Wednesday, 17 December 2014

How many cardinal compass points are there?

I wonder why we have four points on the compass. I suppose it comes from the idea of 'in front', ''behind', ''left' and 'right', and is mandated by the shape of our bodies.

I wrote yesterday about the book You Call It Desert - We Used to Live There, written byPat Lowe with Jimmy Pike. It's about what is now known as The Great Sandy Desert, in inland Australia.

The people who lived in this place needed to know where they were going, because a mistake in heading for a waterhole could have fatal consequences. The authors say:
...the six directional names: East, West, North, South, Up and Down are in constant use, not only in reference to travel but also in discussions of the relative positions of people and objects over even the smallest spaces and distances... A language reflects the preoccupations of its speakers, and Walmajarri has not one but a dozen or more words to refer to each of the cardinal compass points. Such a variety of terms enables a speaker to convey with great economy the precise locations of an event, place or object. So, by using different terms derived from the root word kurlirla (south) a user of Walmajarri can tell a listener whether the subject being discussed is to the far or near south, in or out of sight, approaching from the south, due south, or simply to the south of the speaker and perhaps lying or travelling, like a river or a bird, from east to west.

This last meaning reminds me of the way Europeans name winds. I always feel a bit confused about whether a west wind, for instance, comes from the west, or is heading to the west - until a burning north wind blows into Melbourne and I remember it's coming from the hotter north.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

How many seasons in Australia?

Recently I've been reading an interesting book about the seasons in Australia -  Sprinter and Sprummer. It made me realise that Australian conditions don't fit the seasonal template developed for Britain, the USA and Europe.

The author,  Timothy Entwisle, says indigenous cultures in this continent divided the year in different ways, many having six seasons, some five, and at least one only four seasons.

I've just finished reading another book also - You Call It Desert, We Used to Live There. It's about the  people who lived in what's now known as The Great Sandy Desert. Many still visit or live there, but not in the same numbers as before contact with Europeans.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the use of verb tense. The Introduction says:
In the following chapters I describe some of the features of life in the desert as told or shown to me by people who once lived here. Where there has been no real change I use the present tense, and when I describe life as it was lived by nomadic bands before they settled I use the past. The language in the text is Jimmy Pike's language, Walmajarri.
In the chapter on telling the time, the authors - Pat Lowe and Jimmy Pike - say:
Seasons were marked in several ways. First, there were the changes in weather each with its own term: wantapuru (cold time), larlilari(mild-weather time), parranga (hot time), yitilal (rainy time), and jutalkarra (after rain or green-grass time). Then there was the night sky: the appearance of certain constellations heralds or coincides with particular terrestrial events and is in some cases believed to be responsible for them. The arrival of the seven women or jakulyukulyuwarnti - the Pleiades - in the sky before dawn signals the onset of the coldest nights. 

These are two books to show modern Australians we have a lot to learn from the original inhabitants about how best to live here - and we can't slavishly follow habits developed in the opposite hemisphere.

Friday, 22 August 2014

names of the waterways under and in London

On I just followed a link to a fascinating article about how many of the rivers and creeks of London got their names. It reminded me how eagerly I'm awaiting the next novel in Ben Aaronovitch's fantasy series. reviews the first novel as lacking believability, but gives it the thumbs-up as a cracking good read in terms of action and interest.

I didn't have any problems with believability, but I'm a frequent reader of urban fantasy, so perhaps I was more ready to sink myself into the plot.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

a clever advertisement

I've been noticing this sign for years, and today I finally got organised to pull over and take a photo of it.

Isn't it clever?

Firstly -  Musica is the Latin word for 'the art of music, or music itself (including poetry).

Secondly -  If you study at this place, I suppose you will get plenty of music.

Thirdly -  It calls to mind the expression aplenty. defines this as either an adjective or an adverb:
adjective in sufficient quantity; in generous amounts (usually following the noun it modifies); He had troubles aplenty.                                                                                                     adverb sufficiently; enough; more than sparingly: He howled aplenty when hurt.
Correctly, the advertisement places the word 'aplenty' after the noun, 'musica'.

And, fourthly, cleverest of all in my opinion, the music school is on Plenty Lower Plenty Road, so you could read it as 'music at Plenty', if you wanted to.
I love to see language used so creatively.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

calf in our leg and calf in a field

Recently, at an exercise class, as the teacher encouraged us to 'stretch our calves', I wondered whether this word is related to the word for a young animal - calf.

