Saturday, 31 August 2013

Boat - Whatever Floats Yours

Boat, Sailing, Sea, Ocean, Water, Nautical
Photo by Steve Mishos

BOAT

Noun.
[Old English bāt related to Old Norse beit, from Germanic: Dutch boot, German Boot, French bateau, have come from English or Scandinavian.]

1A. A small open vessel propelled by oars, engine, or sail.
Also (colloquial, especially among submariners) a submarine. OE

1B. Any small or distinctive kind of vessel, especially a fishing vessel, mail packet, ferry, or small steamer.
Also (chiefly US) a large seagoing vessel. L16

2. A boat-shaped utensil for holding gravy, sauce, incense, etc. L17

Humans love boats. We love to lounge in them, fish from them, read in them and swim from them. We love pristine boats, old boats, wrecked boats, sunken boats, converted boats, toy boats and model boats. We love to photograph them, paint them and build them. For many, it's a dream to one day own one. Unsurprisingly for a creature that has lived to explore and expand throughout its blue, watery planet, humans have a deep and special connection to water and the means by which we traverse it. Put simply: boats are part of us.

Boat, Sailing, Water, River, Oars
Photo by Dennis Jarvis
Do please leave any comments below.

Friday, 30 August 2013

BO - Something to Stink About

BO, Body odour, Sweat, Smell, Stink, Reek, Antiperspirant
"You couldn't do this somewhere more private?"
(photo by Full Six)

BO

Abbreviation. Colloquial.

Body odour.

BO is a touchy subject, and one even the OED seems eager to get out of the way, not hanging about to give the word's origin, time of first recorded use or pronunciation. And yes, its pronunciation could be vitally important, spoken as it is in two letters: bee oh. Could you imagine the mortification if an English language-learner finally plucked up the courage to tell a friend about his unique and frankly disturbing emanation, only to stumble on his final approach because of basing his words on what he had read in the OED

"Man, I've been wanting to tell you; you've got bo."

"I've got what? I've got a bow?"

"Yeah man. Bo. In your armpits."

"A bow in my ... ? I don't understand. Could you perhaps mime what you mean?"

Oh the horror. As if dealing with someone else's BO wasn't bad enough without ambiguity being tossed in. And bad body odour, also known as bromhidrosis, is an issue, as can be halitosis (bad breath), bromodosis (smelly feet) and the rather descriptively termed fish odour syndrome, a disorder that causes someone to smell like rotting fish.

If you've ever wondered how someone with particularly bad BO doesn't smell it themselves, it seems that some people are blissfully immune, on a molecular level, to detecting the vapours wafting from their own armpits. Interestingly, it may all be a big fuss over nothing, as some believe that we only dislike a strong bodily odour because we've been culturally taught to dislike it. This could be a potent retort (even if not as potent as the smell itself) for anyone that takes umbrage at being spoken to about their particularly pungent aroma: "Don't try and mould me into society's norms! This is the way God intended me to smell and who am I to defy nature?" 

BO, Body odour, Stink, Sweaty, Reeking, Smelly
As always, vintage adverts can be trusted to deal sensitively with such personal issues

If, however, one does want to deal with the fact that it smells like something crawled inside your armpit and died, there is plenty of advice out there, and it's all pretty intuitive (or you'd expect it to be). NHS Direct suggests regularly washing with soap, regularly changing your clothes (particularly underwear and socks) and regularly washing said clothes. However, there are some medical problems that cause bad body odour, so if it really is a problem that's not attributable to any of the above measures, it's probably time to see your doctor. 

As for what you should do if a friend or colleague stinks, as always the internet offers a wealth of advice. Some of my favourite tips include:
  • Take your friend to the pharmacy and casually pick out a deodorant, commenting on how good it smells and how good it would smell on them.
  • If you train, change or do P.E together, give them a casual blast of your own deodorant, perhaps with an encouraging "Let me help you with that" type comment.
  • Buy them a gift-basket of soaps, deodorants, antiperspirants, flannels, sponges and other toiletries.
  • Send them an anonymous email telling them you're a friend and you don't want to embarrass them but they smell and they have to do something about it. Seriously: it must be dealt with. Now.
  • If a direct approach is necessary, use neutral language that lays the blame elsewhere, perhaps with terms like deodorant failure, antiperspirant breakdown and sub-standard soap syndrome.
  • Remember the ancient proverb: When a friend smells, a true friend tells.
OK, I made the last two up, because a lot of the advice on the internet was (shock horror) so completely and utterly stupid. It's a horrifying situation to be in, but surely the only approach is the direct one; empathetic and discreet, but direct. I'd certainly want someone to tell me if I was humming to high heaven.

