Mistletoe.

All my life I have thought of mistletoe as a European thing, and associated it with images of druids cutting it out of trees with a sickle–  most likely embedded by all the Asterix  books I read as a kid.

Mistletoe is, in fact, a very old word that dates back to Old English. It had closely related words for the same plant in Old Saxon, Old Norse, Old Frisian, Old High German and Gothic languages.

The plant was venerated by the druids, especially when it was found growing on oak trees, which were seen as the most powerful and mighty of trees. The druids believed that mistletoe had powerful healing properties,  and it has traditionally been associated with life, renewal, hope, magic,  and love. 

This accounts for my enormous surprise last Friday as we were driving through southern New South Wales and I discovered that the teardrop shaped plants growing on Australian gum trees were, in fact, a native variety of mistletoe. They were different enough in colour, leaf shape and habit to be distinct from the trees on which they were growing, and a quick search online confirmed what I had jokingly suggested to my husband as we drove: “Maybe it’s mistletoe!”

Photos: WordyNerdBird. Mistletoe growing in an Australian eucalypt at Wilbriggie, NSW.

As it happens, Australia has about seventy varieties of native mistletoe, and another twenty or so that have been introduced. While they live semi-parasitically on other trees, they don’t do any harm to them or the environment as some other parasitic plants do. (Yes, Golden Dodder, I’m looking at you, you nasty weed.)

So, next Christmas when certain family and friends laugh at me for singing ‘Meet Me Under The Mistletoe’ I’ll be able to inform them that it does grow here naturally, and therefore Australians are just as entitled to sing about it as anyone else.

Sources:
Etymonline
Gardening Australia
Dictionary.com

Mistletoe.
#words #history #etymology

Passion.

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Most of the time when we use the word passion, we are referring to either powerful emotion or a strong desire to do something. 

However, when people talk about ‘the Passion’ of Jesus at Easter, the word has a different meaning altogether. 

It doesn’t mean that He had a strong desire to die the way he did— even though he was absolutely committed to doing so— nor does it refer to His emotional state, even though he definitely would have experienced a plethora of powerful emotions. 

Passion came into English from French around 1200 AD,  meaning physical suffering. This came from the Latin word passionem meaning suffering or enduring

Interestingly, passionem came from the past-participle Lati stem word pati- which meant “to endure, undergo or experience.” This means that passion is a cousin of patient and patience.

By the mid-13th century, passion had also come to mean an ailment, disease or affliction; rather than just the condition of suffering one. At about the same time, any emotion, feeling or powerful temptation to sin that might be considered as an affliction” might also be called a passion. 

Therefore, when medieval theologians and teachers used the phrase ‘the passion of Christ’ they had no concept of how those words might cause confusion or be entirely misconstrued in the future. 

It was another century or so before passion was used to refer to the intensity of an emotion or desire.  Later again was the use of the word to refer specifically  to sexual love or desire, which had developed by the late 16th century. By the 1630s, it had evolved again to include the sense of a strong liking, enthusiasm, or preference”, and by the 1730s, the object of that pursuit or desire was also referred to as one’s passion.

Because language continually evolves, old words often come to have several very different meanings.  The beauty of etymology is that it explains the relationships and solves the puzzles that we might otherwise find very confusing. 

And fhat, friends, why everyone needs wordy-nerdy people like me in their lives, ready to answer the tough questions and enrich your word power and vocabulary. 
You’re welcome. 

Happy Easter. x

Why is Jesus’ suffering called ‘passion’?
#Easter #GoodFriday #words Vocabulary

Sleuth

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A sleuth is a detective: most often, the word is used to describe an amateur or privately employed detective rather than a police officer. As a word, it was very popular in early detective fiction such as that written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, and is perhaps less popular now than in previous generations. Even so, it it is a word with a fascinating history.

As a keen reader of mystery fiction for many years now I am familiar with many sleuths. I started with Tricia Belsen, the Hardy Boys and the like. Scooby Doo and the gang were my favourite TV sleuths, but my parents loved Jessica Fletcher. As an adult, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and Phryne Fisher rank among my favourites. As much as I love Agatha Christie’s work, I always found Hercule Poirot to be insufferably smug and somewhat condescending, but that is a different discussion.

