Tag Archives: Noun

Just what is a fangle? And why can it be only new?

14 Apr

I used the word ‘newfangled’ in conversation today.  It’s not a word I utter every day – but this headline from the Daily Telegraph caused the word to slip out my mouth.

Obviously for Telegraph readers, texting is relatively newfangled technology as the paper felt the need to make texting its headline today, in April 2011.   I did briefly wonder whether I’d travelled back in time to April 2001, when texting would have been sufficiently cutting-edge to make the front page of a national newspaper, but sadly my wrinkles and my waistline assured me it was indeed 2011.

But it got me thinking – why do we say ‘newfangled’?  We don’t ‘fangle’ anything.  We don’t even talk about ‘oldfangled’ (although as of today, I’m going to try and slip that into conversation).

The OED offers a wealth of fangles – newfangled (both adjective and noun), newfangled (verb), newfangled (adjective), newfangledness (noun), newfanglement (noun), newfangleness (noun), newfanglist (noun) and newfangly (adverb).

But it’s not just the sheer array of fangles that’s surprising – it’s the ages of them.  If you’d asked me where I thought ‘newfangled’ came from, I’d have said it sounded like the sort of word made up for an American Presidential election about 100 years ago.

I am completely wrong.  The OED records its first usage of newfangled in – get this – in 1300.

If þi loverd is neufangel, Ne be þou nout forþi outgangel Mid illore iwon.

In the 14th century, it also appears in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Gower’s Confession Amantis, which I was made to study for a whole term at university and still came out none the wiser!

The OED seems a little unclear on the etymology.  The ‘fang’ bit it gives as an obsolete meaning of ‘to grasp hold of’, and the ‘new’ bit tells you how modern the thing is of which you’re grasping hold.

The word is compared to the Middle Dutch – nieuvingel – or even more excitingly, the Faroese fangla, which means to catch hold of.  I can honestly say I’ve never come across a word in English that derives from Faroese,  and am quite sadly excited!

We used to use ‘newfangled’ to refer to the person who loved the latest fashion, but we now use it to mean ‘new’ or ‘the latest thing’.

I’ve also discovered that I’m not the first to coin ‘oldfangled’ – someone beat me to that by 214 years as it first appears in 1797!  The OED gives the delightful definition of ‘oldfangled’ as meaning: ‘characterized by adherence to what is old, old-fashioned.’

And fangle does also exist – although the dictionary suggests it is effectively a mistake.  Peoplewere used to ‘newfangled’ – so assumed there must be a ‘fangle’ to be new.  Fangled came to mean newly fashioned and a fangle a fad, although this mean seems to have died out of usage.  The latest usage is in 1881: “New fashions and fangles of dress, of manners, and of speech.”

For a word that’s 700 years young, ‘newfangled’ still speaks to human behaviour and the love of the latest.  But is the word sufficient on its own anymore?  Should we now be talking about ‘techfangled’ or even Applefangled?


Cuddle an apostrophe – they’re not scary!

12 Apr

I have a deep fondness for apostrophes.  Apart from their lovely cuddly shape (who wouldn’t want to hug an apostrophe?), they provide a wealth of useful information that makes it easy to understand what a writer means.

And the really good news about apostrophes is that there are only two ways to use them.  Yes, two!

The two basic uses* of apostrophes are:

  1. they indicate that a letter or letters are missing.  I was taught to think of them as a ‘gravestone’ to indicate where a letter was no more.  (It was the early 80s, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller was popular at the time)
  2. they show possession – that something ‘owns’ something else.
    • Possession is technically a grammatical concept, rather than referring literally to owning something else– but I think in the vast majority of cases, you can see that one thing does literally ‘own’ the other

The rules about possessive apostrophes vary between the US and the UK.


  • When it’s a singular noun that ends in any letter other than ‘s’, you add ‘s to the end of the noun  (the dog’s food)
  • When it’s a singular noun that ends in ‘s’, you add just an apostrophe to the end to the end of the noun (James’ telephone)
  • When it’s a plural noun that ends in ‘s’, you add just an apostrophe to the end of the noun (the dogs’ food)
  • When it’s a plural noun that ends in any other letter than ‘s’ (e.g. children / sheep / trout), you add ‘s to the end of the noun (the children’s playtime)

You never ever split the noun – so you have to decide whether the noun is singular or plural.


