Christine’s HelloEach issue of Lovatts crossword magazines begins with a welcoming “Hello!” from Christine Lovatt. The columns contain fascinating insights into our wonderful language; its history, idiosyncrasies, the things that we delight in and the things that drive us mad! You can read some of Christine’s columns from the past here and a new one will be added each month.
Recent articles from Christine Lovatt
Sometimes a word comes your way which makes you realise that there’s a whole different world of activity out there that you never dreamed of.
One advantage of solving crosswords that you may have discovered is expanding your vocabulary. I know many of you keep a notebook of new words you come across, so that you can remember them next time they appear in a crossword.
People think that because I create crosswords I must know all the words – the truth is very far from that. I come across unknown words all the time, and usually try to make a note of them, to look up later.
I encountered the word tribology recently and made a note for future research. It looks like the perfect word for the study of tribes, but that is far from its meaning.Tribology (pronounced try-bolla-jee) is the study of friction, wear, lubrication and the design of bearings; the science of interacting surfaces in relative motion. In other words, how things rub along with each other. This is the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary but more than that, the Sometimes a word comes your way which makes you realise that there’s a whole different world of activity out there that you never dreamed of.word was actually invented by the lexicographers at OED.
In 1965, a group of lubrication engineers decided they needed a name for what they did and contacted the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary for help. Out of this came the word tribology, from the Greek tribos ‘rubbing’.
Isn’t it comforting to know that there are teams of scientists out there studying how skates behave on ice or how tyres adapt to different road conditions, improving our safety and efficiency in so many ways?
Another strange word I had to look up recently is sabaton. A weapon used by a saboteur maybe? No, it’s the footwear that goes with a knight’s armour. The sabaton, also known as a solleret, is a pointy shoe made of – wait for it – riveted iron plates. And I thought my stilettos were uncomfortable. Imagine walking on iron plates!
Up until the 15C, they ended in a tapered point well past the toes but then they were made to end at the tip of the toes – probably got fed up with being trodden on. In fact, the length of the sabaton was a class-conscious issue. Only princes and dukes were allowed to have toes 2.5 feet long, lords 2 feet long and gentry only 1-foot long.
So watch out – I might add these words to a crossword any time soon. Remember you read it here first.
Something very interesting about ancient architecture is the way animal shapes and monsters were sculpted into buildings, often very weird and ugly-looking creatures designed to fill you with dread.
If you have visited Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris you may have noticed the evil-looking demons made of stone perched high on a ledge looking down at you.
They are called gargoyles and were used as water spouts, with the water spouting from their mouths. Gargoyle comes from the French gargouille meaning ‘throat’.
There is a legend that 7th century bishop St Romain killed a monster known as La Gargouille that was terrorising boatmen in the Seine river. The beast’s head was mounted on the wall of a new church, to protect the people by scaring away evil spirits, and this was the start of the custom of having scary stone creatures on church walls.
But before this, the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans all used animal-shaped waterspouts, especially lions. When the purpose of the sculpture is to direct rainwater from roofs it is known as a gargoyle, but a merely decorative sculpture is known as a grotesque (refer image at right).
The word grotesque means ‘repulsively ugly’. It comes from the Italian grottesco ‘from a cave’ and was first used to describe paintings found on the walls of basements of Roman ruins, as in pittura grottesca – ‘cave paintings’.
Apparently the fanciful images discovered in the caves described as grotesque at first meant strange and different, and the meaning eventually morphed into the ‘distorted’ meaning. Meanings often change over the years, but the other meaning of grotesque is a noun – a comically ugly face made of stone, not a water spout, just an ornamentation.
You may come across this clue in one of the crosswords in this magazine, so now you know!
Puzzler Janette Embrey recently sent me an interesting extract from Mrs Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words, listing the longest word in the English language. I can’t print it here because it has 1913 letters in it. It is a chemical term, although it’s a word unlikely to have ever actually been used by a chemist.
Theoretically, there is no limit to the length of a chemical term. If a DNA molecule was written out in full, it could consist of over a million letters.
So, if we ruled out technical terms and place names, what is the longest word in the English language?
Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis is the longest word that appears in the Oxford Dictionary of English, defined as ‘an artificial long word said to mean a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust’. It was invented in 1935 by Everett M Smith, the president of the National Puzzlers’ League for the sole purpose of serving as the longest English word to appear in an English language dictionary. I’m sure many of you will agree that the authenticity of this word is questionable.
