W4W: what humans can learn from a fat dead pigeon



Print of a dodo

Image: Pixabay


You have to feel sorry for the subject of today’s Wednesday Word Tangle.

To begin with he’s dead, along with his entire species. Not only that, but every time we use his name, we’re calling him a simpleton.

If human beings hadn’t already made the chubby flightless pigeon the


extinct, the birds would have developed a serious complex by now.

Just imagine it …

You’ve got a pretty good life. You live on the heavenly island of Mauritius, spend all day waddling on the golden sands, stretching your claws in the warm ocean. There’s more fruit than you could ever shove down your gullet. You don’t even bother to fly anymore – what’s the point when all the food you need just drops off the trees at your feet and the island has no large predators to threaten you?

Yes, ife’s pretty damn glorious.

Then some big wooden floaty things arrive from over the sea and bring some really grumpy, hungry bipeds. You start to hear stories of missing Dodos, you realise you’ve got some friends you haven’t heard from in a while. But you don’t worry too much because the sun is shining and fruit’s falling from the trees.

Then your Nan vanishes. And your mate Dennis. And his missus Doreen.

Then one day, one of these bipeds is chasing you along the beautiful, warm sands, the sun reflecting from his shiny metal hat, and you try to run but your legs are stumpy, only fit for waddling on the beach and you flap what’s left of your wings but they’re too weak and you’re too heavy and you run and run and there’s a pop-pop sound and a pain in your back and you fall and the biped is standing over you looking really hungry and you hear the waves lapping the sand and imagine you could fly away like the big birds circling over your head and you close your eyes and …

Yes, the dodo had a cushy life until it encountered humans. Within 180 years of the Portuguese arriving on the island, it had been eaten to death not only by humans but also by pigs. Oh, and rats and monkeys ate their eggs – all of these animals introduced to Mauritius by Europeans, of course.

And it was the Portuguese who named them idiots, calling them doudo because they lived on the ground and were too slow to escape the hunt.

Apparently they weren’t as chubby as we imagine them, either – early drawings were all of captive, overfed birds and it’s likely the wild ones were slimmer. That’s what an all fruit diet will do for you.

On an interesting – if disturbing – side note, scientists recently noticed that certain species of tree on Mauritius were not regenerating and that the only extant examples were over 300 years old. You see, the trees’ seeds only became active after passing through a dodo gut. No dodo to eat the seed – no new trees. Read more here.

So, the Dodo’s story is a real cautionary tale to us humans.

Make one species extinct and we risk the future of others.

Now who’s the doudo?


Disturbingly, John Tenniel included hands in his dodo illustration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Take a look here where you’ll find more dodo facts.

Thanks to Kat for the original W4W.



























W4W: Why canines are the dog’s b****cks

Wolves and the moon

Image: Pixabay

I don’t have any pets.

We investigated keeping rats so that our son could gradually grow bored of them. After all, that’s what pets are for, right?

Attentive parents buy something cute in the hope their darling Jimmy will stop being so sodding self-centred and learn a valuable lesson in responsibility. After a few weeks the cute thing is less cute, largely because it’s grown so anxious at being mauled by tiny hands every day its fur’s falling out. Then the novelty wears off and the parents find themselves filling feeders and shovelling out pellets of poo until the poor creature finally grows weary of living in the animal version of solitary confinement and dies.

We were put off rats by their habit of marking their territory and making nests out of anything soft and downy. As our pre-teen is fast turning into a teen, that kind of behaviour is becoming pretty common round here anyway.

We considered Madagascan hissing cockroaches after my son fell in love with them at a ‘hands on’ animal event run by our local zoo. Yes, I know many of you will recoil in horror at that very thought, but they look like walking tortoiseshell hairslides to me, so I bear no grudge.

If we were ever to have a large pet, I suspect it would be a dog.

I read in a history article once that modern, Western folk cannot underestimate how much more physically brave our ancestors were than ourselves and this claim is borne out by the very existence of the domesticated canine.

Their wild cousins are often cast as the baddies in fairy tales – they plot against pigs (especially those into home improvements) and eat grandmas, for heaven sake. In recent years the UK has seen the reintroduction of beavers and wild boar, but the mooted reintroduction of the wolf to parts of Scotland has prompted outrage from many. And if you own livestock – or even cats – you can understand why.

