Monday, 31 March 2014

Cete - Badgers of Honour

A European badger
A badger
(image by Christof Bobzin)


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Perhaps from Latin coetus assembly, company.]

A group of badgers.

A German stamp with a badger on it
A badger on a stamp
(image by Vintage Printable)

Three Little Known Facts About Badgers:

They're the largest predator native to Britain and Ireland

On these islands, it is the only native predator of hedgehogs

A group of badgers is called a cete
 (pronounced seet)

A cardboard box of toy badgers
A cete of badgers
(photo by Janet McKnight)

Do you know any other badgery facts?
(double points if they're facts about cetes of badgers)

Do please leave your most black and white comments below.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Cervisial - Beer Oh Dear

A top-down shot of a pint of beer
The Cervisial Orb
(photo by Waferboard)


Adjective. Jocular. Late 18th century.
[from Latin cervisia beer.]

Of or pertaining to beer.

There are so many things that can be cervisial. The cervisial glaze, for example, that descends upon a person's eyes after one too many. And the cervisial wobble, as someone tries so very hard to appear sober but that tell-tale bobble-head rocking motion belies their bibition. And cervisial breath - that pungent, yeasty stench that washes over you as a drunk, always standing too close, tries to tell you how he had trialsh for Liverpool but had to drop out becaush one knee was shorter than the other and hish dad was arreshted for horsh fraud on a Shunday while his mum worked the deli at Sainshburys. Oh, of course - cervisial rambling and the cervisial shlur.
A beer mat showing a man (rather erotically) sipping a pint
Cervisial erotica
(Roger Wollstadt)
As for good things, what about good old-fashioned cervisial snobbery? If there's one thing I like (yes, like) to be a bit of a snob about, it's beer. And cervisial bonding - a group of mates, sitting in a beer garden for the afternoon, telling jokes and catching up while having a few (good quality and locally sourced) beers together. And the cervisial reconciliation - you have to have done something pretty bad for it all not to go away with the purchase of a pint: "Come on, Dave. I'm sorry about your car. Let me buy you a beer," which, if proper etiquette is followed, is succeeded by the cervisial antapology when Dave buys the next round. 

An early 20th post showing soldiers drinking beer and laughing at the enemy
Cervisial propaganda
And finally, there's cervisial multilingualism, a puzzling phenomenon that compels British people who have never learnt a foreign word in their lives to studiously learn the word for beer in whatever country they might happen to be visiting. Well ... it really is the least one can do.

How will you use the adjective cervisial today?

Do you have any other suggestions for beer-related phenomena?

Do bring things to a head and pour your frothiest comments into the beer box below.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Cervine - Deer Oh Deer

A painting of a herd of deer
Painting by Anton Schmitz (1855-1935)


Adjective & noun. Mid-19th century.
[Latin cervinus, from cervus deer.]

Of or like a deer;
(an animal) of the deer family.

If something is described as cervine, I immediately think of a deer's grace, beauty and timidity, and perhaps the proud stature of an antlered stag, a motif featured so frequently in heraldry. There is, however, so much more to deer - depending on the type, deer are exceptionally hardy animals (the deer family includes moose and reindeer), they can be fearsome fighters when threatened, and they are prolific breeders. And two facts I didn't know about deer before researching them for Lexicolatry - fawns have virtually no smell, rendering them olfactorily invisible to many predators, and antlers are unique to deer. Yes, that's right - antlers are unique to deer. Go on. Try and think of another animal that has them.

Do deer or does cervine call to mind any other qualities for you?

Do please leave your most fawning comments in the box below.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Cereologist - A Crop Circle Investigator

A large, complex crop circle
To make a crop circle, you need (too much) time, a plank and some string ...
(photo by Massimiliano Mitch)


Noun. Late 20th century.
[from Ceres (see CEREAL) + -OLOGIST.]

A student or investigator of crop circles.

cereology noun L20

I've never met a cereologist, and somehow I don't feel my life is any emptier because of it. Considering that numerous serial cereal surrealist pranksters have not only come forward to say "Guys! It was us!" but clearly demonstrated how crop circles are made, aren't cereologists simply puzzling over a puzzle that's already been solved? Are they not working on a boondoggle of a blivit of a crossword that's already had all the answers pencilled in?

