Category Archives: Words

Words

Are you a cruciverbalist?  I am.  I always thought this was a designer of crossword puzzles but now I understand ( after looking it up on our trusty Wikipedia) that it can also apply to an enthusiast of word games and of crossword puzzles.

I have played word games, with my father and sisters, since I was young.  My father did crosswords well into his 90s even though he was officially determined as blind.

Words have power. In ancient times spoken words created worlds, creatures, and human beings to educate and amuse their listeners.  Along with drawings this was the way that myths, stories and histories were passed down through the generations.  And still we love words and what they tell us, where they can transport us to  and what they can mean.

I have always been intrigued with words, how they sound and how they look on the page and what they actually mean.  And we know that words even though they sound  the same often have quite different meanings.  Think about :

  • Rain and reign.  They sound the same but have totally different meanings and are spelt quite differently too.
  • Their and there.  Again they sound the same but have different meanings.
  • Fore and four
  • Nay and neigh
  • Buy and bye
  • Here and hear
  • Saw and sore
  • Bare and bear

I know that the spoken word often betrays the area from where the speaker hails – and there is another examples hails and hales. For instance if I say what (concentrating on the wh sound) it will sound quite different to the way in which my NZ educated grandchildren will say it.  And I know you will be able to think of many instances yourself.  In this day of people moving freely around the world, bringing different cultures to play many English words are heard that sound different to our ears.

And many more.  But how clever to be able to design crosswords.  Not only does one have to derive the clues but also to have the letters form into words where the letters intersect and also in the full word.  I wish I were that clever.

The first page I turn to in the newspaper is always the puzzle page.  In our local paper we have 4 crosswords daily – one cryptic (that I never manage to get out) one two-speed that has both regular and cryptic clues, and this is my favourite, one daily which is a regular crossword and another daily that is slightly more difficult.  In addition to these we have a code cracker.  In this we are given one or two of the letters and have to complete the rest of the puzzle using these.  If you don’t have this in your newspaper click the link to see what it is.

So for any cruciverbalist there is plenty to keep us busy and happy.

“Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall,
but wise words endure.”
Edward Thorndike,  1874 – 1949
American psychologist

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A Lovely New Word and a Challenge

Lotte in bed

Just don’t go on about it. Pleonasm is tiring.

Yesterday at Today I Think Patricia gave us the definition of the word pleonasm: the use of more words than necessary to express an idea, redundancy.

In my comment I said I would now have to find a use for the word and Patricia responded to let her know when and how I could work it into a conversation.  Well, I am not one to shirk a challenge, so here goes.

Prime Minister John Key

Photo credit NZ Herald

“Mr Prime Minister (we don’t have a President here in NZ) I think you should gather all your troops together and give them a lecture on pleonasm.  The speeches are far too long and very boring.”

Pres Obama and Gov Brewer

Can’t find photo credit. It’s on so many sites.

“Madam, can you please just cut to the chase.  Pleonasm is tedious”.

Photo from habitsforahappyhome.wordpress.com/

“Mum, pleonasm is wasted on me.  Just tell me in a few words what I did wrong.”

I now have to ask Patricia “Are these examples OK?”

And everybody else, what could you do with this lovely new word PLEONASM.

And no words are required to describe my rainbow.

Rainbow

My rainbow

Words, Words and More Words

Words

Isaac Kaufmann Funk ( 1839 –  1912) was an American Lutheran minister, editor, lexicographer, publisher, and spelling reformer.    He is most well known for  The Standard Dictionary of the English Language published in 1893.   We are told via Wikipedia that “He worked with a team of more than 740 people.  His aim was to provide essential information thoroughly and simply at the same time. In order to achieve this he placed current meanings first, archaic meanings second, and etymologies last. ”

