Daily Archives: July 15, 2015


Sing to me, muse, of silicon dioxide,
of flint, of jasper, of agate, of onyx;
sing now of opal, of quartz and chalcedony.
Shiver a sharp-edged carol to chert.

Sing of its greys, its browns and its reds,
its greens and its blacks, its solids and stripes;
sing of its beds, its diatom sediments,
sing of its nodules in lime, chalk, and marl.

Let now this chert be my teacher, my razor:
conchoidal fractures will bless it with edges.
Strike it to break it and strike it to spark it:
arrows for hunting and fire to start cooking.

Chert for creation, chert for destruction,
cher for my dear, and черт for my devil,
harder than teeth, than steel, than spite,
holder of fossils and cut-off remembrance.

Local to Kent, this word without tracings,
found round the world and used through the ages,
red edged for hunters in times lost to words,
red underlined in my Microsoft Word.

Chert is a flint, or flint is a chert,
or chert here and flint there, or no line to draw:
gravel and gemstones and axes and headstones,
fire and earth rock, microcrystalline muse.

America’s liberties with English

My latest article for the BBC is about how American English came to be so different from British English – and why it didn’t come to be more different:

Why isn’t ‘American’ a language?