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

Zucked.

I do the love the Macquarie Dictionary.

It is the dictionary of Australian English, expressive of all classes and of our multicultural society. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with it because of my frequent reference to it in my word-nerdy posts.

Today, though, the editors excelled themselves.

On the day when Facebook cut off access to all Australian news channels— sadly including sources of information relied upon by particular social groups such as  Indigenous communities, domestic violence support groups for women and families, and local information networks— as a result of a disagreement with the Australian government over market share and finances, the Macquarie tweeted that Australians have been zucked.

An obvious play on the F-bomb and Zuckerberg, it’s a clever new portmanteau word.

A portmanteau word is one created by blending two existing words or parts of words to create a new word. The name comes from a portmanteau, which is a type of suitcase that opens into two halves. This  dates back to Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’:

from ‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll, courtesy of archive.org

We use portmanteau words every day, without many of us realising how they were created:

  • Botox —  botulism toxin
  • Brexit — British exit from the European Union
  • Bollywood — Bombay and Hollywood
  • Email — electronic mail
  • Fortnight — fourteen nights, so two weeks
  • Sitcom — situation comedy
  • Webinar — web seminar

English is actually full of these words, as it’s a form of wordplay that has been around for hundreds of years.

Sources:
Britannica
Etymonline
Macquarie Dictionary

Zucked.
#words #language #facebooknewsban

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

Easily Confused Words: Sputter vs. Splutter

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Today’s post comes in response to a heartfelt plea for clarification between sputter and splutter:

These two words are easily confused, not just because they sound so similar, but also because they can both relate to the way in which people speak. 

Both suggest a degree of incoherence or inability to express oneself in a composed manner. The difference is in the manner of expression: sputter is more explosive and suggestive of anger or violence, while splutter suggests confusion that comes from excitement or struggling to find the right words. 

Dona may be reassured that she has not in fact been making a terrible mistake, and most of her readers might not ever have noticed the difference.

When writing about how people speak, the choice between sputter and splutter is one of nuance and tone rather than being right or wrong. 

Easily Confused Words: Sputter vs. Splutter #words #language #blog

PS: Dona Fox writes excellent horror stories. If that’s your thing follow her and read her books!

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

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