Is THAT how you pronounce it?

Today I learned something new, about the way a name is “properly” pronounced. Even though this is a name I hear almost every day in my professional life (and I even used to pass the famous building that bears its name every day when I worked in an office), I never really thought about how it should be pronounced. Take it away, YouTube …


Hat-tip to Max for bringing it to my attention.

Amanda Gorman recites ‘The Hill We Climb’ at Biden inauguration

Poet Amanda Gorman reads her poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

“In my poem, I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal. It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.” – Amanda Gorman

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Some words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday in the US, marking the birthday of the American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement. King is known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience; he is also remembered for his eloquent words of truth and wisdom. Here are some of them.

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On and off the farm: some phrases straight out of the barnyard

A small grain elevator on a farm near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada; Saffron Blaze

Glosso’s earlier post Outside baseball: 20 words & expressions that came right off the batting field is a Glosso-follower favorite, so we decided to harvest, metaphorically, another type of field: this time the green, farmyard kind. We’ve dug up a selection of 38 expressions whose seeds were sown in farming and agricultural lingo. And we’ve dug up their origins and early citations when we’ve managed to unearth them.

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Outside baseball: 20 words & expressions that came right off the batting field


“It came out of left field”; “she threw me a curve ball.” These sayings — and others like them — might have started “inside baseball”, but they’ve traveled outside the ballpark and taken root in our everyday language, especially in the mouths of North Americans. Here are 20 words and expressions that came right off the bat, or out of left or right field. Please feel free to add any others I’ve missed in the comments section below. [Update, March 2019: a new – 21st – entry has been added: thanks, Candice. Update, Jan 2021: In the run-up to Glossophilia’s 10th birthday we’re republishing our most popular ten posts. Here’s no. 9.]

1) Ballpark: Continue reading

Why did David Cornwell choose “Le Carré” as his nom de plume?

David Cornwell, aka John Le Carré

David Cornwell, the master of espionage thrillers, wrote under an assumed name for a simple and fitting reason, which he explains in his own words below. But when John Le Carré was asked in interviews over the years how he came up with his nom de plume, he would claim somewhat evasively (and he has admitted to his duplicity in this matter) that he couldn’t remember the reasoning behind it; that the mystery of his name was in keeping with the work of his younger self and his fictional protagonists, and was anyway lost in the corners of his faded memory.

However, in two rare interviews – in 2008 and 2010 respectively – he surprisingly came clean on the subject. (Assuming we believe him…) First, in a conversation with Mark Lawson for the BBC, when asked about the story behind and inspiration for his assumed name, he gave the following explanation:

MARK LAWSON: “Of course it was entirely appropriate that you as a – as an intelligence officer, a spy, you were using a cover identity, a pseudonym – but you had to: that was a professional requirement?”

JOHN LE CARRÉ: “Well it wasn’t a professional requirement to be John Le Carré: that was just the ethic of the business. If I had been at the regular foreign service, the same thing would have applied. If you wrote a book about butterflies in those days, as David Cornwell, you had to find another name to publish under: that was the ethic of the time. Choosing Le Carré: it was an erratic, weird thing. I went to Victor Gollancz, who was my first publisher, and said: ‘Victor, I have to choose a pseudonym.’ And he said, ‘Well, my boy, the best thing you can do is choose two good Anglo-Saxon syllables – like Chuck Smith, or something like that: that would be good.’ And I thought, no I won’t do that. What I need is a name that is optically arresting – like N-G-A-I-O Marsh. And I made up a name with three bits, and an acute accent at the end. And it’s also a coded name: carré in French means – er – a balle carré is where the girls ask the boys to dance; carré also means “check suit”; and at roulette, if you have a numero carré, you put a chip on each corner of one number. So it had some nice little – it was a little “inward joke” – and I never thought I was going to have to live with it on that scale.”

Two years later, when he appeared on Democracy Now! in conversation with Amy Goodman, she posed the same question – and he offered two of the same French ‘nuggets’ that he had given to Lawson: the girl-led dance and the roulette bet. But while leaving out the checked suit, on this occasion he threw in a further sense of the word carré – which I happen to think is the most amusing and fitting and slightly dubious reason for his chosen French moniker, which I reckon probably sealed the deal for David Cornwell. The excerpt from their conversation transcript follows:

AMY GOODMAN: “Explain where John le Carré came from.”

JOHN LE CARRÉ: “Well, I’ve told a lot of lies about that in my time, I have to confess. I began writing when I was still in the British Foreign Service, and it was then understood that even if you wrote about butterfly collecting, you used another name. So the fact that I was in a secret department does not play a part.

