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

Carnival

Photo by Julia Kuzenkov on Pexels.com

I mentioned to someone yesterday that I would be at my school’s athletics carnival today.

“Ooooh, car-nee-vah-lee!” they exclaimed with a twinkle in their eye.

Brightly coloured images of vivid costumes, scantily clad women and wild parties in Rio de Janeiro flashed through my mind.
“Er… not quite!” I responded. “It’s not that colourful! And it’s a school event, so let’s keep it family-friendly, shall we?”

This got me thinking about the different meanings of carnival, and wondering what a rowdy celebration or a colourful parade might have to do with a school track and field sports day.

In my mind, the answer was obvious: not much.
So, as is my usual habit, I turned to Etymonline for some insights.

Photo by Nishant Aneja on Pexels.com

The English word carnival dates back to the 1540s, when it was used to refer to a “time of merrymaking before Lent”. This was derived from French carnaval, which in turn came from the Italian word carnevale which referred to Shrove Tuesday. This came from older Italian forms such as Milanese carnelevale and Old Pisan carnelevare which meant to remove meat, presumably referring to changing one’s diet for the period leading up to Easter.

Etymonline also offered the folk etymology — that is, a popular but generally untrue story about the origins of a word— that carnival came from the Medieval Latin words carne and vale meaning ‘flesh, farewell!’

In the late 1500s , carnival had come to mean feasting or revelry in general.

Carnival being used in reference to a circus, sideshow or amusement fair developed in American English in the early 20th century.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

That was as far as Etymonline got me, so I looked up a few other websites, but none of them shed any more light on the answer to my question.

I am still no closer to understanding why a series of track and field events is called a carnival.

Consequently, I am left performing some folk etymology of my own: perhaps it relates to the celebration of the physical achievements of the competitors, or the cheering and noise made by the spectators.  It could even relate to the pre-competition parading of competitors, team colours and mascots that used to be popular but, thankfully, is much less fashionable now.

Perhaps, though,  it’s just one of those weird quirks of English that I’ll never really understand.

Sources:
Celebrating an Etymological Carnival
Etymonline

Knowing When To Use ‘Me’ and ‘I’

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

Confusion over when to use the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me’ is widespread, and it’s not limited to the less-well-educated: in my own experience, people with university degrees get it wrong equally as often as anyone else.

It’s not that others won’t understand you if you get it wrong — they will.
It’s not even about being judged by others, although there are people out there who will either judge you or correct you.
It’s actually about communicating as clearly and effectively as possible. That’s why the “rules” and conventions of grammar exist.

Using the right pronouns is not actually that hard. Perhaps it just needs clearer explanation than has been experienced in the past.

We instinctively know when to use the pronouns when it’s just ourselves we are talking about. We know to say “I am happy”, not “Me is happy”.  We know to ask “What do you want me to do?” Or “Can I do anything for you?”

We can use that basic knowledge to help get it right when we add someone else into the sentence.

If you are talking about two or more people , simply remove the other subject(s) from the sentence for a moment and think about which pronoun you would use if it were just you.

Then pop them back into the equation, always putting yourself after the others because that’s good manners.

Jules and I are happy.
Do you want Kim and me to do that for you?
If you need help, please see Robin, Beck or me.

If you are adding possession to the mix, such as talking about something that belongs to both of you or a friend in common, the same rule applies.

Kim is a friend of Robin’s.
Kim is a friend of mine.
Kim is a friend of Robin’s and mine.
This is Jules’ and my house.
When can I see Beck’s and your new puppy?

These guidelines will enable you to know which pronouns to use, and so help you speak and write with more confidence, which is a great thing.

Knowing When To Use ‘Me’ and ‘I’
#language #grammar #pronouns

A Quick Guide to Using an Apostrophe

Apostrophes are used for two reasons:

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
  • contractions: Dave isn’t walking his dog. He can’t today— he’s sick.
    It’s a shame he is so unwell.

    The apostrophe shows that two words have been mashed together, and it is placed in the position where a letter or letters have been taken out.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com
  • ownership: Dave’s dog. Penny’s cat.

    If someone’s name ends in s, an apostrophe can simply be added after their name, without adding the extra ‘s’ afterwards: Jules’ car.

    The only time an apostrophe should not be used for ownership is when using the pronoun it:
    The house was missing its chimney.
    Kerry gave the dog its ball.

Apostrophes should never be used to make plurals, or for regular words ending in s.
This means “Dave’s dogs” only needs that one apostrophe after Dave, and “Dave rocks” doesn’t need any.

It can get complicated, though, when one needs to follow multiple conventions at the same time.

