Monday, 21 August 2017

The Persian Language

I was in a shop today where two women were taking dressmaking measurements of a young girl's body and the one with the tape measure was calling the numbers to the woman who was writing them down. I was fascinated by the lovely sound of the words and tried to figure out what language group their speech might belong to. I couldn't hear anything that sounded like any numbers I know.

Of course, I had to ask. It was Farsi. On this site I've just linked to, I read
Farsi, also known as Persian Language, is the most widely spoken member of the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian languages, a subfamily of the Indo-European Languages. 

What an interesting place my city is, where I can hear such a variety of languages!

One of the women obliged me by counting to ten in Farsi, which I thought was very kind of her. Here's a link to a list of those numbers.

Monday, 15 May 2017

when sadness is heavy upon our soul

The word sadiron landed in my inbox today as my daily mail from A Word a Day. The meaning of the word is
noun: a heavy flatiron pointed at both ends and having a detachable handle. And the etymology is 'From sad (obsolete senses of the word: heavy, solid) + iron Earliest documented use: 1759.

When I'm sad I do feel heavy, in every limb, so I can understand how this word came to have such a meaning.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says:
sad (adj.) Old English saed "sated, full, having had one's fill (of food, drink, fighting, etc.), weary of," [and gives further detail in the full description of this word's history.] Sense development passed through the meaning "heavy, ponderous" (i.e. "full" mentally or physically), and "weary, tired of" before emerging c. 1300 as "unhappy." An alternative course would be through the common Middle English sense of "steadfast, firmly established, fixed" (as in sad-ware "tough pewter vessels") and "serious" to "grave". In the main modern sense, it replaced Old English unrot, negative of rot "cheerful, glad." 

I wonder what other utensils are sad? Surely it's not just the irons and pewter vessels.

At Words, Words, Words, the writer of the blog writes more about this history, and ends with this:
But one thing that people don't know about sadness is that it is silent. You can't spot it from a mile away, it could be right next to you as you read this. But it is not the be all and end all, you can overcome sadness, but first you have to be able to see it.

I agree. We need to keep our radar scanning for sad people around us, and also to check inside ourselves to see if we are dealing with our own sadness.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

imbricated roots

I'm reading a book about plants and loving it. It lives up to the blurb inside the front cover:
From Ice Age cave art to cutting-edge research into how mimosas learn and remember, Mabey traces the history of our imaginative encounters with them [plants] - including his own.

How could I resist such an intriguing invitation to deepen my understanding of the myriad species that share this planet?

On page 69 Mabey writes that under the ground, 'The roots and fungal tissues are as imbricated as if they were a single organism.'

I  understood the general idea of the sentence, but I just had to hurry to the internet to find out more about this interesting word imbricated.

Merriam Webster explains the history of the word imbricate:

The ancient Romans knew how to keep the interior of their villas dry when it rained. They covered their roofs with overlapping curved tiles so the "imber" (Latin for pelting rain or "rain shower") couldn't seep in. The tiles were, in effect, "rain tiles", so the Romans called them "imbrices" (singular "imbrex"). The verb for installing the tiles was "imbricare", and English speakers used its past participle "imbricatus" - to create "imbricate", which was first used as adjective meaning "overlapping" (like roof tiles) and later became a verb meaning "to overlap". 
I like to think of water percolating down through the forest floor to moisten those interwoven plant roots and fungal threads.

Mabey says:
The oldest living organisms in the world are probably the subterranean mycorrhiza of ancient forest fungi. They've been there since the woods sprang up, tens of thousands of years ago, and live in an intimate partnership with the tree roots, without which neither could survive. 
A reminder to us that we can't survive without the plants, either.

Saturday, 29 April 2017


I called in at a local fruit shop today to get some oranges for a favourite pumpkin soup recipe.

As I was squeezing the juice out of the oranges and zesting one of them, I thought about the fact that I call the proprietor of this type of shop a greengrocer, and I began to wonder what the connection is between a grocer and a greengrocer.

