Apologies for dishing up another apparently gruesome post. The word in the title of course can be the past tense of the verb slay, but it also has another meaning and another derivation. According to the OED it means ‘a very large number of’ or ‘a very great amount of’, and was originally a U.S. colloquialism. OED’s earliest reference is from 1839 in a work about the Green Mountain Boys in what is now the state of Vermont. The word derives from Irish (and Scots Gaelic) slua or sluagh, meaning ‘a host’, ‘an army’. The word is found in the compound sluagh-gairm, meaning ‘war cry’, which eventually gave rise to the English slogan.

There are cognate words in other Celtic languages. Welsh has llu, meaning ‘a troop’. Cornish has lu, meaning ‘army’ or ‘fleet’. Breton lu means ‘army’. (Thanks to JDL for this last piece of information.)

News of my wife: Her fracture has mended well and the plaster cast has been taken off. She is now wearing a boot that looks as if it were Star Wars surplus issue. She had a trip home for the afternoon yesterday and will come again today for a few hours. We hope she will be home permanently very soon.

Photo credit: Jmhullot. Used under this licence.


The long silence has been caused by a domestic crisis. My wife, who is increasingly disabled because of a neurological condition, had a fall over a month ago and broke her ankle rather badly. She spent two weeks in hospital, underwent surgery on her ankle, and is now in a nursing home. The resulting mayhem rather put the kibosh on any attempts to blog.

Anyway, kibosh is the topic of this post. A splendid word, I think, but one whose origin I had no idea of. If forced to guess, I would probably have said it came from India. I pronounce it ˈkaɪbɒʃ, but there are alternatives. The spelling has several different possibilities too. In the phrase to put the kibosh on it means ‘to put an end to’, ‘to ruin’.

The OED offers little help other than suggesting Yiddish or Anglo-Hebraic as the source. I have now found an alternative etymology, however — rather a gruesome one, I’m afraid. It is Irish. Caipín (or caip) bháis means ‘cap of death’. One explanation is the tradition of a judge donning a black cap when pronouncing a death sentence. If that were not gruesome enough, the alternative is a particularly barbaric way of executing someone. That is by pouring boiling pitch over their head.

With that charming thought, I will leave you to go and visit my wife.

Jumping to conclusions

The red arrow on the map marks a place called Langarth. It is the terminus for the park and ride bus service into the centre of Truro. The apparent elements of the name are lan, which means ‘sacred enclosure’, or more prosaically ‘yard’, and garth, which means ‘enclosure’. Rather odd, huh?

I had occasion to use the park and ride service the other day and was pleased to see that the on-board information screen gave the name of the next stop in English and in Cornish. So after leaving Langarth we came to COLLEGE or KOLJI and then HOSPITAL or KLAVJI. On the way back I was surprised to see LANGARTH or LEN AN GATH, as we approached the terminus.

After a quick scurry to the books after I got home, I found that this probably means ‘pool (or stream) of the cat’. It could even mean ‘valley of the cat’. The elements lan, len (aka lyn) and nans (=’valley’) were frequently confused in place-names. Where the <r> in Langarth came from I cannot explain, however.

Map credit: Google Maps.

OI again

Both Jonathan and Philip Taylor have commented on the broken link to Online Intonation. Thanks to both.

I don’t know why OI has disappeared from the UCL site, but fortunately I have copies of all the files and have spent quite a lot of time over the past few days re-instating OI on the blogjam site. The link in the sidebar now points to the new OI.

I have taken the opportunity to update the program. It now uses mp3 sound files and the HTML5 <audio> tag. I have tested it using Chrome, MSIE, Microsoft Edge, Firefox Opera, Safari and Sea Monkey. Please let me know if you come across any problems.

The only thing left to say is MY BRAIN HURTS!

Case of mistaken identity

In a conversation with my friend JDL the other day the word “accusative”, the name of the grammatical case, made an appearance. We both wondered why on earth the case was thus named. This was, I might add, getting on for 60 years after either of us had first heard the term. What, we wondered, has the idea of accusation got to do with a grammatical case, whose main function is to signal what is affected by the action of the verb? The OED supplied the answer eventually. The term is a goof. Here is what the OED has to say:

The formation of classical Latin accūsātīvus rests upon a misinterpretation of Hellenistic Greek αἰτιατικός ‘of or relating to that which is caused or effected (ancient Greek τὸ αἰτιατόν )’, designating the case of the effect, or thing directly affected by verbal agency, but misinterpreted by the Latin grammarians as ‘(the case) of accusing’ ( < ancient Greek αἰτιᾶσθαι to accuse).

Sticking with the goof theme, I read today in The Cornishman, the Penzance and district weekly newspaper, that tomorrow the Jubilee Pool will re-open. This is an open-air bathing pool on the promenade in Penzance, which was badly damaged in the winter storms in 2014. A bold headline on the page dealing with the re-opening declares:

It is ‘a good day for Penance’.

Finally, a rather surreal piece of advice from the Royal Horticultural Society website on a page about growing courgettes:

The flowers can be eaten too – but make sure you remove the pistols first. Try them dipped in batter and then fried.