Monday, 26 October 2015

Obscure Language Facts

Buzzfeed compiled a list of obscure language facts in English so here is a selection. Thank you to Matt (@mjmralph) for sending me this!

In Old English, hiccups were nicknamed ‘elf-chokes’.

One third of an inch is called a ‘barleycorn’ which is still used to measure shoe sizes.

A ‘mileway’ is one third of an hour because it takes 20 minutes to walk one mile.

When we drink from a glass perhaps the least appetising part is when there is a small amount left at the bottom which is usually lukewarm or flat. The amount left in the bottom of a glass is called a ‘heeltap’.

If you are in ‘whispershot’ of someone you are close enough to hear what they are whispering.

‘Happy’ is used three times more often than ‘sad’ in English.

The word ‘aghast’ means to be frightened by a ghost. It comes from an Old English word ‘gæstan’ meaning to terrify from ‘gæst’ meaning ‘spirit or ghost’.

‘Time’ is the most common noun, followed by ‘person’ in second, ‘day’ in third, ‘way’ in fourth, and ‘year’ in fifth.

Nowadays a ‘casino’ is associated with gambling and tend to be rather large buildings. The word actually originates from Italian and means ‘little house’ emanating from Latin ‘casa’ meaning ‘cottage’. Casinos used to be a public room for dancing and music. ‘Chalet’ also takes its name from the same root.

The next word I love – ‘grawlix’ refers to a string of symbols that replace letters if a writer isn’t brave enough to write a swear word out in full, such as ‘f*@& Off!’

Some of you may live by water. If you live by a river you are an ‘amnicolist’ and if you dwell by the sea you are an ‘orarian’.

One of the masters of the English language, William Shakespeare, wrote almost forty plays and over 100 sonnets. But he only wrote one word beginning with the letter ‘X’: byword Xanthippe in The Taming of the Shrew describing a bad-tempered woman.

‘Four’ is the only word with the same number of letters.

An ‘overmorrow’ is the day after tomorrow.

The OED’s entry for ‘set’ is two-times longer than Animal Farm.

People with English as their main language will spend 11% of the time writing the letter ‘E’.

Roughly 6% of everything you read or write will be ‘the’.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Decoding words using 'Ac-'

Image result for mountainIf we take the prefix ‘ac-‘ and look at a variety of words that begin with those two letters, we see how they are linked. ‘Ac-‘ in Latin means the pinnacle, tip or highest point of something.

‘Acme’ was popularised by the Looney Tunes cartoons and was a US brand name deliberately spelt in a way that it would appear at the top of an alphabetical list of companies; the idea being it would be the first choice of customers who couldn’t be bothered to read further down the list of brand names.

‘Acne’ also uses the same prefix and refers to spots or small pinnacles on the skin.

The original ‘acrobats’ were tightrope walkers and the idea was they would walk and balance on the highest point of something.

The mid seventeenth-century term ‘acropolis’ originally referred to Athens and was the fortified part that was usually built on a hill.

Someone who has ‘acrophobia’ is afraid of heights.

An ‘acronym’ uses the tip or pinnacle of words (the first letters) and puts them together, such as ‘laser’ meaning ‘light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation which derives from the 1960s.

Similarly, an ‘acrostic’ poem is a poem formed when each line starts with a letter of a particular word.


However, it does not work with all words that begin with ‘ac’. ‘Accolade’ for example, comes from the Latin via French ‘accolada’ (‘ac’ meaning ‘to’ and ‘collum’ meaning ‘neck’) because the first accolades were hugs given around the neck rather than the tap of a sword on a shoulder as the tradition is today in a knighthood ceremony.