5 English Writing Basics to Remember

writing-basics-title

There’s a lot to be said for writing well.

I’ll admit, if you read anything in Morgan Freeman’s voice, it’ll sound cool. That’s just a fact. But poor writing is poor writing, and not expressing yourself properly can be detrimental to the point you are trying to make. Regardless of how good your intentions, or useful your information, or how great your internal Morgan Freeman voice is; your words will suffer.

It’s easy to forget in this modern world of information overload how important the fundamentals of English really are. You’ve got your basics such as punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Beyond that comes word choice and vocabulary. Beyond even this you enter the realms of wordplay and articulation (the fun of semantics).

The building blocks of English are timeless, even when the language itself can adapt and evolve with each generation.

I like to read something to jog my memory about writing structure rules whenever I’m feeling a bit of writer’s block. We need to know the rules before we can break them (as is sometimes necessary).

So, with that in mind, the lovely people at GrammarCheck.Net have come up with this lovely infographic to help to jog your memory about some of the basics to help make your writing better. For most of us, this will be simple revision. The odd refresher here and there is always welcome in the Itchy Quill house!

5 Basic Rules of English Writing That Everyone Should Know (Infographic)
Source: www.grammarcheck.net

 

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2017

The Best Free Tools for Language Learning

see god

In this day and age, it seems almost impossible to find a good deal. I remember how it used to really annoy me as a child that my parents would complain about how much a chocolate bar would cost. I’d stare at the price tag, and see it as the lowly sum of 20p and be perplexed; how exactly was this expensive? One of them would enjoy my perplexity, before saying “in my day you could get three bars for that price, and still have money left over for a comic”. It used to feel like they were trying to make me feel bad about this imaginary expensive world we lived in, and yet now I find myself thinking the same thing. The same chocolate bars now cost double the price. The horror!

Just because things may be expensive, doesn’t mean there aren’t still deals available however. The internet is a wonderful resource. It’s a place where the creative, the ground-breaking and the educational can all rub shoulders. It’s a place were boundaries are broken down and the trappings of the real world are left behind.

Take language learning. There are some sensational resources such as Rosetta Stone and Fluenz, but both cost a couple of hundred. Other cheaper, but still subscription fee based online only programs like Babbel and Transparent Language Online can dent your wallet over time, too. You can’t fault their quality, but we don’t all have access to the funds required.

There is another way, however. The internet and app market is awash with some fantastic alternative language learning software. And all of it for the grand old price of… uh… free! Value doesn’t have to mean a high price. In fact, it could mean the complete opposite…

Live Mocha

Visit the website here

The world’s largest online language learning community, containing some 16 million members from around 195 countries. It merges a range of different methods, from traditional techniques to more interactive online programs and videos, and live conversations with native speakers. There’s even the possibility to have private lessons through the site! Though not every single part of the website is free, the vast majority is, and there is no reason for you to ever need to spend any cash if you don’t want to.

You learn from native speakers and get your grades from other students who are fluent. Live Mocha also syncs nicely into social media to give you a more diverse and interactive service than many others available.

It has become so successful that Rosetta Stone purchased the website in 2013. So far, none of the fears of new sneaky price rises have been realised, and the quality shows no sign of slowing down either!

Languages covered: Arabic, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, US English, Esperanto, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Marathi, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukranian and Urdu.

BBC Languages

Visit the website here

The BBC has a long history of language enabling, and though it’s website may not offer the wealth and variety of training of it’s rivals, it is a great place to find free practice and structured lessons for the long term learner.

You can find crosswords, instructional videos and other vocabulary exercises such as gap fills and comprehension. Especially helpful, there is also an online assessment to help you to figure out what level you are at, be it pre-intermediate or advanced, and then the website can direct you to the level-appropriate material.

Languages covered: Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish.

Memrise

Visit the website here

Combining science, fun and community, Memrise is an extremely useful app that manages to keep you motivated to study regularly, while giving you snap shots of language. In essence it is a memorisation program that helps to keep this interesting by turning it into a game of sorts, complete with competitive rankings against other users and rewards and tokens for reaching different levels of accomplishment.