Of course, no, and some are always going to believe that crop circles are not simply the work of unemployed plank-wielding plonkers, but rather the handiwork of aliens, spirits, plasma-infused weather anomalies or the collective will of humanity coalescing gestalt-style into one awesome, unstoppable force with the sole purpose of flattening some poor farmer's crops (especially if said belief continues to sell books, guided tours, and - oh the cynicism! - spiritual healing retreats).

So, if there are any cereologists out there, do feel free to comment. I really would like to know why, if this is the work of aliens, leprechauns, or some other higher intelligence, they couldn't make their messages just a teeny bit less ambiguous, especially if they're communicating really important stuff like the dangers of global warming, nuclear warfare or reality TV. Also, as you are cereologists, do you not think your time would be better spent solving real cereal-based conundrums? For example: why is the second bowl of muesli always crunchier than the first? Seriously, I want to know. Get on it, guys.

... or just your kids' paddling pool.
(photo by Ben Newton)

Are you a cereologist?

Are you an alien, spirit, prankster or intelligent weather anomaly that makes crops circles?

Do amaize us with your corniest comments by leaving them in the disappointingly rectangular box below. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Cerebral - That Means Brainy, Idiot

A human brain
A brain
(Image by DJ)


Adjective & noun. Early 19th century.
[from Latin CEREBRUM + -AL: compare with French cérébral.]

A1(a) adjective. Of or pertaining to the brain. E19

A1(b) adjective. Appealing to the intellect rather than to the emotions; clever; intellectual. E20


noun. PHONETICS. A cerebral consonant. E19

(1) cerebral palsy a disorder chiefly characterized by spastic paralysis due to brain damage before or at birth.
cerebralism noun (a) intellectualism; (b) (now rare) the theory that mental processes arise from the action of the brain: L19
cerebralist noun (a) an intellectualist, an intellectual; (b) (now rare) a supporter of the theory of cerebralism: L19
cerebrally adverb L19

I've already used Lexicolatry to express my disdain for the word cerebral or, more specifically, its reckless application to things that are trying hard to be cerebral. However, on arriving at the word itself, I'm starting to specifically dislike it - it's just so damn pretentious. And what type of self-aggrandising deluded moron would you have to be to describe yourself as a cerebralist? Or your own interests as cerebral? Or The Matrix, of all the films? Oh my. It really is time I got over this.

Do please leave your most cerebrally challenging comments in the box below.  

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Cereal - A Divine Etymology

A bowl of bran cereal
Photo by Evan Amos


Adjective & noun. Early 19th century.
[Latin cerealis pertaining to the cultivation of grain, from Ceres Roman goddess of agriculture.]

A adjective. Of, pertaining to, or of the nature of edible grain. E19

B1 noun. Any of the plants of the grass family Graminae which are cultivated for their edible seeds;
a grain used for human food. Usually in plural. M19

B2 noun. Food made from wheat, maize, or another grain (usually as a breakfast dish). L19

A depiction of Ceres on an Italian banknote
Ceres in all her beauty on an Italian banknote

There probably aren't many people whose breakfast cereal puts them in mind of the divine, but mine invariably does. Back in the day, I used to play a computer game called Caesar III which required you to manage a Roman city, part of which, naturally, involved placating the gods. One of those gods was Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and, I must admit, I always fancied her a bit - partly because I found out that it's from her name that we get the word cereal (I was a geek back then too), and partly because, as I discovered in my extra-gameular research, she did rather have a penchant for having her boobs hanging out in paintings. However, seeing as Ceres didn't ever reciprocate my admiration (I'm reminded of her indifference every time I sneeze with a mouthful of muesli), I realised I might have to set my sights a little lower. Still, it's an interesting etymology, right?

A painting of Ceres
Ceres - An Allegory of Summer
Louis de Boullogne (1657-1733)
Do you like cereal?

Do you Ceres?

Do please Alpen your finest comments in the cereal box below.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Cephalalgy - Migraine Is Your Loss

Painting of a woman holding an ice-pack to her head
For a woman, a headache is a perfectly acceptable excuse ...
(art by Pierre Willemin)


Noun. Now rare. Also in Latin form cephalalgia. Mid-16th century.
[Latin cephalalgia from Greek kephalalgia, from kephale head + -algia from Greek algos pain.]

(A) headache.

