Saturday, 30 November 2013

Busk - Entertaining on the Streets

Photo by W.Tipton


Verb. Mid-17th century.
[French busquer (obsolete) seek, hunt for, from Italian buscare or Spanish buscar, from Germanic.]

1 verb intrans. NAUTICAL. Cruise about, tack. Now rare or obsolete. M17

2 verb intrans. Look for, seek after. rare. M18

verb intrans. Play music, or otherwise entertain, for money in public places.
Formerly also, peddle goods. Chiefly as busking verbal noun. M19

4 verb trans. & intrans. Improvise. slang. M20

Also: busker noun an itinerant musician or actor, especially one performing on the street. M19

To busk, busking, and busker were always going to capture my attention, having done a little busking myself in the past and also being a Spanish speaker: to busk shares a root with buscar, a Spanish verb still in common use that means to "to search, to look for." The idea that a busker is searching for something - whether it be recognition, money, fellow artists, a means of self-expression, or just one or two people to stop and take some pleasure in the fruits of his artistic labours - is as fitting an etymology as a word could ever have.

Photo by Alfonso Tochis
It's also noteworthy that to busk doesn't necessarily refer to a musician (although that's probably the most common type of busker), but can mean any public entertainer, be they musicians, magicians, comedians, jugglers or story-tellers. Sometimes, when in public, out amongst the rabble, it's true that we all have to fight the urge to just put our heads down and speed along the pavement as fast as we can, avoiding all eye-contact and human interaction. However, if something from a busker catches us, we should slow down, stop, and just allow ourselves to be entertained for a few moments. Once it's time to move on and rejoin the rat-race, we can express our gratitude with a simple thanks and a few coins (but, seriously, no coppers - they don't want them either).

In truth, probably the most entertaining "living statue" I've ever seen
(photo by Anneli Salo)
*Note: While busking can refer to street performers that play music "or otherwise entertain", it should be noted that so-called living statues are excluded from this definition. You know the ones - the guys that put on a silly costumes, spray themselves silver and then stand on a box, still. Seriously. The excluding detail here is "entertaining", as entertaining they ain't. Therefore, I implore all of you not to be living statue enablers, do not support their dark art, and do not be (un)entertained by their inane inactivity. They are the Jeremy Kyle of the busking world, the Nickelback of street performers, and the Miley Cyrus of talent. Oh, and I once heard that a lot of them are on drugs. And entertain far-right views. And kick puppies for fun. So don't, just don't, support living statues.

Are you a busker?

Do enjoy buskers?

Do please publicly entertain us with your comments below.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Bushido - Way of the Warrior

Felice Beato, Bushido, Way of the Warrior
A samurai (c. 1860) as photographed by Felice Beato


Noun. Late 19th century.
[Japanese bushi warrior + do way.]

The code of honour and morals evolved by the samurai.

Samurai terrify me. For some it's clowns, for some it's dolls, for other it's Justin Bieber - for me it's the samurai. Everything about them is terrifying - their inhuman, grotesque armour, the knowledge that they're like Terminators and they "absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead," and should you better one, on the slimmest of chances that you get the upper hand, this is a man that will sit down, write a poem, and then disembowel himself. My Mum always said: "Never get into a scrap with a man willing to disembowel himself if he loses, especially one with the presence of mind to sit down and write a poem about it first." And you know what? That's good advice.  
Bushido, Way of the Warrior
Unknown artist from 1919

It's some consolation that samurai lived by bushido, a warrior code to ensure they behaved themselves in a dignified and chivalrous manner. Although different bushido texts stress different tenets, bushido can be typified by The Seven Virtues:


Also of great importance was absolute loyalty to his lord (so don't cross him either), the development of wisdom, care for the aged and those of lower classes, and being a good father (which is nice). Oh, and apparently they also make a damn good cup of tea. Despite these noble virtues, however, samurai, their armour and their unrelenting martial ethos still frighten me. I mean, they write poems before cutting out their own bowels. Write poems! Not even the Terminator did that.

Felice Beato, Bushido
Samurai (c. 1860), also photographed by Felice Beato

Are you a samurai?

Do you live by bushido?

Do please leave your most feudal comments below.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Bursiform - Purse in Form

Ballpoint and pencil drawing by Andrea Joseph


Adjective. Mid-19th century.
[from BURSA + -I- + -FORM.]


