Saturday, 22 December 2012

desire lines

I noticed this poster the other day.

I seem to recall that you have to encounter a word or expression a certain number of times before it enters your vocabulary. So perhaps desire line will soon become an everyday expression for me. I've come across the word twice now.

The last time I wrote about it I used the slightly different expression desire path, so I thought I'd better check out the definition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. They say:
The title Desire Lines refers to the wayward, improvised tracks created by walkers and others who defy the ways designed for them by urban regulators and councils. Sometime known as ‘goat trails’ they show the preferable path, and indicate our more maverick and intuitive navigations. 
Yes, that about describes the situation in Clifton Hill where the council seems determined to regulate our favorite short-cut out of existence.

It sounds like an interesting exhibition:
Extrapolating from this premise, the exhibition takes us on a number of unexpected journeys, unleashing many lines, both actual and conceptual, pragmatic and poetic. Geographies, geometries and g-force elements are all activated in works that form poetic encounters and memorable moments, as artists seek to follow their hearts, minds and navigational desires.
Including work by more than thirty artists, this international exhibition features important and seminal works by Samuel Beckett, Bruce Nauman, Lawrence Weiner and Richard Long, videos from the significant ArtAngel commission Seven Walks by renowned artist Francis Alÿs; new projects by Mel O’Callaghan, Steven Sutcliffe, Charlie Sofo and Dan Shipsides, rarely seen works by Pierre Bismuth, Marcel Broodthaers, A K Dolven and Catherine Yass and introduces many more new artists to Melbourne audiences.
Desire Lines will also feature several key performances, including
• British artist Dan Shipsides will create one of his renowned climbing based artworks on the exterior of the ACCA building.• Sydney artist Mel O’Callaghan will create a moving sculpture of rocks on ACCA’s forecourt.
Desire Lines – 15 December, 2012 to 3 March, 2013.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

bumping in

Mary has posted about the bump in of her art exhibition Suspension at Tinning Street Gallery.

That's a new expression to me - bump in. A check of the internet reveals that the phrases refers not only to the setting up of an art exhibition, but also the movement of  equipment in an out of a theatre.

It can also refer to a short duration advertisement before or after a program, the same site says.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

what is a quintile?

Today a family member asked me about a word in The Age newspaper - quintile. I asked her to read the sentence containing the word and she read:
The preliminary results showed the richest quintile of households received about 12 per cent of social assistance benefits while the second richest quintile got 11 per cent. 
I sounded like the word quartile, which I knew had something to do with quarters. [Here's the definition from Math Dictionary.] So I suggested quintile might relate to fifths.

And it does. The opening line of the article in The Age said:
The richest fifth of households receive nearly half of all the wages paid in Australia - but also get about 12 per cent of all government handouts, new research by the Bureau of Statistics show. 
Here's a more exact definition of the word from the Merriam-Webster 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

now I'm officially a word buff

I learn so much from my regular email from 'A Word a Day' that I've decided to contribute a little to this excellent organisation. So today I became an official 'Word Buff' and I received this multilingual thank-you note:
Thanks, merci (French), gracias (Spanish), dhanyawad (Hindi), danke(German), efharisto (Greek), toda (Hebrew), grazie (Italian), arigato (Japanese), gratias tibi ago (Latin), khawp khun (Thai), takk (Faroese), mahalo(Hawaiian), dziękuję (Polish), mulțumesc (Romanian), spasibo (Russian), salamat (Tagalog), shukran (Arabic), köszönöm (Hungarian), obrigado(Portuguese), děkuji (Czech), ďakujem (Slovak), dankon (Esperanto), ...

Sunday, 21 October 2012

more about the word misogyny

Further to yesterday's post about misogyny, misanthropism and misandry, I've noticed an article in The Sydney Morning Herald reporting that, since our Prime Minister's recent speech about misogyny, there are moves afoot to refine the meaning to reflect its modern usage.

