Archives for category: Language

And finally, my third of 3 selections in this second series of best entries in Jeff Kacirk’s Forgotten English, a desk calendar featuring an ancient or obscure word for each day of the year.

This word is the fabulous ‘williewaught’. No, it’s not relating to a part of the male anatomy. It means a large amount of alcoholic drink. As in, he’s had an absolute williewaught full, although they probably never used that kind of phrasing back in 1895. It apparently comes from the Scots word quaich, and before that the Gaelic word cuach, meaning drinking cup, but I’m struggling to see that.

This particular page of the calendar also offers a delightful bit of history around Oktoberfest. People heading to Oktoberfest sometimes say they’re going ‘to the meadow’, and apparent reference to the original site of the festivities.

And finally, on the subject of drinking to excess, to ‘come home by the villages’ meant to be drunk in the early twentieth century, since hostelries were in the villages. To come home by the fields, conversely, where there were no pubs, meant to be sober. Fabulous stuff.

Here’s my second choice in the second 3-part series of cool words from Jeff Kacirk’s Forgotten English, which is one of those page-a-day desk calendars currently adorning my home office.

My choice today is the glorious ‘beastle’, which apparently means to befoul or make filthy. Perhaps it gives rise to the adjective beastly, which we still use these days, though that’s more than likely a variant of the noun beast.

As with part IV, this entry also sticks in the mind for the accompanying ‘on this day in history’ narrative, being the anniversary of the death in 2001 of James ‘The Fox’ Phillips, who was by all accounts one of the earliest eco-saboteurs.

He was a biology teacher who got sick of industrial polluters and from the late 1960s covertly sabotaged – or ‘made filthy’ – factories and terrorised company CEOs in his locality. He seems to be have been the forerunner and perhaps inspiration for organisations like Greenpeace.

Earlier in the year I featured 3 of my favourite instances of Jeff Kacirk’s Forgotten English calendar, a daily rip-off page devoted to ancient and obscure words. I thought it a good time to revisit them with another 3-part series.

Today’s choice is from 1st October: a come-off

It means an escape or evasion, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard it used that way. It dates from early twentieth century American English.

The calendar not only features a word or phrase, it also ties it to something historical that happened on this day. A Jewish chap called Niels Bohr was helped away on the 1st of October 1943 from Denmark to Sweden and the plan was supposed to be that he would then go to America to help the atomic weapons effort. He dug his heels in since Sweden wouldn’t take Jewish refugees, until the country relented.

As a rather touching postscript, when Sweden’s refugees returned to Copenhagen after the war, they found that their neighbours had looked after their homes. And the rest is history, specifically atomic history in Herr Bohr’s case.

I was on a website the other day and on their home page they described how they ‘were setup in 1993’. This looks plain wrong to me.

There’s an easy distinction to me. To set up is the verb, it’s two words, like put up, show up, grow up and so on. Setup is a noun, and a pretty modern one at that.

It simply reads much better to say ‘we were set up in 1993’, or better still, since passive verbs are not great in this context, ‘we set up the business in 1993.’

Here are some more examples of how verb and noun drive a different format of the word or words:

‘The setup was all wrong for that meeting.’

‘That meeting was a disaster. They set us up.’

‘Let’s set up the meeting this way, because the right setup will set us up for a good outcome.’

Verb is two words, noun one.

Yes, I know I’m being slightly pedantic and the sense is clear from what the company has written on their website, even though they don’t know or care about the distinction. But it looks odd that way, and puts me off. Is it just me?

 

There’s a scene in the film Jack from 1996 where Robin Williams plays a child in a prematurely aged man’s body. After describing why he was late for something – I haven’t actually seen the film but I remember this scene just from the trailer – using words and hand gestures to describe his visit to the toilet, the lady he’s talking to says ‘well that’s more that I needed to know.’

There are of course many variations on the TMI or Too Much Information phrase where we reveal too much personal information for the comfort of whoever we’re talking to.

I heard one the other day, used by one of my sisters-in-law and I expect you’ve been using it yourself already. It’s the act of ‘oversharing’. I thought this was hilarious, and it describes exactly what’s happening.

Our social adroitness attunes us to what is acceptable in terms of sharing information on ourselves. For some people who don’t have the social calibration set quite right for a given situation, this balance between sharing too little and sharing too much is a hard one to strike.

It has its parallels in work as well, by which I don’t mean social interactions between the individuals in a company or companies, but more the exchanging of information between people as part of a deal or project.

You can share too little, or undershare I guess – which doesn’t seem to attract the level of opprobrium that its generous counterpart does – or you can overshare, providing the other party with more than is useful for them, forcing them to waste time getting to the good stuff.

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind…sorry, bit of a tangent there. But, it’s a good question. When you’re using phrases like much appreciated, well versed, often forgotten and so on, when should you use a hyphen and when not? Here I’m really talking about attaching adverbs to verbs. There are many other instances when you have to decide on a hyphen, or not.

Tricky one, but here’s my rule of thumb on it. Could be wrong, but makes sense to me. When you’re using the supine – that’s the passive bit of the verb, but it applies equally well to a part of the verb like occurring, as in often occurring – in a verbal sense, then I don’t use it. When you’re using the supine in an adjectival sense, then I do plonk in a hyphen. It’s as much about directing the reader as anything.

A couple of examples might help. ‘Thanks, that’s much appreciated. It’s well thought out’ Appreciated and thought are verbal, so much and well are simply the adverbs, as in next to the verb.

