In a struggle to be happy and free

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Category: words Page 2 of 43

The top hat!

Lord Liverpool climbed out of his carriage at Kensington Palace on June 15, 1837, under blue summer skies. He was wearing a grey suit and a top hat — the top hat was now considered the mark of a gentleman, even though the first man to sport one in public, forty years earlier, was arrested on the grounds that it had “a shiny lustre calculated to alarm timid people.” (Four women had fainted upon seeing it, and pedestrians had booed.)

Julia Baird, Victoria: The Queen, 2016

Can you imagine? Woman fainting and the wearer being arrested!

Smell my colon

I read about a severe spelling mistake some young ladies have been making on Twitter. This is more than a typo. It seems they believe cologne is spelt colon. The result are tweets like this:

Good times!

Memetic disappointment

I saw this fantastic meme on Facebook:

I love it because what he says is brilliant and because he said it some 1900 years ago. But as with many of these graphics, there are a few problems.

The guy in the image is not Aurelius. It’s Caracalla. Wrong emperor.

Even worse is that the quote doesn’t belong to Aurelius at all. According to Wikiquote,

No printed sources exist for this prior to 2009, and this seems to have been an attribution which arose on the internet, as indicated by web searches and rationales provided at “Marcus Aurelius and source checking” at Three Shouts on a Hilltop (14 June 2011)

It’s so disappointing, but I’d rather know than spread incorrect information.

The harkening back…

I’m reading The Professor and the Madman1, by Simon Winchester, and given that it details the circumstances around the creation of The Complete Oxford English Dictionary, there are plenty of unusual words thrown about!

I particularly enjoy learning of common words we use today having previous meanings that are virtually unknown now. Take heckling for example. According to Winchester, it meant

…the process of separating the individual stems of the flax plant from each other…2

And then,

…(often in a political context) in the sense of catechizing someone, making his or her arguments stand up to severe scrutiny, as a flax plant might stand for the scutcher.3

Neither of these definitions match how we use the word today, but you can see a progression through the meanings.

Another example I knew of before is broadcast. You certainly know the most common meaning today, but the word was first used in the middle of the 18th century. Like Heckling, it was a farming term:

Of seed , sowing , etc.: sown or performed by scattering widely rather than by placing in drills or rows.4

One would cast the seeds over a broad area. Broad-cast.

I wonder what other words we use today, perhaps in a technical sense, have much older meanings.


  1. Strangely, and inexplicably, the title of this book everywhere but the US and Canada is The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words.
  2. Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1998
  3. ibid
  4. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. 2007

Food for thought

The success of the modern food industry lies in its ability not just to provide us with hitherto unimaginable quantities of food, but to deliver it in good, or at least edible, condition. Most of it doesn’t taste as nice as it might have done straight out of the ground, but since most of us rarely eat really fresh food, we’ve forgotten what it’s supposed to taste like anyway.

Carolyn Steel, Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives, 2008

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