Favourite words: Nipple

Finishing my final year of university has made me realise that soon I will no longer have university access to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online. So, I have decided to make the most of it and will be looking up the etymologies or morphological composition of my favourite words.

Today, I am starting with ‘nipple’. I am starting with ‘nipple’ because it’s the place of the body I start with when I do a life drawing. Yes, I know it sounds immature or just plain odd to have ‘nipple’ as a favourite word, but I think that it is pleasant to say and to me just sounds exactly like the thing it denotes. Not onomatopoeia exactly, but just sounds right. I think it’s a perfect term.

The OED puts the first recorded use of the word as around 1510 and suggests that it was originally composed from the stem noun ‘neb’ plus the suffix ‘-le’. I won’t list all the meanings, but in general ‘neb’ seems to mean a protruding part and has been used to refer to the nose as well as to the nib of a pen or pencil. The suffix ‘-le’ can infuse the noun it’s attached to with a diminutive sense or give it the the sense of being a tool or appliance. The OED also suggests a possible link with the word ‘nap’ meaning ‘to suck’.

I’d prefer to think that the ‘-le’ suffix is adding the sense of diminutive and not of being a tool, although if you see ‘nipple’ as a way to get milk to a baby then I guess this might also be apt. I like that my objective feeling that the word means what it sounds like is very slightly supported here with the morphological composition giving the meaning of small protuberance. And the word ‘nipple’ has something in common with the nib of a pencil. I can’t help but like that!

Pencil nibs and nipples. This is why I love the OED.

Today I saw that Ted talks have posted a link to some videos of word etymologies. They are nice light bites of etymology and are only a couple of minutes each.


A shoe by any other name…

My boyfriend and I come from different cities in the West Country and the other day I asked him out of curiosity what he called those white shoes worn in sport lessons in primary school. He said ‘daps’. Same as me. It’s a West Country (and parts of Wales) thing to call them daps, so this isn’t surprising, but it did lead on for him to ask, “What else would you call them?”

Plimsolls. He said he’d never heard the word. The conversation started me talking about a shoe section I worked in a few years ago where I was advised to refer to them as plimsolls rather than daps. He said that that’d have confused him as a customer. The store is in the West Country, so why not call them daps? I said that plimsolls was more standard, probably better known and less likely to alienate people from outside the West Country. But I’m now wondering whether calling them daps would actually have made local people feel more comfortable? Would there have been any real benefits either way?

A coursework project I did on the use of dialects in TV tea advertisements that showed that dialects are used to sell products. This made me wonder if all shoe shops would (or should) employ the same advice to their staff to use the standard term plimsolls as I was told to do, or whether some would be better off using the term daps? Maybe if they were a small shop in a close community area? I know that sales assistants’ dialects don’t have the same influence as those on TV advertisements, but it made me wonder what affect using a regional term would have on customer satisfaction. If any.

Slightly off topic, but this reminds me of the BBC Voices study on dialects that was one of my favourite websites on this topic. It has a map where you can see the different terms used in the UK. It’ll waste a little of your time quite nicely. It has done mine.


Over-thinking my CV’s font

I have finished my degree and have my provisional results. This means that I am now teetering on the point between ‘just having a break after finishing university’ and ‘unemployed’. It’s a fine line. Either way I am now looking for a job. This means I need to finalise my CV.

This post kind of links back to my ramblings about Llama font a few weeks ago, but now this is more serious: my getting an interview might depend on this.

So, my CV is written in Llama font…

No, I joke, but I have been wasting my time messing about with the font. I’m pretty sure that this is just my brain procrastinating and trying to get out of having to do a final draft, however part of me thinks that getting this right is important. What font should I use? Should I change it depending on whether I submit the CV online or as a hardcopy? Oh the decisions! 

I followed a link to an article today about how fonts influence perceptions. It made me feel that my procrastination might not be completely unwarranted. It’s a good read even if you aren’t procrastinating over your CV’s font.

