Tuesday, 30 April 2013


Japanese, Art, Bangster, Falling, Girls, School, Revenge


Verb trans. Originally US. Late 18th century.
[from BE- + LITTLE adjective.]

  1. Make small; diminish in size. L18
  2. Deprecate, decry. L18
  3. Cause to appear small; dwarf. M19

A favourite tactic of bangsters and bullies, to belittle (literally to make little) is really rather nasty when you're on the end of it. Fortunately, belittling behaviour can tell you quite a lot about the person doing it. It can be, for example, a sign that someone feels threatened (perhaps belittled themselves) and is therefore trying to bring you down to or beneath their level. If it's encountered in debate, it can be a sign that the person doing the belittling is just not that bright and is simply resorting to ad hominem in an attempt to compensate for a weak position. 

On the brighter side, I did find this rather loopy cartoon by Karbo entitled Dealing with Bullies. It features small (belittled?) characters falling into a giant (embiggened?) mouth; I rather like it and I thought I would include it, although I've no idea what's really going on. Please feel free to offer any interpretations. 

I also remembered an advert for Deep Rock River Water which is most pertinent to the topic of belittling. I thought I would share it as it makes me chuckle, and we can forget about belittling bangsters and all their ilk.

Monday, 29 April 2013


Explaining, Talking, Chatting, Boy, Girl, Cartoon


Verb trans. Past tense belied. Present participle and verbal noun belying.
[Old English beleogan = Old Frisian biliuga, Old High German biliugan (German belügen)]

  1. Obsolete Deceive by lying. Only in OE
  2. A. Tell lies about (someone); slander. ME  B. Obsolete Tell lies about (the truth, something). LME-M17
  3. Obsolete Give the lie to, contradict; reject as false. L16-M17
  4. A. Misrepresent; give a false notion of. E17. B. Disguise, mask. E18
  5. Act or speak at variance with, be false of faithless to; show to be false, fail to corroborate or justify. L17

I recently wrote a short personal essay on fatigue (caused by multiple sclerosis) and the effect it has on my writing ability. I showed it to a friend, also a keen writer, and she remarked:

"The clarity with which this is written belies the subject."

She was right of course. It made me smile because I knew it was true - an essay about the difficulty I experience in writing clearly due to fatigue, written by me in clear language, casts doubt on its own credibility. It also made me open my notebook and write down belie, as it's such a beautiful and versatile verb.

Typically used as per definition (5), belie has a wonderful quality of sounding as if it should carry a negative connotation, whereas it's often used in expressing the most striking of compliments. For example, one might say: "His youthful vigour belies his advancing years."  Or perhaps: "Her professional demeanor belies a caring and sensitive boss." Of course, it can mean you've been caught too: "Alice's chocolate covered fingers and becrumbed lips belied her claim to have not been in the biscuit barrel."

With regards my short essay, I was very pleased with what I consider to be a most complimentary use of belie; if I had managed to escape the clutches of chronic fatigue, even for a moment, to be able to write about its effects and symptoms, then I had succeeded in my essay. 

Sunday, 28 April 2013


Christ, Jesus, Satan, Devil, Beelzebub, Belial, Temptation, Bible
The Temptation of Christ by Ary Scheffer


Noun. Middle English.
[Hebrew beliyya'al worthlessness]

The Devil, Satan.

That Belial means worthlessness was new to me, although some sources are less definite about both the word's meaning and etymology. The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, says that Belial is rendered differently in different parts of the Bible, sometimes being synonymous with Satan and at other times representing other things such as death, evil and destruction. His ability to tempt continues unabated, however, as the National Museums Liverpool discovered. Apparently the allure of Belial in The Temptation of Christ by Ary Scheffer was too much for one child, who proceeded to snap bits off its antique frame before panicked museum staff could intervene (although Belial may mean worthless, his depiction in classic pieces of art certainly isn't).

Saturday, 27 April 2013


Belgard, shy, coy, flirt, fancy, love, amorous, romantic, connection


Obsolete. Noun. Late 16th - early 19th century.
[Italian bel guardo]

A kind or loving look.

That moment, that fleeting connection between two souls; the sudden exhilaration of being betrayed by our own eyes and the unspoken understanding, now established, that can never be taken back: belgard is a word that should never slip into obscurity. It describes a moment too poignant and profound; too precious and ephemeral. While most other dictionaries tended to be narrower in their definition of belgard as something distinctly romantic or amorous, there is something exquisite about the OED's broader definition. From the proud gaze of adoring parents to the furtive glances cast between two people across a crowded room, our eyes express what's in our hearts like no words ever can. 

Friday, 26 April 2013

Bel Esprit

Prime Minister, British, United Kingdom, Wit, Bel Esprit,


Noun phrase. Plural beaux esprits. Middle 17th century.
[French = fine mind]

A brilliant or witty person.