And humming brings me finally to the rather unpleasant language of BO (this is a language blog after all). Various unflattering terms are used, including reeking, minging and the Scottish boggin'. If you're feeling pretentious, why not use mephitic or malodorous? My favourite, however, is the beautifully descriptive humming, a word I first encountered when I came to Ireland: the idea that someone smells so badly that the air literally hums around them. It's rather moving in its own special way.

BO, Body odour, Sweat, Smelly, Rank, Mephistic,

Do you have a problem with BO?

Have you ever had to speak to someone (or been spoken to) about bad BO?

How is BO described where you're from?

Do please leave your most fragrant and delicately scented comments below.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Blurb - "An Outrageously Brilliant Post by One of the Net's Hottest New Bloggers"

Blurb
"A simple, touching and quaintly appropriate photograph, even if it doesn't actually contain a blurb."
(by TrazomFreak)

BLURB

Noun. Slang (originally US). Early 20th century.
[Fanciful form by US humorist Gelett Burgess.]

A publisher's brief, usually eulogistic, description of a book,
printed on its jacket or in advertisements; descriptive or commendatory matter.

I got into an argument over a blurb once. I was sitting in my friend's house, looking over his copy of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. On the cover was (in my opinion) the outrageously fawning statement: "The best book ever written by man or woman ... deserves to sell more copies than the Bible." I commented that such unfettered praise always makes me doubt the credibility of the reviewer and by extension (and perhaps unfairly) the book itself.

"What? You can't accept that this is the reviewer's opinion, and he might just be right and this book could actually be more deserving than the Bible?"

"No. It's just that comparing a novel about a group of heroin addicts from Edinburgh to an ancient book that's the cornerstone of faith to some 2 billion people seems just a tad excessive, regardless of the fundamental merits of either."

And so it went on. And on. All because of a stupid blurb. And no, I've never read Trainspotting, and in my mind it will always be associated with that ridiculously inflated praise (written, I know now, by Kevin Williamson, a fellow writer and friend of Welsh's). Bizarrely, I do think that blurb stopped me from reading it, although it's rather doubtful that Welsh has ever rued this lost custom. Sometimes I do rue not reading Trainspotting though. Very odd.

Blurbs are tricky things, though, and not to be trusted without question. In fact, there have been many documented cases of blurb fraud, both in quid pro quo blurb writing between authors and outright fabrication: the entirely fictitious critic David Manning was quoted as praising such cinematic gems as A Knight's Tale, The Animal and Hollow Man, something for which Sony paid out over $1.5 million in compensation to disgruntled movie goers who felt duped into seeing such tripe by their marketing "hoax" (although, in fairness, I thoroughly enjoyed A Knight's Tale).

Beware of suspiciously succinct blurbs too. A film that carries the blurbs "simply breathtaking!" and "explosive!" might just be doling out unhealthy doses of contextomy, the reviewers having actually written "The lack of acting ability is simply breathtaking," and "While the lead actor is charming, the film on the whole is utter pants." Do reviewers say things like 'utter pants'? I think they do. They certainly should anyway. I was talked into watching The Vow recently, and that was utter pants, and I would have written so had I been a movie reviewer.

Do you pay any attention to blurbs?

Do you trust blurbs?

Did you think that a blurb is just a lazy burp?

Do please leave your most fawningly effusive comments below.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Blunderbuss - The Thunder Gun

Thunder Gun, Thunder Pipe, Donderbus,
Photo by Chris Peters

BLUNDERBUSS

Noun. Mid-17th century.
[Alteration (by association with blunder) of Dutch donderbus, from donder thunder + bus gun (originally box, tube; compare with German Büchse.]

1. Historical. A short gun with a large bore, firing many balls or slugs at once. M17

2. A talkative or blundering person. L17

I've always wanted to fire a blunderbuss. Come on! Who hasn't? It's called a 'Thunder Gun' in the original Dutch for goodness sake! As well as the fascinating history behind the blunderbuss, it's found a place in the English language as a word for a talkative or blundering person, and it's an apt metaphor; we all know people who simply overwhelm those around them with their incessant, loud and indiscriminate talk, like the shot of a blunderbuss, as well as those who cause so much blundering destruction that it's like someone has fired a "Thunder Gun" in the room. Come to think of it, children are a bit like that. Maybe blunderbuss should also be used to mean a child (any child) under five.


Are you a blunderbuss?

Have you ever fired a blunderbuss?

Are you going to pretend you wouldn't like to?

Do please scatter your comments indiscriminately below.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Blunder - You Stupid Flippin' Moron

Blunder, Accident, Warning, Sign

 BLUNDER

Noun. Late Middle English.
[Apparently from the verb.]

1. obsolete. Confusion; clamour. LME-L18

2. A stupid or careless mistake. E18

BLUNDER

Verb. Middle English.
[Probably of Scandinavian origin: compare with Middle Swedish blundra, Norwegian blundre shut the eyes,
frequentative of Old Norse, Swedish, blunda, Old Danish blunde, related to BLIND adjective.]

