Sunday, 3 April 2016

noisome cryptics

I was working my way through edition 121 of The Puzzle People's Cryptic Crosswords magazine. In puzzle number 60 one of the clues was:
'Small number is nothing to me, just offensive.' 


Small number could be 'no' - as in the shortened form of numero. Next, 'is'. Okay, getting there... what about 'nothing'. Well, that's usually a letter O, as used to represent 'zero'. Then 'me'.

Okay, I knew the answer would mean offensive, and I knew noisesome would fit the bill. Yet I had too many letters. But what if I took it exactly as the clue said: no-is-o-me.

At this stage I realised I've probably been mispronouncing noisome all my adult life. (But only in my head, when reading, because I can't recall ever actually using it in conversation.)

A look in the dictionary told me it's not noise-some, as I always thought. So, what's the etymology of this strange word I thought I knew but didn't?

According to this article in The Interpreter Magazine, I'm not alone in my confusion. (At least I did know the meaning, even if I didn't know how to spell it.)

I like the definition on this page, because it places the word noisome in its family of negatively weighted words, looking back to the earlier Latin origin:
1. Offensive, especially to the senses, as to arouse feelings of disgust or repulsion.
2. Extremely harmful or dangerous.
3. Etymology: from Middle English, noysome, "harmful, noxious", from noye, "harm, misfortune"; a shortened form of anoi, "annoyance"; from Old French anoier + -some. The meaning of "bad-smelling" was first recorded in 1577.

And I think I'll remember how to spell it now, because I'll think of it as an annoyance.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Discrete apartments in Ivanhoe

Yesterday must have been my day for stopping in my tracks when I saw horrible English on real estate advertisements. I've already posted about one in Heidelberg.

Here's a photo of a sign on a new development in the Ivanhoe shopping strip:

And a closeup so you can read some of it:

The residences will be discretely set behind a facade.

The Australian Macquarie Dictionary defines discrete as

adjective 1. detached from others; separate; distinct               2. consisting of or characterised by distinct or individual parts; discontinuous.
Given that it's a multi-storey development, it's amusing to visualise a series of disconnected residences. Sounds as if it will have to defy gravity. Maybe a development for the twenty-second century?
Did the writer perhaps mean the development will be discreetly set behind a facade of shops at ground level?

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

this is NOT English

Here's a sign in Heidelberg. The terrible prose doesn't fill the reader with confidence that the development will be of a high quality.

If you're going to spend money on a fancy sign, why not pay someone to edit your prose?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

organic or pretend organic?

Have a look at these bags of planting mix. Organic or just pretending to be organic?

My understanding of quotation marks around a noun means to be wary of the genuineness of the thing named. It implies irony in the use of the marked word.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online says:
 We also use single quotation marks to draw attention to a word. We can use quotation marks in this way when we want to question the exact meaning of the word:
I am very disappointed by his 'apology'. I don't think he means it.  
This Washington State University site on American usage discusses the same sort of thing I've noticed on the bag of planting mix:
There are many ways to go wrong with quotation marks. They are often used ironically: 
She ran around with a bunch of "intellectuals." 
The quotation marks around "intellectuals" indicate that the writer believes that these are in fact so-called intellectuals, not really intellectuals at all. The ironic use of quotation marks is very much overdone, and is usually a sign of laziness indicating that the writer has not bothered to find the precise word or expression necessary.  
Advertisers unfortunately tend to use quotation marks merely for emphasis: 
The influence of the more common ironic usage tends to make the reader question whether these tomatoes are really fresh. Underlining, bold lettering, all caps - there are several less ambiguous ways to emphasise words than placing them between quotation marks. 
I managed to overcome my initial reaction to this strange punctuation, and bought the product to plant my nice new Jonathan apple in enriched soil.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

beautys for sale

I did a double-take when I saw this sign outside a florist shop:

I thought they couldn't spell the plural form of beauty. When I walked on, and saw the other side of the sign, I smiled. It seemed the writer had hedged her bets. This time she'd added an apostrophe.

We had a discussion around the kitchen table that afternoon - as you do. I thought the plural of the trade name, Winter Beauty could be legitimately spelled as 'Beautys'. (BTW, my spell checker doesn't agree with me, but I've overruled it.) But the rest of the family disagreed.

Maybe if she'd spelled it with a capital letter - Beautys - I could have convinced my family. On the other hand, the label didn't use capitals.

And she spelled hellebore wrong, anyway.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

runcible gardening

For no known reason, on Friday I was thinking about runcible spoons, as I pottered in the garden. I thought I remembered that the word runcible was a nonsense invention by Edward Lear. I had been on a 'weed walk' led by Adam Grubb, and had bought a copy of his  book The Weed Forager's Handbook, but I don't see why that should have got me musing about runcible spoons. I was browsing Adam's book and came to the page about Sow Thistles. We have lots of this weed in our garden, so I thought I'd also read about the plant in a book I bought decades ago, Weeds of Forests, Roadsides and Gardens. I love comparing information, because it seems to help knowledge 'stick' in my head.

Since I don't have a background education in botany, I find the text in this latter book hard to understand. But when I read that the leaves of Sonchus oleraceus (sow thistle) are thin and runcinate, my attention sharpened.

So what, I asked myself, does runcinate mean? The Free Dictionary defines it as:
a leaf having incised margins with the lobes or teeth curved toward the base; as a dandelion leaf.
Now I wondered whether Lear's made-up word might have had some connection, even if subconscious on his part, with this botanical term. Was Lear a botanist? No. But he did illustrate natural history books, so it's possible he was familiar with the term runcinate.

The Guardian has a collection of suggested origins for the word that are much more likely than mine, but why shouldn't I, too, have fun imagining the mind of Edward Lear?

I've written about weeds previously. To me there's no such thing as a weed. They're just plants. Oh, maybe I'd make an exception for moth plants. I really don't like them. No, I shouldn't do that. They're just trying to make a living, like everything else in my garden.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

How do species relate to spices?

I find it interesting when I discover that similar-sounding words that seem to have unrelated meanings actually are related etymologically.

This week, when I was reading my newly purchased book, Herbs and Spices; the Cook's Reference, by Jill Norman, I discovered the relationship between the words specie, spice and species.

On page 9 she writes this about the word spices:
Again our word derives from Latin, where species meant specific kind but, in later use, goods or merchandise - spices certainly being an important commodity even at the time of the Romans.
This made me wonder about the expression payment in specie. I didn't know what it means, but I've read it in historical novels. says of the word specie:

coined money; coin.
in specie,
  1. in the same kind.
  2. (of money) in coin.
  3. in a similar manner; in kind:
    Such treachery should be repaid in specie.
  4. Law. in the identical shape, form, etc., as specified.

Collins English dictionary gives the origin of the phrase in specie as:
C16: from the Latin phrase in speciÄ“ in kind