Wednesday, 31 December 2014


Subliminal actually means something usually below the level of known sensation or consciousness. It can be useful when advertising.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014


A tiro (which can also be written as tyro) is a beginner or novice. Two or more are known as tiros.

I'm a tiro when it comes to wildlife photography, but fortunately this little bird hopped off instead of flying away, so I got some of it in focus. Anyone know what it is?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Libration is the apparent oscillation of a heavenly body (usually the moon) because the edges are coming in and out of view. I imagine it occurs more frequently after the viewer has taken a libation.

Hands up those who thought it involved drinking at the library. Oddly I didn't have a picture of me doing that, so here's one of me with The Sphere. Apparently he oscillates on windy days.

updated 18/12 - we're just back from a cruise. The ship very conveniently had a cocktail bar close to the library. I *may* have indulged ... It was for research though, obviously. Any minute I might need to describe the exacy taste of a White Lady, a Singapore Sling or a Brandy Alexander.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


Nyctitropic is the movement, of plants, at night. Yep, daisies and cabbages are going to crawl out their beds and murder you in yours!

Nah, not really. This phenomenon is caused by changes in light or temperature. Usually it's no more alarming than leaves drooping or flowers opening at different times. For example mirabilis jalapa and nicotiana sylvestris flowers tend to be droopy in the daytime, but perk up in the evening and overnight. That's handy if you're pollinated by moths.

I admit it's not an easy word to drop into a story or casual conversation, but I'm sure you'll find a way.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


This post was inspired by my friend Richard Peej's Facebook post. He put up a picture of a carpentry joint (I don't know why, but who am I to judge people's odd hobbies?) Soon others added images of a marijuana joint, Sunday joint and an elbow joint being put to good use (er, yes that last one was me)

Other uses for the word include a place to meet someone for a drink, something done in partnership (eg jointly writing a book) part of a book cover, cutting up a carcass for food, held or belonging to more than one person (joint account) the contrivance by which two artificial things are joined together (that's something to do with plumbing, I think) the part of a stem from which a leaf grows, the cement bit between bricks and to prepare something ready to be joined to something else.

If I've missed any, please let me know - that way this post will be a joint effort.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


A mull is a promontory. Mull can also mean to ponder or consider. Mulling wine, beer or cider is heating it with sugar and spices. Eg I went to the Mull of Kintyre and mulled over whether or not to have a glass of mulled wine.

Mull apparently can also be a form of non acidic compost or a particular type of muslim, so I suppose I could have sat on a pile of mull at a mull* in the company of a mull. We may have mulled things over together, but we'd not have drunk any mulled wine.

*Not Kintyre though as the soils is acidic there.

Now I could have mulled some wine and photographed that as I do like the stuff, but then I remembered how much you like my pictures of Scotland (or at least are too polite to beg me to stop, which is just as good) so here's one of the foghorn at the Mull of Galloway. (I don't actually know the  man in the picture, but he stayed there so long I took the shot anyway, then walked down to see what he was looking at. It was a HUGE seal. He (the man, not the seal) then pointed out various different birds and explained about the tides and other interesting stuff.)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


A crag is a steep or rugged rock. Craggy can refer to a human face or the landscape and means rugged or rough textured. There are other versions of the word, for example in Scotland* the scenery got craggier as we approched the highlands, it was craggiest on Skye where the landscape is craggily magnificent.

Btw the pictures are all to illustrate craggy landscapes. It's purely coincidental that the same photographer just happens to be in all of them not long after remarking on the size of my bum.

*yes I have been to Scotland. I have some pictures if you'd like to see them ...

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Crenellations of Tantallon

You might have known that crenellation is the uppy downy bits on battlements. You can have a point if you did. To crenallate is to provide a castle or tower with crenellation.

Did you know the uppy downy parts also have proper names? The gaps are crenels or crenelles. The bits between are merlons. Here's a sign to prove I don't just make all this stuff up.

And here's a picture of a castle, showing crenallation, which was taken on our recent trip and is obviously the entire reason for choosing today's word of a week. It's called Tantallon - isn't that a fantastic name for a castle?

We got there early and had the place to ourselves for the first half hour. I really must work it into a story.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


My friends Geoff and Edna suggested rummage as a word of the week*.  Like us, they're campervanners** (the picture is of the four of us celebrating finding a good pitch)

Campervanners often have to rummage. It can mean to search untidily and unsystematically. It doesn't matter how tidily and systematically you pack your van, that kind of approach never works when it comes to finding the corkscrew and chocolate.