Are you a man that's prone to headaches? Then you'll know the daily discrimination faced by similarly delicately-minded men across the globe, for, while a headache might be a perfectly valid excuse for a woman when she doesn't want to ... well ... when she doesn't want to do anything, for a man it's the flimsiest, feeblest, most ridiculous and most emasculating excuse one can offer. Even if it's ... y'know ... one of those that's right behind the eye ...

Therefore, the next time you're out for a couple of jars with the lads and need to call it a day, rather than "Sorry, guys, I'm gonna shoot off because I've got a bit of a headache coming on," might I suggest "Arrgh! My cephalalgy! Call me a cab quick!" It's the perfect word - it's true, it's highbrow, and it's just obscure and serious-sounding enough that you're unlikely to be questioned on it. And then you can go home and watch Downton Abbey just like you wanted at the beginning of the night.

A footballer on the ground holding his head, attended to by a physio
... but for a guy, well it just looks kind of silly.
(photo by Jon Candy)
Are you a man that suffers from headaches (snigger) or cephalalgy (oh no!)?

Do you subscribe to that laugh-a-minute journal Cephalalgia by that utterly hilarious bunch over at the International Headache Society?

Do please comment from behind the eye in the box below.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Censor - An Opinionated Assessment

A black censorship bar from Google


Noun & verb. Mid-16th century.
[Latin, from censere pronounce as an opinion, rate, assess.]

A1 noun. Historical. Either of two magistrates in ancient Rome who compiled censuses of its citizens, etc.,
and supervised public morals. M16

A2 noun. A person who exercises supervision or judgement over the conduct or morals of others. L16

A3 noun. A adverse critic; a person who censures or finds fault. Now rare. L16

A4(a) noun. An official with the power to suppress the whole or parts of books, plays, films, etc.,
on the grounds of obscenity, seditiousness, etc. M17

A4(b) noun. An official who, especially in times of war, is empowered to censor private letters, news reports, etc. E20

A5 noun. PSYCHOLOGY. [mistranslation of German Zensur censorship (Freud).] A mental power by which certain anxiety-provoking
unconscious ideas and memories are prevented from emerging into consciousness. E20

B verb trans. Act as censor of; officially inspect and make deletions or changes in (a book film, article, letter, etc.). L19

I seem to have an awful penchant for obscene literature. Right now, I'm rereading J.D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, taking perverse delight in the fact that this bildungsroman, with its profusion of damns, hells and goddams, was banned in Ireland in 1951. Variously, it has been charged by censors as being too sophisticated, gross, shocking and vulgar, and containing a plethora of sexual situations, moral issues and obscene language. Reading it again with modern eyes, the application of such scandalised adjectives to this book can do nothing but prompt a wry smile, a roll of the eyes, and an "Oh what they were thinking!" tut.

A portrait of J.D Salinger
Without Salinger and until Radiohead, who could resonate with disaffected youth?
The odd thing about censorship, however, and the reason I like its etymology, is it so keenly reflects the opinion and assessment of the censor; while my modern eyes might be bemused by the actions of the censors with regards a book like The Catcher in the Rye, in 1951 the eyes of the censors were modern, and they were examining it with their modern eyes. It makes me wonder whether what I find scandalous and obscene now will be scoffed at by my children. After all, my parents wouldn't let me watch The A-Team, what with its profusion of guns, explosions and "violence without consequences". While I would similarly not let my daughter watch violent programming - The Walking Dead is definitely out, for example - the opinion of what constitutes excessive violence is clearly different to that of my parents, as reflected in our differing censorious proscriptions.

A cartoon of a censor with scissors coming out of a box to the horror of artists and writers
"Resurrection of Censorship"
J.J Grandville 1832
Do please leave any comments below.
[comments may be censored]

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Cenotaph - An Empty Tomb

Unbuilt cenotaph to Sir Isaac Newton
A proposed cenotaph to Sir Isaac Newton by French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée


Noun & verb. Early 17th century.
[French cénotaphe from late Latin cenotaphium from Greek kenotaphion, from kenos empty + taphos tomb.]

A noun. An empty tomb; a sepulchral monument to honour someone whose body is elsewhere. E17

B verb trans. Honour or commemorate with a cenotaph. M19

Although usually thought of as monuments to commemorate those that have died in war, cenotaphs also exist to honour the victims of disaster, such as the sinking of the RMS Titanic. There is something heart-wrenchingly poignant about the idea of 'an empty tomb', constructed to remember those who, for whatever reason, went away and never came back.

Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Cementitious - What I Cement to Say ...

A drawing of two stick-figures holding hands with a red love heart, drawn into wet cement
(photo by Celine Nadeau)


Adjective. Early 19th century.
[from CEMENT, Old & modern French ciment from Latin caementum quarry stone, (in plural) chips of stone, from caedere hew.]

Of the nature of cement.

I love it when you're soft and wet
Even more when hard and set
You mix me round you're so delicious
My love for you is cementitious

Mortar come with more to do
Freshly cured I bind to you
Plastered smooth, a full rendition
My love complete in cementition

Booya! And they said a cement-themed love poem could never be written.

Do please pour out your most cementitious comments below.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Celtic - The Influence of Celtic Languages on English

A green Celtic knot


Adjective & noun. Also Keltic. Late 16th century.
[Latin Celticus (from Celtae) or French Celtique from (from Celte): see CELT.]

A adj. Of or pertaining to the Celts and related peoples,
or (with specification as for the noun, a stage of division of) their language group. L16

B noun. A branch of the Indo-European language family including
Irish, Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton,
and the languages from which they have developed. E17

A map of Britain, Ireland and North-Western France
Areas where Celtic languages are still spoken:
Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales
(C.C map from Wikipedia

What's the History of Celtic Languages and Where Are They Spoken?

The story of Celtic languages is a story of rise, fall, and, no matter how big or small, resilience in the face of invasion. Celtic is one of the 11 major branches of the Indo-European language family. It has two major subgroups. Continental Celtic – particularly Gaulish – could once be heard all across the European continent, but was lost with little trace during the expansion of the Roman Empire. Besides Gaulish, it included the long-extinct Celtiberian, Galatian, Lepontic, and Noric.

Insular Celtic is found on the British Isles and Brittany on the northwest coast of France, brought there from the isles in the 5-6th century AD. It has its own two subdivisions, so-called P-Celtic and Q-Celtic. This classification is based on a shift in the Proto-Indo-European phoneme /*kʷ/. In the former, this phoneme shifted to the p sound and in the latter to q. The go-to illustration is the word for 'head': in Welsh it's pen and in Irish its ceannCeann sounds roughly like can.
Irish spelling has long troubled many Americans who try to incorporate token Irish expressions during inebriated touts of their Irish descent. And the reason for these difficulties is in part due to how its pronunciation diverges from its orthographical attempts to preserve etymology. But then again, English spelling troubles everyone everywhere.
P-Celtic, variously known as British or Brythonic, from a Welsh term for a native Briton, comprises Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. It also includes Cumbric (possible source of the famous yan tan tethera sheep-scoring counting systems) and Pictish, which went extinct about 1000 years ago. Welsh can boast about a half a million speakers. Manx was considered extinct since World War II but, with revitalization efforts, it can claim about 100 speakers in the Isle of Man as of 2003.
Q-Celtic, Irish or Goidelic (referring to and related to a Gael, or Irishman, glossed as 'raider') includes Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx. Irish can claim less than 100,000 speakers and Scottish Gaelic somewhere between roughly 60,000-80,000.  Cornish tells a similar tale to Manx's - it died out in the 18th-century but, as of 2008, about 600 people (largely in Cornwall) can claim it resuscitated.
An enormous, armoured Celtic Gaul faces a small Roman soldier
A comic depicting a Roman soldier facing a titanic Gaul.
In truth, it was the Romans that were the titanic force.

Why Have Celtic Languages Declined?

All in all, though, the fate of the Celtic language family is not auspicious: "If language planning efforts fail, it seems inevitable that eventually another branch of the Indo-European family of languages will disappear." (Baugh & Cable, 2002)

