Rogue, thief, adventurer

I came across a word which not only was new to me but was so new that I couldn’t guess what it meant. it was describing someone and called them a picaroon; was this positive or negative? I had no idea. I was reminded of other words ending with ‘oon’ – macaroon, maroon, racoon, typhoon… but the word is from the Spanish and actually means  a rogue, thief, adventurer – particularly in the  pirate sense.

There are an amazing number of words ending in ‘oon’, actually, not counting those 4-letter ones like soon and boon, or 5-letter ones like spoon… in fact as far as I can find out there are more than seventy! here is a tiny sample:

  • gombroon – white pottery
  • bradoon – a small ringed snaffle
  • madzoon – Caspian sea yoghurt
  • godroon – a rounded moulding
  • matzoon – same as madzoon
  • dahoon – an evergreen shrub
  • gaboon – a viper
  • ratoon – a new shoot

If by some chance, any of these unusual words should crop up in the quiz, then I hope I remember what they mean!!

And here are four contrabassoons:


A thing is a thing

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a new way of using ‘a thing’ has crept into the language. It seems to have started about ten or so years ago as far as I can find out, but maybe it had an underground or street use before that.

Now everyone knows what a thing is – a thing is a thing you don’t want to give a name to or can’t give a name to because you don’t know what it is/have forgotten what it is. Thing was originally þing meaning a meeting or council – and it is still used in Iceland in the name of the parliament, the Alþingi . Gradually that meaning changed and it became used for an object.

Here is a link to what one of my favourite sites, Online Etymology has to say:

However, this new subtle change in meaning is different…. If you think of the question ‘Is there such a thing as Choo-Choo whisky?’ and then think of another way of saying it ‘Is Choo-Choo whisky even a thing?’ that just about explains it.  However, when I’ve heard people using it in everyday conversation (and when I say people, I mean young people) it can be used in a joking way, a comical way.

So obviously using a thing as a thing – well, it’s a thing! Oh, and by the way, Choo-Choo Whisky isn’t a thing.

Read more about it here:

Fame and notoriety

Maybe I’m being pernickety, but when I’m reading an article on the BBC news site, I do expect there should be some editorial overview to correct mistakes – I’m not talking here about the content of a piece but the basic grammar and spelling, and also using the correct word in the correct place – avoiding of malapropisms, ie using a proper word in a completely wrong way. I’m not talking about idiomatic, dialect or even colloquial words, I’m talking about mistakes.

Famous means that someone is well-known for doing something, maybe associated with a specific thing –  the state of being known or recognised by many people because of your achievements, skills, etc – from
Notorious is similar but means that the associations is in a negative or bad way – “the state of being famous for something bad” – from

This comes from a story about a retired footballer, Jody Craddock, who has gained a reputation as an artist; he has been commissioned by his former club, Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers) to paint covers for their match programmes. I have looked at his biography and found he played for Cambridge United for four years, Sunderland for seven years, before moving to Wolves where he played for ten years until his retirement. He played centre back and in his career scored twenty-two goals in five hundred and twenty-seven appearances. In 2013, at the age of thirty-eight he retired.

So he was famous for playing in top clubs, was he also infamous or notorious for the way he played or behaved? No… absolutely not. The painting he is doing now, are they terrible pieces of art? Are they bad, shocking, outrageous? No, they are praised, liked, sought after. So why does the BBC writer, Ged Scott say:

Former defender Craddock, now 42, was already gaining notoriety for his artwork long before his retirement from football in May 2013.

Mr Scott wrote it carelessly (I guess he does know it’s incorrect) but no-one edited it well enough to correct this silly error. This isn’t slang or dialect, it’s just wrong! Tut-tut BBC!!

PS I don’t have an editorial team – I have checked what I’ve written, but if you spot any mistakes, please tell me! I’d rather be famous than notorious!

The long pull of the trades

I’ve just written a short story… it might be a futuristic piece set in a distant world, or a fantasy piece in a world which has never existed… I’m not sure what it is. It is for my Friday writing group, and our subject for this month was the wind, or air… or something… I’m not actually sure I have done the right topic! I will share it with you over the weekend.

I was intrigued when I was researching it, that there are so many names of different winds… not just typhoons and hurricanes, and not even things I’d heard of before like Mistral and Sirocco…

I also came across a poet I had never heard of before, Burt Franklin Jenness. He was born in New Hampshire in 1895 and became a doctor,  serving as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy during World War 1.

The Roaring Forties

Let me sail to the southward and follow once more
Down the great circle course where the latitudes roar;
Where the wind-breasted seas take the lurching bows under,
And giant swells break with the pealing of thunder;
Where the Southern Cross hangs like a pendant of gold
In a sky of black velvet, star studded and cold;
Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Let me sail to the southward until I can feel
The long pull of the trades, and the tug of the wheel;
Let me bring up the helm where the albatross swings,
And skirts the gray seas on his spume spattered wings;
Let me watch the star flowers sway down in the night,
And sprinkle the waves with a pollen of light;
Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Let me sense the deep swells that roll under the keel,
As the driving winds whistle the billows to heel;
Let me lean to the cross-seas that sputter and fume,
Let me watch the wet orb of the cold setting sun,
Through the mist laden air when the long day is done;
Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Let me sail to a place off the tame beaten track,
Where the seas follow up like a blood thirsty pack;
Where the reeling horizon cavorts with the sea,
And the surges play tag with the mastheads a-lee;
O, the wail of the halyards, the croon of the stays,
The clamorous nights and monotonous days;
O, the lure of the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Burt Franklin Jenness
So winds… just in case you’re interested, a brief sample…
  • Abroholos
  • Austru
  • Barat
  • Bayamo
  • Bentu de Soli
  • Borasco
  • Boreas
  • Brickfielder
  • Briza
  • Brisote Th
  • Brubu
  • Chubasco
  • Churada
  • Coromell
  • Elephanta
  • Etesian
  • Euros
  • Foehn
  • Gregale
  • Haboob
  • Harmattan
  • Knik Wind
  • Kona Storm
  • Leste
  • Leveche
  • Matanuska
  • N’aschi
  • Ostria
  • Pali
  • Pampero
  • Papagayo
  • Shamal
  • Sharki
  • Squamish
  • Suestado
  • Taku Wind
  • Tehuantepecer
  • Tramontana
  • Vardar
  • Williwaw
  • Willy-willy

