Now before you think I’m being unfair on my young son, let me explain what a Sybarite is, or was.
The Free Dictionary has it that a Sybarite (sib-a-right) is one who is devoted to luxury and pleasure. That’s not too bad now, is it? Ok, St. Benedict (founder of the benedictian monastic system and promoter of vows of poverty, amongst others) wouldn’t approve, but my son loves luxury in a purely tactile and innocent way. He cannot resist touching the world around him and he shows a definite preference for silk and satin over wool and cotton. Give him a choice between the soft and sensuous, and the plain and mundane – luxury will triumph. As for pleasure, well, have you ever met a six-year-old who didn’t want to play all day long and have the world revolving entirely around him?
Now being a Sybarite when you’re fully grown, that might be something else. We expect a little self-sacrifice and and hard work from the adults. But there are plenty around who would be sybarites if given half a chance. Isn’t that why they buy lottery tickets?
The dictionary also lists an alternative definition for the term – a native of Sybaris. But here we run into problems, in my opinion at least. Firstly, my old friend Google Maps cannot locate Sybaris, and secondly, how can we be sure that absolutely everyone who lived there (it was a city in ancient Greece, in case you’re curious, somewhere in southern Italy now) was into luxury and pleasure to such an extent that they coined a term from the placename? It’s like the awful PR job the town council of Sodom did once, long ago. It made me laugh, however, to find that the mapping tools could find listings for loads of hotels by the name Sybaris. Apparently although it’s a rarely used word, somebody made the connection to luxury and pleasure and decided to steal it for their hotel chain. I wonder how many guests know what the name means?
Until next time, I hope you have a sybaritic time,
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This week’s word comes with thanks to my friend Linda in my knit and natter group. Knowing that I love unusual words, she noticed this one and brought it to my attention.
Indeed, what’s not to love about a word which begins with the word fun? Although, fundamentalist does too, and isn’t nearly so entertaining in meaning. A funambulist (pronounced fu-nam-bul-ist) is a tight-rope walker, or a slack-rope walker (which confuses me somewhat). So, how are your high-wire skills? Can you walk a tiny line, while juggling perhaps?
The fun in funambulist doesn’t even relate to fun, in a merriment sense of the word. It means rope and another example of that would be funicular railways – where the carriages are hauled uphill thanks to ropes and pulleys. I’ve enjoyed rides on those in Paris and also in Tuscany, despite always wondering about the strength of the ropes (or steel cables) and how regularly they are maintained! Ambulist relates to one who walks – ambulatory, for example, means to be capable of moving around. Now that I think of it, one who cannot move around by themselves may well be transported in an ambulance.
But there is a chance that you’re still a funambulist, even if your sense of balance is tenuous. World Wide Words adds a definition of the word as meaning “one who is mentally agile”. Now that I could aspire to and it wouldn’t require a safety net or expensive life insurance. I’ve yet to meet a modern parent who isn’t a funambulist of great skill. We juggle adult concerns and conversations while nurturing and supervising our children, despite ongoing tiredness and lack of “me time”.
Have fun with your funambulism this week,
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Turnips are on my mind this week. Quite apart from the fact that they are rather tasty at this time of year, they seem to be following me.
First my son started eating them raw (as sticks, like carrot sticks only nuttier in flavour). He’s doing a fruit and vegetable promotional course in school called Food Dudes. It’s rather good, if you’re a parent I suggest you check it out. I then had to explain to my confused husband what the difference is between a swede and turnip. Not much really. Essentially turnips were called swedes in Ireland in olden times. I have no idea if it was because the Swedish people ate a lot of them. Perhaps Vikings hurled them at the native Irish when they were invading us? I’ve been ordering seeds for our backgarden vegetable plot from The Organic Centre. They list swedes seperately to turnip, but the descriptions look awfully similar to me. In much the same way, swede are called neeps in Scotland.
Then I was looking through my notes of potential words for this blog and napiform (na-pee-form) jumped out at me. Apparently it means turnip-shaped. Why do we need such a term in this world? I grant you than turnips are an important foodstuff, but it isn’t such an unusual shape, is it? However, judging by the number of listings for napiform in medical online dictionaries I think it is one of those terms used in latin for gardeners which has been stolen by the medics. Sure enough, it may be used to describe a tumour of that shape. Which begs the question, what doctor was so hungry when diagnosing a patient that it occured to him or her that the tumour looked like food?
The final turnip link came from my other blog, Reading 501 Books, about my attempts to read a huge list of “books you should read before you die”. I’m currently reading “The Canterbury Tales” by Chaucer from this list. I had no idea that they were in verse. I am pleasantly surprised to find the stories entertaining and well-written. They are readable enough despite the Olde English. I suspect a fair grounding in French is coming to my aid, as Chaucer liberally seizes terms from the French in his text.
But what of the turnip connection? Reading through the notes to one page to find the meaning of “balric”, it struck me how like it was to a certain character played by Tony Robinson in the excellent series “Blackadder”. His name was Baldrick. In my edition of Chaucer it is explained that a balric was the belt on which you hung your hunting/drinking horn. The Baldrick I recalled was not quite so useful. He was more concerned with his cunning plans to stockpile turnips.
I suspect my son would agree with Baldrick on the stockpiling, whether I called them swedes, neeps, or turnips.
Happy reading and writing,
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I am a fan of New Year’s Resolutions and I discovered this year that my son is too. They’re not for everybody, of course, and there’s nothing to stop you deciding to change your life or habits on the 17th of May either for that matter, but there’s something about the New Year which calls for change. I have a list from a particularly ambitious New Year about six years ago. I aimed to learn how to drive, lose significant weight, learn how to swim and write a novel. I managed them all except the swimming (I’m still struggling with a fear of water, but I’m much better than I was). Not all in one year, you understand. I believe in the resolutions but I don’t tend to set a deadline.
