pass these two small green and gold mosaics on a concrete wall alongside Cardiff Central Railway Station. I feel sure that most people don’t notice them, as they are in such a grotty, neglected corner. But they catch my eye.

The railway station is (more…)

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euphorbia-mar18b

Flowers of Euphorbia or spurge...

It’s strange the things you remember. I recall an English lesson once when we read a poem that was about your senses sometimes being heightened when you are grieving.

In this case, the poet casts himself on the ground, distraught, and notices for the first time that “The woodspurge has a cup of three”. You can read the poem, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, at the end of this post.

The woodspurge is Euphorbia amygdaloides, although to be honest I visualised it as the sun spurge that grew as a weed in our garden, Euphorbia helioscopia.

Many Euphorbias have (more…)

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Brutalion

A brilliant depiction of 'Crestfallen' by Brutalion on Deviant Art...

I’ve always loved the word “crestfallen”. It paints such a picture of abject despair. When we are watching a rugby game and one team just gives in, we always say “they’ve dropped their heads.” “Crestfallen” conjures up a similar sort of image…

Well, as I often find, I have spent most of my life getting it wrong when it comes to a word’s etymology. However, as I think I prefer my version, I will start off by saying where I always thought “crestfallen” came from.

gk-helmet

A replica Greek helmet with crest - shiny!

I used to have a fascination with arms and armour. I particularly (more…)

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wru-fleur

The Welsh Rugby Union's 'three feathers' logo, left, and a stylised fleur-de-lis symbol

Somewhere, somewhen, someone told me the Prince of Wales feathers and the fleur-de-lis were the same thing. They aren’t, but I am exploring the idea to look for any connections.

I wonder if (more…)

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spiderwebs-01

The orb webs of Araneus diadematus in a city garden in early autumn

I always thought the word gossamer just meant spider silk. But now I know where the word comes from, I see it specifically refers to the fine threads that blow and glitter on the breeze on sunny days at this autumn time of year.

The Middle English word was gossomer, perhaps from “goose summer”, a time of year when (more…)

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armada

The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 - a painting completed by Philipp Jakob Loutherbourg the Younger in 1796...

Well, I’ve “done” English words from Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Celtic, Scandinavian and Indian roots, so now it’s the turn of Spanish…

According to that old favourite book of mine, The English Language – Grammar, History, Literature by Professor Meiklejohn, printed in 1905, “The words we have received from the Spanish language are not numerous, but they are important”.

How wrong could he be! In 2011 modern English abounds with Spanish-based words, many of them, admittedly, coming to us through American English – largely through Hollywood movies, especially westerns.

But (more…)

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