It’s a Timey-Wimey, Spacey-Wacey Thing.

Imagine….no please don’t burst into a John Lennon impression…but imagine people who think of time differently from the way we conceptualise it in English. People who see the past as in front and the future as behind them. People who see time as static and humans moving through it. And…people who really don’t measure it in any numerical way.



Photo: Shutterstock

Whilst I was away last week at a language and linguistics conference at Colchester University [more about the beautiful city itself on my Travelling Hamster blog site], one of the speakers explained how she has been researching Amazonian villages where they only have the numbers 1 to 4, where they have no concept of how old people are, of all…no concept of ever being late 🙂

It blew our minds as we sat through the talk. Time is, well, however long something takes. Words for tomorrow, today and yesterday simply don’t exist. They have stages of life which are marked by new names;  being ready to marry, being too old to work,  yet these are whenever they occur for each individual – not some arbitary age of consent or retirement age such as we have in our culture.

They use concepts such as rainy and dry seasons, height of the sun, depth of the flood-waters to refer to events, but again these simply happen when they happen – there is no set clock or calendar date to  announce the first day of summer and other similar chronological divisions. Somehow, in a way incomprehensible to we time-obsessed cultures, time does not exist as a separate concept to the event which is happening. How happy would Alice’s white rabbit be at that thought?



For more on languages which encode time in different ways, the following may be of interest: – Boroditsky – How languages Construct Time – A Walk in the Garden of Time

And, the paper by the speaker at the conference [whose name is Vera and is great fun to have curry with] – Da Silva Sinha

Oh Auto-Predict! You’re no poet.

I was sending a text to a friend recently about foggy Frisco [San Francisco]. As I hit ‘send’ I noticed that the predictive texting had changed it to ‘fight frisco’. Hmmmmm. What else might it get up to? I decided to give it a real test…….Jabberwocky 🙂


So, with many, many apologies to Lewis Carroll…here’s the first verse, courtesy of my phone:

‘Twas brilliant and the slight gives

Did gyre and marble in the wave

All mimsy were the borogro estate

And the moment rather outgrabe.’

OK, so it would appear that gyre mimsy and  outgrabe are genuine English words it has no need to change at all. Off to the trusty OED for clarification.

Gyre, v.  appears as a genuine, though rare word, dating back to c1420. It means to Turn, or whirl round.

It is also a noun, from c 1566 meaning:  A turning round, revolution, whirl; a circular or spiral turn.  The word must have its etymology in the same root as words such as gyroscope then. Mr Carroll obviously knew his obscure old words.

Mimsy, it says, is a blend of miserable and flimsy,  nowadays meaning unhappy but…

Only in Carroll and later allusions. So it IS a word, though one apparently created by good old Lewis.

So, finally, we come to the most interesting of all – Outgrabe.

According to the OED, this is a factious word [sounds like another of Lewis Carroll’s creations, that!] and is the past tense of Outgribe. I have copied the entry below:


intr. A nonsense word; (most frequently) to emit a strange noise.

Etymology: A factitious word introduced by Lewis Carroll (used in the past tense), and described by him as follows:

1855   ‘L. Carroll’ Rectory Umbrella & Mischmasch (1932) 140   Outgrabe, past tense of the verb to outgribe. (It is connected with the old verb to grike or shrike, from which are derived ‘shriek’ and ‘creak’.) ‘Squeaked.’
1871   ‘L. Carroll’ Through Looking-glass vi. 129   ‘And what does “outgrabe” mean?’ ‘Well, “outgribing” is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.’

Apparently intended by Carroll as a past tense, but generally understood subsequently as a regular verb, with present tense outgrabe and past tense outgrabed.

If you have access to the OED online, more can be read here:

So, if you thought Jabberwocky was just a lot of nonsense words created to sound amazing, it looks as though Lewis Carroll actually knew his etymology and used it very cleverly indeed. RESPECT!



The Roman God of Dodgy Definitions





As this post is written in English [ok, apart from the bits which are in Double-Dutch] I am making the huge assumption that you understand the definition of many English words.

Words such as:





Simple, right? However, all these words – along with many others – are known as Contronyms, or Janus words.


