first foot

First feet, black buns, and hansels: the language of Scottish New Year’s traditions

Get up, goodwife, and shake your feathers, And dinna think that we are beggars; For we are bairns come out to play, Get up and gie’s our hogmanay My grandma taught me this ditty longer ago than I care to remember, and it served as my first introduction to the word Hogmanay. Nowadays, many people […]

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Birds of a feather feel dread together

Birds of a feather feel dread together

For some reason things of bird-interest seem to flock to me—seriously. One of the first big book projects I worked on was The Sibley Guide to Birds and right around that time I met my now husband who was a self-proclaimed birder. I didn’t even know what a birder was at the time. This particular […]

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Shrapnel, Plimsoll, Joule

Shrapnel, Plimsoll, Joule, Boole: eponyms in science and invention

You have to feel sorry for Christopher Leyland. Having inherited his father’s Northumberland country estate in 1889, Leyland dedicated his life to its improvement, paying particular attention to the gardens and the cultivation of trees. By his death in 1926 the estate boasted (among many other things) a palm house, an arboretum, and a menagerie […]

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The language of gift-giving

The language of gift-giving

So, the Christmas season is well and truly upon us, something that tends to either warm the cockles of one’s heart, or bring about a blinding depression. For many people the cause of holiday angst is the entire hullabaloo made about gifts and shopping – there is an increasing complaint that the gift-giving (or commercial) […]

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So is Chinese hard to learn?

Is Chinese hard to learn?

When other English speakers find out that I’m learning Chinese, they often admit that they are too daunted to even try. But just how difficult is it for the average English speaker to learn Chinese? The answer is, surprisingly, that it’s not that difficult if you’re willing to commit to learning a new language. As […]

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13

Plain unlucky! From hapless hunters to unfortunate accidents

Dog Shoots Man: … Man Recovering from Gunshot Wound Caused by Pet … The hapless hunter was setting up decoys in the water when the mishap occurred. The above Huffington Post story caught my eye for two reasons: after I’d stopped smiling at the image of a dog shooting his master in the posterior (no […]

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Christmas tree and decorations

What does the ‘merry’ in ‘Merry Christmas’ mean?

From Happy Easter to Happy Halloween to countless Happy Birthdays, our felicitations hardly vary from one celebration to the next. Christmas is the notable exception, with the dominant descriptor being Merry. We wish our friends a Merry Christmas but a Happy New Year. Is there any difference? Not everyone’s Christmas is merry. Happy Christmas has […]

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christmas tree_large

Sing a song of Christmas

A change is not as good as a rest Christmas brings out the conservative in us all, especially in children. This summer we dismantled a ridiculously large stone clad shelf that was built in the sixties to support a weighty cathode ray tube. Now there’s a space beside the fire which would be, I suggested, […]

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