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Hello and Welcome to You All

AdrianMy name is Adrian Stead and let me begin by telling you what I am not in relation to this site.  I am not a Dictionary, Thesaurus, Etymological Dictionary or anything of that kind.  I am not an Academic, University Professor or Professional Writer.  “Well”, you might ask, “what is he then?”

I am a lover of the English language, its history, its origins, its foibles and all its seemingly strange variations.  I am a qualified teacher of English and Comparative Literature and a possessor of GCE A levels in both Language and Literature in England.

I guess that is really where my love affair with words began.  I remember my English teacher at the time asking “Do you hear the beauty of the word Handkerchief rather than the prosaic Hankie?” and, you know, I could and do still.

It is with this background that I found it appealing to create this website, for I am sure there are lots of people out there that have a similar love.  Yes, you can go to formal websites and have the cold, hard definitions presented to you but I want to share the beauty of that “Handkerchief” and the colour of “Vermillion” and the feel of “Verisimilitude”.

From an early age, I used strips of paper and, more recently Post-It notes, to place in books, as I read them, where intriguing words were encountered and then looked up their meanings and origins later.  And I don’t mean just long and obscure words but words that appealed to my senses; words that actually said something.

You know, there are plenty of reference sites and books out there that go into the histories of place names, babies’ names, swear words et al they don’t readily form part of this site, so sorry if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t find much of it here.

I now live in Western Australia, having emigrated to this Land Down Under in 1981.  I share my life with my lovely and artistic wife, Brenda, and two cats, Pinot and Merlot, and, yes, you’d be right in assuming what one of my interests in life is.  I sometimes am interested in it more often than I should!  I retain a love for my English football team – Luton Town – (stop groaning, someone has to have the courage to admit it), rugby union, history, music, travel and oh, lots more.

So, please share my journey into this wonderful world of word meanings and don’t be hesitant in letting us all know what your favourite word is and why.

A great place to start on this site is my LIST OF WORDS that I’m continually updating or my latest posts.  Have a look around and have fun with the words.

Please also be aware that there are  number of links in my Posts page that will take you to other sites that enable you to purchase various items and I am an affiliate of those sites and will earn commission should you buy from them, so, in advance, thank you.

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Writers, Students, Lovers of Cool Words

Be Sensible

Feelings generated within us enable the meaning of words to make sense in the context of our own selves.  Not the word’s definition or etymology but the effect it has on us.  This may well have begun in childhood and will therefore rely on our subconscious remembrance of what  word meanings evoke in our imaginations – the sensations they create in us.

Is the word one which makes us happy, sad, reflective, thoughtful?  Does it have an impact on our senses – Sight, Sound, Touch, Vision, Smell?

Smell?  How can a word smell, you may ask?  Easy.  What comes to mind with the word Sulphur, for instance?  Can’t you just smell that burnt match, that rotten egg aroma?  Even the spent match“fuh” sound in the word conjures up something unpleasant on the nose!

Well, it does for me and I am certain it will have an effect for you – whether it is the same as mine depends upon how you derive a meaning of the word and if it is a different meaning fine, neither of us is wrong, we just have differing connections with the word.

I guess in one way we are considering the poetics of words but that is limiting the scope of how we find meaning in words somewhat.  Poetics deals with the sound of words and that is great, but what about the visual element of a word?

In a word like building  you can see the high-rise apartments and homes or offices intermingled here in the artistic structure of the letters of the word.tall buildings

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favourite words comes from my schooldays when my English teacher asked the class to consider the word Handkerchief.  It conjures up lace cuffs and an eighteenth century coat or demure ladies in crinolines trying to overcome the effects of the ’vapours’.  It is an evocative word.18th C Gentleman

 

It is a peculiarity of language that we must use words to describe words, synonyms, but hopefully you will now recognise that there are other ways of taking meaning from words and you will join me in this wonderfully sensuous journey as we consider the Beauty and Meaning of English Words.

English Words

In speaking of English words, I am referring to words which are now accepted as words used in the communication of the English tongue.  Origins of many words will be Latin, French, German, Anglo-Saxon, Indian and so on;  it is this wonderful intermingling of different languages that make English such a varied and often bemusing one.   That however is not of concern in defining what an English word is in the context of this website.  Let others argue whether a word belongs in the English dictionary or not because it is from Arabic descent and not of Teutonic root.  We have other fish to fry.