That’s him, old two-face himself. Janus looks both forwards and backwards; he’s the Roman god of doorways, and the deity from whom we derive the name for January.

So, what has he got to do with the words in the list above? Well, each of these can mean the exact opposite of itself ;

You can dust furniture or dust a cake – in one you remove dust, in the other you add a dusting of sugar or some-such.

You can cleave something into two parts, or a couple can cleave together in marriage.

Something fast might be stuck fast or moving very quickly

A bus may have left the bus station or be left in it.

According to my in-depth research* [a quick search on Google!] there are 75 examples of contronyms in English, something for word-nerds to maybe use to spread confusion far and wide. Thanks, Janus!



The Parable of …..

Today, I went to a cathedral. Not a brick or stone one but a glorious little patch of woodland a short bus ride from where I live. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned my anxiety problems before [well, you don’t think I actually READ this blog, do you?] but I used to love going for long wandersome walks. Nowadays, however, I really struggle to go out on my own with no real purpose, other than the sheer joy of going out on my own with no purpose [if you see what I mean].

Before even leaving my flat I started to feel the familiar butterflies in my stomach, so I decided to invent a reason for going out. I decided it was time that a small plant on my windowsill was released from captivity. On Mothering Sunday, all the ladies [I include myself in the loosest possible terms!] in our church were given a small primrose in a pot to take home, but mine is now showing signs of neglect and is suffering from my general ineptitude to care for anything other than weeds. I put the plant in a carrier bag, having given it a good final watering to help it along its way, and then set off on my mission. [Not having a garden, I don’t own any gardening tools, by the way, but an old cheese knife thingummy looked like the nearest thing I had to a trowel so I took that too!]

Getting off the bus and crossing over to the parkland, I was immediately struck by the intensity of the green [invented, I believe, by Lord Percy Percy during Elizabeth I’s reign]. Although several motorways run nearby and the traffic was rumbling away in the background, the foremost sound was definitely the birdsong. Immediately my anxiety gave way to curiosity – I could see tiny flowers, gnarled trees and the amazing timeless peace of the British woodlands.

I looked for somewhere I might plant my primrose and soon spotted a tree with quite a bit of clearing round it and fairly soft, diggable* soil next to it. Hoping to goodness that nobody spotted me, I took my plant and cheese knife from the bag and started to dig a small hole, before placing the plant in it and covering it back up as best I could. It did look much happier than it had on my windowsill, so I wished it the Vulcan ‘Live long and prosper’ then left it to settle in to its new environment.


As I walked along a path once so familiar, yet which I hadn’t felt able to visit in over 7 years, I noticed so much of God’s beautiful creation. I saw a wall which I had never noticed before which had a tree growing through it; I saw a rabbit hole, and soon after, 2 of its inhabitants; I saw so many flowers and interestingly shaped trees; I watched the small river which flows through the area and I smelt the wonderful earthy aromas of the trees and soil. Despite going to church most Sundays, this is where I really feel close to my Creator.

Walking back to the entrance, I noticed a lot of Himalayan Balsam shoots. This is a beautiful plant, but totally alien to Britain and it chokes the indigenous flora. Heroically I did my bit by destroying as much as I could. I couldn’t help thinking how wrong it felt to be destroying what is, in its correct environment, a lovely plant and found myself wondering, if Jesus were preaching in modern Britain, would we have a Parable of the Himalayan Balsam?

Himalayan balsam

I said a last goodbye to ‘my’ plant, but realised that, having put it in this woodland park I would now have a reason to revisit many, many times to check on its progress and spend more time in this amazing cathedral.

*Auto-correct does NOT like my word ‘diggable’ – I don’t care. I’ve got a degree in English language so I feel I have every right to use it. So there!!! Take that, Microsoft.


Dissertation Dilemmas


available at:

Well, it’s that time of year again which sees the libraries of universities packed to the rafters with students who desperately wish they’d:

i] Started work earlier

ii] Chosen a totally different topic for their dissertation

iii] Chosen a totally different course of study altogether [personally, a degree in Lego-building would suit me down to the ground!]


iv] Been studying at the university where Dr Who is currently residing – he could, surely, just take them a month or 2 into the future , just in time for their graduation party 🙂

Since academic proofreading is one of the services my company –  Starfish English Services – offers, I have been glued to my computer for the last few weeks desperately wondering whether bi-variate needs a hyphen, [it doesn’t], whether ‘smoothening’ is a word [it can be, but usually ‘smoothing’ is best] and other such considerations. However, sometimes everybody’s brain needs a break, so I thought I’d share a couple of common errors for your information TOTALLY FREE OF CHARGE! How generous is that?