Not only is it available online, but there is also an app on both Android and iOS. It is largely crowd sourced, so you may have to search for a little while to find the right kind of course for you. But the pay off is worth it, as this can be a fantastic resource, especially when combined with others.

Languages covered: I’m not saying that you can learn every language, but there is definitely the opportunity to learn most languages. See for yourself here.

Busuu

Visit the website here

As their website says:

“We have personally suffered from the traditional way to learn a new language which we always found expensive, difficult and boring.

Therefore, we decided to create a new concept of language learning”.

The founders Adrian and Berhard, other than sounding like 80s action heroes, have constructed a crowd sourced forum for all levels of language learners. In the initial stages you will find yourself learning a lot of flashcards and vocabulary, but as you progress there is more of an opportunity to practice writing and questions. This will be done with native speakers who are either fellow students or contributors to the website.

This can be studied on the internet, or you can download the app for Android or iOS.

Languages covered: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese and Polish.

Duolingo

Visit the website here

This is, arguably, the underground language learners most popular program. This takes the gamification of learning to new, dizzy heights. Each lesson is broken up into short scenes, practising a variety of skills including listening, speaking and translation. You have lives, and when you lose all your lives you must start again (not at the very beginning though). Your progress can be tracked easily, and you gain instant gratification from achievements along the way. In short, this is the Zelda of language learning. It’s an epic journey, and it’s a whole bouncy castle full of fun.

The website claims that a university semester of study (roughly 11 weeks) is given to you in around 34 hours of study. This is based on an independent study, which you can find here. Therefore (claim the creators), 34 hours of Duolingo is more effective than university study.

Either way, you are joining a wonderful community where you can see your skills in language develop in real time as you go from memorising flashcards to translating websites and being graded by native speakers on your quality.

My only criticism would be the lack of languages. As I am studying Chinese (a language not currently supported), I often feel like the poor kid looking through a neighbours window at Christmas and seeing their big tree, infinite presents and warm log fire as I trundle back to my cardboard box and newspaper duvet. I know I am missing out, big time. That said, an affiliate of Duolingo has recently released a Chinese app, Chinese Skill, that harnesses the same, successful methods of Duolingo.

Languages covered: English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish.

So there you have it. Are we claiming these are the only apps and websites to help? No, of course not. Are there possibly better ones out there? Yes. Half the fun of language learning is finding the method that works for you, and then running full speed to try and capitalise on that method and use it for all it’s worth!

A lot of these services run on community, and require the input of the members for the advancement of the quality. If you do decide to use one, please try and be a contributor as well, even if only seldom, as it helps to keep the perpetual free learning going.

Any apps or programs I’ve missed? Feel free to let me know in the comments section below!

All company logos are the creative property of the associated company, and not the intellectual property of ItchyQuill.com – All logos have been used to promote the associated websites and apps, not for any gain from ItchyQuill.com

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Things to do on a Sunday (besides troll Facebook)

title

Who doesn’t love a day off? The chance to relax, unwind, and tick off many of the items on a to do list that have piled up over a busy week.

For some, it can also be a day of regret, however. Shattered from a long week, it’s not unheard of for the day to whizz by before anything substantial is achieved, leaving a feeling of hollowness in us that can’t be remedied until another day with a blank schedule is upon us.

But Sundays can be relaxing and productive. We all have our Sunday routines, and I’m sure many readers have a tried and tested formula for what makes their Sunday a day to look forward to.

For those looking for a little inspiration, or a break from their norm and an idea for something else, we’ve got your back!

Suuuundaaaaaay

Suuuundaaaaaay

Cook a big meal

Every nation has a national breakfast, though one of my personal favourites is the Fry Up! It is somewhat of an institution on the British Isles, and there is nothing I love more on a day off than to prepare one for myself or friends, from scratch.

If breakfast isn’t really your cup of tea, how about cooking a large batch meal that could save you time during the week for pursuits of leisure? Huffington Post has some great ideas for easy to make batch meals to last seven days. You could just cook an old family favourite such as chilli, or how about finally trying to cook Grandma’s secret sauce?