Oh praise be! I was so fed up with the lack of adjectives in my vocabulary to describe purse-shaped objects. Just think of all the calzones, pasties, pittas ... umm ... those egg-case things that wash up on the beach ... oh, and purses, of course ... whose shape I've never been able to succinctly describe. Well now I can: "My compliments to the chef on his flawlessly bursiform spinach calzone," or "These, my dear, are actually the egg-sacks of skates, and it is their bursiform structure that gives them the colloquial name mermaid's purses." Wow. How ever did I hold a conversation? Thank you, bursiform.

Devil's purse, Skate's egg case
A skate's egg case
(photo by Xtylee)

What other bursiform bodies are there?

How did you survive without it?

Do please deposit your comments in the bursiform box below.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Burnsides - Or Sideburns? Or Sideboards?

Sideburns, Burnside, Sideboards, Beards


Noun. US. Archaic. Late 19th century.
[General Ambrose Burnside (1824-81), US army officer.]

singular & (frequently) in plural. Moustache and whiskers with no beard on the chin.

You have to admire General Burnside. If you're going to follow any man into battle, you want him to be a man's man, and if Burnside's sideburns say nothing else, they say that this is what he is. Which is good because, by all accounts, he wasn't a particularly good general. He was popular, true, and he remembered everyone's name, but what comfort is that as a Confederate bullet tears through your skull? But those whiskers! If it were possible that a beard could ever engender respect and suicidal devotion, then I say that those whiskers be it.

And while we're on the subject of burnsides and sideburns, for me growing up in Oxfordshire they were always called sideboards. However, in adulthood, whenever I call them sideboards, it's greeted with derisory snorts: "Sideboards? Don't you mean sideburns, you barbally-bankbrupt buffoon?" OK - no one has ever called me a 'barbally-bankrupt buffoon', but I know they're thinking it. So let's just set the record straight here: the OED is in agreement with me:

4 Hair grown as a whisker at the side of a man's face (sometimes continuing on to his cheek).
Usually in plural. colloquial. L19
Sideburns, Sideboards,
So there. It's settled. And no, I couldn't wait until 'S' to get that one off my chest. Or chin.

Do you have burnsides, sideburns or sideboards?

Could bearded Burnside's barbal bravery bounce back on the bandwagon?

Do please leave your most razor-sharp comments below. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Burlesque - A Variety of Bawdy Babes & Risqué Revues



Adjective, noun, & verb. Mid-17th century.
[French from Italian burlesco, from burla ridicule, joke, fun, of unknown origin: see -ESQUE.]

A1 adjective. Jocular, odd, grotesque. M17-M19

A2 adjective. Derisively or amusingly imitative;
mock-heroic or mock-pathetic; bombastic. (Now chiefly of literary composition or dramatic representation.) M17

B1 noun. Derisively or amusingly imitative literary or dramatic composition, bombast;
mock-seriousness; an instance of example of this;
(a) parody; (a) caricature. M17

B2(a) noun. Historical. The concluding portion of a blackface minstrel entertainment,
containing dialogue and sketches. US. M19

B2(b) A variety show, frequently featuring striptease. Originally and chiefly US. L19

C verb trans. Imitate to deride or amuse; parody; caricature. L17

burlesquely adverb E19
burlesquer noun (a) a person who burlesques; (b) an actor in burlesque drama. M17

William Shakespeare, Burlesque
Proofreading standards were low in Elizabethan England
When I turned 16, my father came to me and said: "Son, I want you to know the ways of the world, and therefore I'm going to introduce you to the wonders of burlesque." With my mind aflutter at the thought of all those frills and feathers, he reached into his pocket and proudly, yes solemnly, produced two tickets to A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. "But Dad," I said, confusion crossing between my eyes to his, "Shakespeare? Burlesque?" He put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and smiled. "Yes, son. That's right. And don't worry. I've spoken to your mother, and we both think you're ready."

That story is, of course, ben trovato (my first Shakespeare play was actually Romeo & Juliet). However, it does illustrate the rather one-dimensional definition of burlesque that now prevails. Historically, however, rather than just being risqué dance routines and sultry striptease acts, burlesque was a form of parody found in literature, theatre and music, namely one that took a serious subject or literary form and made a comic imitation of it. One might think of Don Quixote, in which the romanticised notions of aristocratic chivalry are comically mocked, or indeed, as my fictional father did, A Midsummer Night's Dream, which has elements of burlesquing the notions of romantic love.