We know that he collaborated with his classmate, Adam Willis Wagnalls and the I K Funk company was renamed Funk and Wagnalls and the encyclopedia was renamed Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia in 1931.  It was later renamed New Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia, Universal Standard Encyclopedia, Funk & Wagnalls Standard Reference Encyclopedia, and Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia.quoted the best 10 words in the English language.as :

I read somewhere (?) that Isaac Funk considered the following the best ten words in the English language:

  • Mist
  • Hush
  • Luminous
  • Murmuring
  • Dawn
  • Chimes
  • Lullaby
  • Melody
  • Tranquil
  • Golden

These are in no particular order and I wonder how he arrived at this list of ten.  Certainly they are all gentle words with no harsh sounds or undertones.  Was he a gentle man looking to find equally gentle words?  I wonder

My choice of 10 words would be (again in no particular order):

  • Love
  • Gentle
  • Friendship
  • Family
  • Giving
  • Safety
  • Tranquil
  • Tenderness
  • Acceptance
  • Delight

What would your words be.  It’s fun to limit the choice to only 10.  Of course, there are many, many other words I could have chosen.  Why did I choose these?  They are all gentle words and maybe reflect where I am in my life’s journey now.

“But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
and it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year”
As sung by Frank Sinatra – It Was a Very Good Year.

And for me, they have mostly been very good years!

And a final word today from the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 BCE – 270 BCE)

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without
living wisely and well and justly.
And it is impossible to live wisely and well
and justly without living a pleasant life.” 

Some recent posts on words –

A Lovely New Word

As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery.
Martin Luther King,  speech, Aug. 16, 1967

I recently received  an email from my sister in Los Angeles, who is almost as also obsessed with words, as follows:

“Judith,  a word for you to use in a future blog.   You may already know this word, although it’s not much used today

THIRLED:   a term used to describe men who worked in the coal mines of Scotland. A thirled man was bonded for life to a company and wore a metal collar around his neck with the name of his owner stamped on it. These workers stood deep in the pits and cut coal that their wives and children then carried to the surface in baskets. They were paid two shilings and sixpence (sixty cents) for twelve hours of work and out of that, they paid for their own keep and were not supplied with food, shelter, or medical care. To survive, many families were forced to work all day and into the night in the freezing and dirty coal mines of Scotland. Thirled men were serfs, and if one removed his brass collar and ran away, he was captured by the sheriff and returned to his owner. His punishment was by the lash. He was punished for having stolen himself and his services from his master. This was the law in Scotland as late as 1799.”

This definition of the word comes from “I Still Dream About You”, a novel by Fannie Flagg. The online definitions all seem to concentrate on the old English use of the word to indicate boring or drilling.

I hadn’t ever heard the word and just as Maggie and Brenda do in the book I Googled the word thirled.  But from Wikipedia I learned “Thirlage was the feudal law by which the laird (lord) could force all those vassals living on his lands to bring their grain to his mill to be ground, the justification was that an essential service was being provided at a great expense and had to be paid for by the users. Additionally vassals had to carry out repairs on the mill, maintaining the lade and weir as well as conveying new millstones to the site. ”

So while vocal Scottish abolitionists such as Charles Grant, Allan Ramsay and the Macauley Brothers Colin and Zachary, were worrying about slaves in other parts of the world it would appear that a form of slavery was flourishing in the British Isles as late as 1799.

Applause

Thanks to my big sister for bringing this word to my attention.

.

Kangaroos

Kangaroo and joey

Kangaroo and joey

More fun with words today.  Do you know the term kangaroo words?  A kangaroo word carries within its spelling (in normal order) a small word that is a perfect synonym for itself.   The etymology of the phrase kangaroo word is derived from the fact that kangaroos carry their young (known as joeys) in a body pouch; hence kangaroo words carry their joey words within themselves.

An example of this is Blossoms – note that it contains in the right order the synonym Blooms or Respite and Rest.

