Thursday, 28 April 2022

what a rigmarole!

 I was visiting a blog called Misadventures of Widowhood and wanted to comment. In one of those mysterious internetty-occurrences, I had to sign out of Blogger in order to make my comment and I wrote about the rigmarole involved. 

Well, I had thought I was going to use that term, but after trying rigamarole, rigmorale, rigmorole, I had to admit to myself that I didn't know how to spell this word. 

It's one of those words that you say and think you know, but in the end have little idea of its origin. For me, knowing the history of a word helps the spelling stick in my head. So I visited Mental Floss to see what I could discover.

I enjoyed reading that site's take on the history of the word.

A visit to gives lots of definitions and histories for the term. 

Hopefully, after writing this post I might remember how to spell it.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

a frantic start to 2022

 I titled this post as if I'm frantically running around on the first day of 2022, but obviously I'm actually sitting at my computer doing nothing special. 

However, seeing it's a new year, I thought I'd like to resume writing posts - perhaps only occasionally. 

As my new puppy was racing past after pinching yet another sock from the dirty clothes basket, she seemed rather frenetic. And then I wondered if that's the same as being frantic.

It seems the two words come from the same historical roots, with the underlying concept of a mind gone mad. Well, in human terms stealing items of clothing and chewing on them might seem crazy, but I'll  bet to a puppy it makes sense.

I think the concept of 'affected by wild excitement' might fit the bill.

I enjoyed reading this blog post.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

 I noticed a sign locally saying 'Mercedes Benz' and wondered if there would be any connection in the 'Benz' part with the word 'benzine'. A quick search of The Online Etymology Dictionary came up with the word spelled as 'benzene', but as having been coined by the chemist  Eilhardt Mitscherlich as 'Benzin'. He had obtained it from a distillation of benzoic acid.

On Quora there's a reliable-looking answer that says benzine is the obsolete spelling of benzene. However, the Macquarie Australian dictionary has it with both spellings.

I'm feeling a bit silly about this, because I actually thought benzine was another word for petrol (gas, in the US). At least I now know the word has no connection to Mercedes Benz and it means:

a colourless, volatile, flammable, liquid, aromatic hydrocarbon, C6H6, obtained chiefly from coal tar, and used as a solvent and in chemical synthesis. (Definition from The Macquarie  Dictionary)

But it still lurks in my subconscious that there's some connection, given that the German word for ''the petrol' is  'das Benzin'. Well, at least this should help me remember the gender of that word - neuter. I always find it tricky to remember what gender German nouns are. 

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Just a jiffy

This morning, on ABC Radio Melbourne, the presenter was having fun with 'useless facts'. I love useless information, because it's never actually useless.

They talked about the word jiffy. It turns out that this term has a couple of specific meanings, apart from its handiness in referring to an indeterminate short period of time. I looked around on the Net and found this link to its meaning in physics, chemistry and computer science.

I've arrived at the stage of life where there's not much room in my brain for new information, so I'll leave it to you to follow the link and discover this not-useless fact.

It's believed the word has been in use since at least the late eighteenth century.  The English Language and Usage site quotes it in a text from 1780. The lengthy discussion on the site also mentions the variant jiffin from 1767.

The Phrase Finder says the coiner of the word jiffy did not refer to a specific item that epitomised quickness, but to me this seems strange. There's never a totally random nature to the coining of a new word. I notice that in the examples given of idioms of similes that do refer to an existing item that was known to be speedy, one is 'as fast as greased lightning.'

This gels with what was said on The English Language and Usage site - that jiffy was originally a thieves' cant term for lightning.

It beats me why thieves would have needed a secret word for lightning. But that's language for you - interesting and mysterious.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

New Year, new post

First post of 2020 - hopefully not the only one!

Many months ago, a bothersome sales rep managed to corral me into listening to his spiel about a body lotion, and the small sachet he gave me as a sample has been sitting on my chest of drawers, waiting for me to use it. (I'm not going to waste it, because I'm a fanatic about making use of all the world's resources, even a three-centimetre square packet of body lotion.)

Today I noticed the wording on it:

My decades-old schoolgirl French suggested that the word Lavande has something to do with washing, so I looked up the origin of lavender at The Online Etymology Dictionary.

Sure enough, I had remembered correctly (reassuring, at my age, to know my memory still works).

Here's what it said:

lavender (n.)"fragrant plant of the mint family," c. 1300, from Anglo-French lavendre, Old French lavendre, "the lavender plant," from Medieval Latin lavendula "lavender" (10c.), perhaps from Latin lividus "bluish, livid". [This was followed by a  referral to a link for the word livid,  in relation to whether livid means purple-colored or pale-colored.]  If so it probably was associated with French lavande, Italian lavanda "a washing" (from Latin lavare "to wash;" from PIE root *leue- "to wash") because it was used to scent washed fabrics and as a bath perfume.

