The Year of the Rooster is upon us!

It’s the Lunar New Year, and many traditions mark the new year now rather than January 1st. Each year in the Chinese lunar calendar is represented by an animal and since this year is the year of the Rooster why don’t we look at some bird related language. Previous lunar new year posts: here and here.

Birds of a feather (flock together): This idiom simply means that people with similar tastes and interests often group together even subconsciously. Just look at the first class of any of the first year modules and you can see some of the more visible divides already taking place.

Get (have) your ducks in a row: An idiom with a built in verb phrase. If someone has their ducks in a row they are well organised and ready to move to the next step.

ducks

photo credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks. Ducks In A Row via photopin (license)

Worth (their/his/her) scratch: This idiom is a value judgment on an individual. If somebody is worth their scratch they are good to have around, (even if you don’t like them). This probably comes from chickens scratching for food in farmyards.

Up to scratch: Similar to the above this is a judgement either good enough or not. Something that is up to scratch is good (enough) if not then it needs work. Example: “I used to be fluent but my French isn’t really up to scratch anymore.”

A scratch player: (isn’t really bird related but I doubt I’ll now do a post with scratch in it) is someone who is a reliably good player in almost any condition. This originally comes from golf where a scratch player would be expected to play to par (the rating of the course) on any course, this has been extended into all sorts of activities including video games where you can watch YouTube videos of ‘scratch gamers’ completing levels etc.

Sing like a bird: this comparison means someone sings well, beautifully.

Sing like a canary: this one means that the person tells people (often authority figures) about things they shouldn’t (in the view of the speaker). Example: “We were going to have a surprise party for my Mother’s birthday this weekend but Tommy sang like a canary and now she knows everything.”

canary

photo credit: dominique cappronnier Girl in cage via photopin (license)

Pecking order: this idiom refers to authority and/or seniority. If you are higher up the pecking order you come first or are more important. Example: “Final year students typically come higher up the pecking order because of the importance of NSS results”.

Beak: this is the term for the hard nose/mouth part of most birds but it can be used to talk about someone’s nose. Example: “keep your beak out of my business and we’ll get along fine.” Also used as adjective beaky meaning with a big nose (now rare), Example “you’ll know Tom when you see him, he’s beaky”

On the wing: this is a slightly old fashioned term meaning while flying, “to take a bird on the wing” was used in hunting to talk about killing birds in the air. If something is on the wing it is moving or in process and/or hard to reach.

To wing something: means to do it without much preparation. Example: “Toni was ill yesterday so I had to wing the sales talk for Simon. I think it went fairly well.”

A feather in your cap/hat: This idiom refers to an achievement or attribute that you can be proud of. Example: “Public speaking is often frightening, but being able to give a talk is a feather in your cap to many employers.”

Chicken: When used as an adjective this means that a person is easily scared or frightened. Example: “Don’t be such a chicken; everything will be fine.”

A chicken and egg problem: this idiom refers back to the logic puzzle what comes first the chicken or the egg? If you have a chicken and egg problem you may know that two things are related but you’re not sure which affects the other directly?

chick-egg

photo credit: Evelio Sánchez Hay alguien ahí? via photopin (license)

Harvest time

Hampshire Harvest Festival This weekend it’s the Hampshire Harvest Festival hosted around Winchester Cathedral. As well as kid’s activities there will be a variety of stalls showcasing the county’s agricultural produce. With that in mind here are some harvest, (and harvest related) words.

Close Door

Photo J Beddington

Harvest appears first in English as a noun (in 902 OED) and is derived from Old English, with related words in a number of old Germanic languages. Around 1400 it started to be used as a verb as well both uses are still current.

The harvest originally refers to the time of year autumn (or fall for our American readers) but now is most commonly used in compounds like Hampshire Harvest Festival, Harvest Faire, Harvest Moon Etc.

harvest

photo credit: christian.grelard Vintage harvest via photopin (license)

It’s also widely used to talk about the outcome of some work even if that work has little to do with agriculture. Ex, ‘The harvest of new contacts from the latest advertising campaign was down on predictions again. I think we need to reconsider the approach.’ This more metaphorical approach also works as a verb Ex. “Analysing the survey data took longer than expected but we were able to harvest some really significant leads, even if the data is not entirely conclusive.”