That colloquialism reminds me to say that occasionally the word under consideration may in fact be two or three word combinations, such as Cui Bono.  Yes, I know, it’s Latin but it is now part of the English language, so who gains by this?  We do!

 

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Do You See An Enemy?

Or is that a Sea Anemone?

I have always loved this verbal similitude.  And aren’t the phrases absolutely fabulous to say?  All those n’s and m’s.  And, yes I know, the apostrophes shouldn’t go in there but how else to show what I am saying?

An Enemy

An enemy (boo, hiss) is someone or thing with whom or which you are far from friendly.  He, she or it is the antithesis to your loving, wonderful self and are likely to produce feelings of animosity, hatred even.

When there is a collective hatred of another object, then conflict arises leading in all probability to warfare.

Hatred is an awful state and we must do all we can to not allow it into our lives.

Enmity

When conflict arises between two bodies – individuals or peoples – then enmity exists between them.This usually arouses aggressive behaviour between the parties involved and is normally long-standing rather than short-lived.

Again, the word is lovely on the tongue due once more to the n and m sounds.  The t sound though gives the word more bite – appropriate for the word context.

Amenity

Looks similar to enmity but amenity has a much pleasanter connotation:  a desirable or useful feature or facility of a place or building.

Anomy

One needs to be careful choosing the correct word.  Anomy is very close linguistically to enemy and whilst an enemy may show the characteristics of anomy, the latter actually is a lack of social or moral standards, either in an individual or in society as a whole.

Lemony

Yet another great sounding word.  The word-sounds are soft on the tip of the tongue and lips which is quite in variance with the acidity and tartness of the actual fruit.

Did you know trumpet, or other brass, players find it extremely hard to play their instruments when someone is close to them sucking on a lemon?

Give it a try yourself.

Anemone

Eventually, all of the above preamble leads us to the purpose of this post and that is to enjoy the phrase “an anemone”.  Say it aloud but be careful not to stumble over the positions of the n’s and m’s.  It’s a great and fun phrase to get your lips around.

On land, an anemone is a flower:

But there is also a sea anemone:

Confusing, eh?  Even more cause for confusion however is the fact that the sea anemone is not a plant but is actually a marine animal.  Really.  If you would like to know about these creatures have a look at this website.  (No commercial affiliation).

 

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Humpty Dumpty Nursery Rhyme

Or Should That Be Nursery Rhythm?

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

For today, the origin of this piece is not our concern.  What we are considering is the use of the words Rhyme and Rhythm.

And good old Humpty is helping us in that task.

The reason for the question at the start of this paragraph is that, well, the words rhythm and rhyme are actually the same word by way of their derivation.  “How can that be?” I hear you ask!

Both words originate in the Greek word “rhuthmos”, meaning ‘flow’ but rhythm became more associated with the Anglo-Saxon ‘riman’ which means ‘count’.  So, rhythm is the count or beat in a phrase, whether spoken or musical.

 

 

Dance, especially the Tango, has great rhythmicity.

 

 

 

 

And, did you know, that in Scrabble Rhythm has the potential to earn 51 points without even using a single vowel!

Rhyme

Today, of course, we think of rhyme as two or more words that sound the same.  ‘Wall’ and ‘hall’; ‘men’ and ‘again’ in Humpty’s example above.

An alternative (please note, not ‘alternate’ which means to occur repeatedly in turn) spelling to Rhyme was Rime, as in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, a poem written in 1797 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I use the past tense here as Rime is rarely used today.

There is also a saying “Neither Rhyme nor Reason” which I find interesting in that the word rhyme, here, is used in the sense of entertainment while reason implies the notion of serious teaching.  So the idiom tells us that the subject is not fit for either amusement or learning.

In the county of Yorkshire, England, Rime is a colloquialism for Hoar-frost!

Rhyming Slang

Rhyming slang is most associated with the Cockney (i.e. East End of London) underworld of the 19th Century where it was allegedly used to thwart non-criminals’ attempts to overhear what was being discussed by those dastardly villains.

Examples are:  Frog and Toad = Road;  Apples and Pears = Stairs

Daisies are boots, from ‘daisy roots’ (!)

And so on.

The slang, although belonging to past times, is still in use today, kept alive by such TV programmes as The Sweeney – itself a great example of rhyming slang.

 

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Colour Tones

Colours

Or, if you weren’t raised in Britain, “colors”.

This post isn’t concerned with the variety of colours but more the tonality of them.  Words that infer colour rather than simply stating them.