American burlesque production (c. 1900) of Ben Hur - which provides an irresistible opportunity for bawdy wordplay

Over time, burlesque did develop into what is commonly understood today. The era of Victorian burlesque in the mid-19th century saw full-length parody productions, particularly of operas, and in time almost every well-known opera had a corresponding burlesque (consider Dulcamara, or The Little Duck and the Great Quack by W. S. Gilbert - yes, of the Gilbert & Sullivan fame). Also popular in New York, this form of burlesque continued to be developed in America and ultimately developed into our present understanding - a variety performance consisting of bawdy sketches, magicians, singers and dancers, with a striptease often concluding the night's entertainment. This form of burlesque remained popular in America until its decline in the 1940s.

If you're wondering about the exact differences between burlesque, vaudeville and cabaret (and who hasn't?), there is considerable overlap in the terms used. Cabaret, however, is variety entertainment performed in a restaurant or nightclub while patrons eat and drink at tables. Vaudeville and burlesque are closer in their modern definitions, though vaudeville does not generally have the same level of bawdiness or a stripper, and so might be considered a more family-friendly version of burlesque.

Are you a burlesquer?

Is burlesque your thing?

Do please leave your bawdiest burlesque comments (without reason) below.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Burke - The Anatomy of Edinburgh's Medical Murderer

Burke and Hare
William Burke on trial, 1829.


[William Burke, executed at Edinburgh in 1829 for murdering by suffocation or strangulation to sell bodies for dissection.]

1 Kill (a person) to sell the body for dissection;
suffocate or strangle secretly. archaic. E19

2 figurative. Stifle, smother (publicity or inquiry);
hush up, suppress (rumour);
avoid (a problem). M19

In the 19th century, Edinburgh had a problem: although it was a world-renowned centre of medical science and anatomical research, it had a shortage of bodies for dissection. The main source of legal cadavers, executed criminals, was dwindling, and while body-snatchers (the ghoulishly termed Resurrectionists) did their best to keep up with demand by their covert exhumations, it was not enough and the universities were still left choked of good, clean, healthy bodies to open, probe and pick apart. Cue the entrance of the entrepreneurial Irishmen William Burke and William Hare, who simply cut out the middleman (death by natural causes), delivering straight from murder scene to dissection table in a matter of hours.

Burke and Hare
William Hare giving evidence, 1829.
While there is a morbid interest and fascination in the activities of Burke and Hare (even in Edinburgh, which proudly advertises their gruesome misdeeds to cooing tourists), these were, as if it needed to be spelt out, men of quite horrific brutality. They stumbled somewhat into their murderous careers when a pensioner they knew died of natural causes. No doubt aware of the need for cadavers (the Resurrectionists' work was well-known and the subject of ardent public revulsion), they sold the poor man's mortal remains to a Dr Robert Knox for £7.10s. From that moment, unwilling to idly wait for acquaintances to die of their own accord, Burke and Hare embarked on a murderous campaign that would last ten months and claim at least sixteen victims. Their usual method was to lure the victims back to their lodgings, ply them with alcohol, and then strangle or suffocate them. Their victims were usually working-class women, but also included an 18-year-old man who suffered from some form of intellectual disability and a mute 12-year-old boy.

Burke and Hare, Edinburgh
Dr Robert Knox
Their crimes were detected after a body was discovered in Burke's house. It was generally agreed that Burke, being the more intelligent of the two, was the brains of the operation, and so Hare was offered immunity from prosecution if he confessed and testified against Burke. He did, and Burke was convicted and sentenced to death. He was hanged on the 28th January 1829 before a crowd of over 20,000 onlookers. The following day his body was publicly dissected to a sell-out audience, and his skeleton in still displayed in the University of Edinburgh's Anatomy Museum. William Hare left Edinburgh and, after several sightings, he disappeared from public view altogether; his ultimate fate remains unknown. Dr Knox, while legally cleared of any implication in the crimes, was found guilty in the court of public opinion (probably not least because he was one creepy looking guy) and his reputation, business and research suffered irreparable damage.

Burke and Hare
The execution of William Burke, 28th January 1829

Do please leave any comments below.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Burglarious - Break-In Bad

Theft, Robber, Criminal


Adjective. Mid-18th century.
[from BURGLARY + -OUS: compare with felonious.]

Of or pertaining to burglary; like a burglar.