1. verb intrans. Move blindly; flounder, stumble. ME

2. verb trans. Originally, treat clumsily, damage. Later, mingle; make turbid; mix up (literally and figuratively). archaic & dialectical. ME

3. verb trans. Utter thoughtlessly; blurt out. L15

4. verb intrans. Make a stupid or careless mistake. E18

5. verb trans. Mismanage, make a blunder in. E19

Fail, Car crash, Accident
"So ... I'd better call Dad then."
(photo by Matt Jacoby)
There are many words for a mistake in English. In 'B' alone, Lexicolatry has explored the beautifully cosmopolitan bêtise and bévue, and the dashingly posh bish as words to describe a bit of a boo-boo. These are charming words; classy, refined and urbane. There are times, however, when it's not just a bit of a bish, old chap, and your bévue has been so embarrassing, so cack-handedly oafish, that only a word like blunder will suffice. And that's the beauty of blunder: related to blind and most likely having its origin in the Norwegian blunde meaning "shut the eyes", it evokes the imagery of someone stumbling around blindly, knocking over tables and pulling down curtains, falling from grace and taking everything within arm's-sweep with him. Blunder: it's a mistake of the clumsiest, stupidest and most ridiculous sort. And in this technological age, we can be sure that there is a camera somewhere to preserve the memory.



Have you made any blunders recently?

Are you prone to blunders?

Are you, in fact, a blundering idiot?

Do please leave your most ridiculous comments below.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Bluff - Poker Face

Bluff, Bluffing, Deception, Good hand, Best hand,
I took this picture. No I didn't. Or did I?
(no I didn't - Xavier Serra did)

BLUFF

Noun. Late 18th century.
[Probably from the verb, to which it is certainly related, but perhaps earlier.]

1. A blinker for a horse. Now obsolete or dialectical. L18

2. The game of poker; the action or an act of bluffing, originally in poker;
threatening or confident language or behaviour adopted without basis,
in order to intimidate or mislead an opponent. Originally US. M19

BLUFF

Adjective. Early 17th century.
[Originally nautical, perhaps of Low Dutch origin.]

1. Presenting a broad, flattened front; (of a ship's bows) broad and with little or no rake. E17

2. figurative. (a) Rough or surly in manner; abrupt, curt. E18. (b) Good-naturedly blunt; frank, hearty. E19

Also: bluffly adverb L18. bluffness noun M19.

BLUFF

Verb. Late 17th century.
[Dutch bluffen brag, boast, or bluf bragging, boasting.]

1. verb trans. Blindfold, hoodwink. Now obsolete or dialectical. L17

2. verb trans. & intrans. (Attempt to) deceive or intimidate by a pretence of strength (originally in the game of poker). Originally US. M19

The game of poker is all about bluffing. Except that it isn't. But the word bluffing is all about poker, which is jolly interesting. Also interesting is that the OED's definition narrows the bluff to a pretence of strength, whereas making a pretence of weakness could also rightly be considered a bluff, as you attempt to draw an opponent into a situation that they've underestimated. In poker circles, the value of bluffing is often said to be overstated and a costly habit that beginner players often fall into as they constantly (and transparently) try and out-bluff more experienced players. Fascinatingly, while deception within a species was long thought to be a uniquely human behaviour, deception has been observed in animals, including behaviours that can be described as bluffing. For the time being, however, playing poker does remain a uniquely human behaviour, but the moment that some chimp is reported to have won a stash of bananas with a 2/7 offsuit, Lexicolatry will be sure to report.

Are you a poker player that loves to bluff?

Are you too transparent and honest to ever pull off a convincing bluff?

Do please leave your most ambiguous comments below.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Bluestocking - Learned Chicks & Garter Clips

Bluestocking, Bluestockingism, Education, Women,
Blue stockings.
(photo by Saffronie)

 BLUESTOCKING

Adjective & noun. Derogatory. Late 17th century.
[from BLUE adjective + STOCKING noun.]

A1 adjective. Wearing blue worsted stocking; in homely dress. archaic. L17

A2 adjective. Designating or pertaining to (those frequenting) assemblies for literary conversation, etc.
held at Montagu House in London about 1750
(where some of the men wore the blue stockings of ordinary daytime dress). L18

A3 adjective. Of a woman: having or affecting literary tastes, learned. E19

B noun. A female supporter of bluestocking assemblies; a learned woman. L18

Also: blueism & bluism noun. archaic. The characteristics or behaviour of a bluestocking; feminine learning. L18

Also: bluestockingism noun E19

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold your horses mankind: not only can women now vote, work, wear trousers, drink, smoke, divorce their husbands, choose their husbands and (heaven forbid) choose not to have a husband, there are also women out there who are affecting literary tastes and aspiring to be educated. This is a dangerous thing - the feminine mind cannot handle the higher intellectual pursuits. And what next? Will there be female bloggers? Authors? CEOs? Presidents? Aeroplane pilots?