“I’ve been perfecting the grilled cheese for weeks”

Flaneur

A flaneur is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘a man who saunters around observing society’. The woman who does the same is know as a ‘flaneuse’. It was a popular pass-time in Victorian England; a hobby of the bourgeois.

Essentially, it’s walking. But, it’s walking for the experience of walking, not just to get from A to B! The writer Will Self is a proud advocate of the benefits of walking, often linking the peaceful stroll and it’s opportunity to appreciate his fellow humans in passing, as inspiration for his creative works. He also argues that walking through your town or city is important in the ‘fight against corporate control’ (The Guardian).

Aside from a gentle amble on a Sunday afternoon, there is also the night walk. This affords the walker a great opportunity to see the world around them in a different light, literally. With dim street lamps and eerie moonlight our only guide, we experience much more potently the smells, sounds and atmosphere of our habitat. Under the cloak of darkness, all cities emanate synaesthesia. Give it a try!

Under the cover of darkness, many things happen

Beware of the Victorian tavern wench

Catch up on Correspondences

Do you have an old friend who you haven’t spoken to in a long time? Perhaps you are trying to network and are worried that some of your connections are drifting away? Whatever the case, sometimes it is nice to take the time to re-connect with others via letters or emails. The written form of communication, though on the increase in text message and phone app form, is declining in the classical sense. Our grandparents were often semi-Jedi in regards to their penmanship, and could craft wonderful missives that could be handed down from generation to generation.

Think how much of history we know due to the letters that have been left behind! What legacy are we leaving for our children; sneezing panda videos and Candy Crush high scores? Ok, so society is hardly in decline, and in truth technology has made it easier to connect in simpler terms. That doesn’t take away the sentimental value to others of taking moments from your day to fill them in on your happenings, especially with the effort demonstrated in a wonderfully scripted letter. Thoughtcatalog.com make a compelling argument for letters here.

Dear mum, weather is good. Lots love Jay. PS, send money

Dear mum, weather is good. Lots love Jay.
PS, send money

Practice a Hobby

Juggling? Diablo? Yo-yo? Cross-stitch? Fire-eating? Flea circus? We all have little hobbies we enjoy doing when the time is right, so why not use your Sunday to level up your hobby game and get closer to pro-status!

Never underestimate the benefits of practice

Never underestimate the benefits of practice

Spring Clean

A messy room means a messy mind, or so the saying goes. For those among us who already maintain an impeccable level of cleanliness on a day to day basis, how about a deep clean? Move the furniture and get scrubbing on the hidden nooks and crannies. You could even take the opportunity to de-clutter, and chuck away all the old receipts and paperwork that have been clogging up the house.

For the truly brave, you could tackle the ‘man draw’ – the black hole of used batteries, take away menus and half-empty pens.

Yeah, don't put it off for too long!

Yeah, don’t put it off for too long!

Try Something New

“Life is trying new things to see if they work” – Ray Bradbury.

It could be trying your hand at a new dish in the kitchen, looking for a new park to relax in, or even heading out to a live performance of something you’ve never experienced before; opera, jazz flute, Tibetan dramyin! Other activities worth having a go at include polka dancing, speed dating and orienteering. Challenge yourself to try something you’ve never done before, and just feel the sense of fulfilment overwhelm you as you access a new facet of your skill set!

You might discover your new favourite pass time!

You might discover your new favourite pass time!

Play a Board Game

My favourite thing about Christmas is sitting down with the nearest and dearest to play Monopoly or Risk; the most epic of such memories is of a 36 hour stint of Risk (I defiantly held Kamchatka for the final four hours before succumbing to defeat).

Of course, practice for these epic showdowns is a must, and what better time to do this than on a Sunday?

That said, there is no reason why you can’t just enjoy the feeling of detaching from the TV and other electrical devices and reconnecting with your analogue self. Your eyes and, probably, your mind will thank you.

Be careful with children - they cheat...

Be careful with children – they cheat…

Read

We’ve spoken before about the advantages to reading regularly for pleasure, and also how to find time to do so in a busy schedule (find it here), so why not use your Sunday to get nose deep in a gripping tome, zip through a riveting novella, or even just dip into the autobiography of your hero?

