Thursday, 19 March 2009
Rap: to knock sharply or perform a rhythmic speech with a musical backing. It's also a legal charge -- a murder rap (probably only for headlines in punchier papers). You can also take the rap for somebody else's crimes -- meaning you take their punishment for them.
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Thursday, 12 March 2009
Wreck: to destroy or smash up, as in a shipwreck, or if you are American, a car wreck. It can also refer to something that has already been broken up. 'It's an old wreck.' It can also refer to items brought ashore after a shipwreck.
Wreak: cause a lot of damage. Pronounced 'reek'. 'Page planning have wreaked havoc on page three.' 'The damage wreaked by that woman ruined my wedding'. NOTE: Every time you write 'wrecked havoc', your chief sub kills a kitten.
Rack: this is a framework for supporting things, as in a luggage rack. You can rack up points in a game -- or rack up trade deals or successes. It is also an instrument of torture -- so someone who is on the rack is probably being dragged over the coals as they receive a bollocking.
Wrack: Seaweed; or thin high cloud.
Here's where it gets complicated. A rack for holding things is never spelled 'wrack'; The seaweed is never spelled 'rack'; however, you can rack, or wrack, your brains when thinking hard; and be racked, or wracked, with guilt. Something falling into disrepair can go to 'rack and ruin' or 'wrack and ruin'. And a diaphanous wrack, or rack, of cloud can cover the gibbous moon.
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
We had a story here about a youth band that received poison pen letters from an anti-fan; but they were simply loud and tuneless (if the letters were to be believed), rather than deliberately evil.
I think the evil Scout group activities would include:
- stealing unripe fruit from people's gardens -- but they'd do it in quite an obvious way, probably leaving a few caps and woggles behind to show it was them
- chalking words like 'bum' and 'fart' on the pavement outside the Post Office
- running sticks along newly painted railings
- leaning over a fence to shout 'yah' at passers-by
- making posies for their mums using flowers stolen from municipal flower beds
- something unmentionable (involving marbles) to the toilets in the church hall
Thursday, 5 March 2009
To ring something is to either make a circle round it; or to make it chime like a bell.
To wring something is to twist it -- either to squeeze water out of it by twisting (hence, a wringer as another word for a mangle; and also 'wringing wet'); or to kill something by twisting its neck.
Handwringing describes a gesture of powerless distress where the hands are clasped and twisted.
Wring someone's heart: hurt them emotionally.
Ring down (or up) the curtain on: To begin or end an enterprise (don't let those mean old subs make you change it to 'bring down (or up)').
Ring fence: This is a fence surrounding and sealing in a piece of land; but it is used in talk about funding and finance: "About £10m has been ring-fenced for research into HIV."
Ring the changes: This creeps into stories about... well change of any sort really. A writer who does this is wearing down the real meaning. To 'ring the changes' means to ring bells in a specific sequence which changes with every repetition. Be amazed -- check the Wikipedia article.
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
Thursday, 26 February 2009
Discreet: an adjective meaning something or someone that avoids social embarrassment or distress by secretiveness.
Discrete: this adjective means distinct in form or concept. If the sentence involves data, this is probably the word.
Discrete data has values that are not infinitesimally close. So the number of Asbos given out in a patch in a year might be 2008: 4; 2009: 6; 2010; 3. These data are discrete, because you can't have 3.43245 Asbos. But if you have a list of heights of wrong-doers, that data set would read: 187.445cm; 134.567cm; 140.356cm; 189.001cm; 181.222cm. This is continuous data (and police are hunting high and low).
In the wild
He vomited discreetly into the wastepaper basket; wiped his mouth on a silk handkerchief, which he threw likewise into the same receptacle; and continued the interview.
Each volunteer group has a discrete budget for their own projects.
I am going to remember this because the avoiding social humiliation variety of discreet has double letters in it, just like embarrassment.
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Thursday, 19 February 2009
Rein is what you drive a horse with. If your sentence is about a. horses; or b. giving or taking away freedom, use this word. It can be a verb or a noun.
Reign is what kings and queens do. If your sentence is about someone who is in charge, use this word. It can be a verb or a noun.
That particular editor's reign of terror was marked by a full fortnight of rain and only ended when head office decided to rein him in.
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
Thursday, 12 February 2009
Stationary -- still, in one place -- has an 'a' for 'adjective' in it.
Stationery -- pens and paper -- doesn't have an 'a' for 'adjective in it.
