Tag: words

Word of the week: sinister

Monday, 8 July, 2019

The adjective sinister, with its meaning of evil, entered the English vocabulary early in the 15th century. It came from the Old French senestre, sinistre “contrary, false; unfavourable; to the left”, and its origins are in the Latin sinister, meaning “left, on the left side”.

The Latin word was used in augury, the Roman religious practice of interpreting omens from the flights of birds. Flights of birds, seen on the left side, were regarded as bringing misfortune, and in this way sinister acquired a sense of “harmful, adverse.”

When the augur interpreted flights of birds, it was referred to “taking the auspices”. This comes from the Latin auspicium and auspex, literally “one who looks at birds”.

Flight of birds

In His Own Words: Bob Dylan paints

Sunday, 13 November, 2016 0 Comments

“I believe that the key to the future is in the remnants of the past. That you have to master the idioms of your own time before you can have any identity in the present tense.” So writes Bob Dylan, the recent Nobel laureate in Literature, in the introduction to Bob Dylan, The Beaten Path, an exhibition of his landscapes at the Halcyon Gallery in London. The exhibition is on view until Sunday, 11 December.

Bob Dylan

Words: selfie and dronie

Wednesday, 4 November, 2015 0 Comments

The word “selfie” was first used in September 2002, in a forum posting on the website of the Australian public broadcaster ABC:

“Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps,” said the poster, student who called himself Hopey. “I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

No surprise, of course, when one considers other Australian diminutives: “barbie” for barbecue and “firie” for firefighter. It was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013. Definition: “informal noun (plural: selfies), a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

Speaking of selfies and their place of etymological origin, here’s a cautionary tale: a woman who posted one with the barcode on her Melbourne Cup ticket had her $825 winnings stolen. In happier news from the neighbourhood, All Black rugby star Sonny Bill Williams took an Oscar-inspired selfie. BTW, if you need some selfie esteem, Andrej Karpathy has written an algorithm to rate the results.

Last year, the noun “dronie” entered the vernacular. It’s “a video self-portrait taken by a self-controlled drone” and Vimeo employee Alex Dao is credited with coining the word in response to this excellent video posted by Amit Gupta.

Meanwhile, Alex Chacon, the creator of the around-the-world epic selfie video has made an epic “dronie” of his latest adventure in Mexico.

Finally, “Dronestaventure” was made by Michael Lopp using a DJI Phantom 3 Standard. The music is Buzzin’ by the Canadian DJ, producer and graphic designer Edmond Huszar, better known by his stage name OVERWERK.

This year’s Word of the Year? In our age of emoji, either # or ♥.

Found wisdom

Friday, 16 October, 2015 1 Comment

My mother had a habit of jotting down facts, figures and bits of wisdom that took her fancy. The scripts were ornamented with arrows, underscores and ambiguous spellings. Here’s an example:

Mammy's wisdom

Click bait

Wednesday, 27 May, 2015 0 Comments

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has added 1,700 words to its corpus and it’s expanded existing entries “by more than 700 new senses.” In a blog post, Emily Brewster writes: “We’ve added 3,200 examples that provide contextual information, and another 200 entries for some of the words people most frequently look up have been updated and enhanced.” Among the additions are emoji, jegging, photobomb, slendro and click bait:

Click bait

The one caveat we have about the the Merriam-Webster announcement is that the selected words are presented as PNG images. This is a major no-no when it comes to web accessibility. First of all, text downloads in a fraction of the time that it takes images to download and it’s also much easier to edit plain text content. Secondly, and critically for users who need to enlarge content to see it clearly, text scales without loss of clarity when enlarged (using Ctrl + in Windows browsers, or Apple + in Mac browsers). And images of text do not enlarge at all in some browsers or they become pixilated and difficult to read as they get larger. Finally, Merriam-Webster fails to offer alternate text on these informative images. That’s another serious offence against accessibility.


Wednesday, 25 March, 2015 0 Comments

n. Gas or oil that is ready to be fracked, but remains in the ground pending higher petroleum prices.”

The invaluable Word Spy is keeping our vocabulary fresh with updates  from The Financial Times, Barron’s and Bloomberg Business. And here’s another for the list:

“The backlog of wells waiting to be fracked — some are calling it fracklog — adds to the record above-ground inventories to restrain any significant price resurgence. Eventually, however, the economic fundamentals have to prevail, and we will settle down to a price around the true long-run marginal cost.” Source: Oilprice.com

If you like etymology, you’ll love Keywords for the Age of Austerity by John Patrick Leary, Assistant Professor of English at Wayne State University. This is good:

Less moralistic than “nimble” and less prophetic than “innovation,” the concept of “flexibility” still retains some of the esoteric pixie dust that surrounds the cult of the innovator. “Innovation” frames wealth as the natural product of market-driven, individualistic, visionary creativity. With “flexibility” and the right software, our bosses can even conquer time, and bend it, along with us, to their immediate requirements.


Wednesday, 8 October, 2014 0 Comments

Definition: a pluviophile is a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days. Origin: Latin pluvialis, from pluvia rain, from feminine of pluvius rainy, from pluere to rain. Note: A psekaphile is one who likes drizzling rain, and an hyetophile is one who likes rain in general.

hiybbprqag, moledro, kairosclerosis, sonder

Wednesday, 27 November, 2013 0 Comments

“An original lexicon of emotions we don’t have words for,” is what John Koenig calls his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Take, for example, his noun trumspringa, which means “the temptation to step off your career track and become a shepherd in the mountains, following your flock between pastures with a sheepdog and a rifle, watching storms at dusk from the doorway of a small cabin, just the kind of hypnotic diversion that allows your thoughts to make a break for it and wander back to their cubicles in the city.” And then there’s sonder, “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”

Those who know their German will be aware that the prefix sonder means “special”, so it’s nice to see John Koenig porting it over to English and giving it a new twist. This lexical traffic flows both ways, of course, and the English adjective that means “very useful or helpful” has been reinterpreted by German as its word for mobile phone.