One such error is ‘people that…’ or similar. When discussing people, the word needs to be ‘who’ [or whom, but that’s another topic altogether]. So, ‘the politicians who passed the resolution…’ but ‘the experiments that proved…’. OK?

Another one, very important to get right, is ‘objectionable’ or ‘objective’. ‘Objective’ is when a case is looked at from a neutral, impersonal point of view, with no hidden agenda or bias. ‘Objectionable’, on the other hand, means unpleasant, offensive, rude….definitely not the way a researcher would want to conduct their survey!

One final point, which isn’t as clear cut, is when to use ‘that’ and when to use ‘which’. I found this really helpful blog post about it and, as I doubt I could put it any more clearly myself, I’ll just leave you  with the link.

PS – In conversation with the worship leader at our church, as I shooed him out of the kitchen we’d just set up for serving the after-service tea and coffee, I found myself saying

‘Don’t you dare disrupt this kitchen; we’ve only just rupted it’!

I reckon I’ve maybe coined a great new word 🙂

Praises and Passwords

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670)

Have you ever used a Shibboleth? It’s a way of signing in whenever I need to access the OED online through my university’s portal. It is also, according to a quick Google search ‘among the world’s most widely deployed federated identity solutions, connecting users to applications both within and between organizations.’

Another definition comes up as: ‘a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important.’

The OED, which, ironically, I needed to use Shibboleth to look up the self-same word has, amongst many definitions:

A word or sound which a person is unable to pronounce correctly; a word used as a test for detecting foreigners, or persons from another district, by their pronunciation.

A custom, habit, mode of dress, or the like, which distinguishes a particular class or set of persons.

A catchword or formula adopted by a party or sect, by which their adherents or followers may be discerned, or those not their followers may be excluded.

But, where did this word actually come from? The topmost entry in the OED explains:

The Hebrew word used by Jephthah as a test-word by which to distinguish the fleeing Ephraimites (who could not pronounce the sh) from his own men the Gileadites (Judges xii. 4–6).

Basically, it was an ancient equivalent of what I call the ‘Chip Butty’ test. Being a proud Lancashire woman [albeit with a Yorkshire influence from my mum] I often hear people bragging that they’ve lived in Lancashire for x number of years and are, therefore, now true Lancashire-ites. I simply ask them to say ‘Chip Butty’. If it comes out more like ‘Chip Batty’ then they are NO WAY proper Lancashire! [If they don’t even know what a butty is, then they are ridiculed out of the pub, staff room or wherever by all and sundry.] If they do get the beautiful ‘u’ sound just right then, Hallelujah, they can count themselves as true natives of our fair county.

So, Hallelujah? I’m sure many people find themselves saying it, even if in a rather ironic or patronising way at times. It is actually Hebrew for ‘Praise the Lord’ and, therefore, something I love to say but in a hopefully more meaningful sense. Did you realise you were praising the Lord whenever you uttered that word? Something to think about maybe.

‘God Knows’ is another saying which people seem to use all the time – to which I usually answer ‘Yes, I know He does, but do you?’ Something else to think about?

Whilst I am on this topic, I’m sure we have all heard about the Samaritans, and I’m not ashamed to admit I have phoned them myself on a couple of occasions. They do amazing work for which they can’t be praised highly enough. However, did you realise that the original Good Samaritan was something of an oxymoron*? Interestingly, when I searched for an antonym for Samaritan I couldn’t find one at all. Nowadays it would perhaps be equivalent to Good Hooligan or Good Thug, although it had religious and racial connotations too. The Samaritans were people who vehemently differed from the Jews as to where to sacrifice to God, and the two nations were deeply mistrustful and antagonistic towards each other. For one to perform such an act of kindness in the parable [found in Luke 10:25–37] would have been almost unthinkable to Jesus’ audience. Yet nowadays it is a byword for kindness, unselfishness and helpfulness – quite a difference from its original derogatory meaning.

