Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

A Good Chap

If you’re being a good chap you can be counted on to do the right thing. Chap is a British term which applies to a man or boy. A woman may possibly be a chapess or chapette. This is different to the American term guy which can be applied to any gender.

Chap is a shortened form of chapman, an Anglo-Saxon term for a merchant, which is the ancestor of our word cheap, i.e. a bargain. Chapwoman referred to a female pedlar or dealer.

I’m interested in the word because I’m currently producing a chapbook, which was originally a small pamphlet of tales, ballads, etc, which was carried from place to place and offered for sale by a chapman.

My chapbook will be close to forty A5 pages, divided into seven chapters. The word chapter derives from the Latin caput (head).

There are also chaps, stout protective leggings worn by cowboys, and this word comes from Spanish. I wonder whether some chapmen may have worn chaps?

Cowboy in chaps

Myself I can’t be a good chap
my gender is the handicap

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A vicambulist is someone who walks around in the streets. That’s definitely me, although I’d prefer not to be called a street-walker as that word has other connotations.

Today as I walked around I met a group of workers who were replacing the traffic light pole at the north-east corner of the Barbadoes/Kilmore Street intersection. It became bent when hit by a vehicle.

Replacing the pole

A night-foundered vicambulist is a street-walker (with or without other connotations) who has got lost in the darkness. This is definitely not me, as if I walk at night I stick to streets I know well. Are you a vicambulist too?

A call for help must needs be sounded
if someone walking is night-foundered

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At an introductory session for my Te Reo course I was asked to fill in a form and give three reasons why I wanted to do the course.  I hadn’t thought a great deal about this beforehand (I’m a reflective learner) and put down things like wanting to understand what was being said at meetings and on radio and TV.  Lately I’ve been more carefully considering my reasons, particularly as my commitments for the next couple of months have increased, and I’m less confident of being able to give sufficient time to study.

My desire to learn Te Reo is partly because of my commitment to Te Tiriti and partly because of my desire for a more inclusive society where my values are shared.  On several past occasions I’ve been part of making a treaty-based decision to transfer a small amount of power from Pakeha to Maori, which has always given me a good feeling, as well as building my relationship with Maori.  For some years I regularly attended monthly meetings of Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu, and loved the process, energy and ‘wellcomeness’/manaakitanga of these meetings – so different to the way much Pakeha business is conducted.  I’m aware that Te Tiriti is the basis for government in this country.

I’ve done some study, mainly experiential, of Maori Tikanga, and I’m drawn to the fact that their world view is communal rather than individual.  I also love that their spirituality is based on nature and a balance between feminine and masculine.  This is in line with my own spirituality and has a familiar security for me.  I sometimes find the Maori links with Christianity uncomfortable, but this applies in the Pakeha world as well!

I see learning Te Reo as a personal way of helping to integrate society in Aotearoa.  All my voluntary work is based around supporting communities, especially my local geographic community, and I welcome the chance to help bring about a society that reflects my values.  My recent small action for abortion law reform was another such opportunity.

It’s been good to reflect on my reasons for choosing to study Te Reo, and this reflection makes me more motivated to succeed.

Te Reo opens up a door
and I’m encouraged to learn more


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Prime Poems

Poetry I learned in Primary School has stayed with me all my life: Gems such as Mr Horace Caterpillar, Joshua the Jaguar, and Bad King John.  Of course they all rhymed!  I’m surprised I have almost no memory of any poems learned at Secondary School in the early 1960s.  I can’t even remember the names of my English teachers.  Perhaps none of them was ever my form teacher?  I remember teachers of other subjects – Mrs Laidlaw for Maths, Miss Cooper for French, Miss Scott for Latin, but English is a blank.  Did any of my readers go to Epsom Girls’ Grammar School and remember English teachers’ names?

I remember one French poem Il pleure dans mon coeur . . . and have memories of singing O Divina Clementina (My Darling Clementine) in Latin, but English poetry has faded completely.  If I stretch into the depths of memory I can imagine Ozymandias, The charge of the Light Brigade, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but it’s a long stretch.  I’m certain we never learned any New Zealand poetry.  Shakespeare was dissected and discussed, along with G B Shaw, and I’m sure we read Man Alone by John Mulgan, but it wasn’t until after I’d left school that I discovered Janet Frame and Jane Mander.

English was my best subject (84% in School Certificate), strange that its memory has dimmed, especially as I now call myself a writer.  Certainly I was not inspired to go on and read poetry, and for many years the only poetry books on my shelf were English Poetry for the Young, published 1904, which had been my mother’s text when she was in Standard 6 at Normal School (1923), and the English Poetry volume of The Outline of Knowledge, published in 1924, which has my father’s name inscribed – the only one of his books I possess.  It’s no wonder my poetry tastes tend to the older formats, and I love rhyme.

Parental poetry books

Nowadays I enjoy creating and sharing poetry, and lament the apparent gaps in my education.

Scant memory of my English class
although I got a decent pass


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To judge should mean that you are able
by laying evidence on table
to come to sensible conclusion
with clarity and no confusion
yet judgement is a word that can
confuse an educated man
who wonders if the central E
is meant to be or not to be.