Bluestockingism: that's what this is, and it's a dangerous game for all. That twittering socialite Elizabeth Montagu and her "Blue Stocking Movement" from the 1750s are what's behind this, and I've been raging about it ever since I first read of its feminine aspirations last week. And do you know the most shocking thing about these Blue Stocking meetings, where so-called educated ladies discussed literature and education? Men attended. Men! Invited male guest speakers of sufficient intellectual calibre would speak as if both sexes could share common goals. Pff. This is what it leads to - men turning on their own kind. "A learned woman" - I ask you!

Therefore, the next time a woman, girl, chick or strumpet says something even mildly-thought provoking or suggestive of her having a mind of her own, I say do not hold back, do not bother to think of a thoughtful, well-reasoned response, and do not even consider for a moment forming any kind of logical, intelligent answer. Rather, raise your hands, clap them over your ears so that her affected feminine words will not infect your superior brain, and scream "Bluestocking! Bluestocking! Bluestocking!" until she desists from her churlish impudence.

That is what this is, brothers. That is what this is.
(photo my Martin Thomas - a man)

Are you as enraged as I am about the emergence of bluestockingism?

Have you ever heard anything as preposterous as the oxymoron "a learned woman"?

Do you actually own a pair of blue stockings?

Do please comment below.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Bluebeard - A Scary Fairy Gory Story

French, Perrault, Fair story, Folk tale

BLUEBEARD

Noun. Early 19th century.
[A character in a fairy tale told in French (Barbe-bleue) by Perrault.]

A man who has murdered several wives and concealed their bodies,
 or has other mysterious or horrible things to conceal.

Fairy tales are often quite gruesome affairs, and even many of the nicer ones we grew up with are just sanitised versions with much of the violence and (in some cases) sex taken out. Bluebeard, even by fairy tale standards, is a particularly nasty example:

The eponymous aristocrat Bluebeard (who has that nickname because he has ... well ... you can figure it out) is not a popular figure in his locality, and despite being shunned because of his rank ugliness has been married a number of times, though all of his wives have subsequently died (he claims through illness). Thus, he is not in the running for any Most Eligible Bachelor award with the local talent.

Despite this, he manages to persuade yet another girl to marry him (herself not of totally unimpeachable character, as she first tried to fob Bluebeard off on her sister). Before going away on a trip, Bluebeard gives his new wife the keys to the entire château, and says she may go into any room she so desires and entertain herself as she pleases. However, there is one room that she absolutely must not enter. He could not emphasise this point enough:

Bluebeard
DO NOT GO INTO THE FORBIDDEN ROOM

Of course, no sooner has Bluebeard left on business than his nosey new missus does indeed go poking - tsk tsk tsk! There's just no trust these days. However, to her shock, horror, dismay and utter ... umm ... shock, she finds the floor of the forbidden room awash with blood, and all of his former wives literally hanging around ... from hooks! So appalled is she that she drops the keys on the bloody floor before scooping them up and fleeing the room in shock, horror and utter dismay.

The following morning, Bluebeard returns and politely asks for his keys back. When his bride hands them back (not having bothered or thought to run them under a tap), Bluebeard sees the blood and flies into a rage. She begs him for mercy, at least until she can say her prayers, and Bluebeard (who, while homicidal, is clearly a complete idiot) grants her this, locking her in a tower so that she can pray in peace while he goes off to find his sword.  On his return, he tries to break the door down (seemingly it was lockable from the inside too), but his wife's brothers inexplicably break into the château and kill the enraged Bluebeard (in-laws, eh? Always interfering). The story ends happily with Bluebeard's wife inheriting his vast, vast fortune and marrying a really lovely chap who doesn't try to kill her. Aww bless.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what the moral of Bluebeard is. Is it that, if you've killed lots of people and hidden their bodies in a specific room of the house, you should never, ever, ever give someone the key to that room and tell them that they mustn't open it? Is it that you should never marry someone whose former spouses have all disappeared in mysterious circumstances? Or is it just to remind us that plot-holes are as old as storytelling itself? Who knows? For now, Bluebeard has entered the English language to mean a man that has either murdered his wives and hidden their bodies, or otherwise has some terrible dark secrets lurking in his past (although nothing in the dictionary definition says anything about Bluebeard's stark idiocy).

Are you familiar with the tale of Bluebeard?

Are you a Bluebeard?

Do you have a blue beard and does this story unfairly discriminate against you?

Your comments are most welcome.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Blub - Cry Me a River


Danish Film

BLUB

Verb & Noun. Colloquial. Early 19th century.
[Abbreviation of BLUBBER verb.]