“I think I decided that I needed three pieces to a name, that they would arrest the “I” and put an accent on the last part. Then the word carré in French has a bunch of ambiguous meanings. A balle carrée, for example, is a dance where the ladies ask the men to dance. Carré at roulette, if you put a numéro carré, you put a counter on each corner of a number. And so it goes on. And I think an homme carré is a little bit of a dubious guy. That seemed to me to suit me perfectly at that time.”

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Here are some of the various terms we use to describe an assumed name in different contexts. Please add any I’ve missed in the comments section below.

  • AKA (acronym: “also known as”; used for nicknames and aliases)
  • anonym (an anonymous person or publication)
  • handle (informal: a name or nickname; often a username on social media and online forums)
  • moniker
  • nickname
  • nom de guerre (an assumed name under which a person engages in combat or some other activity or enterprise)
  • nom de plume (an assumed name used by a writer instead of their real name)
  • pen name
  • pseudonym (a fictitious name, especially one used by an author)
  • stage name (a name assumed for professional purposes by an actor or other performer)

Two “I” words in Jan 2021: What do “impeach” and “insurrection” mean?

Are you confused about what the word impeach actually means? Does it refer to indicting or convicting, and what are its consequences? With different meanings in different places, it’s one of those muddy words that always sounds – to my ear at least – as though it should mean something slightly different. Then there’s insurrection, the other hot word of January 2021, which despite its straightforward dictionary definition has somewhat ambiguous connotations. Here’s a quick dive into what these two words mean and where they come from.


“A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
― Alexander Hamilton

Here are the dictionary definitions: OED has it as “to accuse of treason or other high crime or misdemeanour (usually against the state) before a competent tribunal.” Merriam Webster basically agrees, without the British ‘u’: “to charge with a crime or misdemeanor; specificallyto charge (a public official) before a competent tribunal with misconduct in office.”

In practice, impeachment is the process by which a legislative body addresses charges against a government official. However, the specific definition varies from country to country: in some places – for example in Latin America – a president is only considered to have been impeached once he or she has been removed from office. In the US, however, impeachment refers to the indictment itself, no matter what the ultimate outcome of the charges; it is essentially a statement of charges against an official who can remain in office during the trial. A judgment that convicts the official on the articles of impeachment usually results in that person’s removal from office, but that is not necessarily part of its definition. Impeachment is a legal process in many countries around the world – including Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea and the US – but each one has its own rules and nuances in terms of its protagonists, process, timing and consequences.

The word impeach has an equally muddy etymology, with several Latin forebears. It probably derives from the old French word empeechier, in turn from the Latin word impedīre meaning “to catch or ensnare by the foot”, and it has similarities with the modern French verb empêcher (to prevent) and the modern English impede. Back in medieval times, etymologists confused it – wrongly as it turns out – with derivations from the Latin impetere, meaning “to attack”. Some linguists argue that the word impeach is associated with the Latin impicare, which refers to a certain punishment meted out to parricides in centuries past: “punishment of the sack,” or poena cullei in Latin. This rather gruesome process involved throwing the parent-killer into the sea sewn inside a culleus, a leather sac made of cowhide covered with pitch or bitumen to slow down the process of the water breaching and filling the sac. They sometimes sewed aggressive animals – a snake, a monkey, a rooster and a dog – in with the drowning criminal to make his final hours especially torturous.

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“Most commonly revolt is born of material circumstances; but insurrection is always a moral phenomenon. Revolt is Masaniello, who led the Neapolitan insurgents in 1647; but insurrection is Spartacus. Insurrection is a thing of the spirit, revolt is a thing of the stomach.” – Victor Hugo

“Literature is a form of permanent insurrection. Its mission is to arouse, to disturb, to alarm, to keep men in a constant state of dissatisfaction with themselves.” –
Mario Vargas Llosa

“For those of us who have been thrown into hell, mysterious melodies and the torturing images of a vanished beauty will always bring us, in the midst of crime and folly, the echo of that harmonious insurrection which bears witness, throughout the centuries, to the greatness of humanity.” – Albert Camus

Insurrection is much more straightforward than impeachment in terms of its dictionary definition and etymology. “The action of rising in arms or open resistance against established authority or governmental restraint; with plural, an instance of this, an armed rising, a revolt; an incipient or limited rebellion.” (OED) However, as evidenced in the quotes above, it does seem historically to have had an alternative more moral, poetic, philosophical and even righteous sense that its cousins in riot, revolution and rebellion somehow lack. To my mind, it characterizes a morally justifiable reaction to oppressive and established authority almost as often as it represents a reprehensible or criminal act. (Which isn’t to say that I believe that’s true of the insurrection at the US Capitol this month.) But perhaps I’m completely wrong in any case; as H. T. Buckle stated in 1858 (see citations below): “Insurrections are generally wrong; revolutions are always right.”