I’m going to finalise my CV before going back to the whole font issue because I know deep down that the content is more important. Most applications seem to be through online forms anyway. I might allow myself some time – after I’ve finished my CV and sent off this pressing application for an internship I would love – researching the best fonts for CVs, but until then good, standard Cambria it is. 


Like, not a new phenomenon

A general post about how the informationally redundant ‘like’ has (supposedly) blighted the tongues of the young should probably have come before this post, however it shall just have to wait. Today’s post is too exciting to be postponed.

I was reading Three Men in a Boat (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome and at the end of chapter 15 I came across a passage that caused me to squeal with joy and almost push the headphones off my boyfriend so he could share the excitement. The sentence that caused such emotion was this:

‘We had had a sail – a good all-round, exciting, interesting sail – and now we thought we would have a row, just for a change like.’


Written 1889!

While my good friend the Oxford English Dictionary tells me that this meaning of ‘like’ (used to ‘qualify a preceding statement’ and akin to ‘as it were’) is cited from 1778, my excitement is not dented and I still think it’s pretty cool to discover a non-contemporary use so out of the blue…like.

I think my boyfriend was fairly bemused by my excitement. He’s pretty condemning of the use of ‘like’ and I remember a comment on an early draft of one of my essays where next to my sentence “…like can be seen in the study by so-and-so…” he had written something along the lines of “Like: are you 12?”. My slight indignation aside (although I do agree ‘like’ was inappropriate in this context), his comment highlights the common association between the use of ‘like’ and adolescent language.

In this passage from Three Men in a Boat, the narrator is writing from the perspective of his younger self and it does make me wonder whether ‘like’ was associated with adolescent and teenage speech even in the 1880s?

While there are many, many things written in defence of the use of ‘like’ and its ilk, I have come across a few excellent articles, posts and videos on the topic and I might try to gather them together at some point. My review of Three Men in a Boat is here.


Adding llama-ness to words

This evening I had a language wondering prompted by something really quite silly: Llama Font. This is a font composed of images of llamas.

The ‘What?’ section got me thinking that while different fonts (such as Times New Roman or Comic Sans) can certainly produce different connotations, is a font composed of images of an identifiable thing doing something slightly more?

I’m really skimming over semiotic theory here, but my thought process has gone something like this: with the exception of onomatopoeia, the form of a word, such as the written word ‘cat’, does not have any implicit meaning itself. (This can be seen in how different languages often have different forms of a word to refer to the same concept, so where an English speaking person would write ‘cat’ it would be written as ‘chat’ in French and ‘Katze’ in German. However the written words ‘cat’/’chat’/’Katze’ all represent a concept and a referent of a small, feline creature to the speakers of those languages. The combination of letters c-a-t do not implicitly mean a feline creature, but for English speakers the combined letters c-a-t represent our concept of a feline creature.)

However what if the graphological/written form of a word did represent something? And that something was llamas?

Like the word ‘cat’ can represent the concept of a cat, the image of a llama can represent the concept of a llama. So when we see ‘cat’ written in Llama font, we are having the concept of llama-ness coming from the images forming the letters as well as cat-ness from what the combination of letters c-a-t means to us.

Do having letters composed of depictions of llamas mix the concept of llama-ness into our concept of cat-ness if we read the word ‘cat’ in Llama Font in this instance? Would it feel more natural for us to read the word ‘llama’ written in Llama Font than to read ‘cat’ written in Llama Font? While all fonts connote something (such as seriousness or playfulness) which I think Llama Font does too; I feel that because of the concept of llama-ness generated by the images, the font adds more to the word it’s representing than just a connotation of silliness.

It’s quite disgraceful how much semiotic theory I’ve ignored here and these are most definitely not fully formed musings (plus Llama Font isn’t exactly something I should be wasting my thoughts on!), so I shall just to end with a warning that while you should really go and type ‘cat’ in Llama Font, please do not to waste as much time with Llama Font as me!