Biblioclasm – Every Reader’s Nightmare


This week’s word is biblioclasm, a term that’s been on my “to post about” list for some time because I couldn’t bring myself to consider it. What is a biblioclasm? Although it doesn’t seem to appear in mainstream traditional dictionaries it is defined elsewhere as “the destruction of books, especially the bible” (note: the bible reference may be an error due to the biblio element of the word – see below) and there’s even a biblioclast – one who engages in the destruction of books.

Yep, it’s the type of idea that has bookworms bursting out in the shakes and having night terrors. I mean, what monster would do such a thing? Well, it happens more than you think and if you can bear to read about it I’d suggest the Wikipedia article on the topic as it’s pretty comprehensive. I had no idea, for example that there is a ritual cremation of damaged or partial copies of the Sikh’s sacred text, Guru Granth Sahib, as a mark of respect.

No books were harmed in the making of this image

Biblioclasm is a rarely used word in English which first appeared in print during the 1800s. Its roots are simple – it is compounded from biblio (book) and clasmos (breaking) – both from Greek. The breaking of the book doesn’t have to be via fire, although that’s frequent as they are rather flammable. I imagine with the advent of ebooks, it has become more difficult to eradicate all copies of a volume now. Ebooks don’t “go out of print” in quite the same way, do they?

Like many regular bookworms, I’ve reached (and long since passed) a point in my reading where my available bookshelf space is insufficient. There are bookshelves in nearly every room of our home but I’ve had to accept that I cannot keep every book. Breaking out the fire-pit for a biblioclasm wasn’t an option I was ever going to take so my friends, family, and local charity bookshop have all received regular donations over the years. There will be no biblioclasm here. My bookcases may make my home a fire hazard, but I can live with that.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and beware of biblioclasms,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Gobbledygook and the Politician


This week’s word is gobbledygook (also spelled gobbledegook) because I love the way it sounds, its meaning, and its obscure link to a favourite eponym of mine.

Gobbledygook is one of the English language’s many wonderful words for gibberish or nonsense. The language always seems to be particularly well-supplied with terms for deriding the foolish behaviour of others. You can draw your own conclusions on why that might be so. Gobbledygook is defined as “the over-involved, pompous talk of officialdom” so it’s a specific type of gibberish.

The reason why it refers to officialdom is explained when you take a look at its origins and history. Unlike most older words we can pin gobbledygook to a specific date when it joined the dictionary (the American English dictionary initially but it’s used in British English too), 1944. Although it was during World War II gobbledygook isn’t a military term, although I’m sure there was plenty of gobbledygook afoot in that arena at the time, as explained below.

Gobbledygook was first used by a Texan politician Maury Maverick (1895-1954) in a memo on the 30th of March 1944. He was the chair of the Smaller War Plants Corporation and he used the memo to ban “gobbledygook language”. He even threatened to shoot “anyone using the words activation or implementation”. He later explained he invented the word in imitation of the noises a turkey makes.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Anybody who has read my book “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary” about the amazing people whose names ended up in the English language may remember his grandfather, Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870), a firebrand politician, rancher, and goldminer, who gave us the word maverick for a non-conformist and narrowly avoided death three times, including at the Alamo. There aren’t many families who have contributed two words to the dictionary.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.


Everybody Needs a Boudoir


This week’s word is boudoir. It’s finally cold enough here to break out the winter duvet and my handmade reading socks. No snow, yet, but my offspring are hopeful. With my bedroom in full Cosy Mode, and “Bridgerton” on Netflix, it turned my thoughts to the idea of a boudoir, something mostly associated with the ladies of the family but definitely a room that everybody needs these days.

Ted in his boudoir

What exactly is a boudoir? It is “a woman’s dressing room, bedroom, or private sitting room” according to Merriam-Webster. That’s a pretty broad definition, but it is certainly a private space for a lady’s personal use, although sometimes shared with friends, or loved ones. As a keen reader I would suggest that a boudoir should contain some books. The male version might involve a pool-table or power tools and be called a Den. Either way it’s a space to retreat from the outside world.

