A Butt-load Of Butts.

A butt-load has long been one of my favourite ways ton refer to a large amount, either physically or a figuratively—  one might have a buttload of work, or have to carry or store a buttload of stuff. It amuses me, though, that butt-load can actually refer to an actual unit of measurement.

A butt is a large barrel for wine or spirits that holds roughly four times the size of a regular barrel or two hogsheads Butt came into English in the late 14th century from the Old French word bot  which was the word for a barrel or wine-skin. This came from the late Latin buttis which also meant cask.

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The butt used to be a legal measurement, but because the actual size and capacity tended to vary quite a bit — it could be anywhere between 108 and 140 gallons— it fell out of favour.

In Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’, the Duke of Clarence is drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. In terms of  methods of execution, there are probably worse ways to go. Still, the references to the malmsey- butt never fail to make my students laugh.

This sense of the word is also used in ‘The Tempest’ where Stephano claims to have escaped the storm by floating “upon a butt of sack which the sailors heaved o’erboard”.

That’s because butt canalso mean one’s buttocks: the behind, the rump, the posterior. It first took this meaning from  animal parts in the mid 15th century in relation to butchering and cookery, as a shortened form of buttocks, which was the name given to the meaty rear end of animals and people by about 1300. The application of butt to humans  came later, as part of American slang in the mid 19th century.

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Butt came to mean the the thick end of something or the extremity of a piece of land by about 1400, which is most likely how the term came to be used for the end of a rifle, and therefore a pistol, or of a smoked cigar or cigarette, which was first recorded in 1847.

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Shakespeare’s Richard III uses this sense of the word when he responds to his mother’s invocation to “put meekness in thy breast,  Love,charity, obedience and true duty”  with “and make me die a good old man! This is the butt-end of a mother’s blessing— / I marvel that Her Grace did leave it out!” This is also a pun for butt as in his being on the receiving end of  her insult.

By the early 1600s, butt had come to be used for the target of a joke or an object of ridicule. 1610s. This was derived from the Old French word but  which meant an aim, goal, end, or a target in archery, which swans in turn the product of the Old French words bot for end and but for aim or goal which was used for a target for shooting practice or a turf-covered mound against which an archery target was set that dated to the mid 1300s.

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It is this earlier sense of the word used by Richard, Duke of York in ‘Henry VI part 3’ when he tells his killer, “Come, bloody Clifford, rough Northumberland, I dare your quench.ess fury to more rage. / I am your butt, and I abide your shot.”

Othello also uses sense of this word in his final scene, where he says, “Be thou not afraid, though you do see me weapon’d; / Here is y journey’s end, here is my butt.”

The verb to butt meaning to hit with the head, as a goat, a fighter or a soccer-player might do, was in use by 1200 . This came from Anglo-French buter and Old French boter which meant to push, shove, thrust or knock. This came from either Frankish or another Germanic source which traces back to Proto-Germanic word butan, and before that to the PIE root *bhau which meant to strike.

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In the banter between Katherine and Longaville‘Love’s Labours Lost’  V.ii, he admonishes  her: “Look how you butt yourself with these sharp mocks, Wilt thou give horns, chaste lady? Do not so.” Katherine responds with a comment about he should die a calf before his horns grow, which is a witty little bit of innuendo as they part ways.

Another example of Shakespeare’s word play is the pun on butt in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ where Gremio describes the clash of wits between Hortensio and Petruchio thus:  “Believe me, sir, they butt together well.” Bianca responds with both pun and innuendo: “Head and butt! A hasty-witted body / Would say your ‘head and butt’ were ‘head and horn.”

To butt against, meaning to adjoin or sit right next to, dates back to the 1660s,p and comes from an abbreviation of abut.

A butt butting on a receptacle for butts. Image: WordyNerdBird.

To butt into a conversation by intruding without invitation came into American English at the turn of the 20th century.

Photo by Budgeron Bach on Pexels.com

Sources:

Etymonline
Macquarie Dictionary

A Butt-load of Butts.
#words #language #Englishvocabulary

Why the W is called ‘Double U’ instead of ‘Double V’.

Why do we call the W ‘double U’ instead of ‘double V’?

For the answer to this, we need to go back to Rome, where they made no distinction V and U, nor between the letters I and J, even though one of each pair is a vowel and the other a consonant.

This means that in Roman times, these pairs of letters– U and V , and I and J –were what we call allographs. An allograph is an alternative form of the same letter, like upper and lower case letters, or the same letter in plain or italic, or in different fonts. Replacing one with the other does not change how the words are said.

