Category Archives: word tasting notes

blet, medlar

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The tree of English lexis produces many and varied fruit, and some are quite unexpected. Some are old and overripe to the point of… not rotting, but developing a dense, aged form that has made a mush of the original: a timeless tradition with the richness of antiquity. Others are strange blends and borrowings: they seem like gifts of the ancient but they are more grifts and grafts of the moderns. You may eat all day for many years of the many different fruits this tree bears and still, on some bright day, taste not one but two that you do not recall knowing before.

And so it was yesterday for me. I was wandering through the buzzing hay-meadow of Twitter and I saw a short sequence of tweets by an Italian friend, Costanza: Continue reading


Is this word good or not?

I guess it depends on who you ask. Continue reading


It’s time for another fresh old word from James Orchard Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic Words. And it’s a word for spring.

In fact, it’s a word for springing, For sproinging. Even for spronging. It’s for someone or something who’s spring-fresh, even frightfully so, like the friskiest fry or some other friendly tyke. Continue reading


Spring is here, and everything is spurking up.

Does spurk seem like a word I just invented? It… sort of is, but it’s not. I wondered if it existed, so I looked, and it does. It has been in English for more than three centuries, though no one seems to use it these days.

And what would you suppose it means? Continue reading


What are they flutter among the flowers and among the cinders? Flinders. Do they flit towards the flames in fascination? Or flap between blossoms and flowing bowers? Are they grey as dust and smoke? Or vivid, resplendent, variegated, as monarchs and iridescent metalmarks? All are leaping and dropping lepidoptera, each one a flinder. Continue reading


According to Slanguage: A Dictionary of Irish Slang, by Bernard Share, pickering – in colloquial Irish English – means “Expressing amorous interest in.” Sort of like hankering, I guess, but more… picky? Peckish? Share doesn’t give an etymology.

But it puts me in mind of a story. Not an Irish one, a Northern English one, but anyway.

There was this king. I don’t know which one, but he was in Northern England for some reason, Yorkshire to be precise, North Yorkshire to be preciser, Ryedale to be preciserer. Anyway, he had a fancy. Probably he had more than one fancy, but he had a fancy ring, that’s for sure, and he lost track of it. It came off his finger, as rings may, depending on what you’re doing.

So he blamed a local maiden. Continue reading


Harry S Truman was once a haberdasher.

So I learned from a book in my childhood. The president with the ornamental S snaking in the middle of his name like a cloth measuring tape was once a purveyor of gentlemen’s sartorial quincaillerie: bespoke four-in-hands, cufflink-and-button sets, collar studs, cut-to-measure bowties, and perhaps seersucker, gabardine, and herringbone suits. All the items, in short, for a well-turned-out gentleman in the Kansas City of 1920. And then a recession hit and his store folded like a silk pocket square. Continue reading