"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."

Monday, 29 April 2013

Sweating like a Pig

The term "Sweating like a Pig" denotes perspiring profusely. 

I can't recall the source of this and therefore my apologies to the author but this was what I recently found out about the saying.  

"This sounds illogical, as pigs have ineffective sweat glands, but the term is allegedly derived from the iron smelting process. After pouring into runners in sand, it is allowed to cool and is seen as resembling a sow and piglets, hence "pig iron". As the pigs cool, the surrounding air reaches its dew point, and beads of moisture form on the surface of the pigs. "Sweating like a pig" indicates that the pig has cooled enough to be moved in safety. "


Wednesday, 24 April 2013


 Someone, mentioning no names, Heather, described herself as a wingnut recently.  Now this is the only sort of wingnut I know –
  - a nut with a pair of wings to enable it to be turned without tools, used where frequent adjustments are needed or part removal can be made quickly at some later stage.

Obviously she wasn’t talking about that sort of wingnut and being an oldie I had to look it’s modern usage up in Urban Dictionary - "(noun) A person appearing to be moderately to severely crazy, disoriented, majobling, jumbled and more often than not, a total mess. A wingnut is a constant source of entertainment to those surrounding it and can easily be found in any type of setting or venue. Example: grocery stores, sporting events, cross-walks, public transportation, school, work…you may even have one in your house."

Majobling????!!!!  I thought wingnut was weird enough....

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


   To grubble was a term meaning to eat in the dark.  Perhaps few of us grubble any more and that is why it has fallen out of favour.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Play hooky

 "There is no widely accepted explanation for the word 'hookey' or 'hooky.' An Americanism that arose in the late 19th century, when compulsory attendance laws became the rule in public schools, 'hooky' may be a compression of the older expression 'hook it,' 'to escape or make off,' formed by dropping the 't' in the phrase. Or it could be related to the old slang word 'hook,' meaning 'to steal,': kids stealing a day off from school. 'Hooky' has so often been associated with going fishing that it may even owe its life to 'getting off the hook' the way a fish can; anyway, school is often insufferable as a hook to schoolchildren and many kids squirming in their seats all day look like they are on a hook." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

Sunday, 21 April 2013


   The word pure has obvious and well-known meanings such as - unmixed with any other matter (pure gold); free from dust, dirt, or taint (pure springwater); spotless; being thus and no other (pure nonsense);
free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes (pure mathematics); or containing nothing that does not properly belong (pure blood).

But what would you be doing if you were carting pure about the streets of Liverpool in the nineteenth century? 

The answer is picking up dog turds for use in darkening skins in the tanning industry.  Pure was a Victorian term for dog turds.

I'm only including this as an excuse to tell you the following story -

A giant inflatable dog turd by American artist Paul McCarthy blew away from an exhibition in the garden of a Swiss museum on the night of July 31st 2008, bringing down a power line and breaking a greenhouse window before it landed again, the museum said Monday.

The art work, titled "Complex S(expletive..)", was the size of a house. The wind carried it 200 yards from the Paul Klee Centre in Berne before it fell back to Earth in the grounds of a children's home, breaking a window.

I wonder if Museum Director, Juri Steiner, said "Oh S(expletive..)"' when he saw the damage?  (Sorry couldn't resist that!)

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Xylography or woodcut

Woodcut — occasionally known as xylography — is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges. The areas to show 'white' are cut away with a knife or chisel, leaving the characters or image to show in 'black' at the original surface level. The block is cut along the grain of the wood (unlike wood engraving where the block is cut in the end-grain). The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller (brayer), leaving ink upon the flat surface but not in the non-printing areas.

Multiple colors can be printed by keying the paper to a frame around the woodblocks (where a different block is used for each color). The art of carving the woodcut can be called "xylography", but this is rarely used in English for images alone, although "xylography" and "xylographic" are used in connection with blockbooks, which are small books containing text and images in the same block. Single-leaf woodcut is a term for a woodcut presented as a single image or print, as opposed to a book illustration.

Friday, 19 April 2013


In geometry, an enneagon, also spelled eneagon,  is a polygon or plane figure with nine angles and nine sides; a nonagon.

Because nonagon and eneagon (with one initial n) have the same number of letters this word is sometimes used to trip up those doing crosswords! 

Thursday, 18 April 2013


Louche means of questionable taste or morality; decadent; disreputable or sordid (sometimes in a rakish or appealing way).   It is generally used to refer to an unrespectable neighbourhood within a town or city.

It has a strange origin coming for the French for cross-eyed, squint-eyed, which in turn came from the Latin luscus blind in one eye. Presumably from the idea that people who did not look you straight in the eyes were disreputable.   Its first known use was in 1819.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


   A colloquy (pronounced coll-ock-wee) is a formal conversation; a conference or a gathering for discussion of theological questions.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Facts about the Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use.  (The average 16 year old has a vocabulary of only 10,000-12,000 words so would find a few words he or she didn't know.)

