"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, 24 May 2012

Hanged or hung?

   Did you know that in British English inanimate or dead objects are hung but people are hanged. In other words the past tense of hang is 'hung' if referring to things like hanging game to enrich the flavour but 'hanged' if referring to capital punishment for people.

(I don't think I'll bother illustrating this post!)

Friday, 18 May 2012


I love the word smithereens . Smithereens means small fragments or tiny bits, and is usually found in the phrases  the alliterative phrase "smashed to smithereens."   I thinbk it is so evocative of small pieces - a fine example of onomatopoeia.

A typical use of the word can be found in a Time magazine story about cosmology from 1976: "The result is another kind of supernova, a fantastic explosion that blows the star to smithereens, dispersing into space most of the remaining elements that it had manufactured during its lifetime." 

Smithereens first appeared in English in 1829 in the form "smiddereens," and most likely was borrowed from the Irish Gaelic smidirîn, a diminutive of smiodar, small fragment.

Thursday, 10 May 2012


   A demonym (a word not used until coined by Paul Dickson, an editor at Merriam-Webster, in his 1997 book 'Labels for Locals'), also referred to as a gentilic, is a name for a resident of a locality.

A demonym is usually – though not always – derived from the name of the locality;  thus, the demonym for the people of Britain is British, and the demonym for the people of Italy is Italian, yet the one used in the English language for the people of the Netherlands is Dutch (in Dutch Nederland/Nederlander).  In some cases the demonym is said to have preceded the place being named - hence Germany was the place from which Germans came rather then the other way round.