A1 verb trans. Wet of disfigure with weeping. E19

A2. verb intrans. Shed tears, weep. M19

B noun. A fit or spell of weeping.

BLUBBER

Verb. Late Middle English.
[from BLUBBER noun. Probably imitative: compare Low German blubbern bubble, German blubbern bubble, splutter.]

1 verb intrans. Bubble (up); make a bubbling sound. LME

2 verb intrans. Weep noisily; weep and sob unrestrainedly. LME

3 verb trans. Utter with crying and sobbing. (Followed by out, archaicly forth.) L16

4 verb trans. Wet, disfigure, or swell (the face) with weeping. L16

Also: blubberer noun L18. blubberingly adverb with noisy weeping M19.

Men can be a bit weird about crying. It doesn't particularly bother me personally, and I don't see anything shameful about a man shedding a few tears. Blubbing, though, is something I do try and avoid. It's a tragically imitative word, encompassing sobbing, bewailing and bawling in all of its blub-blub-blubbery snotty, sniffy wetness. Whenever one mentions blubbing (or blubbering), however, I can't help but think of the Danish film After the Wedding. A (male) friend and I watched it together and, granted, it is an exceptionally sad film with some supremely moving moments. However, during the climactic scene, a scene for which I myself was shedding a few tears, my friend started ... well ... blubbering. And blubbering loudly. Whooping-cough loudly.

It's hard to overstate the awkwardness of this moment - two men, sitting in the dark, on opposite sides of the room, watching a deeply emotive film, and one of them suddenly sobbing, blubbing, sniffling and choking on his own tears. Should I pause the movie, turn the lights on and console him? Should I let the movie run and quietly ask if he's OK? Should I snort with derision, throw a cushion at him and tell him to man up? No, I just sat there in silence, ruing what had to be the longest sad scene in film history (I swear it seemed at least three hours) and wishing I'd picked Die Hard instead.

Are you a blubberer?

Is it OK for men to blub?

Is it OK for men to blub during films?

Is it OK for men to blub during films together?

Please do blub your comments below.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bloomers - Victorian's Secret

Woman smoking, Knickers, Victorian, Vintage, Edwardian,
Come on! You're kidding right? No? What's wrong with you?

BLOOMER

Noun. Mid-19th century.
[Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-94) of New York, who advocated such dress.]

I
Singular, Historical.
1 In full bloomer costume, bloomer dress = sense 4 below. M19

2 bloomer trousers = sense 5 below. M19

3 A woman who wears a bloomer costume. M19

II
In plural
4 Historical. A woman's costume with loose trousers gathered at the ankle or knee. M19

5 Historical. Knee-length trousers or knickerbockers,
especially as worn by women for active pursuits as cycling etc. L19

6 A woman's or girl's loose knee-length knickers; colloquial knickers of any style. E20

Also: bloomered adjective wearing bloomers L19. bloomerism noun (Hist.) the principles of A. J. Bloomer as to female dress. M19.


I find bloomers to be rather lovely. I know they're anathema to many today, probably most, men and women alike, and they represent the very antithesis of sexiness, associated more as they are with stuffy grandmothers and matronly aunts than anything you'd actually like to cuddle up next to at night. But if you would just put aside, for a moment, those old prejudices and associations, look at bloomers with fresh eyes, ones that haven't been sullied by years of negative reinforcement and familial associations, I think you will come to agree with me that bloomers are in fact very, very sexy indeed.

Even if you're determined to disagree, the history of bloomers and bloomer costume is jolly interesting and has always been steeped in controversy. If you're a woman from the Western world and you're sitting reading this in a pair of trousers or jeans, then you actually have good reason to be thankful to bloomer dress, as it was this style in the 1850s that helped usher in the concept of women wearing trousers. And, yes, it was a concept, and one that was met with near hysterical opposition from the conservative classes. Prevailing fashion of the time dictated that women wear whale-bone corsets to achieve the desired feminine shape, and these were so tight that they would actually displace the internal organs. Therefore, various journals and writers started urging women to adopt styles that were more conducive to good health.

Women smoking, Suffrage, Women's rights
 Tut tut tut. Women smoking, drinking, lounging and reading - that's what men do!
Although she did not invent the style, American Amelia Bloomer wrote an article in 1851 saying that she had adopted the Turkish style of dress, that of wearing baggy pantaloons underneath a skirt, and she printed instructions on how to make it. Newspapers quickly dubbed this the "Bloomer Dress", and very soon there was a "Bloomer Craze" across the nation. Bloomer banquets, picnics and balls were held, and bloomer dress quickly became associated not only with women's independence from "the despotism of Parisian fashion", but also the wider debate of women's rights and suffrage. Conservative opposition quickly descended on bloomerism, with suggestions that the style would quickly lead to the usurpation of male authority. Hysterical cartoons appeared in newspapers showing women smoking and sitting with their legs crossed, or working while the husbands looked after the children. 

