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Catacombs of Rome

There are about forty different Catacombs of Rome – ancient underground burial places most famous for Christian burials – begun in 2nd Century AD.  They were built due to a shortage of burial land on the surface and subsequent overcrowding.


While the original custom in Rome was cremation, with the ashes being retained in an urn or pot, it became more ‘fashionable’ or acceptable to bury the unburnt remains of the dead in graves or sarcophagi.  Christians also preferred burial to cremation because of their belief in the resurrection of the body after death.

The catacombs (and there are many others in the World, for instance in Paris) today are huge tourist attractions with large tour groups visiting them year round.

It is very important that the Catacombs of Rome are not confused with the Cats of Rome which have lived in and around the Trajan Markets since ancient times and continue to reside in the ruins of the same market area today.


Further, it is equally important not to confuse the Catacombs with Cat Combs – something completely different:  cat-comb

Or Ilfracombe, where I was taken on hols as a nipper:  ilfracombe

Notwithstanding all that, Cat Combs, Ilfracombe, Catacombs each has a lovely word sound.  I think it must have a lot to do with the pronunciation of “coomb” or “coombs” or “coam” that make the words special.




The good old OED defines Profane as not relating to or respectful of religious practice;  irreverent.

I think most people today would define Profane as a swear word, quite simply.  Especially if that person was a Belgian foreign minister reputed to have sent a message via Twitter about a former Canadian Prime Minister, with photo:

Profane Stephen Harper tweet sent from Belgian foreign minister’s hacked Twitter

Hmmm … very diplomatic, even if it has been disclaimed as belonging to the said Belgian minister!  How secular.

Now, of course, the word Profane should not be confused with the closely spelled Propane which of course is a gas that is highly flammable.

There again …!


Catatonic State Definition

I love the word Catatonic.  Not the catatonic state however,  The true catatonic state definition is “of or in an immobile or unresponsive stupor”.  So no laughing matter that’s for sure.  But just think of the word and you get a very different impression.

My definition of the word sound is the condition that owners or friends of feline companions get into when playing with their little treasures.  Or, the state of well-being that those little furry animals get into when being petted or just sleeping lazily when they should be working:


Catatonic should never be confused with GinaTonic which is a different pleasurable experience altogether, although I have known some people who manage to bring the two aspects together – one leading directly to the other.  Please be careful!


Elegant Sounding Words

Elegance is not only a visual concept but also aural.  Elegant sounding words have as much effect on one’s spirit as seeing a beautiful object or person,  Indeed, elegant words can conjure in one’s mind images far finer than those of the eye.

Take, for example, the word Décolletage.


Pronounced: deh – coll – et – ahj

Yes, I know, it is French, but it is very much a part of our English language now and a much more alluring and enchanting word than its more prosaic alternative of Cleavage.

And it gave me a wonderful opportunity to incorporate this photograph into the website.





The Color of Words (or for us non-Americans: The Colour of Words)

The Stroop Effect

Now, here’s a post with a difference.  It would seem that we are in fact so fluent in our language that word recognition is far stronger in us than color recognition.  Most people will recognize the meaning of the word before recognizing the color.

A Dr John Ridley Stroop devised a psychological test intended to measure the reaction time of people when faced with a situation that was out of their normal expectations or congruency.

See how you fare with the following which formed part of Stroop’s testing:

In the first following table, name the color of the word not what the word says:


Now, do that again – name the color of the word not the word itself:


How d’you go?

Do you notice it took longer to complete the second table test than the first?

The first test is easy because the color and meaning of the word are congruent. There is no conflict.  The second test is hard because the color and meaning of the word are incongruent. This creates a conflict that the brain has to resolve.  The brain has to suppress the wrong answer that interferes with the right answer, before the right answer comes through.

Good, eh?  And don’t you just love those two words:  congruent and incongruent?


My Laptop Was Stolen – But No Swear Words

LaptopPosts have been few and far between of late for the simple reason that my laptop was stolen from my house, as was my external back up drive.

Once the shock had worn off, despair kicked in quickly followed by anger and then frustrated impotence.  Yes police were notified, yes I had serial numbers recorded but I knew all my work had gone.  For good.  Yes, I know I should have been more protective of my work but you never think that it will be stolen – or rather I didn’t but do now!   So the business of trying to re-create all that had been lost began and with one or two exceptions I am happy to say that things are back to normal now.

