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Origins of the word ‘taxi’.


Taxi is a word in regular use that is understood across the globe. When abroad, we may have trouble ordering a pint, finding out where the nearest public convenience is, or when the next bus will arrive; but we can usually recognise a taxi when we see one. A good thing too, with Christmas on the way and the party season in full flow.The word, taxi, is commonly regarded as an abbreviation of taxicab. Various dictionaries will explain that the word derives from the Latin word, taxa, meaning charge, assessment or tax; and taxare, meaning to assess or to tax.  Fast forward to the nineteenth century, when a German entrepreneur named Friedrich Bruhn and associates invented a device, originally ref...
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Mr Apostrophe hangs up his marker pen.


John Richards has been campaigning for the correct use of the apostrophe since 2001. But, at 96, he has decided to bring his Apostrophe Protection Society to an end. A society he created not because there is now a shortage of apostrophes, rather that they keep springing up in all the wrong places.Mr Richards, a former newspaper sub-editor, started his society when he kept seeing the same mistakes cropping up over and over again. He thought it would be of interest to half a dozen or so like-minded people, but he immediately attracted over 500 letters of support. Clearly he wasn’t the only one who thought that ‘cyclist’s dismount,’ ‘potato’s,’ Ladie’s,’ ‘the 1980’s,’ and the like, were crimes ...
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What’s in a name?


Most writers don’t make a lot of money, especially when they start out. So they need another job to pay the bills. Needless to say, even with another job, they probably don’t have servants, and more time gets taken up with shopping, chauffeuring kids, cooking, cleaning, and general household maintenance. Precious writing time gets nibbled away at by the day to day needs of keeping food on the table, clothes on our backs, and homes relatively free from grime and germs.Consequently, when they do finally sit down to write, writers will find their own ways to make the best use of their time. One of my time savers is to give main characters short names, or abbreviations of long names. It is a lot...
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Poetry in Prose


We all think we know what poetry is – or what it isn’t.On the IS side, according to Alexander Pope, poetry is ‘What oft was thought, but ne’er so wellexpressed.”On the ISN’T side, several people still feel that it’s not poetry if it doesn’t rhyme; without rhyme, it’s just prose with pretentious line spacing.What fiction writers and poets have in common is that their basic material is words. Poets sometimes argue that what is distinctive in their work is that every single word has to count, and carry meaning beyond the simple letters on the page. However a fiction writer thinks about words too, and not just which ones best carry the narrative forward. They also want to create an atmosphere, g...
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Things we think we know.


There are some words or phrases in English that everybody both knows the meaning of and how they came about. Well, we know the meaning, but being correct about the true origin is quite a different matter.Here are a few words we all know:Posh – rich,well-off, upper class, exclusive, smart.The story is that in the nineteenth century the moreaffluent travellers on the P&O ships sailed out to India from the UK on theport side and home on the starboard. Their tickets were therefore stampedP.O.S.H. However, etymologists think the more likely origin of the word is fromthe Romany for ‘half’ which became a slang term for ‘money.’This didn’t stop P&O liking the story so much that itstarted to use the ...
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On Drinking


Ever thought about the number of phrases there are todescribe someone who is drunk?Some are obvious, if euphemistic. They describe the physicalstate of the person – tired and emotional,legless; or the location as a result of their intoxication – under the table*.Several are more specific, often begin with a ‘p,’ and arenot suitable for a family blog.Some words and phrases are clearly associated with imbibingmore than is entirely good for us, but we don’t necessarily know why. We know,for example, that to be plastered isto have drunk more than we can properly handle, but not necessarily that theterm came from plasterers using alcohol to stiffen their mix for plasteringceilings. After several ...
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The Coventry Accent


