Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Campestral - Fields of Freedom

Photo by 3rd Eye


Adjective. Early 18th century.
[from Latin campester, -tr-, from campus: see CAMP noun, -AL.]

Pertaining to fields or open country; growing or living in fields.

campestrial obsolete. adjective. Only in 17th century.

Fields are magical. Fields are for dreaming, for meditation, for relaxing, an escape from the constant pressure of the modern world, the incessant chatter of technology and life. Fields bring us closer to nature, to the natural world, and to ourselves; fields are where we can disconnect and reconnect simultaneously, putting just a little bit of distance between us and a world that constantly demands our attention. Fields are magical.

Do you have any campestral thoughts or memories?

Do feel free to comment below.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Campanology - That Word Rings a Bell

Campanology, Bell ringing,


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[modern Latin campanologia, formed as CAMPANA: see -OLOGY.]

The subject of bells, their founding, ringing, etc.

Anyone that's ever lived within earshot of a bell tower knows how their sound becomes part of the locale, part of the personality and spirit of the place. Campanology, while it might sound like the study of all things affectedly marvelous and theatrical, is actually a broad subject covering virtually all things bell-related, from the science of their design and the materials used in their construction, to their history, culture and traditions. And, of course, the art of bell ringing. To accommodate the revered place bells have in human culture (the earliest bells ever discovered have been dated to 3000 BC), English has a variety of campan- words, originating from Late Latin campana, meaning 'bell'. These include:

Noun. E17
1 A bell; a bell-shaped flower. Now rare or obsolete. E17
2 A bell-shaped vase. E19

Adjective. M18

Noun. L19
A person versed in the subject of bells; a campanologist.

Noun. M19
An expert in campanology, a student of bells.

Adjective. M17.
Chiefly BOTANY & ZOOLOGY.  Bell shaped.

Some of the world's most famous bells include Big Ben in Elizabeth Tower, London, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and the Tsar Bell in Moscow which, while currently the heaviest bell in the world at 180 tonnes, is actually a campanalogical virgin as it's never been rung. In terms of sheer size, however, all of these are dwarfed by the mighty Great Bell of Dhammazedi from Hanthawaddy Pagu (modern day Myanmar). Cast in 1484 for the Schwedagon Padoga, it weighs about 300 tonnes and is 6.3m high. In 1608, however, Portuguese mercenary and professional git Filipe de Brito stole it and had it rolled down a hill and loaded onto a raft to be towed by his flagship along the Yangon River. The raft, however, was clearly not up to the task of tugging a 300 tonne bell and quickly sank, taking the bell and de Brito's ship with it. Despite numerous attempts to salvage it, the Great Bell of Dhammazedi remains there to this day, under 8m of mud. De Brito, for his troubles, was later executed by impalement, the punishment reserved for those that defile Buddhist temples. 

These are jingle bells, which are also kind of famous
(photo by Richard Wheeler)
Are you a campanologist?

Do you live within the sound of ringing bells?

What rings yours?

Do please hammer out your most campaniform comments below.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Camouflage - A Hidden History

A sample of Disruptive Pattern Material from the British Armed Forces
(photo by Adrian Harlen)


Noun & verb. Early 20th century.
[French, from camoufler verb (thieves' slang) from Italian camuffare disguise, decieve,
perhaps associated with French camouflet whiff of smoke in the face: see -AGE.]

A noun. The disguising or concealment of guns, ships, aircraft, etc.,
by obscuring with splashes of various colours, foliage, netting, smokescreens, etc.;

the disguise so used;

generally any means of disguise or evasion. E20

B verb trans. Conceal by camouflage. E20

Anyone that's familiar with the famous sniper training scene in the Hollywood film Clear and Present Danger might well conclude that it's all a bit, well, Hollywood. A camouflaged sniper is hidden in a field, scoring points by shooting targets, while his superiors attempt to identify his position using binoculars and spotters on the ground. After the hidden sniper scores successive hits without been located, his officers command him to show himself. To their shock, he stands up from the undergrowth right in front of them. "Soldier, how did you get that close to me?" demands the sergeant-major. "Sniper approached the instructor," barked the sniper in response, "by being a sneaky [egg-muffin], Sergeant-Major!" Oh yes. All very Hollywood.

Except that it isn't. My first experience of this was in the early 2000s, on my first proper assignment in running a multi-faceted surveillance operation in the rurals. One member of the team was an ex-special forces soldier, and his role required him to don his ghillie suit, dig in for the day, and report all movement from the entrance to the subject's workplace, which was an isolated farm. Despite being in a vantage point, and despite knowing his position in the field, I was never able to spot him once on a 16-hour surveillance. And believe me that I tried - there are long periods of inactivity on a surveillance and there was little else to do but peer through my binoculars and try and locate the sneaky [egg-muffin], but I never could.

