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Archive for November, 2010

Weekword: Lacuna

Carmen chose LACUNA as this week’s word. And what an interesting one. It’s one of those lovely words that are satisfying to say – you roll all those vowels around in your mouth like toffee. And I also think it also conveys some of what it means – ‘lacuna’ suggests a gap, a void, something missing.

So I was thinking about gaps and voids, and if there were any in my life and (happily, I suppose) I was drawing a blank. So I searched for definitions and found that in linguistics, a lacuna is a lexical gap – a word that’s missing in a particular language. Which just shows that Weekword is plugged into the great synchronicity machine in the sky, because:

I have just finished a book – this book– which attempts to explain the credit crunch and why it happened in terms the non-economist will understand. (It’s very good – I recommend it.) And inside the cover flap, it says this:

There’s probably a word in German for that feeling you get when you can understand something while it’s being explained to you, but lose hold of the explanation as soon as it stops.

And that tickled me – that German has a reputation for having words for very specific feelings (some of which we borrow, like ‘angst’ and ‘schadenfruede’). So I asked the posters on a very cosy little corner of the internet I like to hang out in: ‘What do you wish there was a word for?’ And the answers were really interesting. And as I can tie the discussion in with the Weekword (thank you, Wikipedia!), I shall share them with you.

We had some straightforward ‘I want a word for…’:

The pain when you stub your toe.

‘Grown up children’ – so people could talk about their children while making it clear they weren’t little kids.

The feeling when you think you have one more sweet/biscuit/crisp left in the packet but actually, you’ve eaten them all.

Pain that’s actually quite nice

That peppery/tingly/itchy feeling you get in your nose before you sneeze.

So, there are some straightforward lexical gaps.

And then some speakers of other languages described the ‘untranslatables’ from their languages – words that had no direct equivalent in English:

The Dutch have ‘gezellig’ and the Danes have ‘hygge’ to describe a sort of warm, comforting cosiness. The Welsh have ‘hiraeth’ to describe the longing and nostalgia for home that surpasses homesickness: the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke described it as ‘a longing of the soul to come home to be safe’, which I think is a beautiful description.

There’s no real English equivalent of the Italian ‘bella figura’ – something that is ‘the done thing’ or the Swedish ‘pyssla’ to tinker with something crafty. (I need that word.) The Spanish have a word for ‘citizen of the United States’, which is more precise than ‘American’.

The Welsh have ‘cwtch’ which means a cuddle or a snuggle (and it’s widely used by English speakers in Wales – so much so that it’s treated as an English word and we now have ‘cwtching’, ‘cwtchy’). In Arabic there is a word (hias) to describe that feeling you have where you’re bored and restless and irritable, and yet there is nothing that you actually want to do and everything that anyone suggests you do to try and relieve the restlessness/boredom just irritates you more. (I need that word too.)

On the other hand, there’s no word in Urdu for coffee. The Danes have no word for custard. The French use ‘maison’ for both house and home, which convey very different meanings in English. Many languages don’t have separate words for borrowing and lending. Apparently, Romanian has no word for ‘shallow’ – they just say ‘not deep’.

Before you hop over to Carmen’s blog to see the other Weekwords, please share your lexical lacunas with me. What do you wish there was a word for? If you speak two (or more!) languages, what can you say in one but not the other?

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Just a wee note to say…

a very Happy Thanksgiving to all my blog-visitors from the United States. Have a lovely day and make sure you eat far too much.

And please, in the interests of cultural education, comment and tell me your favourite dish from your Thanksgiving table.

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Today is the last Sunday before Advent. The collect for today begins, ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ And so it is known as ‘Stir up Sunday’ and is the day on which to make your Christmas pudding. As presumably the fruit of good works can be bought dried, and mixed with candied peel.

Unfortunately, I’m the only one in the family who really likes Christmas pudding, so I make my Christmas cake instead. It is technically a little late, but my cake has never suffered for it, so I shall continue doing it – at least until I’ve persuaded the children to like Christmas pudding…

I put Mr Sow and Sew in charge of soaking the fruit. And when I was putting the mixture in the cake tin and commented that it was a little darker than usual, he confessed as to the amount of brandy and rum he had used. Suffice to say I shan’t be offering the cake to drivers.

It’s in the oven now, filling the house with warm and happy smells. Now I have to decide how to decorate it…

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Weekword: Rock

Maria picked ‘Rock’ for this week’s word, and shared a lovely idea she had involving rocks and stones and symbolism of key concepts.

I was thinking about all the meanings of ‘rock’ and also the fundamentals of my life. I have also, as I described in last week’s weekword post, been very conscious of the role of my home recently. And that all finally coalesced for me. Remember the song, ‘The wise man built his house upon the rock’? It’s based on the parable, of course, and is about the importance of faith, but it actually works on a literal level for me.