In the wild:
'He leapt from the stationary car and disappeared into the night.'
'Meet me in the stationery cupboard. I have some pens for you.'
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Thursday, 5 February 2009
Complement (n.) -- the number needed to complete a group: 'We have a full complement at the moment. Couldn't jam another sailor in if you tried.'
Compliment (v.) -- say something nice about someone. And this is the word to use if you're thinking of 'compliment slips'. 'May I compliment you on your choice of purple hat and ball gown?'
Complimentary (adj.) -- free of charge. 'Here's your complimentary moist towelette.'
There's a 'lime' in the middle of the 'saying something nice' and 'free gift' compliment, so perhaps you can fix in your head the idea of praising a small green citrus fruit which someone has given you for free.
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Thursday, 29 January 2009
A principal is head of a school (most commonly in America).
'Mr Fitzgibbons was the principal at the time, and he never did like me.'
A principle is a moral rule, or a general truth.
'I understand the principles of chemistry.'
'I object on principle.'
And there are adjectives:
'Principal' describes something that is foremost in importance and value.
'Our principal publication is the newspaper.'
A principled person or action is one guided by moral rules.
'He made a principled objection to eating horsemeat, on the grounds that they carry us and our burdens so mankind should ask no more of them.'
'You can trust the vicar to judge the pumpkin contest fairly. He's a principled man.'
Getting it right
A principled person is led by his principles; and if you suck up, the principal (a person foremost in importance and value) could be your pal.
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Wednesday, 28 January 2009
- Have your say
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Tuesday, 27 January 2009
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Monday, 26 January 2009
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Friday, 23 January 2009
Thursday, 22 January 2009
If you've spelt the verb correctly and add 'ing', it will sing for you: practising.
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Wednesday, 21 January 2009
Tuesday, 20 January 2009
Monday, 19 January 2009
The word comes from the Greek, komē, meaning head hair, and an old name for a comet was 'hairy star'. This reflects the tail streaming out behind like the hair of a runner.
Some comets appear regularly (although not a weekly or daily basis) and for some cultures, they forewarn of exciting, terrible and unusual happenings. Comets are thought to have delivered much of the Earth's water, and (this is controversial) to have seeded the planet with life.
So we have the idea of a regular phenomenon that forewarns or announces interesting happenings, and which might (according to some) bring life to a community.
Thursday, 15 January 2009
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
Alternative words for young people and the use and unuse of Americanisms aside, the word 'horrid' brought back memories of Latin translations. It's from horrere to tremble or when referring to hair, to stand on end. On its journey round the English language, it has been used to describe rough or hairy things like hair brushes, sea urchins, doormats or bristles on a boar's back.
Another useful derivative is 'horripilation' -- when hairs on the skin stand on end with fear, cold or excitement.
So this large green correction gave me a picture of our editor all a-tremble with outrage, so offended that his hair stood up on end.
Monday, 12 January 2009
'Going very fast' is another meaning. This is from 'express train' -- a train that stops at few stations, so called because an old use of express to mean 'for special purpose'.
And express means to convey something in words. This calls the olive press to mind once more: imagine someone squeezing the essence from their thoughts. It can mean 'stated' (as opposed to 'implied'), as in 'It was my express wish that cats should not walk across the dinner table.'
Friday, 9 January 2009
Police chief slated after hit and run
Slate is a smooth blue grey rock used for snooker tables, lab benches and roofing. Another use of slate is for writing on -- that's how it came to mean a record of how much you owe the landlord of your local; and why candidates are 'slated' in an election.
But how did it come to be the useful headline word meaning 'to criticise harshly'?
A slang dictionary offers a clue -- there's a verb 'to slat' which means to throw, beat or move with violence. And slate smashes very satisfactorily -- if you've ever seen the ground under a slate roof after a violent storm, you'll know what I mean. Fans of Anne of Green Gables might remember the red-headed orphan breaking her slate over the head of the handsome Gilbert Blythe when he called her 'Carrots'.
It's a good addition to the headline arsenal, but given the meaning 'list of candidates', perhaps avoid it in connection with politics.
Thursday, 8 January 2009
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Monday, 5 January 2009
In the early 17th century, a gazetteer was a journalist, a strange new beast.
But what is a gazette really? It comes from the phrase gazeta de la novita -- a ha'pen'worth of news. A gazeta was a small (very small) Venetian coin of little value.