Monthly Archives: May 2017
Have you ever wanted to compare two people, places or things in a pithy way, but couldn’t remember a particular saying, or think of a way to put it? For starters, what you’re looking for is called a “simile”, and they abound in English! A simile is a figure of speech used to compare one thing to another, usually using “like” or “as”. Some are obvious, some are quirky, and some must have a fascinating history. Here is a small selection using “as…as”; if you know of any others, please add them in the comments below! Have a great weekend, and keep writing!
As likely as not
As long as your arm
As loud as thunder
As mad as a hatter / a March hare
As mad as a wet hen / a hornet
As mean as a snake
As meek as a lamb
As merry as a cricket
As mild as a dove / a lamb / milk / May
As much use as a handbrake on a canoe
As mute as a fish / an oyster / a statue / a stone
As naked as a jaybird / the day they were born
As nervous as a cat (in a room full of rocking chairs) / pig in a packing plant
As nutty as a fruitcake
As obstinate as a mule
As often as not
As old as the hills / Adam / Methuselah
As pale as a ghost / death / ashes
As patient as Job / an ox
As plain as a pikestaff / day / the sun / the nose on your face
As playful as a kitten
As pleased as punch / a dog with two tails
As plump as a partridge
As poor as a church mouse / a rat / Job / Lazarus / dirt
As pretty as a picture
As proud as Lucifer
As proud / pleased as punch
As proud / vain as a peacock
As pure as a lily / (the driven) snow
As quick as a dog can lick a dish / a wink / lightning / a flash
As quiet / still as a mouse / whisper
As red as a rose / a cherry / beetroot / a lobster / a turkey-cock / blood / fire
As regular as clockwork
As rich as Crassus / a Jew
As right as rain / nails / a trivet
As round as a barrel / a ball / an apple / a globe
As safe as houses / the Bank of England
As scarce as hen’s teeth / ice water in hell
As scared as a rabbit
As sharp as a tack / a needle / a razor
As sick as a dog / a parrot
As silent as the dead / the grave / the stars
As silly as a goose / a sheep
As slim as a willow
As slippery as an eel / ice
As slow as a snail / a wet week / molasses in winter / molasses in January
As sly as a fox
As smooth as butter / oil / silk / glass
As snug as a bug in a rug
As sober as a judge
As soft as butter / down / silk / velvet / clay / wax
As sound as a bell
As sour as vinegar
As straight as an arrow / a ramrod
As steady as a rock / the Rock of Gibraltar
As sticky as jam
As stiff as a poker / a ramrod / a board / pikestaff
As still as a mouse / death / the grave
As straight as a die / an arrow / a poker / a ramrod
As strong as an ox / a horse / a bull
As stubborn as a mule / a goat
As sure as death and taxes / death / taxes / a gun / eggs are eggs
As sweet as honey / sugar
As tall as a steeple / maypole / a skyscraper
As thick as thieves / blackberries / pea soup
As thick as two (short) planks
As thin as a rail / paper / thread / a stick
As timid as a deer / hare / rabbit / mouse
As tired as a dog
As tough as old boots / nails / leather
As tricky as a monkey
As true as steel / flint
As ugly as sin / a scarecrow / a toad
As useful as a chocolate teapot
As vain / proud as a peacock
As warm as toast
As watchful as a hawk
As weak as a kitten / a baby / water
As wet as a drowned rat
As white as a ghost / a sheet
As white as snow / chalk / milk
As wide as the poles are apart
As wise as Solomon / an owl
As yielding as wax
Just for fun, I thought I’d toss you a riddle; try to figure out the answer without using a search engine!
Take away my first letter, and I still sound the same. Take away my last letter, I still sound the same. Even take away my letter in the middle, I will still sound the same. I am a five-letter word. What am I?
Write your guesses in the comments below, and I’ll give the answer in the comments tomorrow! Have fun!
In researching for my novel, “The Cardinal“, I did a lot of research into the Viking Age of Scotland, Norway, and in modern-day Britain. The following is a snippet of the notes and thoughts I percolated over while studying into this amazing time in world history. Some of the speculations, such as the motivations behind the Lindisfarne attack, are my own, based on studies and extrapolation.