Who was the brave fool who first wanted one as a best mate? Whoever it was, you can bet he soon earned the nickname Stumpy, Hopalong, Scarface – if he was still alive to earn a new name.

But it’s thanks to such nutters I am able today to bring you the word


as my Wednesday Word Tangle word of the day.

The Online Etymology Dictionary reckons it comes from the Old English docga, forcing out the more commonly used hund, and spreading into other European languages. But it’s a testament to humanity’s close relationship with the animal, that they crop up so often in expressions.

Alpha male

At bay

Bark is worst than his bite

Barking up the wrong tree

Bite the hand that feeds

Black Dog

Call off the dogs

Dog Days

Dog eat dog




Dog Star

Dog tired



Dog’s life

Every dog has its day

Fight like cat and dog

Hair of the dog

You’ll find a ton more here.

One of my personal favourite doggy expressions is

He who lies down with dogs rises with fleas.

I also enjoy the less savoury pup’s nuts for its assonance, it being a lesser known spin on dog’s bollocks meaning something excellent.

Why are canine testicles thought of as particulaly amazing in Britain? Your guess really is as good as mine. It was also a printers’ term for a colon followed by a dash


I’m sure you can work out why.

So next time you see a Chihuahua or a Pomeranian or a Pekingese, stop and wonder. Firstly at how such a ridiculous animal could possibly be related to the man eaters of legend. And secondly how indebted the English language is to them.


And for all you entomophobics out there – enjoy.

Thanks to Kat as always for inventing W4W.

W4W: Why I love serpents, sacbuts and crumhorns

Angels singing

Image: Pixabay

Call me a bit weird (and many have) but I do lust after a lute: a serpent stirs me to sureptitious sighings: a dulcimer has me dancing with dizzy delight: I clammer to caress a crumhorn. And a sacbut? Well, modesty forbids me from sharing my feelings on the subject.

You see, I do love to hear an old musical instrument, preferrably something that has a very peculiar shape, is nigh on impossible to play without removing a rib or your own teeth, sounds like a bag pipe breaking wind and has a ridiculous and /or mildly suggestive name (see above).

It’s the historian in me, you see.

Just as if you close your eyes and listen to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, you can almost convince yourself you’re walking the dusty, sunbleached streets of a South African township (go on, try it)


when I listen to these old instruments and close my eyes, I’m transported to a cathedral – stripped of pews, statues of saints and rood screens returned to their pre-Reformation glory, incense creeping from a censer, chill breeze sneaking under a broad oak door, clean of petrol fumes and car horns and the rumble of buses.

Or, as is the case with today’s Wednesday Word Tangle,


I’ll be in the private rooms – wood panelled walls, plastered ceilings swollen with Tudor rose bosses – of a well educated courtier. The fire will be burning, hounds – exhausted from a day chasing harts – will snooze at our buckled shoes. Candles will flicker in strings of milky pearls as handsome, beruffed gentlemen take up the tune.

Of course, I couldn’t have been one of the courtiers, partly because I’m too low born and partly because I’m too female to work my way up the social hierarchy unless I marry well. No, I’d have been a wench – or more likely at my age, a crone skivvying in the kitchens. Actually, most likely scenario would be I’d already have starved to death or have been taken by some horrible, disfiguring disease.

Anyway, let’s not allow reality to sneak into my time travelling fantasies.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, MADRIGAL (a song for three or more voices) is from the 16th century Italian, madrigale meaning ‘simple, ingenuous’ – derived from the Latin matricalis meaning ‘from the womb’.

So, it’s a ‘simple womb song’. 

Which is nice.



Thanks to Kat, as always for kicking off W4W

Wednesday Word Tangle: how to use a dead calf to write an act of parliament

page of hand written text

Image: Pixabay


Today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is brought to you today by


According to the Online Entymology Dictionary a palimpsest is a parchment where the original text has been removed and subsequently used for new writing.

In these days of cheap, mass produced paper and rampant online brain spillage, it might seem a heretical act, to destroy original writing just to reuse the parchment.

