Awesome.

Image by spirit111 on Pixabay

“Awesome!” is an expression that has become widely used in response to things  or experiences that are really good and very positive and, in my opinion, has become greatly cheapened by overuse.

Dating back to the late 16th century, ‘awesome’ used to be an expression of something that generated profound reverence or fear.

This was the original sense of the word ‘awe’, which goes back to around the turn of the 13th century. It was the term used in English translations of the Bible to describe the human response to the presence of God or of angels: deep fear and worship at the same time.

The phrase “stand in awe” dates back to the early 15th century. The phrase “awe-inspiring’ was first recorded in 1814.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
Etymonline

Awesome.
#words #language #awesome

You Could Hear a Pin Drop: More Interesting Ways of Saying ‘Quiet’

I really enjoy the sensory richness of the imagery in this post from the – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog.

You could hear a pin drop: more interesting ways of saying ‘quiet’ – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

— Read on dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2020/11/11/you-could-hear-a-pin-drop-more-interesting-ways-of-saying-quiet/amp/

Easily Confused Words: Slither v. Sliver

I was watching a documentary with a friend on Wednesday evening. I nearly spat my drink out when I heard the presenter say, “There was just a slither of a new moon…”

I looked at my friend, only to find she was already looking at me. We were both wondering if we had misheard, but we had not.

What should have been said was, “There was just a sliver of a new moon…”

‘Sliver’ and ‘slither’ may sound similar, but they are neither homophones nor synonyms. They are very different words indeed, and therefore should not be confused.

‘Sliver’ is a noun that means a very thin slice.  There can definitely be a sliver of a new moon in the sky. One can have a sliver of chocolate, or a sliver of cake, although they may wish for more. A sliver of a chance is also likely to leave one wanting for more. A very slender piece of wood or metal – such as that created by shaving  or planing– may also be referred to as a sliver.

‘Slither’  is a verb that means to slide or to move in a squirmy way, as animals without legs do. Snakes and eels contract their muscles so they look to move sideways. So do some worms. Snails and slugs slither in a different way again, looking as though they simply contract and then stretch forward.

So, If someone claims to see a slither of a new moon, they may need to either get their eyes checked or give up drinking.

Easily Confused Words: Slither v. Sliver
#words #language #blogpost

Spooky.

Spooky is a word that is fun to say, and feels good in the mouth when you say it. It is perceived as a more positive term than its synonyms, so it can be used to make scary things seem less threatening or terrifying. Perhaps that is why it’s used so much around the time of Halloween. 

Spooky is an adjective that means frightening, scary or creepy, or which is used to describe someone who is easily frightened.

The earliest written record of spooky to mean ‘frightening’ dates back to 1854, and to describe someone who was easily frightened goes back to 1926.

Spooky is derived from the Dutch word spook which is much older. It came into English from Dutch, where it had been used for centuries to mean ‘ghost’.  it shares a Germanic root with similar words in other languages: the Swedish call a scarecrow a ‘spok’, while the Norwegians cale a ghost or spectre a ‘spjok’.

The use of spook as a verb, meaning to move or act like a ghost dates to 1867, and meaning to haunt goes back to 1881, while the sense of startling or unnerving someone is first recorded in 1935. 

In the 20th century, spook took on some new meanings. During World War I, spook was used as a term for a wireless operator or signaller in the army. In the 1940s, people began to use spook as a term for a spy or undercover agent.

So, when you see or hear the word ‘spooky’, remember that it’s more than just a fun word: it also has a long and interesting history.

Sources:
Etymonline
Merriam-Webster
Macquarie Dictionary

Spooky.
#words #spooky #spookyseason

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:

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

Uhtcare

Uhtcare— pronounced oot-care — is a lovely Old English word that dates back to the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Wife’s Lament’, and was probably used throughout medieval times.

I heard it for the first time today in the Something Rhymes With Purple podcast by Susie Dent and Gyles Brandreth.

