Archive for ‘Twelve Thousand Words’

October 25th, 2013


Pineapples are flesh eaters. Admittedly they’re unlikely to stage a bloody uprising from your fruit bowl, but they do contain an enzyme which slowly eats away at your flesh while you’re eating away at theirs. That’s why your lips tingle when you’ve been eating pineapple.

This excellent fruit first grew in Brazil and Paraguay, where they were known as ananas – “excellent fruit”. Not to be confused with that other excellent fruit, known as bananas.  Basically everyone who encountered pineapples went doolally for them. Easy to understand, given how simple they are to eat. Remarkably like apples really. Apart from those spikey bits. One of those who fell for the fair fruit was Christopher Columbus, out for a jaunt across the sea. He brought the pineapple back to Europe – a few pineapples, I suppose, not THE pineapple, it’s not as though they have amoeba-like breeding properties. That along with the whole flesh eating thing could make for a great B movie though.

When I say Columbus brought the pineapple to Europe, I am speaking of the fruit. The word pineapple had been thriving in England since the 14th Century, but it was used to refer to pine cones – the “apple” of the pine tree, only not juicy and delicious. No one quite knows why this moniker was appropriated for the fruit, but people obliging got on with calling pine cones “pine cones”. Scientifically speaking, pineapples are still known as Ananas. Although, scientifically speaking, the fruit itself is a pseudocarp, which seems a bit fishy to me.

But I digress! The noble pineapple arrived in Europe and oh, it was so sweet. The King of England posed for a portrait with one, the King of France bit into one not realising that they needed peeling first. (He would have appreciated that the “pine” in pineapple shares an etymological past with “pain”.)

They stood enthroned on pedestals at feasts. They were as rare as hen’s teeth, only not really because pineapples do exist. In the 17th Century it was even possible for the nouveau riche to hire pineapples by the day, because a hostess was NOTHING without a pineapple, don’t you know. (I bet Carmen Miranda was a 17th Century hostess in a previous incarnation.)


It seemed that pineapple mania would never abate. Architects carved them into pillars, carpenters carved them into furniture, ceramicists made bowls in pineapple shapes…basically virtually everything that existed back then was made into an ode to the pineapple.

But one should never put things on pedestals, not even pineapples. As people figured out how to cultivate them, handily inventing greenhouses for the purpose, they soon realised that pineapples, unlike money, actually DO grow on trees. Nowadays – and this would have blown Christopher Columbus’ mind – you can walk into virtually any supermarket and buy yourself a pineapple all your very own, for less than an hour’s wage.

And then you can go home, put it on your table and stand back – and pine for the days of yore, when your new acquisition would have made you a Really Big Deal.  And you will find yourself wondering “do I look like a proper nana standing here staring at a prickly, flesh eating fruit?” I know what the man from Del Monte would say.

November 23rd, 2012



A is for aardvark, anathema, absinthe, assuage and now, as Karen Jeynes continues our Twelve Thousand Word tour, abracadabra.

What’s the magic word? No, not please, abracadabra. Abracadabra doesn’t really mean anything, being an interjection used to indicate magic is being done. It’s the verbal equivalent of sleight of hand, a trick which causes people to concentrate on what the magician chooses, rather than on what he’s actually getting up to. And it has a ritualistic quality. It’s traditional! Many magicians who choose other words, trying to be “unique”, find their audiences disappointed.

November 9th, 2012




Another of our Twelve Thousand Words, by Karen Jeynes

I decided I’d take on the challenge of a verb for this installment of Twelve Thousand Words, because verbs are amazing too – in fact these days, all the nouns are trying to be verbs. Verbs are the new black.

November 2nd, 2012



The third of our Twelve Thousand Words, by Karen Jeynes

A legendary highly intoxicating beverage, made primarily from the flowers and leaves of artemisia absinthium, or green wormwood. The height of its popularity came in late 19th century Paris, where it was the bohemians rapturously embraced it. Conservative types were horrified by it, and by 1915 it was banned in the US and much of Europe. Perhaps some of its negative effects were due to cheapskate producers using copper to add the greenish tint. These days absinthe is freely available, and you can even buy DIY absinthe kits.

The Green Fairy, portrayed above by the diminuitive diva Kylie Minogue in Moulin Rouge, is a nickname for absinthe, because, well, because. When creatives imbibed absinthe, she would appear and guide them in the creation of  inspired work. Sort of a fluttering headache inducing multitasking mini muse.

Absinthe is also a sexy burlesque circus show in Vegas, and a software for jailbreaking phones that “relies on vulnerabilites in the Racoon daemon”. Which doesn’t sound terrifying at all.

In case you missed them – A is also for AARDVARK and ANATHEMA.

October 26th, 2012



Continuing our Twelve Thousand Words celebration, by Karen Jeynes.

Coming in at number ten on your favourite words list, this is a delightfully specific word, meaning one that is cursed by a religious authority, from the original Greek “a thing accursed” – in this sense it is equivalent to haraam. Anathemata are gifts offered to God. Anathema has acquired the additional meaning of someone or something intensely hated or loathed. Thus there are those who might say that raisins are anathema to them. The Islamic faith might say Salman Rushdie is anathema to it.

October 19th, 2012



The first of our Twelve Thousand Words

Where else could we begin but with this remarkably cute Double A? The
aardvark (Orycteropus afer) – literally “Earth Pig” (but not in any
way a pig)- is a nocturnal anteater, native to Africa. The collective
noun for aardvarks is an armoury.

And as you can see above, in baby form they look rather like wingless dragons.

Its eternal enemy is the army ant, there was an even a movie made to
commemorate their famous rivalry, entitled (ingeniously) The Ant and
the Aardvark. This includes the memorable line “believe me, it’s no
fun being an aardvark. I’d rather be a banker.” Other famous aardvarks
include Cyril Sneer from the Raccoons, and Arthur. The Egyptian God
Set is also said to be part-aardvark.

We’ll end our ode to aardvark by directing you to Philip Schultz’s
poem “Aardvarks“, which features the also-splendiferous word “jitney”,
and sharing Kenn Nesbitts “The Llama and the Aardvark”

The llama loved the aardvark.
They were married in the spring.
They had a dozen babies
and their babies loved to sing.

So people came from miles around,
and this is what they saw:
twelve little baby llaardvarks
singing llaa llaa llaa llaa llaa.

-Kenn Nesbitt

October 19th, 2012

Twelve Thousand Words

by Karen Jeynes

I think my relationship with unusual words began in Grade 1. On our first day at school we were all given folders with words on pieces of cardboard, a new kind of building block to play and construct with. But as everyone else eagerly began to make their first sentence, I stared at mine in bewilderment. For you see where “the” should have been there was another word. A word I had never seen before, a strange shape which as yet held no meaning. And so I carried the offending word to the teacher, who sweetly explained to me that the word was “because”. And although I returned to my table gratefully clutching “the”, for it is awfully hard to construct a sentence without “the” when you are five years old, I missed that “because”.