Friday, 31 July 2009


I misspelt ‘aggrandizement’ the other day. I realised when I read it in a book this morning. Words are like buses. Or busses.

It got me thinking, by association, about pronunciation. Growing up as an avid reader I had trouble with words that I’d read rather than heard. ‘Awry’ was one. I said it to rhyme with ‘story’. Another was ‘cotoneaster’, which I thought was ‘cotton easter’, not ‘c’tony-aster’.

The family often challenges my pronunciations, although I’m lucky that my inherited ones, albeit dated, are usually correct.

My mother talked about ‘gazey-boes’, where the rest of us say ‘gaz-ee-boes’. I always imagined that she must have read that before hearing it, but I’ve just looked it up in my 1932 Webster’s, and it’s an alternative pronunciation, so she was right all along - as she usually was, having never been to school. (It doesn’t appear at all in my older Webster’s, which is undated but in which the most modern thing illustrated under ‘aeronautics’ is Lana’s aeronautical machine - a sort of boat-shaped picnic basket with a mast and sail, suspended by four or five large copper party balloons.)

No one is sure of the etymology of ‘gazebo’. Wikipedia says “the origin of the word is unknown, and it has no cognates in other European languages”. Suggestions include the French ‘que c'est beau’, the Latin ‘gazebo’ (‘I shall gaze’ - although there was no such verb when I did Latin), and the Hispano-Arabic ‘qushaybah’ (allegedly a viewing platform, but the source seems to be a single poem and scholars of Arabic say it’s pronounced differently).

I’d like to put forward my own suggestion, which doesn’t appear in any source I have come across; ‘case beau’, from the French for ‘beautiful hut’. In which event my mother’s pronunciation would have been closer to the root.

In contrast, my mother-in-law occupies the linguistic no man’s land of Mrs Malaprop. Last week she remarked that her friend’s son was so clever that he’d been hedge-hunted.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009


I sense my long leave of absence is sparking concerns about my health. No need chaps. Here's a quick clip of BT on one of the 'Go Ape' zipwires, to show that he is still hanging loose. And, in simultaneously closing his eyes and clenching his buttocks, proving that men can multi-task.

One reason for my neglect is the project Bob and I have been tackling for a friend.

This walled garden had been neglected for nearly 20 years, and the pool had been filled with rubbish, rubble and soil. Between us we have shifted and sorted tons of the stuff, and then put much of it back, stashing hardcore behind a wall built from some of the blocks we dug out. Not to mention machete-ing our way through briar and thorn, discovering terraces and even a forgotten hut. There is more to do before this becomes the elegant walled garden we envisage, but it's been a good father and son bonding exercise, and I've lost half a stone or so.

Add a little bit of Scottish walking here, a little kayaking there, and plenty of badminton between the Pimm's, and you'll appreciate that all is well. But I am missing you guys and expect to return soon, bronzed, muscled-up, and down to an A cup.