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Wordy mojo

2 Jul

mojoClambering free from a hole lot of work, shaking off the extra-clingy stickie notes and kicking mounds of magazines, books and memos to one side, I feel happily lighter again. Phew!
This past month or two was some stretch of work activity, but at last I have room in my head for my thoughts to wander and wonder. It occurs to me that I’m getting my wordy-mojo back and I likey like it.
In 1957 Muddy Waters sang “Got my mojo working…”  a tune subsquently picked up by many great artists including Etta James and Eric Clapton. That’s good enough company for me. Hmm, but then tragic singer Jeff Buckley’s ‘Mojo Pin’ song (featuring on his 1994 album Grace) appears to be a psychedelic drug reference. Not so apt, perhaps. I’m reminded that the addition of Mr Mojo Risin to the Doors song ‘LA Woman’ transpires to be an anagram of Jim Morrison, and comes with a cheeky sexy innuendo. This is getting worse!
Diligently, I look up the dictionary definition of ‘mojo’ to find it originally meant magic, magnetic quality or charm. This works. Wait up. Now I read that seemingly ‘mojo’ has come to mean sex appeal – I’m not working so hard on that one. Ah, read can also mean cool or style essence.  Yep, niiiice. I’ll aspire to this last.


26 Feb

images-3Context (as much as definition, tone and volume) gives a word its resonance and poignancy. Or not.  The how and when can make the most ordinary of greetings, formalities or comments rich with significance and sentiment.
Saturday last, the timing of a simple “Please?” made me stop short as I led my sons out of Waterloo station on a freezing afternoon. We were heading towards a warm café tea – the plea-sayer was already seated, tired and grubby on the icy grey pavement. Sad eyes told me desperation and hunger were the order. Suddenly acutely sad for the beggar, I proffered more coins than usual. Touched by the moment, ashamed that it took the inclement weather to incite this generosity, in my mind I questioned whether humility is the dish best served cold?
My teenage son says “Sorry!” while rolling his eyes and sighing, revealing how very unremorseful he feels. Later, as I bend my head to say goodnight, he whispers his real apology unbidden and I hear the meaning loud and clear.
The declaration “We did it” can signal incrimination, affirmation or celebration according to the moment, while double-entendres are innocent or bawdy with either careless or careful placement. The most generic of nouns can be rendered superbly-special: Train has special meaning as the first intelligible word uttered by one of my children, parental friends cite shoe and duck with similar affection. “Bedtime” has numerous possible intentions: a statement, a question a threat… an invitation perhaps!
My Dad has Alzheimers. He lives some distance away – metaphorically and actually. He’s no longer sure who I am, and loses his words by the day. Those he does share with me don’t always enlighten. But, however muddled, I gift the words with imagined meaning drawn from the context. At the end of my latest visit I kissed him goodbye and promised I’d be back soon. “Back soon…” he repeated. I added a question mark and a requestful intonation in my head. Poignant. Back soon?  I wish he would be.


8 Feb

ImageSome words are wonderfully descriptive, even when you’re not sure of what! A run of four syllables is usually a surefire way to get my attention and recently I’ve picked up one gem of a quadsyllablic word that’s new to me: murmuration. Just roll it round your tongue a moment or two before I reveal – if you don’t yet know – what it means. Stare at the spelling, it looks right but wrong somehow (yes, I did spellcheck and crosscheck and the double u-sage is correct). How delightfully mischievous!
The dictionary advises that mur-mur-ation – from the Middle English or Latin murmurare – is the action of murmuring or emitting a low continuous noise, but also it is used as the name for a flock of starlings and this is what I find intriguing. The bird-word derives from the way migrating starlings collect, and try to fly as close together as possible while copying changes in speed or direction, so that the flight of one single bird gets magnified and distorted by all the birds around it and they seem to be creating one big pattern in the sky. It’s mathematical chaos, and a brilliant visual reference for the ‘murmuring noise’ as they flock and wheel and dance in the sky.
More glorious still is the discovery that a murmuration and a susurration (a whispering or rustling noise) are synonyms for each other, AND they each can be used as verbs. Personally I can’t wait for an opportunities to rebuff some child with the command to “stop that murmurating!” or “no susurrating in the cinema please, I’m trying to concentrate on the film”. This word play is seemingly endlessly fun!