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (1874-1965), wartime Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was a veritable bel esprit. Although most noted as a politician, Churchill was also a soldier, an artist, a historian and a prolific writer, writing over 40 books in his lifetime and being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. Despite suffering from a speech impediment and bouts of severe depression, Churchill became the embodiment of dogged resistance in the face of fascist aggression and through his charisma and force of personality successfully galvanised the spirits of the beleaguered British people during 'their darkest hour(as if this weren't enough for any mortal bel esprit, he also found time to be an amateur bricklayer and butterfly breeder).

If it's wit, however, that truly defines the bel esprit, then Churchill is certainly well qualified. His voluminous repertoire of quips, retorts and ripostes is legendary, and his scathing verbal dexterity is second only to his inspiring leadership in renown. In fact, many a once distinguished personage has been relegated in the history books to little more than somebody that was once foolhardy enough to lock verbal horns in a bout of ill-advised repartee. While it's doubtless that some of the quotes attributed to Churchill are apocryphal, I shall leave you with a selection of some of the best known:

Lady Astor MP:                        If I were married to you, I'd put poison in your coffee.

Churchhill:                                If I were married to you, I'd drink it.

- - -

G. B. Shaw (playwright):           Have reserved two tickets for opening night. Bring a friend, if you have one.

Churchill:                                 Impossible to come to first night. Will come to second night, if you have one.

- - -

Bessie Braddock:                     You are disgustingly drunk!

Churchill:                                 And you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I'll be sober, and you'll still be disgustingly ugly.

Do you have a favourite bel esprit?  Do you aspire to be a bel esprit?
Please feel free to leave your comments below (though if you're commenting on your own aspirations, they had better be damn witty).

Thursday, 25 April 2013


Speech, The Labour Party, Politics, England, UK, Lecture, Boring, Dull
Ed Miliband, who manages to BELABOUR on so many levels
(I'm really quite proud of that joke)


Verb trans. Also belabor. Late Middle English.
[from BE- + LABOUR verb]

1. archaic. Cultivate, till. Only in LME
2. Buffet, thrash, assail. LME
3. archaic. Labour at, ply. Only in 17
4. Labour (a point etc.); treat at excessive length, overuse. E20

One of my pet hates in speaking (or writing) is when someone, even when they have a good point to make, belabours the point they are trying to communicate. While the two definitions currently in use can be interlinked, I am primarily referring to Definition (4), that is: to labour (a point etc.); treat at excessive length, overuse. To do so, to belabour in such fashion, is potentially self-defeating, vain, boring and condescending to the audience - always at least one of those things, potentially all four. Therefore take note: DO NOT BELABOUR. I don't think I can put it any more succinctly than that.

Just to really make sure you understand, though, it's worth noting that sometimes a speaker (or writer) dilutes the validity and persuasiveness of their point by belabouring it. This can be especially irksome when you really believe in what they are saying (or writing), but you know that by belabouring it they are losing the audience and, far worse, the opportunity to get their point across. This is one of the key reasons why you must not belabour in your speech (or writing).

Speech, Belabour, Labouring the point, Boring, Dull, Tiresome,
Someone making a speech (and doing a jolly fine job for all I know)
It's possible, even, that the audience has been won over relatively quickly, maybe within the first couple of hours of a lecture (or first 100 pages of a treatise). This could be due to the inherently convincing nature of the speaker's position or the authority and skill of the speaker himself. However, perhaps buoyed by this initial gain, some speakers then continue to lecture an already convinced audience, perhaps making the same point using different language, illustrations and arguments. It's at this point where I just want to grab hold of the speaker and shake him: "Just shut up, man! You've done it! We agree! There's no need to belabour the point!"

Belabouring to a convinced audience is a bad idea. In fact, it can result in that convinced audience turning against the speaker (or worse still, turning against a good and valid argument or position) through sheer frustration and boredom. Also, by association, the audience can start to connect a disliked (or boring, or pretentious, or vain, etc) speaker with that very cause or argument, therefore projecting these negative reactions from the speaker (or writer) onto that position. This, perhaps over all of the others, is a prime reason why one must not belabour.

Boring, Dull, Tiresome, Belabour, Nodding off, Sleeping, Napping
Some bored people (probably because they're listening to someone belabour)

It should also be noted that belabouring shows a deep lack of respect for the audience and is actually most insulting to their collective intelligence. A person that belabours is in effect saying: "Look, as you're obviously not smart enough to get this quickly, I will have to go over it again and again, to drag it out, just to make absolutely sure that you've understood the profound points that I'm making." Doing so runs the very real risk of alienating the audience (even a genuinely stupid one). Therefore, do not belabour if you want to convince your audience.

