Dear Dogberry

Here is quiet spot where the reader who is vexed or perplexed by the changes and chances of prosody and prose may ask any question he, she or it likes. Just use the comment form as normal.

209 comments:

  1. Hurrah! This is a wonderful turn up for the books!

    Q1. What does turn up for the books actually mean?

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  2. At the races people bet on horses that are likely to win. When, as expected, a good horse wins, the bookmakers have to pay. But if the result is something that nobody expected, the bookmakers get to keep all the money. This is good news for them, in fact a surprise result at the races is a turn up for the book[maker]s.

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    1. Warren Higgins Canberra. warren.higgins@live.com.au
      Just started reading your book
      THE HOROLOGICON. Not a big reader but very good concept and enjoyable.
      BUT.... In the first page of the preamble you state "The problem with the alphabet is that it bears no relation to anything at all, and when words are arranged alphabetically they are uselessly separated."
      By this I understand that you believe that the symbols of the alphabet have no meaning and this is wrong. The symbols have meaning and I know what each squiggle is and I would like to send you a paper I've written - The Anglo Cipher The English Alphabet and the Natural Progression of Thought.
      Wont nag, see yu. Waz.

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  3. Another turn up for the books...No wonder I had to post a horse related theme today. Does it count as a form of ESP time warp that I happened to come and read this now?

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  4. Complete coincidence, but I've put up a link.

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  5. Dear Dogberry

    Thank you for that - and advance gratitude for my next query.

    In my avid perusal of the coverage of recent political events, I came across the phrase 'Tar Baby'. As The Telegraph used it in relation to Clogg and Brown, I assume it isn't entirely complimentary.

    Could you shine a light?

    M.

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  6. Someone mentioned that to me in the pub on Saturday. I think I may work the answer into a post tomorrow.

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  7. Also, what about a post on catalectic tetrameter?

    You could use the poet Robert Browning's The Lost Leader as an example ...

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  8. What do you call a song that's wistful yet pretty upbeat musically, but when you read the lyrics you discover it's actually very paranoid? I'm thinking specifically of the song "Hide and Seek" by the Brian Jonestown Massacre:

    god only knows what i will do
    now that i found out he's with you
    laugh as my world turns grey
    i still can't find the words to say
    nobody loves you like i do

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  9. @Everet - a symphonic threat?

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  10. Tar Babies are now up.
    I sort of did the catalectic trochaic tetrameter in the post on acephalous iambic ones. It's the same thing but with a firmer beat. But I assure you that I have a hugely dull post on verse form baking away in the ancestral ovens.
    Everet, they're called pulchaustralian songs, after the Hull-based band The Beautiful South.

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  11. I think it depends on whether you are American or not - i.e. math is correct if you are American, maths if you are British - but I will leave Dogberry to respond since this is his page.

    Incidentally, the OED defines "math" as "a mowing...the portion of a crop that has been mowed". "Aftermath" originally meant "the crop of grass which springs up after the mowing in early summer".

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  12. Well, it's mathematics, which the Americans shorten to math and the British to maths. The important thing is that it can be either singular or plural, which I posted on here, whether or not there's an S on the end.

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  13. Dear Dogberry,

    Your recent post on Shakespeare is absolutely great. However, I was both vexed and perplexed to see only 2 sentences, and a further three-quarters of a third sentence, in my reader subscribed to your feed.

    If deliberate, may I ask why the change? I rather preferred the earlier settings. More convenient for those of us who like to read surreptitiously in office - without too many entries in some system admin's logs. ;)

    Yours,
    Rohan.

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  14. Rohan,
    It is a matter slighly more important than either life or death that I work out how many people actually read this blog. The problem with the RSS feed is that fellows like you don't show up on Statcounter. So I've temporarily limited the feed to see how many more people come to the site. I'll probably put it back to how it was in a day or so.

    By the way, are you the Rohan I know? In which case thank you to you and Katy for the flowers.

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  15. You could also try redirecting your RSS feed through Feedburner. It gives excellent feedback on the number of people subscribed to your blog, where they're from, whether they click through, etc. On a creepiness scale, though, it's sadly far less satisfying than Statcounter (assuming it's something like Sitemeter).

    I don't think we know each other, sadly. I'm from the other side of the world.

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  16. Dear Dogberry,

    Over the weekend, my six-year-old uttered the single grossest sentence I've ever heard uttered aloud.* When I lectured her about it, she said "Do you mean gross like 144, or gross like disgusting?" (She's autistic and a bit obsessed with context.)

    This lead me to wonder: are the words connected somehow? Or does gross-like-disgusting come from a different place entirely?

    Yours,
    Elizabeth

    *If you are interested in precisely what the sentence was, I can tell you privately, but I'd hate to sully your blog with it.

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  17. Dear Dogberry

    I made the mistake of spending £2.99 on a book when I bought a copy of The Times (which, incidentally, only cost 40p). The book was the 'recommended read': The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith. (Incidentally, I don't recommend it at all.)

    Yes, now my question. Mr Smith has a deeply irritating habit of beginning sentences with participles. For example:

    Reaching the hospital, he skidded to a stop.

    Standing over him, Zoya raised the knife.

    Opening his eyes, he watched Lazar.

    Hearing the guards at the window, Malysh picked up a slate.

    Standing up, she glanced into the hallway.

    I really don't like this style of writing. It makes me feel as if you have to half double-back on the sentence to make sense of it. Hmm, I'm probably not explaining myself very well.

    Could you explain myself better to me? And what is this horrid style of sentence called? (I think the technical term is shite, as a builder once said when he looked at the mess a COWBOY had made of my bathroom.)

    Warmest regards,

    M.

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  18. Moptop, I'll work on that, it's probably a long post for a weekend. I certainly don't know of any technical term and doubt I'll find one out, but there's potential there. Alex Garland and Clive James and springing to mind.

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  19. rinky stingpiece9 June 2010 at 10:22

    @ Moptop, it's called a "Participial Phrase" or "Gerund Phrase".
    You could call it "Gerundiphrasis" I suppose!
    (Or perhaps "Gerundirrhoea"!).



    I've got a proposition for you (lot).

    How about we assemble a team and build a nice wordpress/wiki site (with a blog on it, and pages and bells and whistles), to build an online resource for the English language?

    I mean something far better than that QES codswallop.

    It could combine content from places like these:
    http://phrontistery.info/
    http://www.fallacyfiles.org/
    http://plato.stanford.edu/
    http://rhetoric.byu.edu/
    http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/
    http://www.chompchomp.com/menu.htm

    Where we could actually build a wiki with cogently discussed explanations, justifications, and references as to what's "correct" or not in style and grammar; as well as having blogs/forum and things of interest.

    It seems clear that there's plenty of capable people who are interested enough to join in; and plenty who would benefit (including the turkeys at the QES).

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  20. @ Stinky - as long as you had a section of things to be banned in creative writing. This must include characters running their hands through their hair and the word 'smirk'.

    I am utterly smirked out. I cannot tell you how irritated I am by characters smirking. Well, I could, but it would include language Elizabeth (above) was polite enough not to use...

    Besides, which, isn't Inkyfool doing all of the above (your list, not smirking and running his hands through his hair) anyway?

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  21. Dear Dogberry,

    Being in the general proximity of Wimbledon you will doubtless have heard of the record-pulverizing match between Nicholas Mahut of France and John Isner of the USA, currently suspended at 59-59 in the 5th set. Our ESPN commentators were having a terrible time coming up with fitting adjectives: "epic," "freakish," a "battle royale," a "clash of wills," etc.. "Epic" yes, but not just any epic--after all, you could recite the Iliad all the way through in a mere 24 hours. Last year's final was epic. This match is Mahabharatan. At least, that's the best I can do. What say you? From your vast lexical treasury, your bathypelagic well of verbal resourcefulness, can you generate suitable superlatives? I eagerly await your offerings. Signed,

    Desperate in Delaware

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  22. And another question from me: when did the word pretty become a qualifier? For example, that tennis match was pretty Mahabhataran. The play was pretty dreadful. It was a pretty ugly row. Etc. Etc.

