Reflect and refract
When was the last time you looked out the window and said, “Oh look! There’s a many-coloured refraction of light from drops of water!”? Well – OK, if you said that last week then feel free to skip the next paragraph, but most of us refer to the sudden splash of colours in the sky as a rainbow, an eye-catching natural phenomenon which has been rich in cultural significance throughout human history.
The science behind rainbows is reasonably straightforward: when sunlight hits a raindrop, it slows down and is refracted, or made to change direction. The raindrop acts as a tiny prism, splitting the white light into all its individual hues. Some of this light is reflected back and further refracted on entering the air again, dispersing outwards to create the spectrum of shades whose names we probably all remember from the school playground.
Continue reading “[For the OxfordWords blog:] Chasing the rainbow connection”
Ten minutes after take-off, our “luxury” bus from Phnom Penh rolls straight into the back of an elderly biker in shades. The old man, whose passenger is a pile of cut grass, starts to loudly demand “many doll-ar!” in compensation. Reality shimmers in the heat, and the traffic begins to flow round us like a shoal of dirty fish. There’s time for an Aussie backpacker to buy and eat a whole dish of pork noodles before we chug on, amid the honking, down the cratered road to the coast.
Continue reading “1001 Words: Stranded in Sihanoukville”
Some of the words that have arrived in your inbox this year may look or sound familiar but have unexpected meanings. Who could have guessed that one sense of the French word baraque is hefty person, for instance, or that Bach in German actually means brook? And in Italian the word bottega (shop or workshop), so often seen in restaurant titles, has another rather unexpected sense demonstrated in the following phrase: hai la bottega aperta = your flies are undone.
On the same theme, it’s useful to know that if a French man is talking about his tablettes de chocolat (literally chocolate bars) he’s referring to his six-pack, or that another meaning of choucroute (literally sauerkraut) is a beehive hairdo. And London residents may not be surprised to find out that in Italian fumo di Londra (literally London smoke) means dark grey; while an Italian medusa, on the other hand, is actually a jellyfish.
Continue reading “[For the OxfordWords blog:] A Word a Day keeps the cobwebs away: our weird and wonderful “Words of the Day””
What have Italian composer Rossini and American rapper Ja Rule got in common? A number of possible answers may leap to mind here, but the one I’m looking for is that the two musicians were both born on a date that is mysteriously elusive: 29 February. Except that 2012 is a leap year, and so this year the estimated 5 million or so leaplings, leapers, or leap-year babies around the world actually get to blow out the candles on the cake for their quadrennial celebration. During the intervening common years, however, the timing of their birthday festivities depends on the laws of whichever land they’re in. In New Zealand, a leapling’s official birthday is deemed to be 28 February, whereas in Britain it’s 1 March. If you timed it right, you could fly from one country to the other for the world’s longest birthday.
Continue reading “[For the OxfordWords blog:] The language of leap years”
“Mummy!” Hot hands on my face: “Wake up!”
Kisses for breakfast. Hugs for lunch. We dance in the bathroom and sing on the stairs. I wrap him up warm and we wander down to the park again, stopping for sweets. That miserable shop girl never smiles!
He’s running across the road when the four-by-four nearly flattens him again and I scream, but then he waves at me from the other side, as always. I wave back.
“Alice,” says a familiar voice. That shop girl. “You can’t keep pretending, my love.” Her hand on my arm. “You can’t bring him back.”
© Joanna Rubery 2017