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

Auld Lang Syne.

The fireworks over Sydney Harbour were sensational.

Last night, at the turn of the new year, we watched the fireworks over Sydney Harbour on TV, followed by this beautiful rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ by the cast of the musical Hamilton.

Traditionally sung on New Year’s Eve, ‘Auld Lang Syne‘ is a song about remembering the friends and loved ones we have known in the past.

For the first time in my lifetime of knowing this song, it brought tears to my eyes: not only was 2020 brutal in numerous ways, I knew I was not the only one who was painfully aware of missing a beloved someone. I was blown away by the realisation that this song is as much about grief as it is about wistfulness, friendships of the past, and happy memories.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?”

Robert Burns, 1796

The song we sing now is part of a longer song written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in the late 18th century. Sadly, though, many people sing it without really knowing what it means.

Auld Lang Syne is a sweet little Scots phrase that means ‘for old time’s sake’. It translates literally to “old long since”.
This song was a reinvention of an older song. Burns wrote about his song in separate letters to different people:

“It is the song of the olden times, which has never been in print… I took it down from an old man’s singing.”
“Light be on the turf of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment.”

Robert Burns

Just as the original song was much older than Burns’ version, the words themselves are very old. Auld and lang both come from the Old English of the Anglo-Saxons, while syne dates to the 1300s.

It is a beautiful phrase to say: it feels nice in the mouth, and it sounds just lovely, especially when spoken with a Scottish accent.

From now on, when I hear ‘Auld Lang Syne’, I shall think of the wonderful people I have known and loved in my life, and of the happier times of the past, but I will also think of the beautiful words that have been passed down to use from auld lang syne, too.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a happier, more hopeful new year. Lang may yer lum reek.

Auld Lang Syne.
#words #AuldLangSyne #NewYear2021

These books, both in my personal library, were used as references in the preparation of this post.

Easily Confused Words: Spoilt vs. Spoiled

In response to describing myself on Christmas Day as spoilt, one of my acquaintances corrected me, saying that the word I should have used was ‘spoiled’. Their intentions were good, I’m sure, but they were, to put it bluntly… wrong.

‘Spoiled’ and ‘spoilt’ are similar words that are easily confused with one another. Both come from the word ‘spoil’ which has a number of meanings of its own.

In the US, they use ‘spoiled’ for everything. That certainly simplifies things!

In the UK and Australia, however, the two variants of the word are used differently.

Spoiled’ is generally used as the past tense verb of ‘spoil’, although it is not incorrect to use ‘spoilt’ instead.
Therefore, last week’s roast that has gone rancid, a sheet of paper that has had something spilled on it,  and a natural landscape defaced by deforestation, mining or construction are most often referred to as spoiled, but can be described as having been spoilt.

Spoilt is favoured as the adjective for things that have been spoiled.
Children — and occasionally adults — who have received too many presents for Christmas or a birthday, enjoyed too many indulgences, or experienced too little discipline in their lives are often said to be spoilt or, in excessive cases, spoilt rotten.

So, over Christmas, I could quite rightly describe myself as spoilt or spoilt rotten. Given that I looked, felt and smelled fine, I am confident that I wasn’t spoiled at all.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
https://grammarist.com/usage/spoiled-spoilt/
https://www.writerscentre.com.au/blog/qa-spoilt-for-choice/

Easily confused words: spoiled vs. spoilt.
#words #englishteacher #blogpost

Why Are Christmas Songs Called Carols?

Photo by Blue Ox Studio on Pexels.com

I recently heard someone insisting that there was a difference between Christmas carols, which were all about baby Jesus and the angels, the star and the wise men, and Christmas songs, such as Jingle Bells or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

It sounded like a feasible explanation, and the guy put up what seemed like a good argument– mostly due to his confidence and the underlying implication that he knew more about it than anyone else.
(See malapert and ultracrepidarian.)

That’s what triggered me to research the question. I confess it was more out of my desire to possibly prove him wrong than to actually know the answer that I took out my phone and searched Etymoline for ‘carol’. To my delight, he was wrong! It does seem to be a popular belief, but it’s not consistent with the etymology of the word carol.

Carol is a very old word that dates back to about 1300 in both its noun and verb forms.

