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This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Silk handkerchief

 This word is Russian.

Wikipedia tells us that vranyo consists of white lies, or any lies told without the intention of malicious deceit. The idea is that vranyo will summon up an agreeable social fantasy for us to share.

The same kind of thing is sometimes attempted in Britain, where it is called a joke. Vranyo and a joke can be similarly confusing for foreigners, but the intention with a joke is always to celebrate the falseness of the described possibility. If no one acknowledges the joke, then it's clear something's gone wrong.

Dostoyevsky wrote (a long time ago) that it is impossible to live in educated society in Russia and not tell lies. Even completely honest people, he says, tell lies. Lying is a social dance, a collaboration.

Sometimes, he says, the perpetrator and victim engage in more serious lying, as well.

The way vranyo works is that you know I am lying, and I know you know I am lying, and you know that I know that you know, but I carry on, anyway, we both keep serious, and you take notes.

The Russian government uses vranyo all the time. The West doesn't really understand it. It means The West believes things that a Russian would never have dreamed of believing. It means that negotiation (and, to some extent, trade) has become more or less impossible.

This, obviously, is not the only thing that's got us into this current  mess. 

But it hasn't helped.

Thing Not To Indulge In Today: vranyo. In Russian this is written враньё and means lying or lies. It comes from врать, to lie.  

Monday, 14 March 2022

Spot the Frippet: something pinguid.

 As it happens, penguins are pinguid, though there's no link between the words (penguin is Welsh and means white head...yes, I know that penguins tend to have black heads, but presumably it's their white faces that show up when you see them at sea).


These are pinguid:

photo by Berthold Werner

and so is this:

photo by Malene Thyssen

and so are these:

photo of sardines by Etrusko25

to which we might add sun tan lotion, beef burgers, and bicycle chains.  

Yes, pinguid means oily or greasy or soapy. By extension, the word can also be applied to a fat person (or other animal) especially if they are of a comfortable or lazy disposition.

Altogether an easy spot.

Spot the Frippet: something pinguid. This word comes from the Latin pinguis, which means fat or rich. The Proto-Indo-European pei- meant fat or sap or juice. There are also the glorious words pinguidity and pinguidinous if you're feeling in the mood for that kind of thing.

Sunday, 13 March 2022

Sunday Rest: invasion. Word Not To Use Today.

 It's reported that you can now get fifteen years in prison in Russia if you repeatedly use the word invasion.


Yes, that's right invasion.

Someone there must be really scared.

Really? Of the word invasion?

Yes, of the word invasion, that's right.

Oh. But it's a bit odd to be afraid of the word invasion, isn't it?

I think it probably is.

Oh dear. Poor old Mr Putin, eh?

Word Not To Use Today: invasion. (Shhh! You'll frighten him!) This word comes from the Latin word invādere, from vādere, which means to go. 

I hope that no one who has a house in Russia is troubled by exploring ants this summer.

Saturday, 12 March 2022

Saturday Rave: The Sail by Mikhail Lermontov

 Russian school children, I am told, learn a lot of poetry. This poem by Mikhail Lermontov is said to be a favourite.

Knowing children the world over, I'd guess that's largely because it's short. But that's not, I should imagine, the only reason it's cherished.

In any case, it seems to be a good poem for these times, and I hope that many of the Russian people are remembering it now.

A sail is passing, white and frail.
What do you seek in a far country?
What have you left at home, lone sail?

The billows play, the breezes whistle,
And rhythmically creaks the mast.
Alas, you seek no happy future,
Nor do you flee a happy past.

Below the mirrored azure brightens,
Above the golden rays increase —
But you, wild rover, pray for tempests
As if in tempests there was peace!

Translated by Vladimir Nabokov

Sailing Boat, Evening Effect by Claude Monet

Word To Use Today: azure. This is the colour of a clear blue sky. The word came into English from the Old French azur, from Old Spanish, from Arabic lāzaward, lapis lazuli, from Persian lāzhuward.