I think it’s impossible to do justice to any information about the Vikings; their existence, culture, language, mentality, and the effect of their actions have had repercussions that echo down through the ages. They gave names to countless cities throughout the world, and even entire regions: The Norse kingdom of Dublin (Old Norse for “Black Pool”) was a major centre of the Norse slave trade; Limerick, Wexford and Wicklow were other major ports of trade; Russia gets its name from them, and the list goes on and on. Had they not been so successful in the slave trade and conquest, entire regions of the earth would be populated differently, place names would be vastly different, and English would be a far poorer language than it is today.
“A.D. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter.” (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pg. 37)
This reference from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one of the most famous history books available in English, is a reference to what would become known as the beginning of the Viking Age, the attack on the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne. Firstly, I’d like to clarify a few points: “Viking” is a term that first came into being, in its present spelling, in 1840; it entered English through the Old Norse term “vikingr” in 1807. The Old Norse term meant “freebooter, pirate, sea-rover, or viking”, and the term “viking” meant “piracy, freebooting voyage.” The armies of what we would call Vikings were referred to by their contemporaries as Danes, and those who settled were known by the area they settled in, or visa-versa. Those who settled in the northeastern regions of Europe were called Rus by their Arabian and Constantinopolitan trading partners, perhaps related to the Indo-European root for “red”, referring to their hair colour, or – more likely – related to the Old Norse word of Roþrslandi, “the land of rowing,” in turn related to Old Norse roðr “steering oar,” from which we get such words as “rudder” and “row”.
Oh, and not a single Norse battle helmet with horns has ever been found.
I’d like to focus on a key point of the Lindisfarne episode, if one could refer so glibly to the slaughter of innocent monks and the beginning of the reign of terror that held the civilized world in constant fear for over two centuries: Yes, the Vikings were violent; their religion of violent gods and bloody sacrifices and rituals encouraged and cultivated it to a fine art. Yes, the Vikings were tradesmen, but they were also skilled pirates and raiders, that skill honed along their own home coasts for generations prior to their debut on the rest of the unsuspecting world. Yes, it was known that monasteries held items sacred to the Christian faith, that just happened to be exquisitely wrought works of art made of gold and jewels.
Gold was one enticement; but their primary trading good was human flesh; slaves. It was by far the most lucrative item, and readily had along any coast they chose; if too many died in the voyage they could always just get more before they docked at Constantinople, Dublin, or any other major trading port. So why did they slaughter the monks so mercilessly at Lindisfarne, when they would have gained more by taking them captive and either selling them as slaves or selling them for ransom? The answer might actually be found in Rome.
Charlemagne (ruled 768-814 AD) took up his father’s reigns and papal policies in 768 AD. From about 772 AD onwards, his primary occupation became the conversion to Christianity of the pagan Saxons along his northeastern frontier. It is very important to make a distinction between the modern expressions of the Christian faith and the institution of power mongers of past centuries; Christianity then had extremely little to do with the teachings of Christ and far more to do with political and military power, coercion, and acquisition of wealth through those powers; it was a political means to their own ends with the blessing of the most powerful politician in the history of the civilized world, the Pope. Without his blessing and benediction, a king had not only very little power, but was exposed to attack from anyone who had “holy permission” to exterminate heathens; joining the ranks of the Christian church took on the all-important definition of survival, and protection from the others in those ranks being free to attack you at their leisure.
In the year 772 AD, Charlemagne’s forces clashed with the Saxons and destroyed Irmensul, the Saxon’s most holy shrine and likely their version of the Yggdrasil, the Tree of the World, of Scandinavian mythology. In the Royal Frankish Annals of 775 AD, it was recorded that the king (Charlemagne) was so determined in his quest that he decided to persist until they were either defeated and forced to accept the papal authority (in the guise of “Christian faith”), or be entirely exterminated [Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, trans. Bernhard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers (Michigan 1972: 51)]. Charlemagne himself conducted a few mass “baptisms” to underscore the close identification of his military power with the Christian church.