A demonstration of the ghillie suit

While I never trained in 'field' or 'ground' work (different agencies and companies use different terminology for this type of surveillance), I did pick up a few principles from the times I had to don my camo kit and crawl through terrain to deliver supplies, collect tapes, etc. One of the major reasons that the guillie suit is effective, for example, is not because it matches the colour of the surroundings, although this is definitely a factor, but because it distorts the outline of the operative - straight lines, so rarely found in nature, are a dead giveaway (for many years, the camouflage of the British Armed Forces was called DPM, or Disruptive Pattern Material).

The history of camouflage as we recognise it today is relatively recent, as anyone that's seen the uniform of a British Redcoat (18th and 19th century) will know. Effective camouflage became a necessity with the improvements of arms technology in the 19th century, as rifling and ballistics greatly improved both the accuracy, range and lethality of small-arms fire, and small-scale use of camouflage was one of the advancements made during the Napoleonic Wars. The etymology of camouflage is French, originating from the Parisian slang camouflet, meaning (as Chambers 20th Century Dictionary puts it) 'a whiff of smoke intentionally blown in the face, an affront'. Considering how disorientating having smoke blown in your face is, particularly if by someone you're trying to punch, this seems an apt etymology indeed.

Of course, one can be overconfident ...
(image by Kreezzalee)

Have you ever had to use camouflage?

Have you ever lost something because you camouflaged it?

Do please field your most disruptive comments in the box below.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Camera - Room for Development

Probably time for an upgrade
(photo by AJK)


Noun. Late 17th century.
[Latin = vault, arched chamber, from Greek kamara object with arched cover: compare with CHAMBER noun.]

1 In Italy, Spain, etc. a (council or legislative) chamber;
the treasury department of the papal curia. L17

2 An arched or vaulted roof or chamber.
Chiefly in the names of (parts of) buildings. See also IN CAMERA. E18

3 elliptical = CAMERA OBSCURA. M18

4 Any apparatus used for taking photographs or television pictures. M19


an eye that records detailed impressions; a person capable of unusually detailed or detached observation or memory

operating a camera professionally, especially in cinema or television

adjective (PRINTING) (of copy) in a form suitable for photographing or electronic scanning

camera shake
(blurring due to) unintentional movement of the camera during photography or filming

adjective not liking to be photographed or filmed

operating a camera professionally especially in cinema or television

the manner or technique of positioning and using cameras in films, television, etc.

noun (chiefly US, archaic) a person who uses a camera. M19

While on a Romanian language course, I noticed that one word raised more eyebrows than any other: cameră. In Romanian, cameră means 'room', and with the typical linguistic superciliousness common to most native English-speakers, incredulous glances were exchanged among the students with mutterings of "Oh those crazy Romanians!", "How bally confusing!" and "Well by Dickens what do you lot of rotters call an actual camera then?"

Note: stereotypical Britishisms have been added for effect and, in truth, the general response was just "Oh those crazy Romanians!" with a roll of the eyes

However, if I may gallantly jump to the linguistic defence of our prieteni români, it is really they, and not us, who are more correct on this, as camera is Latin for 'vault' or 'arched chamber'. And they're not the only ones to have retained this historical meaning: camera is 'room' in Italian, and in Spanish una cámara is a chamber; even the French chambre, from where we get chamber, comes directly from the Latin camera. So, seeing as camera means 'vault' in Latin, the question really isn't "Why do those crazy Romanians use camera for 'room'?", but "Why do those crazy English-speakers use camera for 'camera'?" And no, clever-clogs, the word didn't have those two meanings in Latin; while I'm no classical scholar, I'm reasonably certain that the Romans didn't have any word for the camera of the snap-snap variety, which brings us to ...

The disposable camera obscura never really took off
(didn't see the light of day, had an image problem, etc, etc)

Why do those crazy English-speakers use the Latin camera for 'camera'?

We get the word camera (the photographic type) from camera obscura (literally 'dark chamber'). A camera obscura is a box or room (yes! Room! Another point for those savvy Romanians) which can project an image of external objects onto a surface. It does so by having a small aperture through which light enters, which is focused on a surface which displays an image that, while upside down, preserves both the colour and perspective of the external scene. Camera obscuras (yes, that is the correct plural) have been used for thousands of years - both the Ancient Chinese and Ancient Greeks had them. If you're wondering why anyone would want to project an image that was just outside the box or room, you have to remember that these were simpler, more innocent (and pre-photographic) times, and all this was jolly entertaining. That, and it was useful for drawing, of course. And looking at the sun. And keeping an eye on those bechlamysed Greek chavs who are hanging around outside your house. As to why we adopted camera for a camera, in reality all photographic cameras are examples of camera obscuras - the difference being that, since the 19th century and with the advent of photography, ways have been developed to preserve the projected image (other than laboriously painting or drawing it). Thus, camera is just a shortened form of camera obscura. Oh, and in case you're still wondering how you say camera in Romanian, it's apartat de fotografiat. The nutters.

