Toast to jube jube

My son had set the toaster to “2” which merely warms the bread, in my opinion. Maybe he doesn’t want butter to melt in his mouth… When I noticed this I turned it up full. The toaster got confused, or did both settings at the same time and the toast came out burnt. As I looked at the black edges the word “carbonised” tip-toed across my mind in slippers. We are carbon-based creatures. I had never made the connection before! When we say someone “is toast” we mean they are finished (the complete opposite of saying they are “the toast of”…) but we are all the product of cosmic combustion, so we actually start out as toast. We could well be the black bits scraped off the breakfast of some mysterious greater entity…

The village of Catrine. Cotton mill built 1787, demolished 1963

Catrine was a hamlet of eleven houses when a cotton mill was built there in 1787. The mill burnt down in 1963. When I was growing up, my father worked in the nearby Barony pit and my mother worked in the textile industry. The shops in the village included a fish monger and an ironmonger, where you could find everything from nails to washing machines. Today, most of the shops are boarded up, except for five or six pubs. The coal mines have closed down and the cotton industry has been delocalised. Wikipedia says Catrine is now “a picturesque village”.

Someone asked me where the cotton came from to run the mill, and I replied America. Glasgow also flourished as a port importing American tobacco. I am currently taking a drug called Champix to stop smoking. It makes me field weird, depressed one day, elated the next.

The first word that caught my attention since my last post is “inadvertently”.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Medieval Latin inadvertentia]

I just like the word, as I also like jeopardy, which, who would have guessed, comes from the French ‘jeu parti”

  1. Risk of loss or injury; peril or danger.
  2. Law. A defendant's risk or danger of conviction when put on trial.

[Middle English juperti, from Old French jeu parti, even game, uncertainty : jeu, game (from Latin iocus, joke, game) + parti, past participle of partir, to divide (from Latin partīre, from pars, part-, part; see part).]

Phonetically so close to leopard, no doubt some Martian trying to decipher English would think the meanings were related. Not so, not even the origins of the word:

“In Antiquity, it was believed that a leopard was a hybrid between a lion and a panther, as is reflected in its name, a Greek compound word derived from λέων léon ("lion") and πάρδος párdos ("male panther")”.

Another single letter change takes us to leotard, as in tutu (jube jube...)

“Writing is a performance art, so expect to experience performance anxiety, almost every time you write. Think of it as page-fright. :-)”

One of my favourite artists in one of my favourite newspapers:

I was reading in the aforementioned news-paper about arms being shipped to Mugabe via South Africa and the wooden language of diplomacy clunking out “we don’t have the authority” to not deliver this cargo when all of a sudden the sun came out:

“Dockers in Durban were refusing last night to unload the ship. The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union's general secretary, Randall Howard, said: "Satawu does not agree with the position of the government not to intervene with this shipment of weapons. Our members will not unload this cargo, neither will any of our members in the truck-driving sector move this cargo by road."

Phew. There are still some people alive in the world.

, pl. -crums or -cra (-krə).

  1. The point or support on which a lever pivots.
  2. Zoology. An anatomical structure that acts as a hinge or a point of support.
  3. An agent through which vital powers are exercised.

[Latin, bedpost, from fulcīre, to support.]
(point d’appui, pivot.)

“Pivot” in French is also the name of the presenter of the longest-running book programme, and so his name has become synonymous with literature.

I had never heard of an “Interest-only mortgage” before. The mind boggles.

And the last word of today is allay:-

“Research allays fears that the rapid draining of water from the top of Greenland's ice sheet may be contributing to the rise of global sea levels”

Oh, I’m so relieved. I think of the little Dutch boy determined to save his community by sticking his finger in the hole in the dyke, but the adults can’t decide where the hole is, or there are so many holes they can’t decide which one he should be allowed to try to dam with his finger, and meanwhile the tsunami approaches...

And the myth isn’t based on true, European experience. There was no little Hans the Dutch boy. The Americans made it up.


A straightforward subset

Like Humpty-Dumpty, I sat on a wall and was amazed to see flowers growing out of the stone. I had seen these flowers before, I knew they were called Giroflée, but I didn’t know what they were called in English. The words “Wall, flower!” came floating into my mind and the feeling was like something dawning on me. I mentally clapped my hands. I told my French friends that in English, the first meaning of “wallflower” that comes to mind is a girl left leaning against the wall at a dance, when the boys or men come to pick their partners. In French the expression is “faire tapisserie” – to act as wallpaper. When I got the chance to look up Giroflée in the dictionary, I was delighted to find that sure enough, they are wallflowers. Intrigued, I googled around a bit and found a pleasing passage to the effect that the figurative usage is the same in German, and the “coincidence is purely coincidental”.

When wall & flower were juxtaposed in my mind, just after the pleasure of the dawning that I was seeing wallflowers for the first time, I felt downhearted, as if the word was reminding me of unpleasant experiences. The ‘poor me’ syndrome. But as I thought about the dancing classes at school, and the Sunday school parties you could be invited to or had to invite a partner to, I remembered some of my “cavaliers” (horseman, flippant, dancing partner…) Alasdair Cairns, Ian Niven (both of whom were butchers’ sons) and Jimmy Logan… I didn't feel particularly beautiful, but I wasn’t downright ugly either. There is no sacrosanct “past” – we re-write it every time we think about it, depending on the frame of mind we are in at the moment. And if My Story is open to interpretation, what about His Story?

Giroflée of course reminded me of girofle and the Body Shop mistranslation of Clover (Trèfle) as clou de girofle (cloves). Which took me to trèfles, one of the four suits in playing cards. Darn me if I could work out how they got “club” from “clover".

I eventually found the answer:
club, n., a suit in a standard deck of cards, from a translation of either the Spanish basto or the Italian baston (both are cognates of baton). Use of the term in English dates to 1563. The origin is not obvious because over the years the symbol on English decks of cards changed. English cards adopted the symbol used in French decks, where it is called a trèfle, or trefoil, but kept the old name club.

Listening to radio 4 I heard the word ‘flaccid’ - I know what it means, but it is not a word I have ever used - it is one of those words I lay no claim to. Not mine.

English is a language I use, but I don’t use all of it. My English is a subset of “English” – as I suppose your English is, too. In fact, nobody actually uses - passively or actively – the whole language. And yet we manage to communicate.

And if My English is a straightforward subset, what could I say about My French? I feel somehow “entitled” to use English as I please, because I was born in the British Isles, but I have no such sense of entitlement in French – I am a humble borrower, a mere uninvited guest… Which reminds me how impressed I was the first time I read Joseph Conrad – The Secret Agent. I found his use of language wonderful and was gobsmacked to read on the cover that English was not his native language.

Food scarcity and Zimbabwe are the main worries in the news at the moment.


Quantum entanglement

Here is Françoise Guerlin singing Que reste-t-il de nos amours… I hope to put my own version of this song online, in French and English, with Bertil Sylvander au piano, within the next ten years.
I have tagged it as Françoise Guerlin, Trenet. Ah, the joys of French polysémie!!! (traînée = vapour trail, among other things).

I came across an article in the Guardian the other day that reminded me of The Prestige, and Todd McGowan's article:

“[…] teleportation is actually already being done by physicists. It relies on a deeply strange phenomenon called quantum entanglement, which physicists have already used to "teleport" a photon 89 miles between La Palma and Tenerife in the Canary Island group. […] "You are not actually moving the photons from one place to another because you are destroying the original. What materialises at the other end is your twin which has all the information of the previous object."

Car pictures by J.W. Vraets.