Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Wordy Wednesday: “if they use these words, don’t buy their shares”

DictionariesAt school, maths geeks and word nerds are often to be found in opposing camps. However, financial analysts like Terry Smith, founder of Fundsmith.co.uk and chief executive of broker Tullett Prebon, and my partner, a technical analyst in a London/New York-based stockbroking firm, have a foot in both, and can recognise woolly words in copy as easily as they can spot a double top, a double bottom, a head and shoulders, a bullish engulfing pattern or a Prussian helmet* in a graph.

(*I’m assured that these are all legitimate financial patterns, rather than sexual peccadillos.) 

Read more…

Wordy Wednesday: slang (check out the Gizoogle gangsta slang)

A dog's portion

A dog’s portion

The word ‘slang’ first showed up in English in the middle of the 18th century, when it was defined as ‘low and vulgar words used only by people of disreputable character’. The vulgar words it describes have doubtless been around since the advent of language itself. Slang is often vivid and evocative, and can offer a tantalising glimpse into the mores and lifestyles of long-dead societies. And some of it, particularly a few of the examples of 18th Century slang I’ve shown below, I’d love to resurrect.

In the 1700s, if someone offered you a dog’s portion, the best you could hope for was a lick and a smell, whereas with a bog orange you’d at least be getting food, even if it was only a potato… Those who got very drunk (as they might well do on such meagre rations) might be berated for being drunk as Davy’s sow, and if they then vomited, were likely to be ridiculed for casting up their accounts.

A bog orange

A bog orange

If a friend suggested you hang an arse and cast an eye over an apple dumpling shop, you’d unfortunately be no nearer getting fed than you would with a dog’s portion: the suggestion would instead be for you to hold back and admire a woman’s ample bosom. And if, instead of doing so, you called him bacon-fed or a beef-head he’d probably give you a thump, because you clearly considered him either fat and greasy, or an idiot.

An erection was known as a horn or the horn, for obvious reasons, and any man having the horn (James Joyce used the term in Ulysses) was called horny, a slang word which still denotes somebody lecherous or sexually excited, though, despite its penile genesis, it is now used for both men and women.

(Many of the above definitions came from the highly entertaining Dictionary of Old Slang, which is well worth a gander…)  Read more…

‘Penis dunking’ – a fab bit of over-sharing on Mumsnet

Mumsnet penis beaker

If you thought Mumsnet was all about sharing tips on breastfeeding tips and baby-friendly boltholes (like the fabulous Villa Jalon, near Valencia, run by Sarah & Johnny Robinson), the content of the current twitter and media storm might surprise you…

The Mumsnet penis-dunking post – yes, you read that right – even made it onto Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 earlier… The original poster has kept her composure remarkably well, seemingly convinced that any moment now someone else is going to ‘fess up to having a dedicated post-coital clean-up section too...

Comments like this – “Even if you have an acid fanjo and his sperm is nine tenths itching powder, surely you can use the bathroom at the same time? You can wash your fanjo in the bath and he can scrub his cock in the sink,” – had me crying with laughter. If you haven’t yet done so, it’s definitely worth following the link and reading the entire thread.


Wordy Wednesday: bibliotherapy

The Novel CureBibliotherapy: like shopping therapy, but with sensible shoes…

I don’t know about you, but whatever the difficulties I’m facing in my life, whether it’s struggling in my relationship with my step-family, having a bit of a middle-aged crisis or suffering from a God-awful hangover, a good book usually helps. While it may not sort things out, it does the next best thing – delighting, distracting and developing my mind.

This week’s problem was that I was running out of time: Wordy Wednesday was due, and I hadn’t had a chance to think about posting, when a friend sent me a link to The Novel Cure, by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. Bibliotherapy indeed!

Promising prescriptions for everything from pessimism to broken hearts, The Novel Cure is a beautifully produced gem of a book. The website even has an alphabetical ‘Surgery’ that lets you search for your ailment and read up on its cure.

‘C,’ for instance, is for Carelessness, with The Little Prince being proscribed as the cure… ‘K’ is for Killjoy, with Daniel Defoe’s Roxanna, the ultimate good-time girl, set to silence your inner party pooper. One of my favourites (and one of the most apposite) prescriptions is that of The Remains of the Day for Procrastination, which shows how, by trying to avoid uncomfortable emotions, untold opportunities for happiness and success pass us by.
A book for dipping into again and again…

The Novel Cure - Remedies

noun \ bi-blē-ə-
’ther-ə-pē, -’the-rə-py:
the prescribing of fiction
for life’s ailments (Berthoud
and Elderkin, 2013)

Are you weary in Brain and Body? Do you desire a Positive Cure for your Pessimism? Do you require Bronte to re-boot your Broken Heart? Do you despair of your Nose? Can Fielding open your Flood Gates? Or Pynchon purge your Paranoia? May we administer Austen to curb your Arrogance? Hemingway for your Headache? An injection of du Maurier for your low Self-Esteem? Are you Shy, Single, Stressed or Sixty? Are your Vital Statistics in need of some Spark? May we massage you with Murakami? Ease your pain with Woolf or Wodehouse? Do you require the Very Book to lessen your Loneliness?


Wordy Wednesday: idiom

PauloHere is Paulo, one of my loveliest friends. A Brazilian who came to London as a teenager and lived here for 20 years, Paulo speaks perfect English, but I have to admit that I love it when the words falling from his lips retain a flavour of his home town, Rio. Here are a few of the Brazilian / Portuguese idioms that find their way into his conversations in English:

“Caught the tram already going,” meaning to misinterpret a conversation you’ve joined mid-way through.

“Sand got inside,” refers to things going wrong, someone putting a spanner in the works (to use an English idiom), or something being really grating.

“This is too much sand for my truck,” meaning, this is more than I can cope with.

“The cows have gone to the swamp,” meaning you’re getting bogged down; you’re stuck; nothing’s progressing.

“You’re letting water in,” you’re making no sense; you’re making an idiot of yourself.

The thing with idioms is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (that’s an idiom, too…): you can’t translate them word for word and get to the meaning, which makes them tough for non-native speakers to get their heads around (that’s another one). But I love them because they enrich the language, act as shorthand and reflect the attitudes and culture they originate from…

idiom |ˈidēəm|


1 a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., rain cats and dogs, see the light).

• a form of expression natural to a language, person, or group of people : he had a feeling for phrase and idiom.

• the dialect of a people or part of a country.

2 a characteristic mode of expression in music or art : they were both working in a neo-Impressionist idiom.

ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from French idiome, or via late Latin from Greek idiōma ‘private property, peculiar phraseology,’ from idiousthai ‘make one’s own,’ from idios ‘own, private.’

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