crush v surge v stampede

The Sydney Morning Herald is calling the Itaewon disaster a crowd crush, the Korea Herald a crowd surge and the Korea Times a stampede. To me, a stampede involves running and falling, which doesn’t seem to be the case here, a surge involves a group of people actively moving towards an already crowded area, and a crush is everyone moving together. The distinction is probably irrelevant to those who were killed and injury, or their families. Wikpedia’s article calls it a crowd crush, but its main article on the phenomenon is crowd collapses and crushes.

PS the next day. The Sydney Morning Herald is now calling it a stampede and is headlining that one Australian was killed.


Hip-hop, 1671-style

The word hip-hop dates from at least 1671. Yes, you read that right. 

In 2012 or some time before, I bought David Crystal’s introduction to and anthology of Samuel Johnson’s A dictionary of the English language (1752). I was surprised to find an entry for hip-hop, which Johnson illustrates by a quotation from William Congreve (1670-1729):

Your different tastes divide our poets cares;
One foot the sock, t’other the buskin wears:
Thus while he strives to please, he’s forc’d to do’t,
Like Volscius hip-hop in a single boot.

This began a lot of research at the time and again while drafting this blog post. In 1695, Congreve wrote an “epiloge” to a play by Thomas Southerne (1660-1746) based on the short novel Oronooko (1688) by Aphra Behn (1640-1698). The epilogue, spoken by one of the actresses to the audience, addresses the poet’s task. It starts:

YOU see, we try all Shapes, and Shifts, and Arts,
To tempt your Favours, and regain your Hearts.
We weep, and laugh, joyn mirth and grief together,
Like Rain and Sunshine mixt, in April weather.

then continues with the four lines above. 

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Tourism Korean, part 1

Visitors to Seoul are very likely to encounter at least one of Seodaemun, Namdaemun or Dongdaemun. Even if their tour guide (human, printed or digital) doesn’t tell them, it’s probably possible to figure out that they are the original west great gate, south great gate and east great gate of Seoul. Seo, nam and dong, therefore, are west, south and east. Dae might be great or gate, and mun might be vice versa, but the head of any compound noun is more likely to be in the first or last position, and finding that Gwanghwamun is the main gate of Gyeongbokgung palace firmly points to mun as gate. 

These actually have (or had, in the case of Seodaemun) official names, which are 돈의문 (don-ui-mun), 숭례문 (sung-nye-mun) and 흥인지문 (heung-in-ji-mun) respectively (which are also rendered in hanja (Chinese characters used in Korean), but tourists don’t have to worry about any of that). Seodaemun also refers to a gu (local government area), park and prison, Namdaemun to a market and Dongdaemun to a gu, market, former baseball stadium and design plaza (and I’m sure a lot else each). Bukdaemun (north great gate) (officially 숙정문 (suk-jeong-mun)) exists but is far less known, partly because it is perched in the mountains, a moderate hike from anywhere.

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An awful lot of words

(Or a lot of awful words.)

While I was writing a recent post, I started thinking about the following words (and there are more similar):

awe (n) – awe (v) – awesome / awful (adj)
dread – dread (v) – ?dreadsome / dreadful (adj)
fear (n) – fear (v) – fearsome / fearful / afraid (adj)
fright (n) – fright / frighten (v) – ?frightsome / frightful / frightening / frightened (adj)
terror (n) – terrify (v) – terrible / terrifying / terrified / terrific (adj)

The questions which arise are ‘Who does what to whom?’/‘Who feels that way?’ and ‘Is this a good thing or a bad thing?’. Awesome is good, but awful is now almost always bad. Originally, we were full of awe, but there are references to God being awful. The most common uses of awful now are in the noun phrases an awful lot and an awful thing. An awful lot and an awful thing aren’t full of awe, and probably we aren’t, either. 

This is even more so when these words are used as adverbs:

It was awesome/awful of you to do that v It was awesomely/awfully kind of you to do that.
It was dreadful of you to do that v It was dreadfully kind of you to do that. 
It was fearful of you to do that v It was fearfully kind of you to do that. 
It was frightful/frightening of you to do that v It was frightfully/frighteningly kind of you to do that. 
It was terrible/terrifying/terrific of you to do that v It was terribly/terrifyingly/terrifically kind of you to do that. 