A threshold, we may commonly understand to be the liminal space in the doorway say between two rooms, a room and a hallway and/or the inside and the outside of a building. The term comes from thresh (what you do to grain crops to separate the edible bits from the straw) and hold meaning to keep. Originally thresholds were put in the doors of barns to stop the grain blowing out.

A harvest moon is a large often orange-ish moon in autumn that would allow agricultural workers to work late to get the harvest in, or at least to return late from the fields before we had streetlights, torches (flashlights for you Americans) and cars.

Reap what you sow: this old saying means that you get what is coming to you. If you are nice and helpful towards others (even when you don’t have to be) then they are likely to be kind to you when you are in need. If you only do what you need to, then they are likely only to help you as much as they have to. Reaping is one of the first stages of harvesting many crops especially grains.

grim-reaper

photo credit: Anthony Quintano Banksy Grim Reaper New York City via photopin (license)

The grim reaper: this goes back in folklore to the idea that there is a spirit or “angel of death” that collects the souls of the recently dead and takes them to heaven. Normally depicted as a skeleton in a black hooded robe with a scythe, the grim reaper is a common theme for Halloween costumes.

To scrump: this means to take fruit, (especially apples) from trees that are not yours. Don’t forget scrumpy a type of strong cider perhaps made from these apples.

Music idoms in English

Language and Music are often considered separate but there are a number of idioms that depend on music.

To be tone-deaf (to something): if someone is tone-deaf they have trouble telling the difference between similar musical notes, but metaphorically if someone is tone-deaf to something it means they are insensitive to it. Example “Simon, who only lives a 10 minute walk from work, is tone deaf to complaints about parking troubles.”

To strike a chord: if something strikes a chord with you it means you identify with or like the idea expressed or proposed. Example “Clair’s suggestion that we work from home during the transport strike struck a chord with many employees, but management fear it will be treated as an extra holiday.”

To ring a bell: (well bells are musical instruments) this means you recognise something, a name or a face for example but you can’t quite put it in context. Example: “Her name rang a bell but it wasn’t till I saw her that I realised we’d been at school together 20 years ago.”

To miss a beat: to pause or interrupt something often because of surprise or confusion. Example “Boris Johnson clearly missed a beat when he realised he’d won the referendum.”

To sing from the same song sheet: this means that you agree with someone and probably publicly support their position. Example: “Carla and Tom are always singing from the same song sheet, it’s a pity they don’t get on.”

To be in-tune with something/someone: this means that you naturally agree with them and often think, do, or feel the same way. Example “Sue and Mike are really in tune with each other, I’ve never seen them argue.”

Harmony: Musically this refers to different but complementary notes, but it’s often used to describe a state where everyone is peacefully happy despite any differences they might have.

Discord: this is when notes do not go together well, but it’s also used to describe trouble, arguments, or even violence. Example “Sadly since the referendum there has been a lot of racial discord in Britain.”

To blow your own horn: to boast or be publically proud of yourself. Example “Nobody likes to blow their own horn too much but in a job interview you may need to.”

To march to the beat of a different (their own) drum: to do something independently, differently or eccentric to normal expectations. Example “Anne has always marched to her own drum, it’s little surprise to me that she turned down the manager’s job to travel round the world.”

kevinspiteri

To bang the drum for/against something: this means you publicly state your enthusiasm for something. Example “Oscar is always banging the drum for people getting involved in politics, even the ones he knows will disagree with him. It might be boring to some, but you have to respect his passion.”

There are of course many more, why not leave them in the comments.

Gambling and Chance in English

Games of chance (otherwise known as gambling) have a long history in many languages, but sticking with English, let’s look at some of the language used both in and out of gambling that comes from games of chance.

Ante: In a card game the ante is the small amount put in by each player at the beginning of the round. This collectively forms the “pot”.