Why the unusual decline of Celtic languages? In a word - power - but the Oxford Companion to the English Language cites nine major forces that have lead to their decline:
  • Disunity among Celts in the face of conquest and colonization
  • Loss of linguistic status with the rise of English and French
  • Shortage of reading material (especially in colonial education systems)
  • Lack of adequate instruction and backup
  • Loss of language in religious life (think English bibles)
  • Immigration of English- or French-speaking people into positions of power in Celtic areas
  • Emigration (e.g, during times of famine)
  • The impact of an English dominated media in the 20th century
  • Feeling of cultural inferiority
You'd think, given all the contact, that Celtic would have left a significant linguistic mark on other languages, particularly English. Yet the impact of Celtic on English and other Indo-European languages is considered surprisingly slight. How come? In a word - need.
Again, the Oxford Companion synopsizes the matter well. When Anglo-Saxons moved from the continent to the isles, a familiar natural (and perhaps even cultural) environment meant "they had no need to adopt local words for novel flora, fauna, and experiences." Latin's power and prestige – religiously, governmentally and culturally – meant it was the big man on campus in terms of loanwords. And probably as a result of these two forces as well as others, no pidgin languages emerged.

A cairn on a hilltop
Cairn is, unsurprisingly, a word of Celtic origin
(photo by Eileen Sanda)

What Influence Has Celtic Had on English?

Nevertheless, Celtic did leave its mark in some interesting places. Gaulish loaned French a small body of words, some of which English has picked up. One of them – aller, as in 'Comment allez-vous?', which I butcher whenever I visit Paris – is a pretty important one. It's believed to be rooted in the Gaulish *allu or *aliu, 'to go'.

There are other surprising words of Celtic origins:
  • Embassy (Gaulish *ambactos meant a "vassal")
  • Change (both noun and verb are from a Celtic root that gave Latin cambire meaning 'to barter')
  • Truant (originating in the Gaulish for, essentially, a low-class wretch)
  • Possibly gallon (Gaulish for "vessel")
  • Likely mutton ("sheep")
  • Lance
  • Vassal (from an Old Celtic root *wasso- for "young man")
Druidbardand cairn join the list as well, if we want to get all poetic and mystical. From Welsh we might get flannel but definitely the Scrabble-winning cwm; Scottish Gaelic has given us slogan, and Irish everything from shamrock to smithereens.
One major subset would be geographic terms: bogpeat, glen, crag, loch, cumb, and torr all named prominent land features the Anglo-Saxons needed terms forAnd then there's car. Apparently, the Romans borrowed the Gaulish karros as carrus, naming a kind of two-wheeled chariot (a cognate) the Celts used in warfare. This was first documented by Caesar himself, suggesting the Romans didn't just borrow an important word or concept from Celtic peoples, but an important technology as well. Historical linguists root karros in the Proto-Indo-European *kers, 'to run' - think course or current. Cognates include: carry, career, carpenter, cargo, and charge.
By far Celtic's biggest legacy, though, is found in place names. The British Isles, obviously, bear many: KentCumberlandLondonExeterDoverWye, and many other places, often featuring some  of the geographical terms discussed above (e.g., Holcombe includes cumb, and Pendle the pen, or 'top'). There's also DublinYork and Glasgow; the Thames is Celtic in origin, too.
The European continent keeps a Celtic footprint in some of its own place-names, at least in the English form, such as in the SeineParisRhineRhoneDanube and Cognac, the name for BohemiaParis is believed to have taken its name from the Parisii, a Gaulish tribe. Speaking of cognac, we have the whiskey. But let's save this until Lexicolatry gets to the W's, why don't we? And I'll definitely cheers to that - or should I say sláinte?
Selected References: 
Baugh, A. C. & Cable, T. A History of the English Language. 5th ed. Prentice Hall: 2002
Lehman, W. P. Historical Linguistics: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1973
The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Ed. by T. McArthur. Oxford University Press: 1992.

A stone slab with spiral art in the Celtic style

Do you speak a Celtic language?

Are there any Celtic languages or influences where you live?

Do please comment in the box below.

John Kelly
The Mashed Radish

Would you like to know more about the Celts, their history and their culture? Click here.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Celts - Who Were They & What Happened to Them?

A typical Celtic pattern of three spirals


Noun. Also Kelt. Mid-16th century.
[Latin Celtae plural from Greek Keltoi (later Keltai, perhaps from Latin); later from French Celte Breton (as representative of the ancient Gauls.]

1 Historical. A member of any of a group of ancient peoples of western Europe that included the Gauls and Britons. M16

2 generally. A member of any of the people descended from the ancient Celts
or speaking a Celtic language, as the Irish, Gaels, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons. L18

Boudica Haranguing the Britons
John Opie (1761-1807)

Who Were the Celts?

