Monday, 30 September 2013

Botryoidal - "You've Got a Grape Shape"

Fruit, painting
19th century still life by unknown painter


Adjective. Late 18th century.
[from Greek botruoeides, from botrus. See -OID, -AL.]

Chiefly MINERALOGY. Resembling a cluster of grapes in shape.

Also: botryoid adjective M18

Once, when I was a child, I was at an "adults" evening, almost definitely because my parents hadn't managed to find a babysitter in time. As I was playing with my toy cars, minding my own business, I overheard the Dads talking, one of whom shifted uncomfortably in his chair, pulling at his trousers. "Unngh! And as if things weren't bad enough, my damn haemorrhoids are at me again."

"What are haemorrhoids?" I asked casually, probably aware this was not a comment meant for my ears.

There was an awkward silence, the type that children delight in, before he leant forward and said: "Listen, Ed. When you're older and you have a bunch of grapes growing out of your bum, you'll know what haemorrhoids are."

So there you have it - great explanation, Steve! I went away thinking that grapes growing out of your bum was a real medical condition, and to this day I can't help but think of that moment whenever I see a bunch of grapes or something even vaguely botryoidal (which is a shame because I love grapes and the botryoidal shape is rather lovely). Still, I do get some pleasure in recalling the utter contempt that Steve must have felt for me in that moment (I didn't like him very much), at him being put on the spot by a snotty little kid and having to explain in front of all his mates that he had botryoidal haemorrhoids growing out of his big fat botrus.

Other than grapes and ... umm ... haemorro-wotsits, can you think of anything else that's botryoidal?

Do please leave your grapiest comments below.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Bosoms - They Boobs, But They Yo Mama's

Heaving bosoms, Breasts, Cleavage, Bodice-ripper
Mullets a-flowing and bosoms a-heaving


Noun & adjective.
[Old English bōsm = Old Frisian bōsm, Old Saxon bōsom (Dutch boezem), Old High German buosam (German Busen),
from West Germanic, perhaps ultimately from base of BOUGH.]

A(1) noun. The breast of a human being, especially of a woman;
poetical the breast of a bird etc. Also (colloquial, chiefly US) in plural, a woman's breasts. OE

A(2) noun. figurative. The surface of the sea, a river, the ground, etc. OE

A(3) noun. The part of the dress that covers the breast;
the space between the dress and the breast,
especially considered as a receptacle for money, letters, etc. OE

A(3b) noun. A shirt-front. US. M19

A(4) noun. A concavity, a recess, a hollow interior. OE

A(5) noun. The enclosure formed by the breast and the arms. ME

A(6) noun. The breast considered as the seat of emotions, desires, secret thoughts, etc. ME

A(7) noun. figurative. The interior, the midst; the enfolding relationship of one's family, the Church, etc. LME

A(8) obsolete. transferred. A person. Compare with hand, head, etc. L16-M18

A(9) = bosom friend below. Colloquial. E20

B attributive or as adjective. Intimate, confidential. Chiefly in bosom friend. L16

Abraham's bosom [Luke 16:23], heaven, the place of rest for the souls of the blessed. OE
take to one's bosom archaic marry
the bird in the bosom archaic one's own secret or pledge, one's conscience

bosom friend [compare with German Busenfreund] a specially intimate or dear friend.
bosomy adjective (a) full of sheltered hollows; (b) (of a woman) with a prominent bosom. E17

The word bosom, or specifically bosoms, has a rather cherished place in my vocabulary. Not only was it one of the few words that allowed me to snigger during religious classes, it was also my Mum's term of choice when referring to breasts. Thus, the word bosoms has acquired a very definite nostalgia for me, conjuring thoughts of safety and comfort, softness and security, a refuge to where one can retreat, where a warm embrace awaits to shield and protect you from all that is threatening and uncertain in the world. Having had a houseful of teenage boys with rampant hormones, it was perhaps important for Mum to desexualise as many topics as possible that would otherwise have set our pulses aflutter (while Mum was very unorthodox generally, she was quite conservative when it came to matters of sex). For that purpose, bosoms did nicely, perhaps epitomised by buxom but otherwise maternal figures like Hattie Jacques and Dawn French. At a time when other, less wholesome bosomy figures like Sam Fox were vying for our adolescent attention, this was perhaps an understandable strategy.