Resuming my posts on this poor, neglected website I was tempted to delve into the bowels of urban terminology and spew forth words of vitriol and venom;  obscenities, profanities and blasphemous bile to cleanse myself of the feelings of being violated that having someone invade one’s home brings.

But no, one must rise above such feelings and in doing so I comforted myself with other words more attuned to these pages.  The worst name I allowed myself to use for this Thief was Scumbag, which I think apposite in the circumstances.

Tea-leaf is a great London (I hesitate to say Cockney) term which conjures up images of the endearing Artful Dodger in Mr Dickens’ wonderful novel, Oliver Twist, so not as strong a term in these circumstances.

I also love Brigand, but again it is a word which is not really applicable to my situation having connotations of mountain or forest robbers, a la Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

The word I have settled on to placate my fevered brow then is also not truly germane to my particular theft, in that it usually relates to the misappropriation of monies held by someone in authority, but, notwithstanding, I am going to satisfy myself with Defalcator.  Now that sounds like having the matter thoroughly dealt with and I feel much the better for it, thank you.





Words That Sound Beautiful – Sibilants and Aspirates

Never mind what the word actually means for a moment, it is time to concentrate on its sound and what those sounds conjure up in your mind when your hear them.

This is nothing to do with brothers and sisters!  Sibilant words are those that are sounded with a hiss.  My favourite words that sound beautiful in this manner are:

Wasps – You have to say it to sense it.   That gentle sounding ..sps  is brilliant.  (I do apologise to anyone that has a serious lisp however because that would be extremely difficult to get to grips with and also makes those in close proximity to the lisper to quickly erect umbrellas or duck for cover!)

Lisp – As mentioned above, an impediment of speech that disenables the speaker from pronouncing the letter S.  Instead the word comes out sounding “th”.  I knew a woman called Mrs Ippey that had all sorts of problems saying her name.

Gossamer – Not only does this word sound soft but the mind’s eye can surely see that downy, spider web-like material, light, floaty, blown away by the gentlest breath.  Linger on the “ss” sound to get the best effect and the “… amer” just tails away into the air.


Aspirate words are those where the sound of one’s breath forms the sound of the word.  Think of the word “where” itself.  It isn’t pronounced “ware” but with an expirated “wha”.  So, “whhh..air”.  Try it.  It’s a much lovelier pronunciation.

My favourite aspirated word, though, is where it is combined with the sibilant to produce Whisper.  You must say this word quietly.  You have no choice.  The onomatopoeic effect and the word-sound leaves one quite in need of a sit down and a gentle cup of Earl Grey.  Golly, I can just feel the little shiver down my spine as someone whispers “whisper” in my ear.

whisper 7

I go all unnecessary!


Music Within Words – Symphonic Sounds

I Got The Music In Me, I Got The Music In Me

music 2

Now, I’m not talking of musical terms or song words, per se, but rather words which have a musical quality within them.  Words which resonate with music, where you can hear music within words.

We are almost back into the realms of Onomatopoeia with some, but not all,  of these sounds.  They all need to be sounded aloud vocally.  Go on, no-one’s listening:

Cadence & Cascade – sorry, my deference to King Crimson.  Who, you ask?  No, not The Who, King Crimson!  For those not old enough (and possibly English enough) to remember, they were a “Progressive Rock Band” of the late 60s/early 70s.

Clash – The sound of cymbals coming together

Ersatz – Yeah, that’s jazz, man.  Real meaning is subsititute or imitation but there ain’t no subsititute for jazz.

Euphemism – Undoubtedly it is the ‘euph” element that puts one in mind of a tuba or, more aptly, a euphonium.

tubaReally, a roundabout expression taking the place of a word that is too harsh or blunt, e.g. “pass away” for “die”.

Fanfare – The “fa-fah” of cornets heralding the start of something fantastical

Jejune – Pronounce the J as ‘dzjuh’, so ‘dzjeh dzjune’.  Soft brush on a snare drum.  Say it several times, gently.  Barren, poor, intellectually unsatisfying – I don’t think so!

