"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."

Thursday, 31 January 2013


I used the expression well-oiled in relation to my burned hand recently – i.e. I was keeping my hand well-oiled, that is, covered in oil.  It also means operating efficiently.  But well-oiled has a more common colloquial use – it means drunk. 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013


I frequently put archaic words on this blog but here is one from modern times.  A locavore is a consumer who only buys locally produced food and other products.  The name was an invention of four San Francisco women in 2005 who set out on a culinary adventure to see if they could live only on things found within 100 miles.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Paraphernalia and parapherna

If I were to enumerate my favourite sounding words paraphernalia would be on that list.  It is a noun meaning miscellaneous articles, especially the equipment needed for a particular activity; trappings associated with a particular institution or activity (often such as are regarded as superfluous).  

Its origins are as a legal word and in the mid-17th century it meant those articles of personal property which the law allowed a married woman to keep, and, to a certain extent, deal with as her own.  i.e. not a lot!! 

The Latin word parapherna meant, in Roman law meant a wife’s articles over and above her dowry – which remained her husband’s.  In the 18th century that word too came into English law to mean the same thing – the wife’s belongings that hadn’t come as her dowry.

Monday, 28 January 2013


 Young maid in a doorway by Otto Plitz
In the 16th century a dowsabel was a sweet young maid. Dowsabell can be spelled with one or two ‘l’s but either way it is pronounced DOW-suh-bell

Dowsabell is the daughter of Cassamen, a knight of Arden, who fell in love with a shepherd.   In ‘Dowsabell’ - a ballad by Michael Drayton (1563 – 1631)  the two make love with Arcadian simplicity, and vow eternal fidelity.

    With that she bent her snow-white knee,
    Down by the shepherd kneeléd she,
    And him she sweetly kist.
    With that the shepherd whooped for joy
    Quoth he, `There's never shepherd boy
    That ever was so blist.'

By the 17th century it had also come to be used as a forename (first known use said to be 1652 but one suspects it may have been earlier and followed its use by Drayton).  It’s origins may have been in the Latin name Dulcibella – sweet and beautiful.

Sunday, 27 January 2013


A fiasco is a thing that is a complete failure; a disaster, especially in a ludicrous or humiliating way.  I recently read about a fiasco full of wine! 

 It turns out to be a typical Italian style of bottle, usually with a round body and bottom, partially or completely covered with a close-fitting straw basket.  The sort of bottle that Chianti used to appear in with a  good steak dinner at Berni Inns when I was young.  I've quaffed many a fiasco - and also been a part of a few!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

To bite the bullet

   To "bite the bullet" is to endure a painful or otherwise unpleasant situation that is seen as unavoidable.  The phrase was first recorded by Rudyard Kipling in his 1891 novel The Light that Failed.   It is often stated that it is derived historically from the practice of having a patient clench a bullet in his or her teeth as a way to cope with the pain of a surgical procedure without anesthetic. But evidence for biting a bullet rather than a leather strap during surgery is sparse.  It os more likely to have evolved from the British empire expression "to bite the cartridge", which dates to the Indian Rebellion of 1857. In this version of the etymology, the idea of tolerating necessary hardship refers to the British wish that the sepoys would ignore any small presence of animal fat in their paper cartridges.

Friday, 25 January 2013


A podcast is a ‘multimedia digital file made available on the Internet for downloading to a portable media player, computer, etc.’  Err?  OK.  I think I understood that.  But isn’t a blog or an ordinary webpage often multi-media?  And isn’t a blog/webpage also available on the Internet?  And can’t it also be downloaded to a portable media player like a phone or a computer?  I tried to understand the difference by reading the article by the Goddess Wiki but it included phrases like ‘It is very much a horizontal media form’ – so I gave up.  Can anyone give me a clear and easily understood explanation of what a podcast is?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Catarolysis is something I try not to do but occasionally my worse nature gets the better of me and I cannot help myself.   

Recently, for example, I was advised by the Department of Work and Pensions that my appeal against their judgement that I was fit enough to be working had been won.  I celebrated.  Hooray. A week later I got a letter with an enormous medical questionnaire to fill in – to start the whole process all over again. Persecution I call it.  I just couldn’t refrain from catarolysis.   

Catarolysis means letting off steam by cursing.