Category Archives: new and old words

changing seasons


Landscape at Le Cannet, the white trees (1940) by Pierre Bonnard. Painting held in a private collection. Public domain.

The first of March is officially the start of autumn Down Under, but here we are, trying to keep cool in an ‘unseasonal’ heatwave. Perhaps a sign of things to come? Or, perhaps we’re still looking at our seasons from a misguided European perspective? Or, perhaps both.

This year, in our garden at least, I will start using the five-season system proposed by Tim Entwistle, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Victoria, based on his look at nature around him and on the fact that Indigenous communities around this country apply varying categorisations of the seasons.

This is what our five seasons look like according to Tim Entwistle on his blog, Talking Plants:

[Our] seasonal year starts with sprinter (August and September), the early Australian spring. That’s when the bushland and our gardens burst into flower. That’s also when that quintessential Australian plant, the wattle, is in peak flowering across Australia. Next is sprummer (October and November), the changeable season, bringing a second wave of flowering. Summer (December to March) should be four months long, extending into March when there are still plenty of fine, warm days. Autumn (April and May) barely registers in Sydney but further south we get good autumn colour on mostly exotic trees, as well as peak fungal fruiting. Winter (June and July) is a short burst of cold weather and a time when the plant world is preparing for the sprinter ahead.

The new words ‘sprinter’ and ‘sprummer’ are so-called blend words, respectively of ‘spring + winter’ and ‘spring + summer’. So far, these words have not made it into our dictionaries yet. Let’s see if they will catch on …

twelfth night

Last month, I noticed some advertisements inspired by the ‘twelve days of Christmas’. RSPCA Victoria, for example, had a Facebook campaign called the ‘12 strays of Christmas’. Creative, yes. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, they were advertising in the weeks leading up to Christmas, whereas the twelve days of Christmas don’t start until Christmas Day and end on twelfth night, on 5 January …


Three Kings’ Day in Flanders, 2010. Image in public domain.

The following day, on 6 January, some Christian churches celebrate the Epiphany, the visit of the three wise men to the infant Jesus. In Flanders, this day is called ‘three kings’ day’ (driekoningendag) or ‘thirteen-day’ (dertiendag).

Around that time, it is custom for children to dress up as one of the three kings (or wise men). In groups of three, they go knocking on doors, often carrying a homemade Star of Betlehem on a stick, and sing ‘three kings’ songs’ to receive sweets in return. Bakeries sell the ‘three kings’ tart’ (driekoningentaart). This cake traditionally contains a dry bean. Whoever gets the bean gets to be king or queen for the day and wear a crown!


The feast of the bean king (c. 1640–45) by Jacob Jordaens. Painting held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. Public domain.

caveat emptor

The Christmas panic is at its peak. Let the buyer beware … that in the end most presents become waste.

As a serial ‘no-gifter’ and ‘re-gifter’, I want to share this image (and the new word ‘buyerarchy’ … ) with you. Its message may help take some stress out of things, if not now then next year.


Image © Sarah Lazarovic.


On the occasion of the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, Thomas Hardy wrote the poem ‘And there was a great calm’. This is the last stanza.


Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
The Sinister Spirit sneered: ‘It had to be!’
And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, ‘Why?’

The word ‘aftermath’ springs to mind.

Nevinson, Christopher Richard Wynne, 1889-1946; Rain and Mud after the Battle

Rain and mud after the battle (1917) by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson. Painting held in Museums Sheffield, UK. Public domain.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘-math’ is related to ‘mow’ and the word ‘aftermath’ has been in use since the end of the 15th century, meaning ‘a second crop or new growth of grass […] after the first has been mown or harvested’.

A century and a half later the word is also used figuratively to mean ‘a period or state of affairs following a significant event, esp. when that event is destructive or harmful’.

youth mourning 1916 clausen iwm-art-004655

Youth mourning (1916) by George Clausen. Painting held in the Imperial War Museums, UK. Public domain. — This painting is believed to have been inspired by the death of the artist’s daughter’s fiancé during the war.


Enlarged version of Pietà (1937–38/39) by Käthe Kollwitz. Sculpture held at the Neue Wache in Berlin, Germany. Image © Rafael Rodrigues Camargo, reproduced under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence. — The sculpture shows an old woman holding her dead son and was inspired by the death of the artist’s youngest son in October 1914.


