Favourite word: Zephyr

Actually, I lie: this isn’t one of my favourite words. It’s one of my boyfriend’s favourite words and the name he gave to his university computing project (a chess engine). I thought I’d look it up. I knew it was related to the name of the Greek god of the wind (I can’t hear the word without seeing Zephyrus from Bottecelli’s Primavera, pictured) and could guess it had Latin roots, but I didn’t know much more. To be honest, I didn’t expect the etymology to be that exciting, however it turns out that there was more to the word than I first thought.

Botticelli’s Primavera

While it has meanings relating to the wind, it also refers to a type of butterfly, a soufflé type dish and some light fabrics. Really lovely to discover! I guess the common theme is lightness. Thinking about it now the word itself even kinda sounds light and breezy. A few of the derivatives I liked were zephyret, which is a gentle zephyr (I’m really quite fond of diminutive -et suffixes in general!*), zephyrless (adj.) and  zephyry. Zephyry is all the way from 1791 and I feel as though I’ve missed out on using it all this time, that’s going to change! I also like the use of zephyr as a verb, the OED gives the example “the breeze zephyred in”.

I absolutely love how when I find out about the backgrounds of words it makes me see them in a new way. Now when I hear the word zephyr the image of it will be tinged not only with an image of Bottecelli’s Zephyrus, but also butterflies, fabrics and soufflés. And the boyfriend’s chess engine.

* zephyret encouraged me to do a quick search to find out about the -et suffix. Apparently the -et suffix is often found in words derived from French and makes them diminutive. For example, sonnet (from the Italian word for song). I’ve always liked its diminutive powers: you’re not having a little snack, you’re having a snack-et. It’s the linguistic equivalent of the ‘drink me’ bottle in Alice in Wonderland. I became excited when I found out that crochet – one of my hobbies – was formed this way from the French for hook. Crochet just became cuter.


Five bits of languagey(ish) stuff from this week

This article from New Scientist is about a study that mapped the happiest and saddest places in New York by looking at the content of people’s tweets.  It would be nice to find out exactly how they went about linking emotions with word combinations, but I might have to dig further. I think I’m most interested in the longitudinal possibilities of this kinda data mining. They touch on in this article with an example of lots of negative tweets coming from a school where students had just returned from holiday. I imagine that as this week the schools start back there will be similar feelings! I actually started attending evening classes this week, but pretty sure my own facebook update would most definitely have been classed as positive: I am so excited to be learning something new!

Senate House Library is considering selling some of their Shakespeare folios. I automatically feel outrage at this kind of book sacrilege despite knowing that I should really save my outrage for more important issues. I can see their reasoning, but is this really the best way to get money? I hope that the media attention about this story might help.

Pencil sharpenings can be really beautiful; I remember as a child I used to try to keep my ‘perfect’ sharpenings, however they always fell apart. I guess part of their appeal is their fragility? I’ve just seen these rainbow pencils on Clossal and they are just so fun! Their designer Duncan Shotton has set up a Kickstarter campaign for them. This gif from his page makes me smile, however unfortunately it’s somehow triggered the ‘I can sing a rainbow’ tune to play in my head with ‘shave’ substituting ‘sing’. Oh dear.

Rainbow pencils by designer Duncan Shotton.

The Guardian’s list of some of the authors’ favourite words from The Edinburgh International Book Festival oddly doesn’t have any words that I’d consider anywhere near my favourites. I guess that the two best from here are Peter Hook’s choice of ‘confusion’ and Rick Gekoski’s ‘ambivalent’. Ian Rankin’s ‘fud’? No thanks.

This Ted talk by Al Vernacchio was posted in July, however watching it this evening made me smile after what’s been an incredibly long day. He proposes that the baseball metaphors used to describe sex are unhealthy and that pizza metaphors could be a great substitute in sex education. I can’t really imagine how this could actually be implemented, language doesn’t really work like that, but it is a fun watch!

Plus – O2 phone owners: there’s currently an offer of a free dictionary from WHSmith if you show your phone voucher from O2 Moments. Either the Collins English Dictionary or Oxford Popular School Dictionary. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they have some left when I go to pick one up! From my phone it looks as though the promotion will last until mid-September 2013 although they’ve written “until stocks last”.


Fore-edge paintings

Just seen this link via dictionary.com about fore-edge paintings. These are ‘secret’ paintings made on the sides of books that can be viewed if the pages are slightly fanned apart. I’ve seen other books with fore-edge paintings but this collection of the four seasons on the four books is really delightful. 

This is an example of a fore-edge painting on a book called Jerusalem Delivered. This picture was originally from here (the flickr of The Boston Public Library).

I’m now mentally matching up my favourite books with the images I’d like to see hidden on the side of them!