It can get complicated when a proper noun needs to be made a plural before the possessive apostrophe is added. For example, the Johnson family live in the Johnsons’ house.

Following the same rule used for Jules’ car, the de Jesus family live in the de Jesus’ house.

If the Weatherby family own a house, it is the Weatherbys’ house.
Here, the family name ends in y, but because it’s a proper noun, the plural is made by simply adding an ‘s’ instead of using the conventional -ies ending for regular nouns that end in y. The apostrophe is then added at the end.

A Quick Guide to Using an Apostrophe
#punctuation #writingtips

Raspberry.

A raspberry can be one of two things.

First and foremost, a raspberry is a small red, black or yellow fruit which grows on a bramble or vine-like style of bush, and which generally tastes delicious.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In English, the word raspberry goes back to the early 1600s, but its actual origins are a matter of contention: it could have come from Old French, Medieval Latin, or one of the Germanic languages.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The second sense of the word raspberry dates to the late 19th century, and relates to the rude sound made with one’s tongue and lips. This meaning is derived from ‘raspberry tart’, which is rhyming slang for ‘fart’, which is precisely what a raspberry sounds like.

Blowing a raspberry is also called a Bronx cheer, a term which came from the sound being used to express derision or displeasure during sporting matches in the area of New York City called the Bronx.

In linguistic terms, blowing a raspberry is an unvoiced labial fricative. This may seem like somewhat useless information for anyone other than linguists and language enthusiasts, but rude children can be quite effectively stunned into submission with reprimands such as “Don’t you dare address me with your unvoiced labial fricatives!” I know this, because I have achieved it more than once with other people’s teenagers.

This term has also been immortalised in the Golden Raspeberry Awards or Razzies, a parody of the Oscars in which the awards are given for terrible performances in film.

Finally, raspberry is also used as an adjective to describe any shade of purplish red colour, as referenced by Prince in Raspberry Beret. You don’t need to thank me for the earworm – you’re welcome!

Raspberry beret
Photo by Roel Wijnants on Flickr. Reproduced without alteration under Creative Commons licence.

Sources:
Etymonline
The Razzies
Wiktionary

Raspberry.
#words #language #blog

Zucked.

I do the love the Macquarie Dictionary.

It is the dictionary of Australian English, expressive of all classes and of our multicultural society. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with it because of my frequent reference to it in my word-nerdy posts.

Today, though, the editors excelled themselves.

On the day when Facebook cut off access to all Australian news channels— sadly including sources of information relied upon by particular social groups such as  Indigenous communities, domestic violence support groups for women and families, and local information networks— as a result of a disagreement with the Australian government over market share and finances, the Macquarie tweeted that Australians have been zucked.

An obvious play on the F-bomb and Zuckerberg, it’s a clever new portmanteau word.

A portmanteau word is one created by blending two existing words or parts of words to create a new word. The name comes from a portmanteau, which is a type of suitcase that opens into two halves. This  dates back to Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’:

from ‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll, courtesy of archive.org

We use portmanteau words every day, without many of us realising how they were created:

  • Botox —  botulism toxin
  • Brexit — British exit from the European Union
  • Bollywood — Bombay and Hollywood
  • Email — electronic mail
  • Fortnight — fourteen nights, so two weeks
  • Sitcom — situation comedy
  • Webinar — web seminar

English is actually full of these words, as it’s a form of wordplay that has been around for hundreds of years.

Sources:
Britannica
Etymonline
Macquarie Dictionary

Zucked.
#words #language #facebooknewsban

Writing Tips: Avoiding Sentence Fragments.

We all know the basic elements of writing a sentence  in English: starting with a capital letter and finishing with some kind of ending punctuation appropriate to the form of the sentence, be it a statement, a question or an exclamation.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Pexels.com

Most people have mastered the fact that each sentence should communicate one key idea, and that they can use punctuation and conjunctions to extend that idea.

However, the use of sentence fragments is a problem I notice frequently, both as a teacher and as an avid reader. They are not the sole domain of people still learning to write: a novel I read over the weekend was littered with them, which frustrated me so much I was sorely tempted not to finish it.

A sentence fragment is a little bit of a sentences that don’t make sense on its own, and really needs either additional information or to be attached to the previous or following sentence in order to make sense.

It’s one thing to speak or send a quick text message using sentence fragments. We do it all the time without thinking twice. When writing for someone else to read our work, though, it’s important to express complete thoughts and to make sense on the first reading.

Example: I have been busy today. Writing this essay. It’s hard going.