The Coventry skylineI went to an interesting talk yesterday about my adoptedhome town’s accent and where it came from. Apparently there are four lines ofargument about the Coventry accent which, when put together, don’t make a lotof sense.The local accent is rare and rather special. It’sdefinitely not a Birmingham (Brummie), or Black Country – Dudley, Wolverhampton– accent.Coventrians don’t really speak with an accent(unlike those unfortunate people who live in Birmingham or the Black Country)The accent is terrible (but it’s better thanhaving a Brummie accent)The accent is getting worse, because youngpeople are lazy (even in Coventry).The speaker then went on the unpick each of theseassertio...
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Fact and Fiction


Novels do not have to be factually accurate, we can add characters to real events, additional streets to real towns and, of course, events that never actually happened. Or we can make everything up by creating a complete fictional world completely free from time and place constraints. The actual truth doesn’t matter – just so long as the characters, geography and events ring true for the reader – although historical novelists probably have less freedom – the wrong type of gun, or dress style can ruin a story for some readers.On the other hand, non-fiction, as it seeks to educate thereader, must be as accurate. Fiction writers rely on their non-fictioncolleagues to do the research so that the...
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When Writing, is Less More?


This is going to be a short piece. And quite right too as I write today in praise of short books. There seem to be more and more lengthy books being published these days, despite the increasing competition for a reader’s time from TV streaming, boxed sets etc. Think about Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, in which the first chapter alone is over 360 pages. It’s not surprising therefore that in a recent survey inBritain over 50% of respondents admitted they hadn’t actually finished a bookthey had started. Why, you may ask, has the author written 800+ pages, whenthey could have said it all in 200? Is this poor editing?  A problem with self-publishing?  A refusal to kill any sentence after all t...
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Bringing Books to the Few – the story of the Pack Horse Library Project.


These days many local libraries across the UK are closing, or being run on reduced hours by volunteers. Little by little, access to free books by the masses is being eroded – a far cry from the pioneering days when libraries, often financed by rich benefactors, were opening up across the suburbs as well as in town centres. There was too, a growing commitment to get books to even the remotest communities via mobile libraries.I don’t think any mobile library in the UK was quite as adventurous as the Pack Horse Library Project in the US. This was set up by President Franklin D Roosevelt as part of the New Deal and operated between 1935 and 1943, delivering books on horseback to the poor, isolat...
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Live Literary Event in Warwick this Thursday.


Warwickshire writer Jenefer Heap, winner of the Good Housekeeping short story competition and author of The Woman Who Never Did and other short stories, regularly hosts a popular literary event in the centre of Warwick. The next one is on Thursday October 10th at the Warwick Arms Hotel, starting at 7.30  and a mere £3.00 a ticket. Local writers, some with established publishers, some self-published, some still scribbling on the backs of envelopes to amuse their family and friends only, will be reading from their work on a selected theme. I was invited to participate a few years ago and now try to attend each one.This time a nod has been given to the approach of Halloween and the theme for al...
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Is Our Fate in Our Clouds, Not in Our Stars?


  We all know how clouds can have an impact on our day to day lives – from the farmer, anxiously scanning the sky to see if he has time to get the harvest in before it rains, to the commuter pausing at the door to see if she will need her umbrella for the walk to the station, to the family debate about whether getting the BBQ out at the weekend would be tempting fate. We also often use the words cloud / cloudy etc. without any seeming reference to the actual clouds in the sky; His face clouded over with anger, the water was too cloudy to see to the bottom, his reasoning was clouded by his passion. But clouds themselves are fascinating and have inspired many artists, musicians and writers.Dav...
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Define me a Woman!


I have written before about language being a living, and constantly evolving, entity. New words come into common usage, old ones fall out of favour. If they didn’t we would still be talking like Shakespeare, or Chaucer, or the chap who wrote Beowulf, or simply sitting round the camp-fire going ‘ugg’ to each other and gesticulating.That said, however evolved the language we currently use is, it is still important to know what words meant in the past if we want to understand past writers, and the historical context of their work. Not all past use of words seems appropriate to the modern ear, and we may not choose to use them. But to deny they exist is to deny the simple truth of my opening sta...
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Writing Tips from Mark Twain.