Its etymology is simple: meaning “an uprising against civil authority,” it dates back to the early 15th century term insurreccion, from the Old French insurreccion or directly from late Latin insurrectionem, meaning “a rising up.”

Citations (courtesy of the OED):


1459   Rolls of Parl. V. 346/2   He [Jack Cade]..wrote letters to many have made a comon insurrection.

1461   J. Berney in Paston Lett. & Papers (2004) II. 241   Yll dysposyd persones, that I intend to make jnsurrexcyones contrari vnto the lawe.

1535   Bible (Coverdale) Ezra iv. 19   This cite of olde hath made insurreccion agaynst kynges.1548   Hall’s Vnion: Richard III f. xxxviij   Other dyd secretely moue and sollicite the people to rise and make an insurrecion.

1587   R. Holinshed et al. Hist. Eng. (new ed.) v. xviij. 98/2 in Holinshed’s Chron. (new ed.) I   The remnant of the Britains therefore withdrew..into Cornwall, and into Wales, out of which countries they oftentimes brake out, and made insurrections [1577 reyses] vpon the Saxons.

1687   A. Lovell tr. J. de Thévenot Trav. into Levant i. 277   The Moors made an Insurrection, and made one Osman their first Dey.1854   H. H. Milman Hist. Lat. Christianity II. iv. ix. 207   The people broke out in instant insurrection, declared their determination to renounce their allegiance.

1858   H. T. Buckle Hist. Civilisation Eng. (1873) II. viii. 593   Insurrections are generally wrong; revolutions are always right.


1569   R. Grafton Chron. II. 353   Whether the Lordes and commons might without the kings will empeche the same officers and iustices vpon their offenses in the parliament or not.1702   Clarendon’s Hist. Rebellion I. iii. 139   Mr Pym at the Bar [of the house of peers], and in the Name of all the Commons of England, impeach’d Thomas Earl of Strafford..of High Treason, and several other hainous Crimes and Misdemeanours.

1769   W. Blackstone Comm. Laws Eng. IV. xix. 261   The representatives of the people, or House of Commons, cannot properly judge; because their constituents are the parties injured; and can therefore only impeach.1863   H. Cox Inst. Eng. Govt. i. x. 229   Latimer was impeached and accused by the voice of the Commons.

1868   Trial Andrew Johnson 3   On Monday, February the 24th, 1868, the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States resolved to impeach Andrew Johson, President of the United States, of high crimes and misdemeanors.1883   G. T. Curtis Buchanan II. xii. 247   In regard to the President, it was their duty to make a specific charge, to investigate it openly, and to impeach him before the Senate, if the evidence afforded reasonable ground to believe that the charge could be substantiated.


1640–4   in J. Rushworth Hist. Coll.: Third Pt. (1692) I. 356   The Lords sat upon the Impeachment against the Judges and Bishop Wren.

1667   A. Marvell Let. 26 Oct. in Poems & Lett. (1971) II. 59   This morning seuerall members of our House did..moue the House to proceed to an impeachment against the Earle of Clarinden.

1754–62   D. Hume Hist. Eng. III. 15 (Seager)   The first impeachment by the house of commons seems to have been carried up against Lord Latimer in the latter end of Edward the Third’s reign.

1789 Constit. U.S.  ii. §4   The President, Vice-President, and all Civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

1805   S. Chase in Life Rufus King (1897) IV. 444   Congratulations on my acquittal by the Senate of the Impeachment by the House of Representatives.

1827   H. Hallam Constit. Hist. Eng. I. ix. 566   The articles of Strafford’s impeachment.

1867   Nation (N.Y.) 14 Feb. 121   Discussion of the power of the Senate to suspend the President [Johnson] during his impeachment.

It’s as cold as …


As Glosso approaches its tenth birthday in ten weeks’ time, we’re publishing the ten most popular posts again in weekly installments, with some extra tidbits and updates thrown in. We start with a perennial winter Glosso favorite, posted again today when it’s as cold as #*%$ here in the frostiest of US winters (and I mean that metaphorically more than literally).

Today we’re throwing in another cold simile: can you guess whose frigid pen wrote these words back in 1850? “It was as cold as Blue Flujin, where sailors say fire freezes.” See appendix below for the answer. Continue reading

“The Darkling Thrush” by Thomas Hardy

Glosso posts its annual Thomas Hardy poem on New Year’s Eve. The Darkling Thrush, originally called The Century’s End, 1900, was first printed in The Graphic on 29 December of that year. It describes a desolate world characterized by despair and hopelessness. Let the song of the thrush symbolize the hopes of planet Earth for a better 2021.

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
    The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

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