This year however I didn’t set any. I have a heap of writing goals to meet in the next twelve months and decided those would be enough to handle. That was until my six-year old son arrived home to declare they’d been discussing resolutions in school and he had made one himself. As his mother I already thought he was close to perfect – what could his resolution be? “I am going to be good,” he declared. Amazingly he is really trying to stick to it. Much helped by a wise teacher who added the next day to the students that “each day is a new day” – meaning you can re-start your resolution as often as you need to. Clever woman.
His resolution got me thinking and I now have an avuncular (a-vunc-cul-lar) resolution of my own. This adjective, often applied to uncles (why not aunts?), describes one of fond benevolence. It’s a wonderful quality to have in any person and worth aspiring to, if only because the word sort of roles off your tongue in a pleasant fashion.
Regular readers will know that I crochet regularly (amongst other crafting activities). All my family now sport homemade scarves, hats, jewellery, and such like gifts. I’m working on a detailed cardigan for myself at the moment. But you do tend to get left with oddments of yarn and finally even a loving family has a surfeit of scarves. I get around this issue by creating a bevy of tiny hats for Innocent Smoothies’ Big Knit campaign each autumn.
But this year I am branching out. Each month I will try to complete something using my crafting skills to contribute to a charity. If any of you have suggestions of what I could make and where I could donate it – please comment below. For January I am making a stripey grey and red scarf for Craft Hope’s projecct number 6 – The Red Scarf Appeal. I’ll post a photo here of the finished article and if any of you knit, I can recommend the free pattern provided at Craft Hope for this project – it looks wonderful enough to almost tempt me to ditch my crochet hook in favour of two needles.
until next time, happy reading, writing, and crafting,
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Hello and Happy New Year,
I find I’m using my dictionary more often these days. Partly to fuel this blog (a good reason to start a blog in my opinion), and partly to help me answer vocabulary questions from my six year old boy. Thankfully I’ve yet to experience the “why? why? why?” phase from either of my children, although I’ve spoken to glass-eyed parental victims. So in our house if a child asks a question about something we try to answer the query as best we can, in words and examples a child can understand.
Usually when my son’s growing vocabulary needs me to explain a word I read to him or use in speech I can define it easily. Now and then I struggle to explain it simply enough and resort to my dictionary. It reminds me of the time in my own youth (about age 9) when classmates began to tease me about having eaten a dictionary. I hadn’t, of course, I just read a lot and had well-read parents. I ignored them and sooner or later each of the teasers had to ask me to help with their English homework. I did however, hold back on using the more unusual words in speech and confined them to my written work.
This weeks’ words from my son were ones I had to seek out on the Internet, knowing the terms existed but lacking the exact words.
First is (in his own words) “the castle house that sits on top of an elephant with people in it”. We’d been watching “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” which features such things. The term is a howda. On paper it looks awfully like the common Irish slang greeting “howaya?” (how are you?). I like this word but I doubt I’ll use it often. I’d tried to palm him off with the revelation that an elephant driver is called a mahout (pronounced “ma-hoot” I believe) but he wasn’t taking second best, sensible child.
The second is “the ball thingy they threw at Indy”. Recognising a theme yet? This time we’d been watching “Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull” which depicts South American native tribesmen hurling bolas at their prey’s legs to knock them over. This time I knew the term once I unearthed it and I recalled learning it in school, perhaps during a geography lesson? Again, not a word you’d need everyday but a useful one to have in your pocket, especially for adventurous archaeology professors.
Perhaps when you’re casting about for a New Year’s resolution this year you could do worse than resolving to improve your own vocabulary. After all, I eat dictionaries for breakfast and even I had to look up howda.
happy reading and writing,
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It’s official, I am braingwashing my son. But in a good way, honest. He came dancing into the kitchen yesterday to show me a convoluted creation made from K’nex (the pieces are less irritating to walk on than Lego, plus I’m not ready to share my Lego stash just yet!). “Look Mammy, do you like my contraption?”
My heart nearly burst with pride. Not only had he designed a fantastic device for some imaginative use known only to himself and the cast of a thousand heroes and villains which populate his games and dreams, but he was using one of my favourite words. It made up (partly) for all the times he has interrupted the narrative flow of my writing to ask for a drink / my instant attention / permission to sit on my knee and bash the keyboard. He’s five and half years old. I think contraption is fairly advanced word-usage for that age, right? Mind you we did have a bet going on with my now late father-in-law when my son was two, that he was the best talker ever in the world (hey, he’s my first child, I am allowed preen a little). Tom said he’d only believe that when junior could say “Constantinople”. We turned to Daniel and said “say Istanbul, Daniel”…and he did.
But what of contraptions? According to my dictionary they are over-elaborate, eccentric gadgets. No wonder I love the word, I also love what they describe. It’s no coincidence that I obsessed with Lego as a child and worked in computers for over a decade. I didn’t watch much of the TV series “McGiver” [sic?] but I yearn to create intricate machines for obscure jobs with just a paperclip, a paper bag, and a piece of string.
I am a gadget girl and I’m proud of it. We all know men who obsess about the latest gizmo, or contraption, but let me tell you, there are girls out there with the latest ingenious device too and one of them is my mother. She couldn’t pass a cookware shop without purchasing a bizarre piece of equipment to slices avocados or core apples, or launch rockets to the moon (ok the first one was made up). She’d adore my latest contraption – a silicone poaching pod for poaching perfect eggs into an ordinary saucepan, perfect for a house where I am the only poached-egg-eater (available from Lakeland in the UK). And if green silicone bras ever come into fashion I’ll be glad it came in a two-pack. Now that would be a contraption to make my son, and my mother, proud.
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