Sleuth had come into English at some point before 1200 AD, meaning ‘a definite track or trail left by someone or something’. This came from the  Old Norse word sloð  which means trail. This word was used to describe dogs skilled at tracking and following a scent or trail, known as sleuth-hounds. Thus, the first sleuths were not people, but dogs!

Eventually, the  word came to be used for a person who tracked prey, or fugitives, or anything else in need of finding. It was used as a noun for a keen investigator by the mid 1800s, and for someone looking for clues to solve a crime in 1872.  “detective” is 1872, shortening of sleuth-hound “keen investigator” (1849), a figurative use of a word that dates back to late 14c. meaning a kind of bloodhound.

Sleuth was not used as a verb until the early 20th century, when it was used to mean the act of investigating. The first written record of sleuth as a verb was in 1905.  To sleuth out meant to investigate or discover, and the act of doing so was sleuthing.

Sources:

Etymonline
Sesquiotica
The Word Detective

Sleuth.
#vocabulary #etymology

Empathy and Sympathy.

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Empathy and sympathy are closely related words and concepts, but each is quite distinct from the other.

Both words draw part of their meaning from the Greek word pathos which means feeling and came from the PIE root *kwent(h) which means to suffer.

Empathy is an early 20th century word with much older roots.

To have empathy (n) is to empathise (v): to share a feeling, or more literally to be in the feeling, that someone else experiences. It suggests an ability to fully understand how another person feels and how their experience affects them both emotionally and practically. A person who empathises readily or easily is described as empathetic (adj) because they respond empathetically (adv).

Empathy is what Atticus Finch was teaching his daughter  in To Kill A Mockingbird:

“First of all, if you learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

In other words, empathy is necessary for understanding other people, and therefore their experiences and behaviour, too.

Sympathy differs in that it relates to sharing a feeling or experience with or alongside someone else. It has a sense of commonality and community, where empathy is more individual. One who sympathises (v) is described as sympathetic (adj) because they respond sympathetically (adv).

Sympathy is a much older word, dating back to the 1500s, when it entered English via French ‘sympathie’ from Latin sympathi‘ and before that, from Greek sympathes which meant to have a common feeling or to be affected by similar feelings. The prefix sym- means together so when added to pathos, the meaning is feeling together – synonymous with compassion, which literally means suffering together.

The differences are subtle, but definite. Consider these example responses to a person grieving a loved one:
Empathy: ‘I understand that you are sad and hurting. I understand life will never be the same again. I’m here for you.”
Sympathy: “I share your sorrow and pain. Life will never be the same, but I am here with you.”

In both cases, the person understands they are not alone, but the ways in which their experience is understood and shared differ.

Crucially, both empathy and sympathy must be genuine in order to actually exist. Token words and empty expressions are meaningless.

If one is unable to connect at any level with the experiences of others, or to offer anything other than a token acknowledgment of someone else’s suffering, they have neither. There are such things as empathy training and empathy coaches, but if the subject does not have the capacity for it, one may as well try to teach a fish to walk.

References:
Macquarie Dictionary
Etymonline: Empathy and Sympathy

Empathy and Sympathy
#emotions #vocabulary #blog

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

Duplicity: The Many Unattractive Faces of Scott Morrison

A person who shows different sides of their personality to different people or in different situations is commonly called two-faced
Another word for this is duplicity

duplicitous person varies the way they act and speak in various situations in order to conceal the truth and try to make themselves look good, to save face, or to increase their popularity. 

The problem with that kind of behaviour is that nobody likes being lied to and, sooner or later, the truth will expose the lies. 

It must be enormously difficult for any person to maintain the deceit, and exponentially difficult for someone in a position of power or celebrity. 

Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, is also our Prime Example of Duplicity. Like most politicians, he has made an art of duplicity for years, but it seems that now the carefully constructed facades are crumbling. 

After two months full of allegations of heinous behaviour by members of parliament and other employees of the government, one after another after another, closely followed by revelations of concealment and obfuscation by others in positions of power and responsibility, Morrison’s default ‘Thumbs Up’ and ‘Daggy Dad’ personas are insufficient for dealing with the fallout of the current scandals, both in Parliament and in the media. 