Thats why you’ll see AVGVSTVS instead of AUGUSTUS or IVLIVS instead of JULIUS on old Roman coins.

Images used under Creative Commons Licences: Image 1 Image 2

The Romans did not have a letter for the /w/ sound because they didn’t really use it. In contrast, the Anglo-Saxons of early medieval England used the sound a lot in their language, so they needed a letter for it when they started writing things down using the Latin alphabet instead of the runic alphabet they had used previously. They originally wrote it as uu– which makes sense as the /w/ sound comes right at the end of the long /u/ sound– but then reverted to using the runic character wynn to represent the sound. When the Normas arrived in England in the 11th century, they brought back the usage of the conjoined uu to represent the /w/ sound, and it literally became the double U.

Even in today’s English, the previous identity of U and V is reflected in the varied spelling of similarly pronounced words such as flower and flour, guard and ward, or lour and lower.

Sources:
Grammarphobia
Lexico.com

Why the W is called ‘Double U’ instead of ‘Double V’.
#English #language #history

Zarf.

Zarf is a word you might never have heard or used, but it relates to something with which most of us are quite familiar.

These days, the word zarf refers to that cardboard or silicone band on a portable coffee cup that insulates it and stops your fingers getting too hot while holding your drink. Some call it a cup sleeve or a cup holder: zarf is a far more evocative and interesting word.

The word zarf comes from Arabic via Turkish, and simply means ‘envelope’. Thus, its adoption for a cardboard sleeve to go around a disposable coffee cup is logical, and it soon came to be applied to anything that went around or held a cup to make it more comfortable to hold.

Many people assume that the zarf was a late 20th century invention that came about with the advent of the disposable, followed by the the reusable, takeaway coffee cup. Those people are wrong.

The zarf began as a holder for a hot coffee cup in Turkey and across the Middle East as early as the 1600s.

Image credit: nokta_cizgi on Pixabay.

When the Ottoman Empire banned alcohol in the 16th century, coffee became the premier drink of the people. Within one hundred years, coffee houses became such important centres of gathering, culture and political discussion that the Empire banned coffee, too.

As any coffee lover could predict, that didn’t work. The people responded so profoundly that the Empire decided not to stand between the people and their caffeine ever again, but added a significant tax on coffee instead, in keeping with the age-old governmental proverb: if you can’t beat them, tax them. 

image credit: Activedia on Pixabay

As the traditional coffee cups had no handles, the zarf evolved as a functional holder, but soon became elaborately decorative. These are still used today.

Traditionally, the  more ornate and beautiful the zarf, the higher the esteem in which the drinker is held. An ornate zarf can indicate status or affection and respect, which means that a lover, a close friend or a family member might serve coffee in a zarf as beautiful as that served to a sultan or emir.

The zarf and the coffee served in it are just two of the many wonderful things we have inherited from Eastern history and culture. Coffee houses are still cultural and social hubs in the Middle East, a legacy reflected in the popularity of coffee shops and cafes worldwide.

Anyone inclined toward prejudice against Eastern and Muslim cultures should remember that when sipping their morning cup of joe: it would be impossible to live as we do without their contributions and influence.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
The Story of the Zarf
What is a zarf? The bizarre story behind this everyday object.

Zarf.
#words #coffee #coffeelovers

The Imagery of Persian Poetry

This fascinating article appeared on my Twitter feed this morning.

It’s healthy to be reminded that the things we do with language to make it vivid and powerful are not just the domain of the English language: indeed, to imagine so would be both insular and ignorant. Given that English is such a mutt of a language, it should be no surprise that other cultures were doing powerfully creative things with language long before we were.

When reading even just the translated excerpts in this article, the abundance of metaphor, simile, and other types of imagery in these Persian poems is evident. The language is beautiful and the poems expressive.

I’m adding some Persian poetry to my reading list. I’m keen to read more of the poets listed in the article, and to experience the beauty of the language in the work of the poets.

Consider my poetic horizons broadened!

The Imagery of Persian Poetry
#images #Persian #poetry

What’s Your ‘Word of the Decade’?

At the end of every year, there is much discussion about which words particularly define the year.

Now, the team at the Macquarie Dictionary is inviting us to vote for what we believe has been the word or term that defines the past decade.

There are some very good inclusions that still carry meaning and import, while others have already fallen in popularity and are not so commonly used.

Even so, the list is a interesting read and an insightful commentary on the past ten years.

Anyone can vote, so have a read and have your say in about the words and terms that evoke the 2010’s most clearly.

