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.

Homework madness

12 Dec

Domestic mental cruelty comes in many guises and to my mind includes the supervision of children’s homework! A word that now sends chills – and pills more often than not – down me. Described as ‘parent assisted learning’ to be done in the home and an invaluable support of the schoolday? Pah! An unnecessary strain on familial relations and a prescription for parental insanity more like.

I recall how naively as a new, inexperienced parent I longed for the day that our young offspring could dress themselves, feed unaided, and climb in and out of the buggy, car, or bed without assistance. Phew, the hard labour was over. We watched beaming with pride as the little ones grew bigger, blissfully unaware that as they lurch from pre-school to infant years and on to junior then senior status, there looms a clear and present terror to be negotiated and one that will last throughout their schooling. Years, many years – sob. [Visualise this author now rocking back and forth and moaning gently at the prospect]

Carers of tender tikes still nursery-bound look away now – try and enjoy what innocence you have left before the madness begins. From reception class forward, no longer will you ferret through the school bag in search of letters of praise, party invitations, ‘playground star’ certificates. Nope. Henceforth you will learn to view with suspicion and fear bags thrown in the hallway spewing papers and exercise books, forms and charts. Oh yes, dear reader, the homework years are upon you – be afraid.

For sure this form of ritual torture for loving parents has been devised by a truly Machiavellian mind. This weekly dishing out of tasks to students of tender to teen ages – verbal, written or mathematical it matters not – is a cunning strategy for slowly but clearly eroding the sanity of any right-minded adult. The torturous process of completing the homework – and remember it is the child who should be fulfilling the paperwork and not you, tempting as it maybe – will involve cajoling, encouraging, bribing then threatening (usually in that order) your reluctant enfant terrible. How quickly the novelty passes of pleasing teacher by knowing the spellings, the times tables, the capital cities of the world… How rapidly they learn that they prefer their energies to spent in more ego-centric activities. Not more work, they cry, its soooo unfair. Let them take responsibility for their actions, or lack of? They’ll suffer their punishments and learn to work willingly at the kitchen table? It’s not that simple, quick or painless. For what your kids don’t do,  you will be charged as guilty. You will face the prospect of missives from the school, summonses perhaps, and uncomfortable parent/teacher interviews.The shame, the indignity, the frustration is awful, and that is the unfairness you wail. But still you bear the brunt. In an era where ‘middle England’ demands that every word, inkspot, calculation is measured and rated in the pursuit of tabling the academic process, homework has taken on an super-importance of its own.

Not that the little treasures themselves care. Tantrums, tears, melt-downs (yours, not theirs most often) will become the norm as you endeavor to follow the timetable. Missed instructions, forgotten books, lost papers… this is what your evenings will be reduced to. Prepare the darkened room and the soothing head compress. Me? I find I get best results when clutching a glass of the coldest white wine available… and ear-plugs so I can’t hear myself shouting!


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.