Despite the fact that most people nowadays would never open a Bible from one decade to the next, it’s quite surprising how much of our language is derived straight from there.

*Oxymoron:  A term which contradicts itself, for example ‘Deeply Superficial’

I’m off to the Isle of Dogs




Or rather, the Isles of Dogs. Yup, it’s a very nice place, you could well have been there yourself.

Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote etc etc.


Maybe you thought they were named after little yellow birds? The Canary Islands, or Islas Canarias are actually called that because of dogs, or so the story goes. Yet there is no evidence that when the first Europeans arrived there they were full of such animals. In fact it seems there were no canine inhabitants at all. Weird? Well I’m off there in a couple of days, so ‘Hasta luego’, and in the meantime feel free to decide for yourself why these glorious little pieces of paradise were given their name.


PS La Gomera has a very interesting linguistic feature, and although I don’t think I’ll be able to get there during my holiday I am hoping to investigate further…… this space.


Please Stop Writing


An hour to pass in Chorley, a walk in Astley Park. Peace. We are so blessed to live in peace when we look at the world around us – so many conflicts, so much death and destruction. As I was leavng I paused, as I love to do, by the war memorial and was saddened – no, heartbroken. I remember a while back when I was there, being struck by the empty panels on the wall which records the names of the fallen. I remember praying that they might always remain empty, that no more lost lives would have to be marked in this way. Today I noticed ‘Addendum’16763514_10154919240494566_450142057_o

It took me back to 4th August 2014 when Preston turned the lights out* to remember the onset of WW1. I wrote this piece to record my emotions after the ceremony:

Please, Stop The Candles

A beautiful August evening; pale blue sky with pink-tinged clouds as it approached dusk.  In the distance, St Walburge’s spire was silhouetted against the fading light.

People were gathering, old and young, waiting to honour the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. While we waited, a recording of some songs of the time was playing; Daisy, Daisy and others of that ilk. We were told how 1,956 candles would be laid by the cenotaph during the ceremony, one for each name on the Harris Roll of Honour.

The dignitaries from churches and council arrived, flanked by flag-bearers who provided a poignant backdrop to the proceedings. As the lights went out and the candles started to be placed a solitary bell tolled in the distance. People read war poems and letters out, the candles still came. Time and time again the volunteers went back to bring out yet more candles – one for each soldier who gave his life. More and more candles – each one a brother, son, husband, father. Each one leaving grieving friends and families. The candles seemed endless. I wanted them to stop. I wanted to cry out ‘No, no more dead, please’. Yet they still came.

During the ceremony I gazed up to the sky and saw four Chinese lanterns floating in the distance. I was reminded that we could stand in Preston in peace and safety thanks to the soldiers of the Great War. In too many places, Libya, Gaza, Ukraine, Syria to name a few, those distant lights could herald missiles or other arms heading towards us bringing destruction.

A solemn hush had fallen over Preston, but I pray the candles will, one day, stop coming.

Again I say, please stop the writing…..

*The lights went down all around the Flag Market in the centre of Preston, apart from Nando’s, which continued to blaze its neon sign in an utter insult to the memorial. Shame on you Nando’s. I never particularly liked the food, but now I also detest the whole brand.

Twinkle On

Twinkle, twinkle, Nando’s light

How I wish you were less bright.

Blaze your business, loudly shout,

As we turn the town lights out.

Twinkle, Nando’s, shine your blight

On this fourth of August night.

© I Flack 4.8.2014

I want to be Hevelled


Sitting on the bus the other day, for no reason at all I suddenly wondered to myself if there is some point wherein things aren’t deflated or inflated but just nicely ‘flated’? To my way of thinking [which few people seem to share, luckily] something deflated is rather sad and flat, whereby being inflated brings connotations of…well….Donald Trump and spacehoppers. [Yup the colour is very similar too!] Anyway, my mind wandered along happily to other words which don’t seem to have a positive or moderate form.

I have long been an advocate of the word gruntled – and it IS listed in the OED as a back-formation of its unhappier cousin. Gruntled is maybe the English version of the Danish Hygge – warm and settled by firelight with hot chocolate and a pizza or, well, whatever does it for you!