Pizzicato -Can’t you just hear those violins being plucked with the fingers?

Syncopation – Fascinatin’ rhythm, bouncy.  Displaced beats.  Think ragtime:


Ukelele – Ukelele Lady, la la la.  If that ain’t musical I don’t know what is.


More words being added to the List.

Please check out the Word List page or leave your comment below.



Elegant Sounding Words – Exquisiteness is Not Limited to Dress Sense

Elegant Not Decadent

For a lot of us, elegant sounding words are tied to the beautiful things that the Beautiful Things wear and there are lots of examples of elegant attire in movies and very often that correlates to the word decadence.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love that word (more on it in another post) but think of these movies to get my drift:

  • The Great Gatsby
  • Downton Abbey
  • Gosford Park
  • The Remains of the Day
  • A Room With a View

Buy any of them at


No, I want to move beyond the cinematic boundaries and suggest other words that have elegance contained within them or are suggestive of being elegant.  I have chosen just eight to start with:

Antique – Not as old as Antediluvian (see word list) and much more stylish.  Very often associated with furniture, the decorative arts, books and dowager duchesses – objects which are delicate and usually very expensive.

Charm – When a man today is charming others are wary, often thinking him a sleaze, a flatterer.  What an absolute shame when his signal intent is to delight or arouse admiration but I suppose  the negative connotation has been brought about by the duplicity of man in merely attempting to deceive rather than charm.  This is a word that requires further consideration.  It will be seen in these pages again.

Exquisiteness – The piquancy of a thing that is beautiful or delicate.  The word takes the object of beauty to its finest point of elevated discernment and appreciation

Gentility – Well-born ladies taking tea in the drawing room, occupied with chit-chat and cucumber sandwiches.

Grace – Fluidity of movement, languid and purposeful actions.  Elegance of proportion.  Pleasantness of manner and speech.  The aptly named Grace Kelly.

Noblesse – Of noble birth or standing.  Not necessarily nobility, per se, but of the privileged class or aristocracy

Refinement – Polished behaviour; having a discernment of taste; presenting a cultivated and civilized appearance.

Sauvity – Usually applies to gentlemen of charm (as defined) and sophistication.  Definitely think James Bond’s Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Daniel Craig et al and well tailored suits or  dinner jackets with bow ties.  Yes, I know, we’ve finished on dress but it’s hard not to with these chaps isn’t it?

One sad comment:  It is a poor reflection on our society of mediocrity that being elegant has become confused with being ‘sexy’ or ‘fashionable’.  Oh dear!

Adding the words to the list.

Feel free to post a comment.  I really would love you to do so.



Review of The Adventure of English (dvd) – A Fascinating Journey of Words

Adventure in English

The Adventure of English was a British television series on the history of the English language presented by Melvyn Bragg and which was released in DVD format in June 2009.

This fascinating and must-watch documentary investigates the evolution of the English Language in an adventurous, almost biographical fashion from its arrival in Britain in the 5th century, its voyage across the Atlantic to the Americas, its influence among slaves in the Caribbean and its survival in today’s techno culture.

The DVD is still available at  The price for the 405 minute, 4 disc series is  just $69.95 here.  And if you would like the companion book by Lord Bragg too, it is still to be had here with FREE DELIVERY WORLDWIDE.

Bragg Book

In the television series, Bragg – a prolific author, screenwriter and broadcaster in Britain – explains the origins and spelling of many words based on the times in which they were introduced into the growing language that would eventually become modern English.  Not in a tedious, studious way but as a fun and fascinating journey tracking the development and growth of words using a very organized and easily understood approach.

For those who regard English as merely a school subject, you really should look at this series as it will amaze you in the way that our words have come into being and the circumstances in which they have.  Much of the production scenes are done on-site around the world, as the history of the language is tracked.

The eight parts of the series takes us on a journey of words through time and location as it explores …

1.   Birth of a Language.

From the Romans quitting England, leaving behind a race of people, the Celts, to their own devices to the invasion of Germanic tribes in around 500AD Bragg examines how Anglo-Saxon, with its many forms and dialects became the basis of our English today.

