Tuesday 30 April 2024

Z is for Zero

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter Z
Z is for Zero, from Arabic 'sifr', originally meaning empty, but coming to be used for zero, and its use is quite significant to the development of mathematics. Lots of interesting stuff out there about the history of the concept of nothing, on Wiki and the book 'Zero: the biography of a dangerous idea'. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Found this image on wikimediacommons, it shows the first known graphic representation of zero. On a broken doorjamb, from Trapeang Prei, Sambor, Kratie. Now on display at the National Museum of Cambodia

Monday 29 April 2024

Y is for Yurt

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter Y
Y is for Yurt, from Turkic, meaning 'dwelling place'. While yurts are not widely used in Britain we used to own one and they are a delight to dwell in compared to a conventional tent. It was only small, ten feet I think, but had a proper wooden door that I painted. They do need a trailer to transport and several people to put up. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Saturday 27 April 2024

X is for Xylophone

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter X
X is for Xylophone. Another tough letter in the A to Z so I am going with Xylophone from ancient Greek, like much of our language, from the words meaning 'wood' and 'sound'. There was the most beautiful xylophone in the primary school at Kettlesing, that my kids went to for a while. It was not a silly children's version, a proper adult instrument, that made the most lovely sound. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

(Found a photo but this is way better.)
(I am reliably informed that a Marimba is, of course, a completely different instrument, but I stand by the definition of the greek word that it makes sound from wood😊)

Friday 26 April 2024

W is for Whisky

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter W
W is for Whisky, from the Gaelic 'uisce beatha' (you can hear the word if you say it aloud) which means 'water of life'. My dad drank whisky with water for years when I was a child, his means of winding down after the working day. I would make it for him when I was a teenager, a finger width of whisky and a finger width of water. I am not sure he does so much any more. It seems to be one of those acquired tastes that has been 'having a bit of a moment in the last few years, but I can't stand the stuff myself.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Thursday 25 April 2024

V is for Vigilante

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter V
V is for Vigilante, from the Spanish for 'watchman', but in english it means a person or group of people who take the law into their own hands, enacting justice, often violent, against a perceived crime, sometimes responding to a threat to the status quo. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Image 'Vigilante Days' by Anton Refregier

Wednesday 24 April 2024

U is for Ukulele

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter U
U is for Ukulele, and is wonderfully from Hawaiian, a small guitar-like instrument (although not much like since it only has 4 strings). We have had several in our house over the years; I think Tish gave Monkey's to her boyfriend Jun since he is a music maker. They are surprisingly popular being quick to learn and easy to get a nice sound from.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

I was going to share Pinball Wizard, then I saw this one instead:

Tuesday 23 April 2024

T is for Tattoo

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter T
T is for Tattoo, the practice of making indelible art on skin, coming from the Samoan word meaning 'to strike', and not to be confused with a military tattoo, which is something else entirely. It is an art form that is used across the world with a wide variety of cultural significance; in Japan for example it is connected to the Yakuza and thus still very disreputable compared to its widespread acceptance elsewhere. Tish got her first tattoo at 17 (I think, done by a friend in secret), and now has quite a lot. This is her favourite she says.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Monday 22 April 2024

S is for Schadenfreude

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter S
S is for Schadenfreude, which, let's be honest, is the best borrow word that we use in English. The word is, of course, from German and literally means 'harm joy', and defines the state of pleasure at someone else's pain, discomfort or humiliation. It's so interesting because it describes something that human beings experience almost involuntarily. You hear something on the news, some despicable person has got their comeuppance (and that's another of my favourite words) and you get a lovely little burst of schadenfreude. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
Images in the challenge from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday 20 April 2024

R is for Robot

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter R
R is for Robot, surprisingly from the Czech, a word meaning 'a machine resembling a human being'. It was popularised by the playwright Karel Capek from his play R.U.R. in 1920. Certainly one of the most interesting discoveries while I was researching words for my A to Z.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Friday 19 April 2024

Q is for Quid Pro Quo

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter Q
Q is for Quid Pro Quo, which is a bit of a cheat since much of English comes from Latin but it's Q, which is always the tough day in the A to Z. But it is again an expression used in the original; it literally means 'something for something', translated now as the expression 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours'. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
(image Eric Pevernagie 'If you scratch my back'.)

Thursday 18 April 2024

P is for Pyjamas

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter P
P is for Pyjamas, from the Persian word pajama, originally loose light weight trousers. What's not to love about coming home from work and getting straight into your pyjamas with no intention of going anywhere or doing anything very much for the remainder of the day; pyjamas are the perfect clothing. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge

Wednesday 17 April 2024

O is for Orangutan

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter O
O is for Orangutan, because my words seem to have been very European in origin so far, from Malay, meaning old man of the forest. Tish had a lovely encounter with an orangutan when she visit Borneo many years ago with her college. They are our closest relative and the most intelligent of primates. All three species are critically endangered, mostly due to deforestation. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