Some internet sites say the words are related historically, because the large fleshy back of the human leg can be thought to look like the shape of a young cow or bull. I can't really see this, but maybe our ancestors who lived by cattle herding might have been more attuned to such things.

Of course, I had to experiment. Who wouldn't? So here's a photo of my own calf.

Nope. Doesn't make me think of baby cows. So I tried turning the photo...

Hmmm. I decided to check the dictionary again.
The Online Etymology Dictionary says:
"young cow," Old English cælf (Anglian cælf) "young cow," from Proto-Germanic *kalbam (cognates: Middle Dutch calf, Old Norse kalfr, German Kalb, Gothic kalbo, perhaps from PIE *gelb(h)-, from root *gel- "to swell," hence, "womb, fetus, young of an animal." Elliptical sense of "leather made from the skin of a calf" is from 1727. Used of icebergs that break off from glaciers from 1818. 

The idea of a connection with the root meaning "to swell", might explain the connection, I suppose, since this muscle swells and shrinks as we move our legs.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Farewell to Gitte Christensen

Farewell, Gitte, my inspiration.

I write with great sadness that Australian writer Gitte Christensen has passed away.

It's been about four years that I've been visiting her blog each day. At first I lurked, shy to comment, until eventually I gathered my courage to tell her how inspirational I found her professionalism as a writer, and her determination to make a name for herself in the world of speculative fiction.

Invariably she took the time to reply to me.

I've read many of her stories, and enjoyed each one. Here's a list of some of her publications, and you can read an interview with her here.

I will miss her.

But her stories live on.

Here is a tribute to her from a fellow Australian writer.

words with a soft c or g sound after a or u

proud womon's comment on my previous post about the pronunciation of the word gaol has given me food for thought. I'm wondering what other words there are in English that don't follow the 'rule' that a soft g or c precede the letters i, e and y.

I looked at and found some words:
gear, get, gelding, give, girl, gift, tiger, celt

Now, of course, I wonder why they are pronounced the way they are.
Celt interested me, because my mother was from Edinburgh, and I seem to remember she said Celtic (the Glascow football team) with a soft c. There's a discussion about this issue at and Calum Mac Neill has written what I think is a really informative response
So, I looked at the words give, girl, gift. What's the story there? As part of a discussion by J Robert Lennon about the word gif, I found:
GIF comprises the first three letters of "gift", which has a hard G. In fact, most words in English that begin with a G and are followed by a vowel and another consonant are pronounced with a hard G. Gibbon, gilt, give, gimme, gum, gelding, gun. There are a few that are pronounced with a soft G - gym, gibbet - but they're few and far between. Instinct invites us to go with the hard G.
Now I'm starting to get a headache. How fortunate it is that most people who learn English as their native language don't have to figure out the 'rules'. I'm not sure I could ever work it out. But don't get me started on how hard it is to learn Danish...

gaol or jail?

I'm pleased that one of my stories has been published online at World City Stories. It's set in  a museum in  a former prison in central Melbourne in Australia.
The museum is called The Old Melbourne Gaol.

When I was a child, 'gaol' was the accepted spelling for this word, but it's been many a year since I've seen it written this way in any other Australian context.
I've always wondered why it's pronounced like 'jail', when it's a g followed by an a, and a Google search using the terms 'etymology gaol' clears up the mystery. It used to be pronounced with a hard g.
Middle English; based on Latin cavea (see cage). The word came into English in two forms, jaiole from Old French and gayole from Anglo-Norman French gaole (surviving in the spelling gaol), originally pronounced with a hard g, as in goat.
 An article from 5 April 2014 in The Spectator gives a more in-depth look at the history of these two spellings. I particularly enjoyed the passing references to such interesting linguistic oddities as 'Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200'; gaggia (as in the coffee machines); and rage.

Linguistic change over time is fascinating.

Monday, 13 January 2014

mens and womens

Recently I went to see the film 'The Railway Man.' I was upset about the frightful treatment of the soldiers,  but enjoyed the film overall because of its message of hope for a peaceful world.  A friend who saw it with me said there was nothing in it that she hasn't seen in documentaries about the terrible conditions under which Allied soldiers slaved on The Thai-Burma Railway, but I think the gut-wrenching impact of the torture occurs because the viewer is so immersed in the main character's point of view.

Anyway, that's not what I'm blogging about here...

I can't resist showing these two photos of the male and female toilet signs at the picture theatre. Why pay all that money for such a posh, well-lit sign and not employ someone who knows about the apostrophe of possession?