Tuesday, 25 August 2015

organic or pretend organic?

Have a look at these bags of planting mix. Organic or just pretending to be organic?

My understanding of quotation marks around a noun means to be wary of the genuineness of the thing named. It implies irony in the use of the marked word.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online says:
 We also use single quotation marks to draw attention to a word. We can use quotation marks in this way when we want to question the exact meaning of the word:
I am very disappointed by his 'apology'. I don't think he means it.  
This Washington State University site on American usage discusses the same sort of thing I've noticed on the bag of planting mix:
There are many ways to go wrong with quotation marks. They are often used ironically: 
She ran around with a bunch of "intellectuals." 
The quotation marks around "intellectuals" indicate that the writer believes that these are in fact so-called intellectuals, not really intellectuals at all. The ironic use of quotation marks is very much overdone, and is usually a sign of laziness indicating that the writer has not bothered to find the precise word or expression necessary.  
Advertisers unfortunately tend to use quotation marks merely for emphasis: 
The influence of the more common ironic usage tends to make the reader question whether these tomatoes are really fresh. Underlining, bold lettering, all caps - there are several less ambiguous ways to emphasise words than placing them between quotation marks. 
I managed to overcome my initial reaction to this strange punctuation, and bought the product to plant my nice new Jonathan apple in enriched soil.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

beautys for sale

I did a double-take when I saw this sign outside a florist shop:

I thought they couldn't spell the plural form of beauty. When I walked on, and saw the other side of the sign, I smiled. It seemed the writer had hedged her bets. This time she'd added an apostrophe.

We had a discussion around the kitchen table that afternoon - as you do. I thought the plural of the trade name, Winter Beauty could be legitimately spelled as 'Beautys'. (BTW, my spell checker doesn't agree with me, but I've overruled it.) But the rest of the family disagreed.

Maybe if she'd spelled it with a capital letter - Beautys - I could have convinced my family. On the other hand, the label didn't use capitals.

And she spelled hellebore wrong, anyway.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

runcible gardening

For no known reason, on Friday I was thinking about runcible spoons, as I pottered in the garden. I thought I remembered that the word runcible was a nonsense invention by Edward Lear. I had been on a 'weed walk' led by Adam Grubb, and had bought a copy of his  book The Weed Forager's Handbook, but I don't see why that should have got me musing about runcible spoons.

Anyway...today I was browsing Adam's book and came to the page about Sow Thistles. We have lots of this weed in our garden, so I thought I'd also read about the plant in a book I bought decades ago, Weeds of Forests, Roadsides and Gardens. I love comparing information, because it seems to help knowledge 'stick' in my head.

Since I don't have a background education in botany, I find the text in this latter book hard to understand. But when I read that the leaves of Sonchus oleraceus (sow thistle) are thin and runcinate, my attention sharpened.

So what, I asked myself, does runcinate mean? The Free Dictionary defines it as:
a leaf having incised margins with the lobes or teeth curved toward the base; as a dandelion leaf.
Now I wondered whether Lear's made-up word might have had some connection, even if subconscious on his part, with this botanical term. Was Lear a botanist? No. But he did illustrate natural history books, so it's possible he was familiar with the term runcinate.

The Guardian has a collection of suggested origins for the word that are much more likely than mine, but why shouldn't I, too, have fun imagining the mind of Edward Lear?

I've written about weeds previously. To me there's no such thing as a weed. They're just plants. Oh, maybe I'd make an exception for moth plants. I really don't like them. No, I shouldn't do that. They're just trying to make a living, like everything else in my garden.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

How do species relate to spices?

I find it interesting when I discover that similar-sounding words that seem to have unrelated meanings actually are related etymologically.

This week, when I was reading my newly purchased book, Herbs and Spices; the Cook's Reference, by Jill Norman, I discovered the relationship between the words specie, spice and species.

On page 9 she writes this about the word spices:
Again our word derives from Latin, where species meant specific kind but, in later use, goods or merchandise - spices certainly being an important commodity even at the time of the Romans.
This made me wonder about the expression payment in specie. I didn't know what it means, but I've read it in historical novels.

Dictionary.com says of the word specie:

coined money; coin.
in specie,
  1. in the same kind.
  2. (of money) in coin.
  3. in a similar manner; in kind:
    Such treachery should be repaid in specie.
  4. Law. in the identical shape, form, etc., as specified.