Quite possibly the coolest camera ever invented - you can't be a wannabe hipster without one
(photo by Hiroyuki Takeda)
What does camera mean in your language?

Are you camera-shy, snap-happy or developmentally challenged?

Do please get your Nikon and comment Leica boss in the box below.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Cambrian - The Influence of Welsh on the English Language



Adjective & noun. Mid-17th century.
[from medieval Latin Cambria Wales, variant (with differentiation of sense) of Cumbria (see CUMBRIAN), + -AN.]

A(1) adjective. Of or pertaining to Wales, Welsh; a Welsh person. M17

A(2) GEOLOGY. Designating or pertaining to the earliest period of the Palaeozoic era,
preceding the Ordovician. M19

B noun. GEOLOGY. The Cambrian period; the system of rocks dating from this time. M19

It's hard not to feel sorry for the rather unappreciated Welsh. Not only do they have to endure being the butt of numerous jokes and slanderous aspersions about their penchant for consonants and sheep, they must suffer the utter ignominy of (particularly English) people imitating their rather lovely and melodic accent. Internationally things aren't much better, with Wales lacking the cultural punch of similarly sized countries like Scotland and Ireland. Not only is Wales the only constituent country to be unrepresented in the Union Jack, but the European Union has omitted it entirely from its maps several times - wiping it from existence, annihilating it, as if it were never there at all.

Wales is like the smallest and youngest in a big, brash, self-absorbed family - the Wilkerson's Dewey, the Simpson's Maggie, the Bluth's Maeby: talented and resilient, but habitually overlooked and drowned out in the cacophony of its rowdy family. Lexicolatry, however, stands up for the little guy. Wales might be smaller, it might be quieter, but it is no less proud and you ... yes you! ... the way you speak has been touched by Wales, the Welsh people and the Welsh language. If you're still in denial, Lexicolatry is proud to present to you a list of seven Cambrian words that you speak every day (or at least quite often) that you had no idea were Welsh. Enjoy!
In case you're not from these parts (or are an EU bureaucrat), Wales is dark green.

Seven English Words of Welsh Origin

I like cardigans; at times I've even been known to wear a cardigan. And we all know, of course, that they're named after the 7th Earl of Cardigan, leader of the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade. Where, however, does his title and the surname come from? It's likely that its use as a surname comes from Cardigan, which is an Anglicised version of the Welsh Ceredigion, meaning 'Ceredig's land'. As for that ill-fated 7th Earl of Cardigan - sadly there's no offloading him onto the Welsh. His name was James Brudenell, he was from Buckinghamshire, and he was most definitely English. Nuts.

Corgis may be a favourite of the Queen, and their abduction to force her abdication might even be a spy thriller plot, but corgis are most definitely Welsh. Just in case there's any ambiguity on this, the two distinct corgi breeds are called the Pembroke Welsh corgi and the Cardigan Welsh corgi. Oh, and corgi is Welsh, from cor (dwarf) and ci (dog). 

Ah! Dad - my daughter's first word! How the thought of that day warms my heart and tickles my nostalgia-bone. And who would have thought, of all languages, her first word would be Welsh? Well, this one is, I grant you, a teensy bit tenuous, with the OED unwilling to definitively say that dad is of Welsh origin. However, some etymologists claim that dad did come from the Welsh tad. Or the Irish daid. Well, let's not quibble OK? It's a lovely word. And Dads are the best. 

There's not much to say about this, other than if you washed your face (or any other body part) with a flannel today, you washed it with a little piece of Wales (metaphorically speaking), as it's from gwlanen, meaning 'woollen article' in Welsh.

Flummery, which is akin to the blandandering of a bombastic blatherskite, is from the Welsh llymru. I hope that's clear.

Well this one is less surprising, what with Wales having a long history of coal mining. Its etymology isn't completely clear, entering English through Old French, but its Celtic origins, particularly when compared to the Welsh word mwyn meaning 'ore', are convincing.

And possibly the least likely word on the list - penguin - which is probably from the Welsh pen gwyn meaning 'white head', originally applied to the now extinct Great Auk, a similarly coloured flightless bird which, to an untrained eye like mine, looks a lot like a penguin.  