The First Edition

The proposed size of the first edition was 4 volumes, 6,400 pages (with provision for ‘a larger dictionary containing not fewer than 10 volumes, each containing not less than 1,600 pages’).  The actual size was 10 volumes, 15,490 pages

Proposed time to complete: 10 years.  Actual time to complete: 70 years (from approval date)

Publication date: 1884-1928 in 128 fascicles. Published in 10 volumes in 1928 and reissued in 12 volumes in 1933, with the addition of a one-volume Supplement.

Price of fascicles: 12 shillings and sixpence for large sections.  Price of bound volumes (1928): from 50 to 55 guineas for the set, depending on binding

Number of pages edited by James Murray: est., 7,200.  Number of contributors (readers): est. 2,000.  Number of quotations submitted by contributors: est. 5 million.  Number of quotations used in Dictionary: 1,861,200.  Number of authors represented in quotations: 2,700.  Number of works represented in quotations: 4,500

The Supplement (1972-1986)  

Proposed size: one volume, 1,300 pages.  Actual size: 4 volumes, 5,730 pages.

Proposed time to complete: 7 years.   Actual time to complete: 30 years

Publication date: vol. 1, 1972; vol. 2, 1976; vol. 3, 1982; vol. 4, 1986

Number of entries: 69,300.  Number of quotations: est. 527,000.

The Second Edition (1989)

Proposed size: 20 volumes.  Actual size: 20 volumes, 21,730 pages

Publication date: 1989

Weight of text: 62.6 kilos or 137.72 lbs.

Amount of ink used to print complete run: 2,830 kilos or 6,243 lbs.

Number of words in entire text: 59 million

Number of printed characters: 350 million

Number of different typographical characters used in text: approx.: 750 (660 special plus approx. 90 on regular keyboard)

Equivalent person years used to ‘key in’ text to convert to machine-readable form: 120

Equivalent person years to proof-read text: 60

Number of megabytes of electronic storage required for text: 540

Number of entries: 291,500

Number of main entries: 231,100

Number of main entries for obsolete words: 47,100

Number of main entries for spurious words: 240

Number of main entries for non-naturalized words: 12,200

Longest entry in Dictionary: the verb ‘set’ with over 430 senses consisting of approximately 60,000 words or 326,000 characters

Number of cross-reference entries: 60,400

Number of cross-references within entries: 580,600

Number of word forms defined and/or illustrated: 615,100

Number of pronunciations: 139,900

Number of etymologies: 219,800

Number of quotations: 2,436,600

Most frequently quoted work (in various full and partial version, and translations): Bible (est. 25,000 quotations)

Most frequently quoted single author: Shakespeare (approx. 33,300 quotations)

Most frequently quoted single work of Shakespeare: Hamlet (almost 1,600 quotations)

Percentage of quotations by centuries:
20th century 20 per cent
19th century 31
18th century 11
17th century 16
16th century 10
15th century 4.5
14th century 3.5
13th century 1
1st to 12th centuries 1
Undated (see note) 0.5

Note: ‘Undated’ includes approximately 1,250 quotations from Beowulf, with the balance consisting of proverbs, nursery rhymes, ‘made up’ illustrations, and references to the appearance of word forms ‘in mod. Dicts.’

The OED Additions Series (1993, 1997)

Volume 1 (1993)
Number of entries (new senses added): 3152
Number of pages: 334

Volume 2 (1993)
Number of entries (new senses added): 3335
Number of pages: 336

Volume 3 (1997)
Number of entries (new senses added): 3319
Number of pages: 352

Monday, 15 April 2013


  A fascicle is a separately published installment of a printed work.

You should learn this word - you will need it for tomorrow's entry, which, I warn you in advance, will be a long one.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Jumping the shark

   Jumping the shark refers to a point at which a TV series makes a desperate bid to improve its rating by introducing a melodramatic or fantastical plotline. I only found the expression recently but the phenomenon has been known for years. The phrase was coined in the 1980s when The Fonz tried jumping a shark on his water-skies when the ratings of Happy Days were falling.

Nowadays the plots of soap operas are so fantastical from the outset that I'm not sure how much more melodramatic they could be made.  A nuclear strike perhaps.  That might be their best fate!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

On German Words

  Mark Twain's views on race, nationality and class were typical of his time. That is, they are largely unacceptable today.   But the skill of his writing and the fact that he lived over a hundred years ago make those things to some extent forgivable.  Take, for example, his view on the German tendency to string words together  -

    “These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaper at any time and see them marching majestically across the page — and if he has any imagination he can see the banners and hear the music, too. They impart a martial thrill to the meekest subject. I take a great interest in these curiosities. Whenever I come across a good one, I stuff it and put it in my museum. In this way I have made quite a valuable collection. When I get duplicates, I exchange with other collectors, and thus increase the variety of my stock.”
- Mark Twain 1880

Friday, 5 April 2013

The dreaded lurgi

The dreaded lurgi is a severe illness or allergy but you won’t find it in any medical dictionary.  (Lurgi is pronounced LUR-Ghee with a hard g). Although it is commonly used to refer to a cold or flu it is a fictional illness invented by that exceptional British radio series, The Goon Show in 1954.