Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Words And Ways

Continuing the wordy theme - one of the main motivations behind this blog's creation - that suggests a 'use it or lose it' approach to word use, I am reminded of the words of Evelyn Waugh: "One forgets words as one forgets names. One's vocabulary needs constant fertilisation or it will die."

I suppose by fertilisation Waugh meant the adding of words to it to make it grow - not just through the additions, which could easily resemble a meaningless and easily forgotten list, but through the process of learning words, and using them to prevent word amnesia.

Putting together strategies to expand, develop and maintain a vocabulary is like so many things much easier said than done.

Web site 'words of the day' can be pretty helpful, but I've noticed that so many of the words selected as 'wotds' aren't particularly interesting or sometimes seem pretty useless. That said they shouldn't be ignored as good ones do come up, like today's Dictionary.com offering 'equable,' defined by the site as: 'Equal and uniform; not varying. Not easily disturbed; not variable or changing (when) said of the feelings, temper, etc.

If I were use this forum to make a start on developing a strategy, I would continue here by saying that once a words have been excavated from the likes of the word of the day features, they would have to be used straight away. Not with meaningless examples, but as part of a genuine sentence albeit contrived as part of the writing at the time.

At this point I might make reference to being open to - if not new words - underused words, and that in order that I can ensure a learning posture I would have to adopt an equable and determined mind set to see and hear words before fixing them in my mind for easy and effective use by reinforcing memory and understanding by getting them down in live use immediately and then reguarly after that.

Wiktionary,the lexical companion to the open-content encyclopedia Wikepedia also offers a word of the day. I present the real possibilities of overloading here as the point behind the word of the day format can easily be made by reference to just one of them, though I'm bound to explore them all here so as to maximise any validity the system offers even if the article as written is sacrificed in so doing.

Today it has chosen 'contrite' and offers as its definition : 'sincerely penitent or feeling regret or sorrow, especially for one's own actions', which just about says it all really. I have too many reasons to feel contrition almost every day of my life, though I think this is more to do with my easily offended sense of fairness and justice and exaggerated concern for others' feelings than my being inherently bad.

Mirriam Webster has gone for 'mettlesome' today which describes someone or something as full of vigour and stamina : spirited. At a stroke MW illustrates all that is bad for me about word of the day. It has brought up a word I have no interest in and would never use. It's obscurity renders it useless and therefore contrary to what it is I'm trying to achieve. Wallowing in obscurity is the complete opposite of what is aimed at here. Using words like this might give one the intellectual high ground against a background of quizzical looks and metaphorical head scratching, but the user will end up disadvantaged and isolated through the use of such arcane language. Mettlesome (bit like troublesome and bothersome I suppose as in 'you're trouble or you bring bother - but in this case you have bottle) is one to know but not one to use.

Wordsmith comes back with a good one today, and typically it's a word I thought I knew but obviously didn't protean, displaying considerable variety or diversity or readily assuming different shapes or forms. This first definition seems useful, and is probably the root of my misunderstanding thinking that it meant clever and wise. This is probably due to having heard people like Peter Ustinov, Stephen Fry and Orson Welles described thus. Clever as these chaps are, or were, it is to the variety of their talents that we pay homage.

Another technique I might consider could be called intellectual striving. This is describes a method of word pursuit which purposely turns a piece of writing into a huge effort though the seeking out of new, better, more sophisticated words to describe what might otherwise be a mundane piece of work. And I shall examine intellectual striving tomorrow.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Go Tor Words

Dictionary.com and Miriam Webster have chosen good words of the day for me. MW has elected for tor, as in Glastonbury Tor, a strange coincidence given the material I have just drawn on to create my last blog entry, and D.com have added the suffix pid to make torpid their word of the day which describes my physical and mental state at the moment perfectly.

Torpid. Having lost motion or the power of exertion and feeling; numb; benumbed.2. Dormant; hibernating or estivating. Dull; sluggish; apathetic.

Since recently working an additional 50 hours over a weekend and several evenings and into the early mornings recently - an additional workload I hope is now at an end, I can state quite categorically that I fit all the above descriptions. Power of exertion, gone, benumbed? That's me. Sluggish and apathetic? Oh yes. It's a wonder I've been able to drag myself to this post creating box.

'It is a man's own fault . . . if his mind grows torpid in old age' said Dr Johnson.

Perhaps writing this blog will contribute to keeping age related torpor away.


Rock And Knoll

The climb began. I had resisted for a while. A panic stricken schoolmaster had scaled half way up the rock so that from the relative safety of an alcove, he could hang out and give his wretched charges encouraging hoiks, like a Sergeant Major paratrooper in reverse go (up) go (up). I wasn't going to let him encouragingly hoik me, but from his position he might have found it difficult to resist. And I might have had difficulty in resisting telling him where to go, so I hung back. Good thinking I thought.

