"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Thursday, 31 December 2009


An ideogram is a character or symbol representing an idea or a thing without expressing the pronunciation of a particular word or words for it.

"Chinese characters are ideograms".

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

To hit the hay

To hit the hay means to go to bed or prepare for sleep. The origin, of course, comes from the idea of a weary wanderer ending up in a barn and settling down to sleep on the soft hay. A wonderful romantic image until you realise there would be bits sticking in your ear and down your neck. And, of course, all the creepy crawlies...

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Pizzas and Pizzaz

Pizza (pronounced PEET-sa) is an open pie of Italian origin made of thin bread dough, baked in a circle and spread with a spiced mixture of tomato sauce, cheese and other ingredients.

Pizzaz (also spelled pizazz and pizzazz) (pronounced PUH-ZaZ) is an informal word meaning dazzling style; flamboyance; flair; vigorous spirit; energy; dynamism; or excitement.

You can, of course, occasionally get pizzas with pizzaz!

Monday, 28 December 2009


A rictameter is an unrhymed, 9-line poem with a syllable count of 2/4/6/8/10/8/6/4/2 in which the first and last lines are the same.

Andromeda Jazmon on her blog 'A Wrung Sponge' recently wrote one and I decided to borrow the idea (and even borrowed her first / last line). This was the result.

Long night.
Can't sleep at all.
But then I rarely can.
It's one of the prices I pay
for being daft enough to be poorly.
Not that I chose to be ill
but I didn't look after myself
when I was young.
Long night

Sunday, 27 December 2009


A chine of meat or fish is a cut which includes at least part of the backbone.

A chine is also a steep-sided river valley where the river flows through coastal cliffs to the sea. Typically these are soft eroding cliffs.

It can also mean the top of a ridge; the spine of an animal; a sharp angle in the cross section of the hull of a boat.

Chine is also French for China so when I googled for an image of a chine all I got were French maps of the far east!

Saturday, 26 December 2009


Vespertine is a term used in the life sciences to indicate something of, relating to, or occurring in the evening. In botany, a vespertine flower is one which opens or blooms in the evening. In zoology, the term is used for a creature that becomes active in the evening, such as bats and owls. Vespertine animals are frequently described as nocturnal, although this usage is not strictly correct.

The Large Flowered Evening Primrose is a vespertine flower.

Friday, 25 December 2009

When fish ride bicycles

Just as the phrase ‘Pigs will fly’ is used to indicate an unlikely event, the phrase ‘When fish ride bicycles’ is also sometimes used for the same purpose.

I am was amused to find on the Internet a statue depicting this saying.

Thursday, 24 December 2009


Addlepated is a beautiful word. Definitely one of my favourites.

Addlepated means addled; confused; stupid; flustered; fatuous; bungling.

And how about this for a great quotation:-
"Blathering like the addlepated nincompoop that you are"; "A confused puddingheaded, muddleheaded fellow"- Isaac Sterne

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

To put the boot in

This British phrase has both a literal and a metaphorical meaning. Literally it means to attack someone by kicking them again and again, usually when they are lying on the ground.

Metaphorically it means kicking somebody when they're down; to make a bad situation worse.

He lost his job and then his wife put the boot in by announcing she was leaving him.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


An idiom is a phrase characteristic of a particular language, that cannot necessarily be fully understood from the separate meanings of the individual words.

A classic example of the idiom is the description of heavy rain in various languages. For example, in Afrikaans it rains old women with knobkerries (clubs).

In Danish it rains shoemakers' apprentices, the Dutch get pipe stems, the Greeks suffer from falling chair legs and the Icelanders receive fire and brimstone. In Catalan it rains boats and barrels while the Chinese have to suffer dog-poo.

In English we often say it's raining cats and dogs. The Germans also find it's raining young dogs. At one time (before stair rods virtually disappeared) the English also suffered from it raining stair rods while rods also fell on the Swedes (along with ladles).

In France and Poland it rains frogs while I seem to recall from my French lessons that nails and taxis were also likely to plummet from the skies!

Instead of taxis the Slovaks find its raining tractors. The Czecks are less ambitious and only receive wheelbarrows.

The Germans say it's raining cobbler boys whilst in Ireland it's throwing cobblers knives. The Welsh get forks along with their knives. The Portuguese get rained on with penknives and, most remarkably, toads' beards. In Spain it's even raining husbands!

Perhaps my favourite is the Norwegian idiom - it's raining female trolls.

And then, with Welsh, we are back to were we started with Afrikaans since it rains old ladies and sticks...

Monday, 21 December 2009


Malarkey is empty rhetoric or insincere or exaggerated talk; nonsense; rubbish; or silliness.

