July 2018


This week I’ve been reading poetry by T.S. Eliot. I’m not just saying that to be poncy – I really have. I realised I’d never read the whole of ‘The Waste Land’ which didn’t seem right, so I bought myself a collection and read it while sitting in the sunshine drinking beer (I find alcohol always helps me understand poetry. Possibly not correctly, but you can’t have everything).

Anyway, back to ‘velleity’. A velleity is ‘a wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action’ (from the OED). So basically it’s when you want to do something, but just can’t be arsed. Like pretty much everything in this hot weather. Here it is in plural action in Eliot’s poem ‘Portrait of a Lady’:

‘…And so the conversation slips / Among velleities and carefully caught regrets…’

Interesting fact alert: T.S. Eliot is widely credited with being the first person to use the word ‘bullshit’ in print. He wrote a poem called ‘The Triumph of Bullshit’ which is basically an up-yours to the literary critics of the time. It also contains the beautifully written refrain ‘For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass’. So, next time you use either of those, you can legit say you’re being intellectual. You’re welcome.


In honour of the fact that it was World Emoji Day yesterday (or 🌍😀📆 if you will), I thought I’d look into the etymology of the word itself. So, it was coined in Japan in the late 90s, and is made up of ‘e’ for ‘picture’ and ‘moji’ for character – nothing to do with the word ‘emotion’ then. Its counterpart ‘emoticon’ is however – that’s ‘emotion’ and ‘icon’ smooshed together.

Strictly speaking emojis are pictograms and emoticons are characters i.e. 😉 vs ;-). It seems like the similarity in the two words is just a nice semantic coincidence. ❤️


This is inspired by (for which read: stolen from) Simon Mayo on last week’s Wittertainment podcast. You know what egregious means, right? It’s something that’s shockingly bad. And you’d be bang on the money. But only in the last 500 years or so. The meaning of egregious has completely changed over time – and not just a little bit like lots of other words. It now means the total opposite of what it did originally.

So, according to the OED in 1534, ‘egregious’ was a positive word which meant ‘remarkably good’. Etymology-wise, it’s made up of the Latin prefix ‘e-‘ which means ‘out of’, ‘grex’ for ‘flock’ (see also ‘segregate ‘, ‘aggregate’ and ‘congregate’) and then the English adjective suffix ‘-ous’ which means ‘full of’. So it literally meant to stand out from the flock (or crowd). But less than 40 years later, people were using it in the negative way we’re familiar with now. Why? Well, it looks like it all comes down to the fact that English people like to take the piss. The only explanation I can find is that people started using it sarcastically, and eventually the second meaning stuck. Typical.


I’ve chosen this one for two reasons: (1) because it’s nice to say (paaammmppphhhlet) and (2) because it has an interesting backstory. Unfortunately it’s nothing to do with small pamphs (because these are not a thing) – the word comes from a 12-century Latin love poem called ‘Pamphilus, seu de amore’. This anonymous poem was so popular that it was copied and passed around from person to person. The Middle French title was ‘Pamphilet’ and from this we get the English word ‘pamphlet’. Because the poem wasn’t bound, eventually ‘pamphlet’ came to mean any unbound text that’s shorter than a book.

The poem’s about leading man Pamphilus trying to woo (I like the word woo) a lady by the name of Galatea through the mediation of a procuress. I don’t know what this means but it sounds dirty. Pamphilus’ name comes from the Greek for ‘beloved of all’. Aw.