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
Over time, words take on new meanings.
It’s an immutable fact, whether we like it or not, that we change as we grow older, whether for better or worse. We might become less flexible but wiser, our cooking might improve but our memory doesn’t. Our crossword-solving skills advance, of course – but sadly it gets harder to read the clues.
So it is with words. As English evolves, word meanings shift and turn, sometimes meaning the very opposite of what they once meant.
The first meaning of decimate in the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘kill, destroy or remove a large proportion of’, or ‘drastically reduce the strength or effectiveness of (something)’.
Decimate comes from the Latin for ‘ten’ decem and meant ‘to kill one in ten’. Decimation was a form of military discipline used by officers in the Roman Army to punish mutinous soldiers. One soldier out of every ten was selected and killed, to punish the rest.
This is now the second meaning in the OED but it used to be the first. This is how language goes.
The earliest use of the word fulsome, in the 13th C, was ‘abundant’ as in ‘fulsome praise’ but it gradually acquired a negative connotation of ‘excessive, effusive’ and ‘fulsome praise’ would then have meant ‘excessive or insincere praise’. However, just to be confusing, the original ‘abundant’ meaning has returned, so here is a word that has opposite meanings. It may be used in a complimentary sense, or an insulting one. This quote: ‘The Foreign Affairs Minister is demanding a “fulsome apology” from the former Labour leader…’ seems to imply that the writer had the ‘abundant’ meaning in mind.
Plethora refers to an excess of something, and neither the Collins and Oxford dictionaries include the meaning of ‘abundance’ but that is how the word is perceived nowadays. I recently read an ad for a resort which said: ‘The staff at the entertainment desk will provide a plethora of fun activities’ and I’m sure they didn’t mean they had too many activities. Or a comment about a radio station: ‘I love to listen to the plethora of Christmas tunes…’ or a movie review ‘…he has been earning a plethora of advanced raves for his performance…’.
So be careful…it’s a lexical minefield out there!
We should be grateful that our language has no noun genders and few tricky verb endings.
I’ve said before that if you grew up speaking English you are one of the lucky ones, because it’s a mighty difficult language to learn as a second language. Trying to get the pronunciation right is a nightmare for most foreign learners.
All the more surprising, then, that it was a Dutch writer who composed an excellent poem about the subject.
Born in 1870, Dr Gerard Nolst Trenité, writer and traveller, was a keen observer of the English language. He wrote the famous poem The Chaos in which he illustrates the many idiosyncrasies of the English vocabulary. So many words that are spelled the same are pronounced differently, or are spelled differently but pronounced the same.
The writer used the pseudonym Charivarius and addressed his poem to Suzy, who was Miss Susanne Delacruix of Paris, presumably one of Nolst Trenité’s students. He writes from the viewpoint of the foreign learner of English, warning of the pitfalls.
The poem has 274 lines and includes 800 examples of the most notorious irregularities of spelling. Here is the first verse:
Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse
Because it was written almost a hundred years ago, (in 1922), some words are less familiar nowadays, such as a studding-sail, pronounced ‘stunsail’.
Here’s another verse which shows the madness of words that look alike but don’t sound alike:
Shoes, goes, does, Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,
Many native English-speaking readers will find the poem a revelation: the examples in each verse bring home the sheer illogicality of the writing system in ways that we English speakers have taken for granted.
For your enjoyment the whole poem appears below.
The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité (1922)
Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.
From “desire”: desirable-admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,
Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.
Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?
Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.
Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.
Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,
Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
But it is not hard to tell
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.
“Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker“,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor“,
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.
Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.
Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.
And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.
Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,
Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.
Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.
Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)
Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;
Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.
No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.
But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.
Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.
Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!
Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.
Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.
Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.
The th will surely trouble you
More than r, ch or w.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.
Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ‘em-
Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.
The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.
Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,
Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.
Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.
Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess-it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.
Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.
Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.
Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.
A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,
Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.
Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying “grits”?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??
Hiccough has the sound of sup…
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!
Hearing so much about the election of the Pope has brought to light some new words we don’t often hear.
The meeting of cardinals in order to elect a pope is called a conclave, a word that can be traced back to the late 14th century. It comes from the Latin conclave ‘a lockable room’ from con ‘with’ and clavis ‘key’. Only cardinals under the age of 80 can enter the conclave.
In the 13th century the papacy was vacant for 18 months and an election was forced by the people of Rome who locked up the cardinals until a pope was elected. In another case, the people not only locked up the cardinals, they tore off the roof of the building and put the cardinals on a diet of bread and water.
When Pope Benedict XVI stepped down, the acting head of state in the Vatican City was Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, whose title is the Camerlengo or Papal Chamberlain.
Habemus papam is the informal Latin title for the announcement made when the cardinals have chosen a pope. It means ‘We have a Pope’.
A speech made by the Pope to the world’s Catholics is known as Urbi et Orbi, a phrase meaning ‘to the city and to the world’, with Rome being the city. These speeches are made traditionally at Christmas and Easter.
An Urbi et Orbi message is also made on the occasion of a new pope’s election.
The Pope, known affectionately in Italy as Il Papa, is also entitled Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ and Servant of the Servants of God. The word pope comes from the Latin Papa and Greek Papas meaning ‘father’.
The Popemobile is the car with a raised viewing area used by the Pope on official visits.
The crossed keys symbolise the keys of Simon Peter, the first Pope. The keys are gold and silver to represent the power of loosing and binding. The significance of the keys comes from Matt 16:19, where Jesus said to Peter “I will give to you, the keys of the kingdom of heaven”. Obviously these are spiritual keys.
The triple crown represents the pope’s three functions as pastor, teacher and priest.
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!