"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."

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


   Elucubration (sadly now obsolete) meant studying or writing something useful by candlelight or while staying up late. 

Rather like me at this moment except that my candles are electric light bulbs and I've actually got up early rather than stayed up late - so, actually, nothing at all like me. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013


   I anpeyn most of the time.  I am at the moment anpeyning to do this post without any typographical errors.  To anpeyn simply means to try one's hardest.

The antonym anp was frequently used in the past in place of the now more common amp.  So if I were to reintroduce this archaic word into the language I should perhaps write it as ampeyn.  No one can say I don't ampeyn to give you the proper word for things!

Friday, 22 November 2013


   Welcome to the Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year for 2013 - selfie.  A selfie is a type of self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. ...

The Urban Dictionary has this super definition - A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social networking website. You can usually see the person's arm holding out the camera in which case you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them so they resort to Myspace to find internet friends and post pictures of themselves, taken by themselves. A selfie is usually accompanied by a kissy face or the individual looking in a direction that is not towards the camera.

(My spillchucker didn't recognise selfie but since I am so unlikely to use it I don't think I'll bother adding it...)

Sunday, 10 November 2013


   In linguistics, an epizeuxis is the repetition of words in immediate succession, for vehemence or emphasis.  Damn, damn, damn - that's another word I need in my vocabulary and will probably forget.

Friday, 1 November 2013

All about doing good…

  Benevolence refers to the character trait or moral virtue of being disposed to act for the benefit of others.  
Beneficence  is the act of doing good, being kind or charitable; it includes all actions intended to benefit others. In bioethics the two words are entirely different and the principle of beneficence refers to a moral obligation to act for the benefit of others - most acts of beneficence are therefore in some way obligatory.  Beneficence may be considered to include four components: (1) one ought not to inflict evil or harm (sometimes called the principle of nonmaleficence); (2) one ought to prevent evil or harm; (3) one ought to remove evil or harm; and (4) one ought to do or promote good.

Kindheartedness is sympathy arising from a kind heart; having a kind disposition.

Generosity is the quality of being kind and generous; the quality or fact of being plentiful or large.

Munificence is liberality in bestowing gifts; extremely liberal and generous of spirit.

Altruism is unselfish concern.

Magnanimity means munificence; liberality in bestowing gifts; extremely liberal and generous of spirit.  (This is where we start going round in circles and discover a number of the words are entirely synonymous.) But magnanimity can also mean courageously noble in spirit and heart; generous in forgiving an insult or injury; free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness.

The above words are all still currently in use.  Sadly a word that means benevolent in speech – benedicence – has fallen out of use.  Perhaps nowadays we are more inclined to do good than to speak kindly.

Thursday, 3 October 2013


 I have sometimes used the word colloquial to describe words on this blog. I should explain that colloquial does not mean slang.   
Slang is a kind of language occurring chiefly in casual and playful speech, made up typically of short-lived coinages and figures of speech that are deliberately used in place of standard terms for added raciness, humour, irreverence, or other effect; language peculiar to a group; argot or jargon.

Colloquial is often assumed to mean slang but it doesn't.  It simply means as used in a conversational sense; used in ordinary conversation; not formal or literary. Even a look at its synonyms yields ‘everyday’, ‘common’, and ‘idiomatic’ but not slang.  Colloquialisms are therefore perfectly acceptable in conversation whereas slang may or may not be.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Rhyming Reduplications


Rhyming reduplications are words comprised of two parts (usually hyphenated) which rhyme.  

Classic examples are mish-mash, hodgepodge, helter-skelter, mumbo-jumbo, nitty-gritty, willy-nilly, helter-skelter, hocus-pocus, hanky-panky, higgledy-piggledy, rumpy-pumpy, topsy-turvy, shilly-shally, raggle-taggle, namby-pamby, fuddy-duddy and the more recent chick-flick. And, of course, who can forget Brian Hyland’s  “Itsy bitsy, teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini” of 1960? 

Occasionally the words are written separately but on their own are meaningless such as pell mell.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013


A mish-mash is a confused mixture of things,; a hodgepodge; a jumbled conglomeration; 

The first known use of the word is to be found in the 15th century.  It is thought to originate from Middle English & Yiddish; Middle English mysse masche, perhaps reduplication of mash mash; Yiddish mish-mash, perhaps reduplication of mishn to mix.

There is also a reference to a place called Michmash in Nehemiah 7:31 in the Hebrew Scriptures but how relevant that is I don’t know.

Sunday, 1 September 2013


 Conjugalism as a word no longer exists - it is obsolete.  But hopefully the act it portrays still lives.  Conjugalism is the art of making a good marriage. Magazines have been attempting to teach us the art of conjugalism since at least 1823 according to Ammon Shea in 'Reading the Oxford English Dictionary'. Indeed, I bet there were writings on the subject in ancient Greece.  How sad that the word has fallen out of use.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013


  In linguistics, a phatic expression is one whose only function is to perform a social task, as opposed to conveying information. An example might be the use of 'Eh' at the end of a sentence - "What do think, eh?"

