26 December

Boxing Day aka St Stephen’s Day or Wren’s Day; St Stephen being the first Christian martyr according to the Act of Apostles stoned to death after being accused of blasphemy. He is also the patron saint of bricklayers and stonemasons (and has stones among his attributes), which I wouldn’t have been too pleased about had I been St Stephen. Wren or Wren’s Day, according to Wiki, comes from an old custom, prevalent in Ireland (Lá an Dreollin) of “hunting” and putting a wren on top of a decorated pole. a custom, also celebrated on the  Isle of Man. According to www.sonomabirding.com, “the wren (is) ..considered a harbinger of spring and rebirth”, “a symbol of the arts, because of its association with songwriters, musicians and anyone who writes or crafts written works”. Until now, my associations with wrens have not developed since the demise of the farthing, the quarter penny, in 1956, which depicted the smallest British bird on the smallest denomination coin.

Otherwise I have learnt a number of words and expressions from Donald White’s vigorous translation of Albert Vigoleis Thelen’s The Island of Second Sight. A kitty corner is a mainly American expression for something that is diagonally opposite (for example) seen from a window, prestidigitation is a conjuring trick performed as entertainment. A pandect is the complete body of the laws of a country and parthenogenesis, reproduction from an ovum without fertilisation from the Greek (virgin) and genesis (creation).

I’ve tried to read Thelen’s novel in German and in English, skimming through the English before I tackled the German. It worked reasonably well as a crutch for my inadequate German but was frustratingly slow. So now I’ve let myself get drunk on the novel and am racing ahead with the English. But I will reuse this technique on a book less rich in association and lower on quirkiness.

I have encountered a slew of interesting new words in Per Vikstrand’s doctoral thesis on Gudarnas Platser, Förkristna sakrala namn i Mälarlandskapen (The place of the gods. Pre-Christian sacral place names in central Sweden), I was expecting to have to explore new ground at Carolina Rediviva to find this thesis but a couple of clicks brought me to Acta Academiae Regiae Gustavi Adolphi and a few days later I had this fascinating book in my mailbox. thanks to the more prosaically named distributor Eddys. It won’t answer all my questions about place names in Uppland but undoubtedly fulfils its aim of providing a platform for more systematic discussion (I will nibble at this and admire it from afar, hopefully acquiring a few crumbs of comprehension). From this thesis, I have learnt metathetic (metatetisk in Swedish), interchangeable, communicable, among other meanings, according to www.studysite.org),  chtonic,  relating to or inhabiting the underworld. And “noanamn” (noa name), a word that replaces a taboo word, an import from Polynesia. And the figure of speech metonymy, in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely connected with it, synecdoche (part of something to represent the whole), metalepsis (a word or phrase from figurative speech used in a new context), the currently fashionable prefix meta being beyond, more comprehensive, transcending.

All these figures of speech I’ve probably come across before looked up and then forgotten, my adolescent ease of acquisition of metaphor and simile a distant memory.

homonym, each of two or more words having the same pronunciation or spelling but different meanings was more familiar, hovering on the verge of acceptance into my vocabulary (egregious I’m pleased to say has now successfully completed its admission process after a long struggle). But new were hyponym and hypernym, a hyponym being a word or phrase that is more specific than its hypernym, thus “hobble”, “stride”, could be hyponyms and their hypernym walk.

And onomatiscon, a bit like lexicon (dictionary) but where the words are arranged by theme and not alphabetically.

And verroterie (glass jewellery) and cloisonné, ancient technique for decorating metalwork with coloured material,

And just this morning macaronic, a song sung in several languages, for example, Irish and English or Latin and a vernacular language.

All useful to know but I doubt it will make me better at Scrabble.

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