Giving your eyes a break from a screen will do them the world of good, and using a Sunday to reconnect with written text will be an experience you won’t hate yourself for. Plus, who doesn’t love curling up with a good book if the mood is right?

Too many books, not enough time

Too many books, not enough time

Nap

We are very much advocates of napping here at Itchy Quill, and we’ve spoken before about it’s positive effects here. A lazy Sunday is a Sunday well spent, especially if you live a life with few commitments and have the freedom and space to dip in and out of the world of slumber at will.

Not only is there strong evidence that napping is actually part of a more natural sleep pattern for humans, but it also feels darn good in its own right!

“Oi lazy boots, you have to get up before you can nap”

Exercise

This doesn’t have to be an intense two hour work out at the gym, busting sweat and building gains. Why not take a pleasant jog in the park; flaneur on fast forward? Or maybe take a bike ride? If you’re lucky enough to live close to some natural areas such as rivers, lakes or forests then why not go exploring for a day? Any physical activity that raises the pulse is essentially exercise, so use that definition to embrace a healthy day to yourself (or even with others) and explore the wonders of the world around you!

“I prefer the medium of improvised interpretive dance”

Volunteer

Providing a service to your fellow humans is one of the most satisfactory experiences one can have. Knowing that your actions, no matter how seemingly small, have benefited a member of your community, can  really give you a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that your time has been well invested. Who doesn’t love having a positive effect on the people around them?

Suggestions for things to do: go to work at your local soup kitchen, go and walk some dogs at your local animal rescue shelter, or even go and visit a retirement home and play bridge for the afternoon. It doesn’t have to be anything back-breaking or spectacular, sometimes merely spending some time in someone’s company can be enough, or offering to do things for those who cannot help themselves (like tasks around the house for an elderly neighbour).

You’ll make the world a better place! Not bad for a Sunday, eh?

“Pay it forward, you’ll thank the universe later in life”

Learn a Language

Hola! Bonjour! Terve! 您好! здравствуйте! If you don’t understand any of these, perhaps a new language would be a great way to spend this weekend. I’m not talking about total fluency, but learning a few key phrases can benefit you in many ways; for work, for travel, for friendship, for movies, or for the health of your brain. There is evidence to suggest that being bi-lingual can help to stave off dementia in adults, so get a jump-start on your studies now!

Practically, the best motivation many have to learn a language is if they know they are going to be visiting a place where the language is spoken. The way we understand that sentence here at IQ is that we should go and book ourselves a holiday and then use that as motivation to spend this Sunday learning a language. Join us!

“I learned Swedish because, you know, stereotype”

Call Family

The big one; the phonecall to the ‘rents. As time marches on, we still need to reconnect with family as often as possible, no matter how much life tries to get in the way. Maybe you’ve got a younger sibling who’s off in the city and might appreciate a little chat, or a grandparent who’s retired and spending a lot of time gardening but might fancy a little chin-wag. Don’t forget ma and pa, who I’m sure will always appreciate a chance to chew the cud with their spawn.

“Don’t forget all that your family did for you”

What do you like to do on a Sunday besides veg out in front of a computer or TV? Do you feel something essential is missing from this list that you can’t stand? Or is there something here you think is utterly ridiculous. As always, comments are appreciated.

Let us know what you are planning for this Sunday!

Special thanks to anankkml, arztsanui, Feelart, Gualberto107, imagerymajestic, khunaspix, Serge Bertasius Photography, stockimages, tuelekza, vectorolie, vegadsl and Witthaya Phonsawat @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

✒Idi…ummmm; The history of some of our favourite idioms (and OK) ✏

Idioms logo

The English language; a diverse and ever-changing beast. As a teacher, I am often confronted with how perplexing our great language can be, and how some of the words that inhabit its planes of communication are far from the lands of sanity. As a mish-mash of various languages, English is very much a patchwork quilt of Latin, French, Germanic, Greek and Polynesian origins. And that is just the start. Trace the history far enough and you will find many more influences too.