This process is called semantic bleaching, or “the reduction of a word’s intensity”, which is really very common, as Merriam-Webster explains.

(By the way, dreadsome and frightsome are in dictionaries, but are obviously very rare. If I was writing a historical fantasy novel, I would have a character nick-named Dreadsome.)

(I seem to remember a cartoon in which a primary school teacher says to a student something like “There are two words I will not tolerate in this classroom. One is cool and the other is groovy.” The student replies “Cool! What are they?” I can’t find that, but there is definitely one of a father saying to two children “There are some words I will not tolerate in this house – and ‘awesome’ is one of them”. There’s nothing wrong with awesome – it’s just overused.) [Edit: it may have been swell and lousy – see the comments below.]

God is terrible

This idea is scattered throughout the bible, if not in exactly that form. I probably knew it first and certainly know it most familiarly through Ralph Vaughan Williams’ anthem on Psalm 47, O clap your hands.

O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.
For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.

English has a number of words derived from Latin terror (noun), terrēre, terrificāre (verbs) and terribilis (adjective), including terror, terrorism/t, terrify, terrorise, terrible, terrifying and terrific. Terrific is now positive (though I remember a primary school teacher telling us that it should only be used in contexts of terror), terrifying is negative and terrible sits uncomfortably between the two.

As is usual with biblical words like this, there are many translations. In the 54 English versions on Bible Gateway:

awesome 18 awesome beyond words 1 awesome and deserves our great respect 1
awe-inspiring 3 

to be feared 9 to be feared [and worshiped with awe-inspired reverence and obedience] 1 fearsome 1 fearedful (to be feared/to be revered) 1 fearful 1 

terrible 10 
excites terror, awe, and dread 1

wonderful 3 wonderful [awesome] 1

stunning 1 

We must fear the Lord 1 We must fear Yahweh, Elyon 1

most of which have other problems, especially these days awesome. If “Everything is awesome” then there’s nothing special about God. At least no translations use awful (see this post, towards the end) (or dreadful).

(Another choral setting of the same psalm, by John Rutter, uses to be feared.)

Lying behind all of these is the Hebrew word נוֹרָא (nora, Modern Israeli Hebrew pronunciation noˈʁa). I will let an actual Hebrew speaker pronounce it and explain. So, awesome or awe-inspiring, or terrible or awful, even in Hebrew.

My problem with all of these is that if God is terrible, to be feared or even awesome, then our response will be terror, fear or awe, but will not and cannot possibly be love, and certainly not with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength.

It is noticeable that most of the verses describing God as terrible (in whatever words) are in the Old Testament (the one exception being the Old Testament-focused Hebrews). Elsewhere in the New Testament, we get “God is love” (not “God is loveable”!).

(I possibly have more to say about this, but would be venturing too far into theology for my comfort.)

Dorks, dweebs, geeks and nerds

Yesterday a colleague informed us that it was National Be a Dork Day. I pondered that no-one seems to have reclaimed dork in the same way that some people have reclaimed various other terms, including geek and nerd. Then as made my mid-morning cup of coffee I scrolled through Facebook and one friend recounted a minor mishap before concluding “I’m such a dork”. 

Because of the nature of these words, there are no universally agreed definitions of dork, geek and nerd, to which I also need to add dweeb (which is not word I would naturally use).

Merriam-Webster defines them as:

informal: an odd, socially awkward, unstylish person
slang: an unattractive, insignificant, or inept person
1: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
2: an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity
computer geek
3: a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
1: a person devoted to intellectual, academic, or technical pursuits or interests
also : a person preoccupied with or devoted to a particular activity or field of interest
2: an unstylish or socially awkward person

It includes a usage note:

Dork, when used to refer to a socially awkward or inept person, is a relatively recent word: our records indicate that it first appeared in writing in the 1960s. Two of its synonyms in this sense are likewise of fairly recent vintage. Nerd (typically used of a studious species of dork) dates from the 1950s; it was coined by Dr. Seuss in his 1950 book If I Ran the Zoo, although not in the sense that we use today. The usage of nerd is now often used in a neutral fashion to denote enthusiasm or expertise (theater nerd) or proudly as a self-identifying trait (word nerd). Geek became synonymous with nerd in the 1950s and has similarly seen increasing use with positive connotations, showing membership in a specialized group (film geek, beer geek) rather than social awkwardness. In its earliest meanings, geek referred to, among other things, a carnival performer who would bite the head off a live chicken, or other small animal, as part of an act.