Here are some others to have fun with:

  1. Evacuate
  2. Encourage
  3. Prosecute
  4. Calumnies
  5. Indolent
  6. Diversified
  7. Rampage
  8. Matches
  9. Joviality
  10. Container.

and the answers –

  1. vacate
  2. urge
  3. sue
  4. lies
  5. idle
  6. divers
  7. rage
  8. mates
  9. joy
  10. can

And if that is not enough, what can you do with –

  1. rapscallion
  2. prattle
  3. perambulate
  4. pinioned
  5. regulates
  6. splotches
  7. slithered
  8. perimeter
  9. curtail
  10. respite.Clapping hands

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.  I am going away for a few days vacation now that the big red Santa boot is off, so I shall not be posting on my blog for a week.  But watch this space – I shall have plenty to share with you when I return.

Oh and I have just had a recollection – Captain Kangaroo when my children were growing up in Montreal.  Whatever happened to him?

Madman, Murderer and Words.

By now you will have recognised realised that I am besotted by words in the English language.  I like the way they look, the way they sound and their meanings.  I can spend whole days following the etymology of words.

Imagine my delight then some years ago to be presented with a copy of “The Professor and the Madman” the story of the compiling of the Oxford English Dictionary and the two men who were so intimately involved in it.

Book cover - Professor and madman

The Professor and the Madman masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the “Oxford English Dictionary”–and literary history.” From the book description on Amazon.

Have you discovered this book yet?  It was written and researched by Simon Winchester and  published in 1999.

We are told that compiling the OED  was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken.   As definitions and quotations were collected, Professor James Murray leading the overseeing committee discovered that Dr W C Minor had submitted more than 10,000 words and their quotations.  The committee insisted honoring him at which time the truth came to light.

That truth – Dr Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was  an inmate at Broadmoor, an asylum for the criminally insane.

Dr Minor had served in the Union army as an  assistant surgeon and held the rank of lieutenant. He spent about six months attending to civil war casualties at hospitals in New England before being sent to the front line in May 1864. It appears that following time in the battlefield his mental illness resurfaced.  Because of this he had to leave the army and was sent by his family to convalesce in London.  He settled in a particularly poor part of London (Lambeth) where he supported himself by painting watercolours and playing the flute.  But his mental illness was never under control and while living there he shot and killed a brewery worker who was on his way to work, thinking that the worker was out to seek revenge for an earlier incident while Minor was in the US Army.

Minor gave himself up to the police and was sentenced to be confined in the newly opened Broadmoor Asylum ‘Until Her Majesty’s Pleasure Be Known’

While detained in Broadmoor where he had two cells, a manservant, a large collection of books, and, incredibly, regular visits from Eliza Merrett, the widow of the man he had murdered, Minor heard of the   ‘Appeal for volunteer readers’ sent out by James Murray, in which Murray asked interested members of the reading public to scour published literature for quotations to illustrate the use of English words. Minor, described by the Broadmoor administrators as particularly learned set to work assembling lists of quotations and by the mid-1880s was sending hundreds, and later thousands, of quotations on slips of paper  to Murray and his team at the “famous scriptorium at 79 Banbury Road, Oxford.”

The letters were  signed ‘W. C. Minor, Crowthorne, Berkshire’, and until he called upon Minor,  Murray had no idea that his most assiduous correspondent was an American murderer and an inmate at one of Britain’s most secure and infamous lunatic asylums.

The two men became firm friends united by the complexity of the English language.  Despite this friendship and the benefits of his involvement in the dictionary Minor’s illness became more acute and in 1902, he amputated his own penis in the belief it might curb his troublesome sexual appetite. Following this and prompted by Murray, the  Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, allowed Minor’s release and deportation in 1910.

Minor was farewelled by Murray and his wife and sailed back to New York where on arrival there, he was immediately committed to  St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC. He deteriorated steadily, was moved to the Retreat for the Elderly Insane in Hartford, Connecticut and in 1920 died of a respiratory infection

We know very little of his life after returning to the United States but his legacy as a volunteer reader can be found among the pages of the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary. Professor James Murray said of him at the time that “so enormous have been Dr. Minor’s contributions … that we could easily illustrate the last four centuries from his quotations alone” (The Professor and the madman p160).