It should be noted that this is very different to battology, the needless repetition of words and phrases. Battology will often result from an artless or poor level of speaking ability (or from a viewpoint so shallow that there is no choice but to repeat the same tired arguments again and again). Rather different from a battalogizer, a belabourer instead just keeps driving at the same point or subject, needlessly and tiresomely. He may approach the same subject from different angles, using different arguments and illustrations, with different anecdotes or statistics. All of these are superfluous, however, and it would better serve his audience (who may not have the ability to fully grasp what he has to say anyway) by not belabouring but rather by showing brevity and clarity.

Vanity, too, is a problem for the belabouring speaker. They have a tendency to like the sound of their own voices, and erroneously assume that everyone else likes the sound of their voice too. Of course, it's quite possible that everyone does like the sound of their voice. But, as my Mother used to say repeatedly:


To illustrate this and to be sure you understand what Mother was getting at: I love the voice of the American singer-songwriter Tori Amos - it's utterly exquisite. Were I to listen to her sing the same song repeatedly however (perhaps Cornflake Girl), over and over, again and again, it's possible that her voice would eventually start to grate. You can substitute Tori Amos for any singer whose voice you have a liking for, and the illustration will hold - eventually that singer will begin to grate. Therefore, do not let your own vanity or reliance on an inherently pleasing voice lure you into the trap of belabouring (to help you grasp this point, I have included a video of the song Cornflake Girl).

In short, if you take nothing else away from today, remember this: DO NOT BELABOUR IN SPEAKING (OR WRITING). I really don't think I can put it more precisely than that. It's far better to have a point to make, to make it with brevity and clarity, and then to stop. If you don't do that, but rather keep making the same point again and again (even if you really believe in what you are saying, and you make the same point in different ways), you run the risk of belabouring that point and losing your audience. And for what? Your own vanity? Your own disdain for the intellectual robustness of your audience? It's just not worth it. Make your point, and stop. Do not belabour. I really hope that at least some of what I've said has managed to get through to you.

Have you ever had to listen to someone endless belabour a point? Maybe a teacher or spouse or boss perhaps. Do you have a tendency to belabour? Do you have any suggestions on how we can tackle the problem of belabouring? Please feel more than welcome, encouraged even, to leave you clear, succinct and brief comments below. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013


Bekiss, Kiss, Kissing, Passion, Smooch, Making out


Verb trans. Late 16th century.
[from BE- + KISS verb]

Kiss excessively; cover with kisses.

I was a little disappointed with the definition of bekiss. With all of the recent beheadings, begruttenings and begnawings, I was looking forward to something wholly positive. So while it's difficult to argue with the definition (after all, excessive anything is bad - even kissing apparently), I do suggest that we reclaim bekiss and roundly apply its second, altogether more sensual meaning: to cover with kisses. That being so, it's probably worth reminding everyone that Saturday 6th July 2013 is International Kissing Day. There's no reason to wait, of course, or restrict it to romantic kisses, and in the meantime we can merrily bekiss our lovers, husbands, wives, children and even parents. Mwuah!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


Off with their heads, Behead, Beheading, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carrol


Verb trans.
[Old English beheafdian]

Cut off the head or top part of; kill in this way.

Behead caught my eye as an interesting word firstly for the fact that it's not simply a modern compound of be and head but there is actually an Old English behead being, as the dictionary says, beheafdian. It's also a common concept in any child's vocabulary thanks to the phrase 'Off with his head!', the supposed refrain of any slighted king or queen (if you're a child playing the part of a monarch in a game, you really haven't done the role justice if you haven't had at least one person beheaded by the end of it). It did make me curious as to the origin of "Off with his head!" A little bit of research indicates (somewhat disappointingly) that it's Shakespearean.

Off with his head, and set it on York gates;
So York may overlook the town of York

While Queen Margaret's line might be the first recorded use of the phrase, another queen, the rather unhinged Queen of Hearts from Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderlandmust be credited as its most ardent sponsor. As well as her penchant for playing croquet with live hedgehogs, this hot-tempered regent likes nothing more than shouting "Off with their heads!" against any she feels have slighted her. Fortunately, the King of Hearts was usually on hand to ensure that very few of her declared beheadings actually came to pass.

Monday, 22 April 2013


Suzanne Valadon, The woman on the left
I wrote this post a lot slower because I kept looking at her


Noun. Plural pronounced the same. Early 20th century.
[Colloquial French]

An infatuation, a fancy.

When I was about eight years old, I went and viewed The Umbrellas by Renoir at the National Gallery in London. Instantly, I fell in love with the woman on the left. While it's true that it would probably be more accurately described as a béguin, an infatuation can be extremely powerful and my first meeting with this woman is a very poignant memory. Even now, my béguin is such that she will instantly arrest my attention if I ever see the picture (as will the nagging jealousy I feel toward the man behind her who is perhaps thinking of making a move). 