At this time, the noun meant both a joyful song and a form of dance in a circle or ring. Both of these meanings probably came from the Old French word carole that referred to that kind of circular dance, which was sometimes accompanied by singers. The origins of the word before that are unclear, but it certainly does paint a festive picture.

It wasn’t until about 1500 AD – two centuries later – that the word had also come to refer to a hymn or song of joy sung at Christmas. Thus, the religious connotations of the word came much later than the secular meaning.

The verb form to carol first meant to dance in a ring or circular formation. The sense of the word that meant to sing with joy or celebration had developed by the late 14th century.

The verb carol did not mean to sing Christmas songs, often moving from place to place to do so, until the late 1800s. It does seem, though, that the practice of carolling is believed to be a much older tradition that was outlawed in Britain, along with the celebration of Christmas itself, by the Puritans who governed in the mid-1600s.

So, Christmas songs are called carols because of their festive and joyful nature. Given that a. the word was originally far more specific about the type of dance than the type of songs being sung, other than that they were joyful, and b. Jingle Bells and Rudolph are as festive in their own ways as Hark The Herald Angels Sing or Joy to the World, there is no reason to classify them differently. They’re all Christmas carols, and that’s that.

Sources:

Carole: European Dance
Etymonline
Medieval Circle Dance: Carole
The History of Christmas Carols

Why Are Christmas Songs Called Carols?
#ChristmasSongs #ChristmasCarols #blogpost

Baubles.

‘Bauble’ is a word used more in December than at any other time of the year.

Photo: Joanne Van Leerdam

On Saturday night we were out for a family dinner — we’re finally allowed to go out here, now, after months of lockdown and restrictions— and one of the young kids at the gathering commented to me that they liked the pretty balls on the light fittings, and then asked me if that’s what they were called.

I explained that they are called baubles, and added that the beads on her bracelet could also be called baubles because they are pretty things designed for decoration. They’re both different kinds of ornaments, and it’s cool how there are often multiple useful words to use for things.

This got me wondering about the origin of the word ‘bauble’. I suspected it was French, simply because of how it sounded,  but such assumptions are not safe. As always, my trusty Macquarie dictionary and Etymonline had my back.

‘Bauble’ came into English in the early 14th century, meaning a decorative trinket or ornament. It came from the Old French word ‘baubel’ meaning a child’s toy or trinket. That may have come from the Latin word ‘bellus’ meaning “pretty” which gave us belle, as in ‘belle of the ball’,  or it could be related to ‘babe’ or ‘baby’. The sense of bauble meaning something of little or no value is later, dating from the early 1600s.

Long ago, ‘bauble’ was also the name given to a staff with a decorated or carved head, carried by a court jester and designed to mock the sceptre carried by a monarch. This meaning has fallen out of use, much as the position of court jester and the practice of a monarch carrying a sceptre have done.

So, now ‘bauble’ only relates to the pretty things. It is important to understand, though, that just because something can be called a bauble does not automatically mean that it has no value. It’s fair to say that while some baubles, such as Christmas decorations and the beads in a child’s bracelet, might usually be fairly inexpensive, there are other kind of baubles that tend to be more valuable.

Thus, the two meanings of bauble remain distinct, even though they can both apply at the same time.

Dysphemism.

Euphemism— using neutral or pleasant terms in place of offensive or negative terms— has been mentioned multiple times on this blog.

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

Most people, though, have never heard of dysphemism, which is the opposite practice: using harsh or negative terms in place of neutral or positive language.

To refer to dying as “passing away” or “graduating to heaven” is euphemism.
To refer to it as “kicking the bucket” or “carking it” is dysphemism.

To refer to having a cold as “being under the weather” is euphemism.
To refer to it as “having the plague” is dysphemism.

English is full of examples of dysphemism. What’s your favourite?
Alternatively, is there one you really dislike?

Dysphemism.
#language #EnglishLanguage #blog

Is ‘Doomscrolling’ The Word Of The Year?

So, it turns out I was right in my observations about the word doomscrolling.

Doomscrolling has just been announced as the Macquarie Dictionary Editorial Committee’s Choice Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year 2020.

You can still vote in the People’s Choice category if you’d like to have your say.
Read the full article, see what the other options are, and vote here: Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year 2020

Source: Macquarie Dictionary

Doomscrolling.
#wordoftheyear #words #blog

Beyond Tired.