In a previous post we looked at The Stroop Effect of words and colors – see it here – and wasn’t that just psychologically brilliant?

So the suggestion of colour or the state in which to find colour is what we are interested in here:

Diaphanous

Filmy; light; gauze-like.  Delicately hazy – like a girl I once knew.

Crepuscular

Of twilight, when colours and often objects are distorted and confused.  Dim and indistinct – funny, I knew a girl like that, too!

Darkling

Relating to growing darkness or the thrush in one of my favourite Thomas Hardy poems:

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

Rubricate

A lovely word meaning to mark or colour with red.  As in this picture, the choral manuscript has been rubricated, highlighting particular points.  When I was at school, my homework was often handed back to me with severe rubrications.  Just about every teacher marked one’s work with a red pen making it abundantly clear where one had stuffed up.

Tenebrous

Dark and gloomy like many of Charles Dickens’ buildings portrayed throughout his novels and
on film.  Also, how I felt after receiving my rubricated homework back.

Sooty

Of a blackish or grey dusky hue.  Very much unlike my favourite television character when I was
a little ‘un:
Sooty, with his, and my, pal Sweep.  Say goodbye to the children, Sooty.
Ah, nostalgia … it’s not what it used to be.

 

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Harrumph

Harrumph!

“I say, old man, just look at that chap over there, what on earth does he think he looks like?”

“Looks bally ridiculous if you ask me. Never allowed to get away with it when I was his age.  What’s the world coming to I’d like to know? Harrumph.”

I love all these blustering, ex-colonel types.  A dying breed I’m afraid now.  In their ways, they were often comical, sometimes nasty, and always belligerent.  I know a lot of people disliked what they were and stood for – many of them civil servants or lesser local officials and usually quite officious – but they have left a legacy of a way of life that was emergent at the turn of the 20th Century and on to the second World War.

These men epitomised Pomposity.

Pomposity

It is such a darned shame that the negative connotation of Pomposity – arrogance, self-importance, stiffness, haughtiness – should come from the root Pomp, meaning ceremony and splendid display .  Its meaning being quite subverted.

Tumescent

It wasn’t just in their manner that the pomposity could be discerned, but they had a Tumescence – a pretentiousness in their use of the English language – that augmented the puffed-up presence they chose to portray.

Magniloquent

The manner of speech was very often Magniloquent – lofty or grandiose and bordering on the bombastic and boastful.  Such was the nature of the thing.

All of the above  came about because I wanted to introduce Harrumph to the list of words here.  If  you haven’t yet surmised, Harrumph is a grumpy expression of irritation or disapproval, something which came easily to our pompous old chaps.

So, while these words aren’t truly “of the senses” they conjure up pictures of good old boys lost in a world that became far too modern for their and others’ liking.

The words are added  to the word list here.

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The Taste of Words – Sweet and Sassy

I was very tempted to make this post a sticky but considered the pun too obvious!

There are scores of words in the food-word category that just drip with beauty and meaning.  I love the word syrup and all its thick viscosity that just oozes with association.

Likewise treacle and molasses.

 

Surprisingly though molasses eases off the tongue far too readily for a word with that connotation.  It doesn’t sound anywhere near the sheer clagginess of syrup and treacle.

And I use the word clagginess with deliberation.  Thick, sticky and gooey.  Can’t you just feel the words cloyingly sweet in your mouth.  In fact in the North East of England there is a treacle toffee called claggum.  Fabulous!

They may well be sweet but not sassy.  Sassy is reserved for sweets (desserts) such as a torte, bombe or sponge.

A sponge is what mother used to make.  It has to be light and luscious.  A cake sandwiching whipped thickened cream, fruit or jam or preserves.  The word sound reflects the softness of the cake with soft consonants.

It is vital when writing about a bombe to ensure that a) it is spelled correctly otherwise it becomes a very different item, and b) that even spelled correctly it is not confused with the code-breaking machine used at Bletchley Park during World War II.  A bombe glacee, or simply a bombe, is an ice-cream dessert that has been frozen in the shape of a sphere, thus a bomb.

The only explosion you’ll get with a bombe though is that of rich, creamy mouth-fill.  Yum.

I was taught that a torte originates from the Italian torta. (Like the subtle use of alliteration there?)  I have since come to learn that it can be filled with buttercream, mousse, fruits and often rum.  Probably the most famous torte is that devised at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna:  the sachertorte.

Now if that ain’t sweet and sassy I don’t know what is!  Now where’s my dessert fork …!

