After writing yesterday about how the word revolting comes from the stomach (not literally: that’d be, well, revolting), I was thinking about just how much of a role that organ plays in the English language.Continue reading
An easy joke, that one there in the title. But have you ever wondered why revolting has two such distinct meanings which let us make the joke in the first place?Continue reading
You’re probably familiar with the term bimbo, a pejorative term for a stupid, vacuous (but attractive) woman. It’s one that seems to be used much more in writing, particularly tabloid journalism, than speaking, but one most people well-acquainted with English will probably know.
And recently, bimbo has been joined by himbo, a vacuous, stupid (but attractive) man. Only fair, of course, that there’s a word for the gander as well as the goose. Though the fact there was no male version of bimbo until it was coined recently is also quite revealing of the structural patriarchialism underlying a lot of languages. Or you could also look at it as being male stupidity being taken for granted so much that there was no need to create a specific term for stupid men. Whatever way you see it though, it’s quite curious that bimbo wasn’t actually always so gender specific. Continue reading
When reading about the history of Sicily, especially the period of Greek colonies here (around the 5th century BC), the tyrant Theron is mentioned quite a lot. He must’ve been a pretty bad egg, you might be thinking, to be called a tyrant, you might think. Well, not necessarily…
Tyrant nowadays has entirely negative connotations in English, usually referring to cruel or despotic absolute rulers, often those who have gained power as a usurper. This has a very direct connection to the Ancient Greek word tyrannos, from which it’s derived, which also generally referred to someone who usurped power. In Ancient Greece though, the term was a neutral one, for a long time at least.
Theron, for example, gained power in Acragas (modern-day Agrigento) in Sicily in 488 BC, a major power during the heyday of Magna Graecia (Greater Greece), a name given by the Romans to the Greek colonies in the south of modern-day Italy in the 5th century BC.
Theron apparently came to power by using public funds allocated for a temple-building project to hire bodyguards. Politics never really changes!
Because he came to power in this way, he earned the title tyrant, but it seems he wasn’t a particularly unpopular ruler. It might seem odd to us to see the word tyrant used in a neutral way, but I guess 2,500 years ago it wasn’t so strange for somone to seize power by force. And as long as you were a just ruler afterwards, people didn’t really mind that much.
Still, over time, the term came to be used in an exclusively negative way. Even by about 100 years after Theron took power, Plato and Aristotle were using the term to refer to cruel and unjust rulers who had usurped their power, and as democracy became more prominent, the negative meaning stuck.
And now of course we only use it in extreme cases for rulers who use corrupt means to gain control, and show disdain for those they’re meant to serve. Can’t think of anyone like that…
You might have noticed this structure used by native speakers, particularly from Ireland or the UK. And you might have thought: Well that’s not right. It should be I was sitting there, shouldn’t it?
Yes, it should. But also, well, not really, no. Let’s investigate… Continue reading
If I asked you to define the word assassination, you probably wouldn’t have much difficulty. You’d probably say something like the killing of a famous or important person.
And that would be perfectly fine.
But recently I wondered if there’s a specific distinction between murder and assassination. Continue reading
You might have noticed yesterday that when I mentioned the word bairn, I referred to its use in both Scots and Scottish English. And you might have asked yourself: what’s the difference?
I’m not an expert, and not going to go into all the details, but suffice it to say that they’re quite distinct. Continue reading