I can personally attest that the Cambrian countryside is spectacularly beautiful
(photo by Vic Spears)
So there you have it - there's a little bit of Welsh in every English speaker. And just in case you're wondering, the following words are not of Welsh origin: leek (Germanic), daffodil (Latin), choir (Latin), rugby (English), consonant (Latin) and ... no ... not sheep either, which is Old English.

Are you a proud Cambrian?

Do you speak Welsh?

Do you know any other words of Welsh origin?

Do please leave your most Welsh-centric comments in the box below.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Camaraderie - Brothers in Arms

Photo by Jayel Aheram.


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[French, from camarade COMRADE: see -ERY.]

The mutual trust and sociability of comrades.

Uniformed services, such as the military, police and fire service, often have a special camaraderie that is impossible for outsiders to properly understand. In deployment or action, that camaraderie manifests itself in bonding to face a common enemy; even at peace, a unit can enjoy the camaraderie of working against, or working despite of, their ignorant and incompetent superiors. Much is done to foster such mutual trust, from the uniforms and special insignia they wear, inculcation of pride in their unit's shared history, to extra-occupational activities such as having their own sports teams (which themselves have a special brand of camaraderie). Such camaraderie can be a two-edged sword, however, as while it is known to prompt great acts of valour and heroism on behalf of the respective service, misguided or manipulated camaraderie can also cause members of a unit to ignore, cover up or participate in bullying, corruption and even crimes against humanity.

45 Sqn RAF, Football team, RAF Tengah, Singapore. 1950-51 Season
Do please comment below.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Caltrop - A Step in the Spike Direction

A Russian caltrop, so called because you won't be rushin' anywhere after stepping on it
Actually it's just because it's Russian
(image by Древности Российского)


Noun. Also caltrap.
[Old English calcatrippe from medieval Latin calcatrippa, -trappa; senses 2 & 3 from
(ultimately identical) Old French kauketrape dialect variant of cauchetrape, chauche- (modern chaussetrape),
from chauchier tread + trappe trap.]

1 Originally a plant which tended to catch or entangle the feet.
Later, a plant with a flower-head suggestive of the military instrument (sense 3 below);
specifically (a) a water chestnut, Trapa natans, also water caltrop(s);
(b) a member of the genus Tribulus. OE

2 obsolete. A trap or snare for the feet. ME-M19

3 Historical. An iron ball with four spikes placed so that one is always projecting upwards,
thrown on the ground to impede cavalry horses. Also, a heraldic representation of this. LME

There are few greater agonies to be inflicted upon the human frame than that of stepping on an upturned plug. And we're not talking namby-pamby continental-style plugs here - we're talking full-on, three-pronged, conveniently-designed-to-always-be-upturned British and Irish style pluggery here. Oh the excruciation! The rage! The utter incapacitation of stepping on one of these! There is no pain - no pain - like it. And yet there is a contender for, while we can be thankful that we can take precautions in our homes to not leave upturned plugs lying about, their martially medieval counterparts, the caltrops, were tossed about with gay abandon during ... well ... since time immemorial, since the time when man first wanted to stop different man marching (or riding) toward him and staving his head in with a club.

The caltrop is a device of such fiendish simplicity and effectiveness that it's been in use since at least Roman times (and probably earlier), and has continued to make foot-piercingly painful appearances right through to World War II and beyond. It consists of any device, sometimes as simple as knotted wire, which has mutiple spikes and is designed, just like the Anglo-Irish plug, so that it should always fall spike up. Oh, and let's not forget the barbs - once an enemy has gone to the dashed trouble of stepping on one of your lovely caltrops, it would seem a tad unfair if he could just yank it out, wouldn't it? Such was the caltrop's effectiveness that not only would they stop man and horse but they would quickly render a war elephant - a war elephant - into a whimpering, blubbering mess. Which does seem a little cruel. Although were I to have been a lowly front-line foot soldier with a six-tonne Carthaginian war elephant bearing down on me, I probably wouldn't have been too worried about poor Nelly's feet.

Have you ever stepped on an upturned plug?

Have you ever stepped on a caltrop?

Do please wince, clench your buttocks, and hop out your spikiest comments below.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Calorie - Calorific Confusion and Joule Meanings

One slice, one calorie - that would be my system
(photo by Captured Wavelengths)


Noun. Also calory. Mid-19th century.
[French, from Latin calor heat + French -ie -Y.]

A unit of heat or energy;


(a) the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree centigrade
(also called a kilocalorie, large calorie, great calorie),
frequently used as a measure of the energy value of foods (abbreviation Cal);


 (b) the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree centigrade,
equal to approximately 4.19 joule (also called small calorie, abbreviation cal).