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  23. Dear Moptop,
    The OED has it down as 1565, but the first significant usage was in the children’s TV series Galloping Galaxies. One of the leads had met a princess renowned for her beauty, when asked how she actually looked he replied “A bit of both really: pretty ugly.”
    I have been laughing ever since.

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  24. Thank you, Dogberry.

    David Bateman (Certified Genius) has written a Posh Love Poem.

    I love you awfully
    I love you dreadfully
    I love you horribly

    ... and so on.

    Back to 'pretty'. Now for the second part of my question: why?

    M.

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  25. Since you're into books, I thought you might be interested in taking a look at ch1 of at my new YA fantasy,novel, 'Lethal Inheritance’. You’ll find it at
    http://publishersearch.wordpress.com/lethal-inheritance/

    The blog part of the site on the home page is about my journey to publication, including posts on aspects of writing, publishing and being a writer. You might be able to add some helpful comments or find inspiration from it for a posting for your blog.

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  26. Psst, Dogberry -

    I've got a verruca in the shape of St Jude. Would you care to take a look at it? You might think it better resembles St Anthony, in which case we must agree to differ.

    M.

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  27. That's nothing. I have a saint in the shape of a verruca. He's called St John's Wart.

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  28. Dear Colleague,

    Here is a short excerpt from my new book aimed at helping students negotiate the difficult passage from high school to college. If after reading it you would like a copy for review, you will find contact information below.

    Yours sincerely,

    Philip Yaffe
    Editor-in-Chief
    UCLA Daily Bruin (1964-65)

    During my senior year, I tutored writing to make a bit of much-needed cash. I remember one case in particular. A girl came to me with a note from a professor: “Young lady, I advise you either to drop my class immediately or prepare to fail it.” Obviously she was bright enough; after all she was a student at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). So where was the problem?

    I read a couple of her essays that had gotten such poor marks. There was no question that she had a lot of interesting things to say. Equally, there was no question that she was saying them badly.

    It very quickly became apparent where the problem lay. She simply was not fully using one of the fundamental principles of good writing, because she thought that consistently applying it was just too much trouble. It took a couple of sessions to convince her that it wasn't too much trouble — in fact it was crucial. Her writing immediately began to improve. At the end of the term, not only didn't she fail the class, she had pulled her grade all the way up from a certain “F” to a gratifying “B”.

    This was not an isolated case. When students were having writing difficulties, it was generally because they were: 1) unfamiliar with a fundamental principle, 2) inconsistently applying it, 3) improperly applying it, or 4) not applying it at all.

    I am not saying that to be a good writer, you should first study journalism. However, because it was the antithesis of the poor writing I had been doing previously, journalism gave me a flying start. Over the past four decades I think I have added some insights into good writing that I didn’t learn from journalism. Or at least I have made explicit certain key ideas which previously were implicit, and therefore poorly applied.

    The title of the book is The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional. To request a review copy, please contact me at: phil.yaffe@yahoo.com,phil.yaffe@gmail.com

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  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  30. I know that the Holy Spirit descends like a dove at Christ's baptism, so it's not that big a stretch to imagine it as dovelike at other times, viz. hatching the world, but I'm wondering if there's some other common or obvious reference I'm missing.

    & isn't the double meaning of "brood" wonderful?

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  31. Hey Dogberry,
    Thanks for the amazing blog - I'm loving every post!!
    I have a question for you (sorry I haven't finished trawling the archives so maybe you've addressed this tricky issue before??).
    The other day I wrote a comparison of Mozart and Schumann (not just for fun). The whole essay was coming together really well, except for one sentence that I just couldn't resolve.
    I wanted to say something along these lines: "Schumann was born less than 20 years after the death of Mozart". But I had a sneaking suspicion that it should have been "fewer than 20 years", and it niggled at me for hours until I went back and re-wrote the paragraph so I didn't have to say it that way at all.
    Still, I'm a bit befuddled.
    I know that we say there is "less time" - but years are finite, aren't they, so surely it's "fewer years". What happens then if the years aren't whole years? For instance what if he was born 19 and a half years after Mozart - is that really "fewer"? - because it seems more of a continuum to me.
    Or what if one person has 3 litres of water and someone else has only 2.9 litres of water. I know the second person has less liquid but do they really have fewer litres?
    I've been thinking the issue over so much it's become obnubilated and I just can't straighten it out.
    Am I making a simple thing complicated?
    Eleus

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  32. Eleus,
    I think there's a post in that, thank you. It shall go up in some few day.

    Chris,

    St Basil the Great of Caesarea is the chap you want.

    In the King James translation of Genesis 1v2 the Spirit of God moved over the chaotic waters of pre-creation.

    But St Basil the Great of Caesarea (320-379) was the first to use the word incubabat which comes out in English as brooding (as in incubate). So most people would attribute the idea to him, and that's probably where Milton got it from.

    HOWEVER, the "moved" and "incubabat" both translate the Hebrew word "ruah".

    In Deuteronomy 32v11 "ruah" describes an eagle hovering over its young. So "ruah" might have meant "brooding" in the first place, in which case you're going straight back to Moses who, of course, wrote the first five books of the Bible.

    (The problematic question of how Moses managed to describe his own death in Deuteronomy 34 is easily solved. According to tradition God dictated the story of Moses' death to Moses, and Moses wrote it down, weeping.)

    In renaissance art Chaos was often depicted as being egg-shaped, so that would have helped.

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  33. The Antipodean, wondering why meter is meter, but metre is metre, and why do we say 'pretty please'9 July 2010 at 21:32

    Dear Dogberry;

    I have a confession: >insert Catholic joke here< I really don't get meter. I had a neglected childhood, and all this chat about the 'catalectic trochaic tetrameter in the post on acephalous iambic' whatnot is terribly confusing. Several years of postmodern study of Shakespeare failed to imprint an understanding of iambic pentameter, apart from that it's good to mention it in essays, since you get bonus points.

    I've tried reciting the sonnets out loud, and reading aloud various posts wherein you have attempted to explain it - muttering and occasionally declaiming 'tum-TI-tum-TI... wait, what?' to myself, but to no avail.

    Sometime during the past week, listening to Mumford and Sons' cut-and-paste of various bits of MAAN ("Live unbruised - we are friends") and trying to listen to the rhythm behind the lyrics (not to mention what was driving: the lyrics, which, after all, are older, or the music) I thought: "what I really need is a podcast of Dogberry reciting this and stressing the TI bits for me." And then I thought: "I should ask him to do that, and also suggest that if he ends up building a multimedia conglomerate I should have a share."

    Et voila... pretty please? Obviously, it doesn't actually have to be Much Ado, but, seriously, if you can produce or know of something audible regarding meter, it'd be great.

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  34. That's a wonderful idea. I have been trying to persuade Dogberry to start a premium rate chatline for ages.

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    1. Dear Dogberry; it's great to see that after three-and-nearly-a-half years there's a chapter on this in EoE. If you could just do a video of it, with hand gestures for the TUM-te (or tum-TE or even te-TUM) bits, it would be even better.

      Also the premium rate chatline is still a good idea; buy an hour and you get a free book!

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  35. I have heard many people around the internet using the etymology of "black" to suit certain agendas. Care to comment and shine a light on the strange origin of this word?

