While watching the steeplechase race at the Olympics today, my brother-in-law commented that steeplechase was a funny name for a foot race: “Steeples can’t run… so why would anyone even bother to chase one?”
The word-nerdy part of my brain started to itch… and there’s only one thing to do when that happens. I looked it up.
I knew the foot race was named after a hunt or horse race of some kind that I had read about in Dickens or Austen or Trollope, but what was the origin of the word?
In late 1700s, steeplechase was the name given to a cross-country horse race in which the church steeple, visible across the landscape, was the finishing point. This race was originally known as a steeplehunt.
Steeplechase is a compound word, made from steeple, a tall, usually pointed part of the roof of a church, and chase, as in a pursuit, or a fast ride or run.
While the foot race for people is not a cross-country run, it does involve both long distance and obstacles: it’s a 3000 meter run with hurdles and a water pit.
When discussing literature or film texts, female agency is the ability of the female characters to take action and make their own decisions that affect their lives and the outcomes in the text. It is the condition of being active and exerting power or influence for oneself.
Agency came into English from Medieval Latin abstract noun agentia in the mid-1600s, and by the 1670s had developed in meaning from ‘active operation’ to ‘a mode of exerting power or producing effect’. Thus, it had a clear association with ideas of making things happen, being a driving force, and having the ability or power to achieve something. It was not until the mid 1800s that agency was used to refer to a place or establishment where business is done on someone else’s behalf.
It’s fair to say that, throughout history and in most cultures, women have not had a great deal of agency.
Because most texts reflect the culture in which it is created, the roles of women in any given text tend to mirror the levels of agency held by women in society at the time.
The increase in awareness and acceptance of women’s rights and gender equality during the 20th and 21st century and the associated increase in freedom and independence of women in that time have changed the way women are portrayed in books, film and plays, where there are far more strong and independent female protagonists than previously. Now, female characters are seen to be able to do anything; previously, their ability to do anything at all was limited by the will of men and the rules they created.
In earlier centuries, female characters with personal strength, intelligence and integrity tended to provide a strong contrast to the other women in their society. Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, Shakespeare’s Katherine and Isabella, and Harper Lee’s Scout Finch are examples of girls who stood out among their peers and delivered powerful messages in the process. The authors who created them had no intention of portraying them as two-dimensional, submissive females.That would have been a complete waste of those characters’ talents and strengths, and would have only served to entirely defeat their authors’ purposes and messages.
When female characters are able to take action, make their own decisions, and influence those around them, they are understood to have agency.
April 20th is the anniversary of the birth of both my grandfather and my niece. While my grandfather is no longer with us to celebrate his birthday, we will have dinner and cake tonight in honour of my niece.
The word birthday dates back to the late 14th century, having come from the Old English word byrddæg which meant the anniversary or celebration of one’s birth. At that time, though, it was usually used to commemorate the birth of s very important people, such as kings or saints. Regular folk did not commonly speak of the day on which they were born as their birthday until the 1570s, and about fifty years later they also spoke of their birthnight.
Author’s note: I am disappointed that we no longer speak about our birthnight. I was born at 7pm on a Thursday, and I could really make a thing of saying “tonight is my birthnight!” all day, and “last night was my birthnight!” on the morrow.
By Shakespeare’s time, observation of one’s own birthday was far more commonplace. Not only does Cleopatra acknowledge her own birthday in Antony and Cleopatra, so does the Roman senator Cassius in Julius Caesar V.i: “This is my birthday; as this very day / Was Cassius born.” In Pericles II.i the first of three fishermen with whom Pericles discusses the king, Simonides, observes that it the king “hath a fair daughter, and tomorrow is her birthday, and there are princes and knights come from all parts of the world to joust and tourney for her love.” This shows that celebrating or at least making note of one’s own birthday was something understood by the regular folk who made up most of Shakespeare’s audiences in the late 1590s and early 1600s.
The tradition of birthday cake also came from Germany in early modern times: presumably as people started to observe their own birthdays, they started celebrating with special food as they had long done for kings’ and saints’ days. By the 1800s, the German tradition of Kinderfest was fully established. This involved presenting the birthday child with a cake topped with candles — one for each year of their life, plus one in the middle of the cake to represent life— which would be kept burning all day, and replaced as they burned down. This was done because they believed people were more vulnerable to evil spirits on their birthdays, and the burning candles would ward those spirits off. After dinner, the cake was presented again, with the candles still burning. The child would make a wish and blow out the candles, with the smoke rising to heaven to keep the evil spirits away once the candles had been extinguished. Then the cake would be shared among the family.
This is very similar to what many people do today, albeit without the religious superstition and all-day candle burning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To butt into a conversation by intruding without invitation came into American English at the turn of the 20th century.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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