From albedo to zugunruhe

There was one of the most enjoyable articles I have read in a long time in yesterday’s Review section of the Guardian.

It was one man’s (James Meek) quest to look up and learn every obscure word that he encountered over the past few years.

Meek mentioned a few words that I have come across myself, such as ‘litotes’ and ‘arête’, which briefly made me feel good, but most of them were as much a mystery to me as they were Meek.

The title of the article includes two that surely show how diverse and bottomless the English language is.

One point that the writer made, and one I wholly concur with, is that these words should not be lost and need to be remembered and used elsewhere.

I’ve long been of the view that we should use ‘different’ words and not the same, short, boring words to describe things. ‘Hirsute’ has long been one of my favourite words and is much more evocative and enjoyable than hairy.

Equally, I think more people should talk about the ‘antebellum’ period of history, rather than pre-war.

It’s not being posh, arrogant or a snob, simply wanting to keep words alive and not let them die out. Long live the English language!

Just be (a) patient

Waiting roomI was reminded of the irony of the way words have double meanings the other day, when a work colleague regaled me with a typical hospital horror.

She went for a simple endoscopy, but having changed into one of those horrible polyester gowns, then had to wait for 3 hours before the procedure went ahead – with nothing to do, but stare at a wall and avoid slightly potty old men wandering around in similarly disgusting gowns.

Anyway, my point is that she ended up being a ‘patient’ in more ways than one. Sure, the word’s derivation means ‘to undergo’ or ‘endure’ something, but that’s meant to be actual complaint, not the waiting time on top.

OK, so the NHS is underfunded and understaffed, but almost everyone I know who has been for some hospital appointment, whether it’s a scan or something more serious such as chemotherapy, ends up having to endure a wait that would test the ‘patience’ of a saint.

A curtilage request

I’m a man of words – that’s my stock in trade and has been for many years. As an example, I prefer “hirsute” above “hairy”, and “belligerent” above “arsey”, although there’s a place for both.

So it’s always a nice surprise to come across a word I’ve never used before, let alone even seen. However, it’s a huge shock when this word was used on my local council’s website.

Yup, I was looking for info on recycling collection in the London Borough of Bromley, where I’m about to move to and came across this fantastic sentence:

“Your waste will not be collected if it is not placed at the edge of curtilage”

Eh? I had to stop and think for a second. “Edge of curtilage” – what the hell does that mean?

Fortunately, Bromley Council has anticipated my confusion and added this helpful explanation.

“Your curtilage is the area of land within your boundary surrounding your property. The edge of your curtilage is on your land at the front within arms’ reach of the pavement but not on it.”

So, basically, they mean the edge of your property, or boundary, or even garden or yard. So why not say that? I’m all for expanding the use of our rich language, but not on a council website. For goodness sake, talk in plain English and not some legal mumbo-jumbo.

I know we live in litigious times, but I’m sure no-one will sue their local council for lack of curtilage explanation, will they?