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.


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.


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.”


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.”)


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.




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.






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.

The Language of Plants

We’ve already done language of spring and we did a big post on spring and flowers  last spring. But, so far the huge range of idiom and expression related to plants and horticulture has yet to bloom or bear fruit here.

“Bloom/Blossom”: We better deal with this one first… since it’s one of two in the sentence above. When a plant’s flower opens it can be said to bloom, (or blossom). Figuratively, someone could bloom in a role or just generally meaning that they were doing really well. “After a couple of false starts Simon opened his own coffee shop and really bloomed.”

Photo: J Beddington

Photo: J Beddington

“Bear Fruit”: If/when something bears fruit it pays off for the people who planted, nurtured, or cared for the plant. This is fairly easy to work out the figurative meaning. “This plan may take a little while to bear fruit, but it is easy to set up and maintain.”

“Grapevine”: We use this expression when we talk about rumours or gossip. But, also when we want to hide our source of information (remember we never do this in academic work). “I heard on the grapevine that Diane is planning to leave the company. Do you think it’s true?”

“Harvest”: Both a noun and a verb the harvest is the reward at the end of a period of hard work. It can be used very pragmatically, “The harvest of this project will take a while to process.” or more emotively “While it’s not always possible attending graduation allows students to celebrate their achievement and have their harvest recognised by their peers and families.”

“Sow the seeds of…”: this phrase recognises that some things take time to develop and need a basis in which to develop. “This new approach to product design should sow the seeds of success for the next 20 years.”

“Kernel”: The kernel is the centre of a seed, but the word is also used to talk about the centre and most essential part of many different things from people to computer code. “Jane while usually avoiding the limelight was at the kernel of the company for many years.”


“Reap what you sow”: This one is similar to harvest but in contrast it is used much more often in negative senses. Reaping is the act of collecting or harvesting a crop, sowing is when the seeds are thrown onto the earth. “I can’t believe it nobody sent me a birthday card this year” “Well you reap what you sow”

“Root & Branch”: This is almost political jargon and it means the whole organisation. “The government promised root and branch reforms to get the economy moving again, but the changes seemed minor, complicated and poorly implemented”

“Set down roots”: If you set down roots you start to feel like a long term local in a new place, it can also be used to mean (well) established in a particular environment or location. “While the City council tried to attract new businesses to the high street few really set down roots.”

“Turn over a new leaf”: This is another one about change. If you turn over a new leaf you choose to change for the better. “This year I’m going to be a better student. I’m tuning over a new leaf and I’m not going to put off my homework anymore.”

“Grasp the nettle”: While stinging nettles are normally to be avoided this is encouragement or advice means to be brave and do something that’s scary/unpleasant, counter-intuitively perhaps but if you grab nettles roughly they are less likely to sting you as badly than if you just brush them lightly. “Grasp the nettle; ask him out for a date.”

“Sour grapes”: If someone has sour grapes they are unhappy about something, and everyone knows it because they are telling people. “Don’t mind Henry, he’s got sour grapes over you getting the promotion to team leader but he knows you deserved it more.”

“Separate the wheat from the chaff”: Once the wheat has been harvested the grain needs to be separated from the chaff, the part of the plant that comes with the grain when harvested. If a process separates the wheat from the chaff it divides the good and/or useful bits/people from those that are not as desirable. “The next test is difficult; it will really separate the wheat from the chaff so make sure you are ready for it.”


“The grass is (always) greener (on the other side of the fence/street)”: This one means that often things can seem better than they are from a little distance, but that this might be deceptive. “Remember the grass is always greener…. His car is pretty, but between the insurance and running costs you could buy a new car every year”

“The darling buds (of May)” like so much of our language we owe this phrase to Shakespeare specifically sonnet 18. “Rough winds may shake the darling buds of May” So he seems to be saying that while people cherish spring flowers that this alone is not perfect and might not make everyone happy.

Love in the English Langauge (The Valentine’s Post)

In honour of Valentine’s Day let’s look at the language of love.

It’s been noted that many languages have more words for love than English. That like so many generalisations is perhaps both true and not true.

While there are lots of words that we tend to just translate as love. Love can be a verb, adjective and a noun (both abstract and concrete) in English so it’s a hard working word. What’s more love has been part of English as long as there has been English, (perhaps this fact accounts for some of its many applications).


Adore: (verb) means to love both romantically and not, perhaps in an idealised sense and quite a strong emotion.

I adore chocolate; I could eat it morning noon and night.

Boyfriend: (noun) a male romantic partner, possibly a lover possibly not. Not to be confused with male friends in general.

Her new boyfriend is very handsome, but always late.