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  36. Dogberry,
    One of my current reading projects is Gibbon's History. . . and I ran across the phrase "calm de fiance" describing the psychic state of some martyrs. Is this a scanning typo or an archaic French phrase? I would assume the typo but also ran across the phrase in the googlescape from a book on Native Americans.
    -Mark

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  37. Hadevin, I'm working on it, but no two etymological dictionaries seem to agree. I shall come up with something soon.
    Antipodean, the technology frightens me. But I shall try to find something.
    Mark, I assume you mean the footnote in Volume II: "Though the language of these martyrs is in great part that of calm de-fiance, of noble firmness". If you do, then a quick comparison of editions shows this to be a misprint.
    It is rather tempting though, to think of the female martyr, the bride of Christ, experiencing the calm of the fiancée going to her beloved.
    I'm taking a guess that you're on the Forgotten Books or BiblioBazaar edition. Both work on a scan-and-reprint format that occasionally turns up such typos.

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  38. Dear Dogberry,
    I'm a fairly new reader of your blog, having been directed here by Joel Stickley's "How to Write Badly Well" a few weeks ago. I was immediately hooked and now put great stock in your grammatical, linguistic, and other wisdom.
    Today I ran across a phrase that sounds odd to me, but seems to be in frequent use, if Google is a reliable source. Has it always been acceptable to say that something(s), such as political issues, "play little role"? To me it seems that it would make more sense to say something play(s) "a small role," "almost no role," or just "no role." I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

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  39. What is the origin of our use of the word "homeland" in the United States, as in homeland security? Safire did a piece on this a while back, I think. Churchill spoke of the British homeland during WWII and perhaps of Israel as a Jewish homeland, but it seems not to have entered American vocabulary until the 1990s in a few defense reports, and then burst onto the scene in a big way with the Department of Homeland Security. Any further insights, Dogberry?

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  40. Homeland security actually goes back to 1935. The phrase was coined by Japanese ambassador to America, Hirosi Saito.

    It then seems to have gone dormant until the concoction of the Department for Homeland Security.

    Homeland itself has three meanings. 1) The place you came from. 2) A reservation for a particular race. Most homelands in the press in the nineties were in South Africa. 3) The original part of the empire as opposed to those places conquered. In this sense Churchill would have been distinguishing these sceptered isles from the rest of the empire.

    I think what Bush (or somebody) was trying to do was to insist that the new department would relate to the geographical US.

    This is reasonably useful. In Britain government departments always deal with their antonym. The Ministry of Defence deals with attack, the Health Secretary with disease, and the Treasury with debt.

    U.S. security could, and has, involved invading countries on the far side of the world. Homeland security would therefore be a subset of that. The security that doesn't involve dropping bombs.

    I must go now as I'm planning to explode my neighbours before they explode me.

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  41. Help me, Oh Inky Fool!
    I've just discovered with horror that one of my favourite words - 'lozzing' (lolling about in deliciously relaxed way, often my a pool) - has been STOLEN and abused in a public lavatory by the Urban Dictionary - are they allowed to do this?
    yours etc etc
    bb

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  42. I have to say I am really impressed by your blog, I tip my hat to you. However I have a Question:

    Who standardised the spelling of the English Language, or even who invented the dictionary?

    - Liz

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  43. Little Miss Smithy,
    That's a big question with a huge answer. There have been loads of bilingual dictionaries to help translators and these go back to the beginning of writing. Then there were tables of obscure words. Spelling was a matter of custom.

    Then the French wrote a proper dictionary of the sort we'd recognise. This made the French look better than the English, which is of course Not True. So Samuel Johnson sat down and wrote an English one in 1755.

    Hope that helps. There are many books written on the subject, so I can't answer it all here. Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue has a fun chapter on dictionaries, as I recall. I'll put a link up at the side.

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  44. @Broken Biro, Are people allowed to creep up behind you while you're urinating and have sex with you? It depends what part of the country you're in.

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  45. Perhaps a word to be vetted is amalgimate, so much fun to say, so weird to look at written.

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  46. Shyla, you have an answer at the bottom of the Mercury post that's just gone up.

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  47. Will you consider supplying ardent fans with (a) reading list(s). Theme(s): your choice. I've read all of your older posts and am running out of dissertation-procrastination reading. Help!

    Yours sincerely,

    the philosophotarian

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  48. I have just put you on the required reading list for three levels of young scholars.

    Have you ever done a post on students?

    (sub-headings: idleness, procrastination, gin-drinkers ...)

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  49. Dear Dogberry,
    Have you any thoughts on the idea of 'visual onomatopoeia'? I mean, for example, words like bump, lump, hump, (or even jump, sump) which sound round and, well, lumpy.

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  50. Okay, just back into the world of the interweb.

    Philosophotarian, There are the books down the right hand side, in the 'Inky Fool recommends' column. Indeed, if you click on one of those, it takes you to Amazon, and then, if you buy it, I get several whole pence.

    At least that's what they claim. What do you mean by themes? I believe firmly, indeed it's the only thing I believe, that everything should be pirate-themed.

    Moptop, that's terribly kind of you. I'm sorry that it's come on such a dull day, but Neptune is incurably boring.

    Q: Why don't English students draw their curtains in the morning?
    A: It gives them something to do in the afternoon.

    I shall give thought to such sophomoric fun.

    Fred Pilitoe (love the name: are you, by any chance, by Dickens?) I'm having supper with an expert on just that tomorrow night. I shall report back with a plagiarised post.

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  51. Dear Dogberry,

    A woman of my reasonably intimate acquaintance and I were recently listening to a CD together. When one track started playing, she said, "This piece always makes me think of you."

    "Me too," I replied, and then I felt the need to add, "I mean, it makes me think of you, not of myself, obviously."

    This is all very silly. I could have left it alone, but it doesn't sound quite right. I could have said "and I you", but it sounds pompous, not to say firmly up ones own fundament. I'm still not sure what would have worked better.

    Dogberry, what do you do in this situation? Is there a suitable word or phrase in English? Do other languages suffer in the same way, or is there a more elegant solution in French or German, say? I bet the Germans have got an appropriate word.

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  52. Notmyusualname, I am curious about what your usual name is and why you are not using it... a very good question which I hope Dogberry can answer. I know a chap who used to say "likewise" in this sort of situation, which managed to get the point across. "Ditto" is too associated with Patrick Swayze's character in "Ghost" to be much good (perhaps that's just me?).

    But surely the simplest and nicest solution is just to say "It reminds me of you"? Repetition, clumsiness, and cliche are all perfectly acceptable in intimate conversations (if not in love letters). The only response anyone ever wants to hear to "I love you" is "I love you too", even if it is not very elegant.

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  53. It's a poser. The problem is that there are three things: you, your friend, and the song. If I draw up a diagram on the Inky Fool blackboard, I see an arrow from the song to your friend, and a second arrow from your friend to you.

    You not only wish to put a new arrow from the song to you, but then to reverse the arrow between you and your companion.

    So the song has the same affect on you, but an opposite one in relation to your friend.

    So "Ditto", "Me too" and other such agreements, don't work because though it draws the song-you arrow, it does not reverse the you-friend arrow.

    "Contrariwise" and "Quite the opposite" don't work because they don't draw in the new arrow from the song to you.

    Would "Snap" do?

    What song was it, anyway? Two Little Horsemen or If I'd Shot You When I Met You, I'd Be Out By Now?

    I shall ponder the question further.

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  54. Anon, repetition is not a bad option, although it lacks pithiness. Incidentally, I am not using my usual name because one can never be too careful with these things. Dogberry knows who I am by my IP address, however.

    Dogberry, "snap" is perhaps a trifle flippant. As for the song, I will tell you another time.

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  55. I'm inclined to coin the word ootem, meaning me too but in reverse. However, I can see that, though neat, that's not very useful. I am usually more neat than useful.