Bosom, Buxom,
Hattie Jaques and Norman Wisdom in A Square Peg

For times when sexual reference was unavoidable, Mum was partial to the phrase "heaving bosoms", of the type regularly seen bursting forth from the covers of trashy bodice-rippers. Heaving bosoms carries a comical, not-to-be-taken-seriously connotation, to be greeted with a roll of the eyes rather than a licking of the lips. It failed, of course, as any attempt to desexualise a teenage boy is bound to. Dawn French - funny, confident and head-turningly beautiful Dawn French - is almost irresistibly attractive, as was Hattie Jacques (when I was really young, one of my secret pleasures was watching her scene in A Square Peg where she is giving Norman Wisdom singing lessons and he accidentally pours champagne down her heaving bosoms). Actually, now that I think about it, my Mum, who was herself a somewhat large lady, looked rather like Hattie Jacques. Oh my word! She really did look like Hattie Jacques. There. Desexualisation achieved. Well played, Mum; well played indeed.

Do the words bosom, bosoms or heaving bosoms have any particular connotation for you?

Do you have a bosom buddy?

Do you too have a secret crush on Dawn French?

Do please leave your most uplifting comments below.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Borrow - "To Protect and Return"

Borrow, Lend, Tools,


[Old English borgian = Old Frisian borgia, Middle Low German, Middle Dutch borgen, Old High German borgen (German borgen), from Germanic, related to Old English beorgan = Old Saxon, Old High German bergan (Dutch, German bergen), Old Norse bjarga, Gothic bairgan, from Germanic base meaning 'protect, shelter', whence also BURY verb.]

1(a) verb trans. & intrans. Originally, take (a thing) on security given for its safe return.
Now, get temporary use of (money or property to be returned later);
take on loan. (Followed by from, of a person etc.) OE

1(b) MATHEMATICS. In subtraction, transfer (a unit of the next higher denomination)
in the number being subtracted from, compensating for this at the next step. L16

2 verb trans. figurative. Adopt, use without being the true owner or inventor;
derive from another; import from an alien source. ME

3 verb trans. Be surety for; ransom. Long archaic. ME

4 verb trans. MUSICAL. Derive (an organ-stop) from the pipe of another stop;
equip (an organ) with such stops. Chiefly as borrowed participial adjective. M19

5 verb trans & intrans. GOLF. Allow (a certain distance) for sideways motion due to wind or slope, when putting. L19

I met a girl once - a very nice girl who I fancied a bit. During our first conversation, we started talking about literature, and it transpired that she had never read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Ever the gentleman, I offered to lend her my copy so that she could borrow it. Now, there's no ambiguity in borrow - the OED is quite clear: "get temporary use of ... to be returned later." Well, some twelve years since she borrowed that book, I still haven't had it back. And Jekyll and Hyde is no War and Peace; no one reads that slowly. And every time I see her, I can't help but think of my book sitting somewhere on a shelf in her house. And I bet she thinks of it too, and yet still she hasn't given it back.

In English, when lending something that is particularly valuable or treasured, it's common to say: "Now look after this as if it's your own." That is exactly the opposite of how I want someone to look after something of mine - I want them to look after it as if it's mine, as it is, and if you really think that they'll care for something less if they think of it as not theirs (as it's not), why on Earth are you lending them something in the first place? And the ultimate extension of looking after something "as if it's your own" is to ... well ... keep it. I don't want you to keep something you borrowed from me. It's mine. Give it back.

Now, not being one to use Lexicolatry to air my personal (and petty) grievances, it's of etymological note that borrow derives from a Germanic root meaning "to protect, shelter." From now on, if ever I lend anyone anything (and that's a big if), I think I'm going to pull out the OED and highlight this: you're borrowing something of mine, something I want back, and until the moment I get it back I want you to protect and shelter it ... as if it's mine.

So, if you're reading this (and you know who you are), can I have my book back please? There need be no awkwardness - just come in, make the drop, and we all walk away clean and get on with the rest of our lives. Oh, and to everyone else: if I've ever borrowed anything of yours and forgotten to give it back, the comments section isn't place to tell me about it. That would be embarrassing, especially if it turns out I've lost it, so don't.

Do you have any lending or borrowing horror stories?

Does it annoy you when people use lend and borrow interchangeably?

If you lend someone something, do you want them to treat it as if it's theirs?

Do please borrow freely and leave your plagiarised comments below.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Boondoggle - A Trivial Pursuit

Boondoggle, Waste, Trivial, Project, Pointless
"Don't take offence, but that's nuts," says Simon the Sardonic Squirrel
(photo by Alex Ranaldi)


Noun & verb. North American slang. Mid-20th century.
[Origin unknown.]