  • When it’s a singular noun, regardless of whether it ends in ‘s’ or not, , you add ‘s to the end of the noun  (the dog’s lead; James’s telephone)
  • When it’s a plural noun, regardless of whether it ends in s or not, you add ‘s to the end of the noun (the children’s playtime; the dogs’s food)

You never ever split the noun – so you have to decide whether the noun is singular or plural.


I’ll start with the nice easy one.

Apostrophes indicate missing letters.  Where we have really common sequences of words (I am / he can not ), we often run the words together, losing one or two letters along the way.  The apostrophe marks the fact letters are missing.

  • Don’t = do not  (the apostrophe is the ‘gravestone’ for the ‘o’ of not)
  • Isn’t = isn’t (again, the apostrophe is the missing ‘o’ of not)
  • Can’t = can not
  • Couldn’t
  • Wouldn’t
  • Shouldn’t
  • Won’t = will not
  • Shan’t = shall not
  • I’ll = I will
  • Should’ve = should have
  • He’s = He is
  • I’m = I am
  • They’re = They are
  • It’s = It is
  • Aren’t = are not
  • Where’s = where is
  • Here’s = here is

And many more!

These words are all known as contractions – where two longer words are contracted into one shorter one.

I know some people get taught that if you’re writing, you should never use contractions as they’re considered ‘informal’.  However, I think tastes have changed over time – and you’ll notice these contractions appear more and more, particularly in marketing where a brand wants to appear ‘friendly’.  I use them all the time when writing communications to make the writing seem more ‘human’.


When one thing (noun) ‘owns’ or belongs to something else, we add ‘s to the end of the first noun to show the relationship (the first thing owns the second).

All these nouns are SINGULAR (refer to just one thing) and do not end in ‘s’

  • Alfie’s chew
  • The dog’s chew
  • The company’s annual results
  • The train’s passengers
  • The government’s economic theory
  • Rebecca’s country

Now you’ll see from the above that in most cases, the concept of possession is pretty straight-forward.  Alfie owns that chew. The company owns its own annual report.  But the train doesn’t literally own the passengers and Rebecca doesn’t literally own her country – so this is where the sense of ‘belongs to’ is helpful.

The main thing to note is that the ‘s goes at the end of the noun.  You must NEVER split the noun.

This is really straight-forward when it comes to singular nouns that end in any letter other than ‘s’.


  • The chair’s cushions
  • The bottle’s lid
  • The BlackBerry’s charger

Singular nouns that end in ‘s’

There are a few singular nouns that end in ‘s’ – particularly proper nouns.  A proper noun is an official name – James, Ness, the Philippines, Paris and so forth.

Helpfully, there are two schools of thought here about what you should do.

In British English, typically if the noun already ends in ‘s’, you just add just an apostrophe at the end of the noun.

  • James’ book
  • Ness’ toy
  • The Philippines’ star player

In American English, it’s more common to stick to the original rule and add ‘s

  • James’s book
  • Ness’s toy
  • The Philippines’s star player

Where there are these differences of opinions, my recommendation is that you just have to pick the rule that works for you. I like the British English version – partly out of pure national bias, but mainly as I think it looks cleaner.

But again, the rule that you must NEVER split the noun applies.

So Jame’s book / the Philippine’s star player are both wrong.

Plural nouns ending in ‘s’

When we’re referring to more than one thing, we typically add ‘s’ to indicate that a word is plural.  We may change the ending of the word slightly – but generally, you can be pretty certain most plural nouns ends with ‘s’

  • Chews
  • Books
  • Trains
  • Companies
  • Toys
  • Players

Where you have a plural noun, the same rule that you must NEVER split the noun applies.

And again, the guidance is the same with singular nouns ending in ‘s’.  If you’re working in British English, you add an apostrophe at the end of the noun.  If it’s American English you prefer, you add ‘s.

So, in this case, my noun is PLAYERS (more than one player).   The entire noun is PLAYERS – and as I can’t split the noun (you NEVER split the noun), I add the apostrophe after the noun.