Collins English dictionary gives the origin of the phrase in specie as:
C16: from the Latin phrase in specińď in kind
Ref: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/specie

Monday, 20 April 2015

hoping to be equanimous after learning about meditation

It's a strange thing, as an adult with a fairly extensive vocabulary, to use a new word  before being quite certain you know how to spell it.

I've recently done an eight-week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which was just the thing I needed to get some sort of handle on life, and also attended a screening of The Connection film. Somewhere in all this activity I heard that I should approach life in an equanimous manner.

I looked it up just now, and found I had the right idea about what it means and how to write it. There are many definitions of it on the internet, but the one that strikes me as the closest in meaning to how it was used in the meditation lessons was on Wikipedia - not usually my reference of choice - defining the related noun, equanimity.
Equanimity (Latin√¶quanimitas having an even mind; aequus even animus mind/soul) is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind. The virtue and value of equanimity is extolled and advocated by a number of major religions and ancient philosophies.
The article refers to many of the streams from which the current MBSR has drawn its ideas:
Baha'i Faith

The Wikipedia article points across to Wiktionary for the related adjective, equanimous.

Attempting to face the good moments and the 'bad' moments in a spirit of acceptance is an empowering strategy, especially in the face of all the awfulness in the media. I hope I can continue to develop my strength in this area.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

How many cardinal compass points are there?

I wonder why we have four points on the compass. I suppose it comes from the idea of 'in front', ''behind', ''left' and 'right', and is mandated by the shape of our bodies.

I wrote yesterday about the book You Call It Desert - We Used to Live There, written byPat Lowe with Jimmy Pike. It's about what is now known as The Great Sandy Desert, in inland Australia.

The people who lived in this place needed to know where they were going, because a mistake in heading for a waterhole could have fatal consequences. The authors say:
...the six directional names: East, West, North, South, Up and Down are in constant use, not only in reference to travel but also in discussions of the relative positions of people and objects over even the smallest spaces and distances... A language reflects the preoccupations of its speakers, and Walmajarri has not one but a dozen or more words to refer to each of the cardinal compass points. Such a variety of terms enables a speaker to convey with great economy the precise locations of an event, place or object. So, by using different terms derived from the root word kurlirla (south) a user of Walmajarri can tell a listener whether the subject being discussed is to the far or near south, in or out of sight, approaching from the south, due south, or simply to the south of the speaker and perhaps lying or travelling, like a river or a bird, from east to west.

This last meaning reminds me of the way Europeans name winds. I always feel a bit confused about whether a west wind, for instance, comes from the west, or is heading to the west - until a burning north wind blows into Melbourne and I remember it's coming from the hotter north.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

How many seasons in Australia?

Recently I've been reading an interesting book about the seasons in Australia -  Sprinter and Sprummer. It made me realise that Australian conditions don't fit the seasonal template developed for Britain, the USA and Europe.

The author,  Timothy Entwisle, says indigenous cultures in this continent divided the year in different ways, many having six seasons, some five, and at least one only four seasons.

I've just finished reading another book also - You Call It Desert, We Used to Live There. It's about the  people who lived in what's now known as The Great Sandy Desert. Many still visit or live there, but not in the same numbers as before contact with Europeans.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the use of verb tense. The Introduction says:
In the following chapters I describe some of the features of life in the desert as told or shown to me by people who once lived here. Where there has been no real change I use the present tense, and when I describe life as it was lived by nomadic bands before they settled I use the past. The language in the text is Jimmy Pike's language, Walmajarri.
In the chapter on telling the time, the authors - Pat Lowe and Jimmy Pike - say:
Seasons were marked in several ways. First, there were the changes in weather each with its own term: wantapuru (cold time), larlilari(mild-weather time), parranga (hot time), yitilal (rainy time), and jutalkarra (after rain or green-grass time). Then there was the night sky: the appearance of certain constellations heralds or coincides with particular terrestrial events and is in some cases believed to be responsible for them. The arrival of the seven women or jakulyukulyuwarnti - the Pleiades - in the sky before dawn signals the onset of the coldest nights. 

These are two books to show modern Australians we have a lot to learn from the original inhabitants about how best to live here - and we can't slavishly follow habits developed in the opposite hemisphere.