Without might be the Yankee way
does English use that E today?
apparently in legalese
the British language expertise
has said to central E “no, no”
at least three hundred years ago
but judgement spelt without the E
just does not seem quite right to me
and searching Google I have found
that central E is gaining ground

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I’ve listened to a podcast called Eating Fried Chicken in the Shower where James Nokise interviewed John Campbell about his life and work.  I admire John for his willingness to advocate for the disadvantaged, and am impressed that he manages to keep his personal life private, e.g. refusing to do photo-spreads for Women’s Day.

Maybe I’m naive but I was a little surprised at the frequent use  of the F-word on this podcast (of course I’d ignored the warning).  I don’t hear it on RNZ National or on TV, and it’s not common among my immediate circle.  The worst you’ll hear me say is Bugger!  I appreciate the F-word is now in common usage, and when I hear it I am surprised rather than shocked.  However I was disappointed to also hear these two men say motherf . . . . .  I wasn’t prepared to Google that word as I don’t want to affect my algorithms, and my Shorter Oxford Dictionary (1993 edition) says it means despicable, obnoxious, very unpleasant.  To me its female connotations are offensive and I hope it doesn’t become more widespread.  I stereotypically expect its use may be more common among those of limited vocabulary, but John Campbell is definitely not one of those.

I wish they wouldn’t use that word
it’s one I’d rather not have heard


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Learning Te Reo

My interest in Te Reo (Maori language) has been re-ignited by doing a short course at the WEA.  This covered mihi, numbers, colours, and some basic vocabulary and grammar.  I’d learned much of this years ago and it was good to have an interactive refresher.

I’ve been practising my Reo numbers while doing my daily exercises, and was gratified to find I could almost remember my mihi/pepeha.  Since I first posted it in 2006, my mihimihi has consistently been the most visited post on my blog, last updated in January 2011.

I’ve always enjoyed and had some facility for languages.  At secondary school I studied Latin and French for four years, and counting in Latin still comes naturally.  I also did one year of less intensive German.  In my School Certificate German exam I managed to write a short essay about fussball, that being the only topic I could recognise as the exam was aimed at students who’d studied much more intensively (I did manage a D pass).

When I was Manager of Volunteering Canterbury I had regular contact with Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu, and the privilege of learning Tikanga with one of their members.  I also completed a Mauri Ora course with Te Wananga o Aotearoa in 2006.

Since leaving paid work I’ve had minimal contact with Te Reo and was glad to find this opportunity at the WEA.  They don’t offer any continuation, so I’ve been investigating what else might be available, preferably in the central city and cheap.  Te Wananga offers a free course with a weekly evening class of three hours.  They also expect students to do 28 hours of private study weekly, which is far more than I’m prepared to commit to, and I’d love to hear from someone who’s done the course as to whether it’s really required.  I’m not an evening person and I’d much prefer something in daytime.  Ara Institute has a ten hour Introductory course, and a 20 hour Beginners Part 2 course.  I’ve asked for more details and am awaiting their response.  My days are already as full as I want, and I’m wary of over-committing myself.  I also know that unless I have ongoing opportunities to practise, anything I learn may soon fade.  I do need a tutor and doubt I’d stay motivated for long on an online course.

What experience do you have of learning Te Reo?

I want to learn the easy way
not have to study every day


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Neck and Neck

A close-fought game on Wordscraper led me to ponder of the origin of the phrase neck and neck.  It developed in the early 1800s and comes from horse racing, where two or more horses that are evenly matched might run closely together towards the finish line, side by side.  These days the expression is used to describe any competition which is so close that the preferred standpoint shifts from person to person in a manner that is not easily distinguished.

You might also say they are on level pegging.  This comes from the card game of cribbage via the game of darts.  When darts first began to be played in public houses, players used the pegs in an old cribbage board to keep score (cribbage is the card game where points are scored on a 61-holed board with pegs).  When the scores were equal, then the pegs were level; hence the saying level pegging.

In chess, a player might say “check”
if game was ending neck and neck.

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Today (4 April) marks the birth of Maya Angelou in Missouri in 1928.  She died in 2014, leaving a wonderful legacy of poetry and wisdom.

I first met her poetry in the early 1980s when I saw an inspiring film of her reading Still I Rise, and read her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  This book became the first non-fiction bestseller by an African-American woman.

Because her friend Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated on her birthday in 1968, Maya didn’t celebrate her birthday for years afterwards, but we can honour her on this day.

Some quotes from Maya:

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.


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Esteemed Excerpts

What’s your favourite quote?

I loved Douglas Adams’ line from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:  “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”, and I can remember being convulsed with laughter when I first heard it.

A quote often heard in our household is “I do not like to leave you all along” which was a misprint in a book we read to our young daughters Tiberius the Titirangi Mouse.

My favourite quote for many years has been one from Ntozake Shange “I found God in myself, and I loved her I loved her fiercely”.

Ntozake Shange

I recently learned that Barack Obama used this quote in his 1995 Memoir Dreams From My Father.

I wonder what’s your favourite quote
those special words on which you dote

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