Archive for the ‘Words’ Category


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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My first, second and (new) third little red book of books read…

It’s a small thing, but I feel I need to note a milestone in my life. T S Eliot’s J Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons. In my case I have measured out my life in books.

Recently I came to the end of my second little red notebook listing “books I have read”. I was surprised to find I could (more…)

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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, 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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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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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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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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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.


A replica Greek helmet with crest - shiny!

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

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