The thing in the picture is a stone cross dating, it is thought, from the first part of the 11th century. It now stands outside the Penlee House museum and art gallery in Penlee Park in the centre of Penzance, although it was moved there relatively recently. It is called the Ricatus Cross, because there is on the side an inscription which may read REGI RICATI CRUX (“the cross of King Ricatus”). It is, however, very difficult to read and other interpretations of it exist.

If this reading and the dating of the cross are correct, it is unlikely that Ricatus was a king ruling over the whole of Cornwall. By the 11th century Cornwall was firmly under the domination of the Saxons. But Ricatus, if he ever existed, may have been a local bigwig with aspirations.

In the 16th century drama Beunans Meriasek (“Life of Saint Meriadoc”) the names of four kings of Cornwall are mentioned. One of these is Pygys, which just could be a misreading for Rygys, and that just could be the Cornish original name on which the latinised Ricatus was based.

It’s a mystery.

Goodbye 2016

2016, at least the second half of it, has been dire, so I am not sorry to see it coming to an end. Things have improved here and we are hoping they will continue to do so.

Many thanks for all the good wishes and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a trouble-free 2017.


What you can see in the picture is an instance, on the wall of the castle in Graz, of the personal motto of Friedrich III (1415-1493), Holy Roman Emperor from 1452 until his death. The A.E.I.O.U. sequence appears on many of the buildings commissioned by Friedrich and also on such things as his tableware. Its meaning remained his secret until shortly before his death, when he announced, it is said, that it stood for Alles Erdreich Ist Österreich Untertan, which means “All The World is Subject to Austria”. According to Wikipedia there are alternative meanings to the motto, but all have the same rather grandiose import.

I learned this curious fact from the first episode of a three-part BBC series on the history of Vienna and the Habsburg dynasty. I learned a good many other things from the programme, but I also suffered many bouts of aaaaaaaaaaargh. These were entirely due to the presenter, Simon Sebag Montefiore, who has appeared on this blog before. Honestly, the man is a menace. One would think he makes it a policy to cram as many ridiculous pronunciations of English and other languages into the shortest possible time. There were far too many for me to remember, but here are a few of the outstanding onesː

Österreich is pronounced ˈuːstəraɪk
Hohenfall, the title of Filip Fabricius, a survivor of the Second Defenestration of Prague, was pronounced ˈhəʊənfɔːl
The English word cadaver was pronounced ˈkædəvə

SSM was gracious enough to admit at one point that he was “no scholar of German”. To which the only possible response is “You don’t say!”

Photo credit: Andreas Praefcke. Used under this licence.


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.