Ante-up: usually used as an imperative verb to ask all players to put into the pot at the beginning of the turn. (Pony up is another variant that can be used a little bit more widely; “There’s a raffle at our street-party and we’ve all been asked to pony up a prize.”)

piggybank

photo credit: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc

Penny Ante: most commonly used as an adjective to describe something with low stakes; also used derogatorily about people. “Ron talks a lot about the environment but he’s essentially penny-ante, he’ll never do anything serious about it.”

Show your cards: Normally, at the end of a round all players still ‘in’ (playing) show their cards to discover who wins. Also used metaphorically to describe the moment you reveal your thoughts/plans. As a moment this can be described as ‘the reveal’. “Don’t show your cards before the reveal, you never quite know what the others will be thinking or doing.”

Hold your cards close to your chest: A wise piece of advice for gamblers but metaphorically this includes people who don’t normally (or easily) show what they are thinking. “I think Donna will support us, but she keeps her cards close so it’s hard to be sure.”

Wear your cards on your sleeve: (also wear your heart on your sleeve) if you do this people around you know what you think and feel about things. “It’s been observed in the run up to the referendum this week that Leave voters are more likely to wear their cards on their sleeve than those voting remain.”

Dealing from the top/bottom of the deck: If you’re dealing from the top of the deck you are doing things the accepted (normal way). Metaphorically it’s also used to describe honesty and openness. “We need some advice on this why don’t we ask Susan, she always deals from the top of the deck.”

Having a card up your sleeve: If you literally have a card up your sleeve you are cheating in any normal game of cards. However, metaphorically it can mean having a back-up plan or an extra idea or two in case things don’t go as planned. “New teachers often find having a card up their sleeve is a good idea as some lessons may not go as planned or hoped.”

card up sleeve

photo credit: sh13 flush via photopin (license)

To follow suit: to do something similar, predictable or accepted. In a standard deck of cards there are four suits, Clubs, Aces, Hearts and Diamonds. In many games you have to follow suit if you can.

Not playing with a full deck: If you say someone isn’t playing with a full deck you are calling them stupid, (or at least) not having all the relevant information.

Trump: Some cards can be said to trump others because they are more powerful, or flexible or more valuable within the rules of the current game. Typically the trump cards are the jokers, (also called wild cards) but in many games the trump can move around depending on other factors.

To come up trumps: When something works much better than could have been predicted or expected. “The accidental over-order of umbrellas really came up trumps when it rained every day for a month.”

To trump something/someone: This indicates a victory over or dominance somehow. “Mark felt he was the obvious choice for the new manager; he’d been there a long time and had covered the role when the last manager was ill. However, Claire’s energy, enthusiasm and ambition trumped him.

 

Father

Father

It’s been observed in the UK that fathers have been in the news a lot lately. Whether it’s furore over the financial affairs of David Cameron’s family especially his father  or the birth father  of Arch-Bishop Justin Welby,  it’s been hard to avoid mention of them in the news.

20150924151034!David_Cameron_official -via wikimedia

Official photo via wikimedia

Putting this aside the word father or a substitute (dad/daddy) shows up quite a lot in English idiom so let’s look at some of those phrases. Some of these are interchangeable but often there is a subtle shift in meaning between father and mother, as for the persistence of this in English look here.

“The father of x” while this can be quite common identifying tag “Steve is the father of Mary from round the corner.” It also acknowledges importance (often founding) in a field. “Jon is the father of post-modern deconstructionism”. This can also be applied within organisations indicating responsibility but not necessarily founding status. “Simon is the father of our Bournemouth operation.” This is occasionally used across gender lines but most would switch to mother if you’re not sure then use something else. To many people, “Madonna is the father of modern pop” just sounds weird.

“To be a father to x” this indicates a paternal (sometimes literally) role towards someone else, possibly a mentee/mentor relationship but often less formal. “Carl is like a father to me, he’s taught me so much about running the business”.

“To grandfather/ (be grandfathered) in” This one comes from employment unions when someone is grandfathered in they are accepted but not as a new applicant/apprentice but as a skilled, valuable and experienced person (often with a higher rate of pay, greater responsibility). This one can be used for members of either sex, although it may sound odd to some. “In recognition of her years of experience Sue was grandfathered into the union.”

