Awe, or just plain Aw?

Wandering among Words 6: Awe

I’m no etymologist but I do like exploring the genealogies of words: quite often these interrelated family trees reveal the real power of both the spoken and the written word, a kind of magic that’s so much stronger than the weak usage ancient roots are treated to over time.

I’ve already looked at some loose groupings of words and phrases and their meanings: (1) Water, (2) Corvid,
(3) Time, (4) Strangers, and (5) Upside Down. I now come to awe.*

Continue reading “Awe, or just plain Aw?”

Words matter

The goddess Ostara or Eostre by Johannes Gehrts (1884)

Happy Easter!

No, I’ve not gone all conventionally religious. You no doubt know that Easter wasn’t originally a Christian feast but a pagan one. Nearly a millennium and a half ago the Venerable Bede derived the Anglo-Saxon word for April — Eosturmonath or ‘Easter-month’ — from a celebration of the goddess Eostre, the latter probably an ancient divinity symbolising dawn and fertility and therefore extremely apt for the season. As are eggs, daffodils, chicks, lambs and rabbits. You see, words matter.

You may remember, in the immediate wake of the EU Referendum, a ridiculous suggestion that the mottoes Dieu et Mon Droit and Honi soit qui mal y pense be removed from the new British passports on the grounds that they were in French ( Yes, even with Brexiteers words matter, though in this case they blew up in the would be petitioner’s face.

You may or may not be pleased to know that the petition to Parliament fell far short of the 10000 signatures required to trigger a debate. Maybe it was down to the counter arguments that words like ‘passport’ were themselves of French or Latin origin, as are all the words below in bold:

The vote to leave the EU means people voted to Take Back Control. Control of their borders, their culture and their language. Whether ‘Dieu et mon droit’ and ‘Honi qui mal y pense’ have existed as mottos in England for ages is irrelevant. French is an EU language and has no place on a UK passport.

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Downside Up

Wondering among Words 5: Upside Down

A witty and amusing post by the Polish photo blogger who calls himself Rabirius was titled ‘Upside Down’: it showed two wheelie bins side by side, one arranged the correct way and the other … not.

It got me wondering: why do we in English call topsy-turvy things ‘upside down’ and not ‘downside up’? Why the bias? And do other Western languages do the same?

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How to speak improper

A plate of oysters by Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) Oyster: "a gob of thick phlegm, spit by a consumptive man"
A Plate of Oysters by Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827)
Oyster: “a gob of thick phlegm, spit by a consumptive man”

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue
Foreword by Max Harris
Senate / Studio Editions 1994 (1811)

No, that’s not good enough. The title page of the original (a facsimile is included in this edition) is much more informative as well as entertaining, and is worth reproducing, after a fashion.

Lexicon Balatronicum

Buckish Slang, University Wit,

Compiled originally by Captain Grose.

Hell-Fire Dick, and James Gordon, Esqrs. of Cambridge; and William
Soames, Esq. of the Hon. Society of Newman’s Hotel.

So just what is this Lexicon Balatonicum and what was its purpose? To answer the last first: it was a spoof dictionary, a compilation of obscure and not so obscure words and phrases put together for a laugh. The clue is in its first title: Continue reading “How to speak improper”