pick a word, any word…


I do writing workshops with women who are currently living in shelters. They teach me extraordinary things.

Most recently, the meaning of prehensile.

It came up in one of the exercises where we give each other a word and the word T. gave me was prehensile.

It had a vague ring about it, I was sure I’d heard it before… maybe… but I couldn’t put it into context. “Pre what?”  I said. And T. smiled, said a monkey’s tail was prehensile. “Anything like that,”  she said. “I watch a lot of nature shows.”

Hmm. Okay.

So the exercise was to use the word as a prompt to write fast and without thinking for a couple of minutes. And this is what I wrote:

Pre tail? Do I assume hensile  means tail? Before tail? Where’s the monkey part fit in? I mean in terms of word origins—I’ll be figuring this out for a long time—I’ll be discussing it with friends: do you know what prehensile means, I’ll say, and I can guarantee you several will say… pre what?? And so it will go. And this is the beauty of not knowing because we’re never the only one who doesn’t. What somebody knows, another is clueless about and so on. None of us knows it all, which is a fine thing to remember. In fact I honestly consider it a good day when I bump into a word I don’t know or one I’ve heard but can’t actually say I know the meaning of, like when you read a book and don’t quite get the meaning, you can’t actually say   what it means, but you get the gist of it, enough to keep reading. About monkey tails though—I wonder when we lost ours.
I wonder what direct descendant of mine was the last to have a tail and where he or she lived and what was their favourite colour…


(Please don’t look for a lot of meaning here. Notice I’ve filed this post under Blather and ShillyShally. Am partial to a regular dollop of both. Essential at times. Also, it’s Friday. Also, if you happen to play the pick a word game and want to share the spoils… I’ll welcome that with pleasure and a pot of tea.)

Photos taken at Story Book Primate Sanctuary, in Sunderland.

Important to say THIS IS NOT A ZOO. The animals here are rescued from horrible circumstances and given a chance to live in a safe environment. (The guy in the pic is Rudy… found in a storage locker with a lot of other ‘exotic’ animals… People, eh? Prehensile is better.)

More info here…    and a fabulous place to send loose change.



Why did the green program start with blue boxes?

Why is the Canadian Tire logo a triangle?


Why is men’s and boy’s clothing made to fit so much looser than girls’ and women’s?

And can someone please design a better bathing suit…

Why does no one know the name of the first person who survived going over Niagara Falls in a barrel?


On the subject of  pink and blue:

“There’s one famous study showing that women treated the exact same babies differently depending on whether they were dressed in pink or blue. If the clothes were blue they assumed it was a boy, played more physical games with them and encouraged them to play with a squeaky hammer, whereas they would gently soothe the baby dressed in pink and choose a doll for them to play with.”   Valid point or bollocks?


Why do we need three title options for women: Ms., Miss  and Mrs. and only one for men?

Why does *he* always drive?

What are there more of:  snowflakes, grains of sand or blades of grass?

Is the book always better than the novel? Examples?

How best to handle the guy in the next seat who doesn’t realize his ‘space’ is only as wide as his legs unspread… without turning it into a ‘thing’ that ruins your movie/play/flight/bus ride?

Why is there no Toddlers and Tiaras for boys?


How do ducks keep their feet warm in winter?

Why is there no major religion where women are the leaders?

How is it possible for a work of literary fiction to be in such dire need of editing and still go on to win awards?


If I’m right (as I most definitely am) and you’re right (as you most definitely are), who’s right?

wordly obsessions

I’ve been mildly preoccupied of late with words that are missing from the English language, also some that have morphed over time. I have no interest in writing about this. Just thought I’d mention it. And then offer, apropos of my current mood, an excerpt from what I believe to be one of the greatest sources of words that should be real… the extraordinary and tiny Meaning of Liff, where all the words not only make perfect sense and you wonder just how you’ve managed without them… but are the real names of real places.

Here follows the always useful ‘Corrie’ series:


The moment at which two people, approaching from opposite ends of a long passageway, recognize each other and immediately pretend they haven’t. This is to avoid the ghastly embarrassment of having to continue recognising each other the whole length of the corridor.


To avert the horrors of corrievorrie, corriecravie is usually employed. This is the cowardly but highly skilled process by which both protagonists continue to approach while keeping up the pretence that they haven’t noticed each other–by staring furiously at their feet, grimacing into a notebook, or studying the walls closely as if in a mood of deep irritation.


The crucial moment of false recognition in a long passageway encounter. Though both people are perfectly well aware that the other is approaching, they must eventually pretend sudden recognition. They now look up with a glassy smile, as if having spotted each other for the first time, (and are particularly delighted to have done so) shouting out ‘Haaaaalllllooo!’ as if to say ‘Good grief!! You!! Here!! Of all people! Well I never. Coo. Stamp me vitals, etc.’