So at least that's ... umm ... clear then
(photo by Brett "Takes Pics of Sultana Packets" Jordon)


Adjective. Late 17th century.
[Latin calorificus, from calori-, calor heat: see -FIC.]

1 Producing heat; loosely of or pertaining to heat. L17

2 Relating to the number of calories contained in food;
(of food) containing many calories and so likely to be fattening. L20

Having been too lazy to ever count a calorie in my life, I was recently in the unenviable position of having to fast (which is as fun as it doesn't sound) by keeping my calorific intake to under 600 for a couple of days. "That's OK," I thought, "with all the emphasis on clear food labelling thanks to the obesity epidemic in the West, it should be a doddle to understand how many calories any given food contains." Well, no, it wasn't. Although I've never been particularly adept at understanding charts, I found the whole 'calorie' concept thoroughly mystifying. What's a kcal? What's the difference between a cal and a Cal? And why do I care how many kilojoules or amps or gigawatts or whatever are in my food? And seeing as k normally means 1,000, am I to believe that this 100g packet of sultanas (see above picture) really contains 295,000 calories?

Well, in answer to that last question, bizarrely yes - that 100g packet does contain 295,000 calories, but the food labellers have (un)helpfully decided to express that as 295kcal. The confusion arises because calories aren't really anything to do with food; rather, they're units of energy, and specifically a unit which can raise the temperature of 1g of water by 1 degree centigrade - one thousand of these units is popularly used as a unit of the energy we get from our food. Thus, while these are properly expressed as kcals (1000 calories), one kcal does equal the type of calorie so many people are used to counting. Yes, that packet does properly contain 295,000 calories (of the small, scientific kind), but in the popular consciousness this is 295 calories. This saves us the effort of both having to say two-hundred-and-ninety-five-thousand calories, and having to read or write kilo every time we're reading or writing the word calorie (though it's probably such pathetic corner-cutting and laziness that has resulted in us all being so fat in the first place).

If this wasn't all confusing enough, various bods, like the laugh-a-minute bunch over at The International System of Units, have attempted to make it simpler for fat plebs like us. For example, some numb-nuts thought it would be nice and clear to simply capitalise the bigger calorie, so that 1,000 calories, or the kilocalorie, is written Cal (that's the one dieters are interested in), while the small calorie is written cal - as if no one is ever going to be confused by that. Also, it's been determined by those with bigger brains than us that a calorie (the little one) is about 4.19 joules of energy, which is handy because so many of us think in joules, right?

To clarify (because it is flippin' confusing):

  • Calorie comes from the Latin calor meaning heat (think of Calor Gas) and is a unit of energy, specifically the energy it takes to heat a certain weight of water.
  • What is commonly called a calorie in dieting lingo is actually a kilocalorie (1,000 calories), and is thus written correctly as kcal, although you will also see Cal and calorie written too.
  • If, like so many of us, you'd rather work in joules, just remember that one kilocalorie (or one food calorie of the type that everyone talks about) is roughly equivalent to 4,190 joules, which you can work out by ... oh for goodness sake ... who really wants to work in joules when tucking into a Big Mac? Just enjoy yourself.  
Calorie, Calorific
A Snickers is an example of a food that contains several calories

Does this make things a little bit clearer?

Do you prefer to count your calories in Cals, cals, kcals, joules, kilojoules or Snickers?

Do please heat your own waters by leaving your most nutritious comments below.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Callipygian - Nice Bum's the Word

Nice buttocks, Posterior, Ass, Arse,
Photo (still) by Mislav Marohnic. Or is it? Yes it is.


Adjective. Late 18th century.
[from Greek kallipugos (epithet of the statue of Venus),
from kalli-, kallos beauty + puge buttocks: see -IAN.]

Pertaining to or having well-shaped buttocks.

callipygous adjective E20

What? More buttocks? And the same buttocks? Well, yes, they are the same buttocks from when I wrote about buttocks before, although with some crafty photoediting, I have changed it just enough that the average person won't realise it's the same picture. Go on - check; it's particularly gratifying if you quickly flick back and forth between the posts. Anyway, why have I used the same picture to illustrate callipygian? Well it is, first and foremost, a photo of a particularly callipygous pair of glutes, but secondly, do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a tasteful, not-overtly-sexualised, un-weird picture of a bottom? One that's suitable for Lexicolatry's high standards of taste and decorum? I'll tell you: it's very difficult indeed.