The Celts have a bad rap. Popularly imagined as something between drunken, kilt-wearing buffoons and Braveheart, they're confused with Vikings and are often jumbled up with contemporary nationalism, stoking particularly strong feelings in modern-day Britain and Ireland. But who were the Celts? What happened to them? And (critically for us wordy types) how is Celt pronounced?

The Celts were essentially an ethnolinguistic group of loosely connected tribes and societies with a similar set of technologies and culture. However, they were not one unified group: rather, they were a population of peoples whose spread throughout continental Europe and the British Isles can be traced through archaeological records and the (often derogatory) accounts of other cultures around them. Thus, a lot of what we know about the Celts comes from ancient Greek and Roman textsOne such gem of an account comes from Roman historian Cassius Dio (155-235AD) who wrote:

They dwell in tents, naked and unshod, possess their women in common, and in common rear all the offspring.
Their form of rule is democratic for the most part, and they are very fond of plundering; consequently they choose their boldest men as rulers.” 

Unfortunately for historians and their own posterity, the Celts themselves weren't great record keepers. Even Boudica, queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe and a British folk hero for her rebellion against Rome, is largely known from the likes of Dio and Tacitus, and again their personal angle is suspect. One historian, Gildas, was probably talking about Boudica when he wrote of a "treacherous lioness [who] butchered governors who had been left to give fuller voice and strength to the endeavours of Roman rule." Unsurprisingly, Gildas makes no mention of what the Romans did to Boudica, which was renege on a deal made with her late husband (the king), flog her, and rape her daughters; her subsequent fury and rebellion are easy to understand and, though she was ultimately defeated, her army sacked both Colchester and London, inflicting significant losses on the Romans stationed in Britain.
The Battersea Shield, dated 350-50BC, is one of the most significant pieces of Celtic art found in Britain
(image courtesy of the British museum)

Celtic History

The Celts were a society (or, more accurately, a collection of societies) who lived in Medieval Europe and were united by related Celtic languages, the use of iron, and a certain degree of ethnic and cultural similarities. In contrast to the Braveheart/buffoon of modern imagination, the distinguishing features of the Celts were their common art, mythology, and language.

They spread throughout Europe and more or less ran the place for a few hundred years until the Romans drove them out. Although dates are notoriously tricky in that era, archaeologists mark the start of the Celtic formation at around 1200 BC, with the first real flourishing in Austria in approximately 800 BC. By 450 BC, the Celts had spread from central Europe to France, Bohemia, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Northern Italy, the British Isles, and (later) the Balkans.

The specific point of origin for the Celts is hotly debated in academic circles (my favorite kind of bickering, if you’ll recall). The key archaeological sites are Hallstatt, Austria (800-475BC) and La Tene, Switzerland (500-50BC). If you’re excited about ancient tribal history, the Gauls were Celts, and were mentioned by none other than Julius Caesar himself. And if you're excited about comics, Asterix was a Gaul and thus, yes, Axterix was also a Celt.

Notably, the Celts in the British Isles - England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland - became known as Insular Celts and became particularly well-established in the region. As the Romans and Germanic peoples spread throughout Continental Europe during the first part of the Common Era, the Celts were mostly displaced except for these Insular Celts, particularly in Ireland and northern parts of Britain.

Due to their lack of written records, much of what it known about the Celts comes from the artifacts they left behind. The iron swords and distinctive jewelry (particularly gold torcs - large necklaces) mark their territory, but it's often difficult to definitively link them to a specific time or people. One example is the important recovery of a La Tene sword in County Donegal, Ireland, which has a distinctive Gaulish style bronze hilt and was found in a fishing net. Other artifacts are commonly recovered in Ireland during turf-cutting, but this often leaves the items damaged and the site destroyed. Other aspects of Celtic culture, such as druid-led polytheism, leave even fewer artifacts for historians to study. Referenced: A New History of Ireland Vol. 1: Prehistoric and Early Ireland, edited by Daibhi O Croinin, 2005

Emblem of Celtic Football Club

How is Celt Pronounced?