The dreadful sinking sensation in a long passageway encounter when both protagonists immediately realize they have plumped for the corriedoo much too early as they are still a good thirty yards apart. They were embarrassed by the pretence of corriecravie and decided to make use of the corriedoo because they felt silly. This was a mistake as corrievorrie will make them seem far sillier.


Corridor etiquette demands that once a corriedoo has been declared, corrievorrie must be employed. Both protagonists must now embellish their approach with an embarrassing combination of waving, grinning, making idiot faces, doing pirate impressions, and waggling the head from side to side while holding the other person’s eyes as the smile drips off their face, until, with great relief, they pass each other.


Word describing the kind of person who can make a complete mess of a simple job like walking down a corridor.

Image courtesy of WikiCommons
Image courtesy of WikiCommons


assumptions and aspirations

I first read this definition of  ‘critique’ in a gallery catalogue for an installation that included, among other things, a deconstructed piano. What I love best is how it might apply to anything—painting, writing, dance—and how it reminds me that all art is shaped with, essentially, the same basic tools.

“… Taking a thing apart is a critique—a way of honouring the thing, a way of admiring its construction and the many decisions of its designers and makers. It exposes the assumptions and aspirations upon which the thing is made and it reveals the author’s inventions and limitations….

“….Rebuilding the thing is a form of love and respect. Adding to a thing—decorating it, manipulating it, customizing it—is to enter into a dialogue, to talk to the thing and to engage its maker’s spirit, to speculate on its history, to revel in its possibility and to indulge in creative anarchy.”

pocalogging to my own tune

I think I’ve invented a word.

Pocalog: stands for POst CArd LOG. Similar but different from the original and ubiquitous WeB LOG—my version involves postcards, stamps, moving feet and letterboxes.

Also different from ‘writing postcards’, traditionally done on sunny foreign patios or beaches but can be (and is by me) done anywhere; I’ve got a lovely little stash of postcards, picking them up wherever, from flea markets to art galleries to cheesy souvenir shops and sending them out willy nilly to friends near and far all year round, almost always for no good reason— sometimes with nothing more than a brownie recipe scribbled on the back.

But I digress.

I was meant to be talking about another use for postcards, i.e. pocalogs. The idea being to send a postcard every day, or at regular intervals, just like writing a blog post. Only not endlessly, but for a designated period of time. I’ve only ever done it once—last year I sent a month of pocalogs to my niece, casual blurbs, sometimes with mini quizzes where she could win prizes, which she always won. (Google has made quizzes kind of pointless…)

So this year, because it went over so well and it seems to want to become a tradition (albeit reserved only for her), I’m doing her a pocalog of 31 ‘postcard’ stories for her birthday (plus a *donkey).

God bless technology but at the end of the day it’s such lovely nonsense that makes my world go round.

That and chocolate.

‘Stanley’s Shoes’

Stanley the alligator lived in a Florida swamp next to a house inside which lived a mean and miserable, crusty old Florida man of at least thirty-five, whose goal in life was to shoot Stanley and make a pair of shoes with his hide. But one day in his mean and crusty exuberance the man fell into the swamp with his mean and trusty rifle.

Sometime afterwards the other alligators in Stanley’s swamp said, Hey, Stanley, are those new shoes you’re wearing?

Heavens no, Stanley replied. Why, they’re at least thirty-five years old.


*Just to be clear, not a donkey for the garden (although I understand they make excellent watch dogs) but a sponsored one from The Donkey Sanctuary that she can visit. Her mother will be relieved.


a loveliness of ladybirds…

—a flutter of butterflies (there were two in the general vicinity but do two flutterbys equal a flutter?)

a risk of lobsters
an intrusion of cockroaches
a mite of mites
a knot of worms
a rope of onions
a punnet of strawberries

—and because the ‘sky dance’ season is about to begin (I saw my first starlings of the year gathering in some reeds this morning)—a murmuration of starlings…


And other collective nouns because how else to describe things but properly?

Unless of course you feel like making something up. A ‘scratch’ of bedbugs? A ‘séance’ of tea leaves? A ‘warbling’ of words?


words starting with ‘a’

Sorting through shelves the other day, I happily re-discovered my copy of The Meaning of Liff, by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd (Pan Books and Faber & Faber, 1983). Essentially a dictionary of words that are not words but should be. They are, in fact, place names in Great Britain that (as Adams and Lloyd write in the introduction): “…spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.”

They go on to say—

Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.”

To which I say hear, hear!  Bloody lazy words. (And with so many things out there in need of a few well arranged letters to define them…)


For example, a few under ‘A’:

Aberystwyth (n.): A nostalgic yearning which is in itself more pleasant than the thing being yearned for.

Abilene (adj.): Descriptive of the pleasing coolness on the reverse side of the pillow.

Ahenny (adj.): The way people stand when examining other people’s bookshelves.

Ardslingnish (adj.) Adjective which describes the behaviour of Sellotape when you are tired.

Aynho (vb.) Of waiters, never to have a pen.


Is is just me or does the whole world suddenly feel a teensy bit more coherent?