A noun. A trivial, useless, or unnecessary undertaking.
 Also, a dishonest undertaking; a fraud. M20

B verb intrans. Engage in such an undertaking. M20

Researching boondoggle, or examples thereof, might be something of a boondoggle in itself; there are a plethora of examples, but it's often difficult to separate the incontestable boondoggles from those that are simply labeled as such by groups that oppose the projects. For example:

It's easy to call any of these projects boondoggles if you anchor onto just the initial information and assume (stupidly) that nothing could have wider goals and objectives. To play the devil's advocate: Paying university nerds to sit around playing video games? Come on! Football for terrorists? Won't that just give us fitter terrorists? And who cares about newts when we're facing a global recession?

However, to determine whether or not something truly is a boondoggle (because they exist - oh boy do they exist!), a wider scope is needed than just the headline-grabbing, politically motivated coverage that often accompanies such projects. To take my favourite example - the RoboSquirrel - it was defended by the assertion that the robot itself only costs a few hundred dollars, that the majority of funding went into educating future scientists, and that the scope of the project extended far beyond that of interaction between squirrels and snakes and into such fields as biorobotics and animal behaviour. Is the project still a wasteful and trivial undertaking? You decide.

Regarding undisputed boondoggles, perhaps the king of these in Europe is Spain, which during the property boom of the 90s and 00s embarked on some spectacularly wasteful projects. A famous example is the Ciudad Real Central Airport, an airport that cost €1.1 billion to build and was open for only three years before closing in 2012. However, unlike many of the other projects that are only seen as wasteful, there is an implicit suspicion of wrongdoing with Ciudad Real, with some commentators suggesting that the airport was never built to succeed, and its only benefit was to those building it. Que travieso!

Do you know of any boondoggles?

Have you engaged in any boondoggles?

Is your life a boondoggle?

Do please boon your doggle in the comment box below.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Boondocks - The Hicks' Sticks

Westcliffe, Colorado, Boonies
Photo taken outside the town of Westcliffe, Colorado, where my mom will soon be running a boondocks B&B


Noun. North American slang. Mid-20th century.
[Tagalog bundok mountain.]

singular & (usually) in plural. Rough or isolated country; remote parts.


Noun plural. North American colloquial. Late 20th century.

The boondocks; remote or wild area.


I grew up in the American West, where vast expanses are part of the natural habitat. You can drive for hours with only the sporadic lines of cattle-fencing to break the expanse of prairie grass or rocky hillsides, with vultures circling overhead and mountain vistas that will break your heart. Out there, you’re in the boondocks.

The word conjures images of small towns clustered around creeks that dry out every July yet are a riot of wildflowers in spring. The boonies aren't necessarily uninhabited: there are plenty of people from all kinds of backgrounds who escape the cities and carve homesteads into empty spaces. But out there, you’re choosing rattlesnakes and prairie dogs for neighbors rather than other human beings. The boondocks welcome interesting characters.

Boondocks is often associated with arid landscapes, while I use the synonym sticks to refer to boondocks in green, rainy areas. My mom grew up "in the sticks" of Minnesota, on a farm near a town of less than 2,000. When I head out to the wilds of Connemara in western Ireland, "the sticks" comes to mind, whereas "boondocks" would be how I would describe the broad horizons of rural Turkey.

The etymology of boondocks is curious, a Tagalog remnant brought back to the US from American soldiers serving in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War and later reinforced during WWII. While the connection between bundok (mountain) and boondocks (remote and wild area) might not seem immediately apparent, part of the Filipino strategy against the American forces was in guerrilla warfare, conducted from the bundoks, therefore imprinting these wild and foreboding regions into the minds of American troops.

If you ever venture to Southwest USA and you head out of the cities, you’ll be able to identify the boondocks by “towns” with just a gas station and a post office, or when you see more deer than cars, and when you see the hawks circling over cliff faces. Then you’re in the boonies.

And who knows what you’ll find there?

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Book - Paper View

Photo by Reinis Ivanovs


[Old English bōc = Old Frisian, Old Saxon bōc (Dutch boek), Old High German buoh (German Buch), Old Norse bók (compare with Gothic bōka letter of the alphabet), from a Germanic base usually taken to be related to BEECH, as the wood of rune-tablets.]

