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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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The Color of Words (or for us non-Americans: The Colour of Words)

The Stroop Effect

Now, here’s a post with a difference.  It would seem that we are in fact so fluent in our language that word recognition is far stronger in us than color recognition.  Most people will recognize the meaning of the word before recognizing the color.

A Dr John Ridley Stroop devised a psychological test intended to measure the reaction time of people when faced with a situation that was out of their normal expectations or congruency.

See how you fare with the following which formed part of Stroop’s testing:

In the first following table, name the color of the word not what the word says:

RED YELLOW BLUE GREEN BLACK
PINK ORANGE BROWN GRAY PURPLE
GREEN GRAY BLACK BLUE YELLOW

Now, do that again – name the color of the word not the word itself:

RED YELLOW BLUE GREEN BLACK
PINK ORANGE BROWN GRAY PURPLE
GREEN GRAY BLACK BLUE YELLOW

How d’you go?

Do you notice it took longer to complete the second table test than the first?

The first test is easy because the color and meaning of the word are congruent. There is no conflict.  The second test is hard because the color and meaning of the word are incongruent. This creates a conflict that the brain has to resolve.  The brain has to suppress the wrong answer that interferes with the right answer, before the right answer comes through.

Good, eh?  And don’t you just love those two words:  congruent and incongruent?

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My Laptop Was Stolen – But No Swear Words

LaptopPosts have been few and far between of late for the simple reason that my laptop was stolen from my house, as was my external back up drive.

Once the shock had worn off, despair kicked in quickly followed by anger and then frustrated impotence.  Yes police were notified, yes I had serial numbers recorded but I knew all my work had gone.  For good.  Yes, I know I should have been more protective of my work but you never think that it will be stolen – or rather I didn’t but do now!   So the business of trying to re-create all that had been lost began and with one or two exceptions I am happy to say that things are back to normal now.

Resuming my posts on this poor, neglected website I was tempted to delve into the bowels of urban terminology and spew forth words of vitriol and venom;  obscenities, profanities and blasphemous bile to cleanse myself of the feelings of being violated that having someone invade one’s home brings.

But no, one must rise above such feelings and in doing so I comforted myself with other words more attuned to these pages.  The worst name I allowed myself to use for this Thief was Scumbag, which I think apposite in the circumstances.

Tea-leaf is a great London (I hesitate to say Cockney) term which conjures up images of the endearing Artful Dodger in Mr Dickens’ wonderful novel, Oliver Twist, so not as strong a term in these circumstances.

I also love Brigand, but again it is a word which is not really applicable to my situation having connotations of mountain or forest robbers, a la Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

The word I have settled on to placate my fevered brow then is also not truly germane to my particular theft, in that it usually relates to the misappropriation of monies held by someone in authority, but, notwithstanding, I am going to satisfy myself with Defalcator.  Now that sounds like having the matter thoroughly dealt with and I feel much the better for it, thank you.

burglar

 

 

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Absurd English Spelling – Ghoti is Fish

Fish

It has been said that it was George Bernard Shaw that first suggested that phonetics (the study of speech sounds) provided for the absurd English spelling of many words in our common usage.  To prove his point he demonstrated that it would be possible to spell the word “fish” as ghoti.

How come?  Well, the “gh” is found in the word “rough”, so there is the “f” sound;  the “o” is that of “women”; with the suffix “-tion” ‘ti’ providing the the “sh” sound.  GHOTI.

That amuses me considerably.

I am however completely flummoxed, if not completely confounded and bewildered to have read that a certain Mr Lloyd James, expert in phonetics has calculated that the word scissors could be spelt in no fewer than 596,580 different ways!

Scissors

I do not intend to attempt to find out.

 

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Words That Sound Beautiful – Sibilants and Aspirates

Never mind what the word actually means for a moment, it is time to concentrate on its sound and what those sounds conjure up in your mind when your hear them.

This is nothing to do with brothers and sisters!  Sibilant words are those that are sounded with a hiss.  My favourite words that sound beautiful in this manner are:

Wasps – You have to say it to sense it.   That gentle sounding ..sps  is brilliant.  (I do apologise to anyone that has a serious lisp however because that would be extremely difficult to get to grips with and also makes those in close proximity to the lisper to quickly erect umbrellas or duck for cover!)

Lisp – As mentioned above, an impediment of speech that disenables the speaker from pronouncing the letter S.  Instead the word comes out sounding “th”.  I knew a woman called Mrs Ippey that had all sorts of problems saying her name.

Gossamer – Not only does this word sound soft but the mind’s eye can surely see that downy, spider web-like material, light, floaty, blown away by the gentlest breath.  Linger on the “ss” sound to get the best effect and the “… amer” just tails away into the air.