Another dubious long word that is listed in Oxford is floccinaucinihilipilification, meaning ‘the action or habit of estimating something as worthless’. The word is said to have been invented in the eighteenth century when somebody picked up an Eton College grammar book, found a set of Latin words in it (flocci, nauci, nihili and pili) all of which meant ‘of little or no value’, and decided to join them together and add fication to the end of it for a bit of fun!
Mary Poppins introduced us to supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. It is made up of 34 letters and you’re more likely to sing it loudly than to say it, even though it means ‘something to say when you have nothing to say’.So, that brings us to the longest non-technical, authentic word that can be found in all major dictionaries – antidisestablishmentarianism. It means ‘opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England’. According to Oxford, it is very occasionally found in genuine use.
Rest assured, you won’t find any of these words in our puzzles. The longest word you’re likely to come across in a Lovatts crossword is poluphloisboiotatotic, and of course we all know what that means!
P.S Just joking, didn’t really expect you to know that one! It’s not in the dictionary. It means very loud roaring. It was invented by William Makepeace Thackeray in his Irish Sketchbook of 1834.
Sports shoes nowadays are frequently worn as everyday foot attire as well as for physical exercise, because they’re more comfortable and they’ve become acceptable fashion-wise. However, this wasn’t always the case.
Before the 80s, only athletes in training wore running shoes. Luckily we don’t have to be athletes anymore to wear our trainers or joggers, yet the most successful sports shoe manufacturers were established much earlier than you might think.
Back in 1890 in a small village in the United Kingdom called Holcombe Brook, shoemaker Joseph Foster created a novelty spiked running shoe. Five years later he and his sons founded J.W. Foster and Sons, a business that made shoes by hand for top runners. In 1958 two of Joseph’s grandsons, Joe and Jeff Foster, started a companion company called Reebok, naming it after a fast-running antelope. Joe Foster found the name in a dictionary he had won in a race as a boy.
In the 1920s shoe designer Adolf Dassler and his brother Rudolf, a salesman, started a small shoemaking company in Herzogenaurach, Germany. The two brothers disagreed on everything, and finally in the mid 1940s Rudolf left and set up a rival shop across the river, calling his new company Puma. Adolf renamed the company he and his brother had founded Adidas – from Adi (Adolf) and Das (Dassler).
Nike, an American sports clothing company originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports, was founded by athlete Philip Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman in 1964. They launched the Nike brand shoe in 1972, naming it after the Greek goddess of victory. In 1978 the company was renamed Nike, Inc.
Today, Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Puma all remain big players in the running shoe industry.
And when it comes to running, I like this quote by runner and author Christopher McDougall: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
When crosswording you may come across clues such as ugly elf, nasty sprite or evil little creature. Just as well a goblin is fictitious or he’d be suing us for defamation.
The word goblin probably comes from the Old French gobelin. In medieval Latin the name Gobelinus is the name of a mischievous spirit said to haunt Évreux in Northern France in the 12th century.
The Collins dictionary describes the goblin as ‘a small grotesque supernatural creature in folklore, regarded as malevolent towards humans’. The Oxford is not much kinder with ‘a mischievous ugly dwarf-like creature’. The goblin definitely doesn’t have good looks on his side.
The name may be connected with the German kobold. In German mythology a kobold is a spirit who haunts houses and lives underground in caves or mines.
The miners who worked in the silver mines in the Harz Mountains of Northern Germany found that the silver ore was laced with a metallic element containing arsenic and sulphur which made them ill. They attributed it to the troublesome creature living in the mine, which they called kobold. By 1730, this metallic element was identified and named cobalt after the kobold.
It seems that nowadays, the goblin is known best by his image in The Lord Of The Rings tales, where he gets a very poor rap, as a cruel, wicked and destructive mini-Orc.
The author JRR Tolkein also wrote The Hobbit in which he described hobgoblins as larger and stronger than goblins but later said that he had made a mistake – hobgoblins should really be smaller than goblins.
What is the difference between a goblin, a gnome and a troll you may ask? Well, I’ve run out of room here because I’ve added a special note to you below, but I will delve into the supernatural world and if I survive I will write more soon.