Friday, 11 March 2022

Cloth handbag

 Amongst the horror and madness in Ukraine, a new word: autocephaly.

It describes a right of an organisation to appoint its own head, and to be independent of any outside authority.

The word is most often used with reference to the Orthodox Christian churches. Some Orthodox churches in Ukraine have rejected their traditional association with the Russian Orthodox church, which has failed to condemn President Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Now the Orthodox church in Istanbul, the Constantinople Patriarchy, which is traditionally recognised as the first among all the Orthodox churches, has accepted the autocephaly of Ukrainian Orthodox churches.

And so of course the Russian Orthodox church has split with the Istanbul church. 

The whole thing would be almost comic if it didn't take place in the middle of so much tragedy.

But it does.

Word To Use Today: autocephaly. If more people had reason to use this word then the world might be a safer place. The word autocephalia is Greek. and means the property of being self-headed.

Thursday, 10 March 2022

An Unknown Russian: a rant.

 What's the truth?

Is it what we see with our own eyes? 

No, that's often misleading. 

So - is it what we're told?

That might depend upon who's speaking.

All right, then: whom can we trust to tell us the truth?

That's not easy, either.

The UN Resolution deploring the military action in Ukraine was opposed by only five of all the countries of the world. They are Russia, Belarus, Syria, Eritrea, and North Korea. 

The good thing is that the infamy of their decision is not going to cause the world's Travel Agents much loss, but it does show what the vast majority of the world understands to be the truth about the presence of Russian forces in Ukraine.

But still some of the combatants promulgate a story not supported by the evidence.

I'm fed up with the Russian Beliakin my husband said to me the other day. 


I try to keep informed about current politics, but that name was new to me.

It turned out my husband had actually said belly-aching.

Word To Use Today: belly-ache. The Old English form of belly was belig, and it has relations in the Old Irish bolg, sack, and the Sanskrit barhi, chaff. The word ache was acān in Old English. It has its modern spelling because Dr Johnson of dictionary fame mistakenly decided that the word came from the Greek word akhos, which means pain.


Wednesday, 9 March 2022

Nuts and Bolts: The Russian and Ukrainian languages.

Claims are made that Russians and Ukrainians are the same people. In that case, you'd expect them to have the same language, or very nearly the same language.

And do they?

Well, let's put it this way: they both come from the Indo-European family (as do English and French and German), and both come from the East Slavic branch of it. But the languages split nearly a thousand years ago, probably in the 1100s, with Ukrainian being influenced by Polish and Slovak languages, and Russian by Old Church Slavonic.

Over the subsequent millennium there have been other reasons for the languages to diverge. For one, Peter the Great did what he could to Westernise Russian, and at times Ukrainian has been banned in the Russian Empire, which has had an influence on some of the Eastern parts of Ukraine. After the Soviet occupation of Ukraine in the early twentieth century Russian became the primary language used in all schools. This is the main reason why there are many Russian speakers in Ukraine today.

The Russian and Ukrainian alphabets may look the same to an outsider, but there are differences. Ukrainian has the letters Ґ ґ, Є є, Ї ї, and І і. Russian has the letters  ы, Ё ё, and ъ. But even if the alphabets are similar, well, so are the alphabets of English and Italian but that doesn't make them the same language. 

Even so, a Russian reading a Ukrainian text could probably make some sense of most of it.

How about vocabulary? The two languages share about sixty per cent of their words, and that means there's more difference between Russian and Ukrainian than there is between Italian and Spanish, which are eighty-two per cent similar as far as vocabulary is concerned. 

The difference in pronunciation is about the same as between Italian and Spanish.

Ah, but what about the politics?

Well, speaking Russian makes people want to be ruled by Russia in just the same way that speaking English makes an American want to be ruled by England. 

Inside Ukraine, communication between people speaking the different languages tends to use a mixture of the two. It's normal, and it works.

And, when something is working, trying to fix it with bombs is stark raving madness.

Word To Use Today: well, хай живе Україна, (khay zhyve Ukrayina) according to Google translate, means long live Ukraine. That'll do.