26 Dec

twitter-bird-santa-350Retrospection is in the air.  It’s the end of December and time to indulge the pleasure and the pain of reviewing the year in snapshots; the “ouch!” moments and the “ooh remember that” ones, too. Was it a great 2012 for you, or a miserable time for the most part?  I take a poll. My friends’ responses are divided.

Yay! for the Queen’s Jubilee, Obama’s re-election, the Olympics. Personally, my family breathed a sigh of relief as mother sold her house at last and moved closer to my younger sister, and I exhaled deeply as my youngest moved to a new school moderately painlessly. Anyone within earshot couldn’t fail to feel the love as I loudly announced the loss of the 10lbs I gained at Christmas 2011… and became a nicer person again…arguably.

Yet I’m acutely aware also that some friends and colleagues have hit hard times, and the recession continues to bite down with force. The Greeks, the Spaniards, the locals in my rural home county… few escape the fallout of the banking crises (plural). Times they are a-changing, indeed. But while thanks for the sentiment Bob Dylan, what you suggest as swimming doesn’t quite do it for modern time.

So, here I lounge, stuffed with Christmas dinners (plural again) in retrospection – the memories of the past 12 months clinging to the branches of the Christmas tree, puffing up into the atmosphere as I turn the pages of the TV Times, and seeping out on the radio airwaves as Slade, Mud, the Pogues and Greg Lake continue to hold forth (not my choice of song decade after decade but the ‘chef chooses the tunes’ apparently. And I’m not cooking). This ‘looking back’ giving rise to musing, mulling and pondering. What have I learned and what is important in 2012?

Boing! My Twitter account alert sounds out. Hmm, should I have silenced it for today in deference to the family gathering? I should be paying the nearest and dearest full attention. The laptop flashes up a ‘new message’ or two notice… hard to ignore, but I do. Embarrassed, I notice my text message sound is going mad. Is there no peace for someone attempting a bit of contemplative retrospection…? The phone rings.

And there, suddenly I have it. The answer my friends, is written in the ping. This has been a year of connections, of camaraderie. Of not being alone. The joy in being available, reachable and wanted is apparent everywhere. I will embrace it. Happily. And extend my best wishes to you all – real and virtual.

Gross misconduct

5 Dec

Unknown-3Since reading the phrase recently on a contract of employment, I’ve become obsessed with what actually is ‘gross misconduct’. Just what do you have to do to be guilty of such a crime? This is not a subject that comes up in daily banter across the desktop or dining table, so I’ve not hitherto given it so much thought. Rather,  more often it will arise as an occasional reference in a news report or as last week, a perceived threat of instant dismissal in a legal document. But now I’m fixated, and the more I ponder, the more intriguing I find gross misconduct to be. And perhaps a little hilarious, too.

Of course I realise the intellectual explanation is that ‘gross’ is simply borrowed from the German word gross meaning big. ie when it comes to ‘gross misconduct’, we’re talking about serious misdemeanour and not just being a little inappropriate during the office party. But, eschewing the rational, and maybe this is a parent thing, I am drawn to the more childish vision of behaviour that is just plain disgusting!  It’s because I’m used to hearing my teenage son’s expression of ‘gross’ to mean anything he finds revolting from the cat’s dinner, to the contents of the food-waste caddy, childbirth, kissing, his little brother’s farts, or even the semi-nudity of anyone over the age of 25 – and we could just be talking the innocent sight of a woman’s bare upper arms flailing in the wind here. Apply this more juvenile contemporary meaning of gross to the act of misconduct and my mind is racing. Are you with me?

I’m envisaging a naked-from-the-waist-up figure prancing around the office as the contents of the stationary cupboard are whisked into a cardboard box destined for the nearest car boot sale… someone discovered daubing graffiti on the lift walls using Kitty Kat gravy… audibly flatulence-laced expletive-ridden announcements over the rail station loudspeaker as another service is declared late… the entire office team taking ‘dress down Friday’ to it’s ultimate undressed conclusion! And so on. Serious, but comical in a Simpsons kind of way. Could make for more amusing proceedings at industrial tribunals?

No? It’s just me then….


25 Nov

vomit word girlMine’s vomit, what’s yours? It’s a funny thing, but apparently we each have words that we find hard, repulsive even, to use. There’s no reason to it seemingly, just an individual quirkiness that applies randomly. A young woman confessed to me recently that she couldn’t get her tongue round ‘bosoms’ (she’d need to be a contortionist to do that, ha ha). Whilst I have no problem with the b-word, I identified with her reluctance to use a noun she felt so strongly against.