N is for Neanderthal

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter N
N is for Neanderthal, from the German, referring to the Neander valley where remains of these ancient humans were discovered. A small proportion of people around today have some Neanderthal DNA but they went extinct about 40,000 years ago. We like to think that we outsmarted them, and that's why we're here and they're not, but maybe they just all got a bad case of the flu.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Monday 15 April 2024

M is for Mosquito

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter M
M is for Mosquito, from the Spanish or Portuguese, literally meaning 'little fly'. Interesting factoid, throughout human history more people have died of malaria than anything else, so mosquitoes have been the biggest threat to humanity, and it still kills over 600,000 people every year. Mosquitoes also spread several other diseases so they are certainly a lot more annoying than a little fly.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Sunday 14 April 2024

Ospreys at Lock Arkaig

The ospreys, Louis and Dorcha, have been back at Loch Arkaig for some weeks now, but we have our first egg. Looking forward to a summer of watching the chicks grow. 😊
Stay safe. Be kind. Watch some wildlife.

Saturday 13 April 2024

L is for Latke

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter L
L is for Latke. We are still with Yiddish today, the source of many of my favourite words. Latkes are a pancake made from grated potato and onions. If hummus is nectar of the gods, latkes are what they have for afters. I'm not sure you would have latkes with hummus ... my instinct says not. I feel sad now because Monkey is in Japan and she was my latke daughter, Tish is not bothered so I have not had any for ages, but you know what, I can see some coming in my near future. That takes us back to the Cooking and Sewing post from 2011, that is also one of my most visited posts, for the instructions for making latkes. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Friday 12 April 2024

K is for Kibitz

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter K
K is Kibitz is one of my most favourite foreign words, from Yiddish 'kibitzer', a spectator who offers unwanted or unsolicited advice, which according to Wikipedia, comes from German 'kibitzen', to look over a card player's shoulder. It's very useful to have a word to put a stop to people who interfere when I am playing sudoku with unhelpful suggestions ... you know who you are. Also Kibosh, possibly from Irish but possibly also from Yiddish, meaning to put an abrupt end to some occurrence or some plan.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Thursday 11 April 2024

J is for Jubilee

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter J
J is for Jubilee, from the Hebrew, is a biblical commandment observed every 50 years concerning ownership of land and slaves, although not observed for many centuries. It is also used by the catholic church and is linked to pilgrimage. Now of course it refers to significant anniversaries, for monarchs or marriages, though why 50 is a significant year and 49 is not remains to be explained. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
(Images for the challenge from Wikimedia commons.)
(Street party in 1977 for the Silver Jubilee)

Wednesday 10 April 2024

I is for Incommunicado

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter I
I is for Incommunicado, from the Spanish 'not permitted to communicate', originally referring to prisoners held in solitary confinement but in English the meaning as been extended to refer to people who voluntarily cut themselves off from others. It seems that communicating with other people is considered an essential part of being human. Many of the images that came up were people campaigning against the use of solitary confinement as a punishment.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

H is for Hummus

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter H
Food glorious food. Despite a reputation for having a bland diet Britain is full of foods that have arrived from other countries, and as such so many of our food words. H is for Hummus, nectar of the gods. It comes from the Arabic word that actually just means chickpea, and our use of Hummus is just a shortening of the phrase that means 'chickpeas with tahini'. My sister is a hummus fiend and sticks a dollop on the side of the plate at whatever meal she is having; I do come back from a visit feeling well nourished, it is packed with all sorts of goodness.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Monday 8 April 2024

G is for Glitch

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter G
G is for Glitch, from the German 'glitschen' or the Yiddish 'glitshn', meaning to slip or slide. I use it a lot at work when people come in and tell me that the tracking says their package is available to collect, when in fact it has been sent back out for delivery. I am guessing it is a word that came about solely because of the existence of computers; did life used to have glitches? I'm not sure it did. 

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
(Images for this challenge taken from Wikimedia Commons)

Saturday 6 April 2024

F is for Fiasco

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter F
F is for Fiasco, from the Italian. There are so many examples for fiasco: The Willy Wonka Experience, yesterday's announcement of yet another Tory politician's fuckup, the never-ending deforestation, but Wikipedia Commons came up with this image of people trying to fight food waste. Trying not to feel like modern life is one huge fiasco ... but it mostly is.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
(I'll try and be more upbeat on Monday)

Friday 5 April 2024

Lynne Reid Banks


I just read of the death of Lynne Reid Banks and memories rushed in on me of her novel The L-shaped Room that I read as a teenager and had a significant impact on me. There were two other follow up novels, extending the story of the same characters, which managed to not spoil the original relationships. There was a film made of the book that naturally she hated, I remember feeling annoyed by it too. It was just a nostalgic moment for me, there is nothing sad about the death of a 94 year old who has live a full and happy life. Thank you for the books Lynne.

E is for Embargo

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter E
Still in Europe again today. E is for Embargo, from the Spanish meaning seize or impound, and now used as a political or economic tool to try and influence other countries ... or simply to express disapproval. The embargo of the United States against Cuba since the revolution is probably one of the most long standing embargoes.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.