But making parchment was a long winded and expensive process unvolving the slaughter and careful skinning of young animals (the finest vellum comes from unborn calfs), then there’s soaking in lime vats and scraping the hair off and stretching and more scraping and drying …

Eventually you’re left with a material so durable, it can last for centuries – much longer than paper. No wonder the UK government still records every new act of parliament* on vellum. It’s a real statement, isn’t it? It’s saying

We can’t write our new laws in stone, but here’s the next best thing. And we won’t need a bricklayer’s hod to carry them.

I find palimpsests enigmatic, mysterious phenomena. Being used to recording thoughts and images on paper (my brain being analogue and in many ways not used to the digital way of recording information) I found the idea of scraping away old text interesting.

Try scraping the average page of A4 and see how long it is until you’ve nothing more than smudged ticker tape.

And when you scrape the old text from vellum, is it like trying to rub out marks made with a scratchy pencil?

Are traces of the old writing left, ghostly remains behind the current text, a watcher in the shadows.

The answer is, of course, a resounding yes.

A few years ago a Byzantine prayer book was found to be a palimpsest made from several accumulated texts – including copies of lost works by Archimedes, Hyperides and Aristotle. From these flickering, ephemeral letters, scholars discovered that the Ancient Greek mathematician anticipated calculus – over two thousand years before it was developed in the 19th century.

So, what have we learned?

That making the anicent equivalent of paper is a messy, stinking process – that you have to be prepared to butcher animals in utero if you want the best quality writing material.

And that Archimedes was a very, very clever man.


Thanks to my blogging pal, Kat for starting W4W.

*This tradition was due to end – saving the country £80,000 pounds a year in the process – but it seems it has been saved for now.


Come on, have a big HYGGE



Image: Pixabay

They know a thing or two, the Danes.

They know how to make good TV for a start. Any of you out there who fancy a bit of intelligent, slightly offbeat European drama with a line of black in it as dark as a miner’s armpit, then Danish national broadcaster DR are your go-to guys.

The Bridge, The Killing, Borgen, 1864 – what they can’t do with a fairisle jumper, an unlit sewer, a strong female lead with intimacy issues and several gallons of Kensington Gore isn’t worth doing.

Okay, sometimes you want to shout

For god’s sake, just put the light on rather than stumbling towards the armed psychopath waiting in that pitch black abattoir

And the same actors turn up in different shows – one minute as a politician, the next as a drunk homeless guy – so there’s a constant, disjointed feeling of deja vu, but what can you expect from a country where the population is below 6 million? (London’s is a bit over 8.5 million, which gives you some perspective.)

I’m no linguist, but by the time you’ve watched several of these programmes – reading the subtitles while Nordic vowels flow into you like ink into blotting paper – you’ll become convinced you can speak the language like a native.

Then there’s Hans Christian Anderson, of course, he of Little Mermaid fame, the heroine who is perhaps the epitome of self mortification in the name of love. You can’t help but wonder if she might have had some influence on the Scandi-noir girls who come after (like Sara Lund and Saga Noren from the above shows), adept as they are at doing the right thing despite the personal cost.

There’s also: 

Lego, Danish pastries, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”), conductor and comedy pianist Victor Borge, film director and obscurist misery-monger Lars von Trier (Dogville, Breaking the Waves) author Peter Hoeg (Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow) and poet Benny Andersen.

And Vikings.


I haven’t brought you to Wednesday Word Tangle – the fabled W4W – for any of this. I’ve brought you here for one, single Danish word –


Pronounced something like hooga, hygge isn’t just a word or a concept – it’s a national mindset.

Think of it.

You live in a small country, culturally impressive – and the happiest place to live in the world – but with no great power, influence or empire to swing around to impress the big hitters on the global stage.

What you do have is a lot of fish, ice, snow and some days in winter in which the sun only rises above the horizon for seven hours.

And this, friends is where hygge comes in. Because it means a sense of cosy intimacy. Think curling up somewhere warm – by an open fire, under a duvet – reading a good book, candles burning, your most cherished loved one by your side and eating something delicious.