My pet idiosyncrasy is ‘vomit’. Gross… I hate typing it even  – for me it’s one of those picture words that you can’t use without visualizing. See, actually gross. And the sound – just weird in a finger-nail-down-the-blackboard sort of way. It’s not the concept I despise: the forceful expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth and perhaps nose (derived from the Latin vomitāre). And I will comfortably declare myself or any other person in my vicinity to having been sick, to having chucked or thrown up, barfed (inelegant but bearable), heaved, puked (so laddish), retched and at a push, spewed although this last is borderline disturbing I have to admit. But I just can’t bear the v-word itself.

I’m not wild about womb – a tad less hateful but still I find it tricky to articulate. It starts off well then tails off into an inconsequential consonant that refuses to sound. I blame my mother and the vicar. Best explain: I recall at the age of 9 being delegated to read one of the nine lessons at the School Christmas Carol Concert. Up in the pulpit if you please, I was expected to relate how the angel told the Virgin Mary (Luke Chapter1 verse 31) she would “conceive in her womb”. I found it mortifyingly embarrassing to be addressing anatomical and gestational matters publicly at such an age. My angst was horrendously compounded as the ultimate sense of shame because at around the same time, my mother informed me she was pregnant with my sister. At such a prepubescent stage, the knowledge that mum had conceived something in her wooo…woo..womb (there, it’s out ) and what it took to make that happen was just de trop. I’ve since managed to have two children and averted my eyes from any mention of there being a place inside where they are grown.

So come on then. Let’s being having it: What is yours?


20 Nov

word nickyswordsEmbrace evolution and savour the opportunity for conversational shenanigans – Omnishambles has been declared the Oxford University Press ‘Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year’ for 2012. At four unhurried syllables and with only four vowels to eight consonants, this is a cobbled together yet hyphen-free word. I marvel at the beautiful mark it makes on the page, no descenders (bits that go below the line) allowed! How thrilling.

Attributed to the writers of BBC political comedy/drama The Thick of It, omnishambles is to be seized upon with glee. Just the right degree of onomatopoeia to indicate the disorder it describes. A cementing together of two old words to create something rambling, and messed up – it’s a bit of a mutant yet deserving of our full attention. US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticised London’s preparations for Olympics as “omnishambles” (oh how foolish he must feel now that we proved him so wrong with our British ‘spirit of the Blitz pull-it-out-of-the-bag showmanship!). And Labour party leader Ed Miliband, described the 2012 budget (which according to him had every type of tax in shambles) “an omnishambles budget”. That one I’ll leave to you to judge. So we’re in good company.. ahem, well noted company perhaps.

But despite the current fuss, omnishambles is not really such a new concept. The prefix ‘omni’ is from the Latin omnis meaning ‘all’ – as in omnipresent – and the noun shambles describes a state of confusion and bad organization. Actually, shambles is also pretty ancient in derivation. The name of a wooden stool (the Old English word scomul meaning ‘footstool’) evolved to become ‘shambles’ and by the Middle Ages, streets where stalls were set up randomly and often crammed full had become known as ‘shambles’. By the 17th Century, shambles had become a byword for chaos and disorder and so it has remained.

Enough history, back to the future. We now welcome omnishambles as a new plaything, the birth of an expression where disarray can be mixed with ineptitude perchance, and, dear reader, I for one will be making free with it. After all, how lovely to gifted the opportunity to drop it into every day conversation. Imagine the scene:

You: So how was your day?

Me: Ah… utter omnishambles!

You sympathetic smiles and nodding head as you proffer a glass of the strong stuff to calm me down after such dreadful indictment of proceedings (okay, the last bit is a bit off the point, but I live in hope.)

Or how about describing the state to behold in a teenager’s bedroom (should you dare open the door in daylight you’ll need an armory of good adjectives to utter) as grossly omnishambolic! “Get up here and sort out this omnishambles,” you will cry. Said juvenile bounds upstairs with duster and rubbish bag in hand… or not.

The possibilities are endless… so go… try it out. Have fun.


17 Nov

Automaticness… what a word! At five syllables and with an awkward ‘c’ butted right up against an ‘n’, arguably it’s a little clunky and brash. I think of it as a teenager of a word trying to out-attitude a parent. Of course like the adult-in-the-making, it’s an unofficial word; ungraded, made-up and yet to be lexicon-ised. But it sounds so cool. Don’t you love the irony of a bolshy juvenile pouting angst and fury who unwittingly delivers a word so alluring you can’t wait to get out there and try for yourself despite being positively past the teen years? 