Even in our contemporary world, English still insists on ‘loaning’ words when a better one doesn’t already exist in the language, such as Karaoke. New words find their way into our language too from popular culture and general life around us. Anyone who has ever seen The Thick of It will be familiar with Malcolm Tucker’s classic ‘omnishambles’. A word which is only as old as that show, invented to describe a “situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations” according to Oxforddictionaries.com.

This wonderful flexibility is arguably one of the reasons why English is such a popular language, and spoken so widely. But, don’t you ever wonder where some of the sayings come from?

Specifically, I like to look at the history of idioms. An idiom is a figure of speech used to mean something other than its literal meaning. In the English language it is estimated there are over 25,000 idioms in use!

That would be a seriously long-read if we tried to define them all! So, let’s start small. Here is the meaning for five famous idioms (and for one famous phrase that isn’t an idiom but has an interesting history).

“Mum, your flan was an omnishambles”
“Aaaargh!”

Always a bridesmaid, never a Bride

Lets start with an easy one, the meaning of which is exactly what it says; someone always being present at other people’s weddings but never having their own. It is often used by old, cruel mothers to mock their unwed female offspring… generally to make single women feel that they are unwanted or cannot find love 😦

It was first used in the Victorian dance hall song Why Am I Always a Bridesmaid by Fred W. Leigh. The phrase gained popularity after being used in a comedic Listerine advert. It shows a picture of a woman named ‘Edna’ under the slogan ‘always a  bridesmaid, never a bride’. She stares forlornly into the distance as she contemplates how her halitosis prevents her from finding love. The solution? Buy Listerine mouthwash and watch the suitors pile in!

Of course, it can't fix everything

Of course, it can’t fix everything

Ride Shotgun

Who remembers their days as a kid/student/adult/parent, scrambling with your friends or siblings for the honour of riding in the passenger seat, next to the driver? Of course, “I called shotgun” is the way of letting all others know you have earned this mighty privilege without the need for bloodshed.

This saying comes from the ol’ Wild West, a time and place where life was much more dangerous than today. If you were sitting next to the driver you would be expected to wield a shotgun so as to defend the stagecoach (the transport of the day) from bandits and looters. More pressure than merely map reading!

“I’m just here for the free ride”

Basket Case

This is a phrase often used to describe someone who is mentally unhinged. It was also the name of a big hit for Pop-Punk trio Green Day in 1994.

This is supposedly a term from World War I, used to describe someone who has lost all their limbs. The first recorded use of the term in official use was by the US government in denial of this practice. In 1919 The US command on public information issued this statement:

“The Surgeon General of the Army … denies … that there is any foundation for the stories that have been circulated … of the existence of ‘basket cases’ in our hospitals.” according to all-that-is-interesting.com

“Yeah, none at all”

Hold Your Horses!

This means ‘wait a moment’, and is often used to calm someone who is showing overt keenness or exuberance.

It is believed to come from around 800BC. A line in book 23 of Homer’s Iliad is commonly translated as “Antilochus – you drive like a maniac! Hold your horses!” That is, apart from the original translation in 1598 that has it as “contain thy horses”. I’m not sure why I prefer if I’m honest. Either way, this Antilochus fellow sounds like a bit of a bad ass. Those horses though…

“Contain this!”

Close, But No Cigar

This is another way of saying that you only just missed out. It was a near miss!

There was a time, many moons ago, when cigars were the preferred choice by fairground stalls as their prizes instead of the large, fluffy plush toys you will find yourself winning these days. One can only imagine if the cigars would also be over-sized and cheaply made… That said, winning was much more impossible than it is now, with games often rigged to make them even harder! The first time it was written down was in a script for the film version of Annie Oakley in 1935,  appearing as “close Colonel, but no cigar” according to phrases.org

From then on it gained popularity and appeared in newspapers from 1949 onwards.

So, it comes from con artists, tricking you into playing a game you were destined to lose. Can you trust anyone?

“We’re out of snake oil, but why not enjoy some of this lovely air. Yours for only $99!”

OK

This, of course, is not an idiom, but it is an extremely popular expression that also has a rather random history.