“X is the daddy” to say that something “is the daddy” means it’s the biggest and or best of the type. “While it came late to the console market for many people the X-box remains the daddy of them all.”

“Who’s your daddy?” this is usually an assertion of victory, dominance or primacy often used quite aggressively and in fairly childish contexts. “Despite losing all night “Who’s your daddy” he shouted at the pinball machine every few minutes steadily feeding more coins in.”

“Dadspam” these are those jokes, images & videos that most of us get from older relatives who have recently (finally) gotten email.

“Dad-splain” a version of man-splain where a man regardless of relevant knowledge and/or experience attempts to explain something to a woman who may know a lot more about it than them. “Dad-splain” is when fathers (let’s face it guys it usually is) try to explain something to their children despite not knowing much about it, often embarrassingly in front of the children’s friends.

“Father: give me strength/have mercy” these reference prayers part of the Christian influence on the English language. In prayer and hymn God is often addressed as father.

Flagging Flags

Recently New Zeeland has opted to keep the “Union Jack” in its flag; prompting this article from the BBC. Which by the way misses out some significant flags: the Red and White Ensigns flown by merchant and Royal Navy

red_white_ensign_pin_Royal Navy National Museum

Red and White Ensign Pin from The Royal Navy National Museum

respectively both incorporate the Union Jack this omission might be thought ok as they are only used on British Ships but what about Ontario,

ontario via wikimedia

Flag of Ontario via wikimedia

or the other provinces… in fact arguably only 3 of the provinces or territories are free from British imperial influence in their flags. But surely, if they include American States they should include Canadian Provinces?

Singapore Flag_of_the_British_Straits_Settlements_(1874-1925).svg viawikimieda

Flag of Singapore via Wikimedia

What about Singapore but as this shows Great Brittan has a habit of leaving their flag around the place. But this is getting beside the point. With that in mind let’s look at some of the uses of the word Flag in English.

“to flag something”: this is often used in meetings and other discussions to either draw attention to something important or to note that something requires attention at a later date. This might also be “to flag something up”. Microsoft Outlook uses ‘flags’ to tag items in the inbox that you want to follow up. Example: “Before we finish I’d like to flag the date of the next meeting with you”

“to raise a red flag”: is a metaphor meaning something gives you a warning, or justifiably makes you wary or nervous. Example: “I’m not sure I trust him, something about this just raises a red flag for me.” Interestingly the Red flag is also a socialist anthem “keep the red flag flying”.

“to raise the white flag”: is traditionally a sign of surrender or wish to parlay in war/conflict but can also be a metaphor for giving up. Example: “I’d rather we go away as a family for the holiday but I raised the white flag when Toby threatened to stay home by himself.”

“black flag” traditionally the mark of pirates at sea but also a noted punk band.

Black Flag Band

Black Flag band from their website

“to fly a flag at half-mast”: is a sign of mourning for the death of a significant and public person, this metaphor has gotten stretched and can include use indicating someone seems sad or distracted. Example: “What’s wrong with Claire? She’s been walking around at half-mast all morning.”

“to run something up the flagpole and see who salutes”: a metaphor for mentioning an idea or plan publicly to see who and or how many people respond well (or negatively) to it. Example: “I wasn’t convinced about the new models but we ran it up the flagpole for some key customers and the response was very good.”

“A chequered flag”: of black and white squares is traditionally used in racing for the finish of the race. As a metaphor someone waving the chequered flag indicates the end of something. Example: “I didn’t miss the whole thing I got there in time to see the chequered flag”.

“to wave the flag for something” and/or “to be a flag bearer for something”. These metaphors indicate strong (and genuine) public support for something. Example: “Simon will always wave the flag for change, even if he doesn’t understand the underlying issues”.

“a flag of convenience” literally this is when a ship is registered somewhere or flying a flag of somewhere that it has no real connexion to. Metaphorically someone may fly a flag of convenience to display loyalty they don’t actually have. Example: “Kevin’s only flying a flag of convenience here; he doesn’t really believe in our cause and will desert us at the first opportunity.”

“a flag of courtesy” when in another nations waters ships fly flags of courtesy to show they are aware of their position and willing to abide by that nations laws and regulations.