During the 1890s, bloomers were specifically recommended as a comfortable and practical style for riding bicycles, and skirtless bloomers were adopted for other athletic pursuits. During the 1920s and 1930s, it became more respectable for women to wear trousers in a variety of situations, and bloomers first got shorter and then ultimately became less common. The baggy undergarments (knickers) that fall to just below knee-length were popular throughout the 1910s - 1930s, after which they too declined and became more associated with the older generation. It's these undergarments that are most commonly thought of when one mentions bloomers, and I for one feel they are grossly undervalued and maligned.

Women's suffrage, Sports team,
The athletic bloomers. 
There is still interest in bloomers, however; I'm not alone. They're common fare in lingerie and period dress shops, and there are also videos on YouTube showing how you can make your own set of bloomers. Personally, rather than the tawdry, no-imagination-required styles of modern underwear and lingerie, I think there are few things more alluring than a subtle, silky set of flattering bloomers. And considering the historical and sociological discussions that a set of vintage bloomers is bound to prompt, there can be few things more stimulating that one could wear in the bedroom.

What do you think of bloomers?

Do you think they're bloomin' lovely or bloomin' awful?

Have they in fact led to a rise of women smoking, reading newspapers and having their own opinions?

Do please leave your pantalooniest comments below.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Blood - A Study of Bloody English

Sanguine, Haemophobia, Red
Photo by M.Mate

BLOOD

Noun.
[Old English blōd, of Germanic origin; related to German Blut and Dutch bloed.]

1A. A complex fluid, red when oxygenated and containing various suspended cells,
circulating in the arteries and veins of the higher animals;
the corresponding fluid in other multicellular organisms. ME

1B. A liquid or juice resembling blood (always with a conscious reference to the primary sense). ME

2A Blood that is shed, in theological writing especially sacrifice, as that of Christ; the taking of life. OE

2B The guilt of bloodshed. OE

2C A blood-and-thunder story. Frequently in penny blood. Usually in plural. archaic. L19

3 obsolete Vital fluid; the vital principle; life. ME-M18

4A The blood as the supposed seat of emotion; passion, temperament, mettle. ME

4B The blood as the supposed seat of animal or sensual appetite; sexual desire. ME

5A The blood as the vehicle of hereditary characteristics or relationship;
consanguinity; parentage, lineage; family, race, nationality. ME

5B Persons of any specified blood or family collectively; kindred. ME

5C Good parentage or stock. LME

5D One's offspring; a near relative. archaic. LME

5E A fellow black person. US Black English. M20

6 obsolete. A living being. Only in ME

7 obsolete. A disease in sheep or swine. E16-L18

8A A rowdy, a roisterer; a dandy; a rake. Now archaic or Historical. M16

8B A leader of fashion, especially at a public school or university. slang. L19

9 (Bloods) Plural. A member of a N.American Indian people belonging to the Blackfoot confederacy. L18

It's a good job that I'm not haemophobic, as this has been a bloody post to research. Considering the vital nature of blood, it's hardly surprising that it's so firmly rooted in the English language and forms some of our most colourful and graphic phrases. While I don't want to stir up bad blood by dwelling on the negative, blood and iron draws first blood as a phrase that means military force (as opposed to diplomacy). Even individually, if one's blood is up, one can be out for a person's blood. Whether or not one can kill in cold blood (deliberately and without passion) or one is blood-thirsty and driven by blood-lust, bloodshed is inevitable. After the graphicly termed blood-bath, the survivors weary and blood-boltered (hair matted with blood), the victors can only rue their blood-guilt and whatever paltry, ill-gotten blood-money they were paid for their sacrifice. 

It's not all blood-curdling horror and violence, however. One's family is one's blood, and blood-relatives, whether new blood or old, are closer than anyone, commonly expressed in the saying that blood is thicker than water (meaning family ties are more important than anything else). You might even be blue-blooded if you're from a royal line (the expression blue blood originates from the Spanish sangre azul and the claim by certain noble families of the Castile that they had no Moorish or Jewish in them, thus leading to their paler complexions and 'bluer' appearance). Care must be taken with family, however, as blood-feuds can easily develop, leading to the type of violence described above.
Smear, Bloody, Sanguine,

Do you know of any other bloody English expressions, idioms or phrases?

Are there any bloody phrases in your language?

I heartily predict that getting bloody comments will not be akin to getting blood  from a stone.
(or turnip, depending on where you're from)

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Blond - My Fair Lady

Blond, Sexist language, Hair colour,
Photo by Robert Ramirez

BLOND

Adjective & noun. Also (feminine, but often used indiscriminately) blonde. Late 15th century.
[Old & modern French from medieval Latin blundus, blondus yellow, perhaps of Germanic origin: feminine form introduced from French in the 17th century.]