1 A writing, a written document; a charter, a deed. Long obsolete excluding Historical. OE

2 obsolete. A narrative, a record, a list. OE-L17

3 A collection of sheets of paper or other material, blank, written or printed, fasted together so as to form a material whole; especially one with sheets pasted or sewn together at the edge, with protective covers; a literary composition of any kind long enough to fill one or more such volumes. OE

4(a) specifically The Bible. Formerly also, a copy of the Bible. ME

4(b) specifically A volume of blank sheets in which financial transactions, minutes, notes, etc., are entered;
in plural accounts, annals, records. LME

4(c) specifically The script of a play, film, etc.; the libretto of an opera, oratorio, etc. L16

4(d) specifically A magazine. Now colloquial. E19

4(e) specifically A record of bets made with several different people on a particular race etc. E19

4(f) specifically The telephone directory. E20

5 A man subdivision of a literary composition; any of the component works forming the Bible. ME

6(a) Book learning, study, scholarship. Now only in plural, passing into sense 3. ME

7(b) obsolete. Benefit of clergy. E17-E18

8 A set of things bound or collected together to resemble a book,
e.g. sheets of gold leaf, tickets, matches, stamps, six tricks at cards, etc.; an aggregate of laminar crystals. L15

As I continue my journey through the English language, it seems only fitting that I should stop at book, despite it being quite an unremarkable word at first glance. It's of Germanic stock, just one syllable - both common characteristics in English words. That it's likely related to beech, however, from a time when runes were carved into wooden tablets, does give pause for reflection on the breathtaking evolution of the simple book.

Had I been an Egyptian, for example, sunning myself on the banks of the Nile 5,000 years ago, my reading material of choice would have been papyrus. At other points in history I would have been lugging around stone or clay tablets. As for scrolls, I could have been Greek, Roman, Hebrew or even Chinese to have used those. Today, of course, we have the familiar book, although its journey has been one of continual development, from the painstaking process of copying every book by hand, to the process of woodblock printing (which involved carving every page by hand so that it could be printed), and then the invention of movable type so that pages could simply be rearranged for printing, thus dramatically reducing both the labour and expense of making a book.

Today is no less exciting, as we observe the unfolding of the information age, with the internet, blogs, websites and e-readers all giving us new and different ways to read and expand our minds. In fact, there is more opportunity to read now then there ever has been before; that classic you've always wanted to read, or that novel you've heard is life-changingly wonderful - there's really no reason for you not to read it. After all, it's not like you have to carry around a block of carved beech, is it?

Book, E-reader
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

What book has changed your life?

Which books do you think have been the most influential in history?

What do you think of the current shift from paper books to electronic media?

Your most bookish comments are all welcome.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Booboisie - The Rise of the Unintelligentsia

Loud, Drinking, Night club, Dancing,
Photo by Nick Minieri 


Noun. US slang. Early 20th century.
[Jocular from BOOB noun a silly, stupid or childish person; after bourgeoisie.]

Boobs as a class, stupid people.

There's a lot of linguistic rivalry between British and American English ("They say tomato, we say it properly," etc.) but you have to credit the US - they've added some truly wonderful words to the language. One such word is booboisie; it's nothing to do with boobs of the mammalian variety (thank goodness), but rather blends the stupid boob with the bourgeoisie, which is nothing short of genius. The dictionary definitions are vague enough that one can fill the booboisie with pretty much any type of people, depending on who one considers stupid. For me, booboisie's connection to bourgeoisie suggests monied stupidity, and therefore I can't help but stuff it with the loud, oversexed, overdrinking swarms that descend upon our fair streets every night. And Daily Mail readers, of course. And those that believe in homoeopathy. And, even though it's nothing to do with boobs, readers of The Sun - they're going in, and that has everything to do with boobs. Oh dear. I'm turning into a booboimaniac. I think I'll stop.

Who would you put into the booboisie?

Is putting anyone into the booboisie an offensively bourgeois thing to do?

Do please leave your most boobeois comments below. 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Boobs - Keeping Abreast of the (Page 3) News

Breasts, Page 3,
What? Did you think I was going to show a real pair of boobs? Tsk, tsk.


Noun. Slang (originally in the US). Mid-20th century.
[from BUB noun or abbreviation of BOOBY noun.]

A woman's breast. Usually in plural.

Boobs have been in the news a lot recently. To be precise, boobs being in the news has been in the news a lot recently, as the 'No More Page 3' campaign has continued to gather momentum. For anyone not familiar with the fine and upstanding traditions of the British media, Page 3 refers to something of a national institution, started by The Sun newspaper in the 1970s when they felt the need to complement their stellar journalism with a picture of a topless young girl on said page (and it often was a young girl - models could pose topless at 16 before the law changed in 2003 that requires them to be at least 18). Initially, the photo would be accompanied by a brief bio about the model and some really rubbish pun such as: "This is Marie, 19, from Newcastle, with a really fine pair of melons - and her cantaloupes aren't bad either!" Eventually, the naff puns were dropped (probably because they were going over the head of the average Sun reader) in favour of News in Briefs, a quote from the model on some pertinent news issue, such as: "Marie, 19, from Newcastle, says 'The EU's call for Greece to liquidize its defence industry is premature - the IMF and ECB must first be given a chance to see how effective the austerity measures have been in tackling the fiscal crisis.'" Quite.

