Posts Tagged ‘Figuratively Speaking’


Friday, December 11th, 2009

In which the writer rambles through the dictionary joyfully

Photo by Greg Eans

Photo by Greg Eans

Lately I’ve been laughing a lot about bees, and that’s thanks to comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, a British stand-up comedian known for his Emmy-winning turn in “Dress to Kill.”

He does a bit about finding oneself covered in bees that brings me to my … well, knees … and with that, today Figuratively Speaking looks at Bs, bees, Aunt Beas and all things B.

My trusty Oxford American Dictionary describes B as the second letter of the alphabet. I’m also painfully familiar with it as the second highest class of academic mark. As in, Too bad I didn’t get an A. Though my freshman year in college, I deeply appreciated them.

Bees, or honey bees, are a large group of insects from the family Apidea. Bees are both solitary and social. The poet Sylvia Plath’s father researched bee movements, or dances, and we now know those dances hold remarkable value in guiding bees to pollen and back to the hive. Aunt Bea, played by Frances Baviar, kept Andy Griffith grounded back in Mayberry, N.C.

“Bee in the bonnet” means an obsession; having a scheme or plan. The “bees knees” is an outstandingly good person or thing, though in Britain it once meant the opposite, as something small or insignificant.

My query started when I wrote the term “beeline” and became curious about its meaning and origin.

Beeline refers to a straight line between tow places, and it originated in the early 1800s, supposedly because of the instinctive line bees took to return to the hive.

Of course we have busy as bees and bees’ nest, which refers to a messy situation. Beeswax, which is the substance secreted by bees in their hive, also refers to someone’s business, as in “That’s none of yer beeswax.”

A beehive is a hairdo, or a place where lots of activity is taking place. It’s also the name of a star cluster, also known as Praesepe.

Now to digress a bit, we have an entire class of words starting with “be-” as a prefix which transforms words in these ways:
— all over, all around: Bespatter
— thoroughly, excessively: Bewilder
— when added to intransitive words, makes them transitive: Bemoan
— when added to adjectives, makes them transitive: Befriend
— when added to nouns, makes them … transitive!: Befog

… and a few others, too.

So when one day I found myself using the word “bespoke,” I wondered where does a word like that get its flavor?

I’m improvising here because I use it to mean something that’s been mentioned before, as in “the bespoke bees.” My dictionary says “bespoke” is a term used by those in the clothing industry to refer to something made to order.

So while I figure out the best way to bespeak of these things, I will make sure I avoid finding myself covered in bees, which I wouldn’t dare to call bebeed.

A spangled deed

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Happy July Fourth from Figuratively Speaking

The story goes that Francis Scott Key looked overhead and saw the tattered flag that survived a night of battle, and felt so moved that he penned the words to our National Anthem.

Key was a lawyer who in 1814 witnessed the survival of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md. Leave it to a lawyer to give his poem the dull, but specific, title “Defense of Fort M’Henry.” No room for misinterpretation there.

Someone realized the offense of that title and replaced it with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In 1931 it was made the official U.S. theme song.

Now, what about this word, spangled?

Noun: A spangle is a small, thin piece of glittery material, often used to ornament a dress. A synonym is sequin. A spangle is also a small sparkling object.

Verb: Here’s where things become relevant to us, or rather, to U.S.

The transitive verb to spangle means to cover with spangles or other small sparking objects. Most often, the past participle form is used as an adjective … well, you know the word … spangled … As in A spangled Christmas tree.

Believe it or not, there is also an adjective spangly

The word derived from the late Middle English word spang which was a glittering ornament.

That word came from our Dutch friends’ archaic word spange which meant buckle.

Fortunately for us, our beloved flag has neither buckles nor sequins, and we can safely call it merely starry.

So from Fiction Dailyland, here’s wishing you a most generously spangled flag … and day.