I dream of being kempt and hevelled . My usual ‘look’ is somewhere between Worzel Gummidge and an Old English Sheepdog. Actually, no, that wouldn’t be fair to those lovely Dulux dogs….they make shagginess into an art form, something I could never be accused of.

Kempt is, surprisingly, also in the OED – it relates mainly to beards and how nicely combed they are. I don’t have a beard, believe it or not, so maybe that’s why I never feel kempt? Hevelled, however, is not in the dictionary, but I reckon it’s a word we need desperately. Some women can get out of bed with not a hair out of place, then sit on a plane for hours and not have a crease in their clothes whereas I only have to breathe for all my clothes to go skew-whiff. Those people are definitely hevelled and, yes, I am jealous!


An Eye-Opening Experience


What’s this scribble all about? [I mean the picture above, not my virtual scribbling in this blog!] This, I discovered today, is a representation of what it can be like to have dementia. As part of an article I will be writing for Podio PR1 magazine’s next issue, I was invited to try life with various cognitive and physical impairments for a short while this afternoon.

The main focus of the experiment was for me to wear different apparatus which would simulate age-related problems such as arthritis, stiff joints, visual and hearing problems. Before we set out, though, and with all my senses still fully functioning [ok, ok, that could be open to debate] I was offered the chance to have a taste of what dementia can be like.

It was a seemingly simple task. I had to draw between the twin lines of the star shape above – but in a mirror image of it. I started out quite well and thought ‘this is going to be easy’. Suddenly, though, I seemed to ‘forget’ how to do it. The lines, you will observe, suddenly start wandering back and forth in an increasingly manic-looking scrawl. The more my line went ‘wrong’, the harder I tried to get back in the shape, and the harder it was to do. Logically, I should simply have done the opposite of whatever I had been doing to get back again, but I just could not seem to be able to do it. It was as though my hand and brain had ceased to communicate in any meaningful way. I knew I wasn’t doing what I was trying to do, but for the life of me I could not figure out how to rectify the situation.

At first it seemed funny [of the ‘ha, ha’ type], then it got a little irritating, then I went from anger to terror to giving in, almost on the point of tears. Never being one to admit defeat easily, I decided to try again at a new point on the star, hence the separate area of scrawl half way down. This time my pen just seemed to wander aimlessly, no matter how much my brain was trying to direct it. Truly, this was a terrifying experience. I had the luxury of being able to say ‘ok, I can’t do it’ and opt back in to ‘normality’. In a real situation, this option is not there.

After this, we set out round Preston with me wearing the other apparatus, the point of which was to experience the town from the perspective of a person suffering from common age-related infirmities. The company, Kingswood Consulting, aim to encourage businesses and public authorities to realise that, with our ever aging demographic, more and more people will need their difficulties taking into account if they are to continue working, shopping and generally experiencing life as fully as possible.

Discussing it afterwards, I told Jane, from Kingswood Consulting, that it reminded me of a poem I wrote when I was still suffering quite badly with panic and anxiety; Invisible Wheelchair.  The problems I faced, thankfully temporarily, today were brought about by my wearing lots of strange-looking equipment and it was obvious to passers-by that I was impaired in my movement etc, but ordinarily none of these conditions would be apparent to others at a glance. Disability is not always obvious, but that does not make it any the less real.

Invisible Wheelchair

Can you see my wheelchair?

Why I can’t get through the door?

The obstacles that block me

From doing that much more?

How some things are so difficult

While I’m stuck in this thing

Yet I know you can’t see it

I need understanding.

Sometimes there is access

To where I want to go

But only I can find it

Only I can know

My wheelchair is all in my head

Not obvious to you

But terror, fear, anxiety

Keep forcing me, anew

To stay in here and battle

Do mental physio

To work my cerebal muscles

So I can stand and go

Wherever I would like to

No fears to stumble on

I long to stand and walk again

My mental wheelchair gone.

PS. I am, as the title suggests, still awaiting a good suggestion as to what to call this blog. If none are forthcoming in the next couple of days I am going to pick one in a very random way indeed….watch this space!