The woman on the left, by the way, is the French painter Suzanne Valadon. She was both Renoir's lover (grr!) and model. Had I wished to impress her at the time, my woeful command of French would have doubtless scuppered my wooing (and me being eight, of course). However, béguin is pronounced something like beg-uh, though you need to make it sound really French. Like really, really French. My goodness she's lovely ...

Sunday, 21 April 2013


Weeping, Greeting, Crying, Begrutten, Sobbing, Tears, Tearful
Crying from one eye is very, very cool


Adjective. Scottish. Early 17th century.
[from BE + grutten past participle of GREET verb for weep, cry, lament, grieve]

Swollen in the face with much weeping.

Despite the fresh-faced depictions in art and movies, crying rarely makes any of us look good. The red-rimmed and swollen eyes of a begrutten face not only betray the fact that, yes, we were crying during the end of Toy Story 3 (when they all hold hands as they're slipping into the furnace - c'mon! How could you not?), but it also makes us look pretty rubbish. If the begrutten look is not for you, there are plenty of websites offering advice on how not to look begrutten. One suggestion was to apply slices of cucumber to your eyes. While it certainly sounds nice and soothing, I'm doubtful you would escape notice if you were sitting there, all cucumbered up, when the lights were turned back on at the end of the film.

Do you have any tips on how to look less begrutten? Do you carry a small sachet of sliced cucumber wherever you go, just in case? Please leave any comments below. 

Saturday, 20 April 2013


Tintin, Snowy, Dog, Bone, Chew, Gnaw, Begnaw,
Why, Snowy? Why oh why? Dietry supplement? Dental hygiene? I want to know!


Verb trans. Past participle begnawed, begnawn.
[Old English begnagan]

Gnaw at, nibble, corrode.

There are a multitude of be- words like begnaw, most of which aren't particularly interesting (such as begloom, which means 'to render gloomy'), so I've no idea why begnaw attracted the horizontal strike of my orange florescent marker.

It did set my mind wandering though: why do dogs chew bones? I took a little wander through the wisdom of the internet but mostly found information on destructive chewing and how to stop it (apparently, mature dogs often chew things out of begnawdom. Did you see how I did that? I thought it was rather good. No? OK). I did find a couple of articles positing research into the subject, but they were rather unsatisfactory. "[Dogs] have the tools to do that," one researcher told the BBC, "and they want to use their tools." Hmm.

Anyway, I never did find a satisfactory answer as to why dogs begnaw bones. If you have any ideas, or have anything else to say about begnaw, or you can suggest an even worse joke than my begnawdom one, please leave a comment below.

PS: After writing it down, I've decided that begloom is an interesting word - I know people that can begloom a room just by walking into it. 

Friday, 19 April 2013


The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo


Verb trans. Past tense begot, begat (archaic), present participle begetting, past participle begotten
[Old English begietan, corresp. Old Saxon bigetan seize, Old High German bigezzen receive = Gothic bigetan find]

1.  archaic Get, acquire, esp. by effort. OE-E17

2. Procreate (usually said of the father, occasionally of both parents). ME
2B. Get with child. LME-E17

3.  fig. Call into being, occasion; give rise to. L16

Beget is a funny word. It sounds oddly euphemistic, though it isn't. When the Bible says: "Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judas," (and so forth for another fifteen verses of rampant begetting), it means exactly what it says, which is a far cry from the quintessential Biblical euphemism: "And Adam knew Eve." 

Oh, and each time I've said to someone what I'm writing about, I've had to clarify: "No not baguette - beget.

Thursday, 18 April 2013




Verb trans. L19.
[from BE- + FUDDLE verb origin unknown]

Make stupid through drink etc.; confuse, bewilder.

There is something delightful in the word befuddle; it evokes a kind of bumbling confusion and overwhelmed head-shaking. I think a lot of this rests in its suffix, the fuddle portion or, even better, fuddled, which sounds to me like a red-faced older gentleman muttering to himself while trying to use an iPhone for the first time. This sense of the word sounding right is called phonosemantics, and befuddle is one of my favorite examples. If I could reach into someone's head and just fuddle up their thoughts, they'd end up all befuddled.

Or, in the case of this delightful series of drawings, the confusion might arise if you ask a dog to perform some highly-specialized skill, such as sitting. Befuddling indeed.