Once the rock was clear. I tip-toed like a drunk over the last few wobbly rocks soon found that as usual my route was at odds with everyone else's, on this occasion bringing me within spatter distance of the waterfall and the greened up slime face guaranteed to provide no purchase at all to amateur climbers like me.

I muttered an imprecation under my breath and gave thanks for the foresight that kept me back until all the other climbers (particularly the smart arse teens and their fussy master) had disappeared. Self knowledge is a wonderful thing, I have the world's worst sense of direction and almost topple over with the happy load of gratitude I have each day of my life I remember that I'm not an airline pilot or homing pigeon. So I knew I'd make a hash of the route in, and I did.

Once I had manoeuvred myself away from the slippery stuff with nothing worse than a boot full of water and slightly distorted specs I began the climb.

I remembered some of the tips I had been given when I climbed Jack's Rake last year: don't use your knees as there's less skin on the caps than there is on your skull, don't look down, test every hold - both foot and hand before applying weight, and don't stop until you get to the top.

And that was it. I reached the top without incident. I'm getting rather good at this climbing thing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


The Gordale Scare

During my recent visit to the Yorkshire Dales I visited for the first time in my life The Gordale Scar, a spectacular split in the limestone hills caused by a fault line and believed by many geologists to be the remains of a huge underground cavern whose roof collapsed around the time of the last ice age.

Artist's depictions of The Gordale Scar can be found by a Google Image search and he results range from a Turner who must have seen it as a smudgy mess of swirling clouds and fog and looks as if he painted it in about five minutes with a mixy paint cotton wool dip and a pre-school kiddie style of finger and thumb circular motions, to the lesser known James Ward who did it far better justice, but who seemed to see it in terms of Hell on Earth.

It is as they say a pretty dramatic feature. Made no less so when you are confronted with it as you turn a corner and face it. There is no long walk up to the scar allowing you to catch sight of it miles away and then gradually approaching it as you prepare yourself for the up close and personal 'wow' moment. It happens all of a sudden. You walk benignly for ages looking at bland green hills and clusters of rock ribs and stones that go on forever and finding only the endless sheep's range of bleating registers interesting, you turn a corner that could almost have been stage managed by some by some great natural production manager, and there it is, in all its sock knocker off, flabbergasting wonder, the greatest show in the Dales!

Maybe its looming presence it what Ward wanted to capture. It is quite intimidating - partly because of its shock value, it almost causes a cheap horror film clip startle, partly by its lugubrious menace, the pathetic fallacy all too difficult to ignore. The idea though is not to balk, not to take a quick snap and leg it, but to get up to it, get to know it, conjoin with it and literally get your leg over it.

Tne Gordale Scar is there to be taken. A baggage there to be bagged. But I'm no climber and I wasn't going public with my basic skills and feeble bravery. I waited for the area to clear of other visitors and climbers. Stealthily taking note of the surface area, the holds favoured and those ignored, the slip risk areas and the breather stops. Once the last climber had scrambled to the top - and not all did some teetered down not wishing to commit to the whole experience, I set off.

Before starting the climb I had to negotiate a stream-rocky balancing act looking and feeling like an inelegant two legged frog leaping from rock to stone as if they were lilly pads and tottering my way to the climb start.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Getting All Wordy Again

Words words words.

This blog will never go far without them. And I need constant reminders of what words are out there if this blog isn't to degenerate into a repetition of monosyllables and boringly repeated words.

I'm on to new words like a deadly germ, but aside from rather specialised words, not that many are actually completely new to me. Probably a symptom of a lifetime of lexical interest through dictionary browsing and notebook compilations. But I still need all the help I can get or give myself so I intend to give time over to underused or forgotten words in an effort to encourage me to use then more often.

In the spirit of this thinking I now subscribe to a number of word a day web sites. These sites are more properly described as dictionary sites which run a word of the day feature, which the owners of the site will, on request following subscription, send to your email inbox every day.

This in theory should assist in the learning (in the case of any new words) and reinforcement of words, and I hope will help this blog to be better written. Well will have to see about that, but in the mean time here are some of the recent words of the days that I have received:

The first one is ' incontrovertible' courtesy of Dictionary.com. This word is defined by Dictionary.com as 'Too clear or certain to admit of dispute; indisputable; unquestionable. The word often appears before the word 'evidence' as in evidence that is so strong it beyond dispute. It is 'incontrovertible evidence.'

The creatively named vocabvitamins.com site suggests that noblesse is worthy of additional attention today reminding its readers that noblesse is often teamed up with oblige and is used to describe with the condition of privilege and how it comes with responsibility (often used sarcastically.) I wonder if there is incontrovertible evidence that the Queen of England had a certain noblesse oblige in that her privilege forced her to yield to her subjects collective will a few years ago ( the half masted royal Standard flying above Buckingham Palace during the week after the death of The Princess Of Wales in 1997).