Burglar and burglary are funny words, laundered into English from the French burglar and the Anglo-Latin burgulator from a root that means 'to pillage'. Its little-known and little-used English adjective burglarious, however, deserves parole from its incarceration in obscurity, and must be given a second chance in the wider vocabulary. Therefore, I implore one and all to gainfully employ burglarious in such constructions as 'burglarious intent', 'burglarious attire' (see illustration), and the comedic 'burglarious walk' (you know the one). Also, as burglars are not, by nature, the sharpest picks in the set, perhaps one can appropriate burglarious to describe the hilarious criminal ineptitude so often caught on security cameras. Oh the burglarity ...

Are you a burglar?

Do you have any tales of burglarious misdeeds?

Do please misappropriate your most beburgled comments in the strong-box below.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Burger - Its McComplicated Origins

Burger, Origins
Photo by Brandon Downey


Noun. Colloquial (originally US). Mid-20th century.

A hamburger.
Also as 2nd element of combinations with specification of ingredients, as beefburger, cheeseburger, nutburger, etc.

America, American food, American culture, Burgers

What could possibly be more American than apple pie? The burger: that patty of ground meat tucked between two buns - or, hell, between two slices of apple pie. OK, I'm actually surprised I haven't seen that variation of this American staple, but I still could never imagine wrapping my mouth around the Jack in the Box "Stacked Grilled Cheeseburger." Yes, that's a real cheeseburger whose top bun is a grilled sandwich. And yes, for me, it's a veritable symbol for American culture.
The burger is democracy. Young and old, rich and poor can rub elbows at the diner countertops. 
The burger is colonialism. There are 34,492 McDonald's across the globe.
The burger is adaptation, picking up the flavors sought by whatever hand lifts it to its hatch, from teriyaki to taco sauce.
The burger is ubiquity, as one is never more than 107 miles from a Big Mac in these United States.
The burger is innovation, where black truffles and a fried quail egg can form long lines outside posh urban eateries.
The burger is tradition, joining families' grills and picnic tables for holiday cookouts.
The burger is competition. Local dives lay generations-old claims to the best burgers in town.
The burger is community. Roadside stands welcome weary travelers for warm platters or friends meet up for a bite at the corner bar.
The burger is simplicity, easy as some meat and bread and a few condiments.
The burger is excess, such as the "Quadruple Bypass Burger" plated in Vegas.
The burger is contradiction, often not even a hamburger at all: veggie burgers, turkey burgers, chicken burgers, buffalo burgers, ostrich burgers, or fish burgers.
Burger, American culture, USA
The Jack in the Box "Stacked Grilled Cheeseburger" ... mhmm!

We may always be striving to build the perfect burger, but what builds the word burger?

Like its cultural contradictions, the etymology of burger is straightforward yet complex. Burger is short for hamburger, originally treated as a proper noun, Hamburger, which first appears in "Hamburger steak." Hamburger, of course, refers to a resident of Hamburg, Germany, or describes something from there, a la frankfurter or wiener.
According to the OED, a Hamburg or Hamburger steak, also a kind of sausage, is a "dish composed of flat balls of meat-like fillets, made of chopped lean beef, mixed with beaten eggs, chopped onions and seasoning, and fried." A Hamburg steak is first attested in 1884 in The Boston Journal, although likened to the preparation of chicken. "Hamburger steak" is first attested not longer after in 1889, in this delightful debut from the Walla Walla Union: "You are asked if you will have 'porkchopbeefsteakhamandegghamburgersteakorliverandbacon.'" I couldn't find any context for this, but you know what? Part of me doesn't want to know.
Why this meat product and its patty progeny came to be named for the German city is unclear. It's been posited that a great deal of German immigrants left for the United States from the city in the 19th-century.
Hamburg joins burg ("fort") with ham, which likely derives from the Old High German for "back of the knee," itself from an older form meaning "crooked," such as the bend in the river in Hamburg, or from a Proto-Indo-European term for the shin bone. This ham was later transferred to the meat. So, in this sense, there is some kind of ham in hamburger after all.
Food historians have proposed that the Germans adapted what became the Hamburg steak from Baltic traders or the Tatars (or Tartars, as in steak tartare or tartar sauce) who are said to have eaten minced or shredded beef raw.
The first burger, Origins, USA, Culture
Service with a smile at Louis' Lunch
But the birth of the hamburger as food is the bun: many claim this innovation, but the origin is in dispute (I have to roll my eyes at this, for as long as there was cooked meat and bread, I am pretty sure man was putting them together). Yet, according to the American Library of Congress, a Danish immigrant, Louis Lassen, served up the first burger in America at his lunch wagon, Louis' Lunch, as far back as 1895 in New Haven, Connecticut. Various lore surrounds it, but a conservative Lassen is said to have used up his extra meat scraps by serving them on a bun.
In our tongues and on our tongues, burgers are messy, but that's exactly how the best burger should be. 