This example sentence  fragment can be corrected it in any one of the following ways:

  • I have been busy today, writing this essay. It’s hard going.
  • I have been busy today. Writing this essay is hard going.
  • I have been busy today: writing this essay is hard going.

While it’s true that some writers use sentence fragments for stylistic effect, and may do so very effectively, it’s also true that they need to be proficient in constructing sentences and paragraphs so that they are able to make that technique work for them.  They are useful in writing conversations, communicating a train of thought, tacking on afterthoughts, or reflecting a nervous, excited or angry character.

Most people who write sentence fragments are, alas, painfully unaware that they are even doing it. Their sentence fragments don’t work for them, because they don’t communicate ideas clearly and effectively: in fact, it tends to have the opposite effect.

As writers, we should avoid anything that frustrates or confuses their readers, particularly if they hope to develop a broad and loyal readership.

This highlights the importance of careful proofreading and editing in the writing process.

One of the most effective strategies for finding sentence fragments is to read your work aloud. Your voice and ears will alert you when things don’t sound right, much faster than your eyes will discern it. This is because your brain already knows what you intended to say, and tends to make written errors almost invisible to the eye when reading silently.  

Avoiding Sentence Fragments.
#writingtips #writingadvice

Kvetch.

As Victoria enters a five day lockdown designed to halt the spread of that dratted virus after its recent escape from a quarantine hotel, there’s a lot of kvetching going on.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Yes, it’s our third lockdown. Yes, we all saw this coming when the Australian Open was allowed to go ahead. Naturally, we’d all rather not. We’d all like to be able to do whatever we want to do. I know it’s inconvenient. I had to cancel my plans, too. 

Still, there is nothing to be achieved by blaming anyone. Contrary to what some people like to say, our state government is not a dictatorship. They’re doing their best to manage a pandemic, balancing the health of the community with what millions of individuals perceive as their rights and needs.

The fact is, this virus is highly contagious, airborne and invisible. The pandemic is not yet over, and these things are going to happen from time to time. It may actually be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, even when we are careful about wearing masks, social distancing and sanitising everything. One of the fundamental truths of a pandemic disease is that it is not easily controlled: that’s how it became a pandemic in the first place. At best, it can be well managed.

At least it’s only five days this time, not months like the last one.

Even so, I have lost count of how many times I have felt the need to tell people to stop kvetching about it in the last 24 hours.

Kvetch is a wonderful word, donated to English from Yiddish in the mid-20th century. It is as satisfying to say as ‘bitch’ with far less possibility of offending anyone, and it is so much more expressive than other synonyms such as ‘whine’, ‘complain’ or ‘moan’.

Perhaps the only synonym that is as expressive is the one that my grandfather used when we were kids: “Stop your bellyaching,” I haven’t thought about that expression in decades, and it has just come back to me riding on a wave of memory and emotion. I think I’ll have to start saying that now, too.

Kvetch.
#wordsofwisdom #pandemic

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

Word Nerdy Book Recommendations

If there’s something word nerds love, it’s word-nerdy books.

Personally, I love a great dictionary or thesaurus. I also enjoy books that explore different aspects of the English language and how we use it.

These three books are books I have particularly enjoyed over recent months.

Word Perfect by Susie Dent

This is a wonderful compilation that will please any word lover or etymology enthusiast.

Dent writes with clarity and good humour. The word for each day, and Dent’s definition and etymology of each, are interesting and quirky.

The challenge is to only read each day’s offering instead of running ahead an consuming it more quickly.

Grab a copy, keep it by your favourite chair, and enjoy a wordy treat each day. You won’t be sorry.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

This is a most interesting and entertaining book that traces the histories of words and phrases used in English.

It is a collection of most diverting rabbit holes in print: a world of fascinating information that draws you deeper in each time. Not once have I managed to look up the word or phrase I wanted to reference without discovering another entry nearby that was just as captivating as the first… or second… or third entry I had read.

It really is a treasure trove of words, etymology and history that will delight any lover of the English language.

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Usage and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

This book is a delight. With the aim of helping writers achieve greater clarity and better style, Dreyer examines the “rules” of English as we know them, and provides a clear and understandable guide to using the English language most effectively.

The book is written with humour and a relaxed tone, and delivers content that is far more accessible for the everyday reader and writer than my beloved and very worn copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which is now far less modern than it was when I first obtained the book.

Dreyer’s English is an ideal reference for today’s writers, regardless of their preferred form or the purpose for which they write. It’s also entertaining enough to pick up and read on a Saturday afternoon, without feeling at all like it’s time you’ll never get back.

Highly recommended.

Word Nerdy #BookRecommendations
#words #language