 

 

 

 

 

Frost

Frost – in one sense it’s weather. As what happens to dew when the temperature is cold enough to freeze it. But, there are a number of interesting linguistic and cultural features using “frost” or a derivative in English.

Jack Frost – an anthropomorphic nature spirit; a representation of winter with a number of spin offs from beer to cartoon characters , and films to games. You might say – “watch out for Jack Frost tonight” – if you think it will be cold.

Jack Frost wikimedia

image via wikimedia

Frosted – adjective used in baking. When there is a thin layer of something (often sweet) on the top or even outside of a baked item. The layer is thinner than icing but more than just a glaze. The cupcakes were frosted with crystallised sugar.

Frosting – noun used in baking. See frosted.

Frost Nixon – a 2008 film directed by Ron Howard. This is a fictionalisation from writer Peter Morgan of the interviews between David Frost (a British journalist and presenter)and Richard Nixon (a former US president with a mixed reputation following the Watergate Scandal).

Touch of frost: expression meaning that there is some frost but not a hard frost.

Hard frost: a very severe frost, many gardeners dread predictions of a hard frost once the spring growth has started. It can be very damaging for many plants.

A frosty reception/welcome: a greeting but without the normal and/or expected warmth. We got a frosty reception at the hotel; despite booking on their website it appears they were closed for renovations so we had to stay somewhere else.

Touch of Frost  – TV programme. Starring David Jason as the eponymous Detective Inspector Jack Frost a determined if not always organised police detective.

A frosty smile/look: When someone looks unfriendly or even hostile despite outwardly seeming normal. I’m not sure we should leave Dave and Simon alone. Dave gave Simon a really frosty look when he arrived I think he’s still upset over losing the poetry prize to him.

Frosty the Snowman – A kid’s song often sung in winter or even as a non-religious Christmas song.

Frostbite – the name for the medical condition where part of your body (starting with the skin freezes. Fortunately, this is very rare in the UK but can be a serious danger in countries that get more severe winters.

Frost Maiden/Queen: a woman who is or seems frightening and/or intimidating and/or unapproachable because of manner, but also one who is logical and unemotional at all times. I’m aware that she seems like a bit of a frost maiden at first; but trust me she’s really very nice just a bit shy around people she doesn’t know. You might be surprised to find that this is a case of sexism in English but there is no male equivalent.

Tennis language:

In honour of Britain’s Davis Cup  win let’s have a look at some phrases relating to tennis.

The origin of the word tennis itself is thought to be from the French verb “tenner” witch was called when each player struck the ball into each other’s area of the court. The sport was probably imported into England by Henry the 8th or at least owes some of its popularity to his enthusiasm for it.

tennis

Royal Tennis from Hampton Court Palace

 

Tennis is primarily played on 3 surfaces, “grass”, “clay” and “hard court”. It can be played by 2 or 4 people with the team variety known as doubles. “Mixed doubles” is when each side has a man and a woman playing.

4582180670_7f584913a8

Professional Tennis has a number (8-10) of line judges who “call balls in or out” although they effectively only call out these days.

“to call a ball in” – to say something is good/ok.

“to call a ball out” – to say something is bad/not ok.

Each match of tennis is presided over by an umpire, also called a chair umpire as they sit in an elevated chair on one side of the net. The umpire can overrule the line judges. A tournament is presided over by a referee whose job it is to ensure that everything is within the rules. Occasionally players may complain to the referee if they feel the umpire is treating them unfairly.

Tennis is a sport of many games, to claim victory over your opponent you need to win the match. Each match is made up of 3 or 5 sets, and you need to win six (or more) games to win each set. While you need six games to win the set, you also need a 2 game lead over your opponent(s) so 7-5 is a possible (in fact not infrequent) final score.

wimbledon

“game – set and match” is traditionally the umpire’s phrase when someone wins, as they will have one the game the set and the match.

“match point” is the critical moment when one player may win the whole match.

“to break service” when the point is won by the player(s) who did not start the play of that point then the service has been broken. A “break point” is the point where the receiving player(s) win the game.