Image by pasja1000 on Pixabay

Uhtcare translates to ‘dawn care’ and relates to the anxiety of lying in bed worrying about the coming day before it has even really started. It comes from the OE words uht meaning before dawn and cearu/caru meaning anxiety.

It wasn’t just the beauty of the word that struck me, but also the timeliness of hearing it today. Completely forwallowed after a night of very little sleep courtesy of painsomnia, I could totally relate to that feeling! I was lying in bed before dawn this morning wondering if it were at all possible for me to actually make it to work today. I thought about the lessons I wanted to teach, and how much effort it always takes to ensure that a substitute teacher has everything they need to deliver my lessons effectively.I also felt incredibly guilty about the fact that we have only just returned to face to face teaching, and there I was thinking about staying home.

Still, I knew I wouldn’t be a safe driver today, and I also knew there was very little likelihood of me teaching anything effectively at all.

So, I got up at 5.45 am and made sure all my lessons, material and extra notes for my replacement for the day were loaded in the school’s system and ready to go.

Image by MichaelGaida on Pixabay

Given that we don’t really have an adequate alternative for such a useful and expressive word in today’s English, It is a shame that this word has fallen out of use. Maybe it’s time to bring it back.

Uhtcare: lying awake before dawn, worrying about the day.
Anglo-Saxon/Old English
#English #words #blogpost

Sources:
Something Rhymes With Purple podcast: Vedettes 15/9/2020

Ten Rare But Useful Words Everyone Should Know

Anglish Wordbook

Pedant vs. Teacher

Most people use the term ‘pedant’ in a derogatory way, usually in reference to someone they perceive as being too fussy or too strict about rules. 

On the occasions when I have been called a “grammar pedant”, I have generally responded as though someone is paying me a huge compliment. I invariably say something like “Oh stop it, you flatterer!” or “One day you’ll say that like it’s a bad thing!”

As a lover of the English language and words in general, there are things to we should be paying careful attention. There is value in pointing out where a student needs an apostrophe or a comma in their writing, or where they can express an idea or key point of information more clearly. That is part of being a teacher. It’s my job.

However, I try to restrain myself from correcting people’s grammar on social media, though, for two reasons:

  1. I don’t have time. I have a life to live, and I need sleep to function.
  2. They tend not to like it much.

What many people don’t know is that the word pedant was actually derived from the world of teaching and education. It came to English from either the  Italian word ‘pedante’ or from its descendant, the later Middle French word pédant, both of which referred to a schoolmaster or teacher.  It may be one of those words that came into English from more than one source. The Italian word is derived from the Latin word paedagogantem, which is the origin of the words pedagogue and pedagogy, which are also related to teaching and education. 

By the late 16th century, though, the English were using the term in a negative rather than a neutral way.  ‘Pedant’ had already come to be used for one who placed undue emphasis on the minor details of learning, or someone who focused on details or technicalities  instead of looking at overall issues or taking a wider view of general learning and practice. 

In that sense, correcting someone’s grammar on social media when it is clearly not appreciated is being unnecessarily pedantic. Perhaps that is the distinction that really needs to be made.

Alternatively, it might be a somewhat uncomfortable yet valuable opportunity to improve both one’s learning and professional credibility in an age where prospective employers and customers look at social media profiles before deciding to give a job or order to a particular person. This is particularly true for anyone who should be reasonably expected to have a sound grasp on the language, such as teachers, writers, bloggers and professionals who rely on clear communication in their work. 

Let’s face it. I may not care if someone misspells an uncommon word, or one they’ve only heard and not read, but if they don’t bother to differentiate between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ on social media, I’m neither going to buy their book, nor hire them to write my copy or teach my kids. 

Fussy? Yes. 
Pedantic? Probably. 
Apologetic? Not one bit. 

Reference: Online Etymology Dictionary

Pedant vs. Teacher
#grammar #English #language #words

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!
#language #English #grammar #speaking #englishvocabulary #wordynerdbird #blogpost