Wednesday 26 January 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday 26/1/11

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a wonderful weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. It's hosted by Kathy at bermudaonion.

It's Australia Day. I should be celebrating some Australian words I suppose, but instead have some classically British words for the day instead. I recently read Matilda for the first time, one of Roald Dahl's classic books for children.

Matilda is the story of a brilliant, young girl who teaches herself to read age 3. She has then read an extraordinary range of classics including Dickens, Hemingway, Austen and The Brontes by the time she starts school at 5. There are many wonderful words in Matilda that I was already familiar with- piffle (although I use this much too rarely, and am planning to take it up with vigour, you have been warned), twerp (also underutilised) and brigand.

The words that I want to highlight though are words that I sort of knew, but didn't really know the meaning of them when I thought about it. I knew vague meanings, and the sentence made sense, but knew they could benefit from further consideration.

1. Wormwood. Matilda's surname is Wormwood, and wormwood came up in the very last book that I read (Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth). Few things grew, and those that did were bent and twisted and their fruit was as bitter as wormwood.

I love synchronicity, so it was inevitable that it had to come up here. Wormwood sounded familiar, but I wasn't sure. Then the absinthe meaning came flooding back.

worm·wood  (wûrmwd)
1. Any of several aromatic plants of the genus Artemisia, especially A. absinthium, native to Europe, yielding a bitter extract used in making absinthe and in flavoring certain wines.
2. Something harsh or embittering.

[Middle English wormwode, alteration (influenced by wormworm, and wodewood, perhaps from the use of its leaves as a vermifuge) of wermod, from Old English wermd, from Germanic *wermdaz.]

2. Borstal. 'Welcome to borstal' she added, spraying bits if crisp out of her mouth like snowflakes.

I had vague notions of Borstal Boy as the title of a book and a term. But not what borstal really meant.

borstal [ˈbɔːstəl]
1. (Sociology) (formerly in Britain) an informal name for an establishment in which offenders aged 15 to 21 could be detained for corrective training. Since the Criminal Justice Act 1982, they have been replaced by youth custody centres (now known as young offender institutions)
2. (Sociology) (formerly) a similar establishment in Australia and New Zealand
[named after Borstal, village in Kent where the first institution was founded]

Not a great way for your village to be immortalised.

3. Seraphic. And then suddenly, click went her face into a look of almost seraphic calm.

I knew it had something to do with angels.

ser·aph  (srf)
n. pl. ser·a·phim (--fm) or ser·aphs
1. A celestial being having three pairs of wings.
2. seraphim Christianity The first of the nine orders of angels in medieval angelology.

[Back-formation from pl. seraphim, from Middle English seraphin, from Old English, from Late Latin seraphn, seraphm, from Greekserapheim, from Hebrew rpîm, pl. of rpfiery serpent, seraph, from rapto burn; see rp1 in Semitic roots.]


bermudaonion said...

I knew seraphic had something to do with angels too. I just thought wormwood was a type of wood. Thanks for enlightening me!

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, we just love Matilda in our house. I swear I read it so many times when my daughter was growing up I could do it without the book.

I actually do use the word piffle more often than I should.

Great words.

Southern Fiber said...

Wormwood is also used in the Bible (the book of Revelation), and given how cryptic the book is, people can only guess what it means. Many believe it to be a large asteroid that will play a part in the tribulation in some way. Nice round-up of words this week! Here's mine:

Margot said...

Three excellent words. Nothing like those solid English words. I also love Matilda tool

Louise said...

It was fun for me, glad it was enlightening for you Kathy.

Thanks for visiting Tribute Books Mama

Marthalama- great to hear about your piffle usage- I haven't had an excuse to use it this week- but am waiting.

Southern Fiber- I didn't know about the biblical use- interesting.

Thanks Margot- seems there's lots of Matilda lovers out there