A gig economy

Perhaps I don’t listen to the news enough, or maybe I don’t read the right media reports, but until the last few days I had not come across the phrase ‘gig economy’. I grasped what it meant but thought it was an acronym… in case you haven’t come across it, here is a definition:

a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs… “working in the gig economy means constantly being subjected to last-minute scheduling”

So, as I go to plenty of music gigs, I investigated the derivation of the word… and the derivation was from ‘gig’ as in a music gig, it wasn’t an acronym at all. ‘Gig economy’  was first used about eight years ago, according to the Financial Times, ‘at the height of the financial crisis in early 2009, when the unemployed made a living by gigging, or working several part-time jobs, wherever they could.

OK, that’s great! I understand complexity… but what about the word ‘gig’ itself, what is its etymology? I first came across it reading historical novels when people were always leaping into or springing out of gigs – a sort of carriage.  I’ve just checked, and it is ‘a light, two-wheeled carriage, usually drawn by one horse’. I then have also come across it meaning a type of rowing boat, and round here it is a really popular sport – gig racing!

Of course there is the way in which I have most often used the word, as in a musical performance, which has also become to meet going out for a meet-up/adventure/trip/visit etc. This meaning of gig , may have come from a German word, or more probably came from jazz musicians at the beginning of the twentieth century. There is also a whirligig which is a spinning thing, a gig which is a harpoon, a gig which was a betting game, and a gig who was a ‘flighty girl’ two hundred years ago – was that where giggling came from? I have no idea!

I wasn’t at this gig, but I have been to many Kevin Montgomery gigs… happy memories!

A romp of Otters

We were sitting in the pub enjoying a very refreshing pint of otter, after a very hot and sticky day, and we got to pondering on otters, and wondering what is the collective noun for them… it turns out it’s quite delightful, a romp of otters! That then got me thinking about the other bizarre collective nouns there are in English, and wondering whether it is similar in other languages, and how true some of the more bizarre examples are – maybe they were made up by people like us sitting round in the pub!

Everyone knows a lot of the collective nouns, a herd, a gaggle, a swarm, a troop, even some f the more unusual creatures have fairly well-known names, a charm of goldfinches, a murder of crows, a pod of whales and even, maybe a skulk of foxes. Some names for groups of animals can be understood, even if you’ve not come across them before, a knot of toads (sounds a little horrid somehow) a drift of bees (sounds more benign than a swarm!) or a muster of peacocks. Then there are names which must be very old, regional, or from an ancient language or dialect because there are variations of them applied to different creatures, for example, a nest, nide or nye of pheasants – the French for nest is ‘nid’ so you can imagine it might be derived from Norman French… and here is a very interesting article about how pheasants had been around in England for about a thousand years and then became popular with the arrival of William of Normandy and his cronies:

Some names however – and please correct me if I’m wrong, just sound like made-up-in-the-pub-names…

  • an obstinacy of buffalo
  • a business of ferrets
  • a tower of giraffes
  • a bloat or thunder of hippopotamuses
  • a cackle of hyenas
  • a shadow of jaguars
  • a conspiracy of lemurs
  • a richness of martens
  • a prickle of porcupines
  • a crash of rhinoceroses
  • a maelstrom of salamanders
  • a consortium of crabs
  • an intrusion of cockroaches
  • a hood of snails
  • an audience of squid


Mishearing or misremembering

I was writing to a friend and was saying something about being prepared for action (writing action, actually!) and having said ‘man the pumps‘ and ‘all hands on deck‘, I was going to add ‘ready aye ready‘ – meaning ready always ready, when I suddenly thought that it wasn’t quite right. The pumps and decks reference are navy slang – my friend was a sailor so I was making a bit of a jokey reference; but is ‘ready aye ready‘ correct? or is ‘ready boys/lads ready‘?

I looked it up: ‘aye ready‘ is Rangers Football Club, commonly known as just Glasgow Rangers, motto and  apparently it’s sometimes shortened to just ‘ready’.  The phrase also has a rather controversial connotation in Canada, in its quest for independence from Britain, and  “became tainted with the feeling of a blind following of another country’s politics”:

It was a long road to being its own country and state:

Independence from the United Kingdom

  • Confederation July 1, 1867
  • Statute of Westminster December 11, 1931
  • Patriation April 17, 1982

I continued to look for the phrase, and I think I have found why it seemed familiar to me. When my son was much younger he became a Sea Cadet, and their motto is… Ready Aye Ready! So that is how I knew it! And yes, there is a naval connection!

… oh, and I was probably also thinking of the song, Hearts of Oak which has the refrain ‘ready, boys ready, we’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again!’