Associated posts

Yet Another Great Word

Radio NZ National

Here in New Zealand we have public radio without any advertising – Radio New Zealand National..  This is like Public Service radio  in the United States and covers a wide and wonderful range of programmes that we wouldn’t otherwise have.

We have a three hour long programme each weekday morning and recently when listening to the programme I heard a report from London on the financial crisis unfolding across Europe.  The reporter was an English woman with the most fantastic English accent.  Apologies I didn’t get her name.

All during the interview she referred to the feckless nations (and here I wont name them for fear of offending somebody).  And the word was repeated again and again.

‘Feckless’  means lacking in character or determination. Feeble. Weak. And apparently ‘feck’ is an obsolete word meaning value, or effect.  That word went out of genera use some time ago but feckless remains.  Using feckless in everyday conversation is very unusual and so I was taken by this constant use .

While I know the word, I have never considered using it in a sentence.  So I gave it some thought.  Here are some examples I came up with:

  • The judge called him feckless for not having a job to pay child support.
  • I always thought him rather feckless
  • These feckless people keep coming back and asking for more.
  • and of course her constant theme – these feckless nations want more money and/or assistance but hate the countries that can supply them.

And then I could come up with no more.  Can you help?

According to Dictionary.com “feckless 1590s, from feck, “effect, value, vigor” (late 15c.),
Scottish shortened form of effect; popularized by Carlyle, who left its opposite, feckful, in dialectal obscurity.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Another blog going nowhere.

New words

“I like good strong words that mean something.”
– Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

I love it when I find new words.  Today’s new word is ACROSTIC.  I had no idea what this meant when I read Vivinfrance’s blog today.  So to my trusty dictionary and there it was :

“Acrostic n.  A number of lines of writing, such as a poem, certain letters of which form a word, proverb etc.  A single acrostic is formed by the initial letter of the lines; a double acrostic by the initial letter and final letters and a triple acrostic by the initial, middle and final letters”  Collins 1998 edition

I guess it’s close relative is mnemonic – we all use this as a memory jogger.  But to write a poem in this style absolutely floors me.  I am amazed and delighted at the skills some of our fellow bloggers display.

And of course, this is one of the forms used by our old friend Edgar Allan Poe .  I found this one in a book today (more research after finding the word):

Elizabeth it is in vain you say
Love not” — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L. E. L.
Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breathe it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His folly — pride — and passion — for he died.

And the one mnemonic that we all learned in school to remember the colours of the rainbow:

Richard – red
Of – orange
York – yellow
Gave – green
Battle – blue
In – indigo
Vain – violet

And this segues beautifully into my rainbow.  So here it is once again.  Enjoy!

Rainbow

My rainbow

Oh and thanks to my blogging buddy Viv for this new word to add to my vocabulary – but that supposes I shall ever use the word in a sentence when speaking to my friends.  “Have you read any good acrostics recently?”  Well maybe not.

“You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say
It’s only words, and words are all
I have …”
From “Words” by the BeeGees

Have You Met Mrs Malaprop?

Let me introduce you.  Mrs Malaprop is a character in Richard Sheridan’s play The Rivals, described as “a comedy of manners’.   It is generally thought that Sheridan devised her name from the word malapropos defined as

malapropos is an adjective or adverb meaning “inappropriate” or “inappropriately”, derived from the French phrase mal à propos (literally “ill-suited”).   The earliest English usage of the word cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1630. Malaprop used in the linguistic sense was first used by Lord Byron in 1814 according to the OED.”

