Overstaying your welcome…..

Always be wary of overstaying your welcome. As the Italians say, ‘L’ospite è come il pesce: dopo tre giorni puzza’, the guest is like a fish: after three days he smells bad: desconvidar (Portuguese) to withdraw an invitation il est comme un cheveu dans la soupe (French) he is not …

On this day in 1906……

Brothers John and Will Kellogg—creators of the Kellogg breakfast cereals—formulated their recipe for cornflakes in the Battle Creek Sanitarium, the health resort they ran together in Battle Creek, Michigan. Diet at Battle Creek was bland—mainly sugarless gruels, fibre-rich grains, and low-fat granolas. Like other religious conservatives of the time, the …

Eskimo, Esquimaux and snow…….

The number of different Inuit words for snow has been the subject of endless debate, few people taking into account the fact that the now-offensive group name ‘Eskimo’ (from the French Esquimaux, derived from North American Algonquian and literally meaning ‘eaters of raw flesh’) covers a number of different language …

Do bees buzz?……

In Albanian, Danish, English, Hebrew and Polish, to name just a few languages, bees make a buzzing sound, and cats miaow. However, no language but English seems to think that owls go ‘tu-whit, tu-woo’ or a cockerel goes ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’. And not everyone agrees about the birds and the bees either: …

The rather odd history of rigmarole…..

Rigmarole is an unusual word with an interesting origin. It is used to describe something disconnected, rambling and difficult to see a way through. It is now well over 700 years old and dates back to 1291 when the Scottish noblemen signed a deed of loyalty to King Edward I …

Gyuho and other Japanese metaphors……

The Japanese are particularly fond of animal metaphors: itachigokko – weasels’ play (a vicious circle) gyuho – an ox’s walk (a snail’s pace) neko no hitai – a cat’s forehead (a very small area) yabuhebi ni naru – to poke at a bush and get a snake (to backfire) ryuto …

I am passionate about….

Advertisers and politicians latch on to fashionable words to sell their products – remember vision, excellence, and mission statement? The 2000s have seen a plague of the word passionate, particularly in the more liberal leaning newspapers. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), its main senses are “marked by anger, …

A very short history of the Thermometer………

Scientists in the 1500s noticed that changes in the volume of a liquid or gas were accompanied by consistent changes in its temperature. To accurately measure these changes they devised thermoscopes, the simplest of which were glass tubes, with one end projecting into a vial of water. Rising temperatures would …

Brendan Behan…..

I have a new book coming out in a few weeks – The Men who stare at Hens published by The History Press. It is intended as an homage to some of the wonderfully dotty individuals of the Emerald Isle. To give you an idea of its content I have posted below …

Kalsarikännit……..

I’ve just discovered that there is a Finnish word for “getting drunk at home in your underwear with no intention of doing anything else”. The word is kalsarikännit. This is important news. At first, I didn’t believe it. There are a lot of amazing-foreign-words-with-sentence-long-definitions that either don’t exist, or only exist …