    Your IP address comes up as somewhere in London, I have no further idea who you are.

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  56. How surprising. I shall reveal myself when we next go for a drink.

    I rather like ootem, although it will take a concerted campaign to get it into every day usage.

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  57. Dear Dogberry,

    Surely when SportsCenter tells me the NFL Players' Union is 'decertifying' they mean either that it is decertifying itself or it is being decertified by its players. This sets me thinking about verbs that mean more or less the same thing in the active and passive. For example, the government can dissolve or be dissolved, and the only difference is that the passive puts the emphasis on the agent whereas the active makes the dissolution sound like a natural phenomenon: the sun shines, the winds blow, the government dissolves, the union decertifies. I'm not sure what my question is, except that the intransitive use of 'decertify' that's all over the sporting news seems to me both obfuscatory and a little barbarous. Thoughts / comments? What are some other words that do this?

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  58. He drowned...

    ...her.

    Most verbs that relate to instruments seem to work like this: I played a record, the record played, I lit the fire, the fire lit etc.

    Unfortunately, being an Englishman I know little of less about the NFL and therefore can't comment on the decertification.

    I'd observe though that words often refer to both an idea and to one side of that idea. So something which is two inches high is not high etc.

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  59. What exactly does "famous" mean because "infamous" appears to mean "famous in a bad way" and not "utterly ordinary"?

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  60. I recently encountered the words "more seldom". The writer intended to imply "very rarely" i.e. even less often than whatever seldom implies. To my ear you cannot qualify seldom. I couldn't lay hands on Fowler or Gowers to see if they discuss the point, but my Oxford Miniguide to English Usage does not. Is this because seldom is an adverb, not derived from an adjective? Or is it a difficulty associated with "diminishing" words? Often is perhaps the opposite of seldom and is not so restricted: both more and less often are frequently used.

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  61. Answer on the blog. (Fowler doesn't mention it at all).

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  62. Katherine W (from Manchester)17 November 2011 at 19:16

    Dear Dogberry,
    I've just discovered you after Kindle Post linked to you, and have enjoyed reading through your old posts.
    Don't you think the word 'plinth' sounds funny when you say it! I can't think of anything it rhymes with or even any other word with 'nth' apart from numbers ending in a 'n' when ordering things by position.
    Any thoughts?

    Katherine

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  63. Ah, the ingvaeonic nasal spirant law. I shall write a post on it next week, just for you.

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  64. Katherine W (from Manchester)24 November 2011 at 16:57

    I look forward to it. I had to google 'ingvaeonic nasal spirant law' so hopefully I will understand what you will write about. I feel silly for forgetting 'month'! Then I mentioned it at the dinner table and felt even sillier when my daughter (16) immediately said 'labyrinth'!

    Katherine

    ReplyDelete
  65. Dear Dogberry

    I was wondering if you could shed some light on the phrase "rule of thumb". There appears to be all sorts of false etymology on this phrase.

    V

    ReplyDelete
  66. A friend would like to know why a surprising and explosive revelation is a "bombshell," as opposed to, say, a "bomb." Similarly, why we "walk on eggshells," rather than "walk on eggs"?

    The bomb is surely more explosive than the mere shell of it, the reasoning goes, and the egg is about as fragile as the mere shell of it. So why refer to the shells in these phrases?

    Thanks so much in advance,

    Linus

    ReplyDelete
  67. Dear Dogberry,

    It has long been a source of vexation to me that there is no single, tidy word to mean 'washing-up'.

    We have the word 'laundry', which despite its more vague origin has become associated in today's usage with the washing of clothes in particular (or indeed, 'washing'), but no snappy word for the washing of crockery, cutlery &c.

    It would just be nice to say "It's OK - I've finished the -" without the extra hyphenated syllable.

    Any ideas, suggestions, sources?

    Bantha

    ReplyDelete
  68. Katherine from Manchester22 December 2011 at 07:53

    OK, I've finished the dishes or, even in Manchester, the pots.
    Katherine

    ReplyDelete
  69. "Nailing ones colours to the mast"

    A reference to The sailor Jack Crawford who so heroically nailed Admiral Duncan's flag to the main-top-gallant-mast of HMS Venerable in the action off Camperdown on October 11, 1797.

    ReplyDelete
  70. sorry, the question mark was missing from the end Jack Crawford post.

    Many congratulations on the success of your book, I will soon be adding my own contribution to your liver problems. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  71. I'm in the process of reading your book. It's wonderful. I'm planning to force it on my mother, who is currently an English teacher in Taiwan.

    It's that familiarity with Chinese that leads me to comment; you mention that the Chinese (I'll assume Mandarin, though you don't really make a distinction) for 'pay' is 'pei'. This isn't quite true, as 'pei' means something more along the lines of paying a fine, rather than paying for something you've bought. This does bring up something I've always been curious about, though. Mandarin for both "show" (the noun) and "to show" (the verb) is pronounced pretty much the same as in English. Do you know if this is a curious Taiwanese bastardization of the original word from being entangled with English, or a coincidence?

    ReplyDelete
  72. I'm afraid that my knowledge of Chinese is entirely from secondary material. I have a sinologist friend that I try to consult, but he has the annoying habit of disappearing off to China all the time.

    ReplyDelete
  73. Which blocks does a blockbuster bust?

    ReplyDelete
  74. Dear Dogberry,
    My 12 year old daughter and I were talking at the dinner table today and I finished the sentence with the phrase "down to a t". My daughter asked where this saying originated from and I replied lets ask Dogberry! Can you help?

    ReplyDelete
  75. Dear Dogberry, I am looking for a word which covers the concept of being mislaid geographically. When travelling I often don't know exactly where I am, however I am not 'lost' I have a good idea of where I am going and how to get there. Is there a word which fits this situation.

    ReplyDelete
  76. Dear Dogberry, I am a new reader of your blog (and book!) and was wondering if you could help me with something that has etymologically niggled at me for years: guinea. My interest in this word began when I was working in, you guessed it, Guinea. I found it interesting that several countries contain the word in their names, and on opposite sides of the globe no less. I am of course familiar with the monetary term, but was wondering if that is what gave the countries' their names or vice versa, as well where the bloody word come from in the first place! Many thanks, Sarah

    ReplyDelete
  77. Dear Dogberry

    What is the etymology of 'derby' as in a local derby?

    Thanks

    Clare

    ReplyDelete
  78. My thanks for the Guinea post. That is an itch that has long needed scratching!
    Sarah

    ReplyDelete
  79. Over the last few years have you been monitoring the rise of "double is"? Once mocked as a "Bushism" it now seems like official US English e.g US Ambassador Sussman on R4 Today today 25 Jan 2012. Not repetition but as in "The thing is is that ..."

    ReplyDelete
  80. Dear Dogberry
    John Humphrys on R4 Today prog criticised "double is / is is" a few years back - but nothing seems able to stop its rise towards standard / correct status.

    ReplyDelete
  81. What I don't get is how the word substance (from the latin meaning 'under'(sub) and 'stand'(stare) doesn't mean to understand something!?

    Can you enlighten me? (I have a hunch that it has something to do with eucharist and 'transusbstantiation'!)

    ReplyDelete
  82. very apt comic strip I thought...

    http://xkcd.com/1010/

    ReplyDelete
  83. Would you comment on how Brits use the term "destroy"?

    http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/30/travelers-say-they-were-denied-entry-to-u-s-for-twitter-jokes/?scp=2&sq=destroy&st=cse

    "Mr. Bryan joked on Twitter that he was going to “destroy America” during his trip "

    ReplyDelete
  84. Dear Inky Fool,

    do you know why, when expressing a disinclination to believe a certain statement, one might say that one is afraid that such and such "doesn't wash"?

