Tuesday 29 September 2015


Never refuse a gift, refusal may cause offense. That applies to children, even grown-up children, when their parents press money on them at the end of a visit. Advice - just accept gracefully: the folks won't be here much longer. The only time to regularly refuse gifts is when they are won in a Pub Quiz which is raising money for charity. It would be hard to refuse the gift that arrived in the post today, because it had been sent from America and didn't have a proper return address. I had ordered something bookish from Amazon but this parcel was weighing too light in the hand for that and it took me a while to twig that it was my PRIZE.  For the last several years I've had a sub to AWAD which was started long ago by a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University. Anu Garg started his education under a mango Mangifera indica tree in India and didn't see a library until he went to college. In 1994, the internet was thin on the ground and it was easier to go viral.  There are now >million subscribers who get not only A-Word-A-Day like it says on the tin but also a little essay and the word used in context in a real sentence in a real publication.  For good measure, you get a quote-of-the-day as well. The quote is often from someone whose birthday is being celebrated and I've often used that as a direction to cobble together my 600-words-a-day SHWAD.  At the end of the week you get a bonus Weekly Compendium with Feedback from readers.  These also are occasionally interesting to read.

I lurk, I rarely contribute but a tuthree weeks ago the word was
Fribble: A wasteful or frivolous person or thing.
That had a huge resonance for me because, when we lived as impoverished students in Boston in the 1980s, going to Friendly's was our occasional treat for The Boy. I was inspired to send the following comment:
Wrong wrong almost right.  As anyone from New England will tell you, Fribble is the name used by the restaurant chain Friendly's for their milkshakes. As the standard portion of this calorie-rich beverage is 22oz > 600g the result is a waist-full person. Should be consumed with a "Very Berry Hot Fudge Sundae" to fill the hips as well.
And at the end of the week AWAD published my comment at the top of the feedback as Comment of The Week. I was delighted, not least because I got a couple of e-mails direct from other readers who shared my affection for Fribbles. Several days later, I got an e-mail asking for my postal address because I had won a PRIZE for my witticism.  It was on the kitchen table when I got back from work last night.  Big parcel, much packing, small tin with a bunch of scrabble-like tiles labelled One-Up and a bitty sign saying "This is a lagniappe" [I've corrected the rogue capital L, we're not Germans] which is a Quechua word that has come to American English via Louisiana French meaning a bonus or freebie - the 13th bun in the dozen, the mints next to the cash-register. That's a new word for me, the second in as many days - superjacent.  My father lived all his adult life in England but he would still insist on giving back a luck penny when he received a wodge of cash (for selling the family silver, that sort of thing) - it's a custom much more widely practiced in Ireland but probably less so nowadays as the old ways die out.

Last week I was at it again because Monday's AWAD was Kenning - a conventional poetic phrase used in place of the usual name of a person or thing.  These are very common in Anglo-Saxon, Old English and Icelandic Eddas and featured on The Blob before. As The Blob gets life-encompassingly bigger, it will soon contain everything I can remember - that's falling precipitously so it's a bit of a race. Accordingly it was easy to recycle a fragment to send another comment that was published in the Weekly Compendium this last weekend:
Some kennings are so common in the (nautical and military) language that has come down to us from the likes of Beowulf or The Battle of Maldon that they are clichés. hron rad (whale-road) is the sea; svana fjöll (swan’s mountains) are waves; grand viðar (wood’s bane or wood-crusher) is fire. But what about hjálms fyllr (helmet-filler) for sword - that’s so disturbingly visual that it should be the title of a particularly violent graphic novel.
No prizes though: there are a million other AWADies out there to encourage!

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