The Macquarie Dictionary has announced it is broadening the definition of the word "misogyny".
As it stands, the reference book says misogyny is a hatred of women, the kind that's pathological.
But editor Sue Butler says it's time that changed to reflect what Ms Gillard really meant last week when she accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of sexism and misogyny during a speech to parliament.
Not that he needs a session on the psychiatrist's couch, but that he merely has an "entrenched prejudice against women".
That will be the official second definition in the next updated edition of the dictionary.
"We decided that we had the basic definition, hatred of women, but that's not how misogyny has been used for about the last 20, 30 years, particularly in feminist language," Ms Butler told ABC radio on Wednesday.
"Sexist does seem to be moving towards this description of surface features and misogynist applies to the underlying attitude."
It was the underlying prejudice that gave rise to these instances of sexism, Ms Butler said.
Misogyny was like sexism, with a "stronger edge to it".

Saturday, 20 October 2012

misogyny and misandry

This afternoon I asked a group of teenagers whether they had noticed any new words this week. I pointed out that a love of words would be very useful if they aim to improve their essay writing - which I assume they do, seeing they were spending a lovely sunny afternoon in an essay-writing class.

One student mentioned a word he'd heard bandied about in the world of Australian politics - 'Miss... miso... something like that,' he said.

Oh, misogyny.

Typical teacher that I am, I wrote it on the whiteboard and said that the prefix mis- relates to hatred. I added misanthropy to the board and said it relates to hatred of humans.

One of the boys frowned. He leaned forward, a mystified look on his face and asked how could a person, being human, hate humanity.

That's something to make me think. I did explain that it could be just a preference for the way other species deal with life, or it could be a dislike of humanity's actions, rather than outright hatred. But it's still a great question.

Another boy asked why anyone would hate women. Another very good question. One I couldn't answer. In an attempt to balance the discussion, I attempted to add 'hatred of men' to the list, but I'd forgotten what the word is.

I've looked it up now. The Merriam-Webster gives the word misandry. There's a discussion amongst commenters that this word is generally not known, compared to the almost universal understanding of misogyny.


Saturday, 13 October 2012

writers' blogs

Because I love words, I have swag of writers' blogs marked in my Google Reader. One of them is having a competition for Halloween. Just by telling the author your favorite horror creature, you might be able to win a copy of this suitably scary anthology. (Here's hoping it was permitted to pinch the image from the blog.)

You need to:
Just leave a comment naming your favourite or most unfavourite, real or made up, living or undead, horror creature. One word will do it, although feel free to wax lyrical on why you like, or despise, your chosen subject. Please, keep it nice though, or you will be deleted. You don't have to come up with a little known subspecies of Mesopotamian werewolf or an obscure Aztec revenant who haunts the world for all eternity. A bog standard comment like 'I rooly trooly heart zombz' will do, even if many others have already written this. You can even be specific and name names if you prefer e.g Dracula. Don't sweat it, just participate, then cross your fingers.

Head on over to Gitte Christensen's blog if you want to try your luck.

Monday, 1 October 2012

then or than?

It's interesting to observe a word changing its spelling. I think sooner or later we'll be spelling than as then.

On Sunday morning I was listening on my car radio to The Big Backyard, a gardening program. I might have misheard, but it seemed the presenter (I think her name was Millie) said 'then' in a sentence where I would have expected 'than'.

This is the first time I've noticed this usage in speech, and maybe I misheard.

However, it's quite a frequent written transposition. For instance, when I was at the Royal Melbourne Show recently, I say this sign:

Daily Writing Tips, like many other internet sites, explains the difference between the two words. Basically, 'then' is used for time-related concepts and 'than' for comparisons.

But... this video clip from the Merriam Webster Dictionary puts the cat amongst the pigeons! Apparently they were previously spelled the same and it's a relatively modern practice to treat them differently. And 'than' can be used in some time-related concepts.

The Online Etymology Dictionary dates the differentiation from about 1770.

So I say, don't worry about it if you're confused. Just tell the critics you're a traditionalist and prefer the older spelling.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

anthropomorphism of my garden plants

Further to my previous post about individualising my garden plants, here are a few more.