So far, interesting, but nothing I hadn't expected. However, the next bit fascinated me: 

The adjective meaning "of a pale purple color, of the color of lavender flowers" is from 1840; as a noun in the color sense from 1882. An identical Middle English word meant "laundress, washerwoman;" also, apparently, "prostitute, whore; camp follower" and is attested as a surname from early 13c.

So, the usual disparity in use of language for female activities compared to male ones. 
And I had to spare a thought for those women who followed medieval armies. Not only did they have to provide sexual favours to their 'protectors', but had to wash the soldiers' dirty clothes too!
The Grammarphobia blog has a discussion of this word also, and it's a great read. In part, it says:
But no, the obsolete “lavender” that means a washerwoman is probably not related to the other “lavender,” the plant that produces the fragrant pale-purple flowers.
The botanical word “lavender” (later also used for the scent and the color) came into English before 1300 from Anglo-Norman and Old French (lavandre), the OED saysThe original source was a medieval Latin word for the plant, first spelled livendula (or perhaps lividula), and later lavendula. As the OED explains, some etymologists think the ultimate source may be the classical Latin adjective lividus (bluish, livid).
If so, the two “lavenders” aren’t etymologically connected, though they later became associated because of the use of lavender perfumes, oils, and dried flowers in caring for linens.
I came across an article called 'Sex and the Soldier in Lancastrian Normandy, 1415 to 1450,' with lots of information about attitudes towards women who travelled with armies, and although I didn't resolve my confusion about the etymology of the two words, I enjoyed reading it. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Surprising origin of the word grotesque

Sitting in the waiting room at my doctor's surgery, I read an article in an old edition of National Geographic and was surprised to learn the origin of the word grotesque.

The article was a revisiting of the life and achievements of the emperor Nero, a bad guy by anyone's measure, but apparently a man with an artistic vision that resulted in an amazing palace, one largely open for the common people to stroll around the grounds.

He built a huge palace that took up a large portion of the Roman city (land available because of the infamous fire that he may or may not have instigated.)

Subsequent emperors appear to have hated Nero so much that they literally buried Nero's palace. One report said some areas were filled with sand, which is why the interior was preserved so well, at least until the fifteenth century.

For fifteenth century artists, it was a popular pilgrimage to be lowered into the cave-like interior of the buried palace to look at the frescoes on the ceilings. Apparently the fill of rubble meant that these early visitors were standing up near the ceiling, and could touch the painted surfaces.

They were so taken with the paintings that they reproduced many of the motifs of these grotesque (i e from a cave or grotto) artworks in their own work. I guess if we did our homework we could figure out where to see them, probably some in the Vatican, I suppose.

The Online Etymology Dictionary writes that this suggested origin of the word grotesque is generally accepted.

Here are a few links that I've just enjoyed looking at.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

opposite of widdershins

A friend and I  were sharing a nice pot of tea in a new teashop in Ivanhoe today and she made sure to turn the teapot a few times before pouring the first cup. We both agreed it's traditional to turn the pot widdershins.

In preparing this post, I had a quick look around the internet and came across a hilarious conversation on reddit about pot-turning. Here's one of the comments (obviously tongue-in-cheek):

It's well-known that the tea plant absorbs minerals into the leaf as it gets more mature, thus the higher amount of fluoride in mature leaf as opposed to young buds. High quality tea is often made from the leaf of very old plants, which have absorbed many of the minerals from the soil.
Some of those are ancient ferrous minerals. This means that the dried tea leaf is slightly magnetic. When the water is initially added, the leaf is jumbled every which way. However with the turning of the pot, it allows the ferrous minerals in the leaf to align with the magnetic pole, much like a simple compass made of a magnetized needle on top of a floating cork.
Once the tea leaf is aligned magnetically, the tea itself becomes much more harmonious with nature. You don't want to be drinking tea where it's magnetically pointing every which way as it goes into your stomach! If the earth's magnetic poles were to suddenly flip (which it is due to do any century now) it could result in the tea in your stomach also flipping, causing mild indigestion.
And that is why you rotate the pots.
I'll admit that, although we had our traditional-old-fashioned-tea-drinker hats on, I did pull out my mobile phone so we could check the opposite of widdershins.
My friend thought it was something like diesel.

She was correct in general about the word, but there were different spellings —deosil, deasil, deiseil, to name a few.

Here's a discussion about these two words. If you're like me, it will leave your mind whirling, but when the tealeaves-of-information settle to the bottom of the pot, you'll perhaps know why my mother told me to always turn the pot widdershins before pouring.

I'll admit I'm none the wiser.

But it was a lovely cuppa in a nice shop, with ribbon sandwiches, good company and a delicious glass of trifle to finish.