Once the soup was made, I looked at the Online Etymology Dictionary and discovered read  about the noun:
early 15c. (mid-13c. as a surname), "wholesale dealer, one who buys and sells in gross," corrupted spelling of Anglo-French grosser, Old French grossier, fromMedieval Latin grossarius "wholesaler," literally "dealer in quantity" (source also of Spanish grosero, Italian grosseiro), from Late Latin grossus "coarse (of food), great, gross"...(adj.)). Sense of "a merchant selling individual items of food" is 16c.: in Middle English this was a spicer.
I haven't ever met anyone with the surname 'Grocer'. I wonder what the variants might be.

The Word Detective has a post about the connection of this word with the word gross.
The article says the Americans invented the word grocery. In Australia when I was growing up, my family referred to such a shop as the grocer's.

The Cambridge Dictionary has the usage as grocer's in the UK.

At the forum of, calvindebeverley has written about the American usage:
Ok here is the deal. I have no idea what the word grocer means in any part of the world than the US so take that to heart in what follows. The word grocery and grocer in the US refers to an old type of store. It was usually owned and operated by a family, father being the grocer, and it sold many different items in "Gross" or large quantities because most people lived so far out on their ranches and farms that they needed to buy in quanity sometimes even to get them through a winter. In the southwest it meant at times also a bar or saloon but that was just because people in the Southwest are just that way! LOL. J/K. As time passed small stores that sold food retained the name grocery. Today there are very few real grocery stores in the old sense probably only found in small towns. Now the food department of say Walmart is todays grocery. And the very hard to find "helper" would be what is left of the "grocer". Ok now I am hungry, er....maybe I need a drink after all this typing!

I haven't been able to find any other reference to the use of the word grocery to mean a bar or saloon.

I think this article at is the most comprehensive one I  found.
And I enjoyed the word plays at Sesquiotica. com.

BTW, here's the recipe for the delicious pumpkin soup.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Kind nature deserves our kindness in return

A friend said to me yesterday that she believes the most important thing we can do in life is be kind. I was so taken with her remark that I thought how wonderful it would be to sum up someone's life with the epitaph 'She tried to be kind.'

And then, of course, I wondered about the origin of the word kind.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says it is an adjective, coming to us through Middle English, Old English and Proto-Germanic. It originally meant 'natural, native, innate, with the feeling of relatives for each other.'

The sequence may have been: 'with natural feelings' via 'well-disposed', to the thirteenth century meaning  'benign, compassionate, loving, full of tenderness', which is the meaning I would assign to the word today.

I enjoyed reading this blog post on KindSpring, an uplifting piece that says this word is one of the oldest in English. The author of the blog loves his dictionary, as I do also. After writing about the pleasant discovery that kindness means 'nature', the post continues: 

While these thoughts of nature swirled in my head, I decided to revisit the one book that holds so many truths for me - the dictionary. Seems odd, doesn't it? The dictionary? You see, I learned a long time ago that every word, like people, has a story. Every word started somewhere in time for reasons that are often buried in the dust of history unrecalled.
A man after my own heart.

There has never been a time in the history of the planet where one species dominated to such an extent that it has the ability to destroy the  environment we all share. If we humans can't learn to be kind, i.e. know we are within and part of nature, the results may be disastrous.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Beautiful Universe, beautiful words

A copy of Beautiful Universe appeared on our kitchen table recently, an old copy from 2010.

Leafing through it, I was captured by the glorious photos - but also enraptured by the gorgeous words. What's not to love about these?
Sun pillar
Thackeray's Globules
terminator line
Stephan's Quintet
pillars of creation

And Mooselookmeguntic. Wow! I'd like to live in a place with that name, especially if I could look up and see Saturn, Mars, Regulus and the crescent Moon lined up across the sky.

But I'll freely admit names like NGC 6820, IC 5070 and Messier 45 do't grab me.

I think I'll bookmark NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day  to look at whenever the abysmal stupidity of the human race starts to get me down. It's a big beautiful universe out there, and we have words to describe it.