As a child I floated in a sea of wonderful words, many of which I don’t hear any more – so I am always delighted when I come across them in a crossword. One such is antimacassar, which I spotted again the other day.
We didn’t actually (more…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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.
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.
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.
I used to have a fascination with arms and armour. I particularly (more…)
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.
From paperback books to chocolate biscuits and much more besides, penguins are iconic birds. Here are some others I have chosen in 2011:
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:
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.
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…
Design and nostalgia combined to make this a popular post. The same elements appeared in
Every poster tells a story