‘He gave me a well-intentioned slap on the back’. Here, gave is the verb, and well and intentioned describe the slap, so they’re used adjectivally, so I hyphenate them.

‘Often fired, sadly missed.’ Bit of autobiography here. This sentence is actually engraved on a bench in the bowls club where my late father used to play. Here, both fired and missed are verbs, not adjectives, so no hyphens. Both clauses are a clever play on words, when you think about the context, eh? I can’t claim ownership, my youngest brother coined it.

So, with this poorly-exampled post, which I’ve often considered but never put down in print, I’ll take my well-earned but seldom-occurring leave and promptly sign off, until the next time.

‘Age is just a number.’ Don’t you hate it when the gym instructor says that, as you bemoan your general state of feebleness and fragility after a lung bursting effort following the latest ‘here’s a great new exercise for you to try, you’ll love it!’? Or coming from someone looking insufferably youthful?  Yup, I know. Your age is just a number, an inexorably increasing one, until it stops, obviously. Despite the fact we’d love to turn the clock back, almost all the time we’d rather ours went up than stopped, I imagine.

I get that our approach to ageing is often a reflection of our state of mind. It’s a perception thing too, the messages we send out and the way people interpret them.

There is still the raw number itself, however, our actual passport- or birth cert-verified age. When it comes to that, I prefer the odd numbers to the even. Of course 29 is better than 30, but what about 31? Counter-intuitive, no? I think it sounds better, feels better.

I’m not sure why I prefer the odd numbers. It’s illogical and irrational, I know. I just do.

Rings are a great way to communicate. Married, engaged to be married, not married – there’s a world of jewellery-inspired signalling on the finger next to your left pinkie finger, or your right finger, depending on where you’re from. It’s not always been that particular ring finger either.

We use jewellery to communicate our partnering availability and non-availability to others. I’ve seen women with rings on every finger of their hand except their wedding finger, and men who are married but don’t wear any kind of band. I couldn’t wait to get my wedding band on.

Then there’s the famous Irish Claddagh Ring. It’s supposed to originate in the oldest part of Galway, the Claddagh maritime area, in the west of Ireland. The three symbols making up the ring signify different things; the heart for love, the crown for loyalty and the hands for friendship. It’s often used as a wedding ring for men and women.

Perhaps most fascinating of all is how you wear the ring, by which I mean in which direction. If you wear it with the heart pointing into you, and the crown facing away, it means you’re spoken for. If you wear it what I would call ‘upside down’, it means you’re not.

As soon as I met Her Ladyship and found out about the Claddagh ring and its significance, I went out and bought one for my right pinky finger, putting it on with the heart pointing inwards. It looked like a signet ring and gave me ideas above my station.

Incidentally, and with full disclosure that I have been helping them with their digital marketing, JVD Claddagh Rings have their own take on the traditional Claddagh ring, incorporating a Celtic knot motif within the heart and a gentler treatment of the crown, as pictured. Lovely for wedding rings and heritage pieces, don’t you know. Here’s the link to the shop.

No, not the infantile word for urination, the abbreviation when you’re signing something on someone else’s behalf.

They say you learn something new every day. That was certainly true for me this morning. I always assumed that ‘pp’ stood for ‘pro per’, or on ‘behalf of, through’ as it is in Latin. It also used to irk me that you’d see the pp next to the person’s signature, rather than on the line of the person they were signing on behalf of. ‘pp John Smith…Jane Smith, Director of Policy’ wasn’t right, or so I reasoned, should be ‘John Smith….pp Jane Smith, Director of Policy.’

Well, blow me down. I looked it up this morning. It stands for per procurationem, meaning through the agency (of), or by delegation if you like. Furthermore, it turns out it can be shortened to per pro, not pro per, so doubly wrong. If that’s not enough, the pp belongs on the line of the delegated person too. Sheesh!

I took small comfort from the fact that the pp can also appear on the bottom line, but not much comfort.

Well, stap me vitals, as they used to say. That was the second thing I learned this morning, as I wrote this post. I always thought the phrase was ‘stack me/my vitals’…apparently I’m not alone in feeling confused (read the comments).

The TLA – the three letter acronym which of course is itself a TLA – is shorthand, jargon that we can use in good ways and bad ways. It saves us time and effort, but is also something to hide behind and can exclude others.

I think how we use the term TLA varies between the spoken and written word. If the first letter of the TLA starts with a vowel sound, and is a consonant like the F of FAQ, we’re more likely to say ‘an FAQ’ when we’re talking. It’s easier and sounds better.

If we use a TLA in the written word, like in a report, then we’re likely not to use ‘an’ before a vowel-sounding TLA, as in ‘If you have a FAQ, please consult the FAQ section.’ Or are we?

This is where it gets ambiguous, when you’re in the realm of email, which is kind of written but kind of spoken too, or at least is the chattier form of the written word.

Essentially you as the writer are signalling to the reader whether you want them to read it as a TLA in their head or read it as the expanded phrase the TLA refers to. For example, the other day I received an emailed that closed with ‘… a MNC’, where MNC is a multinational company. For me the reader wants me to think ‘a multinational company’. If he had written an MNC, I think he would want me to think MNC, which also means multinational company.

Geddit? Too deep? Neither relevant nor interesting? To answer the title of the post, if you want your vowel-sounding TLA to be read as a TLA, use the ‘an’, otherwise don’t.

Then there’s the vowel-sounding TLA which begins with an actual vowel, like an OTC drug, which is a whole lot easier!