There are many recipes for the humble leek; from pies to soups to risottos and much more. It is even an emblem of Wales, and its popularity has long been established.

So it is unsurprising that it should appear in many forms in Middle English in which we see lēk, lec, leike, leick, leok, lī̆k, leac and other similar spellings. The common feature to all is the presence of /l/ and /k/ phonemes.

We have an example from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from 1389:

Wel loued he garlek, oynons, and lekes

(He greatly loved garlic, onions and leeks).

In this particular quote, all the words are easily recognisable to speakers of Modern English. But let’s compare a sentence from 1150, a little earlier.

Nim piper and alewen and sealt and leaces sæd and meng eal togadere.

(Take pepper and aloe and salt and leek seed and mix it all together.)

This comes from the Peri Didaxeon, a twelfth century medical tract. The title is from Greek and means ‘On Teaching’. Already at this time, the language is harder to recognise.

Going back a little further, to Old English and the ninth century, Aelfric’s Grammar, a work designed to help students learn Latin, helpfully includes the example ðis leác hoc porrum (this leek).

Following on from that, there is a quote from Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of early England, a collection of works in Old English also from the ninth century, but published in the eighteenth century.

Ðæt greáta cráuleác; nim ðes leáces heáfda

(the great crow-garlic, to take the chief of leeks)

There are cognates of the word in other Germanic languages, such as Old Norse laukr, meaning leek or garlic; Modern Icelandic leki – ‘leek’; Danish løg, Swedish lök, meaning ‘onion’; Dutch look, meaning ‘leek’. Old Saxon had lok; Modern German gives us Lauch. All of these point to a root in Proto-Germanic: *lauka.

Unfortunately, this is where our trail ends. There are no indications of another source, and words in Finnish (laukka), Russian (luk) and other Slavic sources appear to have been borrowed from Germanic. Suggestions that it may be related to ‘lick’ cannot be supported.


Cheese, the food of the gods

Cheese comes in many varieties and there are a range of flavours and aromas associated with it. It has long been part of our diets, as attested to in texts such as by Hippocrates from around 400 BC. But of course, Hippocrates spoke Greek and his writing was in Greek, which means that he used the word τύρον [tyron]. What of the English word; cheese?

What a small but smooth word this is. It flows beautifully off the tongue and onto the plate. Or perhaps indeed onto the palate!

And it too is not a modern invention. This word has been with us for a very long time. Let’s take a look at the Peterborough Chronicle from around 1160.

Þa was corn dære, & flec & cæse & butere.

(There was corn there, and meat and cheese and butter.)

At that time, in the period of our language known as Middle English, ‘cheese’ was cæse, as you can see above, but also chese, cyse, chise. There are references to it in many places, in diverse texts and it appears to have been quite popular. The only thing we cannot be sure of is the flavour!

However, the word did not arrive in English fully formed during the twelfth century. Its history goes back further than that, and can be found in Old English texts.


In West Saxon it was generally cyse, while in Anglian it was cese, both meaning cheese. Here is an example from the Anglo Saxon version of Medicina de Quadrupedis by Sextus Placitus, a fourth century work that was rendered into English during the ninth century. It was printed in Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of early England during the eighteenth century.


Níwe gáte cýse

(new goat’s cheese)


This seems very recognisable. Little has changed in the intervening centuries, you might think, except the numbers of varieties!


But can we trace its history any further? The Old English words came from a West Germanic source; *kasjus, which itself came from the Latin word caseus, which of course also meant “cheese”. This word has spread around the continent, with Käse in German, kaas in Dutch, queso in Spanish, caws in Welsh and also càise in Scottish Gaelic, to mention just a few.

On theory suggests that it might derive from a Proto-Indo-European root *kwat, meaning “ferment, become sour”., although there seems to be some dispute about that. Whatever the truth of this theory, in my humble opinion this is where the ancient Greeks made a huge mistake. Forget nectar, forget ambrosia. The food of the gods is cheese.


This is dedicated to Lynn

Yesterday I heard that my articles containing phrasal verbs were very much appreciated. I stepped up to the challenge straight away, barely missing a step, to write this.

In step with what has gone before, I thought to myself, it is easy, after all, to tread in one’s own steps! It is falling into step that poses more of a challenge, although once you are in step, it is simply a matter of habit to keep step, rather than breaking step.

When dancing, you must keep in step, and it is also a good idea to mind your step to avoid stepping on people’s toes. You should also mind your step in a new workplace when you are not sure how to behave, especially when you have the feeling that everyone else is one step ahead. If they give you knowing glances and raised eyebrows as you step into the room, this could make you feel out of step, but if you take a step back, you might see things differently.

