August 2018


So, I was catching up on my newest guilty pleasure this week, ‘Bondi Rescue’, and one of the lifeguards was putting together an elaborate proposal for his girlfriend (there was a helicopter). Just as they were flying towards the words ‘Marry Me’ written in the sand of Bondi, the voiceover guy described them as ‘star-crossed lovers’. This immediately had me reaching for Google, as I’m sure that the last time I checked, being a star-crossed lover wasn’t a good thing. And I was right – ‘star-crossed’ means to be ‘thwarted by bad luck’.

Etymology wise, there don’t seem to be any references to the word before Mr Shakespeare used it in the prologue of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (spoiler alert!):

‘From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.’

The word comes from the idea that our fates are ruled by the positions of the stars, and that some people are thwarted by evil or malign stars. Hence being ‘star-crossed’, like the unfortunate teen suicides, R+J.

You’ll be pleased to hear that lifeguard Harries and his wife Em are still married, and now have themselves a bub, so it doesn’t seem like they’re at all star-crossed. Not that I’m obsessed with ‘Bondi Rescue’ or anything.

Right, I wonder if I can fit another episode in before I have to earn a living…


So, you're probably used to using ‘paraphernalia’ to mean lots of bits and pieces. It’s generally seen as negative as we tend to use it to mean too much stuff (or drug stuff, weirdly). Unfortunately, the origins of the word are actually a bit sexist.

Etymology-wise, it comes from the Greek ‘para’ for ‘distinct from’ and ‘pherna’, from ‘phernē’ or ‘dower’. So it actually means ‘distinct from dowry’, and referred to the personal bits and bobs a bride brought with her to a marriage. So all the stuff that wasn’t part of the all-important dowry. These fluffy female extras were generally regarded as superfluous to requirements, which is why the word now tend to refer to extra things we don’t need. Oh, and in English law up until 1870 (when the first Married Women’s Property Act was passed), all of a woman’s paraphernalia would have become the property of her husband anyway once he got that ring on her finger. Bah.


So we all know what skiving is, right? It’s bunking off work or school. Well yes, but this is actually an almost exclusively British use of the word. Skive has another meaning which it seems is more well known away from our shores – to cut thin layers or pieces off a material like leather or rubber. This probably comes from Scandinavia, from ‘skīfa’ which is Old Norse for slice.

Back to bunking off now (figuratively, not literally of course, for any clients who are reading). ‘Skive’ in this context first appeared in print in 1919 and was originally a British military expression. One theory is that it came from another earlier slang meaning of the same word which was ‘to move lightly and quickly, to dart,’ as someone who’s trying to get out of their duties might do. It likely comes from the French word ‘esquiver’ which means to dodge, sidestep or evade. From there we go on an etymological round trip of Europe – ‘esquiver’ probably came from the Spanish word ‘esquivar’ which means unsociable or shy, which itself came from a German word which came from an Italian word (I’ve stopped telling you the words now in case you stop reading/your head explodes), which finally takes us back to France and the Old French word ‘eschiver’.

Opinions differ as to whether you add an ‘off’ or not (as in ‘Emma never skives work’, or ‘Emma is definitely not skiving off work as we speak’).


Okay, so today I confess I’ve gone a bit poncy, and a bit meta. A causerie is an informal essay or talk, often on a literary subject. Which is what this is, y’see? META.

Causerie comes from ‘causer’, which is français for ‘to chat’. It was popularised by one Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve (swoon – French names are so much better than English ones, n’est-ce pas?), a writer and critic who published a weekly column in a French newspaper about literary topics called ‘Causeries de lundi’, or ‘Monday chats’ in rubbish old English. As there was no English equivalent (‘funny literary column’ just doesn’t cut it), in the 19th century we went for the age-old solution of just nicking someone else’s.

Whether you choose to say it in an over-exaggerated French accent is entirely up to you.


I’ve picked this one purely because I like it and I don’t think it gets used enough. If you haven’t come across it before, it’s a weirdly grand word for a pretty simple concept; it means to throw something or someone out of a window. The etymology’s straightforward – it comes from the Latin ‘de-’ for ‘out’ and ‘fenestra’ for ‘window’. If you’re the person going out of the window you’re a ‘defenestratee’. And you can also autodefenestrate, which is when you chuck yourself out.

The most famous use of the word is probably the Defenestration of Prague. There are actually two of these (people in Prague seem to like lobbing each other out of windows). The most well-known was in 1618 when three Catholic officials were thrown from a top-floor window of Prague Castle by Bohemian (the kingdom, not the lifestyle choice) Protestant activists. Despite surviving the 70-foot fall, this event kicked off the Thirty Years’ War – one of the longest and bloodiest wars in European history.

The English poet RP Lister wrote a poem called ‘Defenestration’, which is all about how ridiculous it is that there’s a word for throwing someone out of a window (‘Why, then, of all the possible offences so distressing to humanitarians / Should this one alone have caught the attention of the verbarians?’) which is well worth a read if you have a spare couple of minutes. Oh, and it’s seems to be up for debate as to whether the window has to be open or not before you carry out a defenestration.