This week’s word is loquacious because I love the way it sounds. It just rolls off the tongue. It means, as you’re probably aware, one who is talkative and speaks smoothly and with skill.

I wouldn’t describe myself as loquacious, despite loving to talk, because I know the words flow considerably easier for me in written format. I even find it easier to think with a pen in my hand. However I have a child whose middle name should be loquacious and he can always be relied upon to have something to say and the words to say it with. He has his uses at awkward social events or during pauses in polite conversation.

Unlike the long-winded tales he might tell, the story of loquacious is a simple one. It joined the English language c. 1660, after Shakespeare’s death which is a shame because he would have loved the word. He had to settle for describing Juliet’s nurse as garrulous instead, another excellent word for wordiness.

Loquacious has its roots in Latin – loqui – which means to talk. It has cousin words in French (loquace) and Spanish (locuaz).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and talking,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)




My Garden Harvest

My Garden Harvest

This week’s word is intoxicate (audio here) and not because I’ve been hitting the wine, although I am remembering this week how hard I worked on the grape harvest in Beaujolais once. My kitchen is filling with the fruits of my own garden and the local hedgerows. I’ve already made my favourite jam (damson – a wild hedgerow plum) and I’ll be picking blackberries tomorrow and elderberries for cordial next week. Meantime my outdoor tomatoes are ripening, the grapes are on the vine and my mini-peppers (this year’s experiment) are being eaten from the kitchen windowsill.

But what does all of this have to do with intoxicate? Well, as it often the case, we have to go back to the Greeks and Romans.

Mini peppers

Mini peppers

The Greek word for an archery bow was toxon. This gives us the term toxophily for archery skills. The poison to tip the arrows (the Greeks used poison arrows – who knew?) was called toxikon. With me so far?

Now we take a detour to the Romans. In Latin toxikon became toxicare and meant to smear with poison (the Romans used poison arrows too – did anybody fight fair?). The poisons used were vegetable based and my youngest child would tell you that this proves her point that all vegetables are poison.

Toxicare came to mean vegetable brews of a more alcoholic nature – that’s where my wine link comes in, in case you were wondering.

Damson jam

Damson jam

The leap from toxicare to toxic, intoxicate, and intoxication was a simple one via medieval Latin and Late Middle English, probably helped along by the import of wines from southern Europe at that time. If you’re ever in Kinsale, Co. Cork there’s a great little wine museum there about that trade, all the better for being housed in a medieval tower house castle.

One last thing though. Those Greeks didn’t get everything right.  They also thought drinking from an amethyst cup would prevent intoxication which is where we get the word amethyst – a (not) and methuein (to be drunk). I doubt you have a jewel-cup to try this tip, but apparently it didn’t work.

Wishing you all the best of this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. May your harvest be plentiful.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)


This week I’m making another entry in my eponym series about words given to us by people and places through history, and I’m turning to French military history to do so.

A martinet (pronunciation) is a strict disciplinarian who expects to be obeyed in every last detail. Reminds me of a certain Mr. Grey, but this one pre-dates that gentleman by many years. We have to time-travel back to the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715) the Sun King of France and his somewhat chaotic army.

Fortunately for King Louis, his army contained Lieutenant Colonel Jean Martinet who, when made inspector general of the infantry, created a rigorous system of drilling and discipline. He wasn’t adverse to the use of the cat-o-nine-tails, again like Mr. Grey, but in his case this was reserved for errant soldiers.

The weapon of infantry at the time was the musket and Martinet trained his troops to fire in precise group volleys to overcome the musket’s terrible accuracy issues. A case of “if you all fire at once, you’ve got a chance of hitting something”. He also got them advancing in neat lines, pushed out the mercenaries who’d formed the core of most armies up to the time, and introduced the bayonet to the French army. Martinet’s name became associated with strict military discipline and gradually came into use to mean any strict disciplinarian in the wider world by the 1730s.

Martinet was killed in a friendly fire incident at the siege of Duisberg in 1672, perhaps by those perfect volleys, poor chap.

Can you Help Wordfoolery?

I’m currently researching for the first Wordfoolery book which I will be drafting during NaNoWriMo this November. Normally I write fiction during NaNo, but this year I’m challenging myself with some nonfiction, a collection of mini-histories of eponyms to be exact. To that end I’m assembling a long list of eponyms for potential inclusion. If you have a suggestion, comment below and I will be happy to include your name and link in the acknowledgements page. Thank you!

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)

p.s. sadly Wordfoolery didn’t make it to the finalist stage of The Irish Blog Awards 2016 but thank you very much for all your votes at the shortlist stage and good luck to those in the final.


I finally made a visit to the National Maritime Museum of Ireland in Dun Laoghaire last weekend, with family in tow, so it’s time for another entry in Wordfoolery’s Nautical Series – tonne.

anchor When over-burdened with shopping (or an anchor like this lovely example outside the museum) I’d often say that it weighed a tonne. However I’ve edited the phrase out of my writing because I couldn’t get clarity on the correct spelling (tonne or ton?).

Imagine my surprise to find a detailed explanation of the phrase when researching for my coastal novels in the museum. Tonne comes from the idea of a ship’s tonnage but has little to do with the weight of the ship. Tonnage, or as it was originally know tunnage, was measured for tax purposes and related to the number of tuns of wine the ship could carry. All good ships transport nothing but wine, of course.