And callipygian is such a wonderful word - so classical and cultivated - that Lexicolatry could not possibly pass it by. Most early references to callipygian relate to the famous statue Venus Callipyge which, unsurprisingly, has a most callipygian (and emphasised) posterior itself. And, just like those Rumpy Romans and Gluteus Greeks, as we're still in the habit of commenting on and lauding people's callipygous qualities (J-Lo's bingo call springs firmly to mind), then we should at least have a good word for doing so. If we are going to do that. And I'm not saying that we should. Or that I do. Anyway ...

Are you callipygian?

Are J-Lo and Kylie truly worthy of their callipygous accolades?

Do please leave your most well-rounded, firmly-constructed thoughts below.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Calligraph - One Who Writes Beautifully

Caligraph, Calligraphy
Photo by Serge Saint


Noun & verb. Mid-19th century.
[French calligraphe from medieval Latin calligraphus from Greek kalligraphos:
see CALLIGRAPHY. Sense A(2) and verb after autograph, etc.]

A(1) noun. A person who writes beautifully, a calligrapher. M19

A(2) noun. An example of calligraphy. L19

B verb trans. Write beautifully or ornamentally. L19

Many years ago - in the age before emails and texts - I used to write to a girl who, although the relationship was never romantic, had the most alluring, calligraphic handwriting I have ever seen. As handwriting, I dare say it was perfect, combining everything that anyone could want - effortlessly legible, ornate without distraction, lyrically flowing and utterly individual. As I read her letters, I marvelled at how the ink would dance on the page before my eyes. Writing to her as a teenager not only prompted my life-long interest in handwriting, but influenced my handwriting. While mine would never reach the same level of artistic beauty as hers - not even close - our correspondence did prompt a desire in me to care for my handwriting, to develop it and take pride in it. I was, after all, corresponding with a calligraph.

Many years after, when I was corresponding with another girl with whom I did become romantically involved, the subject of handwriting frequently came up. On telling her that people often thought my handwriting was a woman's, she told me that "there's something very alluring about a man with nice handwriting," a compliment which, as one can tell from my use of speech marks, was one of the most memorable I've ever received. And it goes both ways, of course - she too was a calligraph. 
One need not practise formal calligraphy to be a calligraph
Sadly, many commentators note that cursive handwriting (and by extension individual, beautiful, calligraphic handwriting) is under threat, if not already speeding along the road to extinction. One comment on the New York Times article Let It Die: It's Already Dying rued "Cursive, along with proper table manners, shaving once a day, and tucking your shirt in, may be relics of the past ... along with the art of conversation [and] politely paying attention to those you are with instead of some electronic device."

If individual, cursive, cared for handwriting is in decline, this is something very sad indeed. True, it's not a vital component of life - human society won't collapse without it. But it does add a little dash of graciousness, individuality and colour to an increasingly connected but homogenised world. We don't all need to be skilled in the formal art of calligraphy, and we don't all need to become calligraphs. But a little care in our handwriting, and the time spent in writing something by hand (as opposed to dashing off a text), is something within all of our reach. Together, we can defend this dying, beautiful art.

Are you a calligraph?

Do you practise formal calligraphy?

Do please leave your most carefully penned comments below.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Caliginous - Befogged & Bedarkened

Caliginous, Misty, Winter, Oxford University
A caliginous Oxford night
(photo by Bjbjb)


Adjective. Archaic. Mid-16th century.
[Latin caliginosus, from caligo, -in- mistiness: see -OUS.]

Misty, dim; obscure, dark.

caliginosity noun (archaic) dimness of sight M17

Oxford by a winter's night is breathtaking. Cobbles glisten in the brumal gloom, and streetlights flare through thick, caliginous air. From somewhere deep within the city, a solitary church bell reverberates off damp sandstone walls. A sense of adventure and mystery hangs in the mist, the feeling of being somewhere medieval, dark and invigorating, the feeling of being suspended with the city in time.

Do please comment below.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Caledonian - The Influence of Scottish on the English Language

Caledonia, Scotland


Adjective & noun. Early 17th century.
[from Latin Caledonia, Caledonia, Roman name of part of northern Britain, later applied to Scotland or the Scottish Highlands, + -AN.]