Meet Brad. Brad, like his celebrity namesake, is about 180 cm tall. He has had a hard life, since his birth in the early sixties, but keeps on keeping on. The massive lemon-scented eucalypt above him (hidden by the leaves of his companion, Lilly) has taken the limelight ever since Brad was planted, but he doesn't mind playing second fiddle (to mix my metaphors a little).

His variegated leafy shape provides a pretty contrast to the pink as-yet-unnamed succulents that sit by his side. To him they are just children, seeing they've only been in this world for about six years.

And this, on the right of the photo, is Myrtle, born in the early sixties and destined to grow in the shadow of a massive hundred-foot cypress hedge. Fortunately for Mytle, in the early nineties the huge trees were removed and she had room to reach for the sky, straightening her trunk in an amazing way and sending out strong new branches in the space where the cypresses had dominated.
She was joined by a young cousin at that time, seen here to Myrtle's left. That's Aggie.

every living thing has the right to a name

I remember long ago reading with my primary school classes a set of United Nations books about the Rights of the Child. One that always caused a great deal of discussion was article 7, that a child has a right to a name. Children who had never suffered the indignity of being known as a number were astonished that such a right needed to be explicitly stated.

I've been thinking of that right, since I caught a snippet of an interview  by Phillip Adams on Late Night Live of Cormac Cullinan, an environmental lawyer. Here are the program notes:

Cormac Cullinan has practised, taught and written about environmental law and policy since 1992. He says that there is a fundamentally misconceived belief that humans are separate from and superior to nature, and that the single and most important thing to consider for our survival is how to re-think our understanding of law and governance so that we can use it to govern humans in a way that will benefit the whole Earth community, and thereby ourselves.  

One thing that struck me - in the short section of the program I heard - was the idea that by turning living things into objects to be owned, we divorce ourselves from our interdependence with them. Think slavery.

This made me think about my garden. I walked around it with a gardener recently, hoping she would agree to work with me to help me maintain it. (She will.) She was quite taken with the fact that I could tell her the history of every plant in our yard. I remember the year the garrya elliptica was planted, the agonis flexuosa, the poor dwarfed variegated pittosporum struggling for life under the drip line of the tallest eucalypt for ten kilometres around. (All 1963). 

I remember the planting of every shrub, most herbs and even the blades of grass. I feel a connection with them, I sigh for them in the heat of summer drought and I vicariously drink the life-giving raindrops that fall on them in a wet season.

Now I've decided to name them, seeing we humans relate best to living creatures with an individual name. Here's a quote from a psychology article with a brief overview of this tendency, anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism carries many important implications. For example, thinking of a nonhuman entity in human ways renders it worthy of moral care and consideration. 

Okay, so here's my first name:

Meet Garry.

Garry was born in Melbourne, Australia, far from his ancestral homeland in the United States. He had many good years growing up in the sixties, seventies and even eighties, but fell into bad health in the nineties and the early years of the twentieth century, as drought settled upon his adoptive family. With good rains in the first years of the second decade of the twentieth century, he has taken on a new lease of life.

Monday, 24 September 2012

bilingualism for Aboriginal Australians

When I went to the Royal Melbourne Show today - great fun - I was given a free copy of the Herald Sun newspaper. When I read it, I was quite surprised to read an article by Andrew Bolt criticising the push to maintain indigenous languages through a bilingual approach to language education. He suggested that such a system would result in Aboriginal people who could speak only their 'native tongue'. Among other things, he said:

For them [young Aborigines out bush], no English means no future...[English is] the one language they need to save themselves from a life on welfare...

Firstly, it isn't self-evident that not speaking English means a person has no future. Secondly, bilingual education should result in people who speak two languages well.

It's strange, but Mr Bolt didn't seem to acknowledge the meaning of the prefix bi-. My understanding is that it means two. So an efficient education system would teach two languages, not just one.

The Macquarie Online Dictionary defines bilingual:
adjective 1. able to speak two languages with approximately equal facility.