A rummage can be a confused miscellanuous collection (of craft supplies perhaps, Edna?) A rummager is someone who rummages. Once you've finished rummaging you will have rummaged for long enough.

To rummage out is to find amongst other things. To rummage about is to disarrange. (That's another good word)

Rummage also refers to the arrangement of casks in the hold of a ship. That definitely needs to be done tidily and systematically or the ship will become unstable. Also it'll mean the sailors have to rummage about to find their rum.

*Pity it wasn't rustle, or I could have told you about Edna rustling up thai green kippers, or the time Geoff got us lost in the fog and we heard weird rustling sounds in the night (which turned out to be hundreds of sheep we'd not seen through the mist on our arrival)

**They're the friends mentioned in my recent radio interview. My bit starts ten minutes in and lasts for five minutes.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


Quadrennial can either mean lasting for four years, or recurring every four years. That's rather confusing, isn't it? Suppose I told you I had a cake eating binge on a quadrennial basis - would that mean I stuffed myself silly for forty-eight consecutive months, or that I lasted almost four years between blow-outs?

Now you're confused over the meaning of a word which you hadn't previously even knew existed. There's no need to thank me. I do this kind of thing out the goodness of my heart.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Athirst can mean thirsty (from the Old English ofthyrst apparently). It also means eager or strongly desirous as in athirst for knowledge. I think I'll combine them into athirst for a nice cold glass of wine.

The second definition surprised me. I'd heard the phrase and understood the meaning, but had thought it was written as 'a thirst for knowledge'.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


A paraselene is a bright spot, especially on a lunar halo. It's sometimes known as a mock or false moon. I'm not sure I entirely follow, but it's a nice word and maybe my friend Sheila will come along and explain it properly.

The picture is of the actual moon, taken by Gary. He's one of the bright spots in my life.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Looking at the view

Here's Gary photographing the view on the second day of our trip (er yes, he is stood just behind the sign warning of dangerous cliffs. He's like that) View used in this context means what is seen from a particular point. Of course what we can see might be a row of overflowing bins, but usually it's taken to refer to a picturesque, natural scene.

It can also mean the extent of visibility (his mistake was made in full view of his mother-in-law) a visual or mental survey (she viewed the results), an opinion or mental attitude (his mother-in-law held strong views about his intelligence) or with the aim of attaining something (she had a view to a divorce) or to bear something in mind (in view of what she'd seen him do).

A viewing is an opportunity for a visual inspection, such as when house hunting. Once you've viewed it you might want to take a long term view of it's suitability.

In view of the length of this post, I'll stop now and fill the kettle with a view to making a nice pot of tea.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry which traditionally have seventeen sylables and a seasonal reference. (The picture is of a Japanese anemone which flowers in my garden every autumn)

Don't know about you
but I simply cannot do
a decent haiku

Can do better? (or worse - I'd like to see that!) 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


Hands up who thought I'd put an extra f in the title? Anyone? No? Oh, I was sure I'd catch someone out. Riffling, as you know, means to turn pages in quick succession (my book Paint Me a Picture is such a page turner you're sure to riffle through it) to shuffle cards or something to do with gold washing. A riffle can also be a patch of waves or ripples (I particularly like that one)

Rifling on the other hand is putting spiral grooves in a gun barrel to make it more accurate (the gun in question could be a rifle, but they do it with other kinds too). Rifle can also mean to search and rob or carry off as booty. So someone might riffle through a gun inventory deciding which rifled rifle to rifle.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Keep your standards up

When I checked my dictionary to see if standardise should be spelled standardise or standardize I found that both versions are acceptable. Either way it means to make something fit in with a standard.  Have you noticed that standardisation often seems to involve bringing everything or everyone down to the lowest common denominator rather than trying to raise them up to the highest possible level?

Standardizes, standerdizing and standardized should all have a z according to my dictionary, although not to the spellchecker on my computer. That's helpful.

A standard is a level of quality, principles of good behaviour or a type of flag or lamp and the way some plants are trained. It can also mean the accepted norm or average.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


An aphorism is a short statement of fact or opinion. They're often catchy and quotable. If you snooze you lose, All for one and one for all, Forgive your enemies but remember their names, Little strokes fell great oaks. Actually oaks feature quite a lot, From little acorns grow mighty oaks, Storms make oaks grow stronger roots, Today's oak is yesterday's nut which held its ground, The only cure for sea sickness is to sit with your back against an oak tree.

Even when aphorisms are opinion and/or wrong they're stated as facts eg Lightning never strikes the same place twice, Posession is nine tenths of the law, All things come to he who waits.