Boobs Aren't News, Page 3, The Sun
A parody News in Briefs was part of a campaign to encourage Lego to withdraw advertising from The Sun
While arguments both for and against Page 3 continue, the anti-Page 3 camp does seem to be making significant headway. The Irish Sun, for example, recently decided to stop showing bare breasts on its Page 3, citing 'cultural differences' as the basis for its decision (whether or not it will depart even further from its British namesake by introducing good-quality journalism remains to be seen). The Sun in the UK, meanwhile, has reacted in predictably inane fashion: firstly by claiming that its readers "strongly support" the retention of Page 3 (as if anyone ever thought that they bought it for its journalism), and secondly by launching puerile attacks on anti-Page 3 campaigners, such as calling MP Clare Short "fat and jealous" because of her objections. That The Sun is Britain's best-selling paper is, quite frankly, a national embarrassment, especially as polls have also shown that it's viewed as Britain's least trustworthy newspaper. Could it possibly be that people are only buying it for its boobs?

Which brings us neatly back to the word boobs. If, as this is Lexicolatry, you've been reading patiently, wondering when the post will get to the etymology, you won't be disappointed: boob derives from either bub or bubby (though seeing as bub itself derives from bubby, it doesn't really seem to matter). Both of these, in plural, refer to a woman's breasts, bubs being used in the 19th century, and bubbies being used in the 17th. As to where bubbies came from, this is likely to be the German word Bübbi, meaning teat (so boobs does not come from buboes of the Bubonic Plague fame, just in case you've ever heard that story). If, however, you arrived here in expectation of a crude, pun-filled exploration of boobs, bazookas, jugs and knockers (replete with pictures, of course), then I'm pleased to disappoint you, you ignorant tit.

What do you think about Page 3?

What do you think about the word boobs?

What brought you to an article entitled Boobs anyway?

Do please share, like and comment below.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Boo - Startlingly Rubbish


Interjection, noun & verb. Early 19th century.
[Imitative: compare with BO interjection & noun.]

A interjection & noun. A prolonged sound expressing derision or disapproval, or an exclamation intended to startle.
Occasionally a sound (as) of cattle lowing. E19

B verb trans & intrans. Make such a sound (at);
jeer (a person, an action, etc). 

Also: booer noun E20

Boo is an incredibly powerful word; indeed, I would venture to say that it's probably the most powerful word in the English language. With what other word can you loudly express vague and unspecific disapproval at someone or something (shouting "You suck!" or "Get off the stage!" can leave you open to being challenged as to why you think they suck or should cease performing)? With what other word can you startle someone so much that there's the possibility they might wet themself (even a little bit)? And with what other word can you entertain a slightly dim child for hours on end? According to the OED, you can even use boo to do a really bad impersonation of a cow - it's just that flexible. 

In honour of this great word, I therefore implore all readers of Lexicolatry to boo someone today, to shout "Boo!" at someone, and to play peek-a-boo (preferably with a child - the cow impersonation is optional). To get it started, I award a sarcastic "Bravo!" and a resounding "Booo!" to the Belarusian government where public applause is illegal and where a one-armed man was arrested for clapping. Speaking exclusively to Lexicolatry, an inexplicably cockney spokesperson for the Minsk police said: "This wos not an 'armless individual. In fact, you could say he wos a 'terror wrist." He then went on to blame Jews, socialists, Western liberalism and all the other usual excuses used to justify delusional and despotic regimes. Booooooo!

Have you ever been booed?

Who was the last person that you booed?

Please leave your most startlingly derisory comments below.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Bonism - Good, But Could Do Better

This is deep, man
(photo by Greg Wagoner)


Noun. Late 19th-century.
[from Latin bonus good + -ISM.]

The doctrine that the world is good, but not the best possible.

Also: bonist noun L19

I was attracted to the idea of bonism as soon as I read it in the OED, although the definition is frustratingly vague (as it is in other dictionaries). Is it a religious doctrine? A secular philosophy? Just a word invented by some self-help guru? Searching on the internet tended to throw up links about Bon, a branch of Tibetan Buddhism, but within these I couldn't find any explicit mention of the above teaching.