Thursday 4 April 2024

Lost Words (not an A to Z post)

I was excited to see 'Time Shelter' by Georgi Gospodinov on the International Booker shortlist having read 'Natural Novel' a few years ago. This book reminded me most strongly of Austerlitz as the main character tells a meandering story of his relationship with Gaustine. To begin with they recreate period specific spaces to help patients with Alzheimers, reproducing not just sights but sounds, smells and tastes from the past. The experiment works so well that other people want to try out the spaces. Then people, finding the present unbearable, start wanting to just live in the past permanently. The 'time shelters' are somewhere people feel safe. The whole things seems to snowball from there until, somewhat akin to Brexit, the countries of Europe take votes to decide what decade they would like to go back and live in. I have not captured anything about the book describing it like this. It is a book about memory and the role it plays for both individuals and society. 

From the beginning of the experiment:
"And so I traveled around, gathering up scents and afternoons, cataloging them. We need a precise and exhaustive description of which scent brings which memories back, what age it affects most strongly, which decade we could call forth with it. I described them in detail and sent my findings to Gaustine. In the clinic, scents could always be re-created when needed. Although some attempted to preserve the very molecules of a given scent, for Gaustine this was a waste of effort. It was much simpler and more authentic to toast a piece of bread or melt a bit of asphalt." (p.51)

Then at the end:
"First a few words disappeared. He turned it into a game, it was a long ago, they were still at the university. He told his wife and his friends those five or six disappearing words and when he needed one of them, they would prompt him - 'cornice,' 'mercantile,' 'rosemary,' 'confrontation'...
One day, perhaps because he had split up with his wife and had quit seeing his friends, and because the words were multiplying, he decided to write them down. At first a single piece of paper was sufficient, then both sides of a sheet of paper. Then another, and another ... Then he got himself a notebook. He called it A Brief Dictionary of the Forgotten. There was also a section for people's names. Gradually the number of sections increased - one for scents that reminded him of various things was added. Then one for sounds, he was going deaf on top of everything. (A doctor had told him that hearing loss and memory loss were related, they shared the same room in the brain.)
Finally yet another section appeared in the notebook, perhaps the most important of all - for that which had actually happened to him, so he could differentiate it from what he had read and from what he had invented.
Sooner or later everything would get mixed up - what had happened, what he had read, and what he had invented would jump up and switch places, until they gradually quieted down and faded away, but for now he was trying to hold the borders in place. Years later his ex-wife would line up for an autograph and he wouldn't be able to find her name in his head ..." (p.272-3)

'Greek Lessons' by Han Kang was similarly on my radar because of 'The Vegetarian' (from 2019). A nameless young woman is losing her son, and all her words, not forgotten but somehow trapped inside, unable to be spoken. She joins an evening class to learn Greek, making language an abstract thing that does not need to be spoken. The Greek teacher is losing his sight. Their lives are both empty but neither seems aware of their loneliness. Neither will admit to their weakness or ask for anything until circumstances force them together.

This is not those circumstances:
"There is a particular expression his face assumes when he addresses someone. His gaze humbly requests the other person's consent; there are occasionally times when something other than deference, something like an inexplicable, delicate sadness, haunts his look.
It was around thirty minutes before the lesson's start, and they were the only ones in the classroom. After taking her seat, she got out her textbook and writing things from her bag one by one, distractedly raised her head, and their eyes met. He stood up from his own chair, which was placed next to the lectern, and approached a desk that was a little distance from hers. After pulling out the chair and making space, he sat down facing the aisle. He raised both hands and lightly interlaced them in the air; it was just for a few moments, but she thought he was asking for a handshake. He was quiet for a while with his hands interlaced like that. As though he were making up his mind whether or not to address her and would let her know in due course. Not long afterwards there was the sound of footsteps in the corridor, and he stood up and went back to his place next to the lectern." (p.71-2)

I seem to have done a lot of very serious reading recently, and while it has been intellectually challenging it has not necessarily been enjoyable. So now I am reading 'The Long Earth' by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter and enjoying it very much. I have also spent a lot of time doing puzzles and not reading, it is relaxing to the brain to focus on something abstract. I am waiting for the rain to stop so I can go outside and sort the yard. 
Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy yourself.

D is for DoppelgÀnger

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter D
German words are so much fun, I love the way they just make new words by compounding existing ones ... some of them get pretty long. D is for DoppelgĂ€nger, which translates literally as 'double-walker'. Who doesn't like the idea that somewhere out there is someone who looks just like them. That just reminded me of one of the most famous doppelgĂ€ngers, and the film 'I Was Monty's Double' about Meyrick Edward Clifton-James and how his resemblance to Field Marshall Montgomery was used by the Allies during the build up to D-Day.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge.
(Images for the challenge taken from Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday 3 April 2024

C is for Coup and Cul

#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter C
Some foreign words are absorbed and become 'englishified' but sometimes we just use words or phrases exactly as the origin country does. We have stolen a lot of vocabulary from Europe, even the French. C is for coup d'Ă©tat and cul-de-sac. I love them because they are like metaphors, describing the thing in terms of similarity to something else. I remember learning the phrase cul-de-sac as a child from a street sign and loving the idea that it was like the bottom-of-the-bag.

Linking back to the A to Z Challenge