I had anticipated that this would be a word of some long-standing origin and was amazed when I looked it up in my two-volume Shorter Oxford of 1983 that the word was not in it. Malarkey, it seems, is slang. I wonder if the latest Oxford Dictionary has accepted it into 'proper' English yet?

Sunday, 20 December 2009


A sockdologer is a doxology (a hymn or verse in Christian liturgy glorifying God - from the Greek doxa, belief or opinion + logos, word or speaking) is a short hymn of praises to God in various Christian worships . I think I'll stick to calling them short hymns - referring to sockdologers sounds a bit irreverent to me.

Thanks to the WordImp for the idea for today's word!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

People voice

A ‘people voice’ is a modern term for the voice that someone uses when talking to people who aren't their friends or family. This voice is automatically happy, nicer and sweeter than their normal voice. It is also often more high pitched. This is often the voice people use when answering a telephone or when working in retail.

Similar to the ‘people voice’ is the ‘girlfriend voice’ which includes a change in pitch or tone of a man's voice when talking to their significant other. The girlfriend voice is characterized by a higher pitch and a more effeminate tone with speech patterns scattered with pet names and childish words.

Friday, 18 December 2009


A sandal is a simple form of footwear where the shoe is held to the foot by strips of leather or fabric.

Sandals are known from the days of Ancient Rome or even earlier but I was a little confused by this sentence in Dickens’ “Tom Tiddler’s Ground” :-
‘Where the cook was going, didn’t appear, but she generally conveyed to Miss Kimmeens that she was bound, rather against her will, on a pilgrimage to perform some pious office that rendered new ribbons necessary to her best bonnet, and also sandals to her shoes.’

This implied that sandals were something additional; to her shoes. I can only conclude that in this case sandals was an alternative name for pattens or tall clogs that were used to strap on to footwear to keep one’s best shoes out of the mud and water in the streets in Victorian times.

Thursday, 17 December 2009


Quither is a village in Devon, England. I once read that a quither was a rubbish heap but cannot now find a source for that. Can anyone help me out? Is it perhaps a dialect term?

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Living the life of Riley

The expression 'living the life of Riley' suggests an ideal life of prosperity and contentment, possibly living on someone else's money, time or work. The expression was popular in the 1880s, a time when James Whitcomb Riley's poems depicted the comforts of a prosperous home life.

However, the expression could have an Irish origin: after the Reilly clan consolidated its hold on County Cavan, they minted their own money, accepted as legal tender even in England. These coins, called “O'Reillys” and “Reilly's,” became synonymous with a monied person, and a gentleman freely spending was “living on his Reillys.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


A tidbit (also spelled titbit) is a choice morsel, a small tasty bit of food, something considered choice to eat, a dainty, a goody, a kickshaw, a treat, a delicacy.

Monday, 14 December 2009

To Tickle one's Fancy

To tickle one's fancy means to excite amusement; to appeal to one's imagination; to excite one's interest pleasurably. This term uses fancy in the sense of “liking” or “taste” and dates from the second half of the 1700s.

To be tickled pink means to be very amused or pleased as does to be tickled to death.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Great minds think alike

This is a humorous expression that is used when you found out someone else was thinking about the same thing as you were. If you say, "Great minds think alike," you say, jokingly, that you and someone else must be very intelligent or great because both of you thought of the same thing or agree on something.

The earliest instance of the proverb in its present form seems be from 1898:-
"Curious how great minds think alike. My pupil wrote me the same explanation about his non-appearance."
[1898 C. G. Robertson Voces Academicae]

The eraliest version of it at all seems to be from 1618 when D. Belchier wrote
"Though he made that verse, Those words were made before. Good wits doe jumpe."
[1618 D. Belchier Hans Beer-Pot ] ( The word jump used in the sense of ‘agree completely’ or ‘coincide’ is now archaic.)


A cathedral is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop. I expect most people already were aware of that but it is the origin of the name that interested me. It is from the Latin cathedra which was a teacher's seat.
A cathedral is a religious building for worship, specifically of a denomination with an episcopal hierarchy, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and some Lutheran and Methodist churches, which serves as a bishop's seat, and thus as the central church of a diocese, conference, or episcopate.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


Coryza is a cold in the head; the common cold; rhinitis. The word "coryza" comes from the Greek "koryza" which is thought to have been compounded from "kara", head + "zeein", to boil. The "boiling over from the head" refers to the runny nose, an all-too-familiar feature of a head cold.

(I shall spare you the delights of an illustration!)

Friday, 11 December 2009


A catenary is the sag in a line strung between two points; a curve into which a uniform rope or cable falls when suspended from two points, as in a suspension bridge; the structure of cables above the track which carries the electric supply for electric locomotives that use overhead electricity .