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  85. Dear Dogberry,

    In our fanatically monarchist country of the United Kingdom, it often seems that the word "royal" is magic and strikes a sense of awe into anyone, but I am sure that the Royal Family of today's titles have evolved into something very different from what they originally meant.

    I have a vague idea of where they all originate: "Emperor" from Latin Imperator meaning commander. "royal" from old French "roy" meaning "king". But I've no idea where the word "king" comes from, or indeed why the English uses this Germanic word but the French-originating adjective "royal".

    And as for "queen" - I'm stumped! It doesn't seem to bear resemblence to anything!

    Many thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  86. Dear Dogberry,

    I have no doubt you are flooded with requests... but as a recent discoverer of both The Etymologicon, your blog, and the wonder of Agatha Christie's books I have noticed some fun little links.

    For example, Christie mentions 'on Queer Street' numerous times in regard to failing businesses, and in the brilliant "Three Act Tragedy" (1935) includes the line "Damn' disturbin',' said Dacres. 'Makes you feel a bit gruey, fellows popping off all over the place'.

    What I wanted to ask about was the phrase 'to have a pash (on someone)' meaning in love/infatuation. Is it simply a shortening of 'passion'?

    And as it's Valentine's Day, when did 'infatuation' begin to lose the 'foolish' root? If it ever has...

    Regards

    ReplyDelete
  87. Dear Dogberry,

    My flatmate and I wondered how “facility,” which is seemingly rooted in an attitude of ease, came to mean “something built for a particular purpose.” After some wrestling, we determined that such structures make related actions easier to perform, thus justifying the “facil-” root. But in the course of our investigations, we found the following: “Its sense in English moved from "genteelness" to "opportunity" (1510s), to "aptitude, ease" (1530s).” How did it come to mean genteelness?

    Many thanks,
    Wynn

    ReplyDelete
  88. Dear Dogberry

    I have been wondering about the expression 'to see eye to eye on something'. Could it be a corruption of: 'to say aye to aye?' And as we are around the time of 'carnival' I have heard on good authority that 'carnival' means 'no sex' in other words, 'Carne no val' in latin referring to 'woman', not 'meat' as the pagans didn't want children born in the winter months owing to a scarcity of food. Therefore, carnival was a period of sexual abstinence on which the 14th February was the last day of permitted sexual activity (add 9 months). I understand orgies took place on this last day and masks worn to avoid social repercussion. Could it be that I am misled? Your thoughts greatly appreciated

    ReplyDelete
  89. In your explanation of cock-squailing you report that the throwing stick was called a 'cockstele'. I have always been puzzled that, in the North-West, the handle of a yard brush is called a brush steel (stele?). The nearest link I have found to 'a big stick' is 'the shaft of an arrow. Is there indeed an Early English usage stele= big stick ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. a bit late, I know, but I think stele may be an Anglicised Dutch word, steel, pronounced stayl, and it is the long handle of a broom.

      Delete
  90. This is not exactly to do with the normal convoluted lexis you normally deal with - though there is a link - but I was recently counting letters in words I heard in conversations (for no particular reason than interest) and I found that 'e' is indeed the most used letter in our alphabet. Why is this?

    And, incidentally, why do we use the alphabet we do? I presume it's something to do with the Romans as the Latin alphabet is almost exactly the same (with the exception of 'k', which I imagine came from Greek), but why did they start to use it?

    ReplyDelete
  91. I read this in today's Daily Telegraph:

    Political reality is the Labour Left’s mortal enemy, and she is once again casting her shadow.

    I was struck by the strange convention by which things are personified as "she". "He" would sound ridiculous; "it" might just pass, but "she" has a rhetorical ring to it. (Unless, of course, the writer had Mrs T in mind)! What is the origin of this convention? Did the Greeks use it too?

    ReplyDelete
  92. Dear Dogberry,

    I was wondering what the name Shankly could mean and where it could come from?

    Thanks for any help you may be inclined to give.

    Also, i read your book. I makes a great read.

    ReplyDelete
  93. I was also wondering if my above comment bore any connection to Franklin etc.

    ReplyDelete
  94. I'm afraid I don't know where the sheing of concepts comes from. The surname Shank means leg, but I can't find anything on Shankley, I'm afraid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. May be the original Shankley worked a field shaped like a leg?

      Delete
    2. Hi there, thanks for looking it up. My name is Shankly (no E) so i'd wondered what it could mean.

      Delete
  95. Interesting about the change in meaning for the word gay. I live in north Cumbria, and the word gay means very. "It's gay cowd an slape" means "It's very cold and icy" In certain contexts, ower, meaning much or more, can also be substititued. "It's ower cowd an slape" is also acceptable. Perversely, "ower much" is also in common use. But we're a funny lot in Cumbria

    ReplyDelete
  96. I know Southern Cumbria very well and have never heard it. I shall refrain from jokes about Cockermouth.

    ReplyDelete
  97. I recently had to explain to a German friend what to 'cotton on' to something meant, which made me wonder about the origins of this phrase. Can you enlighten me?

    (Also, may I compliment you on your book, which is a thing of beauty in both substance and accident.)

    ReplyDelete
  98. I'll try and get on to that.

    ReplyDelete
  99. Why are band one-night stands known as gigs? My pet theory is that some of the bands were so bad that they kept a gig by the stage door to make a quick getaway. (By the way why can we not comment giving our Facebook id?)

    ReplyDelete
  100. Dear Dogberry,

    Just wondered if there was a word for the satisfaction felt after completing a boisterous and enthused string of sneezes? Or, indeed, for the lovely anticipation and build up? I find the noisier the better.

    P.S. received the Etymologicon for my birthday, it is ace

    ReplyDelete
  101. Dear Dogberry,

    I wanted to ask you about the origin of the word - Hullabaloo. I have seen an article from the famous Anatoly Liberman. http://blog.oup.com/2006/11/etymological_fo/. While he has explored possible Turkish origins of the word is there a reason the Hindi word "Hullabol" which loosely means commotion has not been considered?

    Ta,
    Amateur Etymologicon

    ReplyDelete
  102. Dear Dogberry,

    Any idea about the link between maudlin and mournful? They must be close. Probably one of those typographic alterations for us the spelling public to inherit ever after.

    BTW I read your book. My kids aged 11 and 12 read parts and I read some parts aloud to them and their friends. They all enjoyed it. I liked it so much myself I gave it away immediately. Now I am waiting for softcover before I buy another.

    ReplyDelete
  103. Already dealt with here http://blog.inkyfool.com/2010/11/miserable-biscuit-whores.html

    ReplyDelete
  104. Dear Anon, I shall try to see what I can make of hullabaloo.

    ReplyDelete
  105. Coolio, thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  106. Thanks Mark.

    Amateur Etymologicon.

    ReplyDelete
  107. Dear Mr I. Fool,

    Is the "petit" in "competition" the same as the one in "petite"?

    Is a "competition" A little thing we do together?

    ReplyDelete
  108. Mr Inky Fool,

    I am wondering about the connection between "hawker" one who sells from door to door; and "hawker" one who trains hawks. Can you help please?

    Regards,

    Miss Apostrophe Police

    ReplyDelete
  109. In the early 1950's when I was growing up in a small town in South Central Illinois I would often hear people say "out in the bojacks" instead of "out in the boondocks." Where could this word have come from? I haven't heard it in probably 50 years or more...I think it went out of usage after the 60's in that town. Haven't heard it anywhere else in the country and I have tried to research it.

    ReplyDelete
  110. On competition and petite and hawker and hawker, I'm afraid there's no relation in either case.

    Bo-jack does pop up in the Chambers Dictionary of Slang as "1970s+ (US black)" a form of address to a male, or penis/scrotum. Make of that what you will.