Katie Dwyer

The Befuddled Dog from Hyperbole and a Half
(he's a charming but rather dim dog - you really should visit him)

Many thanks to Katie for writing Lexicolatry's first guest posting! She is an American currently living in Ireland where she is studying Human Rights Law and pursuing her interest in creative writing. While she says she's always had a profound interest in words, she does get particularly excited when discussing the linguistic differences of trans-Atlantic English  (I'm attempting to train her to pronounce both aluminium and herbs correctly, but there's still a long way to go). Please give Katie a warm logophilic welcome, and hopefully there'll be lots more posts from her to come. Ed.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


Mahatma Gandhi, Young, Mohandas K Gandhi, Been-to, Beento
A young Gandhi


Noun. Africa & Asia. Mid 20th century.
[from BEEN + TO preposition]

A person who has been to Britain, esp. for education.

Been-to is a curious word indeed. Having never heard it before, I was eager to do a little research to find out more: how common it is, for example, what its origins are and if it's derogatory. It proved frustratingly elusive, though, due to its unusual construction. If you search for 'been-to' on the internet, you mainly find English verb guides or random pages that include the words 'been to'. Even adding qualifiers such as education and Britain was of limited help. 

Just when I thought I wouldn't find anything, however, I found some tantalising references to 'been-to people'. The first was in an article from The Kathmandu Post which names the originator of the word as Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah. The article references the 'moral mountains' that a been-to faces, including the draw of Western materialism and the desire to be reconnected with his homeland. The works of Armah are said to often deal with this topic.

I also found Dr Basil Dwaine Kong's blog  'Jamaica Chapter' which chronicles his own return to Jamaica and makes reference to 'beento people'. I wrote to Dr Kong expressing my interest in the word and he was kind enough to write back to me. He defined beento as 'a word frequently used in developing countries to mean people that leave impoverished communities, become economically successful and return to live a lavish lifestyle.'

He also described similar 'moral mountains' and ambivalent reactions. A beento, according to Dr Kong, is both admired in his native country for his wealth and knowledge and simultaneously held in derision as a show-off that talks endlessly about how things are done 'a forin'. He will often show great generosity on his return, as if trying to buy acceptance back into his homeland and cure all of its ills. Sadly, this can result in the been-to being taken advantage of and, when they realise that they cannot solve everything, they can becoming hardened and disillusioned. Their influence as role models is similarly mixed, according to Dr Kong. On the one hand, they return with knowledge and are a significant boost to the local economy. On the other , this can also put forth the message that you can only be successful if you 'seek your fortunes anywhere but here.

In choosing a picture for the post, I chose a young Mohandas K. Gandhi. Having studied law in London, by the dictionary definition he qualifies as a been-to and is one that famously returned to his homeland and performed great works. However, I didn't ever find any outside reference to Gandhi as a been-to and I don't know if the term is used is India. If anyone knows, please do tell.

Many thanks to Dr Kong for his fascinating and personal input. If anyone has any further insights into this word, positive or negative, please free to comment below.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


Beelzebub, The Beast, William Golding, Fear


Noun. Old English.
[Late Latin Beëlzebub (Vulgate), translating (i) Hebrew ba'al zebub Lord of the Flies,
 a Philistine god (2 Kings 1:2) and (ii) Greek Beelzeboul (Matthew 12:24)]

The Devil; a devil.

Before I read William Golding's Lord of the Flies in my early teens, I had a rather fatalistic view on the subject of good and evil. I believed I was a good person, that I always would be a good person, and that somehow this was predetermined and unalterable. Evil existed, of course (or my definition of evil) - there were bad people that did bad things and bad things happened to good people, but this was all due to external forces that I had no control over and certainly no part of.

The book's implication is that evil resides in all of us. Rather than being a latent potential, it would seem that it's a tendency, a proclivity, down which we naturally incline when societal and moral safeguards are stripped away. This notion was deeply disturbing to me and I simultaneously felt vulnerable and empowered: vulnerable from the shattering of a lazy presumption that I was inherently good, and empowered by the realisation that I would be wholly responsible for the life course I chose.

The Beelzebub of the book - The Beast, as the boys call it, or The Lord of the Flies - is nothing more in its physical manifestation than a pig's head on a stick. When invested with the boys' fears, however, this utterly impotent object grows in power and is able to take hold of them. It's a power that few, if any, are able to resist (I remember the stinging realisation that Ralph - even valiant and noble Ralph - was susceptible to the power of The Beast once he had allowed his fears to take root). When multiplied across the microcosm of the island, full of scared, hungry and abandoned children, this power became a terrible and transformative force, causing these formerly 'civilised' and doubtless 'good' children to commit the most brutal and violent acts.

The lessons of Golding's words are as valuable now as when he wrote them in 1954. Just like the little boys on the island that were scared of snakes and beasts and noises in the night, we are all vulnerable to being dominated by fear. Such fear can cause us to step over someone that's fallen in the street because we're afraid of looking foolish, or tacitly tolerate creeping racist attitudes in those around us because we're afraid of speaking out. When multiplied to the level of a nation state, these fears can allow otherwise 'civilised' and 'good' people to engage in the most horrific acts of barbarity, cruelty and even genocide. Perhaps Golding's greatest gift to his readers, however, is not his warning about the nature of The Beast, but rather in divesting us of the burden of assuming that we are inherently good and beyond its grasp.

