Gargoyle … don’t you think that is a lovely sounding word? Similar to gargle you might say. All that gurgling and spluttering … which brings gullet to mind. These words all have something in common. Most gargoyles are shaped in the form of monsters, laughing or scowling humans, dragons, or demons. A distinctive feature of Gothic architecture, many gargoyles have troughs cut into their backs to catch rain water and spouts that direct water away from the sides of buildings. This prevents rainwater from running down the stone walls and eroding the mortar that holds them together.
According to Oxford Languages, gargoyle comes from Middle English, which is derived from the Old French gargouille, meaning ‘throat or gullet’; also ‘gargoyle’ (because of the water passing through the throat and mouth of the figure); and is in turn related to the Greek gargarizein which means ‘to gargle’ (imitating the sounds made in the throat). There we have it, this lovely sounding word is actually onomatopoeic because it resembles the gurgling sound of the water as it passes through the gargoyle and out its mouth.
Gargoyles became less common after the eighteenth century, once more modern drainpipes were developed. This one – on the Cathedral Church of St. Michael and All Angels in the Eastern Cape town of Queenstown (now called Komani) – has clearly been made superfluous thanks to the modern guttering.
According to various dictionaries, when used as an adjective, plump means having a full and rounded shape, whereas round means circular or cylindrical. Of course those of us whose shape is not exactly lean are used to being referred to as being plump [in the sense of having a full and rounded shape or being chubby and somewhat overweight.] Should you take offence at this description you might quickly be assured that ‘plump’ in this case is meant to describe an ‘appealing roundness’. Let us look at some examples of creatures with this appealing plumpness.
I don’t think I have ever seen a dassie that looks thin!
Olive thrushes always look ‘cheerfully chubby’.
Unless they have very recently been shorn, sheep also have an appealing roundness about their appearance.
As far as round things go, look at the spherical shape of this dung ball – courtesy of the work of a dung beetle.
Dandelion seeds are appealingly round.
The shape of these rings on a gun carriage may generate a discussion on the difference between round, circular and spherical – we can leave that for another day!
Read them? Of course we can read them!
Did you know you can cook them – although you shouldn’t! This is not a recipe for book soup or book stew or even book bobotie, but a cautionary advisor not to follow in the footsteps of many a bookkeeper or accountant who has dishonestly altered facts or figures in order to illegally enrich themselves. Their nefarious activities often end up in newspaper reports, leaving me gasping at how they must have explained their legally unexplainable wealth to family and friends.
It is not only individuals who do this, but some companies may employ such accounting sleight-of-hand tricks to make their financial results look better than they really are and so fraudulently encourage more investors. In December 2017, for example, a local headline read Cooked Books Leave A Bad Smell At Steinhoff, referring to allegations that Steinhoff had made false statements about its earnings and invented bogus sales in order to hide major losses inside the company.
Interestingly enough, you can bring someone to book by calling them to account for their misdemeanours or punishing them appropriately for the offence they have committed. In this country millions of Rand and years have been spent getting various people in high places to explain their corrupt dealings … so far to little avail.
Ah, but we can also throw a book at someone. This isn’t recommended literally if you care about your books and prefer to keep them and their covers intact. Restrain yourself should you feel a desire rising to toss the book you are reading at someone who has annoyed you.
On a different level, many South Africans are waiting for the day when a judge finally throws a book at some of the people mentioned earlier. Leniency has not helped the country, any more than turning a blind eye to certain goings-on has. Instead, we would love to see public miscreants being punished as severely as possible. In this case the book would contain the required laws or rules.
On a much brighter side, you can always take a leaf out of someone’s book. Careful here: if it is flat and dry it may be in the book for sentimental purposes and you may find yourself in trouble. If it is juicy and green … well, you may be thanked. No, we’re talking about books here and because we are readers we know that the pages of books are also called leaves. To be precise, a single page is a page but the sheet of paper that makes up two pages is called a leaf [all to do with printing and binding and none of it convenient for our purposes]. Warning: never literally tear a leaf (page) from anyone’s printed book! Our brighter purpose would be that if we wish to try out a new idea or improve on what we are already doing we can emulate someone else who seems to have been successful at it – thereby taking a leaf out of their book [copying their experience].
We are probably all too familiar with that truly comfortable semi-conscious state experienced before waking fully. It is that time of the morning when your bed feels the most comfortable and during which you might either want to prolong your dream or indulge in being oneirocritical by trying to interpret or make sense of your dream. This is when you might listen to the dawn chorus with your eyes closed and your body still in the relaxed mode of sleep. Such a condition is known as hypnopompic and is experienced before we have to ‘snap out’ of it to attend to the demands of the day.
In his delightful book, The Horologican, Mark Forsyth brings to light this and other long disused words in the English language. Another pertinent one here is uhtceare, meaning ‘lying awake before dawn and worrying’. Far too many of us allow the potential concerns of the day to disturb our hypnopompic state or what is also known as the antelucan hush of pre-dawn.
Speaking of which, Forsyth draws our attention to another delightful word, day-raw, which describes the first streaks of colour in the dawn sky. According to him, eighteenth century farmers would have called this the day-peep time of the day – what we now moan about whenever we have to rise ‘at the crack of dawn’ for some compelling reason!
I first came across the game of backgammon mentioned in various novels – with no clue of what the board even looked like or how to play it. Once I had actually seen a board for the first time I was none the wiser: there was nothing intuitive about it.
The game of Backgammon is said to be one of the oldest board games still in existence, having originated – according to various sites consulted – about 5 000 years ago in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). The word backgammon first appeared in print in 1645 and its etymology is thought to have roots in Middle English baec (back) and gamen (game). The Dutch painter, Jan Steen, depicted the game of backgammon in his painting titled Backgammon Fight.
Compare this backgammon board from the 13th century:
With the board my eight-year-old grandson introduced me to:
I had to admit defeat before I had even begun, assuring him that I had never played the game before and didn’t even know how to begin. “I’m a good teacher, Granny” he told me confidently. During the first round he gently corrected my errors and even helped me to biff some of his pieces off the board. I found it difficult to get my head around the fact that his pieces were travelling around the board in one direction and mine in the other.
He is a good teacher: after a few rounds lasting only minutes (during which I was thoroughly walloped) I began to get a glimmer of technique – thanks to his patient explanations. Our final game together lasted over twenty minutes: we laughed so much and did our best to outdo each other. This was no pushover on either side: we concentrated hard, shouted with excitement … and I am hooked!