“to win the toss” just before play starts the umpire will toss a coin and the player(s) who win the toss can chose whether they serve first or receive service first.

“serve for the match” when a player is serving for the match they are in a strong position and likely to win.

“love” there is no zero or nil in tennis; if you have no points you have love. The serving players points are always given first so 40-love the servers are about to win, love-40 they are about to lose. Each game starts love-love, one point is known as 15, a second moves you to 30, a third moves you to 40, a fourth is game. However, 40-40 is also known as deuce. From deuce a player needs two points consecutively to win the game; the first point known as advantage. If the score is advantage X and Y wins the point then the score goes back to deuce.

val

To be in a deuce, or describe a situation as a deuce means a difficult of tricky situation.

The phrasing Advantage name (or even name’s advantage) is quite common and while it reflects the tennis score it’s used widely outside of tennis circles.

“The ball’s in your court” when you have done what you can about a situation and you require action from someone else then you can say the ball’s in their court.

Happy 100th birthday to the Women’s institute (gendered language in English)

Today is the 100th anniversary of the WI (Women’s Institute)  in the UK. This very stereotypically British organisation was actually originally founded in Stoney Creek Ontario in 1897.

Our local branch is just outside the Historic Roman and Saxon cities of Winchester.

WI House from Google Streetview

In Honour of the centenary let’s look at gender in the English Language.

English is less inflectional and less gendered than many other European languages. However, there are some areas where English is still quite gendered and one area is our pronouns.

He/She/It (the 3rd Person):

It’s annoying when students assume that because someone is an academic, and a professor that they are male. Especially as more and more women are staying in academia longer and more successfully. Keep in mind that the only person to ever win two Nobel prizes in different fields was Marie Skłodowska Curie.  So claims that “language hasn’t caught up yet” and “it’s only a recent phenomenon” are hollow and puerile.

There remains some debate about how to talk about lone (or hypothetical) individuals of neutral or neither gender. Using “he” is problematic because the person may or may not be a “he”. Statistically speaking in the UK despite the fact that slightly more male children are born than female this indefinite person is more likely to be female.  Using “she” is just as problematic. Historically, there was a bias towards using “he” but switching to “she” is overcompensating and when traditionally masculinity, roles, and identity are undergoing changes already this could only worsen the impact for many.

If you find “(s)he”, “she or he”, and “he/she” or my personal bête noir “it” awkward, clumsy and generally lacking in style and flair. You wouldn’t be alone. There have been numerous attempts to insert a gender neutral third person singular pronoun into English. The fact that there have been so many attempts should tell you something; they failed. Whether it is “X” “Xe” (incidentally this would be pronounced ‘she’ by speakers of some languages) “ ‘e” or even the Greek letter sigma “∑”. None of them were widely adopted, remained persistent within certain groups, or even consistently applied within the originating academic disciplines and/or schools of thought.

The problem is inventing a new word isn’t easy. Inventing a new word in a closed syntactic category is next to impossible. One thing all the examples above lack is pronounceability. A novel word needs to be pronounceable or it won’t catch on. Another is that English already has words which (in almost all situations) meet this need. What is this magical expression you ask “they”. Yes traditionally they and there are associated with plural 3rd person usage. But, English would not be alone in using a plural for a singular in certain situations. Additionally, this use is already fairly widespread and in most situations does not introduce any ambiguity.

Consider this sentence. “Sam said they’re still coming this morning but they’d be late; they have to drop their children off at school.” We don’t know in this case whether Sam is short for Samantha or Samuel (or perhaps just Sam. But, we do know who “they” and “their” refers to.

Women’s / Men’s magazines:

The glossy press is one area where gendering is still particularly strong. But, both the terms “men’s magazine” and “women’s magazine” are quite dismissive. Perhaps this is because they are being defined by their target audience and assumptions about them as a group rather than their content.

Chairperson:

We’ve probably all heard the joke that “90% of chair people are women” the punch line is that “it’s still only 10% of chairmen that are chairpersons”. Chairperson is one of the terms thought of collectively as political correctness and perhaps because of this not as widely used as it might be. In academia there was already fairly wide use of “Chair” as a role before chairperson became common. However, this remains persistent Google has 24 million hits for chairperson, and 249 million for chairman (more than 10 times as many) so we still have a lot of work to do. And that’s not all, there is still a huge pay gap.