Malalpropisms are quite different from Spoonerisms in that the words are used in a wrong or inappropriate way.  Here are some examples from Sheridan’s play:

  • “…promise to forget this fellow – to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.” (obliterate)
  • “…she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying.” (comprehend)
  • “…she’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile.” (alligator)

But before Sheridan and Mrs Malaprop, Shakespeare had some of his characters speak using wrong or inappropriate words:

  • In Much Ado About Nothing,  Constable Dogberry says
  • “Comparisons are odorous” (odious) and
  • “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious          persons.” (apprehended and suspicious)
  • In The Merchant of Venice, Lancelot says
  • “Certainly he (Shylock)  is the very devil incarnal…” (incarnate)

Obviously these comments were not mistakes on Shakespeare’s part.  I think they were added to lend a little levity to the play.

And there have been some wonderful malapropisms made by people in the public eye:

  • “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.”   George W. Bush.  – I wonder what he meant to say.
  • And my favourite of his – It will take time to restore chaos and order” – Well gee whiz
  • “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.”    Former Dan Quayle, Vice President – Oh really!
  • Allan Lamport, former mayor of Toronto said, “Keep this up and we will have a vicious triangle” – Interesting idea a triangle rather than a circle
  •   “If Gower had stopped that [cricket ball] he would have decapitated his hand.”.   Farokh Engineer , Indian cricketer – That would have been worth seeing.
  • “And then he [Mike Tyson] will have only channel vision.”   Frank Bruno, boxer – Will he see underwater then?
  • “Marie Scott… has really plummeted to the top.”    Alan Weeks,  British television sports reporter and commentator and
  • Sarah Palin posted on Twitter a call to “refudiate”
    the proposal to build a mosque on the site of the World Trade Center.

Of course, we can go on and on, and George W Bush seemed to have been the absolute expert on this form of speech.

But here we will end today’s English lesson.  Hope you are not bored with my sharing my love of English with you.  And a thought for you

Think Positive

More Words To Play With

A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!

So far this year, as far as dates go we have had 10 palindromes.  We put the day before the month in writing dates – so 11/1/11; 11/2/11 and so on for the following months.

Today is the 11th day of November 2011.  A perfect palindrome – 11/11/11 and to make things even better this post will be published at 11 am.

The word palindrome is derived from the Greek palíndromos, meaning running back again  A palindrome is a word, phrase or number which reads the same in both directions, hence

  • Madam I’m Adam
  • Do Geese See God
  • Never odd or even
  • I did did I
  • A Toyota’s a Toyota and of course probably the most famous
  • Able was I ere I saw Elba
  • And the numbers as above.
  • Some single words are also palindromes – level, radar, nun and civic.

No doubt you can come up with many more, as can I.

Thinking of palindromes I thought then of spoonerisms.  What is the connection?  I don’t know but I love spoonerisms.

Spooner caricature

Spooner as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, April 1898

Spoonerisms are named after  William Archibald Spooner who was famous for making these verbal slips.   Some of his famous slips of speech are :

  • On raising a toast to the Queen “”Three cheers for our queer old dean!”
  • We are told that he once enquired “Is the bean dizzy?” on a visit to a college
  • He apparently lionized Britain’s farmers as “ye noble tons of soil.”
  • He once referred to a well oiled bicycle as “a well-boiled icicle.”

There have also apparently been some blunders heard on radio:

  • A British radio announcer, talking about a royal visit, informed his listeners that the visitor would be greeted with a “twenty one son galoot”.
  • Another radio announcer made one that seems to have stuck: “one swell foop”.

And apart from these, some of my favourites are :

  • Fighting a liar (lighting a fire)
  • Go and shake a tower (go and take a shower)
  • Lack of pies (pack of lies)
  • Beeping sleauty (sleeping beauty) and many more.

I really do love playing with words and have written several posts on this subject in the past.

So do go and have some fun with words, palindromes and spoonerisms.  Let me know your favourites.

“By words we learn thoughts, and by thoughts we learn life.”
Jean Baptiste Girard

Note – Caricature of Spooner via Wikipedia