It still feels like summer. Temperatures still easily reach into the thirties, there’s no rain, and the lawn looks the driest I’ve seen it since we moved here two and a half years ago. Here is Mentone, close to the bay and the beach. I’m not a beachgoer, but I love that the afternoon sea breeze and the smell of salty seaweed reaches our garden and, when the weather cools down, I enjoy a brisk walk along the bay. Since we’ve moved here, I haven’t wanted to go away — living here feels like enough of a holiday.
Charles Conder‘s painting A holiday in Mentone is said to be ‘the first to capture the intensity and brilliance of Australian light’. It is this light and — in summer — the accompanying heat that keeps me indoors on a day like today.
When Conder was painting here, Mentone had not long become more accessible from Melbourne — the railway had opened in December 1881. And in 1884, to encourage more visitors and residents, the sea baths had opened (visible on the right in the painting).
The lady in the foreground of the painting is reading a magazine with a pink cover (and so was the gentleman who is having a nap below the footbridge), apparently a copy of The Bulletin. This was a controversial (to say the least) weekly publication that had been in existence since 31 January 1880 and that, by the time Conder was busy painting on Mentone beach, was taking contributions from its readership. More and more, it published early work of people who would become Australia’s literary and artistic figures of their time — people like Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Miles Franklin and Norman Lindsay. In October 1887, The Bulletin published Henry Lawson’s first published poem, ‘A Song of the Republic‘, and in December 1888, it would publish his first story, ‘His Father’s Mate‘. In December 1889, it would publish Banjo Patterson’s ‘Clancy of the Overflow‘, followed in 1890 by ‘The Man from Snowy River‘.
Apart from poems, short stories and cartoons, The Bulletin ran political and business news and a page of literary gossip and opinion. Because of its romantic portrayal of outback life, it attracted a strong readership in the outback and became known as the ‘Bushman’s Bible’. From 1908 onwards, the magazine became gradually more conservative and less popular. It lingered on until 2008.
I looked out the window the other day and saw a magpie and a wattlebird in the small fig tree in our garden. It was time to have a look at the figs. I don’t like figs but I don’t like to let food go to waste either, if I can help it, so I looked up some recipes and made fig jam. Sugar, a bit of water, a bit of vanilla, a bit of pectin, a couple of old jars and a fair amount of patience. Money for jam, indeed.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates the word ‘jam’ back to 1736, to Nathan Bailey’s second edition of the Dictionarium Britannicum, in which (according to the OED) Bailey states that the word stems ‘prob. of J’aime, i.e. I love it; as Children used to say in French formerly, when they liked any Thing’. In 1755, however, in his Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson writes: ‘I know not whence derived‘. The OED is careful, too, stating that the word is perhaps derived from the verb ‘to jam’ in the sense of ‘to bruise or crush by pressure’.
Last year, I made my first ever marmalade from cumquats from our garden. Also a great success! Still according to the OED, ‘marmalade’ is an older word than ‘jam’, borrowed from the Portuguese marmelada and dating from 1480. It was originally used to describe a solid quince paste that could be cut in cubes. Citrus fruit only came into the picture from the 17th century onwards, as an optional ingredient, but these days the word ‘marmalade’ is almost exclusively used to denote a preserve made of citrus fruit.
Sometime last week, on the train home, I sat next to a woman who was talking on her mobile phone. She was quite loud, so I couldn’t help overhearing her say, ‘He comes to these meetings with all these problems and we then have to solution them’. I imagine people sitting opposite may have seen me wince. She used ‘solution’ as a verb at least twice more in the phone conversation, so it’s more than likely an acceptable term in her industry. I’m not quite sure why ‘offer solutions’ wouldn’t do instead — or ‘solve’, if that is what she is doing with ‘these problems’ …
The verb ‘solution’ is probably the second-ugliest verb I’ve heard recently, a close second to ‘weaponise’. Although I don’t like them, both verbs are perfectly acceptable language innovations in English. They are instances of verbing, the conversion of a word other than a verb (in these cases a noun) into a verb. Whereas the verb ‘solution’ simply copies the noun ‘solution’, in ‘weaponise’ the suffix ‑ise has been added to the noun ‘weapon’.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates ‘weaponise’ back to 1938, although, these days, it seems to be used figuratively more often (compared with the quotations in the OED). According to the OED, the verb ‘solution’ has existed since 1891 but only as meaning ‘treat with, fasten or secure by, a solution’. It hasn’t been registered (yet) as meaning ‘solve’ or ‘offer a solution’.
Verbing has been around forever. So have nouning (making a noun out of a word that is not a noun, for example ‘ask’ in ‘a big ask’) and adjectiving aka adjing (making an adjective out of a word that is not an adjective, for example ‘fun’ in ‘a fun activity’). Resistance to it has been around for almost forever as well.
Some of these new verbs are useful and stick around; others just disappear — I hope the verb ‘solution’ as I overheard it will go that way …
After days of hot and humid weather, finally, came the rain … Plenty of it. Which made me pause and wonder when cats and dogs came into the picture.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates the phrase ‘to rain cats and dogs’ back to 1738, when Jonathan Swift uses it in A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation. This is an ironic and satirical observation on the ‘art’ of conversation in certain circles of society, jokingly conceived as three handy dialogues that those lacking the ‘art’ can simply memorise. You would think that the language in a work like this would be well-established.
An older phrase, ‘to rain dogs and cats’, can — still according to the OED — be dated back to 1661.
Why cats and dogs? No-one knows.