Friday, 16 August 2013


A geek is a person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest.  It is most popularly used in the term ‘computer geek’.

Nowadays the word geek is a slang term originally used to describe odd or non-mainstream people, with different connotations ranging from "an expert or enthusiast" to "a person heavily interested in a hobby", with a general pejorative meaning of "a peculiar or otherwise socially inept person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual".

Although often considered as a pejorative, the term is also often used self-referentially without malice or as a source of pride. Its meaning has evolved to connote "someone who is interested in a subject (usually intellectual or complex) for its own sake."

But in the early 20th Century a geek was a circus freak and geekery meant bizarre physical acts performed by geeks.  Amongst these were carnival performers, often billed as wild men, whose act usually included biting the head off a live chicken or snake.  Gross!

The meaning changed to its more expert / eccentric one after Robert Heinlein used the term geek to mean a maths freak in 1952.

Thursday, 1 August 2013


   Desiderium is an archaic word meaning a yearning for something one once had but has no more. I not only have a desiderium for my lost youth but also for many of the books which have passed through my hands over the years and been sold on or given away.  If I won the lottery I would have a large house.  Not for show or because I want the space for myself but in order to display all my books and pictures. I would then satisfy many of my desideriums (or is it desideria) by buying them all again.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013


 Miscegenation is a noun meaning the interbreeding of people of different racial types.

Thursday, 25 July 2013


Cat saw an article in The Old Foodie and said she thought of me.  At first I wondered if my spreading waist-line was the cause but then I realised it was the lovely word Croghton-Belly.

Unknown American artist, 1850’s-60’s, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

A Croghton-Belly is a person who eats a great deal of fruit. It comes from 'A dictionary of archaic & provincial words, obsolete phrases ...' (1852), by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps.  It is said to come from Lancashire.  If you would like to find out more please visit the Old Foodie's article about A belly Full of Fruit!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The pilcrow

The pilcrow (¶), also called the paragraph mark, paragraph sign, paraph, alinea, or blind P, is a typographical character for individual paragraphs.

The pilcrow can be used as an indent for separate paragraphs or to designate a new paragraph in one long piece of copy. The pilcrow was a type of rubrication used in the Middle Ages to mark a new train of thought, before the convention of visually discrete paragraphs was commonplace

The derivation of its name is as complex as its form. It originally comes from the Greek paragraphos(para, “beside” and graphein, “to write”), which led to the Old French paragraph, which evolved into pelagraphe and then pelagreffe. Somehow, the word transformed into the Middle English pylcrafte and eventually became the “pilcrow.”

Excerpt of a page from Villanova, Rudimenta Grammaticæ showing several pilcrow signs in the form common at that time, circa 1500 (image: Wikimedia commons).  

(Thanks to Mish for this word.)

Saturday, 20 July 2013


Pronounced (I think) sis-er-oh-knee, a cicerone is a guide who gives information about antiquities and places of interest to sightseers.  The word is derived from the Italian for antiquarian scholar, guide, after Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), Roman consul, orator, and writer, alluding to the eloquence and erudition of these guides.

(If you want to learn more about Cicero I thoroughly recommend Robert Harris’ ‘Imperium’ (2006), a life of Cicero.  The book is fiction but is brilliantly researched and gives a real flavour of what the great man must have been like.)

Thanks, Monica, for bringing this word to mind.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


   I defined 'Gyre' in May and got the wonderful comment from Cat that she was waiting for Gimble!  Some people will have instantly recognised the reference to that superb nonsense poem by Lewis Carol from his 1871 novel 'Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.'  Its playful, whimsical language has given us nonsense words and neologisms such as "galumphing" and "chortle".

What many people may not know is that the first stanza was written while he was in Croft on Tees, close to Darlington, where he lived as a child, and it was printed in 1855 in Mischmasch, a periodical he wrote and illustrated for the amusement of his family. The piece was titled "Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry"

Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe. 

(Note the spelling of Gymble changed to Gimble in the 1871 version).  Since Cat joked that she was was waiting for a definition of Gimble I decided to see if I could find one and I found four thanks to Merriam-webster and the Urban Dictionary -

As a verb it can mean to make a face or grimace or to make holes with a gimblet.
As a noun it means a  good-for-nothing or a compulsive liar.

So now we know!

The Jabberwock

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


Sadly I am almost a dilapidator.  A dilapidator was a person who neglected an ancient building and allowed it to deteriorate.  The only difference in my case is that the building is not ancient – it is just beginning to look it because of all the outstanding jobs that are required.