It’s about relishing small things, normal things – making rituals out of preparing tea, lighting a candle as you drink your coffee in the morning.

Let’s take a leaf out of the Book of the Danes and accept HYGGE into our lives.


A little something for those of you who’d like to get hygge-ish with Viking Alexander Dreymon.


Thanks to Kat, founder of W4W.




W4W: Why a lady should beware rabbits and flattery


Image: Pixabay


I’m pretty rubbish at flattery.

I enjoy dispensing compliments, don’t get me wrong. If I see a fellow human of the female persuasion and she looks particularly glorious, I’ll tell her so – spread the love about her fetching scarf / jacket combo. I don’t do this with men, though – no man wants a forty something woman telling him she likes the snug fit of his suit. That would be creepy.

There are times I have to remind myself to say something complimentary if it’s expected of me …

For instance, when my son was a baby, several people said we should take him to a modelling agency – the kid loved the camera and he photographed well. Is he good looking? Well, I’m his mother, so couldn’t possible give you an unbiased opinion on that one.

We never did take him to an agency – we found the idea of selling our baby’s looks a little distasteful – but when other parents said something along those lines (‘Ooh, he’s going to be a heartbreaker, isn’t he?’ ‘Watch out for that one when he gets older,’ etc) I’d feel under pressure to reciprocate.

The parent would fix me with a cool eye, as if to say,

Well, come on, then. Tell me mine’s gorgeous too.

Sometimes this was easier than others. A lot of babies are okay – some are adorable. And yet others are …

Jeez! Let’s hope you have a FANTASTIC sense of humour, kid.

And I’m a rubbish liar. Faced with a tasteless frock, a laughable hairdo – or a pig ugly baby – I’ll mumble something unconvincing, give a pale attempt at a smile and run away, claiming I’ve left the gas on or have to go shave my legs before a race of small mammals mistake my body hair for a cosy thicket.

I am no


According to the Dictionary of Regional American English, it means to ‘deceive by flattery’. Other variations include



and honeyfogle all of which are equally amazing.

The dictionary states it could be from the English


Now I knew coney was an old word for rabbit. But according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, connyfogle is a play on how similar coney sounds to an old word for female genitalia. The only meaning I can find for fogle on its own is an antiquated term for handkerchief (Fogle hunter being a pick pocket.)

But connyfogle  has nothing to do with lacy nose wipers (or for wiping any other part of the body, you’ll be relieved to learn) as it means

 “to deceive in order to win a woman’s sexual favors”.

Yeah. Never been any good at that one either.


With thanks to Kat, the originator of W4W


W4W: Come learn some Bristle, my Babber.



Clifton Suspension Bridge. Image: Pixabay


There’s an expression that claims the Brits and the Americans are ‘separated by a common language.’ But if this is true of nations, it’s still just about true of people living within the same country.

I’ve moved around a fair bit over the years. Born in Greater London, I did most of my growing up in Buxton, in the North West of England – with a brief sojourn in the East – before moving to the North East to do my floristry training, with work leading us to Bristol (South West), Buckinghamshire (South East), Manchester (a slightly different part of the North West), finally moving back to Bristol nearly 12 years ago.

As you can imagine, my accent is a pick and mix of bits and pieces. If asked, I can float between thickish North West (Ey oop duck) to cod South East (‘Allo Darlin’) with relative ease. I know that in the North, when we want to ask ‘isn’t it?’ we say ‘intit?’ whereas in the South East they say ‘innit?’ – a very important difference.

Even though TV and population movement are eroding regional accents and dialects, there are still strongholds – when I was growing up in Buxton we called chewing gum ‘chuddy’, trousers ‘keks’, an alleyway was a ‘ginnel’ and extremely was always ‘dead’ – as in

‘That Kevin Bacon was dead fit in Footloose.’

(‘Fit’ meaning ‘sexually attractive’ rather than good at physical exercise, though I guess Kev was both in that film.)

On moving to Bristol the differences were … noticeable. You see, we don’t live in the posh bit of Bristol (Clifton) where many of the residents are from outside of the city and those that are local went to private school, so sound like every other private school offspring in the UK – a sort of toned down version of the Queen.

