Ceiling wax

One song I remember from my childhood is Puff, the magic dragon, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary and written by Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton. For some time I wondered what

ceiling wax

is. I don’t know how I found out that it is, in fact

sealing wax.

I obviously knew about ceilings before I knew about sealings.

Ceiling is a strange word. It ends with -ing, but it’s not related to a verb; we don’t usually ceil ceilings like we build buildings. (Someone has flippantly suggested that we should call them builts.) In fact we do, or buildingers do, whether they call it that or not. Dictionary.com records the verb ceil, meaning

1. to overlay (the ceiling of a building or room) with wood, plaster, etc.
2. to provide with a ceiling 

dating from 1400–50, from late Middle English celen to cover, to panel, followed by a rather vague < ? 

Seal is ultimately from Latin signum and is related to sign. The animal seal is from Old English with cognates in Old Norse and Old High German. There is a story that one holder of the British government office of Lord Privy Seal objected to being addressed as such because he wasn’t a lord, a privy or a seal.  

While I was researching for this post, I found a blog called of ceiling wax, which is about “reading YA, graphic novels and the spaces in between”. Its not-immediately-named author quotes Lewis Carroll’s The walrus and the carpenter (text, Wikipedia), which I’m not as familiar with and didn’t think of. She/he also originally mistook this for ceiling wax.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.” 

Some of Carroll’s poems are direct parodies of the poems Alice Liddell would have been familiar with, but this seems to be totally original. 

PS 3 Oct: information about the poems Carroll parodied.


No more unweder

For the last six days, the east coast of Australia has received very heavy rain, up to the average total for March each day in some places. Some parts have been flooded and more are waiting on rising river levels. Yesterday evening my wife asked me if there would be “more rain” today. Well, yes, in the sense of additional rain, but no, in the sense of a greater quantity of rain. Today was least wet day of the six; indeed it stopped raining, the clouds mostly dispersed and we got a few hours of mostly blue sky and sun. The entire night sky is now clear, and tomorrow’s temperature is predicted to be warmer than an average summer’s day.

Yesterday I mentioned an Anglo-Saxon word list. One of the words is unweder, extreme and unseasonal weather, which might be some comment about the weder in Angle-land. But a friend who moved from England to Australia commented on Facebook that Sydney actually gets more rain than London, which I had to check. Yes, Sydney 1,147.1mm/45.16in per year from 95 rainy days, and London 601.7mm/23.68in per year from 109 rainy days. So in Sydney, when it rains, it pours. Temperature (average and extreme) and hours of sunshine are other factors. I also suspect that London’s rainfall doesn’t change much from year to year, while Sydney’s does. Note that Sydney is at 33 degrees south, and London is at 51 degrees north


A few weeks ago I posted about the Middle/Early Modern English word beget/begat/begot/begotten, especially as used in the King James/Authorised version of the bible. A book I am reading mentioned Anglo-Saxon/Old English translations of the bible, so I searched for those. The one I found was just of the gospels (Ða Halgan Godspel) (no original date given), so Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is on pages 1 and 2. The equivalent word is gestrydne, which is obviously not related to any word I discussed in my previous post. This website of Anglo-Saxon words defines gestrynan as get, acquire; beget. Further, Jesus wæs accened of Mary. acennan is bear, give birth to, and is also obviously not related to anything. They are also not related to words in other Germanic languages; for example German zeugte and geboren, Dutch kreeg and geboren, Norwegian fikk (got, not anything else you might think (well, I did)) and blev fød (see Bible Gateway then select the language and translation from the top right dropdown list).

The Anglo-Saxon wordlist contains words which have retained their form to modern English and have the same or a similar meaning, words which are clearly equivalent given spelling changes and words which are clearly unrelated.

In the vicinity of gestrynan (which is filed under s) are:

same form, same or similar meaning
strand – seashore, strand
stream – current, river

spelling changes
stræt – street, road
strang – strong, powerful
strengðo – strength

stræl – arrow
stregan – scatter, strew
gestreon – property, treasure
stric – pestilence (apparently not related to strike/struck/stricken)
strudan – plunder, carry off
strudung – plundering, thievery, robbery

(Draw whatever conclusions you want about the nature of Anglo-Saxon society from that list!)

Wikipedia’s page on Old English says “Perhaps around 85% of Old English words are no longer in use, but those that survived are the basic elements of Modern English vocabulary” (citing Albert Baugh, A History of the English Language (1951)).

(Some of the words in the unrelated group may have cognates in other Germanic languages. I didn’t check them all.)


An advertising screen in the city included Satday 13 June in the corner. If there isn’t enough space for Saturday, then surely the solution is to use Sat. Sunday, Monday and Friday have six letters and would fit, but Tueday, Wedday and Thuday look varying degrees of weird. I’ll have to go back there on those days to find out what they do.

Saturday is already truncated from Old English Saternesdæg and Latin Sāturnī diēs. Many people pronounce it as or close to Satday or Satdi.