Regardless of its origin, it doesn't seem like a bad doctrine to live by. It's certainly better than being ruled by negativity and fear - the idea that no one and nothing is as good as it used to be; that everyone - the young, the old, the rich, the poor (and don't even get me started on foreigners) - is fundamentally selfish and bad; every person that's passed in the street is a potential mugger, every politician is a liar and every policeman is corrupt. If there are exceptions, they are just that - exceptions. Morality, trust and good faith are mythological ideals that, if they ever existed, are from a time long past.

However, just as bad are those that cover their ears and pretend everything is good in the world, living in a cocoon in which they choose to ignore the deep problems that exist around them. After all, just because I was lucky enough to have been born into a wealthy nation (and it is luck, for how am I any more deserving than someone that was born into poverty?), who am I to glibly gush about the wonders of our scientific age, our age of advanced medicine and communication, while ignoring the devastating hardships that people endure every single day?

But the world is good; people are good. True, it's not the best it can be, and people aren't the best they can be; I'm not the best I can be, but I can keep trying to improve myself, and collectively we can all keep doing our best to make the world a better place for each other. That's what I like about bonism, at least by its dictionary definition. It's positive and optimistic, but also realistic - we must work harder to make the world better, but we also know that the world is worth making better.

Do you have any background information on bonism?

Do you have any thoughts on the underlying thinking?

Do please leave your most philosophical musings below.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Bonfire - For Fawkes' Sake

Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night
Photo by Hannah Webb


Noun & verb. Also obsolete BONEFIRE. Late Middle English.
[from BONE + FIRE.]

A noun. Originally a large open-air fire in which bones were burnt; also, a fire in which heretics, proscribed books, etc., were burnt. Now, any large open-air fire kindled for the disposal of waste material, brushwood, garden refuse, etc., or in celebration of some event or occasion (as was often the case with 'bone-fires'), or for other purposes. LME

In combination:
Bonfire Night
5th November, the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot (1605),
on which large fires are built and effigies of the conspirator Guy Fawkes are burnt.

B verb trans. & intrans. Light bonfires (in). E17

I love Bonfire Night; nothing quite unites a nation like a good old effigy burning. Everyone stands around the bonfire, having spent the previous days building it up and making the guy, and we all coo with the flames, concertedly celebrating mob mentality and the burning of a man we know nothing about for his involvement in a plot we don't understand. This was a man who, when caught, was tortured by royal decree before being sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered (a fine British tradition); a man whose last mortal act was to spoil everyone's fun by throwing himself from the gallows, breaking his own neck and therefore sparing himself from the hideously bowel-churning, testicle-extracting death that awaited him. I love Bonfire Night; it's a real family celebration.

Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night
Photo by Matt Northam
And let there be no apologists for Guy Fawkes. This man was, by modern definitions, a terrorist, planning to assassinate the Protestant King James I by blowing up the House of Lords and therefore facilitating the introduction of a Catholic head of state. As both a terrorist and assassin, however, he was pretty rubbish. Not only did he manage to get caught red-handed with the barrels of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords, he did so after he and his fellow conspirators knew that an anonymous letter had been shown to the King that warned of the plot. I must admit that I have a certain begrudging respect for those that aren't good at what they do but still manage to become famous and influential despite their buffoonery. After all, it is the celebration of Fawkes's bungling that unites Britain every year on the 5th of November; it is his name that has given us the (now completely neutral) word guy, meaning a bloke; and it is Fawkes's stylised face that has become a symbol of anti-establishment thought and protest. For a man that effectively fluffed his lines, that's not bad going at all. 

Bonefire, Bone Fire, Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night
Photo by Rob Valkaas
Even aside from Bonfire Night (or Guy Fawkes Night, if you prefer), I love bonfires. Growing up, I thought they were called bomb fires, and they were a regular family activity, with marshmallows, ghost stories, and ramps so that we could jump over them on our BMX (this was really, really stupid, and I only ever did it a couple of times, and one time I fell off and really hurt my testicles, so don't jump over bonfires on a bike ... ever). What's particularly wonderful is that the word bonfire derives from the deliciously sinister bonefire: we need not even be restricted in celebrating the death of one specific man (who wasn't burned anyway), but rather we can celebrate the burning of heretics generally and all their naughty books. It's really just wonderful. I can't wait for that special day, standing before a bonfire on a chilly November night, when my daughter is old enough to turn to me and ask: "Dad, what's this all about?"

Do you celebrate Bonfire Night?

If not, are you partial to a good effigy burning anyway?

In our liberal, politically correct cultures, do we not have enough burnings of things generally?

Your most fiery comments are eagerly awaited.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Boneen - "That'll Do, Pig. That'll Do."