Let me also touch briefly on the question of pronunciation - is it the hard 'C' of keltic or the soft 'S' of seltic, as pronounced when talking about Celtic Football Club? The disappointing consensus to an opinionated person such as myself is that both are correct. However, Celtic historians and Medievalists tend to favor the hard 'C' keltic pronunciation, and at least one argues that this is more linguistically accurate, which may well be the case because:

  • The word Celt is derived from the Greek word keltoi, meaning 'barbarian'.
  • Both modern Irish and Welsh use the letter 'C' to indicate the English 'K' sound (which is interesting but turns out to not be particularly relevant, since the Celts did not refer to themselves this way - probably because they didn't like being known as barbarians).
  • It sounds better (or is that just me?)
  • However, the OED says both are correct, so you can decide.
Vercingetorix, chieftain of the Celtic Arveni tribe, surrendering to Julius Caesar
Painting by Lionel Royer (1852-1926)

 What Happened to the Celts?

Varying waves of innovation, invasion, and other changes meant that the Celts largely disappeared from Continental Europe, with the Roman Empire being particularly responsible for their decline. However, the British Isles, particularly in Ireland and Scotland, saw a continuation of the Celts and their culture. The Celts mingled with the existing peoples as well as subsequent visitors to the territory.

A modern reemergence of Celtic identity began in the 18th century, with linguistic, political, and cultural implications for many in the British Isles. This was particularly at work in the Irish Home Rule Movement in the 1900s and the nationalist movement based on a Celtic identity, as separate from the British identity. Some scholars argue that the idea of a common identity between the Celts was not even in operation in ancient times, and so this remains a debated issue. For those many individuals (including this humble blogger, herself a descendent of the Celts via the Irish diaspora), the Celtic history and identity continue to exert a strong influence on the ancestral imagination.

Are you of Celtic ancestry?

Do you identify with Celtic culture?

Do please comment in the box below.

This post is Part I of a two-part special in Lexicolatry.
Check back tomorrow for John Kelly's analysis of Celtic languages and their influence on English.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Celsitude - Your Highness

The Burj Khalifa skyscraper, Dubai
The Burj Khalifa, Dubai, looks impressive, but there's only one toilet in the whole building
(photo by Colin Capelle)


Noun. Now literary. Late Middle English.
[Latin celsitudo, from celsus lofty.]

Lofty position, eminence; loftiness, height.

While I was tempted to start this post with a manly Rraaaawgh! because, y'know, guys like really, really, really big things, I didn't think such a preamble would befit a word like celsitude, a distinctly refined and literary word, as the OED points out to deter such base associations. Therefore, I will simply leave you with pictures of the Burj Khalifa which, at 829.8 metres, is the tallest man-made structure in the world. Impressive as this is, however, it is rather pipped in the celsitudinous stakes by Mount Everest, which boasts a stratospherically lofty peak 8,848 metres above sea level. Oh, and I'm 6ft 6in, which is almost 2 metres tall. That's pretty high too. Yes it is.

Mount Everest
Mount Everest is so tall that it takes over three hours to walk to the top
(photo taken from a Drukair flight)

Do please leave your most celsitudinous comments in the box below.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Cellulite - How Dangerous Is It?

An orange with dimpled skin washed up on a beach
Yet another 'cellulite on the beach' photo
(photo by Helmuts Guigo)


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[French, from CELLULE small cell.]

Fatty tissue regarded as causing a dimpled or lumpy texture of (especially a woman's) skin.

I found myself getting a little bit cross while researching cellulite on the internet, first at the battle that's raging (raaarwh!) between bona fide medical resources that invariably say that cellulite is natural, harmless and rather inevitable, and a plethora of alternative health and beauty sites vaunting the latest quackeries that will "banish" cellulite forever. And if that wasn't enough, I had to endure a whole rake of photos that were clearly taken by weirdos on the beach who had nothing better to do with their lives than take undignified clandestine photos of stranger's bums before releasing them to the interweb with derogatory remarks about their bodies. To restore just a little bit of balance, I have collected a few cellulitic facts for your perusal:

  • Cellulite is normal fat beneath the skin. It appears bumpy because it pushes against connective tissue, causing the skin to pucker.
  • Cellulite appears in people across the weight range, so it does not mean you're overweight.
  • Cellulite is not a medical condition, and is not harmful.
  • It is more common in women than men (estimates vary, but somewhere between 80-90% of women have some form of cellulite).
  • Its ultimate causes are not understood.
  • Certain factors can make cellulite more pronounced, including: bad diet, fad dieting, slow metabolism, lack of exercise, hormonal changes, dehydration, total body fat and the colour of your skin.
  • Popular treatments include: cellulite creams, liposuction, mesotherapy, massage and spa treatments and laser therapies. However, there is little evidence that any of them work well or for long.
  • The best way of tackling cellulite is regular exercise, a healthy diet and weight loss (if being overweight is a contributing factor).
  • The word cellulite comes from cellule, meaning 'a small cell', and according to Merriam-Webster its first known use in print was in 1968 by Vogue magazine.
  • Oh, and in answer to this page's leading question: no, cellulite is not dangerous. At all. So relax.