The word boudoir, as you probably know, has French roots. It entered English in the late 1700s from the French verb bouder (to pout or sulk), so a boudoir is literally a sulking room. Yes, that removes some of the romantic gloss from it alright, but doesn’t everybody need somewhere to sulk sometimes?

Fleece-lined reading socks, perfect for warming toes in the boudoir

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling in your boudoir,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Wordfoolery’s Favourite Books of 2020


As you might guess, I read compulsively. I’ve taken a look back at my reading (61 books so far this year) during 2020 with help from my Goodreads account and here are thirteen of my favourite books of the year. They’re not all recent releases, as books often wait in my Towering To Be Read Pile and because I’m still working my way through the 501 Books to Read Before You Die List. If you want to buy a book as a gift, or you want to treat yourself, I’d recommend any of these books. If you order through the links provided a tiny fee is paid towards supporting this blog.

If you’re not a reader, or prefer posts about the history of unusual words, don’t worry normal service will resume next Monday.

They’re listed in random order. I can’t rank books, I love them too much.

1910139688 Postcard Stories – Jan Carson (

52 flash stories, all originally written and posted on postcards to friends by this talented writer during a year of writing. Funny, wry, and touching. A wonderful glimpse of her life in Belfast. A slim volume, worth a try.


1910422444Leonard and Hungry Paul – Ronán Hession (

A gentle, though-provoking read that will stay with you afterwards. Leonard writes encyclopedias for children and Paul is a quiet soul who works part-time as a postman. Their friendship is the heart of the book which helps us to see the beauty in silence and how not every tale needs a fast pace or an explosion to make it important.

B01BSN15F6The Dry – Jane Harper (

A small town in the Australian outback is nearly two years into a drought when a tragic death occurs. A city policeman returns for the funeral of his best friend and is drawn into investigating the death while trying to understand an earlier crime that scarred their teen friendship. Brilliant writing, structure, and setting.


The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern (

I loved her first book, “The Night Circus”, and this one didn’t disappoint. A secret world beneath our own holds all the stories ever created and it is in danger. Perfect fantasy for book and library fans everywhere. Intricate plot with stories within stories so read with your brain switched on.


0440221668The Fiery Cross – Diana Gabaldon (

Outlander is my favourite histfic series and I read this book for about the fifth time in 2020 before watching the TV adaptation. Set in pre-independance America and following one family as they find a place in the New World despite the approach of war.


1401324649The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson (

Picked this up second-hand and flicked into it while queuing. Hooked instantly by the feisty old man and his adventures. Very funny. There’s also a sequel, can’t wait.


1250251516The Wheel of Time Series – Robert Jordan (

I finished reading the 14 books of this epic fantasy series this year. It’s set in a medieval-style world with plenty of magical creatures and quests. Along with strong male characters we also have feisty female characters from queens to village healers to leaders of rebel magic groups. Link is to a box-set but there are various editions, shop around.

1250103185Victim Without a Face – Stefan Ahnhem (

I read this in the spring and I know I read until 4.30a.m. to finish it and can still recall the tense, twisty, ending. Fast paced, well plotted, Scandi thriller with characters you care about. What more do you need?


0553448145Artemis – Andy Weir (

I loved “The Martian” so I rushed to get this in hardback. He’s back in space, this time on the moon but the book isn’t about NASA and space pirates this time. The moon has been colonised by Earth and it’s about to encounter its first heist. Readers, he had me at “moon heist”. Well written, good science, great setting, twisty heist.

Redeemer – CE Murphy (

Rosie the Riveter meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as a factory worker at the end of WWII discovers she has a rare talent for fighting demons. It’s just that she wants to sort out her life before her boy comes home from the front line, so could the demons hang on a minute please?


