A Word a Day keeps the cobwebs away: our weird and wonderful “Words of the Day”

Cobweb

Who knew?

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.

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The language of leap years

Leaping

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 leaplings 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.

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Microfiction: The Other Side

Mum and baby

“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