Marginalisation through child terms:

Women are still much more likely to be called girls, than men are to be called boys. Where men are collectively referred to as boys it’s usually an affectionate closeness. While this does cover some uses of girls the term is applied much more broadly.

Personnel Access Conduit Sealing Device:

Image under creative commons from The Tire Zoo on twitr

Image under creative commons from The Tire Zoo on twitr

This is the politically correct term for what was historically referred to as a “Man Hole Cover”. So perhaps correctness can go a bit far. When nobody knows what you mean any more; you’re not using language effectively.

Penny for the Guy.

This Thursday November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day, also known as bonfire night. It’s one of a few occasions where large numbers of fireworks are set off annually in the UK. Remember if you are going to have your own fireworks to do so safely and responsibly. But, you might prefer to go to a display hosted by a local organisation and managed by professionals.

Bonfire Night via creative commons on Flikr

Bonfire Night via creative commons on Flikr

Not so long ago it wasn’t unusual to see chuggers, Love them or loath them, raising funds for their organisation by displaying their ‘guy’. (Although the term ‘chugger’ postdates the popularity of the tradition of parading “a guy”.) A guy in this sense was much like a scare crow  old clothes filled with straw or rags. The guy would then be ceremoniously put on top of a fire, or even thrown in once the fire was going. Unlike most people whose names are associated with days Fawkes did not get a day named after him for being popular. Guy Fawkes was in some senses probably a fall guy  for a plot to blow up the houses of parliament with the MP’s Lords and monarch inside. He was executed by the state he sought to destroy. Since then Brits have annually braved the autumn temperatures to celebrate his failure, and burn him in effigy, more recently accompanied by fireworks.

More recently the mask of Guy Fawkes has become associated with the anonymous hackers group, as well as several protest movements around the world.

Via Wikimedia

Via Wikimedia

And then there is the children’s rhyme.

Remember remember the 5th of November

Gunpowder treason and plot

Fireworks Selina Rowe via creative commons on Flikr

Fireworks Selina Rowe via creative commons on Flikr

Let’s look at some of the language connected to guy, fireworks and the celebration of the day.

An etching of Guy Fawkes no attribution via bbc

An etching of Guy Fawkes no attribution via bbc

Penny for the guy – a call used to solicit donations for the guy, the fireworks, and sometimes charitable organisations hosting them.

To guy could also mean to carry the guy through the streets, either to collect money or on the way to the bonfire.

Fall Guy – (some suggest this comes from elsewhere but it fits) – someone who gets the blame for something, usually unfairly or they get blamed entirely when they were only partly at fault.

Go to Guy – idiomatic use for someone with special skills or connections making them invaluable in certain circumstances. “Simon’s the go to guy for anything to do with new technology in our office.”

Guys – informal collective noun often used gender inclusively although originally indicating males.

Some Guy – an individual but not a specific or fixed one. A perhaps deliberately vague reference to someone else. “Some guy’s finished the milk and not replaced it.”

Buddy Guy – a colloquial slang version of ‘some-guy’. Used as a stage name by George Guy.

Fireworks – literally the colourful explosives let off during the evening of Guy Fawkes day but it can also be figurative. Often for someone losing their temper: “There must have been some fireworks when you told Lydia that you we’re leaving.” “Yes she was furious; I wonder why she has to take everything personally.” But occasionally for a feeling of great excitement/happiness: “When I collected my degree, it was like fireworks going off.”

A guy wire can provide a guide or an anchor for something, typically an Arial or a mast. Within fairly technical jargon you might even guy the mast before a storm to stop it blowing over. This can often be misunderstood and you’ll find lots of references to guide wires as well.

The oldest use of guy as a verb dates to the 1300s (OED) meaning to conduct or lead away. “We were guyed round the church by the verger.”

Round about the same time guy could mean a conductor or leader. “The guy of the left Corbyn continues to alienate some of the centrists in his own party”. But, these last two usages are obscure and quite old fashioned now.