Sadly I can’t claim to be the mother of this invention. My respect (and thanks for this linguistic gift) is due to the verbal audacity of Paul Armstrong, Head of Social Media at Mindshare, a global media network company. He put ‘automaticness’ out there for our enjoyment during his presentation at Mumsnet Blogfest 2012* recently. Speaking to a packed auditorium of bloggers, he spanked out his enthusiasm for Social Media and invited us all to embrace the newest technology available, Armstrong insisted: “Google is the way forward”. He certainly held my attention firm for the allotted 40 minutes of seminar giving on the subject of working online to best effect. His enthusiasm for his subject was palpable and infectious. “Facebook is the Daddy! – used by more than a billion people, and more than 34 million in the UK”, he insisted.  “But Google+ is the new SEO crack!”. Armstrong is a copywriters dream with his munch-size quote habit.

Working with Google/Google+ will give online wordsmiths what Armstrong termed automaticness. It made instant sense. You just get the concept wrapped within. The notion that something is possessed of the drive and energy to make things happen in the right order without further input required. Repeat it to yourself and note the gratifying roundness of sound it makes when spoken loud. Auto-matic-ness. It has a great beginning, middle and end – a lovely completeness about it. I love its precocious use of 6 vowels to 7 consonants. Of course it’s not a proper word but it should be… in fact for Nickyswords henceforth it shall be.

*Sponsored by top dog of cyber-search engines, Google, alongside high street names including Boden and Skoda, the 2012 Mumsnet’s inaugural Blogfest event was a fierce opportunity to sharpen our cyber-wits with up-to-the-minute advice on working online. A fabulous line-up of writers, journalists and speakers included Caitlin Moran, Miriam González Durántez, Doctor Tanya Byron, Suzanne Moore, Rachel Cusk, Tim Dowling, Liz Jones….Mumsnet Blogfest 2013 is a must-go-to.

Icon be gone

7 Nov

Some words are sooo tired. Yawn. ‘Icon’ is one of them. Positively comatose with fatigue lying flat on the page. ‘Exclusive’ is another… worked to the limit and now lacking in energy. No verve, no dynamism being all puff, no substance. Snooze-ville. How about ‘innovative’, ‘luxury’ and ‘unique’? All equally applied with gusto in many a press release, product description or review, yet rarely do they stir up a sense of excitement. Devalued they have become unremarkable.
The problem is a seemingly general malaise with writers shirking their responsibility to seek out words that actually fit entirely the intended meaning. Lazily they reach for the nearest superlative, however knackered it’s become. Instead of trying words out to check if they suit, savouring nuances and carefully selecting the one most apt, we’ve become too commercial, too quick to pick up on the most sensational, most eye-catching. To attract attention, we emulate the style of advertising campaigns and news headlines and insert the nearest adjective of excellence. We confuse most popular with most appropriate. It’s a herd mentality. Baaaa…
Enough now. Move along… must try harder.


21 Oct

Amazeballs! I have discovered how deliciously liberating and uplifting it can be to add a new word to my vocabulary, and one which while seemingly slang-dacious, is now listed in the Collins online English dictionary as admissible for overt usage. Admittedly I didn’t actually say it; “amazeballs” I mean. Instead I sneaked it into a Tweet… but it felt just as good as if I’d yelled it out in a school parent/teacher meeting. In fact, my employment of such modern urban language was akin to knocking 20 years off my age – which remains classified information on a need to know basis only.
Oh how lightly I had popped the positively enthusiastic ‘amazeballs’ (denoting ‘approval’ in case you’re not familiar) into a message – using considerably fewer than my allotted 140 characters I might add which is equally youthful behaviour… and launched said missive into the ether. I smirked. How utterly frivolous.

Throughout the day I savoured the way amazeballs rolled around my tongue becoming increasingly tasteful. By teatime I was inserting an amazeballs into nearly every sentence – the kids were incredulous, half admiring half nervous about my literary adventurousness. By bedtime I’d received the  ultimate accolade: a return Tweet from a follower in New York: “We love that you can say amazeballs…” wrote my west coast American cyber-friend. Say it? I’ve moved on, since using it in conversation with the window-cleaner, scribbled it on a birthdaycard to my brother and, rather naughtily, re-named our cat (well, it seemed physically fitting). Their various responses have all been most rewarding indeed!