  • The players’ lack of commitment …  (or players’s lack of commitment if US English)
  • The managers’ performance guide … (or managers’s performance guide if US English)

If I were to split the noun (remember our noun is PLAYERS), Player’s lack of commitment means there is only one player, so changes the meaning completely.

* (In reference to the comment that there are two basic uses, from a historical perspective, the second rule evolved from the first, so some might argue there is actually only one rule.  When English was closer to its Germanic roots, we used to add an –es ending to the end of words to indicate possession, so the apostrophe does indeed indicate a missing letter in all instances.)

Are verbs the English language’s avant-garde? On ‘verbising’ English

31 Mar


I read this great article on TechCrunch about “The 6 Verbs For The Next 20 Years Of The Connected World” – and it really got me thinking about verbs in general.

Are verbs the avant-garde of English?  Do we use verbs to push the boundaries of language?  Are verbs ‘early adopters’ of language change – and other parts of speech mere fast followers?

The reason I say this is that it seems to me that the trend of recent years is ‘verbisation’ – taking a perfectly good word, particularly a noun, and making it into a verb.

Just like the brand ‘Hoover’ has come to stand for any vacuum cleaner, and indeed the act of vacumning, we’ve seen Google and Facebook move from noun to verb – ‘Google it’ or ‘Facebook me’.   Google’s also achieved the same ubiquity as Hoover in that it just means looking something up on t’internet.

Here are a couple of other ‘verbisations’ that have crossed my path recently!  Or should that be ‘path-crossed’ me?

  • ‘Sunset’ – I’ve heard this used as a verb, carrying the meaning of ‘retire’.  ‘It’s about time we sunsetted that infrastructure’.
  • ‘Demise’ – I’m most familiar with ‘demise’ as a noun – ‘the demise of the Roman empire’ – but I’m increasingly hearing it used as a verb, with a similar meaning to ‘sunset’ above.  I did look this up – and to be fair, ‘demise’ actually appeared in English first as a verb, with the noun coming later.   As a verb, ‘demise’ has a meaning in legal circles – to give or transfer an estate by a will or a lease – so the modern usage of ‘demise’ as ‘retire’ is quite different.
  • ‘Forward’ – I’m used to this in the sense of forwarding a letter or an e-mail, but only today, I heard it used on the radio in the sense of ‘progress’: “We need to forward this project urgently”!  I was half-asleep in bed at the time, and was so surprised at this usage, I sat up!
  • ‘Onboard’ – I hate this word, but I have to admit it’s quite useful!  In my line of work, I understand ‘onboarding’ to be the process of inducting and training a new employee, or setting up a new customer on the system.  “We’ll start to onboard Mark next week” – and there’s no ship in sight!
  • ‘Gift aid’ – we have this great scheme in the UK called ‘Gift Aid’ that, with the donor’s permission, allows charities to write off the basic tax they might otherwise have to pay on a donation. So when making a donation recently, I was recently asked if I wanted to ‘gift aid’ it!
  • Sky Plus – in our house, we quite regularly say something along the lines of ‘I’ve Sky Plussed it’, meaning I’ve recorded it off the TV!

There are lots of people who’ll tell you this ‘verbisation’ is terrible , disgusting, and bad English.  But for me, this is exactly what I love about language – it allows us to play.   It’s like being set free in Legoland – all the building bricks you’ll ever want, and the opportunity to create anything with them.

And what could be more fun than that?  Or, in the spirit of this article, funner?

No? Me either. Answers to the youth slang quiz.

17 Mar

Wa’gwan?  (question)    What’s happening?