    ReplyDelete
  111. Could you tell me the origin of the phrase 'blindingly obvious'?

    Many thanks

    ReplyDelete
  112. I assume from a blinding light.

    ReplyDelete
  113. Recently I heard about the word "skoodilypooping", which apparently means something along the lines of making out or kissing. Is that at all related to the poop-noddy written about in a previous post?

    ReplyDelete
  114. I'm afraid I've no idea, but I love the word.

    ReplyDelete
  115. Hello Mark,

    If you have time, perhaps you could dig up some interesting information to do with seeing things through "rose-tinted spectacles".

    Madeleine

    ReplyDelete
  116. I surrender to the wisdom of the Inky Fool and humbly ask a question...

    How did it come to pass that the word 'trauma' made the jump from physical injury to psychological injury? Is this something we should blame on Freud or is there some other etymological tarantella going on here?

    With quiet anticipation...

    ReplyDelete
  117. I'm afraid it's the simple idea of a psychological wound. Here's the first English use "Certain reminiscences of the shock fall into the subliminal consciousness, where they can only be discovered in ‘hypnoid’ states. If left there, they act as permanent ‘psychic traumata’, thorns in the spirit, so to speak."

    ReplyDelete
  118. Dear Dogberry,
    I'm beginning to fear I've been operating under a false assumption for decades. I'd always thought there was a phrase "bad pool," meaning something that was underhanded or of questionable legitimacy. Yet when I search the phrase online, I find almost no usages on those lines, let alone any discussion of the phrase's origin. Have I been hallucinating all these years? Is there some similar-sounding phrase I've been mis-hearing? I'm feeling quite alarmed at the moment, as if I had just discovered that I've been using my salad fork as a desert spoon all these years. Please help!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm afraid I've never heard of bad pool either, and, like you, I can't work out what it could be a variant of. The only comfort I can offer is that I had a French teacher who mistook "on the pull" for "in the pool".

      Delete
  119. Dear Dogberry,
    Would you be able to tell me if and how the word "pneumonic" is related to "pneumatic"? It seems like they would be, but they appear to mean rather different things.

    ReplyDelete
  120. Hi,
    Is it true that the expression 'saved by the bell' comes from the idea of attaching strings to coffins so that those presumed dead, after drinking from lead cups and being poisoned, could be saved should the wake up again?

    ReplyDelete
  121. Afraid not, and nor is that the origin of "dead ringer". It's a literal boxing phrase.

    ReplyDelete
  122. Dear Dogberry,

    It seems that English derivatives of Latin nouns almost always come from the genitive of that noun. What's more, English verbs do this as well, but they come from the past participle of the Latin verb. No one knows why! No Classics teacher I've asked has any idea, nor can I find an answer on the internet. The rule for nouns applies in Greek as well somehow, and the verbs seem to strangely come into English via the aorist tense. The pattern is strong and definitely there and has been driving me mad. Can you explain this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm afraid I don't know. I would hazard a guess that in both cases (genitive and past participle) an adjective is being formed (the baker's bread, the baked bread) and that these, for some reason, were the survivors. I'm afraid that's the best I can do, and it's only speculation.

      Delete
    2. Well it's closer to an answer than anything I've got before and now I know it's a question of survival. Thanks anyway!

      Delete
  123. A colleague and I had a conversation this morning that I thought you may be able to assist us with. Whilst designing a poster for a Nativity Play we are due to film, I found that I needed some inspiration; I typed ‘Nativity FONT’ (Meaning Text Font) into Google and got several pictures of fonts (as in church fonts).

    Are the two words connected (other than in spelling and pronunciation)? And how?

    ReplyDelete
  124. Ooh, I might do a post on that soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome. I'll keep an eye out for it, Thanks.

      Delete
  125. I have picked up from somewhere the word begadgeted (ie. laiden with gadgets) and I used it several times, because we actually do live in a begadged age. The OED online does not have the word, so it is a piece of lexiconographical dark matter, but, as the meaning is clear, it works in everyday conversation.
    Are there any other great hidden words about computers, the internet and wireless devices (not the radio variety)?
    I was tempted to write clickmeal once, but decided against it as the -meal suffix is not constructive anymore and piecemeal reminds me of oatmeal. What useful words would you coin?
    (Parenthetically (and irrelevantly), the OED entry on "smart" is amusingly bemused about the meaning of smart bombs, phones and televisions.)
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I popped by to see if there was an answer and I've just noticed I tried to mention too much in my previous question —and mispelt laden— and it came out a mess: sorry about its disorder. One thing amidst it that you may find interesting is the etymology of gadget. It could come from the French gâchette, which is the diminutive of gâche (buckle, spike), which is in turn a word of Old Frankish origin, whose Old English cognate (géap) means astute (the word died in middle English spelt as yepe). This means gadgets could be etymologically smart —whether this truly solves the OED's issue with the definition of smart phones and smart bombs is a different matter…

      Delete
  126. Is there not a commode sitting right inside accommodation? The etymology sights I've looked at don't think this is significant enough to comment on, but to make spelling the word 'accommodation' simpler for generations of future spellers, isn't this something that could be useful?

    ReplyDelete
  127. Dear Dogberry, I am trying to get my grubby paws on the Horologican in India (I am here for the next 6 months). Any idea where and how I can get a copy?

    Cheers,
    Anon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Book Depository http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/ does free worldwide delivery, I believe.

      Delete
  128. Dear Dogberry,

    Why do Americans generally say 'Merry Christmas', and English folk often say 'Happy Christmas?'

    ReplyDelete
  129. Dear Dogberry,

    Why do Americans generally say 'Merry Christmas', and English folk often say 'Happy Christmas?'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just checked up, and though the English say "Happy Christmas" more than the Americans do, we still favour "Merry Christmas." Look here and <a href="http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Merry+Christmas%2C+Happy+Christmas&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=18&smoothing=3&share=>here</a>.

      Delete
  130. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  131. Dear Dogberry;
    I love your blog, and now it's my turn to ask a question.
    What is the source of the term 'over a barrel'. I'm guessing some medieval torture, but I don't recall hearing a specific explanation.
    Thanks in advance, and keep up the great work.
    Regards
    Roadrunner

    ReplyDelete
  132. If, as some sources state, the word 'mistletoe' translates as 'shit/dung on a stick', could this be the root of the phrase 'you'll be beating them off with a shitty stick'? Both are related to the amorous arts, after all.

    ReplyDelete
  133. Dear Dogberry,

    I read the following excerpt while smooth reading Highways and Byways in Cambridge and Ely, by the Rev. Edward Conybeare for Distributed Proofreaders and am curious to see if you think it is true/feasible/a crock:

    All this prosperity (founded, as always, on the high rate of wages)

    was the result of that fearful catastrophe, the Black Death, which, a

    few generations back, had all but decimated the population, and

    shattered the old social system of England, wherein the labourers were

    "villains," tied to the manor on which they were born, and bound to do

    for their lord (in lieu of rent) so many "jobs"[178] a year. A "job"

    meant 100 minutes' work, a strange subdivision of time, implying some

    fairly accurate means of measuring its flight, though we know not what

    these may have been. A Cambridgeshire "inquisition" of 1313 values

    each job at a halfpenny, so that the day's work of a "villain" was

    worth about threepence.


    [Footnote 178: This word is derived from the Latin _Opus_ ("work")

    which in the Manorial account books was usually written j.op. (_i.e._,

    one _Opus_).]

    Thanks,
    Janette Papi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seems unlikely as the first few recorded instances have a double B, as in "Doinge certen Iobbes of woorke".

      Delete
  134. Dear Dogberry,

    Would you like to apply your skills to the northern and Scots insult "div"? The internet is divided as to its origins, suggesting possibilities as diverse as "divot", "unemployment dividend", "deviant" and "divvy lamp".

