Category Archives: new and old words

aftermath

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.

IX

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 (OED), ‘-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 at 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.

Mother_with_her_Dead_Son_(Käthe_Kollwitz)

Enlarged version of Pietà (1937–38/39) by Käthe Kollwitz. Held at the Neue Wache in Berlin, Germany. Image © by Rafael Rodrigues Camargo (CC BY-SA 4.0). — 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.

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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.

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Hospitality to strangers (1920) by Gustave Van de Woestyne. Fresco held at 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

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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’.

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Sint-Agatha-Rode cemetery in Belgium. Image © by Wouter Hagens (CC BY-SA 3.0).

magnolia

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 …

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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.

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

consolation

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, 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!

making jam

botanical drawing of a type of fig showing four figs on a branch with four leaves and a halved fig at the bottom of the drawing showing the inside of the fruit

Fico rubado [Ficus carica sativa or Common Fig], print from Pomona Italiana: Trattato degli alberi fruttiferi conteneate la Descrizione delle megliori varietáa dei Frutte coltivati in Italia, accompagnato da Figure disegnate, e colorite sul vero (1817–39) by Giorgio Gallesio. Book held in the New York Public Library in New York, USA. Public domain.

 

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.

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verbing

shutterstock_556707718C&R_Nils Versemann

Image © Nils Versemann/Shutterstock.com

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 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 …

 

raining cats and dogs

black-and-white photo of women hurrying across a street in rain

Women run from the shelter of Flinders Street Railway Station across the flooded streets, 1954. Photograph held in the Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Public domain.

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.