Tonk (adjective)            Muscular

Choong (adjective)        Gorgeous

Brap (onomatopoeic word)        Celebratory noise

Brare (noun)                  Friend

Slippin (adjective)         Up to no good

Wack (adjective)            Rubbish

Blad (noun)                   Friend

Par (verb, I think)           Get one up on someone

Wasteman (noun)          Layabout

Allow it (verb)               Ignore it

Owned (verb)                Made a fool of

Merked (verb)               Merked

Beef (noun)                   Dispute

Giving me jokes (verb) Making me laugh

Airing (verb)                 Ignoring

Bedrin (noun)                Friends

Bless (verb)                  Honour something

Boi (noun)                     Young man

KMT (expression starting with a verb)     Kiss my teeth

Bustin (verb)                 To do something

Chirps (verb)                Chat up

Cotch (verb)                  Relax at home

Fam (noun)                   Close friend

Crunk (adjective)           Very drunk

Dark (adjective)             Bad but can mean good

Deep (adjective)            Good but can mean bad

Endz (noun)                  Where you live

I wonder if ‘airing‘ comes from the gesture of putting one’s nose in the air to ignore someone.  ‘Cotch‘ is also interesting as it’s very close to the Welsh ‘cwtch’, which means a ‘safe place’, but also to ‘cuddle up to someone’.  And ‘beef‘ to mean ‘complaint’ isn’t exactly new – according to the OED, people have been using ‘beef’ to mean complain since 1888 and to mean complaint since 1900.  So perhaps today’s teenagers wouldn’t be too impressed to learn they’re speaking the lingo of their great-grandparents!

Quick quiz: Can you speak like a teenager?

13 Mar

I thought I’d share some slang words I found in an interview with Grace Dent, a British author who specialises in novels for and about teenagers.

I have to be honest that I don’t really know any teenagers any more (I’m sure I’ll know loads in about 10 years when all the children I do know grow up a bit more) – but I like to think myself still young in mind, if not quite in body.

Sadly, this list of words brought me down with a bump!    The only word I did know (which I’ve censored from the list) was one I’d learned from Grey’s Anatomy!

See if you can guess what any of the following mean.  I’ve removed all the rude words, so you’re safe – and I’ve added what part of speech they are, just in case that helps.

Wa’gwan?  (question)

Tonk (adjective)

Choong (adjective)

Brap (onomatopoeic word)

Brare (noun)

Slippin (adjective)

Wack (adjective)

Blad (noun)

Par (verb, I think)

Wasteman (noun)

Allow it (verb)

Owned (verb)

Merked (verb)

Beef (noun)

Giving me jokes (verb)

Airing (verb)

Bedrin (noun)

Bless (verb)

Boi (noun)

KMT (expression starting with a verb)

Bustin (verb)

Chirps (verb)

Cotch (verb)

Fam (noun)

Crunk (adjective)

Dark (adjective)

Deep (adjective)

Endz (noun)

I’ll post the answers later this week.  Good luck!

They’re, their and there.

4 Mar
The Reuben sandwich: Possibly invented in Omah...

Image via Wikipedia

OK, back to grammar.

Confusing ‘they’re’, ‘their’ and ‘there’ is also quite a common mistake I come across – and again, it’s just a matter of taking a deep breath, thinking about it and choosing the option you want.  Confusingly, all three are pronounced the same – although we use them quite differently.

1.         They’re = they are (or occasionally they were).

The apostrophe indicates that a letter is missing.

  • They’re a fantastic band – you should really go and see them.
  • I hate raw tomatoes – they’re evil!

2.         Their = belongs to them.

‘Their’ is a possessive pronoun, just like my, your, his, her and our – and you use it when you have a plural noun or sequence of singular nouns that ‘own’ something.  .

  • The astronauts lost their minds after spending too long on the spaceship.
  • Everyone on this team should play to their strengths.
  • Poppy, Denzil, and Smithy should make a point of calling their mother more often.

Lastly, and more complicated is …

3.   There = either indicates a place that’s different to where the speaker is OR indicates the existence of something

Using there to indicate a place

Where the speaker or writer is based is always referred to as ‘here’ – and if you want to indicate anywhere else, either a real place or somewhere abstract, you switch to there.

  • I’m here – but what are you doing over there?  (an abstract usage)
  • I’ve heard about the London Dungeon – it sounds really scary in there.  (referring to a real place)
  • There is a great sandwich shop next to the office.
  • Check over there for your glasses.

Using there to indicate existence

We also use there to indicate that something exists; there normally is followed by a conjugation of the verb to be (is, was, are, were)

  • There once was a lonely duckling
  • I’ve heard there’s a hard winter ahead of us
  • There are so many things to be happy about in life

So, to recap:

  • are you trying to say ‘they are’? –> if so, they’re
  • are you trying to say ‘belongs to them’ just as ‘my’ means ‘belongs to me’ –> if so, their
  • if you’re indicating place or existence –> there

My best tip is to try to rule out options 1 & 2, and then you know you’re on to a winner with option 3.