    I'm really rather hoping that we have a word for "idiot" which manages not to be offensive to anyone.

    Thanks,

    Harry

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. According to my dad divvy is short for deficient in the upper storey.

      Delete
  135. Good morning,

    Lately I have been listening in several TV series the expression 'to call dibs'. I'd like to know its origin because I don't know if I can trust wikipedia ;) Thank very much indeed!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The OED says it comes from an old children's game played with dibstones. Dib here is a variant of dab.

      Delete
  136. The word “misogynist” appears very frequently in feminist discourse and is used indiscriminately to refer to things that fall far short of “hatred of women”.

    What meaning does “misogynist” now have, and how does one now express what “misogynist” originally meant?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm afraid that's beyond my territory. I suspect that woman-hater would do for the second question.

      Delete
  137. Dear Dogberry,

    Is the Pete in 'for Pete's sake' St Peter? Was this name substituted for God's out of a pious disinclination to take the Lord's name in vain and a wish to invoke his subordinate instead?

    Also, is there a relation between 'eleven' and 'elevate'? It seems an unlikely bunch of letters to coincide accidentally.

    Thanks a whole bunch.

    ReplyDelete
  138. Pete is indeed a substitute for God, or so saith the OED. I'm afraid eleven and elevate are utterly unrelated.

    ReplyDelete
  139. Having just read both of your books I was left wondering what the connections are between text, textile and texture?

    Can you help?

    Many thanks Q

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's a whole chapter explaining that in The Etymologicon.

      Delete
    2. Found it, thank you! Chapter headed Wool.
      Fascinating stuff!

      Quentin D.

      Delete
  140. Got to wondering, due to conversation elsewhere, where does 'Odds Bobs' come from, and why, and what does it mean?

    Thought you might know the answer, couldn't seem to find any info on here already so am asking.

    Ta!

    ReplyDelete
  141. There is a street artist from the 1940's, Bill Traylor, whose work is filled with images of little men with hammers whacking drinkers over the head. The most obvious assumption would be to say that the drinkers are "hammered," but I've found no reference to the word hammered being used for drunk before the 1980s. Do you know how and when hammered came to mean drunk? I have to give a talk on Traylor next month and I'd hate to say that he was punning if the term hadn't yet come into use.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jonathon Green's Dictionary of Slang has it from the 1950s. Mind you, the pictures sound like a depiction of a hangover.

      Delete
  142. I was in a group exploring the abandoned Box Freestone Mine last night and our guide was explaining the different types of worker in the mine. One would do the initial cut along the roof (where the usuable rock met the unusable rock) and was paid by the horizontal area that they cut out.

    Another worker would cut below this and they were paid based on the size of the stone they removed - the bigger the better.

    Sometimes the second worker would 'undercut' at an angle to get at stone further back. Supposedly the first workers wouldn't like this as they wouldn't get any money, as the area removed from the roof hadn't increased, yet they'd done lots of hard and dangerous work to allow the stone face to be accessed in the first place.

    We asked if maybe that was where the phrase "to undercut someone" came from, but our guide wasn't sure and admitted that he'd never thought of it that way.

    Any idea?

    ReplyDelete
  143. Dear Mr. Forsyth

    In my procrastination, I have come tantalisingly close to discovering your made up word in The Horologicon. Although this isn't an inquiry, I thought you ought to know so that you would have adequate time to prepare said curse. I look forward to adding it to my substantial list of received curses and/or threats.

    ReplyDelete
  144. Not really a question, but a comment on your Etymologicon which I've just been given and am enjoying immensely. Near the beginning, writing about testicles, you make a comment about Abraham's servant swearing not to marry a Canaanite girl. Now it only takes a little Bible knowledge to know that the servant was actually swearing not to bring back a Canaanite girl for Abraham's son Isaac to marry.
    Sadly, this now causes me to doubt some of your more entertaining stories, because I just don't know any more whether you've checked out your sources properly. I must say (for instance) that the idea of Frenchmen putting their money into a pot and then throwing stones at a chicken is immensely appealing, but you have to admit it does sound rather fanciful.
    Anyway, you might want to put that Genesis reference straight in the next edition.

    ReplyDelete
  145. Quite right about Genesis, a foolish slip on my part. The chickens are quite true, though. You can read more about them here.

    ReplyDelete
  146. Hello I am an American reader and I love your work. An expression has recently popped up in the American media thanks to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. "As I have said, the real rationale of today’s opinion, whatever disappearing trail of its legalistic argle-bargle one chooses to follow…" Argle-bargle? I have looked into it and it is British and is related to argy-bargy, which really raises more questions than answers. Since argle-bargle sounds like something a troll would yell and Scalia is very much the troll of the Supreme Court it seems fitting that it should become his signature cry. I figured argle-bargle sounded like the sort of word you would be interested in so I am bringing it to your attention.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. It seems to go back to argue, varied slightly and then duplicated. In England it would be argy-bary. I'll try and put a post together on it.

      Delete
  147. ! I'm in the process of reading the Etymologicon - most entertaining.

    When I got to the chapter where you elaborate on the origin of the word butterfly, I couldn't help but wonder about "butterfly" in my native tongue, which is Afrikaans. We have 2 words for butterfly (don't know why) one being "Vlinder" and the other "skoenlapper" Okay. Vlinder I can still trace back to "vlieg" (fly) but what on earth does "skoen" (shoe) and "lapper" cloth/fabric have to do with a flying insect?

    ReplyDelete
  148. So glad to have found a place to feed my word obsession. Lately I have been getting some flack (perhaps rightly) for overusing the exclamation, 'Holy Dinah.' I don't even know where I picked it up, and now we're all curious about where it came from. Roman mythology, perhaps?

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  149. http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/15/living/literally-definition/index.html?hpt=hp_inthenews

    Please DO SOMETHING, Inky Fool! :)

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  150. Qt wanted to comment on your slut blog but cannot edit my comment so trying again here. I wanted to tell you that in NZ the slattern connotation is seen in the expression" slut's wool" for those rolls of dust under the bed, also known as dust bunnies or ghost turds. Of course this probably puts me in an older age group who remember when beds were high and wooden floors were mopped to eradicate such things, probably seen no more in modern homes

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  151. I love this so much and thought you would enjoy it too:

    "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is a grammatically correct sentence in American English!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_buffalo

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  152. Hi! I just came across your blog and I absolutely love it. I will probably be lurking all day, trying to catch up on everything I’ve missed.

    As an aside, I grew up in Newfoundland and I’m not sure how much you know about the place, but Newfoundlanders have a unique accent and dialect that I think you may find interesting. Since it is an island that was initially settled before most of North America, it was isolated for a long time and the dialect had time to develop independently. Newfoundland only joined Canada in 1949, so it still retains a unique culture and dialect; we use a variety of expressions that only Newfoundlanders understand.

    Wikipedia can give you a brief overview, but, if you’re interested, there is actually a ‘Dictionary of Newfoundland English’:
    http://books.google.ca/books/about/Dictionary_of_Newfoundland_English.html?id=XrVbk3EndTcC

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  153. Hi Mark
    I really enjoyed the Etymologicon - a marvellous piece of work.
    I'm the author of a book called 'How Music Works' and I'm presently working on a second book - dealing with the psychology of music.
    Having spent a couple of pages wittering on about the Anacreontic song in my newest opus I was pleased to see that I could add an extra snippet from the Etymologicon. On page 101 you mention that the song was used as an ad hoc test of sobriety by the police in the 18th century. This is a great piece of tittle-tattle, but is it true? as far as I know the metropolitan police didn't come into existance untill the 19th century.
    Do you have an original reference?
    Cheers
    John Powell

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    1. I'm afraid I can't remember. I'm sure I didn't make it up, but cannot recall the book. There was Fielding's fledgling police service in the C18th and before that the watch. It occurs to me that, as it's a drinking song, you'd probably be able to tell something about sobriety from its degenerating repetitions. Sorry I can't be more helpful. It's three years since I wrote that. I should have put in a bibliography.

