The smell of rain…

I simply love it when I stumble upon an interesting new word!

10802929900172541573This one came about by accident when having a chat in my local hostelry. The day before I had been sitting at a table in the back, writing in my notebook. There was a sudden change in the atmosphere and I knew it was raining. The smell was unmistakable and a glance out of the window only confirmed what I already knew as the pour began.

A day or so later at the same venue, I was chatting with a good friend about music that she might like and remembered an album by Mortiis, The Smell of Rain, which had been a favourite of mine when it came out a few years ago.

I duly Googled the name but was met by the following revelation from Wikipedia as the first result:

Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrɪkɔːr/) is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. The word is constructed from Greek πέτρα petra, meaning “stone”, and ἰχώρ īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

I love that something like this actually has a name – and one with such an exotic etymology too.

Hail Timoth!

A pub-lunch chat yesterday turned into a silly exploration of a name. We were talking about grandparents and I mentioned that my sons both have middle names after mine and my wife’s fathers and grandfathers.

My younger son has ‘Timothy’ as one of his names and I’ve always found it to be a strangely effete and middle-class name. Reminds me of Timothy Lumsden, the mummy’s boy from the 80s comedy, Sorry. The fact is though, that he was named after my wife’s grandfather who was a tough-as-nails farmer all his life, and the furthest thing from a mollycoddled suburbanite that you could imagine.

What might have made the difference, I suggested, was if his name had been ‘Timoth’ instead. Just dropping that semivowel ‘y’ somehow makes it sound much more rugged and masculine. I could image a ‘Timoth the Wanderer’ from the ancient legends, or a ‘Timoth Ragged-Beard’ of the Viking sagas. But putting the ‘y’ back just takes all the edge and romance out of the name.

Compare the two:

“And lo, the land was laid waste by Timoth the Despoiler, and there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.”


“And lo, the land was laid waste by Timothy the Despoiler, and there was much laughter and scratching of heads.”

It just doesn’t sound right does it…

EDIT: Younger son reckons that ‘Timoth’ would make a great name for a Scandinavian black metal band!

Socratic spuriousness…

Dipping into Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, which I’ve been lugging around in my rucksack since I bought it. I couldn’t decide whether to treat it as a reference book or to try to read it straight through. It’s already got me smiling to myself though, with its inclusion of a quote from William Caxton which laments the changes to the English language as he got older:

‘And certaynly our langage now vsed varyeth ferre from that whiche was vsed and spoken whan I was borne’
(And certainly the language now used is very different from that which was used and spoken when I was born).

Considering that he was writing in the 15th century, it seems that those who complain about neologisms entering the OED are just part of a long tradition. I’d assumed that this was all just a reaction to advancing technology and the pace of change in the world.

It put me in mind of a quote from Socrates on the declining manners of children that I’ve come across on several occasions:

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

This seemed to confirm the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that every generation produces the same disapproval of the one it spawns. Only, in this case, it seems a spurious tale. On looking to confirm the provenance, Bartleby, however, suggests a 20th century origin.

Caxton is real, Socrates (via Plato) it seems is not.

Thank heavens for the internet, by turns the destroyer and saviour of language and culture.

Missing the point?

I love how people get their knickers in a twist over punctuation – are we English speakers unique in this?

The Guardian has a review today of Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation by David Crystal. Sounds like an interesting attempt to wrest the dots and dashes of the language back from the pedants:

“His central argument, buttressed by countless well-chosen examples and enlivened by the odd whimsical digression, is that neither a phonetic, nor a semantic, nor a grammatical account of our punctuation system is singly sufficient. Those hoping to make punctuation logically consistent are chasing a will o’ the wisp – and ignoring the aesthetics and the pragmatics of practice. But nor is it a complete free-for-all. There are discoverable rules, or at least workable generalisations, about how punctuation functions. However, they are discoverable by the study of usage rather than from old school textbooks.”

Only, said pendants then all descend upon the comments section to argue over en-dashes, semicolons (or is it semi-colons), and even the usage of the humble comma.

It’s not that I disagree with the idea of correct usage, it’s the puritanical zeal with which some pursue it that puzzles me. If only people could get as animated about real injustices…

Cosmetological rays…

While on Twitter yesterday, I noticed that a user had ‘cosmetologist’ listed in her bio. Being ignorant – and assuming it something to do with new age practices such as ‘astrology’ – I ignored it. It then came up again on a news page this morning, so I decided to investigate.

Turns out that it’s one of those inflated job titles – you know how caretakers and janitors are now premises managers and bin men are environmental maintenance officers? Essentially, it looks like a cosmetologist is a beautician.

Nothing wrong with that, except that the first step on the rung to becoming one probably means that you have to train as a ‘shampoo technician’. I’m going by the Wikipedia page here, but it gets more ridiculous the further that you read: apparently a ‘Cosmecaregiver’ works in a branch of cosmetology that “involves systematic coherent approach of newly developed medical beauty hygienic for hair, nails and skin of bedridden people.” What this means in plain English is up for debate – the whole page is couched in what linguists refer to as ‘utter bollocks’.

Along with the associated verb forms, we also have:

  • Desairologists
  • Esthecaregivers
  • Estheticians
  • Massagecaregivers
  • Nailtekcaregivers, and
  • Nailtekmedics

Admittedly, I’ve not seen any of these titles used in the UK, so I’m assuming that it’s a US thing. And, I’m not having a pop at beauty professionals in any way. It’s just that as a ‘wordtechologist’ qualified in ‘object-verb manipulation’ and ‘lexical syntax construction’,  I find the nomenclature baffling…