Source: Macquarie Dictionary

What’s Your ‘Word of the Decade’?
#words #language #blogpost

Signing the Uluru Statement Of The Heart

Today, I signed the Uluru Statement Of The Heart.

I make this public declaration in addition to signing my name on the signature wall:

I stand with the First Nations people of Australia as an ally and an advocate for voice, for Treaty, and for truth.

I will continue to teach Australian history with honesty and with empathy for the experiences of the Indigenous people. I will encourage others to listen and understand .

I will continue to seek an end to racism, division and inequality.

I will continue to work for reconciliation, friendship, and harmony. I will continue to speak for increased representation and constitutional recognition.

This is my commitment as an Australian.



Australia Day: We Can Do Better

There’s a lot of controversy about celebrating Australia Day on January 26, and with good reason.

Some Aussies — in all honesty, mostly white ones – argue that there is nothing wrong with celebrating our country on that day as we do.

They would most likely be quite surprised to know that Australia Day wasn’t celebrated nationally until 1935: it’s not something we’ve been doing since 1788. Even more surprising would be the fact that it’s only been a public holiday since 1994 – not even thirty years.

A growing number of Aussies feel conflicted about the date. They are coming to understand that, as it is, it is a celebration that causes grief and hurt to the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. For them, it is ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Day of Mourning’, which is a very fair call.

January 26 marks the anniversary of the date in 1788 when the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour, set up camp, and began the first British colony in Australia. It is impossible to condense the history of the nation since then into just one sentence, but it’s fair to say that the story is characterised by dispossession, racism, violence, massacre and oppression toward the Indigenous people of the country. That is why celebrating that date is so offensive to them. Anyone who doesn’t understand that is either a. extremely white privileged, b. not trying hard enough or c. both.

It is common understanding that if one is doing something that hurt someone else, and if it is in that person’s power to stop, I should stop doing it. Even if there is an apology, the only way to prove the apology means anything at all is to refrain from doing it again. The only way to heal a damaged relationship is to change one’s ways.
This is as true on a national level as it is for an individual.

We have seen our national government issue an apology for the actions of the past. Now, as a nation, we must prove that we meant it.

There is no reason why we can’t change the date for celebrating our nation. There’s a lot to celebrate, but we can also do much better than we have in the past.

Some people suggest that we should celebrate Australia Day on January 1st – the anniversary of Federation. It’s a good idea, despite the complaints that people will be hung over from New Year’s Eve parties the night before. That’s a choice for each individual to make – but wouldn’t less drunkenness be a good thing anyway?

Alternatively, I suggest that the Australian government should commit to and sign a Treaty with the Indigenous people, as they have been pleading for the government to do for years. This Treaty, made in collaboration with Indigenous people, would acknowledge the past, shape the future, and enable us to move on together in a spirit of reconciliation and healing.


The date on which that Treaty was established and signed should be the new date for Australia Day. We could even call it Treaty Day, or Australian Treaty Day, to put the focus on the relationship instead of the painful memories of the past.

I’m not Indigenous, and I do not pretend to share their experiences or speak for anyone else.

I am, however, a History teacher who seeks to teach Australian history with empathy and awareness of the experiences of Australia’s First Nations people, and to encourage my students to understand that our nation’s story began long before 1788. I am an Australian who loves my country, but also one who is deeply sorry for the suffering of the Indigenous people, past and present.

As such, I cannot help but think that either one of those two ideas would have to be better than what we have now.

I will not be attending or watching any Australia Day celebrations tomorrow.
Instead, I intend to mark the day by signing the Uluru Statement From The Heart, which is a call to Australians to rally together to achieve constitutional recognition for our First Nations peoples and to establish an Indigenous voice to Parliament.

It’s high time we did better, Australia. Let’s change the date, and move forward in a common spirit of reconciliation and healing.

Australia Day: We Can Do Better
#changethedate #AustraliaDay

Bivouacked.

This morning I read a tweet that made me stop and think, “Wait.. what?”

The word that got my attention was ‘bivouacked’.  Despite the fact that I am a passionate reader and a scholar and teacher of History, I had no idea what this word meant. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one: plenty of people responded that they had to look the word up. 

My trusty Macquarie Dictionary gave me the definition. 


Etymonline explains that the use of bivouac in English dates back to 1702, meaning an “encampment of soldiers that stays up on night watch in the open air, dressed and armed.” 

It is an image of readiness to defend and protect, which was exactly the context of the tweet. These images of bivouacked soldiers in the Capitol building, Washington DC, are confronting and comforting at the same time. That it is even necessary is heartbreaking, yet in the current political climate, I am thankful they are there.