Used initially in American, then global English, OK is now a staple in many different languages all across the world. It can mean ‘I understand’, or it can mean something is not very good, as in “the karate film was ok”. It can mean I am fine, and can even be a friendly way of saying hello, as in ‘Hey guys, you ok?”

So, onto its origins. There are myriad explanations for where this expression comes from: it could come from the Greek olla kalla, from German alles korrekt or Ober-Kommando, from Finnish oikea, from the Haitian port “Aux Cayes”, from Latin omnes korrecta, from Chocktaw okeh, from a Puerto Rican rum named “Aux Quais”, from Scotland och aye, from Louisiana French au quai, from Wolof waw kay, from Mandingo O ke. There are countless other stories too, increasing the legend of OK; initials on biscuits, branding on cattle, ‘Old Kinderhook’ being the nickname of president Martin Van Buren, ‘0 killed’ being the report of the night’s death toll in WWI or American Civil War, ‘Orl Korrect’ military reporting indicating that troops were in good order, or even ship builders marking wood for the ‘Outer Keel’.

The truth appears to be much more simple than any of that, however. In 1963 a famous etymologist named Professor Allen Walker Read published a book called American Speech. In it, he draws the conclusion that OK effectively started out as a prank.

On March 23rd, 1839, the editor of The Boston Morning Post published a humorous article about a ridiculous organisation named the Anti-Bell Ringing Association (ABRS). They were campaigning to have the laws of dinner bell ringing changed, and OK was used in this article as a shortened version of ‘Oll-Korrect’, or ‘all correct’. At the time it was not uncommon for abbreviations to change the spelling of words, such as ‘KG’ meaning no go (know go) and ‘OW’ meaning all right (Oll Write).

These witty abbreviations are essentially the old world’s LOL and BRB.

“ROFL!”

So, that’s us for this post. Any phrases you think have an interesting story but you didn’t see up here today? Or perhaps you have a phrase you would like us to look into? As always, feel free to leave a comment. Let’s keep the conversation going!

Thanks to mentalfloss.com, all-that-is-interesting.com and phrases.org.uk for the inspiration for this post.

Special thanks to David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, num_skyman, olovedog, stockimages, Tina Phillips and Sira Anamwong @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Tokens of Our Time; The History of Some of Our Favourite Symbols

In 2012, I spent a summer in Brighton, UK, teaching English in a small scale language school with bags of charm but ageing resources. My class was filled with about ten 16 year olds, real cool kids away from home for a summer of language learning, beach-side romance and a few adventures to carry back to their respective homelands.

One afternoon we went to the attic room to use the listening suite. There was a vast collection of audio cassette and VCR tapes, but not a CD nor DVD to be seen.

Their desks were all fitted with embedded tape players, with individual headphone sets and audio control buttons. They had free roam of the wonderfully categorized shelves of materials, and as this lesson required no planning, I was expecting to be able to fill the time with reading while I casually supervised their progress. I was wrong.

Within a few minutes, hands were being raised and I was being told about the same problem.

“Sir, my player’s broken”.

I’d walk over, check the tape, and see that whoever had used it previously had failed to rewind it. I’d put the tape in and ask the students to rewind. They would hit the ‘skip back’ button. Nothing would happen, so they’d assume it was still broken.

It dawned on me; these teenagers had never used tape players in their life! In fact, their understanding of that technology was so absent, they believed it was possible to actually skip tracks in a way similar to CDs!

Those teenagers were digital natives. To them, the symbols on a laptop, TV, iPhone were all invented purely for those devices. I felt pity for them, but then realised for myself how I had done much the same thing when I was a child. Did I truly know the history of the symbols I saw every day? Had my grandmother laughed when I didn’t recognise the ‘L’ in the £ sign? Did my Science teacher chuckle at the fact I didn’t recognise Norse History on my telephone keypad?

