Octothorpe

Hashtag Octothorpe Drawn in sand
Image by yourschantz on Pixabay

Octothorpe is a less-well known name for that beloved symbol we call the hash symbol. It has been used for a plethora of functions for centuries, but it has really taken on new life in the 21st century with the proliferation of hashtags on social media. 

Octo comes from the Latin for eight, just as it does in words like octopus or octagon, and in October— which used to be the eighth month, but that’s another story. When you look at the hash symbol, it has eight points. That part is logical enough. 

The origin of the rest of the word is much more recent and much less clear.. 

The popular story is that it was named after Jim Thorpe, an athlete whose Olympic medals were taken from him because he had been a professional basketballer. Workers at Bell Laboratories, who happened to be fans of his, named the symbol in his honor at some point on the 1960s or 1970s. 

That’s a pretty cool story, supported by some dictionaries, but it’s not the only one. The name was almost certainly coined at Bell Laboratories, but the real story behind it is unclear. 

One theory is that it comes from a team member burping while talking about the hash symbol with his co-workers. A third theory is that it comes from an Old English word for “village.” Yet another is that the Bell Laboratories workers deliberately chose something that non-English speakers would find hard to pronounce. Of all the possible options, I really hope that wasn’t it. 

Octothorpe
#words #vocabulary #Explained

Sources:

Ultracrepidarian.

Ultracrepidarian judgement critical
Image by LKP_LKD on Pixabay

Ultracrepidarian is an old word that can be used as either a noun or an adjective to describe someone who is critical and judgemental, or who gives advice or opinions, about matters in which they have little or no knowledge, experience or expertise. 

Although somewhat different to a malapert, it is entirely possible for a person to be both.  

The earliest record of the word ultracrepidarian comes from the early 1800s, when it was derived from the  Latin phrase ultrā crepidam which means  “above the sole”. This was a reference to a story relayed by Pliny the Elder about a Greek painter named Apelles, who when criticised by a cobbler, said something to the effect of “nē suprā crepidam sūtor jūdicāre” or “let the cobbler not judge above the sandal”. 

People generally don’t welcome advice or critique that they have not sought. If advice must be given, it’s probably wise to stick to one’s actual area of knowledge and expertise. Even more importantly, it’s essential to be kind and gentle about it, and to try to be humble. That’s how to avoid being ultracrepidarian. 

Sources:
dictionary.com
Merriam-Webster.com

Ultracrepidarian: that annoying person who knows everything.
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Malapert

Peacock malapert know-it-all overconfident showy
Image from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay

A malapert is a person who acts like they know everything and is confident that they are always right. 

These days, we might call them a know-it-all.  
We could also call them a wise guy, a smart aleck, or an expert on everything. There are a number of less polite terms available to those willing to use them, too. 

The difference between a pedant and a malapert is that a pedant knows they are right about something in particular, while a malapert thinks they are right about everything. 

Malapert is a word that dates back to the 14th century, coming into English from the Old French words mal meaning bad or badly, and apert meaning skilful or clever. By the mid1400s, it was being used to describe a type of person rather than just a behaviour or attitude. Given that Shakespeare uses the word three times in his plays, each time without any explanation, one can assume that the word was commonly used and understood throughout the medieval and early modern periods.

In Henry 6, Queen Margaret and her son, the young Lancaster Prince Edward, engage in a contest of insults with their captors: Clarence and Gloucester. As sons of Richard, Duke of York these two are the Lancastrian King Henry’s enemies, as the two houses are rivals for the English throne. Clarence calls the young prince malapert, highlighting his youthful confidence by calling him an “untutor’d lad”. 

Almost as proof of Clarence’s assessment, the prince responds by insulting them again. Despite the clevernesand bravery of his words, this proved to be a bad move, as “perjur’d George” and “misshapen Dick” respond by stabbing him to death. End of argument. 

In Richard III, the same Queen Margaret tells the Marquess of Dorset that he is malapert and warns him that his newly found nobility won’t protect him from being destroyed by the Yorks, particularly Richard (Gloucester) whom  she describes as a “bottled spider” and a “poisonous bunch-back’d toad”. Richard turns the insult back on Margaret, and Dorset promptly turns it right back on him. 

In the comedy Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch and Sebastian are engaged in an argument when Sir Toby insists that he “must have an ounce or two of this malapert blood” from his rival. 

This is a word I have long been aware of, yet I have definitely not made as good use of it as I could have done. This, however, is likely to change in the near future. 

Malapert
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Easily Confused Words: Bought vs. Brought

Bought and brought are words that lots of people get mixed up. They may look similar, but they are very different words.