This is Happiness – Niall Williams (

Niall Williams is a beautiful writer but not only is his prose elegant, his characters stay with you after you close the book, and his plots are compelling. I have an entire section of his books on my shelves (a rare honour). This one follows a small town when the team arrives to bring electricity. Part coming-of-age and part love song to the past, it will transport you to rural Ireland in the mid 1900s.

0062868918The Hunting Party – Lucy Foley (

If you travel on the train through the western Scottish highlands you will pass these tiny railway stations in the middle of nowhere. They serve deer hunting estates for absent landlords. Some are rented out to high-paying guests. When a group of old college friends gather at one for a snowbound reunion the tensions are immediately obvious. When a body is found, it gets a lot more serious.

Words The Sea Gave Us & How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary – Grace Tierney (

My first two books inspired by this blog are out now in paperback and ebook (all the ways to get them are listed here along with reader reviews etc). “Words The Sea Gave Us” covers nautical words and phrases from ahoy to skyscraper. “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” explores the lives of the people whose names became part of the English language including Boycott, Sandwich, Guillotine, Casanova, and Fedora.

Right, that’s enough book chat. Next week I’ll be back with strange and unusual words. Wishing you happy reading in 2021.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar to say thanks for this year’s words.

p.p.s. You can read about my 2019 and 2018 Books of the Year too.

Mistletoe – an Unromantic History

Hello and Happy Christmas,

With only a few days to go until Christmas 2020, it feels like the right time to chat about the rather unromantic history of the classic Christmas evergreen, mistletoe. You probably know the tradition of kissing underneath it, but trust me there’s more to it than that when you dive into its word history.

The word mistletoe comes from mister (the name of the shrub) plus an Old English word for twig. The origin of mistle isn’t very romantic though. It was German originally and either comes from mist (dung) or mash (the malt and water mix using in brewing). These are for earthy reasons. The dung connection is because the plant spreads its seeds via bird droppings and the mash connection is because the berries are so sticky.

The origins of the mistletoe tradition springs more from Viking and yuletide celebrations than Christmas and it involves a touch of murder.

Odin, as you may recall, was the head of the Viking gods. His wife Frigg had a son called Baldur, known as Baldur the brave and the beautiful. He was beloved by all but as a result his half-sibling Loki, yes the one from Avengers, was jealous. When Baldur began having nightmares about his own death his doting mother made every animal, vegetable, and mineral in the universe swear never to hurt him. The only thing she didn’t bother with was mistletoe which grew close to the ground and looked weak.

Afterwards the other gods enjoyed throwing spears, arrows, rocks, and other items at Baldur and watching them fall away at the last moment thanks to their vow. When Loki discovered the mistletoe exception he made a short javelin of the mistletoe and tricked one of the other gods into throwing it and it killed Baldur. Since that day the plant is banished to grow high in the branches of trees and always to be hung high in our homes when used as a decoration at this time of year.

If you’re still keen on kissing under the mistletoe after the stories of bird droppings and murder you should be aware of the most important rule. With each kiss a berry is removed from the bunch and when they are all gone, no more kisses may be stolen beneath it.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)


Are you a Mugwump?


This week’s word is mugwump, a word I collected for my list some time ago and which I absolutely love for the way it sounds aloud.

Mugwump is an obsolete American English slang word so don’t fret if you haven’t heard it before, however it could easily come back into use in modern times, so feel free to adopt it today.

What is a mugwump and are you one? A mugwump has two potential meanings 1) somebody who left the Republican Party in 1884 (more on that in a moment) or 2) a person who remains neutral and independent in their political views

Mugwump entered American English in the 1830s as a joke word for an important person or boss. This was borrowed from the Algonquian Native American Indian word mugquomp for important person or war leader. By the 1840s it was being used satirically to indicate somebody who thinks they are important, but may not be in reality.