A(1) adjective. Of or pertaining to ancient Caledonia;
Scottish, of the Scottish Highlands,
(now jocular or literary excluding in names of existing institutions etc.). E17

A(2) adjective. GEOLOGY. Designating or pertaining to an episode of
mountain-building in NW Europe in the Palaeozoic era. E20

B noun. A native or inhabitant of ancient Caledonia;
a Scotsman, a Scottish Highlander, (now jocular or literary). M18

One of the most rewarding things about reading the OED is not just learning a word's definition, but also learning its history and evolution, its culture of origin, and what sort of people might have originally spoken it. In this etymological department, Scotland punches well above its weight, contributing a glorious number of colourful and beautifully descriptive words to the English language, going shoulder to shoulder with such linguistic titans as Greek, Latin, German and French, as well as its closer neighbours such as Welsh and Irish. To honour this Caledonian contribution, Lexicolatry has compiled just a small selection of words with Scottish origins, separated into two lists of ten words: those that we would expect to hail from Scotland, and those that are perhaps a little more surprising. Enjoy!

Scotland, Highland Games, Scottish, Caledonia,
Caber is a Scottish word - who'd have thought?
(photo by Steve HDC)

Unsurprising Words of Scottish Origin:

As a child, I thought that Ben Nevis was the guy that either first discovered Ben Nevis, or first climbed it or something.
But no; ben is simply the Scottish word for 'mountain peak', and Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the British Isles.

It's not just Ireland that has lots of bogs - as one Scottish tourist site boasts: "Scotland grows world-class bogs."
In keeping with this lofty accolade, Scotland, through Scots and Irish Gaelic, brings us the word bog too.

'Tossing the caber' is a regular feature of the Scottish Highland Games, in which burly 'tossers' must throw a 'caber' (from Scots Gaelic meaning 'pole'), 
a wooden beam approximately 20ft (6m) in length and weighing around 175lbs (79kg). Contrary to popular belief,
the contestant is not scored by how far he tosses the caber, but rather how straight it is after he flips it.

Scotland is famous for its clans, and clan is a famously Scottish word, meaning 'offspring, family.'

Modern golf originated in Scotland, and so did the word, as did the golf-related terms caddie and links.

If you ever get the opportunity to visit the Scottish lochs (lakes), do not pass up the opportunity.
While you might not see the Loch Ness Monster (although you'll probably think you caught a glimpse of something),
you will be treated to some of the most breathtaking and eerily beautiful sights in Britain.

It rains a lot in Scotland, so they need macs; Mackintosh is a Scottish name, and the guy that invented
the mackintosh was Charles Mackintosh, a Scot. Therefore, you just don't get more Scottish than this.

It's impossible to go to Scotland without someone calling you 'pet' and,
although I don't have any figures for actual pet ownership in Scotland,
the word is theirs (possibly shared with the northern reaches of England).

A Sassenach is what I am to a Scot - an English person. It's derived from the word Saxon and,
although I never know if it's supposed to be derogatory or not, I rather like it.

Tweed is a coarse Scottish fabric and, while it may be favoured by English toffs, it's Scottish through-and-through.

Ah! When it comes to whisky, you can't beat a good old bottle of scotch (or so I'm told - personally I can't stand the stuff).
The Scottish and Irish can battle this one out after-hours, as the word whisky is a variant of the delicious-sounding usquebaugh,
which originates from the term 'water of life' in Scottish and Irish Gaelic.

Scottish, Scotland, Caledonia,
But then so is is ghillie, as in ghillie suit
(photo from U.S.A.M.C)

Surprising Words of Scottish Origin:

No, it's not that letters of blackmail are 'black' in character. Rather, this word originates from some rather enterprising
Scottish clan chiefs who ran protection rackets on the border with England, collecting 'black' taxes from villages to protect them
from being plundered. By themselves.

You know those furry-looking green suits that snipers wear? They're ghillie suits, and the word originates in Scotland.
I don't know why that's surprising, but it is. 

Scotland might not seem glamorous, but glamorous is undoubtedly Scottish,
originally meaning 'enchantment, magic'.

Gob is British slang for 'mouth', and it's Scots Gaelic for mouth too.

As of yet, nobody has had the gumption to figure out where gumption came from, other than Scotland ...

 ... nor pernickety ...

... whereas that beautiful word minging (as in 'Urgh! Her face is well minging, innit!' - read in a London accent),
is thought to originate with the 1970s Scottish dialect word ming, meaning 'excrement'. 

Raid is a Scottish variant on the word road, roads no doubt being useful
for the conducting of raids when certain English villages didn't pay their dues.
(see blackmail above)

Slogan is from the Scots Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, meaning 'army shout',
something that's surprising and interesting in equal measure.

Oh the irony! Scottish men are famous for wearing kilts, and yet the word trousers is of Scottish origin.
However, it may be a little less surprising in that it's remarkably easy to say trousers in a Scottish accent - it's just troo-zuhs with a trilled r.
Easy, even for someone as atrociously bad at accents as me.


Are you from Scotland?

Do you have any favourite Caledonian constructions, words or phrases?