Boneen, Bonham, Pet pig, Piglet,
Shy little piggy
(photo by James)


Noun. Anglo-Irish. Plural boneens, same. Mid-19th century.
[Irish bainbhin, from banbh sucking-pig + -in diminutive suffix.]

A young pig.

I can't claim to one for pets; as a general rule, I prefer that humans and animals share different dwelling spaces. However, if ever there was one animal that might just have a chance of swaying me, it would be the humble pig. Yes, as I sit in my office, tapping away at my keyboard, the one animal I could really see snuffling away at my feet is my very own pet pig; they're just that damn cute.

Where this love affair with pigs started is impossible to pinpoint, although my Mum did frequently call me and my brothers pigs (something to do with the state of our bedrooms). Piglet was always my favourite character in Winnie the Pooh, and to this day I can't watch Babe without getting a little tearful at the end: "That'll do, pig. That'll do."

Should I ever somehow acquire the land and space to actually have a pet pig, a contender for its name would have to be Boneen, or a derivative thereof, such as Bonnie, Bon or Ben. There's also bonham, another Anglo-Irish word for 'sucking-pig', but for me boneen stands alone in being pretty enough, charming enough, and downright cute enough to be bestowed upon my pet pig.

Do you have a pet pig? Would you?

Do please leave your porkiest comment here.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Bone - A Skullfully Humerus Post

 Bone, Skeleton, Pirate


[Old English bān = Old Frisian, Old Saxon ben (Middle Dutch, Low German been), Old High German, German bein, Old Norse bein, from Germanic.]

1(a) Any of the pieces of hard tissue that make up the skeleton of a vertebrate animal,
and consist largely of calcium phosphate or carbonate in a matrix of collagen fibres. OE

1(b) (Part of) a bone to which some meat adheres, providing possible sustenance. LME

1(c) specifically A bone used by Australian Aborigines in spells to cause death or sickness. L19

2 In plural. The skeleton; the body; the mortal remains; figurative the essential framework of anything. OE

3 The bony structure of the body; the body's hard, solid, or essential part. OE

4 The material or tissue of the bones; any similar animal substance, as ivory, dentine, etc. OE

5(a) An article originally or usually made from bone or ivory, especially a domino, (in plural) dice, castanets. LME

5(b) specifically A strip of whalebone or other stiffening material in a corset etc. L16

6 A dollar. US slang. L19

A bone die
(photo by Kolby)
I've never seen any of the bone in my body, and quite frankly I hope it stays that way. I've seen other people's bones, protruding through their skin through open fractures or exposed by deep lacerations, but thus far mine have remained safely tucked away inside me, pristine and intact, and that's exactly how I like it. Despite our bones (generally) being so anonymous, it's definitely not a case of 'out of sight, out of mind', as they figure in numerous English expressions. For example, a lazy person might be described as bone idle, which is the absolute zenith of laziness as bones don't do anything, right? Well, no, that's not accurate at all, and I'll have a bone to pick with anyone that says otherwise and I make no bones about it

Having "a bone to pick with someone" is an old idiom that probably relates to a dog chewing on a bone, picking it clean of every last morsel of flesh, analogous to someone who wants to pick over every last detail of whatever it is that you've done to upset them. To "make no bones" means to make no apology or excuses for something, to state your position in a forthright and unhesitating manner. The origin of this is quite obscure, but likely derives from the old saying "to find no bones in something", meaning that, as you found no bones in your food, you have no problem with it whatsoever (standards were clearly lower in times past).

Other bony expressions that require less explanation include having a bone in one's leg (giving a reason for your laziness and being too bone idle to think of a good one), to make old bones (live to an old age), to have a bone of contention (a particularly sticky issue between two parties) and to work one's fingers to the bone (to work very hard), all of which makes English a rather bony language.

The internal structure of bone
(photo by Sam Cox)
Do you have any favourite bone-related words or expressions?

Are there any different ones in your language?

Do please share and leave your most bone-headed comments below.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Bondieuserie - Religious Art & The Holy Fail

Tacky, Tat, Cheap, Soulless,


Noun. Plural pronounced same. Mid-20th century.
[French, from bon good + Dieu God.]

A church ornament or devotional object, especially one of little artistic merit; such objects collectively.

Religion is a deeply personal subject; art, too, while not quite as inflammatory, is also a matter of some sensitivity. Therefore, any examination of religious art is fraught with problems. After all, can anyone really say that another's treasured picture or figurine of their Lord and Saviour is, in actual fact, a piece of cheap, tacky, soulless tat? The answer is an emphatic yes, they can, and I present to you a nauseating horror show of bondieuserie, a word that's derived from the French for good and God, which is fitting as "Good God!" is the standard utterance when one encounters and then recoils from such ornamental abominations.

