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GRANDLUMEN 150W LED High Bay UFO Light ETL Certified 4000K Dayli

This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.



Friday, 18 February 2022

Word To Use Today: calomel.

 Calomel just might be the most beautiful word in the English language.

It's a chemical, mercury chloride, Hg2Cl2, which was used by alchemists and is therefore rather romantic.

Here it is as a mineral:

photo by Kelly Nash

The stuff has been known in Iran since 850 AD, but it didn't make much of an impact in Europe until the 1600s.

It had even more of an impact in the 1800s, when it was decided that giving people large doses of calomel would be a help in curing syphilis, bronchitis, ingrowing toenails, tuberculosis, 'flu, cancer - and more or less everything else, including teething. In 1863 the American surgeon-general, William A Hammond, having noticed that the stuff was making people sicker than they were to start with, announced that calomel should no longer be used in the US Army. This caused a lot of controversy (calomel was still being used in the British Army during the First World War) and it also led to the sacking of poor Mr Hammond. Mr Hammond, though, was quite right to be alarmed. By that time calomel was being prescribed in huge amounts and the mercury in it was poisoning people and causing gangrene, tooth-loss, facial deformities, and brain damage.

Did the beauty of its name make people trust it? It does sound so very sweet and calm.

On a much happier note, calomel is now used in electrochemistry for measuring the pH and and electrical potential of solutions.

I'm not honestly sure why I might want to use this word. 

But it might make a good name for a very gentle, beautiful and deadly witch.

Word To Use Today: calomel. This word comes from the Greek kalos, beautiful, and melas, which means black. This might be either because it turns black when you expose it to ammonia, or because you can make the stuff from a black mixture of mercury and mercuric chloride.




Thursday, 17 February 2022

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 From the Culture Vulture catalogue, an offer of a plate. It has writing on it.

It says:

The Giving Plate

This plate shall have no owner

for its journey never ends

the food that's placed upon it is made for 

all to share

So pass it on with

Love and care

*****

Its journey never ends?

Not if I drop it, it won't.

In any case, I do wish the designer had made up his or her mind about whether the inscription was going to rhyme or not. 

Especially as ends rhymes so obviously with friends.

Pah!

Word To Use Today: any you like, as long as you don't put them on a plate. The word plate, or something very similar, has described flat things since Ancient Greek times, when it was platus.



Wednesday, 16 February 2022

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 Autofiction is a genre that exists between fiction and non-fiction where the narrator has the same name as the writer of the work (often a novel) and the outline of the story does to some degree follow the writer's life.

It will feature nonfictional events, but will also include incidents and characters which are partly, and sometimes wholly, invented.

Karl Ove Knausgaard's series of books My Struggle, is a well-known example.

One thing autofiction probably has to feature is a protagonist (or perhaps a narrator) who is a writer.

Autofiction is often trying to give a "truer" impression of a writer's life than the actual truth might - and of course any account of anything can never be entirely factual.

But a reader's reaction to fiction is rather different from that to nonfiction (and fiction has to be vaguely likely, which nonfiction doesn't) so autofiction remains a tricky and delicate kind of thing.

And it's not as if autobiography is usually exactly factual, is it?

Word To Use Today: autofiction. The Greek word autos means self. Fiction comes from the Latin fingere, to shape.


Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Thing To Be Today: an angel.

 Angel-type beings come in quite a few shapes and sizes. One Christian league-table goes (most powerful first) seraphim, cherubim. thrones, dominions. virtues, powers, principalities, archangels and then, at the bottom, angels.

So, given that angels are the weakest and weediest,  being an angel can't really be that hard, can it?

Be an angel and make me a cup of tea.

Oh! Just what I wanted, a pair of socks. You're an angel!

You've finished that report? You really are an angel.

(I must note, here, that angels in religion are usually male, and those on Earth are almost always female. I don't even dare to think about why this might be.)

Technically, angels are heaven-inhabiting servants of God. Occasionally one goes bad, but they're usually helpful, doing stuff like carrying messages, guarding people, driving malefactors out of the Garden of Eden, that kind of thing.

Oh, and painting floors.

Oh yes. I've been painting a floor myself, and the instructions on the tin of varnish says that it's re-coatable in two hours, but that you can't walk on the stuff for twenty-four.

Angels is the only possibility I can imagine.

angels by Raphael


Thing To Be Today: an angel. This word was engel in Old English. The Latin form was angelus and the Greek form was angelos, which meant messenger. Before that, in Mycenaean Linear B, the word was a-ke-ro. There's a Persian word, angaros, which means mounted courier, which might be linked to the word angel, too.



Monday, 14 February 2022

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 But what has Valentine's Day got to do with bees?

The story goes like this:

One day Cupid came across a hive oozing with honey, and the greedy boy lost no time in scooping out a handful to eat.

But the bees, alerted to the honey-thief, rose up in a swarm and began to sting Cupid, so that he ran away (or perhaps he flew) to his mother the goddess Venus, crying both with pain, and with outrage that such little creatures could cause such agony.

But Venus told the little boy that perhaps it was a good thing that he should know what it was like to be caused such distress and anguish with a sting.


watercolour by Walter Crane

Spring is just beginning here in England, and the first bumblebees are buzzing round the winter honeysuckle that grows by my front door.

There are over 16 000 known species of bees, and the vast majority of them live solitary lives, but it's the honey bees that attract the most attention. 

honey bee, photo by Maciej A. Czyzewski

Apart from being furry and dangerous, honey bees are important for pollinating vast numbers of flowers, some of them important food crops. But the sweat bees, for instance, don't have so many fans; and some stingless bees, the smallest of which come in at under 2 mm in length, are seldom noticed.

Flowers provide bees with both nectar and pollen. The first gives them energy, and the second is chiefly used as baby food.

Where can you find a bee? Anywhere where there are flowers. That's everywhere except Antarctica and very watery places.


a mason bee, which nests in dead wood. Photo by Beatriz Moisset

Once you've spotted one, listen and see if you can hear it, too.

Spot the Frippet: a bee. This word is bīo in Old English.


Sunday, 13 February 2022

Sunday Rest: quaranteen.

 Yes, sorry, this is a hideous word, so let's get this over as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, this a word without much purpose. It means nothing interesting or useful, it's just been presented to the world in an attempt to...what? Be clever, perhaps.

The word describes a teenager who has survived the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yes, that is exactly the same as...a teenager.

No use at all.

Sunday Rest: quaranteen. It's easy to see how someone came up with this word. The word quarantine comes from the Italian quarantina, a period of forty days, from quaranta, forty, from the Latin word quadrāgintā.

Forty days...good grief!


Saturday, 12 February 2022

Saturday Rave: A Glimpse by Walt Whitman.

 We will soon be reaching that hellish breeding-ground of bad verse that is Valentine's Day.

So here, for some relief, is something lean and clean and not at all mushy or mawkish. It's by the remarkable American poet Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892).

A Glimpse

A glimpse through an interstice caught,

Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the stove late of a winter night, and I unremark’d seated in a corner,

Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,

A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking and oath and smutty jest,

There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word.




Word To Use Today: interstice. The obvious question is, what is a stice? Sadly, the answer is quite boring. The word interstice comes from the Latin interstitium, which means interval, from sistere, which means to stand. 

In physics, an interstice is the gap between two next-door atoms in the lattice of a crystal.