Monday, 15 April 2013


Beefalo, Buffalo, Crossbreed, Beef, Cattle, Cow,


Noun. Plural beefaloes or same. L20.

(An animal of) a breed of bovine that is 5/8 buffalo and 3/8 domestic cow.

Beefalo? Seriously? This one is new to me and, to be truthful, it doesn't sound very appetising - the word beefalo just screams Frankenfood, and seeing pictures of these singularly distinctive looking beasts does little to assuage my initial recoil. Seriously, though - beefalo? Is it even possible that a word formed as a compound from a meat product and a species type could ever sound appetising? Porkopotamus anyone?

Now before I start getting angry emails from The American Beefalo Association, I should point out that my faith in meat production has been somewhat jaded recently by the European horse-meat-in-everything scandal. After doing some reading on the subject, however, it would seem that beefalo is anything but a Frankenfood. In fact, according to the aforementioned association, beefalo meat has less fat, cholesterol and calories than traditional (delicious sounding) beef. The animals themselves are also easier to manage and raise and, perhaps most importantly, the end product is said to be absolutely scrumptious (my word, not theirs - beefalo ranchers don't use words like scrumptious). So why, considering beefalo's much vaunted superiority, has it not caught on across the world? It's the name - I'm certain of it. As long as this animal has a weird, makey-uppy, man-interfering-with-nature type name, it will never go truly global. 

On the other hand, I can't stop thinking about porkopotamus. Hmm. It just might have the potential to be big - really big. If you have the skills and resources to help pilot a breeding programme, contact me. Who knows? Maybe soon people the world over will be sitting down to a nice, tender porkopotamus steak, washed down with a refreshing glass of warm beefalo milk. Mmhmm.

Have you eaten beefalo? Do you want to eat beefalo? Are you interested in my porkopotamus enterprise? Please leave any comments below. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013


Arab, Arabic, Nomad, Wanderer, Bedouin,
Bedouin, by Berthe Worms (1868-1937)


Noun & adjective. Also Beduin, b-. Late Middle English.
[Old French beduin (modern bédouin) ultimately (through medieval Latin beduini plural)
 from Arabic badawi, plural badawin (from badw desert, nomadic desert tribes)]

A noun
1. An Arab of the desert. LME
2. A person living a nomadic life; a Gypsy. M19

B adjective
Of the desert or Bedouins; nomadic, wandering. M19

The Bedouin have long held a deeply romantic mystique in the English-speaking world - a proud and venerable people with flowing robes and penetrating eyes, looking down from atop the long, ponderous gait of loping camels or sitting cross-legged at the mouth of spacious, brightly-coloured tents. Their rootless, wandering lifestyle, with its whispers of freedom and adventure, starkly contrasts our own comfortably static existence with our fixed abodes and nine to fives.

Saturday, 13 April 2013


Bedridden, Bedlar, Mexican, Art, Disability
Frida Kahlo paints from her bed


Adjective & noun. Obsolete except Scottish. Late Middle English.
[from BED + Old Norse lag lying + -ER]

(A person who is) bedridden.

Did you know that bedlar is a word for someone that's bedridden? I certainly didn't. Of course, being bedridden is no light matter, both for whatever illness or injury put you there and for the gravely serious consequences that such extreme immobility can cause. Discovering bedlar, however, lead me on a long and interesting ramble through the internet, reading about people that, at various times in their lives, were bedlars. 

The Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), for example, was seriously injured in a traffic accident as a child and throughout her life was forced to spend months at a time confined to her bed. While she used that time to produce beautiful artwork (her mother made her a special easel for use in bed), there is an obvious reflection of pain and loneliness throughout her paintings. Other stories are singularly inspiring. Lisa Copley remained (voluntarily) bedridden for five months while pregnant with her twins in order to avoid a medical complication that could have caused her to miscarry.

As a word, bedlar does smack of deep political incorrectness and so it's unlikely to ever regain common usage. As broad subject, however, in terms of what people can achieve while confined to their beds, it is profoundly interesting, inspiring and frightening in equal measure.

Do you know of any other examples of great works performed by someone confined to their bed?

Do you have any experience of it?

Please feel free to share your comments below.

Friday, 12 April 2013


Bedlam, Lunatic, Mental illness, Psychiatry,
Bethlem Hospital, 1828


Adjective & noun. LME.
[Form of Bethlehem]

A (noun)
1 The town of Bethlehem in Judaea. obsolete. LME-E17.

2. The Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem (Bethlem Royal Hospital in London),
 used as an asylum for the insane. archaic. LME.

