We all know the result of an insult. If you jump at someone, you get push-back. Which, as it happens, is etymologically correct: the sult in both words comes from Latin saltare, ‘leap’. The re means ‘back’ (as in what springs back at you after you push); the in means ‘in’ or ‘into’ or ‘towards’ or ‘at’ – if you jump down someone’s throat, that’s covered etymologically by insult too, though in English idiom jumping down someone’s throat is usually going a little farther than just insulting them.
So what do we do if we want to diss someone without getting blowback? How do we cast shade without getting chopped down? We can dance around it. Or, more to the point, we can jump around. Continue reading →
I make audio versions of all my blog posts and put them on Patreon for all subscribers who pay $2 or more per month. But occasionally I make one free for everyone. Today’s is one of those. As a bonus, it’s the audio version of a subscribers-only blog post: chont, text version, is available only for those who subscribe for at least $1 per month. So you get to hear it for free… but not read it.
What is chont? A satisfying sound. Here is the sound of chont, with lots of chonts.
This word has a very satisfying sound, I think. Like something that fits neatly being slotted in just right, or a nice bit of mechanics tightly machined and working to perfection. A key fitting in a lock. A catch clicking in its notch. A door closing smoothly and tightly. Or perhaps the sound of a block of cheese or soap being cut in a perfect diagonal slice. It starts with the crisp click-slide of “ch” and after a short vowel pushes the cushion of the nasal “n” to the tongue-tip stop “t.” Tidy. Complete. Satisfying. Continue reading →
So. You know scoundrel and wastrel and custrel (well, maybe you don’t know that one) and kestrel and even doggerel. There’s this –rel suffix that English got from French–ereau and –erelle, and we use it for diminutive derivatives, especially pejorative ones. It sounds sort of like throat-hawking in another room, or a car peeling out on a gravel road nearby, or the faint echo of someone having been thrown in a well.
But pynt? What is that? Well, it’s an old spelling for paint or pint or pained or point. But which is it here?
There’s a certain type of person I’ve always been fascinnoyed with (you know, simultaneously fascinated and annoyed): a person who makes a point of letting you know that they don’t know about something. A kind of one-downer. A stronteur. Continue reading →
The ice giants have swept into town riding on their howling wind-wolves, and the air and ground are so iron-hard that if the cold kills you, no one can shovel; they will bury you in midair.
The ice giants want to kill you. The wolves want to bite you and the giants want to stab you in the face, over and over.
And they do. Even if the wolves do not manage to give you frostbite, the giants will give you blawdurk. The weather may seem almost tolerable, the air just ice-glass, crisp and clear, scratched here and there by small diamonds of frost, but then you will turn a corner and the breeze will put a dagger into your cheek, your brow, your eyelid, your eye. It is that boreal pain: no tropical denizen, however much they may be sun-broiled, will get from the weather a hard-iron agony within the span of three breaths. The ice giants test your mettle by testing their metal: daggers of icy gusts, blawdurk.
What is this word blawdurk, how has it been blown together? Check your Scots dictionary: blaw means ‘gust, blowing’, and similar things; durk means ‘dirk’ or ‘dagger’ – a small dagger formerly often carried, and not just by ice giants. When you turn that corner and the daggers of ice slam into your face, this is blawdurk.
Well, we needed a word for it, didn’t we? I decided we did after experiencing the good old Canadian face pain today. I took these two bits from Scots and froze them together to make a new old word. If you have a different term for it, well, that’s fine too.
Patrick Neylan, Eeditor of business reports. Permanently angry about the abuse of English, maths and logic. Terms and conditions: by reading this blog you accept that all opinions expressed herein will henceforth be your opinions.
The Economist "Johnson" language blog
In this blog, named for the dictionary-maker Samuel Johnson, correspondents write about the effects that the use (and sometimes abuse) of language have on politics, society and culture around the world