How do you build the perfect burger?

Who makes the best?

Do you have any information on the whereabouts of the Hamburglar?

Do please comment below.

John Kelly of Mashed Radish

Friday, 22 November 2013

Bureaucracy - A Bureau of Bureaucratic Bureaucrats

"Bureaucracy is the epoxy that greases the wheels of progress."
James Boren


Noun. Plural bureaux, bureaus. Late 17th century.
[French (Old French burel), originally = woollen stuff, baize (used for covering writing-desks),
probably from bure variant of buire dark brown from Proto-Romance alteration of Latin burrus fiery red from Greek purros red.]

1(a) A writing desk with drawers for papers etc. L17

1(b) A chest of drawers. N.American. E19

2 An office, especially for the transaction of public business;
a department of public administration. L17

2(b) An office or business with a specified function;
an agency for the coordination of related activities, the distribution of information, etc. E20

2(b) information bureau, marriage bureau, etc.
bureau de change [French, lit. 'office of exchange'] an establishment at which customers can exchange foreign money.

"Some third person decides your fate - this is the whole essence of bureaucracy."
Kollantai Alexandra


Noun. Also (obsolete) bureaucratie. Early 19th century.
[French bureaucratie: -CRACY.]

(Government by) a central administrative group, especially one not accountable to the public etc.;
officials of such a group collectively; excessive official routine.

"The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy."


Noun. Mid-19th century.
French bureaucrate: see BUREAU, -CRAT.]

An official, especially an unimaginative or doctrinaire one, in a bureaucracy;
a person who endeavours to centralize administrative powers.

bureaucratese noun the language or jargon of bureaucrats or bureaucracy. L20
bureaucratic adjective of or pertaining to bureaucracy; excessively concerned with official routine. M19
bureaucratically adverb M19
bureaucratization noun transformation into a bureaucracy; making bureaucratic E20
bureaucratize verb trans. transform into a bureaucracy; make bureaucratic L19

I hate bureaucracy - hate it in all its form-filling, rubber-stamping, paper-filing, put-on-holding, creativity-crushing, work-duplicating, application-denying banality. Even the word irritates me, with bureau, bureaucracy, bureaucrat and all the bureau-derivatives being unfathomably difficult to spell fluidly. As for its derivation, it's beautifully appropriate in the ugliness of its implications - bureau 'desk' and kratia 'power' - the power wielded by faceless, encubicled bureaucrats from their ugly, faux-maple desks. I hate bureaucracy - I hate the way it keeps doctors from their patients, police from the streets and anyone from getting the same answer twice.

Are you a bureaucratizing bureaucrat?

What are the alternatives? Is there an alternative?

Do please leave your comments clearly printed in the box below.
(please note the comment authorization process may take four to six weeks to complete)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Bunkum - Felix Walker The Irrelevant Talker

Felix Walker, Bunkum, Buncombe, Irrelevant, Nonsense


Noun. Also buncombe. Mid-19th century.
[from Buncombe County, N. Carolina, USA, whose member made an irrelevant speech in Congress c. 1820 simply to impress his constituents.]

Nonsense; ostentatious talking.

Poor old Felix Walker. Assuming good faith, he no doubt entered American politics as a man that wanted to bring about change for good, to leave the world a slightly better place for his grandchildren, and to pass on from this life knowing that he had made a real difference. And what do we remember him for? For one spectacularly boring, irrelevant and tiresome speech on the subject of slavery in Missouri. And in truth we don't even remember him - we have bunkum from his constituency Buncombe County, and even the OED deems Walker so irrelevant that he is only referred to as its 'member'. No doubt, however, you're thinking "Slavery? But that subject is neither irrelevant nor bunkum!" And you're right, of course, but Walker's contribution to the debate was. The topic had been debated for a whole month before Walker's speech, without him making any contribution to it, and it was only right before the vote was to be called (presumably when everyone had made up their minds and was looking forward to going home for their tea) that he rose to deliver his somnorific masterpiece (and if you're insomniac or just curious as to how dull his speech was, you can read it in full here). He persisted despite the exasperated groans and jeers of his fellow politicians, and when asked the following day why he persisted so, he replied "O! I am speaking to Buncombe." And for that, good sir, Buncombe thanks you.