We live in Bedminster (well, on Windmill Hill, if you want to be specific – and local people will thank me for my pedantry). Bedminster was once known for its tobacco factories, its tanneries, coalmines, paint and glue works – posh it was not.

The upper classes lived in Clifton (north of the River Avon) and many of the working folk lived south of the river, meaning that for the rich, commodities like coal, cigars and leather were only a short ferry trip away, but they didn’t have inconvenience of the pollution or noxious fumes from their production.

Despite incomers like myself, this area remains a knot of white working class locals and therefore, an enclave of authentic Bristle.

Now if you want to speak Bristle like a local, you have to remember a few things –

drop your Hs: stick an L on words that end with a vowel: emphasise your Rs: pronounce TH as FF: put an S at the end of some verbs (you wouldn’t say ‘they go’, you’d say ‘they goes’).

There’s also the almost European habit of ascribing inanimate objects a gender – although that gender is always male. I have a work colleague who will sell an underwatered plant to a customer, advising them,

” ‘E needs a drink when you get ‘im ‘ome.’

To help me acclimatise (and to help me to fictionalise Bristolian characters more convincingly), I bought the rather splendid

A Dictionary of Bristle by Harry Stoke and Vinny Green,

what seems to me to be the ultimate guide to understanding the language. The book follows the format of genuine phrase books, with a list of local words, a section of useful phrases and a quiz to test how Bristolian you are.

The book’s amusing and tongue in cheek – for instance, they list the word Cyclepaff not for a lane especially dedicated to bicycles, as I first thought, but as

‘A murderous nutter’ : eg ‘Stay away from ee, ee’s a cyclepaff.’

Just think about it  a second – it’ll come to you.

So for this week’s Wednesday Word Tangle, here are a selection of Bristol words, all taken from  A Dictionary of Bristle

Ar Muh : our (or my) Mum.

Babby / Babber : Baby / Friend.

Baity : Annoyed.

Beamer : Blushing, embarrassed.

Bemmie : Someone who lives in Bedminster.

Benny : Temper.

Biggun : Big one.

Bist : Are you (‘How are you?’ becomes ‘Ow Bist?’)

Bristle : Bristol.

Churz : Cheers (Thank you.)

Coopeyen Down : Bending over.

Daps : Trainers.

Dedder : Corpse.

Doggin Up : Look at threateningly.


Watch this instructional video for a guide to pronunciation.



With thanks to Kat, the founder of W4W.


What do Coleridge, Arabic water carriers and the American penal system have in common?


Image: Pixabay


Do you know? No? Well, come with me and let’s walk it through.

I began this post by looking up al words, intending to write a Wednesday Word Tangle about English words with Arabic roots. There are some crackers, too –

alembic, alcove, algebra, alcohol, alchemy, alkali, algorithm.

What a lovely list of interesting words – covering everything from chemistry (itself derived from alchemy), architecture, mathematics, distillation … Clever bunch, those ancient Arabic scholars. Then I stumbled across another word that I hadn’t realised was from Arabic at all and my mind got to drifting as if across a wide ocean …

… this word may derive from the Arabic al-qadus – a ‘machine for drawing water’

… which links to a British / American rock group, famous in the seventies for falling in love with each other, scrapping like Itchy and Scratchy, breaking up, writing heart-breaking songs about the whole affair, then making their now-ex sing them for years afterwards …

… which also links to an American prison situated in San Francisco Bay, now a tourist attraction, but once notorious for holding the most troublesome inmates, including Al Capone, George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly and Robert Stroud – famous for his love of birds …

… which also links to an epic 19th century poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge about a seafarer who meets Death, loses his soul in a game of dice and is cursed to wander the earth, relating his tale of woe to all who will listen

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

… which also links to a brief sketch by Monty Python, with John Cleese in drag as a terrifyingly aggressive ice cream lady, selling the most unappetising of intermission snacks a cinema could possibly offer

Do you know what it is yet? Then allow me to explain …

Al-qadus relates to the word saqqa – the Arabic word for pelican. The word was jumbled with the Latin for white – albus – and somehow attributed to a totally different seabird – the


by English sailors.