 

 

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How Do You Do

Well, this is a fine How Do You Do isn’t it?

I intended to start this post discussing the correct manner in which to meet and greet a person with the phrase “how do you do” when it occurred to me that the phrase is actually a question without intended meaning.

“What does he mean by that” I hear you ask (yes, my website has ears but that’s another story).  Well, I’ll tell you.

If you truly wanted to receive an answer to the question you would say the phrase with an upward inflection thereby indicating a question is being put forth.  You would therefore expect to receive a response from the person to whom the question was put.  Fair enough!  Not so, when first meeting a person and shaking hands.

Today, we are more likely to say “Hi, I’m Adrian” or “G’day” (Australian) when meeting a person for the first time which is rather sad as there is no intent made in the greeting to show interest in the other party, leaving them to respond only with a “hi” or “g’day to you” or some such.

The polite and proper way to meet and greet a person for the first time is to say “how do you do“.

Now, like a lot of idioms it is not to be taken at face value.  You are not expecting to receive, nor will the other party be expected to give, an answer.  In fact the phrase is said with a downward inflection, indicating a statement not a question.  The correct response is a “how do you do” statement in return.

“Hmmm, well that’s a fine how do you do I must say!”   Now this particular statement is a modest expression of mild surprise or disappointment.  The tone is vague and sarcastic.  “harrumph!”

It then occurred to me how many similar sounding words there are to “do you”.  Such as:

Due         due

Not to be confused with Dew      dew

Or Jew

Or Adieu!

 

 

I’ll get me coat and go I think.

 

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Catacombs of Rome

There are about forty different Catacombs of Rome – ancient underground burial places most famous for Christian burials – begun in 2nd Century AD.  They were built due to a shortage of burial land on the surface and subsequent overcrowding.

 

While the original custom in Rome was cremation, with the ashes being retained in an urn or pot, it became more ‘fashionable’ or acceptable to bury the unburnt remains of the dead in graves or sarcophagi.  Christians also preferred burial to cremation because of their belief in the resurrection of the body after death.

The catacombs (and there are many others in the World, for instance in Paris) today are huge tourist attractions with large tour groups visiting them year round.

It is very important that the Catacombs of Rome are not confused with the Cats of Rome which have lived in and around the Trajan Markets since ancient times and continue to reside in the ruins of the same market area today.

trajan

Further, it is equally important not to confuse the Catacombs with Cat Combs – something completely different:  cat-comb

Or Ilfracombe, where I was taken on hols as a nipper:  ilfracombe

Notwithstanding all that, Cat Combs, Ilfracombe, Catacombs each has a lovely word sound.  I think it must have a lot to do with the pronunciation of “coomb” or “coombs” or “coam” that make the words special.

 

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Profane

The good old OED defines Profane as not relating to or respectful of religious practice;  irreverent.

I think most people today would define Profane as a swear word, quite simply.  Especially if that person was a Belgian foreign minister reputed to have sent a message via Twitter about a former Canadian Prime Minister, with photo:

Profane Stephen Harper tweet sent from Belgian foreign minister’s hacked Twitter

Hmmm … very diplomatic, even if it has been disclaimed as belonging to the said Belgian minister!  How secular.

Now, of course, the word Profane should not be confused with the closely spelled Propane which of course is a gas that is highly flammable.

There again …!

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Catatonic State Definition

I love the word Catatonic.  Not the catatonic state however,  The true catatonic state definition is “of or in an immobile or unresponsive stupor”.  So no laughing matter that’s for sure.  But just think of the word and you get a very different impression.

My definition of the word sound is the condition that owners or friends of feline companions get into when playing with their little treasures.  Or, the state of well-being that those little furry animals get into when being petted or just sleeping lazily when they should be working:

 

Catatonic should never be confused with GinaTonic which is a different pleasurable experience altogether, although I have known some people who manage to bring the two aspects together – one leading directly to the other.  Please be careful!

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Elegant Sounding Words

Elegance is not only a visual concept but also aural.  Elegant sounding words have as much effect on one’s spirit as seeing a beautiful object or person,  Indeed, elegant words can conjure in one’s mind images far finer than those of the eye.

Take, for example, the word Décolletage.

 

Pronounced: deh – coll – et – ahj

Yes, I know, it is French, but it is very much a part of our English language now and a much more alluring and enchanting word than its more prosaic alternative of Cleavage.

And it gave me a wonderful opportunity to incorporate this photograph into the website.

 

 

 

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