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Word of the Week: Wet

otter word of the week

It’s hard to say this when there are otters swimming down your street and your living room’s knee deep in sewage but we ought to be grateful for the rain. It’s a wet planet we live on – 71% of its surface is covered in water (probably more like 72% at the moment) – and that is what makes it our home.

We are wet. More than 50% of the human body is water and if we don’t drink the stuff for three days we die. Simple as that. We wouldn’t last long on Mars.

The reason I’m telling you all this stuff you probably already know is because of the word dishevelled. I’ll explain. (more…)

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Word of the Week: Form

form word of the week

Apologies if you’re still recovering from filling in your Tax Return and have had it up to here with forms, but this won’t tax you, there are no cookies to approve and, as an incentive, I’ve thrown in an interesting fact about cheap worktops that you might want to share in the pub this evening. I’m not here to bother you with questions. Well, apart from these two…


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Word of the Week: Tackle

At 11pm tonight (our time, not their time), the UK leaves the EU. Life will never be the same again. Well, until 2.15pm tomorrow when Wales welcome Italy to Cardiff. And then 4.45pm when Scotland play Ireland in Dublin. And then 3pm on Sunday, when England tackle France in Paris.

Tackle – there’s a word that transcends international borders – French: tacle; Welsh: taclo; Scottish: tackle… We adopted it from the Germans and it has become an essential word in the culture of English-speaking countries. (more…)

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Word of the Week: Gargle

Gargle word of the week

The sun is out, the sky is blue, Trump hasn’t nuked anyone for a day or two, but it’s raining – raining in my heart.

Or rather head.

For reasons best known to itself, and without issuing demands, some virus or bacterium or other has chosen to attack my head, causing the various fleshy chambers inside by skull to go into the mucus business, in the same way that Ford went into the car business. (more…)

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Word of the Week: Nibble

Ainsley. Babcock. Bland. Carthorse. Dint. Ellesworth-Beast Major. Ellesworth-Beast Minor. Haemoglobin. Kosegin. Loudhailer. Mattock. Nancy-Boy Potter. Nibble. Orifice. Plectrum. Poins. Sediment. Soda. Ta. Undermanager. Zob.

Those of you with long memories and a birth date prior to 1970 will immediately recognise this as the register of names that featured in Rowan Atkinson’s ‘schoolmaster’ sketch, one of the highlights of The Secret Policeman’s Ball of 1979 – back in the days when charity fundraisers brought out the best in live entertainment, not the worst.


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Word of the Week: Aftermath


They’ve done the math, now for the aftermath.

In an attempt to take my mind off things, I’ve been studying Greek. It helps to understand manifestos. Mathematics, I discovered, comes from two Greek words: ‘mathema’ (knowledge) and tekhne (technical). So the ‘math’ bit refers to knowledge, hence ‘polymath’: someone who knows a lot – a smartarse. (more…)

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Word of the Week: Stick

Man with stick

The word ‘gallivanting’ came up the other day and I thought, “Great! That’s Word of the Week taken care of.” But on further investigation, it turned out that ‘gallivanting’, for all its syllables and connotations of wanton behaviour, is a rather one-dimensional word with very little to say for itself. A word of no known origin but possibly derived from ‘gallant’. How disappointing.

But just as I was about to close the book on ‘gallivanting’, another word caught my eye; a word that is synonymous with ‘gallivant’. “Surely not ‘stick’!” I hear you cry. No, not stick. Not yet. The word that caught my eye was ‘gad’.

Gad, like gallivant, conjures up images of dandies prancing about from place to place, possibly on a horse, possibly not, generally being irresponsible. It has its spin-offs too: gadabout (one who gads) and gadfly (another one who gads).

“What about the stick?” I hear you sigh. Stick with it, it’s coming.

The verb ‘to gad’ seems to have been popular in the 1400s, when it meant ‘to hurry’. It derived this meaning from the noun ‘gad’, which was a pointed stick for driving oxen. That’s right, specifically for driving oxen. How you distinguish a pointed stick for driving oxen from any other pointed stick is anyone’s guess.

“Hey, Waulter!” (Waulter was a popular name in those days). “Hey, Waulter! Drive that ox for me, will you?”

“Sorry, Godefryd. No can do. I haven’t got my gad with me.”

“Well, can’t you just use that long, pointed stick over there?”

“Pfff! Naive. That’s a beehive poking stick.”

Back in the Dark Ages, Germanic tribes developed a fondness for words involving lots of Gs and Ds and the occasional Z and they all meant something thin and pointy. In some cases it was a rod, in others it was a nail or a spike. From these came the word ‘gad’, but also ‘yard’. The yard-arm of a ship is so called because of its shape, not because of its length. Let’s face it, if it was only a yard long the ship would probably fall over or something.

Clearly words containing Gs and Ds weren’t the origin of the word ‘stick’, though. That was the German ‘stecken’, which meant to stab or prick. In other words, what you might do with a gad, rather than the gad itself. But there is a point at which the bloodline of the two words merges. Both have their roots in the Latin ‘instigare’, which meant (you guessed it) instigate or (you may not have guessed) goad. And from goad it is but a short step to gad.

So why is this joke funny?
Q: What’s brown and sticky?
A: A stick.
A stick isn’t sticky, unless you’ve stuck it in a beehive. But because sticks were used for sticking into things, the verb ‘to stick’ came to apply to anything that was fixed in place, whether that was through the use of drawing pins or glue.

If you’re a stickler for the correct use of these words, though, you might be disappointed to learn that ‘stickler’ has no ancestral relationship with ‘stick’ and, therefore, no place in this article. Sorry about that. I just thought it was interesting that ‘stickler’ comes from the 16th century word ‘stickle’, which meant to mediate, not from ‘stick’ which didn’t.

More interesting than gallivant anyway.

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