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  154. 'Truth-before-beauty' - thanks for nailing your colours to the mast on the debate. Even though I have little Latin and no Greek I nevertheless loved your new slant on its antithesis. Even though you attempt to teach us all eloquence the mission is doomed when you confound us with Greek words employing the Roman alphabet. Even though sages spotted that scribes had made mistakes in ancient translations of the bible and the renaissance happened, Cyrillic script is as moribund as latin speech. Even though your new book points out the live roots by means of their current flowerings and is indeed erudite it is somewhat pointless. Pointless is an extension of the Cartesian metaphor which I explore at length in 'My Third Big Toe'. Pointless is the new frontier. Because I do not have the maths I am unable to explore it. Like you I have to use words. So thank you.

    As one pedant to another (I used to write architectural specifications) chapter 8 p.39 - why silver ? silver is a colour and not green. Steel is a material associated with both Sheffield and silver - EPNS. Swedish steel might be a better alliteration. I was delighted that somebody had studied Hyperbaton sufficiently to appraise me of the correct word (adjective) order in English. Do you have any studies to corroborate this as an axiom ? We are trying to get behind the starting point here. i.e. maybe a pointless exercise….. maybe important.

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  155. Because has become a preposition! I'm in the U.S. where this usage has exploded (and I myself am guilty of using it as a preposition although I am vehemently against it becoming an official preposition in any way). Wonder if this is the case in the U.K. as well. And I wonder if you know of past instances in which words have gone from being one part of the sentence to another, especially if their original usage is no longer the most common usage (I'm sure there are lots of examples, but maybe you could do a post of some of the fun ones?)

    http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/11/english-has-a-new-preposition-because-internet/281601/

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  156. Hi, wondering if you have written about the link between temper and temperature. My students write temprature or such and I am sure I can come up with a picture story to make this alive for them.

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    1. I hope there is a link between temper and temperature. When my cranky two year old felt hot and ill, he would say "I have a temper", and we would all agree.

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  157. Thanks for that explanation of the word for turkey. Can you tell us why the Spaniards who brought the turkey to Europe, call them pavos?

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  158. Is there a word to describe someone who is a lover of or expert on board games? If not can you invent one please.

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    1. It might depend on the game. Chess has a formal system of rankings, international masters, grandmasters, &c. I believe Scrabble probably has a similar sort of thing but I'm rubbish at Scrabble and try to take no interest in it. And as my six-year-old daughter beat me at Snakes and Ladders this evening I'd like to suggest 'kid' for enthusiasts of games involving dice. Unless others have better suggestions.

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    2. There's a whole lexicon in the board game world and a huge community (check out www.boardgamegeek.com) who sadly only refer to themselves as 'gamers' or, sometimes, "proper gamers".

      Unimaginatively, those who are not initiated are more often than not referred to as 'non-gamers'.
      Games that bring new gamers into the fold are called "Gateway Games" which is about as interesting as it gets with it's druggy type reference.

      There are divisions within the community that talk about EuroGames, Wargames and Ameritrash but the only point of interest is probably that those who like hex and counter wargames are normally referred to as 'Grognards'.

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  159. Hello Dogberry

    I would like to ask your opinion on something of much debate amongst my friends and I. we all attend a school called Pedare and as such we have decided on the term "pedarian/ pedarean" to describe one who attends Pedare. however an argument has arisen about the "correct" spelling of Pedarian/ Pedarean. Your opinion on this matter would be much appreciated and may even decide the matter

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  160. 'Women's tears -- [are] water!" ' from Lermontov's 'Masquerade'. (Lermontov was a wonderful romantic poet with a limited knowledge of folk culture or dictons...)

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  161. Hi Mark,
    I recently bought a copy of The Elements of Eloquence, and it's great. The only thing I didn't like about it was the fact that a very sticky sicker was stuck to the back (yes, I just read polyptoton). It's really a blot on the book's binding, and if removed its remnants remain. I realise you don't personally stick the things on, but if you have any say in the matter perhaps you could suggest tot eh publisher to the publisher that they use something a bit easier to remove. Love your work though. Thanks

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  162. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  163. Dear Mr Forsyth
    I enjoyed The Elements of Eloquence but I think that you are too quick to separate style from substance, if indeed you have done that as thoroughly as I think you have. It seems to me – and I am not nearly as learned as you – that a change in language – an augmentation or diminution – is as much a change in meaning as it is a change in style; otherwise, words would be literally meaningless – pure bubbles, utter linguistic inflation – and we would have no "substantial" reason to vary our sentences. If rhetoric is, as I think it is, ultimately about the sound and rhythm of language, then I would argue that sound and rhythm is a kind of secondary meaning that interacts with the direct one contained in the words. To me, style and substance are like, to use an unfashionable term, Siamese twins: though separate irrevocably joined, each in some way nourishing the other, and each destined to die without the other. To me, style is magnificent, then, precisely because it is a very much a form of substance; and to cast it aside – if such a thing is even possible, for the plainest prose is a kind of prose style – is to deny your writing an important element of substance.
    Sincerely
    David Harrison
    P.S. I would add that though you fancy fancy writing it does not seem natural to you, as it never is to extremely smart, learned people. The thoughts are there, right ready to be expressed, and fancy expression seems almost a distraction, an extra task.

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  164. Dear Dogberry

    Instead of a question I have a clarification, I hope! During your talk at the Taunton Literary Festival you commented on the wording in the Gettysburg Address, ‘… a government of the people, by the people and for the people…’ querying the meaning/purpose of the phrase ‘of the people’. I offered an idea but you were unconvinced. I felt it my civic duty as an American to investigate. A breakthrough came while reading the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin which was the basis for the film Lincoln.
    From the text, you learn that the concept of a people governing themselves (rather than by a monarch and nobles) was considered the mainstay of the ‘American experiment’ and I think that the phrase ‘of the people’ (while also contributing to an eloquent tricolon) refers to this principle of self- government, ‘by the people’ refers to democratic election and ‘for the people’ is for the common good/benefit.
    If you haven’t read Goodwin’s book, I think you’d enjoy all the word crafting described.

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  165. Not a question but an infopost. We have created a language practice site at www.SpeakTalkChat.com which links people to chat about their shared interests through their target languages. 33+ languages and 101 interests are available. The site is completely free.

    Our philosophy is that one way to move our languages forward is to chat with our language peers about our shared commonalities.

    We're not that closely related Inky Fool but we are another resource for people who love languages and realised the value in preserving all of them. Any feedback is welcome.

    Many thanks, Le meas, Aodhán

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  166. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  167. I was just wondering if "addicting" should ever be used, it makes me cringe whenever I hear it so I wanted to know if/when it should be used.

    Thanks, Aneesa

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  168. Can you please tell me the origin of "Money for jam"? All I can find so far are definitions and unsatisfying ones at that.

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  169. dear Dogberry why do the media keep telling us that it has been the wettest Winter since records began in 1910, when they mean that it has been the wettest Winter on record and that records began in 1910?

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  170. re p125 of The Elements of Eloquence:
    The Tom Robinson Band's song 'Better decide which side you're on' from the album 'Power in the Darkness' has the following chorus:
    Better decide which side you're on
    This shit comes down before too long
    If Left is right then Right is wrong
    Better decide which side you're... on

    Thanks for the book, I'm enjoying it very much.
    Malcolm Harvey.

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