Staring at a crane the other day (construction site type, not the feathered) I noticed the wind speed gauge spinning its little heart out and wondered what they were called. Surely they had to have a better name than “wind speed gauge”… Apparently, I was admiring an anemometer, which is a word comprised of a bit of Greek and a bit of English.
Anemos means wind and a meter is a measuring device, but the cool thing is that they’ve been around for a quite a while. Long before air travel and kangaroo cranes required them!
My best word-nerdish score though in looking up anemometers was that the cranes I’ve been staring at that have them attached are called “luffing” cranes. Luffing. Isn’t that a great word? It too is to do with the wind, but comes from – of all places – sailing ships! Possibly not so surprising considering just how many words come from ships.
My favourite wind measuring thing though is a wind sock. As cool as anemometers are, you just can’t go past a wind sock for simplicity and amusement. Because they’re are basically a sock on a stick. *giggles*
Did you know that the little dot on your i and j are tittles? Nor did I! But I was about to write the phrase “don’t care a jot for them” when struck by the realisation I had no idea what a jot was. Obviously it was small. Turns out it’s small like a tittle… in fact they’re both old printer’s terms, but they both mean roughly the same thing; the smallest mark.
Incidentally this is why we jot things down (on a jotter of course!) because it’s the smallest of notes. Or something close to that idea.
But wait, there’s more!
Turns out that jot comes into English in the late 15C from the Greek word iota. So whether you don’t “care a jot” or “one iota” it’s the same tiny amount.
I find rhyming slang both delightful and a bit weird. It appeals to my wordy self, but so often it gets further changed so that the rhyme gets lost and you have no idea what it means. Which brings me to Tod, Jack and Pat.
You might have heard some one say “she was sitting on her tod”, because Tod, Jack and Pat are all rhyming slang for being on your own/alone. Except that doesn’t make much sense unless you have the surnames; Jack Jones, Tod Sloan and Pat Malone!
I’ll admit I’d always thought ‘tod’ meant ‘bum’ until I came across a song lyric about sitting over there on your Jack Jones!
Have you ever stopped to think about the word ‘book’? It’s one of those words that has an interesting spread of meaning. We read a book. We book tickets. Police book you. You can have the book thrown at you. You can be bookish.
I’ve always liked the idea of the police booking people because it makes me picture people being pressed between the pages of a giant book! But that’s just me.
The word for book in many languages comes from words for bark or other plant matter written on, which makes perfect sense. What’s more interesting is that the other meanings in English (except bookish) related to the act of recording/listing things in a book, whether that is a patron’s seat number or the charges against you.
I’m still picturing human pressed flowers though.
The phrase “my eye” isn’t used much in english speaking countries anymore, but you do come across it in older books and movies and I’ve always liked it as a way to show sarcasm/disbelief (e.g. “Him a gentleman? My eye!”) What I didn’t know was that this shows up in both French and Japanese as gestures with a similar use.
In Japan it’s called Akanbe and pulling down the lower eyelid to show the red is usually combined with sticking out your tongue. In France you might say “my eye” – mon œil – while pulling down the lower lid. Both are sarcastic and, I think, more a thing younger people do.
I’d always assumed “my eye” was like “I’ll eat my hat” i.e. something you’d sacrifice if proven wrong and I thought it must relate to something like Odin’s story in Norse mythology, but maybe it’s just that eyes look kind of gross when you see the pink bits?
I love the phrase ‘you look like death warmed up’ but the other day I got to wondering where it came from. After all it is a bit of a weird thing to say and kind of expects that you know what a dead person looks like.
Turns out that makes a lot of sense, because it was soldier’s slang (found in a 1939 slang dictionary). With one world war behind them and another underway, I’m sure they knew very well what death looked like!
I’ve realised that I should be grateful for my day-to-day exposure to the corporate world, because it is such a fertile ground for language abuse. Seriously. My favourite thing is walking around office buildings reading the various signs that tell you what to do and not to do. Trust me, they almost invariably sport such terrible grammar, malapropisms and ambiguity that you can’t tear your eyes away.
And then there is software. Ever since software designers realised they needed to improve the usability of their products and got chatty in their communications, it has been a buffet of misuse. Though I will cut the software people some slack in that many of them are operating in multiple languages.
So, to my favourite of the week… This was the conversational way that an online service introduced their help functionality: Sometimes we all need help.