Archive for ‘words on words’

February 6th, 2014

Name the Day III – Thor

by Chris Hancock

thorhammer

“Stop! Hammer time! Ahh… I never tire of saying that. I’m Thor, as I’m sure you know – nice for you to meet me. Heh!

“I’m a pretty big noise in the Norse pantheon – literally. You hear thunder, or the sound of lightning… that’s me wielding my mighty hammer Mjollnir. I ride around in my goat-drawn chariot – admittedly, goats don’t quite go with my rugged, powerful image but they were all I could get at the time.

“As you might have noticed, everyone around here claims to be a god of war. Let’s just say I’m THE god of war. You can put me down for thunder and strength, too. I’m always performing great feats of bravery, like slaying bulls with my bare hands. That’s because I wear a belt, Megingjord, that doubles my strength. I also “call forth gentle winds to release the earth from its bondage of ice and snow”, but I tend to keep quiet about that as it sounds a bit soppy. You could think of that as a “Thor thaw” – d’you see what I did there? I crack myself up, sometimes, I really do.

“I hear you’ve met my dad, Odin. He’s supposed to be the supreme deity but – and keep this to yourself – I think I run him pretty close. I mean… everyone’s heard of Thor and his hammer, right? And I don’t see any Hollywood blockbusters called “Odin”. Just sayin’.

“Anyway, I’d better… Stop! Hammer time! See? Never gets old.

“Yep, I’m Thor… and Thorsday – whoops, I mean Thursday – is my day.”

February 5th, 2014

Name the Day II – Odin

by Chris Hancock

“I am Odin, father of the gods! Cower before my might, ye worthless minions!!”

odin

“Heh! It’s okay, I’m only kidding – I’m a big softie, really. But, when you’re chief god of the Norse pantheon, you have to put on a bit of a show. It’s expected, you know?

“So what do you want to hear? I’m god of war, death, poetry, magic, prophecy, wisdom and the hunt. I carry a spear called Gungnir – I know what you’re thinking, who gives a name to a spear? In my defence, it’s no ordinary spear, because it never misses its target. How cool is that? I ride a horse called Sleipnir which has – don’t laugh – eight legs. That’s pretty neat, except he costs me a fortune in blacksmith charges. Oh, yeah… and I get all the juicy gossip from my two ravens, Huginn and Muninn. That’s Huginn on my right… or is it on my left? Between you and me, one raven is very much like another.

 “Is it bright enough for you in here? I ask because – I don’t know if you’ve noticed – I only have one eye, but apparently it “blazes like the sun”. I traded my other one for a drink from the Well of Wisdom… as you do. This means I know everything – except how to tell my ravens apart.

“So that’s me, Odin. I’m also known as Woden… and Wednesday is my day.”

February 4th, 2014

Name the Day I – Tyr

by Chris Hancock

tyr

“Hi! Tyr here. What? The name doesn’t ring a bell? Norse god of… ooh, all sorts of things – law, heroic glory, war, stuff like that. I can’t believe you’ve not heard of me. At one time I’ll have you know I was head honcho… top banana in the whole Nordic pantheon. But Odin took over in that role… and now – to add insult to injury – they’re telling me he’s my dad. How should I know? Families, eh?

“What happened to my hand? Long story… I’ll just give you the main points. There was this gigantic wolf called Fenrir. Being a real nuisance, he was. I and the other gods persuaded Fenrir to let us tie him up, but he’d only do it if one god agreed to put their hand into his mouth. “You’re brave Tyr, you do it,” they all said. So muggins volunteered, popped my hand into his slobbery chops and – you’re ahead of me, right? – Fenrir got a little jittery and bit it off. Makes washing-up a real pain, I can tell you.

“So that’s me, Tyr. I’m also known as Tiw… and Tuesday is my day.”

[Ed’s note: This is the first in a four part series, which you may or may not have guessed the theme of.]

January 31st, 2014

In the beginning there was a blank page

by Karen Jeynes

Legend has it that lexicographers, when they are compiling dictionaries, begin with “M”.  They progress to “Z”, and then, by the time they loop back round to “A”, they’ve got their eye in. Most writers don’t have such luxuries – they may write the first chapter last, but it still has an inevitable pressure attached to it. Supposedly we read from beginning to end, but the harsh reality is that if the beginning is no good, we quit before we reach the middle.

Or, if we are that sort of person, we skip to the end. Which I’ve always found odd behaviour, really. If a first date goes badly we might, out of kindness, hope, or desperation, risk a second, but we don’t suggest meeting their parents and booking a wedding singer.

January 17th, 2014

Wordwatching

by Karen Jeynes

Having gained a teeny tiny reputation as a bit of a wordnerd, people often, in the middle of a conversation, turn to me and say “So why IS it called a dandelion, when it’s got nothing to do with a lion?” Now, of course, I could leap up nimbly and consult a dictionary, or indeed sit there nimbly and consult Google…but it’s far more entertaining to make things up. “Because at sunset, it casts a shadow just like a fancy made-up dandy lion’s head on the ground, which confuses small rodents,” I deadpan.