A adjective. (Esp. of the hair) of a light golden-brown colour, flaxen, fair;
(of the complexion) light-coloured with fair hair. L15

ash blond, platinum blond, silver blond, strawberry blond, etc.
blond beast [translating from German blonde Bestie] a man of the Nordic type.
blond bombshell, blonde bombshell: see bombshell.

B1 noun. A person (especially a woman) with blond hair and complexion. M18

B2 noun. blonde = blonde lace. M18

dumb blond, dumb blonde: see dumb adjective & noun.
peroxide blond, peroxide blonde: see peroxide noun.

Also: blondish adjective somewhat blond or light-coloured M20. blondness, blondeness noun L19. 

"A stunning blond walked into my office the other day ..." Admit it. The picture in your head is of a stunning woman walking into my office, right? To be truthful, that's the picture in my head too. Blond as a noun, however, is masculine, and blonde is feminine, and therefore it was a stunning blond man that walked into my office (boo!). In having masculine and feminine forms, blond is unusual in English, although the degree with which the difference is observed varies between country and writer, especially with regard to the adjective.

The second thing that's interesting about blond is that it does carry the societal acceptability of nominating women by their physical characteristics alone. Disregarding the spelling difference (as obviously there is no difference in pronunciation), if I corrected you with a supercilious "No, it was a stunning man that came into my office - why would you just presume it was a woman?", you'd no doubt give me a strange look. In spoken English, from either sex, a phrase like "stunning blond" implicitly says "a stunning blonde woman". Interestingly, brunet and its feminine form brunette carry the same semantic assumptions.

Male model, Pose, Shirtless, Hair colour,
This is me. A self-portrait. OK it's not. But it is proof that blond men exist.
(photo by Mary Beth Coeth Photography)
It gets worse for blonds though. Ingrained in both the English language and the English-speaking culture is the blond stereotype, or perhaps more accurately the blonde stereotype, as it's one that affects women significantly more than men. For example, the "dumb blonde" idea has created the language of being blonde, regardless of your hair colour, if you've just done something a bit stupid. And if you've had a temporary lapse of intelligence, you can be said to have had a "blonde moment".

Even worse than this, blonds have to put up with the glut of blonde jokes. While one could make an argument about the inherent sexism in blonde jokes which generally cast a blonde woman as being stupid, naive or promiscuous solely because of her hair colour, it's worth noting that in general they're just not funny! And, while competing for the "Most Unsurprising Results of Scientific Research Award", it's been shown that men find dumb blonde jokes funnier than women (the shock). Come on guys - we can do better!

Child,
A blonde child, blowing away the seeds of prejudice from a stalk of hope in a field of liberty (I think)
(photo by Victor Walsh Photography
A common reaction to prejudice based on hair colour is not to take it so seriously, as it's just a bit of fun. However, it has real-life consequences. Rather than being just some cultural quirk that we can all have a laugh about, it seems we do actually judge a person's intelligence based on their hair colour. That's pretty astounding -  all of us, men and women, society as a whole, are stupid enough to think that hair colour alone is indicative of one's intelligence. Shame on us!

Ah well. It may all be irrelevant soon anyway, as the BBC reported in 2002 that blonds will be extinct within 200 years. The thinking is that artificial blondes are more attractive to men than natural blondes, and therefore the blond gene isn't being passed on. Honestly, the BBC reported that! I would like to make a joke about them having a blonde moment in falling for such a transparent hoax but it probably wouldn't be appropriate.

Are you blond, blonde or a blond or blonde?

Do you actually find blonde jokes funny?

Should we all just relax and accept that hair-colourism is a cherished part of modern culture?

Do please leave your fair-minded, flaxen-centric comments below.  

Monday, 19 August 2013

Bloke - A Shelta'd Man

A rather dashing bloke holidaying in Ireland
(photo by Swire Chin)

BLOKE

Noun. Colloquial. Mid-19th century.
[Shelta.]

A man, a fellow. 

Also: blokey, blokeish adjective M20

Bloke is a refreshingly neutral word, and really gives no indication of a man's age, background, status or demeanour. "He's a funny old bloke, isn't he?" sits just as well as "I got jumped by a couple of drunk blokes in town last night." Most references suggest that this is a chiefly British colloquialism, though it is used in other parts of the world too, including Australia (perhaps with more emphasis on a bloke's masculinity there). What's particularly interesting about bloke, however, is its origin, which the OED unequivocally gives as Shelta, the ancient secret language of Irish Travellers. In tracing bloke back through its Traveller roots, its ultimate origin may be the Celtic ploc, meaning a stubborn person, or even Romany or Hindi loke, meaning a man. Despite its modern Britishness, therefore, bloke seems to be a rather well-travelled chap indeed.