Had you ever heard of Felix Walker?

No, be serious - had you really ever heard of Felix Walker?

Do you speak, write or think a load of old bunkum?

Do please leave your most ostentatious, nonsensical comments below.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bunbury - If You'll Just Excuse Me ...

... other than here is where I need to be.
(photo by Barefoot Girl)


Noun. Late 19th century.
[An imaginary person (so used in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest).]

A fictitious excuse for making a visit or avoiding an obligation.

Oh nuts! I was so looking forward to writing about Bunbury. I had a scholarly analysis of The Importance of Being Earnest drafted; I was going to prompt a lively existential debate about ... umm ... existence ... and other stuff, like whether having a Bunbury is lying and whether it's ever morally acceptable; oh, and of course I was going to write a detailed character analysis of Algernon Moncrieff and his use of the fictitious invalid Mr Bunbury to avoid his social obligations. Anyway, I've no time for any of that now, as I must away to Gloucester for an appointment with a Mr Tobias Wellington-Plumbsworthy, who is urgently assessing my ... umm ... thing. Yes, that'll do. Therefore, make yourself at home, feel free to comment, but do make sure you close the browser on your way out. Cheerio!

Do you have a Bunbury?

Are you someone else's Bunbury?

Do please bury your bun in the comment box below.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Bumpkin - A Short Barrel of Country Fun

Country bumpkin
The Gamekeeper by Richard Ansdell (1815-1885)


Noun. Late 16th century.
[Perhaps from Dutch boomken little tree, or Middle Dutch bommekijn little barrel, used figuratively for 'squat figure'.]

A rustic or awkward person.

bumpkinet noun (rare) a little bumpkin L18
bumpkinish adjective L18
bumpkinly adjective (rare) L17

It's hard not to warm to bumpkin, with its associations of the charmingly naive and unsophisticated friendliness that many of its synonyms lack: hick and redneck in the US, for example, or culchie in Ireland. It's also curious in usually being qualified with country, as in a country bumpkin, indicating that one might encounter a bumpkin from anywhere, not just the sticks (an urban bumpkin, perhaps, or an inner-city bumpkin?). I leave you with The Two Ronnies, whose characters, while identified by another synonym, The Yokels, perfectly typify the notion of simple, jolly country bumpkins.

Are you a country bumpkin?

Do you know of any other such synonyms?

Do please sow your oats in the comment box below.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Bumf - "Strong, Thick and Thoroughly Absorbent"

Parody, Spoof, The Daily Mail, Bumf, Bumph


Noun. Slang. Also bumph. Late 19th century.
[Abbreviation of bum-fodder sub-voce BUM noun.]

Toilet paper; worthless literature;
(usually derogatory) documents, official papers.

I have a dream: in this anthropocene, arboricidal era that we've created, a time when the Earth is straining under our mismanagement of its finite resources, I say that, if we are to allow junk mail and other such bumf, that it must never, ever be made of glossy paper. Thus, you and I, the common man and woman, we will be at leisure to dispose of it smoothly and comfortably in the privacy of our own bathrooms. As for the Daily Mail, it must be quilted - triple-ply quilted velvet. Even then I'm not sure I could actually bring myself to ... y'know ... buy it.

Junk mail
Photo by Dvortygirl

Is there any type of bumf that particularly irks you?

Do you also find it charming that they used a word like bum-fodder in the 19th century?

Do please wipe the slate clean in the common box below.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Bully - An Etymological Evolution from Lover to Friend to Abuser

The indigo awareness ribbon


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Probably from Middle Dutch boele lover (Middle High German buole, German Buhle: compare with BULCHIN & BULKIN.]

1 Originally a sweetheart, darling.
Later only of a man: good friend, mate. (Usually as a term of endearment or familiarity.) Now archaic & dialectical. M16

2(a) A person who uses strength or power to coerce or intimidate weaker persons. L17

2(b) A hired ruffian. Now usually more fully bully-boy. M18

3 A pimp. archaic. E18

In combination:
bully-boy (a) a young bully, specifically a hired ruffian; (b) archaic. A fine fellow, a gallant.
bully pulpit US colloquial. a prominent position in public life allowing the prmulgation of personal (especially moralistic) views.
bully-rock, bully-rook [origin unknown] archaic. = senses 1,2 above.