Mugwump gained a political dimension in 1884 when a group of Republicans refused to support their party’s presidential candidate James G. Blaine as a result of corruption issues, and threw their votes to the Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland, instead. Cleveland was duly elected president.

The rebellious Republicans were christened mugwumps as a term of abuse but they embraced it. Their independence later prompted a humourist (whom I am yet to identify) to define a mugwump as “a bird who sits with its mug on one side of the fence and its wump on the other”. As a political slur it was revived by Boris Johnson in 2017 against the leader of the Labour party.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ll be chatting about Christmas words – tinsel, wassail, mistletoe, and carol – on LMFM this Wednesday at 12.15 so tune in if you’re local, listen online, or check the podcast later. Be prepared for Viking legends, pagan rituals, and King Henry VIII along the way.

p.p.s. <hint, hint> Today is the last day to order my paperbacks from Amazon for reliable Christmas delivery, but signed copies are still available from me and ebooks can be gifted right up to Christmas Eve.

Crepuscular – the perfect word for twilight


This week’s word is crepuscular, one I came across on a list of people’s favourite words and then discovered I wasn’t sure of its meaning. In case you’re in the same boat, the definition of crepuscular is “relating to twilight”. In zoology a crepuscular animal is a creature which is naturally most active at sunset and sunrise. Bats, rabbits, and barn owls all fall into this category, for example.

A crepuscular sunset on a sultry day, Wexford harbour, Ireland

I suspect the people listing crepuscular as their favourite word are using it as another way of saying twilight (one of my favourite words and time of day). Since the 1660s, crespuscular has been used to describe anything which is dim or indistinct, like the light at that time of day.

Crepuscular comes to English from the Latin word crepusculum (twilight) which is related to creper (obscure) and possibly from krepos (twilight, although this is not certain). The zoological use in English dates to the early 1800s.

An older variant of the word with the same meaning was crepusculine (in English in the 1500s).

A warm welcome to my recent subscribers – feel free to suggest your own favourite word in the comments. Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Doldrums and Dead Horses


This week’s word is doldrums, along with the related phrase flogging a dead horse which originated not on a racecourse, but on the open waves of the Sargasso Sea. I’ve just completed a massive editing project (an Irish historic fiction novel, a long-term plan of mine) during NaNoWriMo 2020 and today I’m putting up my feet and giving you an extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us”, my nautical words and phrases book. I hope you enjoy it and avoid the Monday Doldrums yourself.

Doldrums {extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2020}

To be in the doldrums has been used since the 1800s to indicate boredom and low spirits but in the Age of Sail it was a more serious position for a ship.

The doldrums are areas of light winds around 30 degrees latitude in each hemisphere in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. They were also called the Horse Latitudes thanks to Spanish ship’s practice of throwing horses overboard when becalmed there to preserve drinking water.

The expression flogging a dead horse is connected both to the Horse Latitudes and to the ceremony of the Dead Horse. Sailing as far the Horse Latitudes typically took about one month which was the time it took sailors to work off their advance pay (spent ashore before the trip commenced). When the month was up they tossed a stuffed canvas horse overboard to celebrate being paid again. Captains noted that getting the crew to work hard during that month was as easy as flogging a dead horse into activity.

Not Columbus’ ship’s compass

East of the Bahamas a strong current causes sargasso seaweed to cluster on the surface. This area is known as the Sargasso Sea. It rarely rains there and the winds are light to non-existant. It is often compared to a desert in the sea. Becalmed ships here often didn’t survive the lack of drinking water, and the area was believed to be haunted by the ghosts of the horses and the sailors who had perished. The area is also called the Doldrums or the Dungeon of Lost Souls (now that’s a perfect title for a fantasy novel in my opinion). Columbus sailed through the area with great difficulty thanks to magnetic variation issues with his compass.

During December I’m gathering Christmas words for my Wordfoolery Wednesday local radio slot on the 16th. If you’ve words you’d like me to investigate, please drop a comment below. Thank you!