Do you use bloke?

Have you met any nice blokes recently?

Do please comment below.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Blivit - An Impossibly Useless Post

Utilities, Brain-teaser,
Town planning puzzles. Oh the fun!

BLIVIT

Noun. US slang. Also blivet.
[Origin unknown.]

Something pointless, useless, or impossible; a nuisance.

I was shown the above puzzle when I was a child and I've decided it's a blivit. The purpose is to connect each house to its own supply of electricity, gas and water by drawing a line from the relevant utility box to the target house; the lines (pipes) must not cross or go through the boxes or other houses, and each house must be supplied with all three. Go!

It's also been a bit of a blivit to find out exactly what a blivit is. It's not in my hard-copy Chambers or Collins dictionaries, and is conspicuously absent from the online versions of all of these, including Merriam-Webster and, bizarrely, the OED. It does, however, have its own (albeit virtually referenceless) Wikipedia entry under blivet, which claims its most common use is in describing such impossible objects as the Devil's Tuning Fork. It also says that it's US army slang for something completely unmanageable, a vital but broken or deficient piece of equipment, a self-important person and a fuel container. Other online references also give other definitions, including it being an embarrassing crash during a technical demonstration, something that is hard to name or find a word far, and the joke of leaving a burning, excrement-filled paper bag on someone's doorstep, ringing the bell and watching as they stamp out the flames in a panic.

All of this leads me to believe that finding the true meaning of blivit (or blivet) is, in itself, a bit of a blivit (in several senses of the word), especially as all of the major dictionaries seem to have given up on the task. I shall therefore leave you with some deeply probing questions, and my little blivitous brain-teaser.

Have you ever used the word blivit or blivet? Are you going to?

Do you have any other examples of what a blivit is, might be, could be or would be in a perfect world? 

Do please leave your most pointless, useless and impossible comments below.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Blitz - The Bombing of Britain

World War 2, Aerial bombing, Civilians, Germany, Britain,

BLITZ

Noun & verb. Mid-20th century.
[Abbreviation of BLITZKRIEG.]

A1 noun. A sudden or intensive (especially aerial) attack with the object of immediate
destruction or reduction of defences; specifically the air raids on London in 1940. M20

A2(a) noun. transferred & figurative. generally. A period of sudden or intense activity. M20

A2(b) noun. American Football. A charge by one or more defensive backs
into the offensive backfield to anticipate a pass. M20

B1 verb intrans. Make a sudden or intensive (especially aerial) attack. M20

B2 verb trans. Attack, damage, or destroy by a blitz. M20

B3 verb intrans. Charge into the offensive backfield. M20
Blitz, London, World War 2
Firefighters tackling a blaze in London in 1941
"Right. Today I'm going to blitz my office." Granted, I don't think that's something I've ever actually said, but blitz sits quite comfortably in my active vocabulary to mean any bout of intense activity or work, especially if it's an unpleasant task that one wants to get out of the way - tidying my office would definitely fall into that category.

Used in that way, blitz is unusual in that its origin stems from The Blitz, the campaign of sustained aerial bombing carried out by Germany against the United Kingdom during World War 2. Although London is the city most associated with the blitz, numerous other cities were targeted, including Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Plymouth, Bristol, Coventry, Portsmouth, Southampton, Hull, Manchester and Belfast. The campaign lasted from September 1940 until May 1941 and initially only targeted military and strategic objectives. However, on the 24th August 1940, a number of German bombers drifted off-course and accidentally bombed a residential area in London. Churchill ordered a retaliatory strike on Berlin, and from that point civilian centres were targeted by both sides.
Air raid, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Children, World War 2.
Eileen Dunne, aged 3, in Great Ormond St. Hospital after being injured during an air raid on London in 1940
In Britain, the blitz is remembered with a certain pride and nostalgia, evoking feelings of national solidarity and "the blitz spirit" as people of all classes came together in the face of a common and terrifying enemy. As a military operation for Germany, it was a total failure, neither facilitating Hitler's planned invasion, breaking the will of the British people or crippling the UK's war economy. Indeed, the precursor to the blitz, The Battle of Britain, in which Germany attempted to gain air supremacy over the UK, was Germany's first major defeat of the war. Thus, the campaign and period as a whole is a source of great pride for veterans and the British people generally.

Despite this nostalgia, the details of the blitz are unflinchingly grim. By the end of the campaign, over 43,000 civilians had been killed nationwide and another 139,000 had been injured. Enormous damage had also been done to both the country's infrastructure and housing stock, causing significant hardship even for civilians that weren't directly affected by the bombing. Considering the word's rather dark history, a history that's still within living memory, it seems surprising that it's entered such common and even flippant use.

Were you present during the blitz?

Are there any words describing a similar period of hardship or turmoil in your language that now means something more mundane?

Do please leave any comments below.