"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Friday, 26 August 2011

A Charm of Starlings


The collective noun for Starlings is a charm. I could think of no less appropriate term for a flock of raucous, squabbling unattractive birds. However upon reading Richard Jeffries' 'Wildlife in a Southern County' all is revealed:-
On approaching it this apparent cloud is found to consist of thousands of starlings, the noise of whose calling to each other is indescribable - the country folk call it a 'charm', meaning a noise made up of innumerable lesser sounds, each interfering with the other. The vastness of these flocks is hardly credible until seen; in winter the bare trees on which they alight become suddenly quite black.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


A mumpsimus is an incorrigible, dogmatic old pedant. Bit like me really....

Monday, 22 August 2011


An uzzle-pye was a medieval extravaganza rather than food. Uzzle-pyes were baked with temporary contents which were then removed to be replaced by tethered birds which would settle down in the dark. When the pie was opened the birds began to sing... Sometimes they'd not be tethered and would fly free the moment the crust was broken; often putting out the candles and causing general chaos, to the delight of the host.

Saturday, 20 August 2011


To fribble means to act in a foolish or frivolous manner; to trifle.

A fribbler sounds like a candidate for counselling but it was actually an eighteenth century term for a man who expressed profound infatuation for a woman but was unwilling to commit himself to her...... (Perhaps he did need counselling, after all.)

Thursday, 18 August 2011


A piggesnye was an unlikely term of endearment for one's sweetheart, originated by Chaucer who is also credited with inspiring the sending of love notes on St Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Farctate means to be bloated or full following a large meal. It comes from the Latin farcire to stuff.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


Scandaroon - a large variety of fancy pigeon having a long thin body and an elongated neck and head [from Scandaroon the former name of Ishenderon or Iskanderun a seaport in Turkey]; also an old name for a carrier pigeon and a swindler.

Financier Nathan Rothschild learned of the success at Waterloo in 1815 by scandaroon (carrier pigeon) and falsely hinted that the battle - and England's future - was lost thereby sending stocks tumbling. He bought lots of the artificially deflated slocks and then made a killing when the news of success came through and their price went back up. Strangely, although scandaroon came to mean a swindler it was nothing to do with that episode but because of the sordid reputation of Iskanderun - the Turkish seaport.

Saturday, 13 August 2011


Antediluvian means of or belonging to the time before the biblical Flood or ridiculously old-fashioned.

I shall avoid any obvious ecxamples or making reference to anyone in particular and simply admit that I have some antediluvian ideas.

Friday, 12 August 2011


I always thought necessary was an adjective -and only an adjective. As such it means being essential, indispensable, or requisite.

I thought the noun was necessity but it turns out that necessary is also a noun - something necessary or requisite; a necessity.

Some people have problems spelling necessary. I pointed out the other day that I membered it by saying "It is necessary to have one collar and two studs". It was pointed out to me that the modern generation wouldn't know anything about collar studs - good point!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


GB commented that a quotation I read out to him was very droll. Now there's a word you don't hear often, I thought.

Droll - amusing in an odd way; whimsically humorous; waggish; dryly humorous.

Its first recorded use is said to be from around 1615–25 and its origin from the Middle French drolle -a pleasant rascal; or Middle Dutch drol - a fat little man.