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A good word

While I was watching the funeral of a friend online it occurred to me that benediction and eulogy have basically the same meaning (a good word in Latin and Greek respectively). It’s just that we usually give the first to people who are alive and the second to people who aren’t.

It’s also St Benedict’s day today. Not that one. See also.

sun/Sun/son/Son of righteousness

My wife and I spent two nights away at a beach holiday town. This morning (Easter Day) we attended a dawn service in a park overlooking the beach. During the service, the sun rose, but the effect was diluted slightly by some small clouds on the eastern horizon. I couldn’t take any photos because I was meant to be concentrating on the service.

Probably inevitably, I got thinking about the coincidence of sun and son in English, especially in close conjunction with rising or risen. (See also sun/Sun/son/Son of righteousness.) These two words are similar in the major Germanic languages, but English seems to be the only one in which the two words are homophones: compare German Sonne and Sohn, Dutch zon and zoon, Danish sol and søn, Norwegian sol and sønn and Swedish Sol and son (Google Translate). Further, the two words have been similar for as long as written sources are available and have been reconstructed in proto-Indo-European as *séh₂wl̥ ~ *sh₂wéns and *suHnús. Are they related even further back? Intriguingly, relates son to a verb meaning “to give birth”, probably in a passive form of “having been given birth”. Unfortunately, it does not include an ultimate meaning for sun, but the relationship with “to give birth” is obvious. The answer may be in some specialised source of PIE etymology. I’ll have to leave it there, though.  

Compare Latin sol and filius, which is related to a verb meaning to suck, and the two words in any other language you know, in my case Korean 태양 (tae-yang) and 아들 (a-deul). 

Note also the Christian Church in England’s use of the Germanic pagan word Ēostre. (See my post from last year and the year before.)


A few days ago, a colleague said something (I forget exactly what) which sparked a memory of encountering a word which I had never encountered before and have never encountered or had occasion to use since. I can remember the circumstances in moderate detail and there is some supporting evidence, but just why I can remember it is a complete mystery. (I often ponder the mechanism and nature of random memories, with no firm conclusions. I think that my memory for what I remember if good, but on the other hand I forget an awful lot along the way). The word is sessile

At the end of my first year of high school (I’d just turned 13) I was awarded the citizenship prize for our year (possibly jointly with one other student – another random memory which surfaced as I was typing this). The class teacher asked what book I wanted and I said the current edition of the Guinness Book of Records (which I still have, which is most of the reason I am certain this memory happened). Sometime over the summer holidays I was staying with our grandparents. While reading the book, I encountered the record for pushing a hospital bed, a “usually sessile object”, and asked my grandmother what it meant. I can’t remember if we checked a dictionary (if so whether it was in a dictionary the size my grandparents were likely to have had (I can’t remember that they had a dictionary)) or reasoned it out between us. Clearly, the context shows that this object is not usually pushed, but is capable of it (eg a hospital bed compared with a domestic bed). 

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An article on the Sydney Morning Herald website (and presumably in the print edition) states:

Stand-up paddle boarding lives up to the hype
I’ve discovered just how much work it takes for what I mistakenly assumed was a mainly sedentary sport.

Sedentary, as in “requiring or characterised by a sitting position” (from Latin sedēre, sedēns)? Maybe,  because’s second definition is “accustomed to sit or rest a great deal or to take little exercise” (emphasis added). Etymology isn’t destiny.

And cheers to the writer for actually doing it. Because of my (non-)sense of balance I wouldn’t be able to stand up, let alone paddle.

(Note: the writer/subeditor uses stand-up paddle boarding. The Wikipedia article is titled standup paddleboarding.)