2.   English Goes Underground.

In this second part, Bragg looks at how Anglo Saxon evolved as the language of England while in time the peoples of the small, separate kingdoms in England became part of the new developing Christian civilization of Europe.   Then came the invasion of the Norman peoples under William the Conqueror which brought further change to how language was used.  Norman French became the language of the court, with Latin, acquired through the Christianization of the church in England, became the language of learning.  The Anglo-Saxon tongue was subsumed to the peasant class.

Then gradually English began to oust French as the language of law and government and a new found confidence in English literature developed, especially through the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.  After Chaucer vowels were pronounced differently and words took on sounds more familiar to us today.

3.   The Battle for the Language of the Bible.

The Black Death in 1348 which killed up to a third of the population, weakened the hold of Latin among the educated and helped what is now known as Middle English to really take a hold.  It was clear that this English was to be the principal language and through the efforts of theologian John Wycliffe a new English Bible was created.

But it was the arrival of the printing press in the 15th Century that the various forms of English were brought to a standard in spelling and pronunciation.

4.   This Earth, This Realm, This England.

Repelling another planned invasion of England this time by the Spanish in 1588 England supremacy on the sea saw its language being taken to foreign lands and the trade that these mariners undertook saw new goods and words come back to England and become absorbed into what was becoming Modern English.

It was from here that the Renaissance blossomed in the land with Elizabethan poetry, prose and especially drama taking centre stage through the mastery of William Shakespeare.

 5.   English in America.

With the aid of a native man, Squanto, the new settlers were able to establish themselves in this New World.   Their background was one of Puritanism, with emphasis on the Bible and God-fearing obeisance.

The New England Primer which reinforced the way that the settlers chose to live and the Blueback Speller which taught strict pronunciation principles, ensured that class distinctions emanating from wealth, speech and manner were eliminated.

Bragg shows how English was given to the American slaves and evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries to become a form of English in its own right.

6.   Speaking Proper.

Science and the Royal Society in 17th century England now takes centre stage.

Academics and scholarly men now wrote their theses in English not Latin in this Age of Enlightenment.

Daily newspapers appeared widely bringing news and increased literacy to a great many people.  Books were produced not just for learning but also for pleasure and perhaps significantly Samuel Johnson produced his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755.  Female readers were making their demands known too and female writers came to the fore with the advent of the novel.

The impact of the Industrial Revolution on language is considered as industry was thrust forward as an institution in its own right.

 7.   The Language of Empire.

British foreign trade takes the language into India and the Caribbean, while convicts take it to Australia. As a result the English language is enriched immeasurably.

 8.   Many Tongues Called English, One World Language.

The final programme sees English establishing itself as the language of 21st Century International Commerce.  It is even seen as the new language of the Internet.

Wherever it has been taken and whatever it has encountered, the English language has adapted and met all of the challenges it has been compelled to face throughout this wonderful Adventure in English.

 Who will find this series of interest?

Some opinions of those who have watched the series:

“Diverse people with even a slight interest in the history of English language and literature will find the series interesting and enjoyable.  It is highly recommended.”

“an excellent series and rewards repeated viewings. Excellent.”

“it gets a bit less interesting when it gets to more recent, more familiar history. But it still is always enlightening and entertaining.”

“Lord Bragg’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for his subject matter infuses each episode with delight. Who knew English could be so interesting? Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of our language”

Not all opinions were as enthusiastic however:

“The host is not engaging, and the material presented barely scratches the surface. It is inferior to Robert MacNeil’s, The Story of English, which is from the 1980s, but is well done.”

So for those who wish to compare, I’m afraid there aren’t many DVDs around with which to do so, only a few VHS copies.

Other English Language Video productions

The Story of English, Robert MacNeil, 1986.  VHS only.

MacNeil dvd

A Light History of the English Language; Prof. Elliot Engel, December 2009. A light-hearted look at the development of the English language. Run time : 46 minutes. Available here.

Light History

Should you buy Melvyn Bragg’s Adventure of English?

You can see all eight parts of the series on You Tube for free, but personally I would need to possess (and do have) a copy of the series to watch again and again.

So, most definitely buy yourself a copy and enjoy it.


If you have any questions relating to this dvd or would like to leave your own personal comments about the series, please feel free to do so below.