He says one thing to reporters he feels are antagonistic, another to reporters he thinks are his allies, and something else in Parliament. You can bet he says something different again behind closed doors when talking with his colleagues, and something else entirely when talking with those who have been accused of a range of very nasty behaviours or of sweeping the offences under a very large piece of Parliament House carpet.

What we are seeing now is an astounding array of very unattractive faces of Scott Morrison:
Overconfident Morrison is glib and supercilious. 
Angry Morrison is vindictive and thoughtless. 
Mansplaining Morrison is condescending and dismissive. 
Misogynistic Morrison assumes the men are telling the truth and the women are always lying— and this is, perhaps, the most telling of all his faces. 

The man who declares that an alleged rapist and another man accused of saying horrible things about his victim are both innocent, without listening to or looking at a scrap of evidence and without any official investigation into either allegation, is disregarding the law  and demonstrating complete and utter disregard for the experiences of every woman who has ever been harassed, abused, assaulted, raped, or gaslighted. He is bringing the government, the political party, and the law of the land into disrepute. 

While Morrison proclaims that his wife and daughters are the centre of his world, his actions communicate something different to Australian women: he and his own power are in fact his first priority. He speaks warmly about the women in his family when he doesn’t want to appear entirely heartless, but his emotions are never for the victims of the plethora of offences against women committed by the other privileged and powerful blokes he knows. 

If he ever stopped for three minutes, like his wife Jen suggested,  to think about any of the women who have been raped, assaulted, publicly denounced as liars, and vehemently slut-shamed over recent weeks as if they were his daughters, it doesn’t appear to have had any effect on his determination to protect the perpetrators in Parliament House. It hasn’t stopped him trying to deflect attention with corny staged photo opportunities and questionable claims about how well Australia’s Covid-19 vaccination program is going. It hasn’t stopped him attempting to explain it all away as storytelling and hysteria, or tut-tutting about the complainants’ mental health. 

Like many Australian women, I am angry at the continued failure of our nation’s leader to make a meaningful stand on the current scandals rocking the nation. I am furious that the accounts of victims are dismissed, and that there is no responsibility taken at any level for the absence of belief and the lack of justice experienced by victims. I am disgusted that the women themselves are blamed for what has happened to them. I am sickened by the fact that this goes all the way to the highest levels of the Australian government: Members of Parliament and SenatorsCabinet ministers, senators, the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister have both had their integrity besmirched in different ways. 

These issues aren’t going away anytime soon. The credibility of the Prime Minister and his government are damaged, probably beyond  any hope of repair, and many Australians— mostly, but not all, women— are insistently demanding justice for the victims and genuine cultural change. Scott Morrison has a choice: he can lead it, or he can be left behind by it. The longer he leaves it, though, the latter is the far more likely option.

Duplicity: The Many Unattractive Faces of #ScottMorrison

Carnival

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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.

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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’

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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:

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  • 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.

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  • 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

Frequently Confused Words: Conscious vs Conscience

This post was inspired by the numerous social media posts I saw this week either stating that certain Australian politicians “have no conscious” or wishing that they would “have a conscious”.While that is, quite ironically, a remarkably astute observation, what those comments obviously meant was that certain Australian politicians have no conscience

Screen shot from Google taken on March 7th, 2021

Conscious is an adjective which means awake, aware, alert, responsive, or possessing mental or moral faculty. If the tweets had been observing a lack of those qualities in said politicians, the word should have been consciousness, as that is the noun form.

Of course, given the behaviour of certain members of the government in recent weeks, and of certain journalists who defend them without investigation or proof of innocence, there is a very strong argument to be made that they lack any number of types of consciousness.

Conscience is the innate, internal knowledge or recognition of right and wrong behaviour, speech, thoughts or motives, or one’s inner sense of fairness and justice. It can also refer to one’s mental or moral faculty that makes decisions based on such knowledge or recognition.

Given the behaviour of certain members of the government in recent weeks, and of certain journalists who defend them without investigation or proof of innocence, there is also a very strong argument to be made for a complete and utter lack of conscience among them.

The two words are crucially different… unless, of course, one lacks both. In that case, the distinction is somewhat irrelevant.

Frequently Confused Words: Conscious vs Conscience
#vocabulary #words