Like these oranges, aren't we all beautiful on the inside? Aww. Kind of works, doesn't it? C'mon!
(photo by Victoria White)
Do feel free to leave your smoothest, most unblemished comments in the box below.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Celerity - Speed & Grace

A Peregrine Falcon against a clear blue sky
Photo by Mike Baird


Noun. Late 15th century.
[Old & modern French célérité from Latin celeritas, from celer swift.]

1 Swiftness, speed. (Now chiefly of the action of living being.) L15

2 obsolete. A particular speed. M-L18

Celerity is a reasonably well-known literary word to describe swiftness of motion and even thought, and although none of the main dictionaries suggest that it also carries a sense of grace and effortlessness, the sweepingly smooth syllables of celerity always suggest exactly that to me. To illustrate such graceful speed, I've chosen a photograph of a Peregrine Falcon, which is not only the fastest bird on the planet, but indeed the fastest animal, with a breathtakingly celeritous diving speed of over 300 kilometres per hour.

Please leave any comments in the box below.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Celebrity - Celebrate Good Kinds, Come On!

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Angelina Thingummybob and Brad Whatshisface - you may have heard of them


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Old & modern French célébrité or Latin celebritas, from celeber, -bris frequented, renowned.]

1 obsolete. A solemn ceremony; a celebration;
due observance of ceremonies; pomp, solemnity. LME-L18

2 The condition of being widely known or esteemed;
fame, renown. LME

3 A celebrated person; a (popular) public figure. M19

Of all the words in the English language, it's possible that the word celebrity causes me more tutting, eye-rolling, exasperated ejaculations of "Gah!" and faux-seizure head-floppings than any other. "Why oh why are we so obsessed with such talentless, over-monied, over-sexed and over-surgeried nincompoops?" I shout, waving my fist at the TV or flinging a copy of Hello! across the room. If celebrity really does refer to someone that we celebrate, why do we celebrate such meritless mediocrity?

No - before you get your knickers in a twist, I'm not referring to the above pictured Pitt or Jolie, nor indeed to any of the other current rake of celebs you might be itching to defend. When I get on this particular high horse (and it is a very high horse), I'm thinking of the Paris Hiltons and Jade Goodys of the world, those that fall into the famous-for-being-famous category, even when no one's really sure what made them famous in the first place.

Creepy waxfork model of Jennifer Lopez
Can you guess which celebrity this completely realistic, non-creepy waxwork model is of?
(photo by Cliff)
If we're sticking to hard definitions, however, I really don't have much of a horse to stand on, as the dictionaries are quite clear in stating that celebrity might only refer to someone's fame, regardless of talent or merit. Therefore, if Paris Hilton is as well-known and recognisable as, say, Tom Hanks, then she's as much of a celebrity as he is, even if she does have 1/1000 of his talent (and I'm being generous with that fraction, or cruel, depending on your point of view). And perhaps this is the right way, the better way, the democratic way. Maybe this way fame and celebrity status happen organically, with the people deciding who's worthy of celebration and who isn't; maybe Justin Bieber is just the price we have to pay for this egalitarian approach.

And while celebrity in Latin does have a connection to fame and the state of being famous, it also has earlier roots in religious rites and that which bring throngs together. Again, therefore, how can I argue about who is and who isn't a real celebrity? If we're arguing about that individual, or indeed that individual has throngs of people grubbing over copies of The Enquirer or Hello!, again it seems that their celebritihood is certain. Which is incredibly depressing. And all our fault. Yes, us, the people, the rabble, the throng that makes them celebrities by celebrating them or thronging about them. Gah!

Are you a celebrity? Would you like to be a celebrity?

Like me, do you have strong, irrational, spittle-generating opinions on who should and shouldn't be celebrities?

Do please leave your most starry-eyed comments in the box below.