Ruthful, funct and doleless

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Why can’t someone be clueful, only clueless? Hapful, not simply hapless? Aweless instead of just awful? Ruthful not merely ruthless? Doleless, not just doleful? Gormful, not just gormless? We can be thoughtful or thoughtless, careful or careless, mindful and mindless. Why not ruthful and gormful? Why not the qualities of ruthiness, gormliness and doleliness? Can we be kempt or just unkempt? Couth or just uncouth? Gruntled or just disgruntled? Shevelled or just dishevelled?* Maculate or just immaculate? Domitable, or just indomitable? Ruly or just unruly? Can … click below for more ↓

How to Spot a Communist

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As I just learned from a recent piece on Open Culture, I must be a Communist. Based on my preference for writing (and reading), that is. (This would definitely surprise my left-wing friends who often think I’m right of Stephen Harper… himself being so far right of the iconic Genghis Khan that it defines a memetic categorization). Damn, I’ve been exposed… According to the piece, a 1955 manual prepared during the Second Red Scare for the U.S. First Army Headquarters helped readers identify potential “Communists.” … click below for more ↓

The Death of Handwriting?

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I almost cried in pleasure when I watched this video; the handwriting is so beautiful. Apparently some viewers have, as Jesus Diaz writes. On Gizmodo he says that it’s: …a video that caused many to discover autonomous sensory meridian response, a perceptual phenomenon that gives a pleasing tingling sensation. Some said they got it watching people writing. Well, put your headphones on, because this is the mother of all calligraphy ASMR videos. Okay, maybe it is for me because I was raised with handwriting and still … click below for more ↓

The Hunting of the Snark

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I’ve always wondered why Lewis Carroll’s wonderful poem, The Hunting of the Snark – an Agony in Eight Fits – has never been redone, rewritten in a modern version, with modern references and people. It seems to lend itself to revision, at least to my eyes. Perhaps it’s because this sort of whimsical, satirical poem is not popular these days (it was written between 1874 and 76, a decade after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and three decades after Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense). Perhaps it’s because it’s … click below for more ↓

Me, Myself and I

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At council meetings across the province, you will hear someone say “Moved by myself…” when presenting a motion at the table. To me it’s like nails on a blackboard. The grammatically correct way to present a motion is, of course, to say, “Moved by me…” So why the mistake? Common misunderstanding and discomfort, it appears, according to the grammar sites I read today. People often (and incorrectly) think “me” is incorrect or even coarse (well, it is when you say something like “Me and my friends … click below for more ↓

Feetish or Fettish?

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I was surprised to recently read in David Crystal’s book, The Story of English in 100 Words, that fetish – which I pronounce “feh-tesh” –  was once pronounced “feetish.” In fact, in the 1920s, Crystal writes, the BBC had that pronunciation in its guide for radio broadcasters.* It makes sense, of course, when you think about it. Usually when there is a single consonant before a vowel, that vowel is pronounced long. It usually takes two consonants to shorten it. For example: Holy and holly; … click below for more ↓

What’s in a missing word?

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There’s a line in one of Horace’s epistles that really caught my eye. In Latin it reads: Utque sacerdotis fugitiuus liba recuso, pane egeo iam mellitis potiore placentis Horace: Epistles, Book I, X No, I can’t translate it.* However, I was reading David Ferry’s 2001 translation and he renders it like this: I’m like that slave who ran away because They fed him honey cakes and he longed for bread. That appealled to me both for my recent passion for making bread, but also for … click below for more ↓

Amo, Amas, Amat…. and what?

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My well-thumbed copy of Eugene Ehrlich’s book, Amo, Amas, Amat and More, is dated 1985. It’s amusingly subtitled “How to Use Latin to Your Own Advantage and to the Astonishment of Others.” It’s still in print, it seems, or was as recently as 2006. I’ve read my copy on and off for the past 25-plus years, but have not been able to effectively astonish anyone with my grasp of Latin. Possibly the reason for this is that my grasp of Latin is small. Very small. … click below for more ↓

Saving Fubsy from Lexicographical Caliginosity

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Cousin Stephen, you will never be a saint. Isle of saints. You were awfully holy, weren’t you? You prayed to the Blessed Virgin that you might not have a red nose. You prayed to the devil in Serpentine avenue that the fubsy widow in front might lift her clothes still more from the wet street. O si, certo! Sell your soul for that, do, dyed rags pinned round a squaw. More tell me, more still!! On the top of the Howth tram alone crying to … click below for more ↓

Dictionaries: Concise, Compact, and dacoit

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Dacoit: noun; one of a class of criminals in India and Burma who rob and murder in roving gangs. A member of a band of armed robbers in India or Burma. A bandit. Origin: Hindi and Urdu. I love dictionaries. I like opening them up to a random page and just reading, discovering words and uses that I didn’t know. I love finding origins of words and phrases; linguistic connections between past and present. I will happily spend hours reading through Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, or … click below for more ↓

The Weird World of Plotto

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I came across Plotto a few years back – references to it in other works, rather than the actual book. it sounded strange, complex and wildly over-reaching. I couldn’t find one – it was long out of print. It wasn’t until I got my own copy that I realized how really odd, clumsy – and delightful – it is. Plotto was first published in 1928, and not reprinted until recently as far as I can tell, which is why it’s not been readily available to … click below for more ↓

These Poolish Things…

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Poolish. Levain. Banneton. Autolyse. Retardation. Lactobaccilli. Bassinage. Windowpane test. Crumb. Batard. Barm. A new vocabulary is building in me, one that brings the lore of breadmaking, the etymology of the loaf to my conversation.* It’s a necessary vocabulary, if one wants to fully understand the techniques and technology of baking bread. Knowing the names of things gives one power. It’s also a bit like being welcomed into a secret society where members whisper to one another in their codified language. Is there a secret handshake? It … click below for more ↓

The Fretful Porpentine

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Like quills upon the fretful porpentine. That phrase just makes the modern reader stop and wonder. What, you ask yourself, is a porpentine? And why is it fretful? We never learn, although later interpreters would knowingly tell us a porpentine is a porcupine in today’s argot. Porcupine itself dervices from the Old or Middle French term, “porc espin” or spined pig. Which it isn’t – it’s a rodent. * It’s an old word, encountered earlier as “purpentine” in 1589, but hardly a common word in any … click below for more ↓

The Circuitous Path from Bulge to Budget

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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQO7e_a-gvU] If tinkers may have leave to live, And bear the sow-skin budget, Then my account I well may, give, And in the stocks avouch it. Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale,  Act IV, Sc. III, Shakespeare These lines got me thinking about the town’s finances. Sow-skin budget? What does that mean? And how does that relate to the financial plan for the coming year staff is preparing for council’s review? I did some reading (of course…). In Shakespeare’s time, the online etymological dictionary tells us the … click below for more ↓

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