Later in the article Bolt said:
In particular, the committee [the federal Parliament's standing committee on indigenous affairs] want bilingual education for Aboriginal children, in the teary-eyed hope that somehow finding competent teachers who can teach, say, maths in Pitjantjatjara or Pintupi will help children learn better English, too.
Just how such unusually qualified and effective teachers could be found, no one really knows.
This is a strange misunderstanding of how bilingual education works. It's not necessary that the speakers of each language teach every subject area. My sister worked in two different bilingual programs in suburban Melbourne. She doesn't speak either of the non-English languages. It was her job to teach in English, and she focused on certain subjects - for instance, one year she taught English, science, social studies and Physical Education. In other words, she taught half the curriculum.

Mr Bolt's not an educator, so perhaps he is unaware of the body of research that shows bilingual education usually results in more competence in both languages. One language is not learned at the expense of the other.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

How do we define the age we live in?

We're apparently in the post-literate age, as I said yesterday. Now I discover we're in the post-authentic age also. 

And recently I heard former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in conversation with Frank Brennan, suggest Australia might be in the post-Christian era.

It seems the prefix post is very popular these days.

I wonder what age we're actually in? Are we in the pre-something age? 

Maybe we're in the pre-compassionate age. How lovely. I look forward to a time when we can be judged by how we treat the defenceless and weak amongst us. 

The following quotes, collected by PamPerdue at Askville, give a history of great thoughts about compassion to humans:

Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.~Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973), My Several Worlds [1954].

The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.~Samuel Johnson, Boswell: Life of Johnson

The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.~John E. E. Dalberg, Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, [1877].

"...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. " ~ Last Speech of Hubert H. Humphrey

"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." ~ Mahatma Ghandi

"Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members -- the last, the least, the littlest." ~Cardinal Roger Mahony, In a 1998 letter, Creating a Culture of Life

The greatness of America is in how it treats its weakest members: the elderly, the infirm, the handicapped, the underprivileged, the unborn. ~Bill Federer

"A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying," ~Pope John Paul II

Are we, perhaps, approaching an age when we realise our fellow creatures also suffer if we mistreat them?  

Another respondent at Askville gives a different quote from Ghandi, and this is the one I had previously heard:
 "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man."

I look forward to The Age of Compassion! 

Saturday, 22 September 2012

are we past the need for words?

I heard part of a radio debate the other day as I was driving around. The topic was whether the pen is mightier than the brush.

I heard Ben Eltham, arts writer for speaking for the brush, and he said something to the effect that we are in the post-literate age. (I'm not sure of the exact wording, but you can listen to the whole debate here.)

Even though he spoke well and made his points clearly, I wasn't convinced that our world is moving away from words.

On the other hand, I've just received a link from a friend to a video in Chinese showing how to separate a yolk from the white of an egg.  It's a great technique and I'm going to try it next time I need to perform that task.

I watched the video and understood not one word of the explanation, but the pictures conveyed the meaning in a universal way.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

words we don't have in English

I've been noticing the word renowned all over the place, since I posted about its use.

I wondered if there's a word in English to describe the way we start to take notice of a phrase or object once we get sensitised to it. I feel there is a term for this experience, but I can't think of it. Perhaps I've seen it in a psychology book.

Being an inquisitive person, I looked around the Internet trying to find such a word. I had no success. But I did come across a great site with lists of words from other languages that we might wish we had in English.

I loved most of them, but one will certainly have to enter my vocabulary right now. The Scottish word tartle describes:
  The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name. 
A further search finds lots of references to this word, but the only authoritative one I could find was the Collins Dictionary,  where someone has submitted it for consideration as a new word. It is marked 'under consideration'.

I've taken ages to write this post because I've been roaming around the Net looking at lists of great words we should have. Here's another list I particularly like.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

more about the word 'renowned'

No sooner had I posted about the strange use of renown where I'd expect to see renowned, than I came across this usage on one of my favorite blogs - Medieval News:

A monster of sadism, duplicity and cunning, much worse than bad king John, more cruel than Henry VIII and less fit than Charles I for the English throne, Richard III is by far the most reviled entry in a catalogue of sovereigns not exactly renowned for their grace, distinction, or humanity.
I hope the time has come for Richard's name to be cleared of the unjustified disrepute heaped on him by that Tudor propagandist, William Shakespeare. (Yes, I know Will - whoever he was - wrote fantastically interesting and brilliant plays, poems, and so on, but he sure did a disservice to Richard III.)

