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Posts Tagged ‘Words’

spider-web

Rainbow colours in a spider web caused by diffraction of light – from Earth Science Picture of the Day

Please indulge me while I share some shiny things with you.
I always get like this in Spring, when the sun grows stronger and nature has a certain sheen to it.

I think it’s a woman thing, a gatherer trait inherited from our Stone Age forebears, who must have spent their whole lives looking for bright, shiny berries to pick and eat.

And in many species it’s the male who displays and the female who appreciates it. Apparently not in humans, but diamonds are still a girl’s best friend. So here I am exploring both sparklies and more subtle lustres – as I look at the words iridescence, opalescence and pearlescence. (more…)

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cheapside-400

A gold pendant reliquary from the 17th century Cheapside Hoard to be shown at the Museum of London this autumn. Photograph: Museum of London

I was already musing on words beginning with chap and cheap before, by chance, an exhibition featuring the 17th century Cheapside Hoard was announced. Read about the treasures here.

Cheapside is in the City of London and was the site of a Medieval produce market. At that time it was known as Westcheap, to distinguish it from Eastcheap, near London Bridge. The word “cheap” broadly means “market”.

You also find the word in (more…)

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piginapoke

Pig in a Sack from the James Herriot Studio Collection at The China Cabinet – click on the image to go to the website…

hector-heathcote

Hector Heathcote, a Terrytoons character who was a comic hero of the American War of Independence

I was dismayed the other day when a BBC news presenter said she had never heard of “a pig in a poke” and asked the interviewee what he meant. But then, I would not know the phrase myself had I not heard it in an American TV cartoon when I was a child.

I remembered the cartoon but had forgotten it was called Hector Heathcote – now thanks to some Googling I have identified that a whole episode was called A Pig in a Poke. So that was indeed where I first heard the phrase.

In the Middle Ages it was common for people to sell a dog or cat for meat and pass it off as something tastier, like a pig. And a poke is a bag or sack, so if you buy a pig in a poke, you buy something concealed, without inspecting it, believing it to be a juicy pig.

That’s the literal meaning but (more…)

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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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It’s that time to draw a line under 2011 and announce my top posts for the past year (figures kindly crunched for me by WordPress) – and three out of five were posts I had published in 2010…

I seem to have the BBC’s Frozen Planet to thank for my top two posts this last year, as again penguins seem to have been the big attraction for search engines.

Penguin-Arabia

Penguin of Arabia by Ursula Vernon

1. Designer birds: Penguin

From paperback books to chocolate biscuits and much more besides, penguins are iconic birds. Here are some others I have chosen in 2011:

Designer birds: Peacock

Designer birds: Owl

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2. English words from Celtic roots…

celtic

English words from Celtic roots were top post in 2010...

This year’s runner-up was last year’s winner – and again it’s all because I used a picture of penguins. The word penguin comes from either the Welsh or Breton
Pen-Gwyn (meaning “head-white”).

I have also posted several other items on the origins of the English language:

The ungothroughsomeness of stuff…

Latin for today

English words from Scandinavian roots

English words from Indian roots

English words from Spanish roots…

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white-tiger

White tiger at Singapore Zoo by David George

3. The sadness of white tigers

This one was new for 2011 and is a memory of the white tigers of Bristol Zoo and some information on other threatened big cats of the world.

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4. Carousel horses – an illusion of freedom

carousel-horse

Horse head from the Riverfront Carousel in Salem, Oregon, by Crossmark

This was a wonderful excuse to collect together some beautiful images of carousel horses, unicorns and even zebras and this post was fourth in my top five for the second year in a row.

Another collection of art went with my post
Fairytale bedding: the Princess and the Pea…

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letraset

Some 1970s 'sci-fi' fonts from the 1970s

5. Design icons: Letraset

Design and nostalgia combined to make this a popular post. The same elements appeared in
Every poster tells a story

There’s more art and design here
and more nostalgia here

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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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