Zarf.

Zarf is a word you might never have heard or used, but it relates to something with which most of us are quite familiar.

These days, the word zarf refers to that cardboard or silicone band on a portable coffee cup that insulates it and stops your fingers getting too hot while holding your drink. Some call it a cup sleeve or a cup holder: zarf is a far more evocative and interesting word.

The word zarf comes from Arabic via Turkish, and simply means ‘envelope’. Thus, its adoption for a cardboard sleeve to go around a disposable coffee cup is logical, and it soon came to be applied to anything that went around or held a cup to make it more comfortable to hold.

Many people assume that the zarf was a late 20th century invention that came about with the advent of the disposable, followed by the the reusable, takeaway coffee cup. Those people are wrong.

The zarf began as a holder for a hot coffee cup in Turkey and across the Middle East as early as the 1600s.

Image credit: nokta_cizgi on Pixabay.

When the Ottoman Empire banned alcohol in the 16th century, coffee became the premier drink of the people. Within one hundred years, coffee houses became such important centres of gathering, culture and political discussion that the Empire banned coffee, too.

As any coffee lover could predict, that didn’t work. The people responded so profoundly that the Empire decided not to stand between the people and their caffeine ever again, but added a significant tax on coffee instead, in keeping with the age-old governmental proverb: if you can’t beat them, tax them. 

image credit: Activedia on Pixabay

As the traditional coffee cups had no handles, the zarf evolved as a functional holder, but soon became elaborately decorative. These are still used today.

Traditionally, the  more ornate and beautiful the zarf, the higher the esteem in which the drinker is held. An ornate zarf can indicate status or affection and respect, which means that a lover, a close friend or a family member might serve coffee in a zarf as beautiful as that served to a sultan or emir.

The zarf and the coffee served in it are just two of the many wonderful things we have inherited from Eastern history and culture. Coffee houses are still cultural and social hubs in the Middle East, a legacy reflected in the popularity of coffee shops and cafes worldwide.

Anyone inclined toward prejudice against Eastern and Muslim cultures should remember that when sipping their morning cup of joe: it would be impossible to live as we do without their contributions and influence.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
The Story of the Zarf
What is a zarf? The bizarre story behind this everyday object.

Zarf.
#words #coffee #coffeelovers

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

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

Pretty.

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

‘Pretty’ is quite a versatile word because we use it in a variety of ways:

One can drive a pretty nice car.
A child, a pet, a garden, and a picture can all be pretty.
Pleasant or attractive music , noises or words sound pretty.
An ornament or decoration can be called a pretty.
Something expensive is said to cost a pretty penny.
Someone in a safe or comfortable position is sitting pretty.
A person can pretty themselves up for a special occasion.
A request or plea is made more emphatic and emotive when someone adds pretty please.

On a more negative note, someone who is in trouble or said to be in a pretty mess.
If someone or something is only moderately attractive, they might be described as prettyish.
An event or a relationship can be pretty much over.

It is also interesting in that none of those meanings relate to the original meaning of pretty.

Pretty comes from the Middle English word ‘pratie’ which meant cunning, crafty, or clever”
This is related to a number of Old English words:

  • prættig – West Saxon
  • pretti – Kentish
  • prettig  – Mercian

These are all adjectives that mean cunning, skilful, artful, wily, or astute.

Before that, the words prætt or prett meant a type of trick, wile or craft. These words have a Proto-Germanic origin in *pratt- , which has closely related words in Old Norse , Frisian, Old Dutch, and Flemish.
Bt the beginning of the 15th century, pretty had evolved to also mean something manly or masculine, gallant, and something cleverly made.  By the mid 1400s, it had developed further to include the senses of attractiveness to the senses or holding aesthetic appeal, and of being slightly beautiful.

The use for pretty to express degree or amount developed by the mid 1500s, and pretty much had evolved by the mid 1600s.

A collection of pretty tho gs was called a prettiness in the late 1600s, while the use of pretty as a noun, such as “my pretty” developed in the 1700s, first in reference to things and then people.

The earlier meaning related to masculinity,  bravery and cleverness did an about-turn by the late 1800s, when the term pretty-boy came to be used as a derogatory term for any man deemed to be effeminate or suspected of being a homosexual.

In the early 1900s, pretty became a verb, meaning to make something or oneself more attractive.

It turns out that pretty is more than just a rather versatile word: it’s also fairly old and quite interesting.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
Etymonline

Pretty.
#words #language #blog

What’s Your ‘Word of the Decade’?

At the end of every year, there is much discussion about which words particularly define the year.

Now, the team at the Macquarie Dictionary is inviting us to vote for what we believe has been the word or term that defines the past decade.

There are some very good inclusions that still carry meaning and import, while others have already fallen in popularity and are not so commonly used.

Even so, the list is a interesting read and an insightful commentary on the past ten years.

Anyone can vote, so have a read and have your say in about the words and terms that evoke the 2010’s most clearly.

Source: Macquarie Dictionary

What’s Your ‘Word of the Decade’?
#words #language #blogpost

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

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

The Curious Origins of the Word ‘Wuthering’ – via Interesting Literature

My love of Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ is no secret to anyone who knows me, nor to readers of this blog.

I was delighted to find this great post on the etymology of the word ‘wuthering’, which is definitely a word that should be more widely used!

Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle explores the literary history of a distinctive word During the eight years I’ve been running this blog and combing every book, we…

Source: The Curious Origins of the Word ‘Wuthering’ – Interesting Literature

Sloth.

Sloths have become enormously popular in recent times. Cute, fluffy sloths adorn pyjamas, tee shirts, and accessories. Plush sloth toys adorn bedrooms and living rooms of kids of all ages. In this era of COVID-19, I even have a face mask with sloths on it.

Native to the rainforests of Central America and South America, they are fascinating animals. Although not conventionally attractive, we still tend to think of them as “cute”. They appear to smile all the time, and they appear to have a more relaxed attitude to life than most other animals with which we are familiar. When life is stressful and busy, being a sloth for a little while might be an attractive option.

These animals were first called sloths in the early 1600s. It came from a translation of the Portuguese word  preguiça which meant “slowness” or “slothfulness”. This, in turn, originated in the Latin word  pigritia which meant “laziness”.

Sloth is a Middle English word that evolved from an Old English word that meant “laziness” or “indolence”. The sense of meaning that relates to moving slowly or being late dates to the middle of the 14th century. The King James Bible of the early 17th century uses the word sloth as one of the seven deadly sins, being the sin of laziness .

The animal, then, took its name from the behaviour rather than the other way round.

Sources:
Etymonline
Macquarie Dictionary

Sloth.
#words #language #sloth