What's happened to the word 'renowned'?

Lately I've noticed people using the word renown as an adjective. Here's an example from The Age newspaper today:
A western suburbs real estate agent who rorted more than $156,000 from the ANZ bank in a property scam has asked for his licence not to be revoked - on the novel grounds that he is an internationally renown accordion player who often performs for charity. 
I've been mystified as to why such a strange mistake would arise. At first I thought it was a typo, but I've seen it too often for that to be the case.

To me it's weird. After all, I would think the word renowned is an adjective, formed from a past participle. I can't see why you might insert a noun where the structure of the sentence calls for  an adjective.

But when I think about it, I don't know any verb 'to renown' or 'to renow'. So I looked around the Net.

A discussion at suggests that people may be comparing 'renown' with known (which has me wondering how they pronounce it).

  The Online Etymology Dictionary says:
c.1300, from Anglo-Fr. renoun, O.Fr. renon, from renomer "make famous," from re- "repeatedly" + nomer "to name," from L. nominare "to name." The M.E. verb renown has been assimilated to the noun via renowned "famous, celebrated" (late 14c.).
If it's a verb, I suppose it's transitive, so you might say, His fans renowned him. (They named him repeatedly.)

After all that thinking, I've come to the conclusion that I still think the sentence in today's Age newspaper should have said, '...that he is an internationally renowned accordion player.'

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

bananas can grow and ripen in Melbourne

For weeks I've walked past a house in Melbourne with a banana plant in the front yard.  Not many people grow them here, because it's thought the climate is too cold. However, I had heard that's not true, so it didn't seem so very out of the ordinary. 

But this plant had fruit  on it. And that's rare so far south.

So today, when I noticed the bunch had disappeared, I just had to open the front gate, walk up the path and knock on the door to ask whether the fruit had ripened.

And it had! I wouldn't have thought the tail-end of a cold winter was the time to harvest a tropical fruit.
Not only did the lady who came to the door answer my question, but she gave me a banana to take home.

As you can see, it was only about nine centimetres (3 1/2 inches) long. But it was delicious, sweeter than the bananas we buy from the shop.

My dog, Penny loves bananas, but she didn't get any of this precious one.

We sometimes like to joke that Penny goes bananas for bananas. I wondered where the expression comes from. The origin of the phrase is unclear. Some say that it relates to the old expression to go ape, because of the connection with apes eating bananas. There's a theory that it might be connected to the myth that eating banana skins can give a hallucinogenic experience.

World Wide Words says the phrase to go bananas dates only from the 1960s.
What of to go bananas? It burst upon the world in the 1960s and became a fashionable, not to say faddish, term in the 1970s. Its heyday is over, perhaps thankfully so. But nobody seems to have any very clear idea where it came from. Was the idea of something bent at the root of it, so that a person was being driven mentally out of shape? Or was there a mental image of an over-excited ape clamouring for his daily feast? Or was it a more subtle image connected with the older phrase to go ape or evento go nuts? You can go crazy thinking about this stuff.

By the way, in researching this topic, I've been reassured that bananas are okay for dogs to eat. (There's a good photo of a banana plant at the ASPCA site.)

Saturday, 1 September 2012

dancing the dishes

Having a set of bowls like these could make washing the dishes a pleasure. (Note I said 'could'. I'm not sure this task is ever enjoyable.)

I love the fact that these Polish homewares come in a range of colors that go delightfully together, because I think it's fun to have different patterns in my set.

I did already have some bowls, but we were expecting family to share dinner with us yesterday, so I dashed off to The Cup and Mug and bought three more.

As I was chatting to the owner of the business  I realised one of the patterns has polka dots on it.