“In 782 the Saxons rebelled again and defeated the Franks in the Süntel hills. Charlemagne’s response was the infamous massacre of Verden on the banks of the river Aller, just south of the neck of the Jutland peninsula. As many as 4,500 unarmed Saxon captives were forcibly baptised into the Church and then executed. Even this failed to end Saxon resistance and had to be followed up by a programme of transportations in 794 in which about 7,000 of them were forcibly resettled. Two further campaigns of forcible resettlement followed, in 797 and in 798…. Heathens were defined as less than fully human so that, under contemporary Frankish canon law, no penance was payable for the killing of one” [Ferguson, Robert (2009-11-05). The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings (Kindle Locations 1048-1051). Penguin UK. Kindle Edition.]
The defining of a heathen as less than human was actually not a unique idea; Scandinavians were familiar with that notion from their own cultures, which defined slaves as less than human and therefore tradable goods; and if a freeman announced his intention of killing someone (anyone) it was not considered murder as the victim was given “fair” warning.
The more I learn about Charlemagne’s brutal policies toward what he considered sub-human pagans, the more I understand the reaction of retaliation toward the symbols of that so-called Christian faith, the monasteries and its inhabitants. They slaughtered, trampled, polluted, dug up altars, stole treasures, killed some, enslaved some, drove out others naked while heaping insults on them, and others they drowned in the sea. The latter was perhaps a tit-for-tat for those at Verden who were forcibly baptised and then killed.
Lindisfarne was merely the first major attack in Britain that was highly publicized (as chroniclers of history were usually monks, and those such as Alcuin knew the inhabitants of Lindisfarne personally), in what would become a 250-year reign of terror, violence, slavery, raping, pillaging, plundering and theft either by force or by Danegeld. But as in all good histories, it’s important to remember that hurt people hurt people; the perpetrator was at one time a victim. One might say that what goes around comes around. It’s no excuse or downplay of what happened there, which literally changed the course of the civilised world, but it perhaps gives a wider perspective on the Vikings of the times rather than just the vicious raiders portrayed in so many documentaries. And it is important to remember that Vikings did not equal Norsemen; the majority of Scandinavians were farmers and fishermen, living as peacefully as their times would allow, and even themselves victims to the occasional Viking raid.
Originally posted on History Undusted on 14 July 2013
Image Credit: Origin Unknown, Pinterest
I just returned from a long weekend away with my husband in Bilbao, Spain. I say that with trepidation, as, according to many Basque people, it is not Spain, but Basque Country. There are some who are content to remain part of Spain and France, and others who want independence, so when in Basque Country, say it the Basque way.
As a lover of history, linguistics and just about everything else except strenuous exercise, I can say that it was a great weekend (even though a lot of exercise snuck in)! Great weather, great food, great architecture, confusing languages, and interesting sites all round. Here are some highlights:
Guggenheim Museum: The building itself is well worth the visit! The architect, Frank Gehry, literally designed the building on one of his free-form doodles. With only one straight wall that I could see, I can imagine that he was doodling when the phone rang and made his hand jerk, causing the straight line… it’s an engineering feat, to say the least. Just outside the Guggenheim are several sculptures, notably a giant dog made of flowering plants; it was intended to be a temporary display, but the people of Bilbao fell in love with it, and it’s now a permanent landmark. There’s also one for us odd arachnophiles out there, a giant spider. Two sculptures look like they’d float away, even though they weigh tons: “Tulips”, and a tower of balls.
The weather was perfect, so we took a “Bilboat” tour down the waterway; it gave us the chance to see areas of the city which are usually far from the tourist route; areas that are in the throes of rejuvenation and restoration.
Pintxos: You can’t go to Basque Country and eat in a usual restaurant! You need to go (what my husband and I dubbed) “Pintxopping” – like pub crawling but for a Pintxos (“Pinchos”) dinner. They are similar to Spanish tapas but far more elaborate; 5-6 will make a meal. 12 Euro will get you 6 Pintxos and a pint of beer. Any Pintxos bar worth their salt will spread out a wide variety of the treats along the length of their bar, and diners choose a selection of hot and cold delicacies. Bars pride themselves on signature creations; one bar we ate at had a mound of crab meat baked under a layer of squid-ink-tinted cheese, in the shape of a regional mountain. Most are served atop toasted slices of Baguettes, though there are also many on skewers, or served as spring rolls. If you’re now hungry, sorry about that – but you can find recipes all over Pinterest.