Images by Igor Bobic, Huffington Post photographer. 
Igor Bobic on Twitter.  See the full post here

The word came from French, and before that from the 17th century Swiss/Alsatian word ‘biwacht’ which meant “night guard”. 

By 1853, bivouac was also used as a noun to mean an outdoor or open-air camp. 

The use of the verb ‘to bivouac’, meaning to post troops in the night dates to 1809, and meaning to camp or sleep out-of-doors without tents dates to 1814. It should be no surprise that the noun became a verb in the context of the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, during both of which the practice would have been common.

Bivouacked.
#words #language #History

A Few Home Truths About Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is a human right. 
It is the right to express  one’s ideas and opinions verbally or in writing, either publicly or privately.
It is the right to engage in public conversation about personal and public issues and events.
It is the right to communicate meaningfully with other people. 

Even so, it has it’s ethical limitations. 

All individuals have freedom of speech. It is not just the domain of one person, or one group. 
This means that the right is also accompanied by the responsibility of listening to, and responding thoughtfully to, the ideas and opinions of others. Freedom of speech is a two way street. 

It is not the right to cause harm or injury to other people. 
It is not the right to incite violence. 
It is not the right to abuse, slander, or misrepresent situations or other people. 
It is not the right to spread dangerous disinformation.
It is not the right to break the law or commonly accepted rules. 

The people decrying Twitter and Facebook for banning Trump need to understand these things. 

When he opened his social media accounts, he agreed to the terms and conditions. Nobody can have those accounts without agreeing to those rules, which clearly state that one cannot use that social media platform to break the law or encourage anyone else to do so. There is a clearly stated warning that infringement of those rules will result in your account being suspended or cancelled. 

There is no doubt that these are the rules invoked when the accounts belonging to a range of criminals and terrorists were cancelled in the past. People and governments actively and rightly demanded that this should be the case in response to the manifesto and live streaming of the actions of the Christchurch mosque terrorist, for example. 

It is illegal to use social media to promote illegal activity or post offensive material. 

Why, then, should Trump not be banned for inciting a riot or encouraging sedition? Why should his followers not be banned for plotting violence and premeditating murder and insurrection? 

The clear answer is that they absolutely should. 

Anyone using social media to plan or conduct a criminal act should be banned and then prosecuted to the full extent of the law. 

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have acted rightly. 
They have not assaulted anyone’s free speech. It is not censorship. Those on the quiet end of a ban have invited that consequence for themselves. 

A Few Home Truths About #FreedomOfSpeech
#Rights2021 #SocialMedia

Tinsel.

Image by Adina Voicu from Pixabay

I love tinsel. It’s so glittery and cheerful and colourful. It’s instant Christmas decoration that you can pull out of a bag and strew around the room and it immediately feels more like December.

Tinsel seems like a fairly recent invention, and in its current form, it is. Its history, though, goes back five hundred years to the very fine strands of hammered silver used in Nuremberg, Germany, in the early 1600s. At first, it was used more often to decorate sculptures or statues than trees., but it’s ability to sparkle and magnify the light from the candles used to illuminate Christmas trees caused its popularity to grow.  

Flawed by both brittleness and tarnish, early types of tinsel were nowhere near as hardy or long-lasting as what we have now. Over time, various other tinsel-like decorations were made using various different shiny or sparkly materials: silver or gold thread, or pieces of shiny fabric, and foil made from lead, copper or aluminium. During the 20th century, the advent of plastics made production of what we now know as tinsel cheaper and easier, while the dangers of other more flammable or toxic materials caused them to decrease in popularity.

The word tinsel dates back to the mid-1400s when it was used to describe cloth with gold or silver thread woven through it.

It is this sense of the word that is used by Shakespeare in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ where Margaret describe’s Hero’s fine wedding gown as being enhanced with a “bluish tinsel”.

The word came from Old French estencele, or estincelle — the es- was not pronounced– which meant ‘sparkle’ or ‘spangle’. From the 1590s onwards, tinsel was the name given to very thin sheets, strips or strands of shiny metal or fabric. This Old French word is related to the Latin word scintilla  meaning ‘spark’ , which in turn most likely came from the PIE roots*ski-nto, from which English also gets ‘shine’ and ‘scintillate’. It is also related to ‘stencil’.

By the mid 17th century, tinsel was also used in a non-literal sense to mean something showy or shiny, but not with any real value.

Sources:
Etymonline
The History of Tinsel
The Tumultuous History of Tinsel
This Is Why We Hang Tinsel At Christmas

Tinsel.
#christmasdecorations #Christmas #words