 The word polka, according to Polish Language Blog on Transparent Language, means Polish woman:
Theories on the origin of the polka have been well explored before. Briefly, the music and dance are of Bohemian (Czech) origin. It was called the polka either after the Czech word for “half” in reference to the dance’s characteristic half-step, or in sympathy for the Poles’ 1830 uprising. The very word “polka” means Polish woman in the Polish language. One theory says that it may have been a Polish folk dance borrowed by the Bohemians. Another says it has Gypsy roots. Some say it can even be traced to a single person, a Bohemian girl named Anicka Chadimova.
I like my Polish 'Polish woman' bowl. (I like the others too.)

Friday, 31 August 2012

origin of the call coo-ee

I received an email today called Coo-e-News. I think that's a clever title for the newsletter, because it's about Indigenous Community Volunteering, which relates to the word coo-ee, and it's online, so it's an example of e-News.

I'm rather embarrassed to admit that until I went to the Napoleon Exhibition in Melbourne a couple of days ago, I hadn't given any thought to the origin of 'coo-ee', this typically Australian word.

The Napoleon Exhibition was bound to be enjoyable, because of the fascination of this powerful historic figure. But for Australians it's particularly worth a visit because of the focus on Napoleon and Josephine's interest in the exploration of Australia. To me, as a lover of word origins, it was interesting to read that the first recording of the cry 'coo-ee' was made by a Frenchman.

 The Free Dictionary defines cooee as
a call used to attract attention, esp (originally) a long loud high-pitched call on two notes used in the Australian bush vb cooees, cooeeing, cooeed, cooeys cooeying, cooeyed (intr) to utter this call n Austral and NZ informal calling distance (esp in the phrase within (a) cooee (of)) [from a native Australian language]
This article on the website of The State Library of New South Wales explains:
Francis Barrallier (1773-1853) was one of the colony's earliest French settlers. Escaping to England with his parents when Napoleon took Toulon in 1793, Barrallier embarked on the Speedy to join the NSW Corps in November 1799, reaching Sydney in April 1800... Napoleon ordered the Baudin expedition, 1800-1804, to conduct a survey of the Australian coastline... Barrallier also took an enlightened interest in the local Aboriginal people and he is believed to have first recorded the Aboriginal call 'coo-ee' which Pierre-Francois Bernier (1779-1803), astronomer to the Baudin expedition (1800-1804), set to musical notation.

I began to wonder which indigenous language was the origin of this word. Various languages are suggested on internet sites, but Richard White at the University of Sydney says it was a surprisingly widespread usage at the time of European arrival in Australia.
Aborigines had used it in various ways, but the remarkable thing is that it seems to have had widespread use throughout Australia, spreading well beyond normal linguistic borders (Hunter had recorded it in NSW, Flinders in Western Australia, Tasman - possibly - in Van Diemen’s Land). Less remarkable when the cooee is acknowledged as a communication and navigational technology, a superbly effective forerunner of GPS, rather than as a word, which Europeans persisted in reading it as.

The article ends by saying that although the word has played a major role in the rise of Australian national sentiment, it is unfashionable nowadays. White adds, 'I was surprised to discover that the vast majority of Australian students in my Australian History class had cooeed in the bush at least once.'

I've cooeed. It's fun. (You have to do it in the bush for the best effect.) 

 If you'd like to hear it, you could listen to this podcast.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Plumb puddings or plum puddings?

Today I visited the Napoleon exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. It was presented in a fascinating way so that visitors had a sense of experiencing the story of the French Revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon.

 Having a keen interest in words, I was surprised to see a James Gillray cartoon from 1805 titled The Plumb Pudding in Danger. It is a caricature of the English Prime Minister of the time, William Pitt, slicing up the world, sharing with Napoleon Bonaparte.

 The modern spelling of this dish is plum pudding. I've never taken notice of the fact that there are no plums in it. So I wondered whether the spelling plumb is a more accurate one.

  The Free Dictionary quotes the Farlex Trivia Dictionary:
plum pudding - So named because it was originally made with plums—the word was retained to denote "raisin," which became the main ingredient.
An article from The West Australian newspaper Sat 31 December 1935 refers to an eighteenth century recipe for a boiled 'plumb pudding'.