Language: The Basque language (Euskara) is a language isolate – in other words, it is unrelated to any other known language. Within language families, one could interpret this or that word based on a known relative language, e.g. between English street and German strasse. But looking at a road sign in Bilbao, you would have NO clue as to which word is the street name, and which is the word for street, road or path. Unless you know Basque, you would have no chance of interpreting anything – even if the context is known. An example sentence from the article on Wikipedia illustrates that point: “Martinek egunkariak erosten dizkit” means “Martin buys the newspapers for me”. It is the last remaining descendant of one of the pre-Indo-European languages of Western Europe, with every other language that might have existed in relation to it having gone extinct, so there’s no way to decipher it based on a comparative method, linguistically. It may have been related to the Aquitanian language, which was spoken in the region before the Roman Republic’s conquest in the Pyrenees region, but the exact origins are unknown. It’s a fascinating study, if you’re interested!
One of the images above was taken on my flight home; the Alps were in fine form, and the weather great for flying; Matterhorn can be seen in the centre. I hope you enjoyed my mini-tour, and I would recommend that you get yourself a pintxo or two to tide you over until your next meal…
Recently I was chatting with a few friends, and the topic of finding information came up; I was surprised that it hadn’t even occurred to them that they could find such information online. Time and again, I meet such people. It is a modern phenomenon that we have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips; Google has become so ubiquitous with searches that it’s made it into dictionaries as a verb, and yet it seems that some people have still not realised its potential.
Granted, there is a lot of static out there: Misinformation (whether intentional or unintentional), nonsense, and useless clutter (someone’s grandkid’s cousin’s uncle’s birthday party, or videos that need massive editing before they’re much use but they’re online nonetheless). But if you know how to search, there’s a world of information out there to be had; you need to use discernment, and – especially if using the information as a basis for an article, or in writing a novel – you need to get cross-references and confirmation. But I’ve found that the people I’ve talked to on this topic can’t seem to get past the static and therefore seem to have difficulty in viewing cyberspace as a serious information source.
The downside of so much ready knowledge with easy access is that people no longer need to memorise or learn information themselves – they can just grab their phone and look it up. The upside of it is that, if people make proper use of it, they can learn so much more than previous generations ever even had access to. The photo below, gone viral, is of a school class sitting in front of Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch”; while it appears that they are bored and inattentive to what is around them, they’re actually using the museum’s app to learn more about the photo and the painter as part of a school assignment. Notice that they’re interacting with each other, and even helping each other. Hopefully part of the assignment was also to study the painting with their eyes.
I do a LOT of research online; for some of my books, I’ve done odd searches which I’m certain mess with the algorithms of Google & co. I’ve searched for the average size of a human corpse and the distinctions between a coffin, casket and cist (I started getting ads for funeral services after that); how to throw a kris dagger vs. a regular dagger; tide tables; sunrises, sunsets and moon phases in the 9th, 18th and 21st centuries; native flowers to Britain in the Georgian period; medicine at sea; the effects of various soil compositions on a corpse and artefacts, postmortem forensics, and dozens of other bizarre topics. In my free time, I do a wide variety of crafts and cooking, and so my Pinterest pins multiply like rabbits in the dark! Just click on my gravatar link to have a peek through my cupboards there.
If you put your mind to learning how to do anything, you can find instructions for it somewhere online. A few weeks ago, I wanted to reupholster our office chairs (they are the kind that has a hard plastic frame at the back and underside of the seat). I found a Youtube video that showed how to take them apart, and within an hour I had the first chair dismantled, reupholstered and reconstructed. As Amelia Earhart said, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is mere tenacity.” I find that, in talking with friends, they often don’t know how to begin searching, and I think that’s the key: They don’t try because they don’t know how to start, and so they can’t learn how to do it – learning by trial and error. Failure is merely success in progress, but the point is that progress requires action… movement.
For writers, cyberspace is worth its weight in gold; no library could hold the amount of information available to us at our fingertips; no university could teach the wide range of topics available online; no video library could contain the staggering amount of documentaries, DIY instruction videos, and step-by-step how-tos.
What was the most recent thing you searched for online? Was your search successful? How much time did it take you to find what you were looking for? Please describe it briefly in a comment below!