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)

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Narbethong - a cheerful place

Recently I walked with my dog on a track near Narbethong. As usual, I wondered about the origin of this place name.

Housenameheritage says the word means cheerful place, in one of the many indigenous languages of Australia, but unfortunately it doesn't say which Aboriginal language. I thought of looking at a map I have of indigenous groupings before European settlement, but there are so many language groups for Victoria that I didn't feel confident I could work it out.

A further search came up with the information that it said to be from  Woiwurrung (or Daungwurrung) language, but there is some uncertainty whether that is correct.

How good it would be to live in a place named for its cheerfulness. (Of course, we will always remember the tragedy of the 2009 bushfires).

At any rate, Penny and I had a cheerful time, even if she did get covered in mud.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

the meaning of suave

After I listened to a gardening program on the radio last weekend, I told a friend  I'd figured out that the word suave must mean 'sweet'. She didn't believe me. She felt sure it means 'smooth'. I began to doubt my detective work, because I also thought it had that meaning.

I'd come up with the idea of 'sweet' because the gardening expert, in referring to mentha suaveolens, said, 'As the name suggests, it has a sweet smell'.

Now that I've looked around the Net to check up the meaning, I'm pleased to say I was correct in my guess. A website about acacia suaveolens specifically explains the Latin meaning of the word suaveolens.

And then the lyrics of an old tune popped into my head.

The sweet scented wattle sheds perfume around,
Delighting the bird and the bee,
While I lie and take rest in my fern covered nest
In the shade of the currajong tree.
High up in the air I can hear the refrain
Of a butcherbird piping his tune
For the spring in her glory has come back again
To the banks of the reedy lagoon.

I always thought the song referred to any wattle with a sweet scent, but perhaps it's specifically about acacia suaveolens, 'the sweet scented wattle'.

There's a different version of the lyrics here, with the interesting explanation that the words were probably originally composed in the nineteenth century by a young man working as a jackaroo, who would have been expected to sing for the squatter's family in the evening.

And, as a bonus for my research, I now know that the mystery plant in my garden is variegated apple mint (mentha suaveolens variegata).

Saturday, 16 June 2012

powerful words

Stop - a powerful word that brings the traffic to a halt.

Some anonymous but passionate person has used its impact to make a strong statement about the need for Australia to halt the dreadful torment of live animals being sent on hellish ships to die horribly in faraway places.

I wonder what message the purple graffiti are meant to convey? They do reveal that the spray-painter was an idiot, but I don't think that's the intended meaning. At least the lower one provides a colorful contrast to the sticker about animal cruelty.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

sexist pronouns

Waiting in a local shop today to collect our repaired vacuum cleaner, I noticed this fascinating old advertisement for a MixMaster, published in the 1950s in Woman's Day magazine.

I'm not quite sure of the date, but I think it was 1956. This next photo shows the bottom part of the page, but the print is very small.


The use of pronouns in the poster makes it clear that she will be using the machine. Not he.

I guess 'he' would the be the person who is encouraged to make his woman's life easier by saving her the drudgery of food-mixing by hand.

On the other hand, how many men would have been reading Woman's Day? I suspect no right-thinking man in the 1950s would be caught dead even glancing into a woman's magazine. So I suppose the Little Woman would have brought the magazine to him and delicately pointed  out the advertisement.

Would it truly have been what she wanted for Christmas?

I'd say, yes, it probably was, actually. We still use our old Mixmaster. It's going strong!

It would be nice to think women have moved out of the kitchen and into the world, but an evening's viewing of Australian television advertising reveals that women are  interested only in:
looking beautiful enough to snare a man;
washing clothes;
keeping the home germ-free;
cleaning stoves;
looking thin enough to snare a man;
caring for young children;
drinking the right alcohol/energy drinks so as to snare a man;
helping their man choose the right car;

Oh, did I mention cooking?

Seems like nothing has changed much in sixty years.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

An infix in an AFL headline about Hawthorn

A reader has just sent me a screenshot of a headline on the AFL (Australian Football League) site.

She knew I'd be interested in the infix in the middle of the word unbelievable, because I've posted previously about these additions within words.

Rachel Spack Koch, the moderator of Azar Grammar Exchange, after giving examples of infixes in English, concludes:
So, an infix is a letter, a syllable, or a word - sometimes invented - to put inside a word either to logically explain it, to add a a tone to it, or to encode it.
To my ear, the headline would sound better as unbe-buddy-lievable, and I wondered why. I had a brief look at a paper discussing the way in which infixes are used in English and discovered the inserted word should lie to the left of a stressed syllable, and doesn't occur traditionally before a reduced vowel.

However, as it stands it does the job, celebrating Lance Franklin's thirteen goals this afternoon against North Melbourne. 

 Go Hawks!

How to spell the word 'separately'

Today must have been my day for coming across signs with misspellings.
As with the words I wrote about earlier, a knowledge of Latin might have helped the writer of this sign, but not many people today have studied Latin.

 However, I was interested to discover, on many dictionary sites, that se-parate and pre-pare have common origins, so I think this is a good way of remembering how to spell this word.

How to spell words ending in ant or ent

This afternoon I spotted a van with beautifully executed advertising, but with a spelling error. If the graphic artist deliberately introduced the error in the spelling of independent to catch people's attention, it worked on me.

However, it's more likely it was just a mistake, because words ending in ant or ent (or ance or ence) are notoriously tricky to spell.

The only way I know to do so is simply to learn the word by rote, or connect it to another word in the same 'family' whose spelling I know. (For example, if I can spell coincidental, which has the emphasis on the fourth syllable, ent, then I can spell coincidence, even though the ending ence is not pronounced clearly.)

If we know the Latin root of the word, it may help, but as Gorgonzola says, it's not particularly useful to ask people to learn Latin just so they can spell better in English. On the other hand, I think knowledge of Italian spelling would also help here, as this table of Italian verb endings shows us. Gorgonzola has a long list of spelling hints for these classes of words, and I think the page makes a great job of trying to get some sense into this tricky topic, but I think I'd be more likely to just look in a dictionary if I got stuck on a word, as the Aries site says:
The spellings -ent, -ence, -ant, -ance are especially tricky. There are no rules. We can only give you some examples and advise you to check such words in a dictionary if you aren't sure of the spelling.

By the way, here's a site listing 533 words in English that end in ant.