There's a sadness in the etymological evolution of bully, transforming over time from lover to sweetheart, then from good friend to mate, and now to the ugly, shameful and all-too-familiar definition of a person that uses strength or power to intimidate and coerce. As if being bullied by anyone isn't bad enough, to be bullied by someone that you formerly loved, that professed to love you, or someone that you still love, must be among the cruelest and most damaging of all abuses.

Please free to comment below.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Budgerigar - Smuggle that Budgie

(photo by Isidro Vila Verde)


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[BUDGEREE (Australian colloquial for 'good, excellent', from Aboriginal 'bujari'+ 'gar' cockatoo.]

A small Australian parakeet, Melopsittacus undulatus, a popular cage-bird,
green in the wild state, although captive birds are bred in a variety of colours.


Noun. Colloquial. Early 20th century.

A budgerigar.

Well flip me over and tickle me backwards - budgerigar, the most unimaginative and unexotic of pets, is actually Australian, and derives its name from the Aboriginal word bujari.  That is a surprise, for me anyway, but my only experience of budgies was my grandparents' budgie Joey. Every two weeks, my Dad and I would take the two-hour drive from Oxford to London to visit his elderly Mum and Dad, and highlights of said trip included playing with Grandad's compass, exploring their WWII bomb-shelter, and looking at Joey, a simple but friendly budgie who nibbled on his cuttlefish, pecked a mirror and occasionally said "Who's a pretty boy, then?" Being children of the Victorian era, my grandparents were never the most adventurous types, and I would love to know if they knew of Joey's truly transcontinental ancestry.

Budgerigar, Parakeet
Always maintain a straight face when smuggling budgies
(photo by SpeedoPhotos)
Regardless of my associations, however, budgerigars are actually rather interesting. Bred since the 1850s, they're exceptionally social birds and can be taught (like Joey) words and simple sentences. In fact, some budgies have become internet sensations, and a few even managed to become famous before the advent of YouTube. For example, Sparkie (1954-1962) was a talking budgie from England with a repertoire of over 500 words and 8 nursery rhymes. Not only did he have an opera written about him (no Cats! jokes, please), but he released a record that, in those simpler times, sold 20,000 copies. On his death, the country mourned his passing in the only way it knew how - he was stuffed by a taxidermist, mounted, and put on permanent display by the Natural History Society of Northumbria, rightly ensuring that Sparkie will stay a pretty boy for many generations to come.

Do you or have you ever owned a budgie?

If not, do you (like me) know people with smaller vocabularies than your average budgie?

Have you ever smuggled a budgie?

Please budgeree your gar in the comment box below.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Brutum fulmen - Threat Level 'Yeah Right'

Smack talk, Brutum fulmen, Bruta fulmina
"Bring it on, finches! I has got mad ninja skillz and I will pwn your feathery behinds. Oh you think I'm smiling? You just come here and I'll ..."
(photo by Keith Roper)


Noun phrase. Plural bruta fulmina. Early 17th century.
[Latin, literally 'unfeeling thunderbolt' (Pliny).]

A mere noise; an ineffective act, an empty threat.

The ineffective nature of bruta fulmina has been discussed at length in my household, and it is my conviction that humans are hardwired to spot a brutum fulmen from a very early age. On car journeys, for example, my five-year-old daughter is completely unfazed by any threats to stop the vehicle, turn around and go home, or cancel the holiday for everyone. As if, Dad. However, a threat to ban treats for the rest of the day - reasonably and practically enforceable as it is - usually finds it's mark. Oh the joys of parenthood.

Brutum fulmen, Bruta fulmina
Every German getaway driver's nightmare.
(photo by Hellebardius)

Were your parents adept in the art of issuing bruta fulmina?

Do you know of a particularly vapid example of bruta fulmen?

Do please leave your most empty, impotent and unthreatening comments below.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Brunet - Hair on The Dark Side

Model, Beauty, Nature, White dress, Young, Long hair
Photo by Sara Lando


Noun & adjective. Also (feminine) brunette. Mid-16th century.
[French brunet masculine, -ette feminine, diminutive of brun brown: see -ET, -ETTE.]

(A white person, in form -ette especially a woman or girl) with a dark complexion or (now usually) brown hair.
Of the complexion: dark.

