words and birds

I mentioned recently that I sometimes need to ‘top up’ my supply of words by reading voraciously just about anything I can get my hands on. It doesn’t have to be anything of any great literary value; indeed, I think what I’m really looking for is not so much words as such, it’s colloquial and fluent usage and phrasing that can perhaps be repurposed so that not all the clients I work for in a particular sector end up with the same wording on their websites and marketing collateral.

Since then, I’ve been wondering generally about vocabulary knowledge and learning: how many words do we know? Do adults continue to learn new words and, if so, how many?
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word association

Memory is an odd thing. And linguistic memory is perhaps as odd as any.

I know I should remember the name of the flowers in the photo as I’ve grown plenty over the years, but every time I see them I have to sort through and reject a few other words that come to mind first.

They definitely aren’t coelacanths.

And I’m fairly sure they have nothing to do with Clytemnestra.
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in a pickle

Well, not really in a pickle, as the spices in the picture are not yet even tied up in muslin. And, anyway, they were to be used to make chutney.

Which leads me on to wonder what the difference between chutney and pickle actually is. The top results in Google don’t help much; I think they are biased towards the States, where things like gherkins, which are preserved without cooking, are classed as pickles, while vegetables and fruits cooked in vinegar with spices are called chutney or relish.
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things forgotten

It’s quicker and easier to look things up online than in the weighty volumes of the Oxford Universal Dictionary over on the bookshelf, so I’ve just found the definition of “apostrophe” on dictionary .com and it pretty much sums up this blog:

a digression in the form of an address to someone not present […]

After all, you who are reading this are not present, and that first paragraph is itself a digression: I intended to start here at the Old School House –

old school house – and continue by commenting that when I wrote yesterday’s post apostrophising and being (dia)critical of the local school leavers’ fête and the sad inadequacies of modern education, I had forgotten that my original idea was to write about St Swithin’s Day, which had passed unremarked the day before.
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picky

It’s summer and the park is knee-deep in meadow flowers.

It’s also the end of the academic year – time for sports days and garden parties, which explains the following notice, tied to gates of the local school:
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worthless opinions

When I paid for my shopping at the supermarket check-out the other day, the assistant rejected one of the coins, telling me it was foreign.

She was wrong: it wasn’t foreign, it was old. Somehow this had got into in my purse:

1967 ship ha'penny coin
I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I’d handed it over thinking it was a tuppenny piece. It seems my two penn’orth is only worth a ha’penny.

biscuits and other ambiguities

coffee and ginger biscuits
When I’ve quoted Sandburg – “poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits” – in the past, I have always felt the biscuits were there to represent the everyday, functional side of life: I’ve always assumed he meant Rich Tea, not Hobnobs.

But apparently yesterday was National Biscuit Day, which set me thinking: as I am not really sure which nation was celebrating, I don’t know whether the biscuits in question are the ones you eat with morning coffee or with gravy. And even if it were definitely a British celebration, they might be cheesy biscuits rather than gingersnaps.

Now I am wondering whether Sandberg was thinking of American biscuits – the plain scones eaten with thick sausage gravy – with all the social and regional connotations that they bring to bear. Suddenly hyacinths have become the clear and unambiguous aspect of the quote: a natural Truth alongside the unnecessarily complex human view of things.
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