Do leave a wee comment in the box below, laddie.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Calculus - Or the Parable of the Pebbles

An abacus
(photo by Steven Depolo)


Noun. Plural caculi, calculuses. Mid-17th century.
[Latin = small stone (used in reckoning with an abacus).]

1(a) A particular method or system of calculation or reasoning;
especially (MATHEMATICS) infinitesimal calculus (see below). M17

1(b) obsolete. generally. Computation; calculation. L17-L19

2 MEDICINE. A stone. M18

Differential calculus the part of the infinitesimal calculus that deals with derivatives and differentiation.

Infinitesimal calculus the branch of mathematics that deals with the finding and properties of derivatives and
integrals of functions, by methods originally based on the summation of infinitesimal differences.

Integral calculus the part of the infinitesimal calculus that deals with integrals and integration. 

Predicate calculus see PREDICATE.

Calculus elicits many feelings, but I'm pretty sure fondness is rarely among them. And calculus teachers? Well, that fondness might just be ... asymptotically rare.
But I can cite the exception.
As a student, I was always able to do mathematics. I could perform its procedures and processes. But I seldom felt that deeper intuition of its ways, of its whys and wherefores. Trigonometric ratios, polynomial series, imaginary numbers – eek, logarithms. These were all meaningless to me unless the method in their all-too-methodical madness could be made plain. Unless they "clicked." And a very loud click it had to be indeed.
So, I resisted taking calculus in secondary school not because I did not want to do differentials or integrals – OK, surely there was some motivation in the mix – but because I knew the very principles of differentiation and integration would test the limits of my comprehension.
But it was precisely this – that more intimate, more intuitive comprehension of math's way of understanding the world – that my calculus teacher worked so hard to inspire within me. And she succeeded in the most ... well ... etymological way.
At some point early in the course, I, Latin geek that I was, brought to her that calculus means "little stone" in Latin. She well knew this, and when I asked her why, she asked me to imagine a chessboard. On this chessboard I was placing pebbles, trying to cover its whole, flat surface. But no matter how many pebbles I placed on the board, no matter how small the pebbles were, I could never completely cover every last little bit of space. There would always be some unimaginably tiny speck uncovered. "Calculus is about studying the infinitely small and the infinitely big," she said.
See? If you look really closely, you can still just about see a little teensy bit of chessboard
(photo by Alan Stokes)

The Etymology of Calculus

Calculus (plural calculi) indeed comes from the Latin for "little stone" or "pebble," but not for the reasons my teacher claimed above. The word is the diminutive of calx, meaning "limestone," and related to our words chalk and calcium. In Ancient Rome, calculi were used to, well, calculate, especially on tools like the abacus. According to the Oxford Classical Dictionary, an abacus was a "counting-board, the usual aid to reckoning in antiquity ... The number might be marked in writing or by pebbles, counters, or pegs." In Latin, to make a calculation was, quite literally, calculos ponere, "to place pebbles."
If you're like me, abacus may evoke the Chinese iteration, sliding counters on a wooden frame, but a variety indeed existed, such as a Roman version comprising pebbles that reckoned numbers along grooves of assigned value on a tablet. The origin of abacus itself points to yet another method: sand or dust. Hebrew has abaq, meaning "dust," likely from a Semitic root, a-b-q, "to fly off," as in drawing numbers into sand or dust spread across a board or table.
These pebbly numbers weren't so black and white, though. Or were they? Roman judges would issue their opinions in the form of a calculus ater (a black stone) for a condemnation and a calculus albus (a white stone) for an acquittal, and thus these calculi came to stand for sentencing and voting. But they had a lighter side, too, used as they were as pieces in games.
Calculus takes on its more formally mathematical sense – that is, signifying a system of calculation – in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1672: "I cannot yet reduce my Observations to a calculus." Think Isaac Newton. Think Leibniz. Think calculus differentialis (read differentials) or calculus integralis (read integrals), the shortening of which yields calculus as we think of it now, naming that branch of mathematics dealing with change. With the infinitely big or small.
If all this feels like you're passing a kidney stone, well, how apt, if coincidental. Calculus, medically, is the name for those kinds of concretions as well.
My teacher's anecdote was not true, historically speaking. Calculus tells a simpler story of increasingly sophisticated substitution: stones, counting, formal systems of counting, calculus. But I need perform no ethical or moral calculus to value the truth of her account. Sometimes in a good etymology we hunger not for a fact, but for a parable – for that eureka, for that a-ha, for that more intuitive understanding.
Has the origin of a word ever given you new understanding of a difficult concept?
What are your memories of taking calculus?
Did you pass calculus or did you pass a calculus?

John Kelly
Mashed Radish