I had to know more, so here is the Itchy Quill History lesson on some famous symbols and their origins!

ampersand-hiStuart MilesThe ampersand and pound sign

What do London, the & symbol and the £ sign have in common? Yes, they are all very popular in England, but more importantly, they were all invented by Romans. Ok, ok, So you can’t invent a city, but London, or rather Londinium, was a very successful experiment in replicating traditional Roman methods of living, but overseas. All three were also opportunities for ancient Romans to demonstrate their remarkable skill in design, ingenuity and style.

See, the ampersand is essentially a highly stylized version of the Latin word for and, Et, invented by a fellow named Marcus Tullius Tiro. He didn’t give it the catchy name however, you can blame the true lovers of Latin – Victorian school children – for that. In the time of Queen Victoria, the symbol was essentially treated as the 27th letter of the alphabet. Children would chant the alphabet through rote learning with the ending being “and per se and”. This literally translates as ‘and, in itself, and’. Children being children, they couldn’t wait to finish the chant and be the first one to get to the jelly and custard at break time, and so the words ended up blending together to make ampersand.

As for the £ sign, that little guy is essentially just a fancy pants ‘L’. Those of us born in modern times will find it harder to recognise, as practising this style, known as roundhand, becomes less and less promoted in schools. Why L? Well, it’s down to those Romans again. They had a unit of weight called the ‘libre’, and the £ sign is merely an abbreviation (which is the reason for the one or sometimes two dashes across the middle of the £). Interestingly, the libre is also the namesake of the lb measurement of weight too.

So, Ancient Rome… not just nudity, baths and hedonism.

Boy, us Romans invented most of this puny language you call 'English'. We smite you with Latin - basiate culos meos!

Boy, us Romans invented most of this puny language you call ‘English’. We smite you with Latin – basiate culos meos!

powerThe Power Sign

We’ve all stared at it knowingly for years, touched it on countless instruments, but never truly known what it means. In truth it’s a symbol from when coding was in its formative years. As far back as WW2, this symbol was used to demonstrate in binary the presence or absence of power; 1 (the line) means on, 0 means off.

However, sometimes there can be a line within an unbroken 0  which means a single switch can move an instrument from on to off, and vice versa. There can also be a 0 broken by a line which represents that something can be turned off, but not disconnected from the power source completely.

My power can never be turned to binary code 0, puny nerd

My power can never be turned to binary code 0, puny nerd

jscreationzsThe Dollar Sign

The dollar bill, a beacon of the American Dream, is arguably one of the best recognised currencies in the world. In parts of SE Asia and South America, dollar bills can actually be used as a de facto currency, meaning black markets exist for travellers who never need to change into the local money from USD, as the value of an American Dollar is so robust. So, where does this wonderful bastion of autonomy come from?

There are various theories to choose from, but the most widely accepted seems to be that it is an offspring of the Spanish Peso. In the 1700s, the Peso – “peso de ocho reales” or ‘pieces of eight’ – was the common currency of the Americas. PS was the abbreviation, and it is thought that over time the S and P would be placed on top of each other, forming an early ancestor of the $. This seems to fit the time line, as it was evident on the first paper bills printed by the US in 1875.

Those feeling curious are free to check Ayn Rand’s alternative idea, that the $ sign is a combination of the initials of U and S from USA, with the bottom of the U being cut off. Cifrão symbol.svg

Dollar dollar bills ya'll

Dollar dollar bills ya’ll

asterisk-hiThe Asterisk

He’s not just a menace to the Gauls; the asterisk has a history that goes back as far as the Middle Ages. Original employed with its best friend the dagger (†) as two of the first proof-reading marks, largely from need for the scholars tasked with editing Homer’s poetry epics. Ask an Athenian though, and they may tell you it comes from the Greek word asteri, meaning star.

In literary terms, it fell out of favour largely until the twentieth century, utilised to great effect solo to demonstrate the insertion of a footnote, or as a trio to break text into sections.

In modern times, it can literally mean anything. A pro athlete never wants one of these next to their name as it can signify a win under controversial or conditional circumstances, or in some biographies it can mean the year of birth (*1969). On the number key of your keyboard it could be a replacement for × (multiply), a mask for expletives in t*ts and s**t, and it can even be used to denote a *snigger* or a *gasp* on twitter. Whatever it’s use, the asterisk is a real chameleon of the symbol jungle, and it deserves a place in our hearts.

