Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Surprising origin of the word grotesque

Sitting in the waiting room at my doctor's surgery, I read an article in an old edition of National Geographic and was surprised to learn the origin of the word grotesque.

The article was a revisiting of the life and achievements of the emperor Nero, a bad guy by anyone's measure, but apparently a man with an artistic vision that resulted in an amazing palace, one largely open for the common people to stroll around the grounds.

He built a huge palace that took up a large portion of the Roman city (land available because of the infamous fire that he may or may not have instigated.)

Subsequent emperors appear to have hated Nero so much that they literally buried Nero's palace. One report said some areas were filled with sand, which is why the interior was preserved so well, at least until the fifteenth century.

For fifteenth century artists, it was a popular pilgrimage to be lowered into the cave-like interior of the buried palace to look at the frescoes on the ceilings. Apparently the fill of rubble meant that these early visitors were standing up near the ceiling, and could touch the painted surfaces.

They were so taken with the paintings that they reproduced many of the motifs of these grotesque (i e from a cave or grotto) artworks in their own work. I guess if we did our homework we could figure out where to see them, probably some in the Vatican, I suppose.

The Online Etymology Dictionary writes that this suggested origin of the word grotesque is generally accepted.

Here are a few links that I've just enjoyed looking at.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

opposite of widdershins

A friend and I  were sharing a nice pot of tea in a new teashop in Ivanhoe today and she made sure to turn the teapot a few times before pouring the first cup. We both agreed it's traditional to turn the pot widdershins.

In preparing this post, I had a quick look around the internet and came across a hilarious conversation on reddit about pot-turning. Here's one of the comments (obviously tongue-in-cheek):

It's well-known that the tea plant absorbs minerals into the leaf as it gets more mature, thus the higher amount of fluoride in mature leaf as opposed to young buds. High quality tea is often made from the leaf of very old plants, which have absorbed many of the minerals from the soil.
Some of those are ancient ferrous minerals. This means that the dried tea leaf is slightly magnetic. When the water is initially added, the leaf is jumbled every which way. However with the turning of the pot, it allows the ferrous minerals in the leaf to align with the magnetic pole, much like a simple compass made of a magnetized needle on top of a floating cork.
Once the tea leaf is aligned magnetically, the tea itself becomes much more harmonious with nature. You don't want to be drinking tea where it's magnetically pointing every which way as it goes into your stomach! If the earth's magnetic poles were to suddenly flip (which it is due to do any century now) it could result in the tea in your stomach also flipping, causing mild indigestion.
And that is why you rotate the pots.
I'll admit that, although we had our traditional-old-fashioned-tea-drinker hats on, I did pull out my mobile phone so we could check the opposite of widdershins.
My friend thought it was something like diesel.

She was correct in general about the word, but there were different spellings —deosil, deasil, deiseil, to name a few.

Here's a discussion about these two words. If you're like me, it will leave your mind whirling, but when the tealeaves-of-information settle to the bottom of the pot, you'll perhaps know why my mother told me to always turn the pot widdershins before pouring.

I'll admit I'm none the wiser.

But it was a lovely cuppa in a nice shop, with ribbon sandwiches, good company and a delicious glass of trifle to finish.

Monday, 4 February 2019

nurses nourish us

Recently on FaceBook I came across an advertisement promoting respect for the profession of nursing. Hilarious, but with a serious message.

I was reminded of that advertisement when I came across the word nurstle on a site where you can get help in solving crossword puzzles. The meaning was given as: 'Nurstle, to nurse. See noursle.' Noursle was defined as 'To nurse; to rear; to bring up.' 

That second spelling seemed to relate to nourishment, so I looked for the word nurse on the Online Etymology Dictionary

And yes, there it was, the origin of a role we accept as vitally important in our modern world, but don't stop to think about.

Nurses nourish us.

It seems the word comes to us from as early as the twelfth-century, in the sense of a wet-nurse.
12c., nurrice, "wet-nurse, foster-mother to a young child" (modern form from late 14c.), from Old French norrice "foster-mother, wet-nurse, nanny" (source of proper name Norris), from Late Latin*nutricia, "nurse, governess, tutoress," noun use of fem. nutricius"that suckles, nourishes," from nutrix (genitive nutricis) "wet-nurse, "from nutrire "to suckle" (see nourish). Meaning "person who takes care of sick" in English first recorded 1580s.

When the link to nourish is followed, similar root words appear.

And, then to my joy, I read that nursle is a frequentative of nurse.

Frequentative? I'd not previously come across this wonderful type of English verb. But that's a story another day.

I think I'm in love with frequentative verbs.