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)


Figureheads and How to Cherish Them on Ships


Today’s word is figurehead as I’m currently working on a sea-faring novel for my NaNoWriMo 2020 project and my mind is aboard a fictional galleon this morning. Figurehead has a simple word history – a compounding of figure and head (the front of the ship), and plenty of associated nautical history before its modern use to indicate a leader without power, from the late 1800s.

Lion figurehead spotted at Irish Maritime Festival, Drogheda

Extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” copyright Grace Tierney 2020

The figurehead on a ship is a carved wooden figure attached to the front of the ship. You might conclude that a figurehead in a business or political setting also has a wooden block for brains, but that would be entirely your own affair.

The design of a figurehead is often related to the function of the ship it adorns. Figureheads can be male or female and often were associated with bringing good luck to the ship.

Adornment of the prow of ship goes back to antiquity – eyes on Greek and Phoenician galleys, holy birds on Egyptian boats, carvings of deities on Roman galleys, toothy large-eyed carvings on Viking longships etc. More elaborate carvings began in the 1500s. In a world where many couldn’t read, the unique figurehead identified the ship.

Mermaids were frequent subjects for figureheads thanks to superstitions around women on board vessels. Women were terribly bad luck in general and caused bad weather, but bare-chested women were fine. Luckily mermaids were always depicted without a top, so they bared their bodies on the figurehead to appease the sea gods and nature into staying calm.

The crew were often very fond of their ship’s figurehead. They tied a hammock across the eyes of the figurehead on the Royal George so it wouldn’t have to see a humiliating retreat and when the figurehead on The Brunswick had its hat blown off the captain donated his own as a substitute.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)


Codology – a Fishy Tale


This week’s word is codology and it was suggested by Sinéad Brassil, friend of the blog, and the LMFM radio presenter who kindly hosts Wordfoolery Wednesdays once a month. I should also mention that it’s one of my mother’s favourite words.

Firstly, what is codology? It’s the elevation of codding to the level of a science – the talking of utter nonsense. For example, “I wish that politician would stop his old codology. We all know he’s talking rubbish.” Then what’s codding? It is to joke around. I’ve spelled it with two Ds to differentiate it from coding (i.e. writing computer code) but honestly I’m not sure of the spelling when used as a verb.

Readers of a certain era will recall a telephone ad for British Telecom featuring the wonderful Maureen Lipman praising a beloved grandchild who had failed most of their exams but managed to pass one of the “ologies”, I wonder if I could pass an exam in codology?

Codology is an Irish English word which, according to the OED, first appeared in print in James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” in 1922 (“The why and wherefore and all the codology of the business”). Eric Partridge’s “Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” and Cassell’s “Dictionary of Slang”, however, both think codology dates to around 1910 so in all likelihood it was in use before Joyce but he helped it on its way.

American English has a similar term – kidology drawn from kidding around.

Fishing for codology

A cod, is more than a fish in this context. To cod somebody is to hoax them, to mimic them, to trick or joke with them. Cod used in this way pre-dates codology but I can’t find any source to explain how we made the linguistic leap from a fish to a joke, except perhaps the French tradition of Poisson D’Avril, their version of April Fool’s Day where the victim is slapped with a wet fish instead of a verbal joke.

There’s no link I can find to codswallop, by the way, as it doesn’t appear in print until the 1950s, although again it does sound a little like hitting somebody with a fish. Wallop was slang for beer apparently, I like that.

Until next time happy reading, writing, wordfooling, and duck if anybody comes at you swinging a fish,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Smart Thinking Books

p.s. SmartThinking Books, the book blog for nonfiction readers, kindly asked me to contribute to their Christmas Book Recommendations this week.


p.p.s. My short fiction “Volume Control” is in the November issue of The Secret Attic and tells the tale of the two sweet little old ladies who live next door.