Crave: (verb) means to (almost physically) need something an addict craves the object of their addition this is very strong and almost pathological.

After a weekend away for work I was craving my bed and my family.

Divine: (adjective) if you think someone is divine it means you are really into them, you think they are just about perfect, and it’s not logical.

Despite her being mean, smelly and rude; Kevin thinks Tanya is divine.

Exclusive: (adjective) if a relationship is exclusive, neither partner sees (romantically) anyone else; the opposite of an ‘open relationship’.

Tom wants to be exclusive but always falls for people who want open relationships.

Fond: To be fond of (verb expression) you can be fond of friends, family, and even pets or places. It means you have a benign well-wishing feeling towards them. It’s not as strong as some of the others, and can be used with but.

Personally, I’m fond of dogs but I can understand why people don’t like them.

Flirt: (noun/verb) if you flirt with someone you talk and act towards them in a way that might create interest. However, it might not be serious; it can be just for fun.

Was Tom flirting with Sue just now?

Girlfriend: (noun) a female romantic partner, possibly a lover possibly not. Not to be confused with female friends in general.

His new girlfriend is very elegant, but usually rude to his friends.

Hang out with: (verb expression) if you hang out with someone a lot people might think you are ‘together’.

Clive has been hanging out with Claire a lot lately, I wonder if anything is happening there?

Hit on someone: (verb expression) if you hit on someone you make a pass at them you say and do things to try and get them romantically interested in you.

Cynthia was definitely hitting on Tony last week but I don’t think he noticed.

Hallmark Holiday: (noun) a hallmark holiday is one that only exists for sales and marketing purposes. It’s only celebrated to get people to spend money on things they otherwise wouldn’t.

Valentine’s Day, Teacher’s Day and Halloween have all been accused of being hallmark holidays.

Into: to be into (verb expression) if you are into someone or something you like it, possibly a lot.

Simone is really into Frank but he’s more into football than anything else.

Just a fling: (noun expression) this is a way of dismissing the significance of a relationship.

They did hang out a bit last summer but I’m sure it was just a fling, they don’t really have much in common.


Keen on: (verb) if you are keen on someone or something you like them/it.

Sue is keen on Brian, but I’m not sure it will go anywhere.


Lover: (noun) a person who you are engaged in a physically romantic relationship with is your lover, it may or may not be a life partner.

His lover told him that the new book wasn’t worth buying.


Mope: (verb) if you mope you stay still or move slowly in a way that is sad and expresses that sadness.

Carlos has been moping about after Elaine for months, but I don’t think she likes him that way at all.


Need: (Noun/Verb) this one is very strong; if you need somebody/something you can’t do without. As a noun people might talk about needs as criteria for a partner.

Her needs are simple, he has to be handsome, rich and like talking about her.


Open Relationship: (Noun) if you are in an open relationship everyone sees other people romantically as well, and everyone is open and knows about it.

Some people find themselves falling into open relationships because they’re unsure how to talk about their relationships with partners.


Passion: (noun) if you have a passion for something you love it. It can also be used to discuss the intensity of a relationship.

Ginny and Paul shared a passion for rare books and bird watching.


Queer: (adjective) this is one of the words that some people who are interested in other people of the same gender as them use to identify themselves. It’s also lent its name to a field of critical analysis: Queer Theory.

Martha told Mike she was queer, but maybe he was hitting on her.


Romantic: (adjective) if you do something romantic you act in a way that inspires or suggests romance.

Do you really find Valentine’s Day romantic? It’s such a Hallmark Holiday.


Serious: (adjective) if a relationship is serious it is long term and stable; they might get married, buy a house and/or have children.

He’d been in love before, but this time it was serious.


Together: (preposition/adjective) if people are together then they are in a relationship.

Are Sam and Tina together? They’ve been talking in a corner all evening?


Unrequited: (adjective) an unrequited love is one that is not reciprocated or returned.

Many young men apparently harbour an unrequited love for Emma Watson one of the stars of Harry Potter, fortunately most of them realise this.


Visit (Love Visit): (noun) I can’t be 100% certain as this is an old idiom but this seems to be somewhere between a date that you go on with someone or possibly what one might refer to in the vernacular as a booty-call.

With love from: (semi-set expression) often written at the end of email/letters or in cards and on the labels of gifts.

With love from ELTSU

X – it’s easy to cheat with x and z we’ve doubled up above instead. See H & F


Yfall: (Old English – Verb phrase) a long time before Shakespeare, before even Chaucer, in Old English we would have yfalled into love (now we fall in love).  Let’s hope that this isn’t considered cheating as discussed in X & Z


Z – it’s easy to cheat with x and (slightly less so with) z we’ve doubled up above instead. See H & F

Snow in Winchester

In honour of the weather in Winchester this morning; let’s have a look at snow phrases. Keep in mind this only happens every couple of years for us.