The British / American rock band are Fleetwood Mac – they of Tusk, Chains and Go your Own Way fame. They also wrote an instrumental piece named after a sea bird with a giant wingspan …



The American prison is – of course – Alcatraz, named after the Spanish word for the pelicans that roosted there, derived from the Arabic al-ghattas (any pelicaniform diving bird), another possible root of ALBATROSS.

The poem is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and the seaman in question shoots an ALBATROSS, thus cursing the rest of his crew to endure unpleasant deaths and himself to wearing an unweildy, seabird necklace …

And Monty Python? Watch this.



With thanks and love as always to Kat, founder of W4W.




Love Nudge Competition. Wednesday: Jealousy


Image: Pixabay

Welcome, wordsmiths to Wednesday’s Love Nudge

Today’s Love Nudge word is


And what a dark, corrosive little word it is. More dangerous than acid for a relationship, jealousy inspires lovers to check pockets, to search mobile phone histories and that’s the least of it. Think Othello, poor doomed Desdemona and that blessed hanky: think Medea‘s jealousy of Jason’s new Corinthian love and the awful price their children pay for their mother’s envy.

Jealousy can be deadly.

Poetry, prose, elegy, ranty email, whatever you fancy- pop it in the comments box.

Take a look here for the rules and happy writing.


And in honour of the day, today’s Wednesday Word Tangle word is also


According to Online Etymology Dictionary, jealousy derives from the Greek zelos, which could mean jealousy but in a good sense – sort of competitive and enthusiastic rather than Green Eyed Monster.

The Swedish word for the feeling is svartsjuka literally ‘black-sick’, whilst the Danish is skinsyg, meaning ‘skin-sick’. Marvellous, eh?

And the phrase Green Eyed Monster? No, it’s not some cheap, rubbery 1950s sci-fi alien. It’s from Othello, spoken by that king of the double crossers, Iago.

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But, O, what damned minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves! (3.3.163-168)

Thanks to Kat for W4W – and for everything else.


Why we should all beware the beautiful people


Image: Pixabay

It seems beauty and poison often go hand in hand.

We’ve all met them. Those folk so physically attractive they almost look like a different species – complexions as flawless as a polished peach, hair so glossy it could have been French polished. Their teeth are white and even and they move with the kind of fluid grace you can only be born with, because it relies on your limbs being hung in precisely the right way and only nature or a very expensive plastic surgeon is capable of that.

But look closer.

Do they flick a glance at every plate glass window they sashay past? Cos apparently, when you’re that gorgeous, you have to make sure you stay gorgeous. And is that a crinkle of disdain disfiguring that perfect nose when they see someone or something less wonderful than they are? Are they, in short, just a little bit up themselves?

The most extreme example of a narcissistic personality, of course was today’s Wednesday Word Tangle word …

NARCISSUS, that most vain and unlovely of lovely Greek youths.

Having an utterly over-inflated idea of his own attractions, Narcissus didn’t think any of the wood and water nymphs who threw themselves at him were good enough.* And he treated the lovely Echo (she who had been cursed by Juno to be incapable of speech unless another spoke first) with such disdain, the humiliation drove her to hide in a cave where she gradually pined away until nothing remained but her




This being a Greek Myth, of course, things didn’t end well for Narcissus, as he caught sight of his reflection in a pond and stared at his own gorgeousness until he too pined away, leaving only a narcissus flower behind.

Now, the daffodilthe most common of the narcissus family – is beautiful in its simplicity, a welcome harbinger of Spring. It certainly cheered Wordsworth up when he was feeling blue. But it also has more in common with the callow Greek youth than merely the name.

Because for all its beauty, it’s highly toxic when eaten, causing vomitting, nausea, diarrhea, convulsions, trembling and – in extreme cases – death.

And if it shares their water, it can poison other flowers, shortening their lives considerably (Sound familiar?)

So, what’s the moral of this tale?

Don’t fall in love with someone who’s more in love with themselves than they could ever be with you.

And don’t go gathering wild leeks in the early Spring – unless you’re fond of stomach pumps.


*To be fair, this story does portray nymphs as slightly on the needy side.

Thanks to dear Kat, the originator of W4W.