I’m expecting either sympathetic laughter at my bad joke or worried looks at my mental state, but what I tend to encounter is utter acceptance. Because, let’s be honest, even if I told you the genuine etymology, you’d probably have forgotten it by tomorrow. And, well, dandelion does have something to do with lions, it’s from the French dent-de-lion, the lion’s tooth, because its petals look just exactly like the fangs of the king of the jungle. No, I swear that’s actually what my etymological dictionary says. I may have to look at a dandelion again…

January 7th, 2014

Questions, questions…

by Chris Hancock

Long ago, longer ago than I care to remember, I was an undergraduate at the University of York. Like many universities, it is comprised of a number of colleges (think of Oxford and its Christ Church, Baliol, Magdalen, etc.) My altogether more humble establishment was named after a local historical figure, one “Alcuin”. Now you’d think – having spent three happy years nestled in Alcuin’s bosom – that I’d have found out a little about him (for, despite the bosom, it is a him). Sadly, being a Mathematics and Physics student imbued with youthful impetuosity, I did no such thing. I must confess that I’ve learned more about Alcuin by reading his Wikipedia page just now than I ever did while I was in the college named after him.

Anyway, it turns out that he was a scholar and poet in the 8th Century, eventually becoming a tutor in the court of Charlemagne. All good stuff. But the thing that caught my eye was the fact that he is credited with introducing the question mark to western language. The symbol wasn’t the one we use today – it has been described as “a lightning flash, striking from right to left.” This sounded pretty exciting and something I felt we ought to revive… until I saw an example, which rather falls short of my expectations:

punctus interrogativus

December 30th, 2013

2013 in Review

It’s not been a bad year for words. Admittedly some people got a bit too caught up in the excitement of new additions to the dictionary like “selfie” and “twerk” – I’m looking at you, Barack and Miley. But the ranks of wordnerds swelled, and we’ve shared some luscious linguistic times. For those of you who missed a few along the way, or want to reminisce, here are some of That Word Site’s top 2013 moments:

We learned why we’re on tenterhooks, why we talk the hind legs off donkeys, and why we’re sometimes plum crazy.  You loved ayurnamat, sclaff and…what’s that word again, on the tip of my tongue…ah yes, tintiddle. You were even fond of pineapple. But it was old favourite sgiomlaireachd which remained your favourite word this year.

Mark Twain’s dry wit tickled your fancy, but our most popular words of wisdom this year came from Lewis Carroll – “You used to be much more…”muchier”. You’ve lost your muchness.”

But it was the articles lovingly crafted by our wordnerds, our “words on words”, which gave us our highlights. Our writers gave us tours of their bookshelves, explained how words had shaped their identities, and mused the necessity of the apostrophe. They got a little saucy, a little sporty, and were occasionally lost in translation. We had fun with films for wordnerds of all ages. We were scared senseless. And oh, how they loved to experiment with words. We’ve played with pangrams, been through a bad spell and had a few rejection letters. Sometimes we left letters out entirely.

In the end, there was of course a favourite article this year. One that stood out from all the rest. It is appropriate that it is about a love of language that brings people together – in the same way that we hope ThatWordSite brings us together, in this little corner of the internet that wordnerds can call home. Still not sure which it could be? I’ll give you a clue…

So a happy, joyful, merry, festive, wondrous, pleasant, exciting (puts down thesaurus) New Year to you all. We’ll be right here with even more words in 2014.

IMG_20131229_224608

December 23rd, 2013

It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year, bringing with it a plethora of words that we tend to ignore for approximately eleven months. Linguistic eggnog, so to speak. And I’m not even talking about those that by their very nature must align with Christmas, like carols, mistletoe, nativity and advent. I’m talking about words which could quite innocently coexist with the rest of our vocabulary all year round, but for some reason have chosen to congregate close to the 25th of December.

Words like festive. Festive simply means “pertaining to a feast or holiday”, and although it may occasionally rear its gaudy head during the year, 99% of the time “festive” is linked to Christmas. Easter, Eid, birthdays – all of these could be festive, and yet somehow that feels awkward to the tongue.

December 17th, 2013

You don’t say!

by Chris Hancock

I’m lucky enough to have been given the chance to write articles for That Word Site and – well, if I don’t say it no one will – I reckon I have a certain affinity with the written word. But what about the spoken word? Perhaps you fondly imagine me addressing packed halls, leaning casually on the lectern, holding a rapt audience in the palm of my hand. I’m afraid nothing could be further from the truth. You see, the words might all be fully-formed in my brain but – in stressful situations – nerves kick in and hamper them on their short journey to my mouth.

microphone

But we should rewind and start with something positive. Let me get comfy on this psychiatrist’s couch while I regress to my early teens…

December 10th, 2013

Tongue Tied

by Kathrin Verhoefe

Where I come from in Germany we have a saying, “Die Julisonne arbeitet für zwei” – the July sun does the work of two. This is really the only saying we have to do with heat, because Germany is a cold country. With lots of snow.

I’m in Texas now. And it’s hot. “So hot the hens lay boiled eggs”. “Hotter than a honeymoon hotel”. “Hotter than a stolen tamale” . “Hotter than a fur coat in Marfa”, which when I first heard it I thought was “the mafia”, until I discovered Marfa is a town in Texas. And I learned all these phrases during my first week because not only was it very hot – to be fair it’s now a little colder – but boy do Texans like to talk. They can “talk the hind legs off a chair”, these “chin musicians”, with “ten gallon mouths” to match their ten gallon hats.