Photo: Shan Chen

Photo: Shan Chen

Snowman: you know this one two to three balls of snow placed on top of each other (in decreasing order of size. Traditionally with sticks for arms, a carrot for a nose etc. More politically correctly this should be snowperson but some language seems to stick. See Disney’s Frozen and watch out for Olaf.

Disney's Olaf from Frozen

Disney’s Olaf from Frozen

Snowball: these are much smaller balls of snow, traditionally thrown at one another creating a snowball fight. However, snowball as a verb can be used more metaphorically. If something snowballs it gets bigger and bigger, (just as a snowball rolling down a snowy hill would).

Snow-day: this is what many school pupils may have been hoping for the last couple of weeks; a day when there is too much snow for pupils to safely get to school so the government closes the schools to keep everyone safe.

Snowflake: the individual pieces of snow ranging in size from tiny to very tiny, no two are identical in their crystalline structures. Snowflakes can be used as a comparison for uniqueness. Idiomatically a snowflake’s chance in hell is used to discuss very low chances and/or very bad odds.

Snowplough: this is the machine or device for moving snow away, sometimes attached to the front of an appropriate vehicle sometimes the whole special purpose vehicle itself. While idiomatic forming a verb through conversion means to aggressively/blithely push something through without thinking about or caring to much how others might see things. Once the Managing Director has made her mind up she’ll snowplough any objections and just do it. Another word that works similarly is to steamroller.


Smaller than the snowplough is a snow-blower this is not completely unlike a lawn mower except that it throws the snow sideways out of a funnel; causing no few arguments in suburbia.

Image from BBC

Image from BBC

Even more basic than this, and standard car equipment for six months of the year in Canada is a snow shovel, this one is powered by you, and it’s traditionally a teenager’s job around the house to shovel the front walk and the pavement (sidewalk) in front of the property. In many cities failing to clear the pavement can result in a fine for the residents and/or owner, sometimes they can even be held responsible for any injuries caused by un-cleared snow and ice.

Snow-angel: this is usually made by/with children, you find a clear patch of snow and flop backwards (at least traditionally backwards; you experiment with face first if you want to) into it with your arms and legs wide. You then move your arms in arcs keeping them straight and away from your body and head forming the image of a winged humanoid (angel) in the snow. The difficult part is standing up and walking away without disrupting the image.


Snow-blindness: can snow blind you? Really? Yes but not by getting in your eyes. (BTW: on Canadian playgrounds when I was growing up this was known as a snow job. Sneak up behind or beside someone with a big hand full of snow and rub it in their face. Now you know why we all had those glowing complexions. Snow-blindness is actually caused by light bouncing off the snow, it can come on quite quickly and it’s caused by an overexposure to light. Most sunglasses will protect you reasonably well from it, and you normally feel your eyes becoming sore and tired before you actually lose your sight. Metaphorically, if someone goes snow-blind about something they act like they can’t see because of an excess of a particular cause. As long as the boys are good scorers at Hockey the coach gets snow-blind about them being on time for practice.

Edit 17/02/15 – it seems we forgot Snowdrop (noun): a small white flower often the first to bloom in the UK, sometimes so early that there is still snow on the ground.

Photo: James Beddington

Photo: James Beddington

Loan words

One thing that came up today was the idea of loan words.

While it is possible to express the idea behind Karaoke, Schadenfreude, Bungalow, Pirogi, Taboo, Pasta, Halal, Pajamas, Kamikaze, Tatoo, Kosher etc. in English without using these words it is: time-consuming, inexact and not much fun.

It has been said that “English is a langauge that lurks in dark alleys, knocks other languages over the head and rifles through their pockets for any loose vocabulary” and statistically speaking English is larger than other languages and perhaps adopts words (especially into dialects) more readily than some other languages.

English is also a fairly durable language, meaning that it can be battered about and broken quite extensively while still managing to function as a means of communication. I once observed one student asking another out with “you, me, movie, today evening” (sic), the message got across and they became a couple. This durability perhaps makes it more porous to new terms and linguistic ideas.

It’s also an international language with a number of versions and dialects. Having been a major colonising country (UK) and a large players in global economics (USA & UK not to marginalize other nations) English has also come into contact with a huge variety of other languages, and been used transactionally between individuals with no other means of communicating (remember the students from above). On a larger scale this can lead to the forming of pigeons and creoles, which may in time contribute more lexis to the language.

Here’s a challenge.

  1. Where do the words you use come from?
  2. What words do we not have an appropriate, pithy one word term for in English?