One tun held 252 gallons of wine (tax-men despise even numbers) which is approximately 1,150 litres or 2,2,40 pounds of weight. So when I said my bags weighed a tonne, I should have said they weighed a tun, although I’m not strong enough to lift 2,240 pounds of groceries, or wine!

Pirate Captain Grace

Pirate Captain Grace

If you want to get into nautical detail the gross tonnage of the ship is the volume of its cargo space while deadweight tonnage (DWT) refers not to – “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum” – but to the total weight of passengers, cargo, fuel, stores minus the weight of the ship herself.

As for the origin of tun as a word, that has the fingerprints of many languages – Old English tunne, Old Frisian tunne, Middle Dutch tonne, Old High German tunna, German tonne, Latin tunna, Old French tonne and possibly even Middle Irish tunna and toun (meaning hide or skin). I’ve noticed that words relating to ships often have a mixed source like this. I assume this is because the ships and their sailors moved around, pilfering words from languages when it helped them communicate with their polyglot crews and traders. Seas are fertile places for creating vocabulary.

If you’re visiting Dublin, I can heartily recommend a visit to the maritime museum in Dun Laoghaire (just hop on a DART train out from the city centre) – there are great hands-on exhibits for the kids and it’s small enough for the whole family to avoid museum fatigue. Run by volunteers (hence the reasonable entry fee), it is crammed with details on the huge and varied contributions made by the Irish to seafaring life – inventing submarines, founding several nation’s navies, shipwrecks, polar exploration, Atlantic cable-laying, the Beaufort scale, and I discovered Marconi had an Irish mother.

Museum Teddy wasn't sure about this whole breeches buoy thing

Museum Teddy wasn’t sure about this whole breeches buoy thing

They were even kind enough to indulge my curious children by showing how the museum’s teddy travels between ships by breeches buoy.

Until next time, happy reading,writing, and wordfooling,


Please don’t forget to vote today for Wordfoolery in the Arts&Culture section of the Irish Blog Awards – thanks!



Great news, Wordfoolery has made the shortlist of the Arts&Culture section of the Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards Ireland 2016, hurrah!

Moving from this stage to finalist is based 80% on judging and 20% on public vote – which is where you come in. The public vote is open today (Monday 22nd) and tomorrow (Tuesday 23rd) until midnight. Just press the button below. You’ll need to pick Wordfoolery from the Arts & Culture shortlist and create an account to vote but it’s pretty easy.



Thanks for your support, Grace (a.k.a. Wordfoolery)


This week’s word is inspired not by urban pitfalls but by my own mountain clumsiness. I spent last Saturday climbing Lugnaquilla in the Wicklow Mountains and managed to dip first my right foot and later my left foot in the lovely, cold, brown water of the rushing streams we needed to cross during the hike. There appears to be a magnetic attraction between my boots and running water, most annoying. My, more experienced, companion remained dry-shod and laughing.



I may lack her agility in the mountains but at least I built up a good immunity to the Georgian beau traps of Dublin when I frequented the city.

A beau trap is early 19th century slang for a paving stone which is loose enough for rainwater to gather underneath. Dublin city dwellers will know that we get a spot of rain now and then. Stealthy puddles gather under the large Georgian stone footpaths (sidewalks for my US friends) and unless you avoid those slabs or hit them in the exact right spot it “tips up and pumps half a litre of rainwater up your trouser” (as Terry Pratchett points out in “A Slip of the Keyboard”).  This rainwater is always a murky grey shade and invariably ice-cold.

Douglas Adams (the reason why all my novels have 42 chapters) once created an alternative word for this – the affpuddle – which I rather like too.

Why is it called a beau trap? The elegant young men of the 1800s (also known as beaus) wore those tight white stockings to show off their well turned ankles and calves and such a sinister pool of city rainwater was a trap for those beaus.

Whether you’re walking in cities or hills beware of wobbly stones and beau traps this week.Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)


This week I’ve been staying up late and watching the Olympics so I couldn’t resist a related word – medal.


I was half-hoping this one would have a Greek origin to fit in with the whole Olympic theme but this word, which entered the English language in the 16th century, originates primarily with those other classical word creators – the Romans.

Medal‘s history starts with medialis, a Latin word which means medial – the half or middle of something. Confused? Bear with me. Next step is medalia in Medieval Latin which means a coin worth half a denarius. The half theme continues when the word moves into Italian as medalgia which was a copper coin worth a halfpenny. A quick hop to French brings us médaille (finally meaning medal) and the final move is as medal in English c. 1570.

It is easy to see how medals may have originally looked like coins but it did make me wonder about the cost of medals. That half denarius intrigued me. A denarius was the price of one day’s work for a skilled labourer, sometimes paid in bread. Online sources suggest that nowadays a half denarius would be about 25 US dollars. A Rio 2016 gold medal (in pure metal terms) is worth 570 US dollars or 315 for a silver. Although, of course, they are priceless to their owners.

One theory on word origin traces the word even further back from Latin as metallum which means metal and came from the Greek word metallon, meaning mine. Seems only fair to give the Greek’s the final word on this one.

Until next time happy reading, writing and wordfooling. If only reading were an Olympic sport, we’d all be in with a chance.

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)