3. A person who was mentally ill; spec. a discharged but not fully cured patient of the
 Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem, licensed to beg. obsolete. E16-E18.

4. A lunatic asylum; a madhouse. archaic. M17.

5. (A scene of) mad confusion; a wild uproar. M17.

B (adjective)
Belonging to or fit for a madhouse; lunatic; foolish. L16.

The mistreatment, misunderstanding and prejudice against those with mental illness is a problem deeply rooted in society. However, things have come a long way and this is well illustrated by the word bedlam. It comes from The Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem, now called the Bethlem Royal Hospital, in London. With its origins as an insane asylum in the 14th century and operating today as a modern specialist hospital, it is Europe's oldest and most famous hospital specialising in mental health. While it now stands as a modern facility, fully representative of modern medicine and understanding of mental illness, its dark history is a stark reminder of the most horrific abuses suffered by those deemed to be insane. Problems continue today, of course; understanding of mental health is incomplete, systems of care are flawed and social stigma remains. But if the grueling transition of the Bethlem Royal Hospital is indicative of the direction that mental health care is travelling in - from a culture of abuse and punishment, confinement and coercion, to one of treatment and understanding, care and respite - then at least it is moving in the right direction. 

Further Information:

Thursday, 11 April 2013


Bessie Pease Gutmann,
Nitey night by Bessie Pease Gutmann


Noun. Jocular or nursery. M17.
[An English county.]


Up the wooden hill to Bedforshire is one of the most endearing childhood expressions that I've ever heard. It evokes thoughts of everything that a child's bedtime should be - secure and tranquil, but with just a pinch of adventure as they climb that wooden hill and get ready for stories of heroes and princesses from far away lands, all the while tucked up safely in the rolling hills of their own little Bedfordshire.

Thank you to Debbie from Moonflame Cufflinks for requesting Bedfordshire. If you have any special memories from your bedtime as a child, or anything you do or say as a parent to make that journey to the Land of Nod a little easier, please share them with us in the comment box below.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Beauté du diable

Beauté du diable, Serial Killer, Charm, Charisma, Dangerous


Noun phrase. M19.
[French = devil's beauty]

Superficial attractiveness; captivating charm.

Charm, charisma and attractiveness are powerful qualities. When they're possessed by a psychopathic and violent personality, the results can be terrifying. A famous example is the American serial killer Ted Bundy, known for his charismatic ability to charm and his simple, somewhat nondescript good looks, qualities he took advantage of to win the confidence of a number of his victims before murdering them in the most brutal and sadistic manner. While beauté du diable would usually be applied in less extreme cases, Bundy is a potent reminder to never let anyone's charm disarm us to the point of abandoning our usual caution and circumspection in any aspect of life.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013


Jeeves and Wooster, The Code of the Woosters, Beau


Noun. Plural beaux, beaus. Late 17th century.
[French, use as noun of adjective, ult. from Latin bellus fine, beautiful.]

1. A fashionable man, a ladies' man; a fop, a dandy. L17

2. A lady's male companion, a suitor; a boyfriend, a lover. Now chiefly N.American. E18

What ho chaps! I would like to introduce you to my good friend Bertie Wooster who, if you haven't made his acquaintance already, is from the classic Jeeves and Wooster series by P.G Wodehouse. Old Bertie, you see, is something of a beau and therefore smashingly illustrates today's word. Unfortunately for him, and despite being an absolute corker of a chap, he is always managing to somehow get himself into a pickle with the ladies, and throughout the entire series of books gets himself engaged more times than I've had hot crumpets. It's hardly a surprise that he keeps landing in this rather awkward posish, as what fine society lady wouldn't want to marry him? He's a man of means at the highest level of the beau monde and he's a jolly loyal friend to boot (it's usually his ill-considered beaux gestes that land him in such dashed fixes). It's true that perhaps he's not the brightest of fellows (his valet Jeeves was once heard to remark that he's 'mentally negligible') but that's a minor quibble and a lady need pay no heed to such things. Old Bertie is the absolute beau ideal of a man and a beau sabreur on the battlefield of love!

If you're wondering what the bally hang I've been waffling on about, I decided to included a few extra beau words that I thought were rather splendid. Anyway, that's enough rummy talk from me - all this writing has made me rather peckish so I'm off for some eggs and b. Tinkerty tonk!

Jeeves and Wooster, Beau, Posh, Rich, Hugh Laurie
Hugh Laurie in the beau rôle as Bertie Wooster in the ITV adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster


Noun. Plural beaux gestes
[French = splendid gesture]
A display of magnanimity; a generous act.

Noun phrase.
[French = ideal beauty]
One's highest or ideal type of excellence or beauty; the perfect model.

Noun phrase.
[French = fine world]
(The world of) fashionable society.

Noun phrase. Plural beaux rôles.
[French = fine role]
A fine acting part; the leading part.

