Beyond the Joke, when reviewing last year’s comedy offerings, wrote that “[Ricky] Gervais might be a Marmite comedian but the success of Humanity shows that a hell of a lot of people love Marmite. Politically challenging, controversial but also laugh out loud funny.” Brits will confirm that many plays and musical theater productions (in the UK, not anywhere else) get tagged these days as “Marmite shows”. What does that mean? And is there a connection with the Marmite name’s origin? [Update, March 8: Thanks to a hat-tip from John Leake on Glosso’s Facebook page, we’ve also got the origin of Bovril — Marmite’s cousin: scroll to the bottom to see its etymology.] Continue reading
Go on: take a guess (and don’t Google it). You might be surprised by what connects these three words: pajamas, dinghy and shampoo. Continue reading
Ayers Rock after the rain
Any guesses what it means?
“One winds on the distaff what the other spins” (Both spread gossip) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder / Wikimedia Commons
According to Ben Healy writing recently in The Atlantic, there might be evidence to suggest that gossip is healthy and good for us. Really? To my mind there’s a slightly onomatopoeic quality to the word itself, with the hiss of a whisper at its center and the heavy thud of its first syllable both implying that surely nothing good can come of it. Have you ever stopped to wonder where the slightly strange word comes from? Continue reading
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump / Wikimedia Commons
Do you know where the word nepotism comes from?
Middle & Over Wallop, Glyndebourne
If you’ve ever been to the opera at Glyndebourne, deep in England’s green and pretty Sussex countryside, you might have eaten in Middle & Over Wallop or Nether Wallop. If you’re like me, the names of those distinctive dining rooms might conjure up images of saucy spankings, or at least a punch below the belt, perhaps somewhere in England’s green and pleasant lands. But we might be wrong in thinking there was any sort of thrashing going on in the history of these eatery names. Continue reading
I guess we all learned something new yesterday, thanks to a certain headline … Continue reading
Reposting this, on this auspicious day …
It’s Friday 13th, and for some people that’s a day when their triskaidekaphobia kicks in big time. Triskaidekaphobia? It means “fear of the number 13”. Also sometimes spelled triskaidecaphobia, it’s a slightly strange word deriving from two different languages: it combines the Greek treiskaideka (“thirteen”) with the Latin word for “fear of”, phobia. The first known written citation is in a book by Isador Coriat, Religion and Medicine: the Moral Control of Nervous Disorders, published in 1908, so this superstition linked to the number 13 is probably quite a recent phenomenon. But is there also a word for the fear of the date itself? Continue reading
Aluminum. Or aluminium. / Wikimedia Commons
There might be trade war brewing over steel and aluminum. But another trans-Atlantic war has already been raging for a couple of centuries over one of those heavy metals. Which came first: American aluminum or British aluminium? Continue reading
“Dream when you’re feeling blue”, sang Ray Charles. Shakespeare’s Cleopatra talked famously of her salad days when she was “green in judgement”; the Everley Brothers sang of all their friends being “just about green with envy”. Depeche Mode wrote a whole song about a black day, and Cyndi Lauper saw someone’s “true colors shining through”. The poetic use of color in a metaphorical rather than a literal sense — to describe everything from moods to bank-balances, political affiliations to social classes — dates back centuries and permeates most modern languages. Colors themselves have metaphorical meanings that are universal across cultures and languages. Here’s a summary of their figurative meanings, which are often evoked as keenly and understood as universally as the hues they describe literally. Continue reading