Mourning parents (1931–32) by Käthe Kollwitz. Sculpture held at the German War Cemetery in Vladslo, Belgium. Image in public domain. — The artist created this memorial for the cemetery where her youngest son, who had died in the war in October 1914, was buried.

VDWoesteyne_1969-C kopie

Hospitality to strangers (1920) by Gustave Van de Woestyne. Fresco held in Museum of Schone Kunsten in Gent, Belgium. Public domain. —  This fresco shows the artist inviting a stranger into his home and is believed to have been inspired by the works of mercy mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew and by the sufferings of people after the war, which Van de Woestyne wrote about in his letters at the time.



Chrysanthemum by Piet Mondrian (c. 1909). Drawing held in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Public domain.

The Christian holidays All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (on 1 and 2 November, respectively) are to me inevitably associated with the chrysanthemum, a flower that blooms in autumn.

By (or on) 1 or 2 November, most people in Belgium — where I grew up — will make sure to visit the graves of deceased family members and place chrysanthemums on the gravestones.

In my childhood, these chrysanthemums used to be large, pale, globe-shaped or  spidery flowers. Nowadays, they’re round bushes with button-like flowers and strong colours.

The word ‘chrysanthemum’ comes to English, via Latin, from the Greek for ‘gold’ and ‘flower’.


Sint-Agatha-Rode cemetery in Belgium. Image © Wouter Hagens, reproduced under a CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.



magnoliaIt smells of spring today!

The jasmine on the garden wall is starting to flower and the first buds on the bare grapevines in the courtyard have opened.

Outside my window, the magnolia is in full flower. It’s not my favourite tree but it came with the house. So far it’s doing well, except in summer when its leaves get burnt on the first 30-plus degree day …


Sparrow on a flowering magnolia branch (1900–30) by Ohara Koson. Woodcut print held in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Public domain.


Magnolia trees were named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638–1715). In his book Prodromus Historiae Generalis Plantarum, in Quo Familiae Plantarum per Tabulas Disponuntur (1689), Magnol was the first botanist to group plants into families according to characteristics of their roots, stalks, flowers and seeds. This was an important step forward for botany, and other botanists, including Carl Linnaeus, improved on Magnol’s groundbreaking classification.

In 1703, another botanist, Charles Plumier, named a flowering tree in Martinique after Magnol. This was the first magnolia. Carl Linnaeus later also adopted the name for the genus Magnolia.


Magnolia branch with four flowers (1910–25) by an anonymous photographer. Radiograph held in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Public domain.


painting of two football teams playing under the smokestacks of an industrial city and under dark grey skies

Any wintry afternoon in England (1930) by CRW Nevinson. Painting held in the Manchester Art Gallery in Manchester, UK. Public domain.

The FIFA World Cup has made me feel a bit isolated. It’s winter down here, so it has been hard to get into the summery, festive atmosphere we were seeing on TV. It’s also in the middle of the night, if you watch the live matches. Strangely, none of my colleagues — even fellow immigrants — were following the event, so there was no football-related small talk in the kitchenette or elevator at work. If it hadn’t been for my seven-year-old neighbour, who plays both football and AFL in his backyard, I would have felt quite alone … To make up for the lack of a team, he tends to play everything: goal-scoring player, commentator and referee. ‘And … he SCORES!!!’ goes his little voice, and then he changes roles, ‘Play on, play on!’

I had to explain some of the rules of the competition to my partner. Luckily, in Dutch we often use the English words interchangeably with the Dutch words. So we may say corner with an accent, of course for hoekschop, penalty for strafschop and off-side for buitenspel. The competition is played in two stages: the group stage (groepsfase) and the knockout stage (knock-outfase). The latter consists of the round of 16 (achtste finales, literally ‘one-eighth finals’), the quarterfinals (kwartfinales), the semifinals (halve finales) and the final (finale). Quite logical compared to the AFL finals

One oddity (compared to AFL) is that, before the final, the two teams that have lost the semifinals have to play off for third and fourth place in the competition in a match unimaginatively called the third-place play-off in English. In Dutch, this match is called ‘the little final’ (de kleine finale) or, rather poetically, ‘the consolation final’ (de troostfinale).

Until now, the closest ‘my’ team had ever come to winning the world cup was the ‘consolation final’ in Mexico in 1986, which they lost. This time, they won the match and therefore the bronze medal, so c’est la fête after all!