What's Cooking America , giving an overview of the history of the name, says there were never plums in plum pudding.

In researching this post I became aware of another thing I've never paid attention to - we use the word prune to refer to dried plums. The Online Etymology Dictionary says plum comes from the Latin pruna, and that the change of Latin pl words to pr is unique to the Germanic languages:

plum (n.) Look up plum at Dictionary.comO.E. plume, early Germanic borrowing (cf. M.Du. prume, O.H.G. phruma, Ger. Pflaume) from V.L. *pruna, from L. prunum "plum," from Gk. prounon, later form of proumnon, from an Asiatic language. Change of pr- to pl- is unique to Germanic. Meaning "something desirable" is first recorded 1780, probably in reference to the sugar-rich bits of a plum pudding, etc.
The prunus trees that are so lovely and so useful in our gardens include the plum, of course, but I also love cherries and apricots.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

origin of the phrase 'rule of thumb'

At a workshop today about edible weeds, we discussed the danger of tasting unknown plants, and the group agreed that it would be generally safe to try a tiny piece of foliage from a plant. (But I guess it would be most unfortunate if anyone tried that on a poisonous toadstool.)

One participant said he'd heard the phrase 'rule of thumb' originates from the idea that it's fairly safe to try a piece of leaf that's smaller than a man's thumb.

I can't see any references to this origin on the Internet. In fact, it seems more likely that the phrase comes from the use of the thumb as a rough measure of length. Wikipedia points out:
 The use of a single word or cognate for "inch" and "thumb" is common in many other Indo-European languages, for example, Frenchpouce inch/thumb; Italianpollice inch/thumb; Spanishpulgada inch, pulgar thumb;Portuguesepolegada inch, polegar thumb; Swedishtum inch, tumme thumb; Sanskritangulam inch, anguli finger; SlovakpalecSlovenepalec inch/thumb, Czechpalec inch/thumb.
By the way, it was a great workshop. I as I've said before and before and before, our thinking often depends on the words we use. If I call this lovely little plant a weed, it might irritate me to see it growing in my garden.

But if I call it a herb, or even a potherb, or just plain old 'food', then it's a different story. I think it's chickweed, but I'm not sure enough to say so straight out. I'd better sign up for another weed workshop, or perhaps I should consult Doris Pozzi's handbook of edible weeds. (She presented the workshop.) 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

I could have gained a few points on Randling tonight

What is a 'desire path'? That was the question on Randling tonight. And I knew the answer!
As The Bette Davis Cup Squad correctly answered, it's a shortcut, an unofficial path worn through parkland, made by people refusing to use the official path.

I wouldn't have known the word except that someone put up a sign saying, 'We want our desire path', when our favorite exit from Quarries Park was blocked off.

Friday, 20 July 2012

endangered languages

Today I read about an interesting online site aimed at gathering information about endangered languages around the world. I had a look at it and noticed that the indigenous languages around my own state, Victoria in Australia, were marked as 'vitality unknown'. I suppose that doesn't mean they're necessarily in more danger than other languages. Maybe it simply means the information is not available.

I think this is a wonderful project. I hope the use of modern technologies can turn back the tide of language loss.

It was fun to listen to native speakers of different languages. So far I've listened to Cherokee and to what a presume is a Hawaiian language.

Of course, what is simply fun for me is vitally important for others. I wish the project well!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

nestlé's milk - how do we say this brand name?

Bright in Victoria is beautiful in the winter, if the sun shines and not a cloud appears in the sky, as was the case when I was there recently.

The Old-Fashioned Lolly Shop was one of the highlights as far as I was concerned. I felt as if I had revisited Britain, as I browsed the array of fudges. I love fudge!

Because I enjoy pictures of dogs, my eye was caught by this lovely reproduction post-card and I bought it. 

It's interesting to think they were advertising the richness of the milk in those days. Today we're always on the look-out for milk that tastes great but has reduced fat.

The shopkeeper - who looked great in old-fashioned costume -  agreed with me that he would probably say the brand-name Nestlé as nest-uhls, as was the usual way when we were young.

