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Posts Tagged ‘hiatus’

Just so you know, things are getting silly… I don’t have time to think, let alone write blog posts this week. So unless I suddenly discover those extra hours I’ve paid myself for, I won’t be writing any more till the weekend. I do have some ideas churning away in my head though, so it’ll hopefully be worth the wait.

Random thoughts about words

‘Hiatus’ confused me for a long while. I thought it was something quite active at first – it sounds like it should involve rushing around. One of the ladies at the cafe where I worked on Saturdays when I was a teenager had a hiatus hernia. I felt very sympathetic, as I imagined it was similar to having a muscle whipping around loose inside her belly, like a snake that had got its tail trapped. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I discovered ‘hiatus’ actually means a temporary break or a gap in something. It doesn’t seem to matter though, I still think of it as a lively word. I wonder how many other words I have a totally inaccurate understanding of.

When I was younger, about 5 or 6 I think, I started to obsess about the way words sound. I spent a whole week trying to persuade myself that ‘cold’ was in fact an acceptable word. I’d say it out loud to myself over and over, and it would never sound right. Strangely, it was always one word at a time that bugged me, and once I’d finished worrying away at the word of the week (or day or hour or month) I became quite comfortable with it again. I still get occasional flashes of weirdness about particular words. Never about written words though.

And then there was ‘ha-ha’. I asked my mum and dad why this combination of wall and ditch had such a stupid name. They said it was because when someone fell down the ditch because they didn’t see it was there, everyone else would say ‘ha-ha’. Which seemed perfectly reasonable. I believed that for decades. Then I found out the real reason – it’s half wall and half ditch: ha-ha. I have never forgiven my parents.

What do you say to a child who asks, ‘Why is a chair called a chair?’ I always used to respond, ‘It’s got to be called something.’ Which is totally unsatisfactory, but it usually got me off the hook. I suppose an alternative would be to point said child in the direction of The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg, but that would seem a little unfair. It’s a good book though.

Why is there no English word for schadenfreude?

Why are swear words starting with ‘b’ so much better than any others?

And finally, I can say ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ backwards. Not quite sure why. But it’s a fabulous word which means the act or habit of describing something as worthless.

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