Category: Language & Writing

Percussive Etymology – Gumming Up the Works

Welcome to the first-ever instalment of Percussive Etymology. In this feature, which will initially publish once a fortnight, my trusty hammer and I will explore the origins of one of the many quirky phrases contained in the English language.

Percussive EtymologyI’m kicking this off with the phrase, “Gumming up the works”. Why? Because a couple of weeks ago the phrase, along with the idea for this feature, simply popped into my head while I was in the shower. Some people sing in the shower, some solve mathematical formulae, I think up wacky blog ideas that will probably not survive until the end of the year.

Got your hammer?  Then hold on tight!

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Happy Left Handers’ Day

I was planning to launch a new regular feature for if all else fails… today, but then I heard over the radio this morning (yes, I sometimes get information from other locations than the interwebs) that today is International Left Handers’ Day.  I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

Lefties have always been discriminated against.  In ancient Hebrew culture the left side of the body was considered unclean and during the Middle Ages many lefties were executed for witchcraft simply because they preferred to use a different hand when wielding a sword, swinging an axe, or brushing their teeth.  (Hang on.  Did people brush their teeth in the Middle Ages?)

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if all else fails…go multi-lingual

I don’t know about you, but I love the stats page, and the map in particular.  It really does it for me to see the map fill up as more and more people around the world stumble across if all else fails…use a hammer.  (Most of them run off again as fast as their legs can carry them, but that’s to be expected, what with hammers flying all over the place.  They probably forgot their hard hats.)

After a year and a bit of consistent blogging I’ve had visitors from most of the world.  Just look:

KokkieH Stats World Map

Africa and the Middle-East is under-represented (which is understandable) but on all the other continents this blog seems to have had pretty good exposure.  Someone has even been able to reach this blog from beyond the Great Firewall of China.  (If you know anyone in Mongolia, though, please share the blog with them.  That big white blob in the middle of Asia bugs me.)

You will notice, however, that the map is significantly darker in English speaking territories.  Again, understandable as I only write in English.  So, in order to make the blog more accessible to non-English visitors I’ve decided I need to make it multi-lingual.

Are you as curious as I am? Click here

On needless and unnecessary words

I had a very nice idea for today’s post. Then I wrote it up and decided it wasn’t such a nice idea after all, so I trashed it. I had just decided I’m not going to post anything when the universe came to my rescue.

The wife asked me how to spell “colleague” (in our home my roles include being a dictionary and encyclopedia along with chauffeur, dishwasher and financial manager). That reminded me of one of my pet peeves as far as language is concerned.

And like a sign from the South African Broadcasting Corporation, just at that moment on the television the theme song of that great British comedy, Mind Your Language, started to play.

I’m not one to disregard signs, so here’s a quick language rant.

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When we try to qualify absolutes

Last week I wrote about how confusing things can get if we start trying to get around a mathematical symbol like “=”.  One commenter specifically pointed out that whether we follow the illogic of the original problem (you know, as in 2-6) or whether we use the mathematically valid workaround of function notation, with a little creativity the answer can be absolutely anything.

The same applies to language.

Think about the word, “equal”.  It’s one we enjoy throwing around these days.  Equality is very much in vogue.  Everyone is claiming equality to everyone else on whatever criteria they can come up with.

And that’s very well and good, except that it’s not true.

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