Looking around the Internet to see how other people say it, I came across this thread. It seems it's still a debatable question as to whether it's nest-uhls, or ness-lee, or even nesslay.

I'd agree with the following British take on it:
It was always ness-uhlz when I was young, and, to the very very slight extent that I'm called on to say the word today, that is how I say it now. It was most notably heard in the jingle "Ness-uhlz Milky Bar (The Milky Bars are on me!)". Never heard it in the "singular": Nessul. We tend to like our esses on the end of store names: Woolworths, Marks and Spencers, etc., and for some reason the same always went for "Nestles" and some brands. No one in Britain seemed to have noticed the é until relatively recently, but I do understand that we are now expected to pronounce it.
I'll have to research what people are saying around me. All I have to do is mention Nestlé's condensed milk, I reckon, and tell them I love eating it straight from the tin, and I'll get a conversation going. (My friend from Argentina boils it up in the tin before eating it. Yumm!)

Sunday, 8 July 2012

oh for the normalcy of a normal word!

I received an email today asking about the difference between the words normality and normalcy. (Thanks for the suggestion!)

I didn't know, so I had a look in the Oxford Dictionary and found they are acceptable forms based on the word normal.  Of course, I wanted to know more about it, because I would never use the word 'normalcy', and I found a discussion in which it was thought that 'normalcy' is an American usage and 'normality' an English usage.

On the other hand, the online Macquarie dictionary (Australian English) says:
normalcy:   noun     the character or state of being normal; normality: back to normalcy.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says:
normalcy (n.) Look up normalcy at
1857, from normal + -cy. Associated since c.1920 with U.S. president Warren G. Harding and derided as an example of his incompetent speaking style. Previously used mostly in a mathematical sense. The word prefered by purists for "a normal situation" is normality (1849).

Language Corner has more about the Warren Harding connection, saying the word was avoided in the past in the US but is now  acceptable.

After consideration, I think I'll stick to using the word 'normality'.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

weeds and wildflowers

In yesterday's post I wrote about the difference one word can make to our thinking. Weed? Herb?

If it's a weed we worry about it. (Maybe). If it's a herb we think of it as useful.

If it's an indigenous wildflower, however, it becomes even more pleasant to look at. Take the lovely oxalis pes caprae, for instance. As I searched the Net for information about this plant, I needed to click through dozens of pages of negativity about it before I came to this lovely shot of the delicate little plant growing where it should, looking lovely in its natural surroundings.

In my garden it's equally attractive but I'm trying to get rid of it, because it's so invasive that it stops other plants from flourishing.

The other plant that flourishes in my garden and out-competes my native grasses is panic veldt grass, also from South Africa.

But I guess it's a matter of give and take, because if I read the contents page of a book I brought home from a trip to South Africa, what do I see? 

I see that our Australian plants are invading South Africa.

Weed, wildflower - once again the word we choose is determined by the circumstances surrounding the named object. 

Friday, 29 June 2012

One woman's weed is another woman's herb

Oxalis pes caprae. A weed. So hard to get rid of. One of my problems with it is that it comes up through other plants. The other problem, of course, is that it has little bulbils on the underground tuber and if I pull it out, these grow into new plants.

But what if I try the technique I wrote about once before, renaming it so I can see it in a different light? After all, words have the power to change our thinking.

I decided to think of the oxalis plants as mulch, food for the soil. I pulled them out and simply threw them down. (Yes, I know I may find I have multiplied the problem for next year, but let's worry about that in  2013.)

After all, what's a weed, anyway? I'm sure somewhere in the world, the big-leaved plant we value as Warrigal greens is settling in nicely as a weed in a place where it's not wanted. (Yes, they don't like it in California.)

Here's a book I bought in Greece, many years ago:

I'm sure Greeks like their 'Aghriospanakia herb (Chenopodium Album L) - the book says it can be eaten boiled and seasoned with salt and butter. 

But if you look in an Australian book, it's a weed.

And now, of course, I just can't resist ending with a quote from Shakespeare:
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)