Gossamer

Aspirate words are those where the sound of one’s breath forms the sound of the word.  Think of the word “where” itself.  It isn’t pronounced “ware” but with an expirated “wha”.  So, “whhh..air”.  Try it.  It’s a much lovelier pronunciation.

My favourite aspirated word, though, is where it is combined with the sibilant to produce Whisper.  You must say this word quietly.  You have no choice.  The onomatopoeic effect and the word-sound leaves one quite in need of a sit down and a gentle cup of Earl Grey.  Golly, I can just feel the little shiver down my spine as someone whispers “whisper” in my ear.

whisper 7

I go all unnecessary!

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Music Within Words – Symphonic Sounds

I Got The Music In Me, I Got The Music In Me

music 2

Now, I’m not talking of musical terms or song words, per se, but rather words which have a musical quality within them.  Words which resonate with music, where you can hear music within words.

We are almost back into the realms of Onomatopoeia with some, but not all,  of these sounds.  They all need to be sounded aloud vocally.  Go on, no-one’s listening:

Cadence & Cascade – sorry, my deference to King Crimson.  Who, you ask?  No, not The Who, King Crimson!  For those not old enough (and possibly English enough) to remember, they were a “Progressive Rock Band” of the late 60s/early 70s.

Clash – The sound of cymbals coming together

Ersatz – Yeah, that’s jazz, man.  Real meaning is subsititute or imitation but there ain’t no subsititute for jazz.

Euphemism – Undoubtedly it is the ‘euph” element that puts one in mind of a tuba or, more aptly, a euphonium.

tubaReally, a roundabout expression taking the place of a word that is too harsh or blunt, e.g. “pass away” for “die”.

Fanfare – The “fa-fah” of cornets heralding the start of something fantastical

Jejune – Pronounce the J as ‘dzjuh’, so ‘dzjeh dzjune’.  Soft brush on a snare drum.  Say it several times, gently.  Barren, poor, intellectually unsatisfying – I don’t think so!

Pizzicato -Can’t you just hear those violins being plucked with the fingers?

Syncopation – Fascinatin’ rhythm, bouncy.  Displaced beats.  Think ragtime:

 

Ukelele – Ukelele Lady, la la la.  If that ain’t musical I don’t know what is.

 

More words being added to the List.

Please check out the Word List page or leave your comment below.

 

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Elegant Sounding Words – Exquisiteness is Not Limited to Dress Sense

Elegant Not Decadent

For a lot of us, elegant sounding words are tied to the beautiful things that the Beautiful Things wear and there are lots of examples of elegant attire in movies and very often that correlates to the word decadence.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love that word (more on it in another post) but think of these movies to get my drift:

  • The Great Gatsby
  • Downton Abbey
  • Gosford Park
  • The Remains of the Day
  • A Room With a View

Buy any of them at Amazon.com

Dining_table_laid_at_Chatsworth_House

No, I want to move beyond the cinematic boundaries and suggest other words that have elegance contained within them or are suggestive of being elegant.  I have chosen just eight to start with:

Antique – Not as old as Antediluvian (see word list) and much more stylish.  Very often associated with furniture, the decorative arts, books and dowager duchesses – objects which are delicate and usually very expensive.

Charm – When a man today is charming others are wary, often thinking him a sleaze, a flatterer.  What an absolute shame when his signal intent is to delight or arouse admiration but I suppose  the negative connotation has been brought about by the duplicity of man in merely attempting to deceive rather than charm.  This is a word that requires further consideration.  It will be seen in these pages again.

Exquisiteness – The piquancy of a thing that is beautiful or delicate.  The word takes the object of beauty to its finest point of elevated discernment and appreciation

Gentility – Well-born ladies taking tea in the drawing room, occupied with chit-chat and cucumber sandwiches.

Grace – Fluidity of movement, languid and purposeful actions.  Elegance of proportion.  Pleasantness of manner and speech.  The aptly named Grace Kelly.

Noblesse – Of noble birth or standing.  Not necessarily nobility, per se, but of the privileged class or aristocracy

Refinement – Polished behaviour; having a discernment of taste; presenting a cultivated and civilized appearance.

Sauvity – Usually applies to gentlemen of charm (as defined) and sophistication.  Definitely think James Bond’s Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Daniel Craig et al and well tailored suits or  dinner jackets with bow ties.  Yes, I know, we’ve finished on dress but it’s hard not to with these chaps isn’t it?

One sad comment:  It is a poor reflection on our society of mediocrity that being elegant has become confused with being ‘sexy’ or ‘fashionable’.  Oh dear!

Adding the words to the list.

Feel free to post a comment.  I really would love you to do so.

 

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