 The advice that Mark Twain gave in a letter to D. W. Bowser in 1880 is famous and often quoted even these days. Here it is in full:Writer Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) circa 1907“I notice that you useplain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way towrite English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t letfluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it.No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will bevaluable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength whenthey are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit,once fastened upon a person, is as hard to g...
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Bellwether – A Sign 0f Things to come?


There has been a dispute in my daily paper about the use of the word bellwether. A reader complained that the word was regularly being used as a synonym for barometer, an indicator of change so to speak. For example, the way a particular town votes in a bye-election is seen as an indication – a bellwether – of how the whole country would vote in a general election. But this was not what he understood the word to mean.The original meaning of bellwether was a lead sheep, usually a castrated ram with a bell round its neck, that other sheep would follow, making the shepherd’s life a bit easier. The word comes from middle English belle (bell) and wether (castrated ram). Even by the thirteenth cen...
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Reading Yourself to Good Health


It is now generally agreed that doctors prescribe too many drugs. They genuinely want to help their patients, but don’t have much time to listen. So a quickly written prescription, and another, and another … leaves both patient and doctor feeling ‘job done’ – if only briefly. But other interventions are felt to be as good as, or better than, pills: cognitive behaviour, trips to the gym, walking (or just stroking) a dog, deep breathing, massages, and many others. The only problem is they take more time to sort, and require more motivation from the patient.There are also people who advocate reading as a cure for many ills, including depression. Take Laura Freeman, for example, the author of Th...
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No Such Thing as an Irish Leprechaun?!


Leprechauns are quintessentially Irish. Those impish little fellows, clad in green, creating mischief and hiding pots of gold at the end of rainbows pop up throughout Irish folklore. There is even a derivation of the word in the dictionary of medieval Irish that was first compiled in 1913. The word was originally spelt lupracan, which itself was derived from the old Irish for small – lu, and body – corp. This all seemed to make perfect sense.Unfortunately for Irish sensitivities, recent research by linguists from Cambridge and Queens (Belfast) universities, have found a different derivation. Worse, the leprechaun isn’t even Irish in origin! Luprecan, they have discovered, comes from the Lati...
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Not a Political Comment


This blog is not the place for political comment. However extraordinary the events unfolding, I have been determined to resist the temptation to make any comment. To do so, it is said, risks losing friends Left, Right and Centre. However, as one of Oscar Wilde’s characters said ‘I can resist anything but temptation,’ So, just this once, here goes.Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gamble in the wabe. All mimsy were the borogoves and the mome raths outgrabe. Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch. He took his vorpal sword in hand. Longtime the manxome foe he sought. So rested he by the Tum...
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Ending Book Poverty


Many people reading this blog are writers. All who read it are (obviously) readers. Books are an integral part of our lives, and a house without them is unthinkable. But this is not the case universally, even in Britain.Every week, The Big Issue magazine in the UK has a feature with the generic heading changemakers. This week the article was about Dee-Dee Crosher, under the title Unpacking the Answer to Book Poverty. Dee-Dee was a child actor, then talent agent, who decided a couple to years ago to take a break from agency work whilst she thought about a change in direction. Still under thirty, she had always loved reading and whilst thinking about what to do next she set about finding and b...
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A YA book for the end of the holidays?


And Alex Still Has Acne is my novel for Young Adults that has been an Amazon best-seller, and was re-published by Solstice Publishing in 2018. It’s a short, chirpy, read with a feel good ending, but a few dark episodes along the way: acne, adoption, alcohol, and anorexia, to mention just the things beginning with ‘a’. Plenty going on as well as the usual problems of growing up, and dealing with with schools and parents who just don’t understand. Ideal, you may think, as a quick read before going back to school!What is the novel about? Here’s what it says on the back cover. Life for fourteen year old Alex is OK most of the time. He enjoys school, has a best friend Sam, and a pretty and only m...
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