You might however realise that you are in fact out of step and everyone else is thinking along different lines, perhaps stepping in a different direction. This seems to happen often in politics – the main candidate is out of step with the younger generation and has to watch her step to avoid causing offence, as, step by step, she gets closer to stepping into office.

Stepping into the shoes of the Prime Minister is not an easy task, and one can only hope you won’t be forced to step down, or indeed step aside, having climbed the steps to such a position. One you are there, it is time to step up to the plate. But take your time: there is no need to step on it!

On Radical and Radishes


These days, if we think of the word radical, various organisations might come into mind, of religious or political significance. A quick look at the dictionary (I used the Merriam Webster) gives the meaning as:

very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary


            very basic and important


            having extreme political or social views that are not shared by most people.

It came into English in the 14th century, but at that time it had quite a different meaning. Let’s take a look at an example from 1398. This is taken from John Trevisa’s translation into English of Bartholomaeus’s On the Properties of Things, (De proprietatibus rerum) which was a kind of early encyclopaedia.

Þe onyoun..haþ þer vnder oþere rootes..and þerby..radical humour is ysent in to al þe herbe.

The onion has other roots underneath and thereby a radical feeling is sent through all of it.

Here, the word is used to mean ‘pertaining to roots”. This makes sense, as the word was taken from Late Latin radicalis, meaning ‘of roots/ about roots/ having roots’. This comes from Latin radix, meaning ‘root’, and was formed from the genitive form radices.

As the roots are perceivably where a plant starts, it started to take on a more figurative meaning of basic’ or ‘origin’ as time went on.

To trace our word further back in time, we will go to another word that also has the same <ahem> root. This is of course radish.


Radish, meaning the vegetable, can be found in Old English as rǽdic. An example is in Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England:

Syle ðane rǽdic tó þicganne

A radish takes in a muddy place

The source of rǽdic is the same as that of radical: Latin radix. There are a number of cognates in other languages which have allowed us to trace it to Proto-Indo-European and the root *wrad, meaning none other than ‘root’. We can see examples in Greek ρίζα [riza], Gothic waurts, Old English wyrt and wrotan, Welsh gwraidd and others. You can read more on the word root here.

So, does this mean that a radish is radical? Or that if you are radical you are really a radish?! On the first point, given that a radish is a root, you could describe it as radical in the sense in which the word first entered English, although perhaps not with today’s generally understood meaning. The jury is still out on the second point!

A Springtime Poem

Season’s Turn

A chill lies upon the silent ground

The last tendrils of winter, ruling still.

But a sound breaks through the air,

A flutter of wings, a twig falling from a beak,

In a flash of blue-black and white

The swallow chirrups, calling in the change

And Change answers!

The sun peeps from behind the clouds

Green shoots burst up from below

A freshness is upon us, banishing the chill

With the promise of brighter skies,

Young buds, nests of feathered song

A warm dance of life;


This is my entry for this month’s Salt and Caramel Writer’s Workshop

Jumping into Books!

I did tell you that launch was used to mean Jump! How very appropriate for our new venture with Jump Magazine, which is now launching its first books! Check them out here!

Let’s start with my own:

Fed up with passive literary girls? Had enough of stereotypes? Try this girl-positive story, featuring Lucy, who is limited only by her mobile signal!

By Millie Slavidou my book photo

Lucy Evans, InstaExplorer

Book One: The Olympias Clue

Book Two: Dragon’s Rock

Book One: Follow the adventures of Lucy, our hi-tech explorer, as she wields an i-Phone through exciting archaeological discoveries in sunny Greece, in a corner not much frequented by the British tourist.

Book Two: Lucy goes on holiday to sleepy Wales. Only it’s not as sleepy as she expected, and a chance find sends her into the heart of a thrilling kidnap case

Release date: Monday 9th December


Also coming soon on Jump Mag!


By Samantha Gouldson sam's book photo.php

12 Science Words

That don’t mean what you think they do

This is a great little vocabulary booster, aimed at explaining to children that words they may already know, such as “proof”, can have a different meaning from what they have learnt when used in a scientific context. Written in a clear, concise manner, this is a great way to introduce children to this concept.

Release date: Monday 9th December


Forthcoming in 2015 via Jump Mag: 12 Women Explorers You’ve Never Heard Of

A great look at history via less well-known figures. Well-researched and written in a style designed to attract children and interest them in the past, in language that they can understand but that does not patronise them.