Sometimes they're designed to encourage better behaviour or spur us to action, If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem, Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, Nothing ventured nothing gained. They can also suggest a deeper meaning, All that glitters is not gold, You can lead a horse to water but can't make it drink.

Aphorisms often contradict each other, Oil and water don't mix, Opposites attract, You're never to old to learn, You can't teach an old dog new tricks.

One of my favourites is, Keep your powder dry. It's good advice.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Making a plash

Plash can mean a pool or puddle, or a splashing sound. It's usually used in reference to water and I feel it suggests something gentle and refreshing. A fountain plashing water into a large basin where wearry tourists stop to rest. A beach being plashed by the tide. The sound of oars plashing into a sunlit river overhung with willows.

It's the kind of sound we'd enjoy hearing on a hot midsummer's day.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Look at me!

Gosh I'm a super writer. You can read my stories in a multitude of magazines or download them from Alfie Dog or buy one of my books and what's more you jolly well should!

Er, sorry about that. I was just demonstrating what it's like to be bumptious. It means to be annoyingly confident and self-important. I'm not really like that am I, at least not all the time?

I know, we'll put it to a vote (that couldn't possibly go wrong, could it?) Is the picture appropriate because -

A) I'm looking jolly smug as I'd just won a poetry competition (which was ages ago and yes I'm still going on about it) or

B) Because of the location?

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


To go lickety-split means to rush headlong towards something, or travel at full speed. To me, it rather suggests one should be heading in the direction of a couple of frightfully nice chaps, serving lashings of ginger beer.

We don't generally go lickety-split in our van (it doesn't half rattle if we do) but we expect it to go where we want when we want. The other day it wouldn't go anywhere. Fortunately the RAC where able to coax it back into action.

We visited this castle with our van. I climbed the first turn of steps lickety-split, but by the time I reached the top it was more ... well what word or phrase do you think sums up the red-faced, gasping mess I was when I got up there?

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

I shall not abnegate

To abnegate is to give up or deny oneself something, particularly a pleasure. It can also mean to renounce or reject something, such as a right or belief. I'm no abnegator; I believe I shall enjoy eating the rest of this cake as much as I enjoyed the first slice. (I grated the zest of the lemon into the icing and the whole thing smells of citrus freshness.)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Let's fry

To fry is to cook in hot fat or oil. Americans refer to chips as a fries (and crisps as chips). Gettting fried can be a slang term for being cheated or sunburned.

Fry are also baby fish. I'm sure there are some in this resovoir. Anyone like to guess where it is?

Wednesday, 30 April 2014


I took a break, from the story about a fireman I was writing, to look up a word for this post. Appropriately enough, strapping caught my attention. When referring to a person it means big and strong. Now I know firefighters come in various shapes and sizes as well as both sexes and are no less effective for that, but somehow when I see the trucks go by I imagine all the crew to be big strapping lads.

Strapping is also the action of using straps to fasten or secure something so it can't get away. If I imagined that sort of strapping in connection with firemen, I'd keep it to myself.

You'll note my plan to photograph actual firemen didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped ...

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

You can bank on it

A bank is the sloping edge to a river or lake, a raised area of ground, or an elevation in the sea bed (eg a sand bank.) A bank can also be a garden feature, allowing trailing plants to be shown to advantage.

It can mean a financial establishment or the act of investing in one (all the money I earn from writing has been safely banked*) The bank is the person who holds the money in gambling games and premises (a bit like the previous definition then.) A banker is a person whose work involves money, and also an insult in rhyming slang.
*not really - I've spent it on books, cake ingredients and plants.

It's the way a race track slopes to help cornering at speed or a row of similar items such a bank of light switches. In the UK a bank holiday is a public holiday. A pilot may find himself banking (travelling with one side higher than the other) to help avoid flying through a fog bank.

Bank is used in several common expressions, usually to suggest reliability or good fortune. Getting a story acceptance will leave you laughing all the way to the bank. Getting rejections is something we can all bank on.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Aaargh me hearties!

To many people a pirate is an attractive scoundrel such as the one played by Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, or they're one legged old codgers with an eye patch and parrot who always stuck to 'the code'. I'm not sure why they've become such considered such fun, romantic and honourable characters when piracy was, and still is, the action of very dangerous criminals. I doubt many of us would like to parlez with a Somalian pirate.

Pirating work is the act of infringing a person's copyright. This can be plagiarism, illegal downloads or reproduction of the work or using a picture you've found on the internet without permission of the person who took it.