Merriam-Webster, another online dictionary has today selected 'bricolage' as its word of the day. Bricolage of course means something constructed and achieved by using whatever comes to hand. It can be used in the kitchen for example to describe the creative uses of leftovers ("culinary bricolage") or in the workshop when cobbling together of disparate computer or motor engine parts ("technical bricolage"). A useful little word, bricolage. But not chosen randomly. Words of the day never are. There is nearly always a theme to structure around these nuggets.

Noblesse comes out of Vocab vitamin's week long theme of 'upper crust' words, 'Wordsmith's ' word of the day today is margaritaceous which is an unusual word to describe 'pearly' and that has been chosen as an 'unusual word' which is Wordsmith's theme this week.

Incidentally Margarita, the tequila cocktail, is named after Margarita, the Spanish form of the name Margaret, meaning pearl. Just in case, like me, you didn't know.

Monday, May 15, 2006


The Dales' Diaries

I spent the week-end walking the Yorkshire Dales. But as always my spontaneity has to be planned, and the choice of the village of Malham was no coincidence. The accommodation booked was a shrine to all things modest, a creaky guest house with a room set aside for us which resembled a starving poet's garret, and a breakfast room probably reclaimed for business from the family's off- season use. Photos of the kids and battered board games strewn around were obvious reminders of a recent end to a long, lean winter. But the setting was ideal, right in the middle of Malhamdale's two must see locations.

On arrival I hardly had the time or inclination to consider how beautiful the setting was. I was too busy making a hash of parking the car in the narrowest of gaps set aside for residents, allowing my pristine rear bumper to make a sickening thud on to the jagged protrusions from the Yorkshire building's walls. And sweat-hefting bags, bottles of wine, back packs, and about half a ton of clothes, delicately draped over spindly hangars, up a succession of staircases so narrow anyone wider than a snooker cue ran the risk of fat man's wedge and so steep I thought I was ascending the sheer face of Malham Cove.

There I go, name dropping already. Our first walk was indeed to Malham Cove. On one of the hottest days of this year we set off to find the cove. Uphill all the way, this was to be one walk that was more challenging than the guest house stairs. The cove at 80 metres high and 300 metres wide resembles a cliff face.

Mere mortals are generally happy to have got there and to stand beneath it making cooing noises at its height and majesty, and admire the peregrine falcons wheeling around as if magnetized by the whiteness of the face. Others cling to it with sucker hands and feet and invisible lines which may or may not save their lives should they lose their grips or footings.

Sooty markings seem to scour the grey-whiteness which apparently prompted Charles Kingsley to suggest that a chimney sweep might have thrown himself off the top whilst fully blacked and brushed leaving behind a sooty trail as he tumbled downwards. Kingsley was a fan of this area, hanging out around the cove and Malham Tarn dreaming up the early drafts of The Water Babies. I found myself wishing that he'd flung himself from the cove - chimney sweep style - before writing the book, which would have saved me from reading this near unreadable book to my children.

Leaving the human flys to their sport, or fate, dangling like puppets but obviously in robust spirits cracking climbing-themed jokes to each other which echoed for miles, we took the track to the top. Giving the drop a healthy berth, we picked our way along the limestone pavement as if playing an exaggerated game of mind the cracks, carefully avoiding the deep clints and grykes in the surface which looked like a giant's concrete path that had been smashed, with teeth gritting vigour, with a huge sledge hammer.

We circled around clipping bits of the Pennine Way here and there - carefully avoiding all signs to the Gordale Scar which was to be our next walk.I was beginning to wonder how author Bill Bryson stayed a tub of lard all the time he lived around here, after all, he did like a walk, did Bill. But then, if like me he repaired to any one of the two delightful pubs in the village at the end of each climb or ramble, and re-hydrated with pints of Old Peculiar and re-energised with huge plates of wholesome Yorkshire food, he's forgiven.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


The Hard Word

Courtesy of a subscription to Word.com and being the holder of a curious and quzzical ear for sounds as well as a weakness for wordy grandstanding, I have come across the word 'Cunctation' a word until now I never knew existed.

It looks and indeed sounds like a rather lewd sibling of punk and cunt both rude in the case of the first and top dog in word shockery in the case of the second. Cunctation is actually perfectly decent. It comes from the Latin "cunctari," which means"to hesitate." There are the adjectives too "cunctatory," "cunctatious," and"cunctative" ("tending to delay"), and the noun "cunctator" ("one who delays")

Word.com goes on to say that " although "cunctation" has been around for over 400 years, (it is) pretty rare, but that's not to say that no one ever uses (it) now. " It goes on to prove that it is a living word by making vague references to it being a 'lawyer's word', but cites as a specific example: "The FAA has a cunctative approach to supervising airline security"which was lifted from the rather unlikely source, Playboy Magazine though what on earth it was doing reporting on airline security let alone using a word like cunctative is beyond me.


Nice Building Madam

Here as promised to my legion of readers is the Lamphey Court. I thankyoo!

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