These words are by no means interchangeable, so in the interests of both being clearly understood and preserving one’s credibility, it is beneficial to know which is which, and how to use them confidently at the right times

Bought is the past tense of buy. If you buy something, you have bought it. 

Brought is the past tense of bring.  If you bring something home, you have brought it home. 
Note: neither ‘brang’ nor ‘brung’ is standard English. 

The easy way to remember which is which is that there is an r in bring and brought, but not in buy or bought. That makes pairing the correct words much easier. 

Easily Confused Words: Bought vs Brought
#grammar #English #explanation

Grawlix.

Grawlix is an unusual word that most people haven’t heard of, although they’ve probably seen grawlixes many times before. 

A grawlix is a combination of symbols— most commonly the ones above the numbers on the keyboard— used in place of a offensive language in comics, cartoons and illustrations. It works as a visual, rather than verbal, euphemism.

The term was coined in the 60s by Mort Walker , the creator of the comic strip Beetle Bailey, although the practice had already been in use long before it was given a name.The grawlix is a clever and very effective way to express emotions like anger or frustration without actually offending anyone or causing problems with editors and censors. 

An alternative term that has been suggested is the obscenicon, which is very clever but doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of traction. Time will tell, as it always does when it comes to words and language. 

Somehow, grawlix just sounds more evocative and kind of sweary in itself.

Sources:
Lexico
Merriam-Webster
Grammarphobia

 Grawlix.
#language #words #swearing #interesting #language #blogpost

Asterisk.

The asterisk is the handy little star symbol* that we use to indicate that there is more information attached to something, to denote the existence of a footnote, to add emphasis to a word or point of notice, or to blank out letters in offensive words that we don’t want to type or write in full. 

The word asterisk means ‘little star’ and has been used as a noun since the late 14th century— well before the invention of the printing press— while the verb form “to asterisk something” was first recorded in 1733. 

Asterisk comes to use from Latin via Greek, but actually goes back to Proto-Indo-European roots, which is about as far back as any language or individual words can be traced. The PIE root *ster- is the source of the words for star in numerous languages including Hittite, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and, thus, English. 

Therefore, the word asterisk is related to asteroid, aster daisies, disaster, constellation and starfish, among others. It is also a cousin of names such as Esther, Estelle and Stella.**  

More recently, the asterisk also inspired the name of Asterix, the hero of the classic comics by Goscinny and Uderzo. Those books are characteristically full of puns and word play, and the names of Asterix and Obelix are derived from mispronunciations of asterisk and obelisk respectively. 

* located above the 8 on a keyboard
** They are not close cousins, but more like the kind who are jealous of each other because they all want to be the most popular starlet in the family, and only make small talk with one another at family reunions. 

Source: Online Etymology Dictionary

Asterisk
#etymology #words #history #asterisk #language #typography

Tmesis: Abso-flaming-lutely!

Tmesis— pronounced teh-MEE-sis—  is an unusual word that many people will never have heard of, even though it’s the name for something we do frequently and quite naturally.

Tmesis is the name given to that linguistic behaviour by which we divide a word and insert another word into the middle. In the 21st century, the inserted word is often a swear word, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Image by hpgruesen on Pixabay

We do it to add emphasis and increase the strength of what we’re saying. 

The Ancient Greek word temnein meant ‘to cut’, and from that came the word tmesis, which meant ‘cutting’. It refers to the cutting or division of the first word in order to insert the second. 

The practice is centuries old. There are examples of it in Old Irish and Scandinavian poetry, although the earliest written examples of it being used in English only date back to the 1500s. 

Shakespeare used tmesis in a number of his plays:

  • “This is not Romeo, he’s some other where.” — Romeo and Juliet
  • “How heinous ever it be” — Richard II
  • “That man – how dearly ever parted.” — Troilus and Cressida

Tmesis also exists in the poetry of John Donne:


“In what torn ship soever I embark,
That ship shall be my emblem,
What seas soever swallow me, that flood
Shall be to me an emblem of thy blood.” — Hymn to Christ

From these examples, it is clear that the device has always been used to strengthen the idea or emotion being communicated, which is exactly how it’s still used today. 

In Australia, where we seem to love a good swear word and the power it gives our expressions, tmesis is so common that it seems to me to be part of our linguistic identity. Inserting a term such as ‘flaming” or ‘flipping’, or one’s preferred swear word, into words and phrases is a standard part of our speech. From “abso-flaming-lutely’ to “no freaking way!”, Australians have made tmesis their own without ever knowing that it was a literary device or that it has a name. 

Tmesis: Abso-flaming-lutely!
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