Broadcasting without official permission is also known as piracy. I believe pirate radio stations were so named because the early ones broadcast from ships to avoid detection.

Gosh that wasn't very cheerful was it? I can't cheer you up with a picture of Captain Jack Sparrow as I've not taken one, so you'll have to make do with a link and these terrible jokes ...

What are a pirate's favourite pattern for jumpers?



Because they aaaargh!

Where does he buy them?

He doesn't he steals them from Asdaaaaargh! (Or Walmaaaarght! in the U.S.)

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


Oddly my dictionary doesn't give either of the definitions I associate with these three letters. To me they stand for Take a Break. I'm not terribly keen on the weekly mag, but TAB's Fiction Feast is great. When writing stories I indent paragraphs using the tab key (then take the indents out again for TAB!)

See where it says 'Top Twist' on the cover of the current issue? That's my story they're talking about!

Non writers probably think of a tab as a drinks bill (oh, OK writers might be familiar with that one too) A a small strip of material used for hanging up clothes is a tab and tabbing is the action of attaching these. A stage curtain can be known as a tab and it might need to be tabbed in order to hang it.

To keep tabs on someone is to keep them under surveillance.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Blogging with a flourish

To flourish is to grow vigourously, thrive, prosper or be successful. These grape hyacinths have really flourished since I first planted them.

Flourishing something is to brandish it or wave it vigourously, or to show it ostentaisiously. An elaborate expression, rhetorical embelishement or ornamentally curved handwriting could all be considered to add a flourish to your writing. (But not necessarily, especially those first two)

A fanfare played on brass is sometimes known as a flourish, as is an improvised addition at the end of a musical composition.

I hope you're well, in top form and a real flourisher!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Up with the larks

A lark is a small brown bird which sings as it flies. You have to look up to see them, but not neccesarily early in the morning.

Larking around is behaving in a playful or mischevious way. A lark can be something done for fun, but is often considered silly or a waste of time. As a lark, a former colleague made me this map.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Scarred for life

A scar is the mark left on our skin after a wound has healed, or on our mind after an unpleasant event. If I were to show you a photo of my operation scars* while the staples were still in, I reckon you'd be scarred (and maybe scared too)

A scar also the mark left on a plant stem after a leaf is removed. Plants can be scarred deliberately, by scratching them. When I was a kid, my dad scratched my and my brother's names on tiny marrows in letters so small we couldn't see them until the fruit swelled and the scars were clearly visible.

A scar is also a steep cliff or outcrop of rock. I think the word escarpment may be connected, but I'm not sure. I'm also not sure if this bit of rock is actually a scar**, but it's a nice picture isn't it?

*It was a long time ago, there's not much to see now.

** Geography was never my strong point.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

I'm flagging

A flag, as I'm sure you know, is a piece of cloth used as a symbol of a country or organisation. Such flags can also be used to send messages or signals. You can flag up something for attention, or flag down a taxi.

Flat stones used for paving are sometimes known as flags. To flag is to become tired or less enthusiastic. Flag is also a type of iris.

Is there anything you can think of that I should have flagged, but didn't? Ah yes, another free to enter writing contest.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Going straight

Straight means going in one direction only without deviation. Alternatively it's used for something level or symmetrical. To straighten is to put into proper order or condition.

Straight up, implies honest and direct, unless it's a drink in which case it would be undiluted. A straight-laced person is conventional and respectable.

I had my hair straightened today. What do you think? Does it make me look straight-laced? Should I change it straight away?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014


I'd post the definition of apathy, but frankly I just can't be bothered.

Not interested in finding a suitable picture either, so here's something selected at random.

ps not really feeling apathetic, just busy writing!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014


Prompt means to act with speed, at once or in a timely fashion. Promptly is how I like editors to accept my submissions, or slowly really - just as long as they say yes.

Wine vanishes with remarkable promptness when it gets near me.

To prompt can also be to incite, inspire or urge into action. I'd like to prompt you to download my free ebook or even buy this one ...

A prompter assists a speaker by providing a missing word. A prompt can also be an aid to memory or encouragement to action. Maybe my blog posts prompt you to enter writing competitions?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014


Porosity is my current favourite word. I'm using it here because, unless you're a geologist or garden writer, it's not easy to work in anywhere.

It means the state or property of being porous, or refers to the ratio of pores or voids to the total volume of something. For example, clay pots are better than plastic for growing many plants because of their porosity.

Porous means letting through water, air etc. It can also refer to breaches of security or leaking of information.

Pour us a drink and poring over manuscripts are entirely different, even if the latter does reveal plot holes.