It’s almost the end of a school year that has been perpetually exhausting. Every teacher I know is beyond worn out.

I’ve used the words ‘tired’ and ‘exhausted’ so much in recent times, they have started to lose their currency. Not only are they becoming cliched, neither one really adequately describing the profundity or the long-term nature of the tiredness we’re feeling.

So, in the interests of communicating more effectively, I’d like to suggest some more expressive words to use instead.

Toilworn is a lovely word that reflects the nature of the tiredness that comes from hard work. It can also be used for something showing the effects of that kind of tiredness, or of the work that caused it.

Forswunk, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my favourites. It’s a very old word that means exhausted by hard work.

Knackered is a term that is certainly expressive, and remarkably pleasing to say. I don’t know where else in the world people say this, but it’s certainly well understood in Australia as a term that means absolutely worn out.

If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Beyond Tired.
#language #vocabulary #tired

The Proud Man’s Contumely.

In Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy — the one that stars with “To be or not to be…” — the overthinking prince lists a number of problems that make life hard to bear. Most of these are things to which we can relate quite easily: oppression, love that is not returned, the wheels of justice turning too slowly, and people being rude to you.

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

Most people, though, would read the speech and get to the phrase ‘the proud man’s contumely’ and be completely stumped.  It’s not a word one comes across terribly often. In all honesty, it’s probably only literature scholars and high school students studying ‘Hamlet’ that are likely to come across the word, and only one of those groups are likely to know right away what it means.

Contumely is a very old word that means disrespectful, offensive or abusive speech or behaviour.

Contumely is interesting in that most English words that end in -ly are adverbs, which describe verbs, but this is a noun. It doesn’t follow the grammatical pattern of English because it is not originally an English word.

It came into English in the late 14th century from the Old French word contumelie,. That came from the Latin word contumelia, which meant’ reproach’ or insult’, and is related to ‘contumax’ with means ‘haughty’ or ‘insolent’.

These days, we’re far more likely to use terms like ‘insolence’, ‘disrespect’ ‘scorn’ or  ‘abuse’ instead. 

Still, it could be fun to respond to someone’s arrogance with ‘I do not have to tolerate your contumely’. Hopefully, it would leave them as perplexed as those high school students reading Hamlet’s soliloquy for the first time.

It could also be useful to know that someone behaving with contumely would be described as contumelious.

This word evolved in the 15th century, so it follows the common pattern of the noun form being used first and the adjective coming afterwards.  Mr Darcy’s haughty dismissal of Elizabeth Bennet at their first meeting, a lawyer strutting and posturing in the courtroom, or one’s mother-in-law’s disdain for their general existence could all be described as contumelious.

References:
Vocabulary.com
wordsmith.org
Online Etymology Dictionary

The Proud Man’s Contumely.
#words #Shakespeare #language

What Do You Say When People Try To Tell You What You Already Know?

This morning I heard someone use the phrase “preaching to the converted” in reference to someone insisting on telling another person something they already knew and believed.

My mother used to use that phrase all the time, while my usual idiom in response to that behaviour is “singing to the choir”.

Image by Mariamichelle on Pixabay.

It got me wondering: are there any other common phrases for that kind of behaviour? And do they all relate to religious practice, or are there others drawn from other aspects of life?

I asked a few friends who have different interests in life if they knew of any others. They made some great suggestions:

“That horse has already bolted” and ‘flogging a willing horse” are both metaphors drawn from the world of horse-racing. This is definitely not religious imagery… unless you’re Australian, in which case, it could be.

“I’ve already picked up what you’re putting down.” This seems to be a metaphor related to card games.

“We’re beating the same drum” and “We’re singing from the same song sheet” are both appealing musical images.

Similarly, one could say “We’re on the same page.” Exactly which page that is remains helpfully unclear, allowing for some flexibility of reference and application.

I’d love to know if you use or know of any other such terms, particularly if you are from somewhere other than Australia, or if we all say similar things.

In case you were wondering:

Idiom: a popular expression or way of saying something that has significance other than its literal meaning.
Idiom is often specific to a particular language or a particular group of people.

Metaphor: an image that sounds literal, but is understood not to be a literal statement.
For example, someone “singing to the choir” may neither actually be singing, nor in the presence of a choir.

What Do You Say When People Try To Tell You What You Already Know? #language #words #images