Noun phrase. Plural beaux sabreurs.
[French = fine (or handsome) swordsman]
A gallant warrior, a handsome or dashing adventurer.

Monday, 8 April 2013


Beach, Crosby Beach, Liverpool, Sculpture, Art,
A figure from Another Place on Crosby Beach, near Liverpool, England
(Photo by Andrew Dunn)


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Origin uncertain: perhaps identical with Old English bæce, bece brook, stream, with transf. meaning '(pebbly) river valley',
surviving in many place-names as Sandbach, Wisbech]

1. The water-worn pebbles of the seashore;
 sand and shingle. arch. M16

2. The sandy or pebbly shore of the sea, a lake, or a large river;
esp. that part lying between high- and low-water marks. L16

When I read beach in the OED, I was little bit surprised that the word is (probably) Old English in origin. Britain isn't famous for its beaches, and we roundly aspire to abandon them yearly for the beaches of Spain, Portugal and France. Both Britain and Ireland, however, have exceptionally beautiful beaches and coastline, something that is often overlooked by both those visiting and those living here. Granted, the mercurial weather doubtless puts many off, but this can be part of the beauty - leaden clouds rumbling overhead in late Autumn, filling you with a sense of awe and insignificance before the might of nature, or the sharp snap of a Spring breeze around your shoulders that makes you laugh and pull your collar in. And of course, yes, if you visit in Summer, you might just be lucky enough to find a day on the beach that allows you to peel off your woollen jumper and strut around, Copacabana-style, in just a t-shirt, jeans and boots.

Sunday, 7 April 2013


B-boy, breakdancing, breakdancer, hip-hop, B-boying
Proof, if ever it was needed, that b-boys are exceptionally annoying when you're trying to read the paper
(photo of the Come Correct crew)


Noun. US slang. L20.
[b- probably from BEAT noun or BREAK-DANCING]

A young man involved with hip-hop culture.

It's hard to see the Oxford English Dictionary as an authority on anything hip-hop related, but it has tried valiantly and for that it deserves due credit. However, its rather broad definition of b-boy is sure to ruffle some shell suits as it would appear that the term is not quite as all-embracing as the OED makes out. Various other sources are quite clear that a b-boy is a dancer, an artiste in the craft of b-boying, rather than simply being a (young) man somehow and abstractly involved with hip-hop culture. B-boying, if you're wondering, is what the majority of us call breakdancing, though the term b-boying is preferred (breakdancing is seen as a moniker imposed on the art by the mainstream media after b-boying went commercial).   

Ultimately, I know I'm in danger of tripping myself up with this word and, as a thirty-something white man from Oxford with a vaguely posh accent, I'm probably in no position to be commenting on anything hip-hop related anyway. Therefore, I'm just going to leave you with some videos of what I think is authentic b-boying as performed by who I think are authentic b-boys. All definitions aside, whatever it is they're doing, it's all smashingly impressive.

Are you a b-boy? Do you b-boy? Has your life in anyway been affected by a b-boy? If so, keep it real in the comment section. Word.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

BBC (English)

BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation, microphone, news


British Broadcasting Corporation.

BBC English
A form of standard English regarded as characteristic of BBC announcers.

The BBC (sometimes called The Beeb) is one of Britain's cultural icons, on a par with red telephone boxes, the royal family and fish and chips. As a public service broadcaster, it operates without advertising and has a remit to be wholly impartial in all its reporting. Its reputation for this was forged in World War 2 when, transmitting in some 45 languages, its radio broadcasts were listened to around the world. Although its reports were no doubt slanted to maintain British and Allied morale, it was secretly listened to in occupied and enemy territories by civilians (and soldiers) who saw it as the only source of reliable and accurate news. The BBC still plays a significant role in modern British consciousness both for its reporting and its high-quality entertainment shows (such as Top Gear, Sherlock, Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing). Despite having been subject to a number of scandals in recent years, its weighty broadcasting presence, revered position of trust and catalogue of internationally popular programming seem set to ensure that the Beeb will be with us for many years yet ...

Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May, BBC
Apparently it's the world's most popular factual show
(personally I can't stand it and it pains me to reference it in my blog)

... as will BBC English, also known as the Queen's English, Oxford English, Standard English and Received Pronunciation. In decades past, all BBC announcers were required to speak with this type of English which today can sound rather posh and affected. To reflect the cultural (and linguistic) diversity in Britain, however, it's now common to hear BBC announcers speak with regional accents that reflect the area to which they're broadcasting. Despite this, it's still the English that is generally taught in schools and language courses, and an accent that is widely seen as (if there is such a thing) the proper English.

Do you have any thoughts on the BBC?

Do you consider BBC English dashingly dapper or priggishly posh?

Please leave any comments below.