As I mentioned last week, people have lived and farmed here since at least the twelfth century, and our house in its current form is very old. The ceiling beams have notches in from where they were used in earlier versions of the house, and our fireplaces (which are big enough to stand upright in) have spaces where the old bread ovens and coppers used to be. And I love the feeling of history, of continuity. I love feeling the presence of those who came before, of knowing that other families have gathered at our hearth, other children have grow up here (in fact, someone told me this week that his grandfather was born in our house, which gave me a lovely feeling!), that the daily rituals of meeting and parting, joy and grief, celebration, laughter, arguing and making up, have all been taking place here for years and years. I sometimes feel the presence of my foremothers as I do the domestic stuff: the housework, feeding the hens, preserving, winding yarn for knitting. Often, if I’m honest, I suspect they’re muttering that I don’t know I’m born, with my washing machine and my dishwasher… There are real joys to living in an old house, and my house and home are central to my life – I don’t just live here, I work from home too, so it really does feel like my world – and all because, centuries ago, someone came along, saw the fertile land by the river, realised that it was on a flood plain, walked uphill a bit until he got to the big rock perched out of the danger of all floods, and thought, ‘Here we are, here’s where I’m living!’. And put a house there. Which was very sensible. After all, centuries later, we’re still here.

We’re currently trying to put in a new boiler system (we’re not on the main gas network, so we burn wood and coal) and this is a bit of a headache. Current regulations aren’t really geared up for this twelfth-century-inspired-by-the-parables thinking. They demand cavity wall insulation, damp proofing and all sorts – but when you live in a house built of timber, horsehair and lime, which has no wall cavities, let alone insulation, this can be tricky. Our house has no foundations. It is built directly onto the rock. It has no damp proof course (apart from in the kitchen). The cellar and the old dairy have earth and flag floors which get damp when it rains. We have to wear lots of jumpers in winter. Like it or not, we have chosen to live on the rock. And apart from when we have to deal with the twenty-first century, we like it very much.

Go to Maria’s blog to see who else has played this week.

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We went on a day trip to Hereford on Monday, which meant leaving early. It was foggy and there’d been a hard frost. As we were leaving, Mr S&S had to run back to the house to fetch something, so I took the opportunity to get a few quick snaps of this:

I just love the way the white of the frost and the greys of the gate and the lead-coloured sky all work together.

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Last week, I sent a big set of proofs back to the publisher and breathed a sigh of relief. The job was done and I had a whole week with no work booked in. I started thinking of all the things I would be able to do. And then, not two hours after the proofs had gone to the post office, the phone rang. Would I do a big web edit, starting next week?

I hate turning down work, especially big, well paid jobs. So, I’m working. I know, I know, I should be glad of the work, glad of the money in the run up to Christmas, all that. But I am still mourning my week ‘off’.

So, here’s what I’d rather be doing.

1. Sorting out the boxes of stuff in the store-room that are causing me guilt and heartsink, and which I suspect contain a few things I’ve been looking for.
2. Having some serious guilt-free knitting time.
3. Moving my office into the outbuilding so I have space to work properly.
4. Taking really long walks with the camera and the dog, rather than the quick ‘down the lane and back’ gallops.
5. Attacking the paperwork mountain in the kitchen.
6. Experimenting with some new wheat-free cake recipes.
7. Clearing the horror that is my flower bed.
8. Reading one of the proper ‘literary’ novels on the pile rather than the froth I read when I’ve been working all day.
9. Reading one of those novels in bed, in the afternoon, while the children are at nursery.
10. Making Christmas shopping lists. I love making lists, I love giving presents. Present lists are the very best.

Ah well. Another time.

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Carola chose this week’s word. My first thought was a poem by Thomas Hood:

No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
November!

And yes, there have been a lot of days like that recently – leaden grey skies, rain pelting at you sideways, wet mists that lurk about all day and never clear, bitter winds that seem to follow you indoors. I have watched the effects of the rain and frosts on the garden (and actually, that I don’t mind so much because the weeds are dying too…). November can sometimes feel like a waiting room between the crisp glories of autumn proper and the cosy festivities of Christmas, especially if it’s wet and windy.

But there are nice days, with weak sunshine filtering through the remaining leaves on the trees. And those days feel like gifts. And when it’s raining and miserable out, I don’t mind being buried, mole-like, at my desk. I don’t feel I’m missing anything; whereas I really resent my work on sunny summer days! And the cosy evenings spent by the fire, with a good film, family, sometimes friends, my knitting and the cats are just lovely.

And as I write this, it occurs to me that this is really what November has come to mean for me. When (as Mr Hood would tell you) outdoors is so often unhospitable, the home really comes into its own. It becomes a shelter from the elements – I’m glad to cross the threshold if I’m escaping the rain or the chill – but it also becomes the centre of the world for a little bit. My house is very old – the newest bits were added in 1806 and people have farmed the site since at least the twelfth century. I have felt for a while that living here – on an old farm in the middle of nowhere – has brought me more in tune with the passing of the seasons, because they really matter here. And as I plan the remainder of my Christmas knitting, make paper snowflakes with the Little Girl, and work out when I’m going to make my Christmas cake, what I’m actually doing is what all the women who’ve lived in my house have done every winter – shifting my concentration inwards, to the home, the hearth, the family. Spring and summer sent us outside – holidays, gardening, long evening walks, days out – and November brings us home.

Go and see Carola to find out who else has posted this week!

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