(My Christmas cards hang on a string which sags in the middle with their weight - so they end up all piled up together in the catenary!)

Thursday, 10 December 2009


A fichu (pronounced fish-oo) is a lightweight triangular scarf worn by a woman; a large, square kerchief, folded diagonally into a triangle, worn by women from the 18th century to fill in the low neckline of a bodice; a draped scarf or shawl worn around shoulders and tied in a knot at breast, with ends hanging down loosely.

(This picture is from an excellent site explaining the differences of various pieces of millinery can be found here.)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Whilst nowadays a Cyprian or Cypriot is someone who originates in Cyprus in Victorian times a Cyprian was a prostitute, a woman who engaged in sexual intercourse for money. Cyprus was famous as the home of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty – hence the use of the name for a prostitute.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


A Groat was a Fourpence - a former English silver coin worth four pennies.

According to Wikipedia the first groats were minted during the reign of Edward I (1272 to 1307). From the reigns of Charles II to George III, groats (by now often known as fourpences) were issued on an irregular basis for general circulation, up to 1800. After this the only circulating issues were from 1836 to 1855, with proofs known from 1857 and 1862 and a colonial issue of 1888. These last coins had the weight further reduced to about 27 grains (1.9 grams) and were the same diameter as the silver threepenny pieces of the day although thicker. They also had Britannia on the reverse, while all other silver fourpenny pieces since the reign of William and Mary have had a crowned numeral "4" as the reverse, including the silver fourpenny Maundy money coins of the present day. Some groats continued to circulate in Scotland until the 20th century.

Groats are also the hulled grains of various cereals, such as oats, wheat, barley or buckwheat. Groats from oats are a good source of avenanthramide. (Avenanthramides are antimicrobial substances synthesized by plants.)

Monday, 7 December 2009

A very Unique word - Ugh.

Some adjectives can be qualified; attractive, for example. A work of art may be fairly attractive or very attractive. There are however some adjectives that cannot be qualified like true or unique. Something is either true or it isn't

Unique means radically distinctive and without equal; singular; the single one of its kind; an item of which only one specimen is known to exist; something of which no two are exactly the same.

I therefore get really worked up when I hear television presenters describe something as very unique or fairly unique. It isn't! It is either unique or it isn't.

Sunday, 6 December 2009


In his blog the other day Ian used a word I had never come across before – decadal.

Decadal is defined as of or pertaining to the number ten; a group of ten things; or a decade; occurring over a 10-year period; once every ten years.

So, in the UK, the census is decadal.


To cabbage was an archaic term meaning to steal lengths of cloth while cutting clothes. “Your taylor, instead of shreads, cabbages whole yards of cloth.” (Arbuthnot’s History of John Bull, 1713.)

Saturday, 5 December 2009



The ampersand is a punctuation mark (&) used to represent the conjunction ‘and’.

Alrhough it is a substitute for the word 'and' in any context it is not generally used outside of signs and titles.

It is a ligature formed from an upper or lowercase e conjoined with t which spells et (“and” in Latin).

(In writing and typography the word ligature means a character consisting of two or more letters combined into one.)

Friday, 4 December 2009


A solidus is another name for a punctuation mark (/) used to separate related items of information; the ‘Forward Slash’. But I doubt you’ll hear people talking about www dot scriptorsenex solidus blogspot dot com

In UK maths the solidus is the line between the numerator and the denominator of a fraction.

In addition to ‘forward slash’, an alternative name for the solidus is the virgule. (But note that in French la virgule is a comma. In maths in France la virgule is also the decimal separator! In fact, in English maths and French maths both the comma and the period/ full stop are reversed so the English number 2,576.5 is written in French as 2.576,5. Isn't life confusing. )

So far as I know there is no technical name for the back slash but I’m happy to be corrected if anyone knows of one.

A solidus was also a bezant, a round gold coin of the Byzantine Empire which was widely circulated in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Driving me up the wall

To drive someone up the wall means to annoy or irritate someone very much. If something drives you up the wall it makes you very unhappy and full of anxiety or anger.

It's origin is said to come from the idea that one climbed the walls to escape from whatever was annoying one.

(Thanks to Brian for the brilliant photo!)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


In biology, mitochondria (plural) are the parts of a cell which are responsible for providing the cell with energy; The powerhouse of the cell.

Sink introduced me to this word by describing her 13 year old as ‘mighty mitochondria’ – what a great description for a bundle of energy!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


An ephelis is a form of freckle . A flat red or light-brown spot on the skin that typically appears during the sunny months and fades in the winter. Freckles are clusters of concentrated melanin which are most often visible on people with a fair complexion.