Shut the f**k up... *giggles*

Shut the f**k up… *giggles*

bluetooth-hi

Bluetooth

What do wireless devices syncing together and medieval Scandinavia have in common? No, it’s not a thirst for pillaging and decimation; it’s actually quite the opposite.

Harald Bluetooth was the Viking king of Denmark from 958 to 970, and famous lover of Blueberry’s (hence the blue teeth). He is best remembered for uniting parts of Norway and Denmark into one country, and converting them to Christianity. See Harald was a man famous for bringing people together.

In the early 90s, when various different technology sectors were developing their own systems, it was assumed by some designers that this difference would vastly impede wireless compatibility across them. Jim Kardach was one such designer. Inspired by Harald, who he viewed as a perfect symbol for bringing together rival parties, he was able to help mediate between the various interested bodies and from this the Bluetooth Special Interest Group was born.

Think it stops there? It’s Harald’s name in ancient rune form that actually makes up the official Bluetooth logo!

Cute like human Ewoks, Vikings were known for their deadly skill at battle

Cute like human Ewoks, Vikings were known for their deadly skill at battle

digitalart

The at sign

Few can imagine a world without it now, as it stands as the posterboy of modern communication; the twitter handle’s opening character, the link between username and domain on any email address. Alas, there was a time when this inescapable symbol was just a forgotten key stuck in obscurity on old typewriters.

The true origins are somewhat of a mystery, though many can agree that it came to prominent use as a symbol for ‘at the rate of’ in commerce, as in ’20 chickens at £1″ (its crucial meaning being demonstrated by the fact the total there would be £20).

It wasn’t until 1971 and the advent of the forerunner to email, that ‘The snail” (as the Italians called it) came into a new age of importance. Ray Tomlinson, a computer scientist at BNN (the company tasked by the American government with creating Arpanet – the precursor to the internet) sent a message to himself from one computer to another, and saved the @ sign from disappearing into symbolic and literal obscurity.

Make sure to take regular breaks from the screen to avoid hallucinations and Tron-esque out of body experiences

Make sure to take regular breaks from the screen to avoid hallucinations and Tron-esque out of body experiences

hash-sign-hi

The Hash

And here we are – the symbol of our time. Has any symbol found itself more crucial to our technological strides, not just once but twice in modern history? Initially one of only two symbols chosen for dial tone phones to make the new keypads more symmetrical, it later entered the public psyche via Twitter in 2007 to demonstrate a trend or topic. As my friend recently noted, “it’s the only thing that’s always trending”.

Most of us know it now as the hash sign, but its actual name is The Octothorpe, giving it the air of a superhero. Those etymologists among us will recognise that octo means eight. A quick count and you can see we are looking at only six points, but that’s not the only mystery. See, some claim that the thorpe part means ‘farm’ in Old Norse, and that # would indicate a village on old maps. To this day, the symbol can mean a lumber yard on Swedish maps. It can also be used in proof-reading to signify a space should be inserted, and it can even mean a checkmate in chess!

If that wasn’t enough, a similar incarnation would be adopted by the Romans (them again) as another symbol for pound (bringing the total to, yes, three different symbols for pound)!

bored at work #worklife #notlistening # presentation #booooring #cliche #wearinashirt #rolex

bored at work #worklife #notlistening  #presentation #booooring #cliche #wearinashirt #rolex #lolz

What symbols do you think are missing from this list? Do you feel aggravated that I didn’t include the Neptune inspired USB logo? Perhaps you cannot contain your rage at the non-inclusion of the question mark? There are many websites out there with information on the history of symbols, Gizmodo being one of my favourites.

The point here was never to give a definitive answer to all and every, but to instead give you the clip notes of some of the symbols we see everyday. The ingenuity, intelligence and history that is behind each of these could fascinate. I’d like to know what you think.

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Special thanks to AKARAKINGDOMS, digitalart, Iamnee, iprostocks, jscreationzs, Pixomar, Simon Howden, stockimages, Stuart Miles, vectorolie, imagerymajestic and patrisyu @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015