Art, Tacky, Cheap, Tat, Nasty, Ornaments,
Oh my Lourdes! Bondieuserie on sale in ... umm ... Lourdes
(photo by Jean No)

If bondieuserie is your thing, of course, then you're in luck. Requiring a minimum of talent to design and only the cheapest materials to manufacture, you can pick up examples at any €2 Shop in Ireland, and many market stalls gleefully specialise in churning out these mass-produced works of horror to the flock (although expect to pay a premium if you're buying them from the church gift shop). As religion is a community affair, you can also take solace in the fact that, if you have been duped out of your hard-earned cash, you're certainly not alone; it's likely hundreds of thousands of similarly gullible believers have exactly the same trinket sitting on their mantelpiece, silently mocking them with their sloppily painted, creepily misaligned eyes.

Is it art, bondieuserie, or just unfathomably creepy?
("Precious Ones" by Danny Hahlbohm)

And creepiness features heavily in bondieuserie. It's easy to do, of course; religion and religious venues can have a tendency to be unnerving, chilling even. Poorly made artwork, however, is almost unparalleled in its ability to crawl under your skin. I rented a guesthouse in Sligo once, and on the wall in the kitchen was a figure of Jesus on the cross, lit from below by a full-sized red lightbulb. While the intention was surely to be an ever-present reminder that Christ died for our sins, all it did was cast an eerie red glow and cruciform shadow across an already dark kitchen, something that made getting up in the night for a glass of water a harrowing affair. Unable to stomach the constant feeling that I would die violently in that house, underneath that red bulb, at the hands of a maniacally grinning Christian serial killer, I took out the bulb for the duration of my stay. And no, I couldn't just have turned it off; it was hard-wired into the wall, such was the determination of this particular piece of bondieuserie to appall.

The Virgin Mary and the Baby T-1000
(photo by Rupert Ganzer)

One has to love the tactful, almost neutral tone that the OED attempts to adopt in defining bondieuserie, describing it as religious art "of little artistic merit." Merriam-Webster is far more blunt, stating that it's "banal and often shoddy". Of course, all of this leaves the question open as to what is bondieuserie and what is genuine, meritorious religious art. All I can say is, with bondieuserie, you know it when you see it. Unless it was the artist's specific intention to nauseate, repulse and horrify, then it's bondieuserie, and if indeed it does leave you muttering "Good God!" rather than "God is good," it's bondieuserie.

Are you a fan of bondieuserie?

Is there a so-bad-it's-good factor?

Can you please explain why anyone would ever allow such travesties of all that is sacred to be displayed in their home?

Do please share and comment below.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Bon - Mon Dieu! Plus Français S'il Vous Plait!

French, Francophile, Paris, Parisian
(photo by Let Ideas Compete)


Adjective. Late 16th century.
[French: see BOON adjective.]

The French (masculine) for 'good', occuring in various phrases used in English.

The French are a funny lot that we love to begrudge: we begrudge them for their culture, their pride, their wine, their cheese, their manners, their football, their cinema and their copious contribution to the English language; we begrudge their cuisine, their art, their Parisian fashion and Paris itself. There is, however, one thing that we can never begrudge the French, and that's their language, a singularly beautiful, romantic, expressive and sensuous language that peels from the lips and melts into soul. Superciliously ignoring French during my school years is one of my greatest regrets, perhaps one that I will one day correct, but for now I will have to make do with some of the most beautiful expressions to have entered into English by way of bon, the French word for 'good'. And being bon, they're all rather delightfully upbeat and happy, which we need sometimes. Here are a select few of the loveliest bon words:

bon appétit
[literally 'good appetite']
Used as a salutation to a person about to eat.

bon enfant
[lit. 'good child']
Good company.

bon gré mal gré
[lit. 'good will, ill will']
(Whether) willingly or unwillingly.

bon mot
[lit. 'good word']
A clever or witty remark, a witticism.

bon ton
[lit. 'good tone']
The fashionable world; archaic good breeding.

bon vivant
[lit. 'who lives well']
A gourmand, an epicure.

bon viveur
[pseudo-French after bon vivant, from viveur a living person]
A person who lives luxuriously.

bon voyage
[lit. 'pleasant journey']
Used as a salutation to a person about to travel.

France, French, Paris, Parisian
Even Parisian statues get fed up with how damn cool everything is
(photo by Moyan Brenn)

Do you use any of the above expressions?

Do you have any other favourites?

Please leave your most Francophilic comments below. Merci!