a blank slate

a blank slate

Tag: friday phrases

Friday Phrases #3

A few weeks ago, I decided to post tidbits from my Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable every Friday, in an attempt to keep the blog up and running even during utter shortage of time. I have skipped one Friday already, but I forgive myself for it for it was a week when I was completely sick. 

So, I was surprised to discover that the dictionary actually has a foreword by Pratchett, and he says, “Brewer’s is ostensibly a reference book, and an indispensable one. But it is also an idiosyncratic adventure, pulling you in and saying: ‘This is, in fact, not what you’re looking for; but it’s much more interesting.’ And, of course, it usually is.” Very true.

This week’s phrase is –

of course, definitely looks like a sheep, its uncanny..


ALBATROSS.
(Portugese Alcatraz, ‘pelican’, from Arabic al-ghattas, ‘the white-tailed sea-eagle’, influenced by Latin albus, ‘white’). A large oceanic bird, noted for its powerful gliding flight. It was called the Cape Sheep by sailors from its frequenting the Cape of Good Hope, and it was said to sleep in the air. Sailors have long believed that to shoot one brings bad luck.

In modern usage, the word denotes a constant burden or handicap. This sense is first recorded in the 1930s, but the allusion is to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) in which the Ancient Mariner shoots the albatross, a ‘pious bird of good omen’. As a result, the ship is becalmed, all suffer and his companions hang the bird round his neck as a punishment. 

From The Times (13 October 1999): The Victoria and Albert Museum was founded on radical principal, but then got weighed down by its huge collection, which has become like an albatross around its neck.

In golf, the word is used for a score of three strokes under par.

I’m so eager to squeeze in the phrase “an albatross around the neck” somewhere into my writing. That said, I understand nothing of the golf reference. Bye!  

Friday Phrases #2

Last Friday, I decided to make a weekly contribution to the blog in the form of a phrase or word history plucked out of a dictionary I own. This is the giant Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: 17th Edition revised by John Ayto. It’s a delightful book which provides you with a list of more than a million words and phrases and their roots, along with stories that may be associated with them.

The idea is to open the book to a random page, and select one eye-catching entry to post about, every Friday. I’ll learn something new, the book will do more than sit on my shelf gathering dust and I’ll get to post a little something without spending a lot of time and effort on it – I’m suffering from a serious lack of either of those things.

Here goes nothing, today’s entry is –

FINGER. The old names for the five fingers are: 

(1) Thuma (Old English), the thumb. 

(2) Towcher (Middle English, ‘toucher’), foreman or pointer. This was called the scite-finger (‘shooting finger’) by the Anglo-Saxons. It is now usually known as the first finger or forefinger, or the index finger because it is used for pointing. 

(3) Long-man, long-finger or middle finger. 

(4) Lec-man or ring-finger. The former means the ‘medical finger’ (literally ‘leech finger’) and the latter is the Roman digitus annularis, called by the Anglo-Saxons the gold finger. This finger is used as the ring finger (also annular finger) in the belief that a nerve ran through it to the heart. Hence the Greeks and Romans called it the medical finger, and used it for stirring mixtures under the notion that that it would give instant warning to the heart if it came into contact with anything noxious. It is still a popular superstition that it is bad to rub ointment or scratch the skin with any other finger. 

(5) Little man or little finger: The Anglo-Saxons called it the ear-finger, because it is the one used to poke inside the ear when it tickles or to worm out the wax. It is also known as the auricular finger.

And that’s it for today. Have a happy weekend!

Friday Phrases #1

This entire plan to be a regular blog-poster is on the brink of failure yet again. But the other day as I was going through my giant suitcase of books (my room has no place) I found a much beloved tome – the Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: 17th Edition. I had found this at Crossword of all places at a whooping seventy percent discount a couple of years ago. This book is a delight; gives a whole new meaning to the word dictionary. Amazon describes it in this fashion – “Much loved for its wit and wisdom since 1870, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable takes you on a captivating adventure through its trademark blend of language, culture, myth and legend.”
So what I’ve decided now is a very simple ritual. No matter what I read or do every week, I will return to the blog every Friday to post about one word or phrase or word history from my ginormous dictionary of phrase and fable. The idea is to open the book to any random page and post the entry which most catches my fascination.

Today’s phrase is this: (Page 285)
CLOSE ENCOUNTER: Journalistic jargon for any meeting, whether personal or professional.
Fair enough, this is how I use it, but then it goes to say…
The phrase was popularized by the title of the science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), itself referring to contact with extraterrestrial beings from a UFO. A ‘close encounter of the first kind’ is thus simply a sighting of a UFO, while a ‘close encounter of the second kind’ is evidence of an alien landing. A ‘close encounter of the fourth kind’ is an abduction by aliens. The categories were proposed by J Allen Hynek’s The UFO Experience: A Scientific Enquiry (1972.) 
Further on, Wikipedia says that there have been extensions to Hynek’s list, so that there are now fifth and six kinds of close encounters to describe even further varying degrees of UFO contact. Another word I learnt today is ufology – the study of UFOs.