Have you heard the one about the stupid brunette? Probably not. As brunettes are stereotypically serious, independent, hard-working and above average intelligence (at least for women), they really don't make the best comedic material. Not like blondes, anyway, who, as everyone knows, are really rather stupid. Oh, and brunettes can be really bitchy. And they're no fun. Sure, they're classy, but what man digs classy when you can have a ditzy dumb promiscuous blonde hanging off your arm? 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don't shoot the messenger - this is what's out there: a study in 2005 in which 1,500 men were shown three photos of the same woman, digitally altered to give her blonde, brunette and red hair respectively, found that the brunette was consistently judged to be intelligent (81%), independent and self-sufficient (67%) and stable and competent (62%). The blonde, on the other hand, was judged to be extrovert, needy and lacking in self-sufficiency. And no, redheads didn't escape the penetrating psychological insights of the average man either - you're all intelligent (so well done you), but you're also fiery, temperamental and neurotic, so get over it.

Young girls, Making faces, Cross eyes, Surprise. Fun, Best friends,
The proof: all girls are nuts, regardless of hair colour
(oh ... and blondes and brunettes can be friends)
Another thing about brunettes - they hate blondes. Why? Because they're jealous, of course; blondes are more fun, more attractive, and they're gifted with not having the brains to even try to achieve anything with their life. In a staggeringly broad statement (and I say that literally, as I literally staggered when I read this, despite being seated), a BBC pundit wrote: "It is a fact women with blonde hair try to convince everyone being blonde means they have more fun. Brunette women, however, protest it is they who have more fun than blondes and they also add the fact that they are more intelligent." For what purpose? The only purpose a woman has for doing anything, of course: "... for the attention of the male species ..." Interestingly, whether or not the blonde vs brunette mentality really exists outside of broad popular culture, it does exist in certain competitions, and there are blonde vs brunette football, chess and wrestling tournaments.

So, as brunettes are smart, dependable, independent and classy (if a bit on the dull and unapproachable side), do they fare better than blondes when it comes to the stereotypes of hair-colourism? If the standard is to be judged by their ability to attract a man, then they do rather well - while the blonde is good for an easy, no-(intelligent)-questions-asked fling, the brunette is the man's choice for long-term stability and a touch of class, and there are plenty of brunette sex symbols to counter the suggestion that blondes are automatically more attractive: Natalie Portman, Joan Collins, Sophia Loren, Angelina Jolie and Audrey Hepburn, to name but a few. If, however, we assume for a second that maybe - just maybe - a brunette woman's aspirations and validation as a human being might not revolve around successfully attracting men, then maybe no, she doesn't fare any better than any other person who is judged on the basis of superficial physical characteristics. It's just a thought.

Yoga, Playing, Tomfoolery, Buffoonery, Fun
Know your place, woman! Such buffoonery is most unbecoming of your kind.
(photo by Flavio Photography)
Oh, yes, and semantically, brunet is an interesting word because, like blond, it is one of the few words in English to have a masculine and feminine form (although, unlike blond, the masculine brunet is almost never used in written or spoken English). I almost forgot to mention that, seething as I still am, enraged if you will, at my gender being described as a different "species" in that BBC article. The cheek of it. The bally cheek of it!

Are you a smart, self-sufficient and classy brunette?

Are you a boring, stuck-up, unapproachable brunette?

Are you a browned-off brunet aggrieved at all the attention brunettes are getting?

Do please leave your most above-average intelligence but rather conventional comments below.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Brumal - A Misty Winter's Tale

Cold, Chilled, Brumous, Brumal
Photo by Michelle


Adjective. Literary. Early 16th century.
[Latin brumalis, from bruma winter.]

Like winter, wintry.


Noun. Literary. Early 18th century.
[French = fog, from Latin bruma winter.]

Fog, mist, vapour.


Adjective. Literary. Mid-19th century.
[French brumeux from late Latin brumosus, from bruma winter.]

Foggy, wintry.

It's not often that the events of the day will determine my chosen word, but such was the pressing fog when I got up this morning, such was the brumous chill that snapped through the air, around my neck and into my lungs, that I knew I couldn't pass by this trio of Latin-rooted words. A strong, clean winter is something beautiful to be cherished: the invigorating morning walks through chilled air that excites clarity of thought and perception, ponderous evening strolls over mist-covered, glistening streets, and nights passed pensively by an open fire, reflective and nostalgic, safe and secure from the biting wind that bellows outside.

Brume, Brumal, Brumous, Snow
Photo by Mike Vance

Do you like winter?

Were you familiar with the words brumal, brume and brumous?

Do please leave your most cold-hearted comments below.