The Origin of Lambasting

Hello,

This week’s word is lambaste (also spelled lambast) which I heard used on a radio programme about our recent general election. I always wondered if lambasting somebody had anything to do with basting a leg of lamb with its juices during the roasting process, so I set out on a word hunt (“we’re going to catch a big one, we’re not scared”).

If you’ve been up to no good, you can expect a lambasting

My first question was how should you pronounce lambaste anyhow? The person on the radio said it as lamb-baste (like basting that roast lamb) and that was the one I’d heard before. So I was surprised to discover that this time the more common Irish pronunciation is the US version. We usually lean towards UK pronunciations, but not this time. The UK pronunciation has the baste part sounding more like Bast, the Egyptian god of cats. If you’re curious you can listen to both versions here.

Lambaste is an older word than I expected. It entered English in the early 1600s and started with a physical sense of reprimand, rather than the verbal/figurative version I would associate it with today. The verb baste meant to thrash or beat something. The addition of the old verb lam, which also meant to beat, was a way of doubling up the strength of lambasting, essentially it was a doubly hard beating. In fact a lam was also a noun, for a heavy blow, used from the late 1500s. Both lam and baste have possible Old Norse roots. Baste may have been a word for whipping and lam was a verb for making somebody lame. The same lam gives us the idea of an escapee being “on the lam“, literally “beating it” along the road.

Basting in the culinary sense has different roots, French in fact, and is an even older word. Basting meat while cooking arose in the late 1300s and probably comes from the Old French verb basser (to moisten or soak) which is also connected to the word basin in English. Hence lambasting has nothing to do with lamb roasts.

If you lambasted somebody in the 1600s you were thrashing them physically, but around the late 1800s the idea softened somewhat and you could give them a tongue-lashing instead which is the most frequent use of lambasting now.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Ferhuddle and Pennsylvania Dutch

Hello,

This week’s word, ferhuddle, is a suggestion by one of the blog’s readers, Elizabeth Rimert. If you’d like to suggest a word yourself for the blog, drop me a comment below.

You probably won’t find ferhuddle in a standard English dictionary, but it is widely used in Pennsylvania, U.S.A., as an adjective for confused or mixed up. Sadly I wasn’t able to find an online pronunciation audio file for ferhuddle, but you could probably work it out from the PA Dutch online dictionary.

Not being American myself, I had only a vague awareness of PA Dutch so I went exploring. I was surprised to discover PA Dutch is much closer to German than Dutch. I studied standard German for six years as a teen, and found the PA Dutch samples online to be fairly understandable.

The name for the language is Deitsch, which probably explains the Dutch vs. Deutsch confusion. PA Dutch is a version of German spoken by about 250,000 people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and in Ontario, Canada. It arrived with immigrants from Germany, Alsace-Lorraine, and Switzerland in the late 1600 and early 1700s.

Sadly PA Dutch speakers have been in decline, especially since World War II, but it is still widely used in Amish and Mennonite communities. With wonderful words like ferhuddle to give us, I hope it survives.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Beware Here Be Phubbers

Hello,

This week’s word is with thanks to friend of the blog, Sheena McDonald, who shared this one – phubbing. I usually find old words for this blog but this is a recent word and desperately needed which explains why it has reached the dictionaries already.

Phubbing (pronunciation here, the ph is like an f) is defined as “The act of ignoring someone you are with and giving your attention to your mobile phone instead”. This is now so common that a verb was certainly needed.

Phubbing was created as a word in May 2012 thanks to a campaign by the Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English to find a term for this habit. They invited lexicographers, authors, and poets to coin a word for the behaviour. Phubbing was suggested y Adrian Mills and David Astle of the McCann advertising agency who were working on the campaign to promote the dictionary.

The word phubbing is, as you might guess, a compound of phone and snubbing. Wordfoolery is against the habit, but loves the word.

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.

 

Loathing Expergefactors

Hello,

This week’s word is an old one I stumbled across a few months ago – an expergefactor. It sounds like a gruesome remedy for a stomach ailment, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s worse than that.

An expergefactor is something which wakes you in the morning. This can range from your alarm clock to next door’s cat, the beep of your phone or the rattle of your letterbox. If you’re very lucky it will be a kiss from a loved one. Unfortunately the history of the expergefactor is shrouded in a sleepy mist. It dates to the 1800s but I can’t find an official etymology for it despite it appearing on several lists of Old English Words deserving a comeback. The closest I came to it is that factor is something which serves a purpose – a corn factor deals in corn, for example. The related verb Expergefaction probably comes from the Latin verb expergisci meaning to become awake.

How you feel about your expergefactor will be determined by a combination of elements including: the volume of disturbance, the time of day, the time you fell asleep, and whether you can now gently arise and eat a leisurely breakfast while reading your book, or you have to scramble around for food while convincing reluctant small people to find their shoes before school.

My least favourite expergefactor was a cockerel at Knockree Youth Hostel on a teenage hiking trip. He decided that despite the fact that we had talked until one in the morning it would be appropriate to perch outside our windows and repeatedly yodel at four a.m.. I recently re-visited the hostel with my son on a similar trip and was relieved to find the cockerel was no more. I suspect a disgruntled hiker ate him for dinner.

In writing about this word I’ve realised that I am now a redundant expergefactor. I used to wake my son, an easy task as merely opening the door was enough to have him bounce out of bed. He’s a morning person. Now he relies on Alexa and listens to the news headlines before rising. Waking my daughter was trickier. She, like me, was not a morning person and had to be coaxed and cajoled from her slumber with hugs and gentle chatter. Now she relies on her old-fashioned alarm clock and regularly has eaten her breakfast before I drag myself from the duvet. If this redundancy means I enjoy an extra ten minutes in bed before my expergefactor rouses me, I’m fine with it.

Who or what is your expergefactor?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I was delighted to be the feature interview over at Smart Thinking Books this week, a publication about nonfiction books.

 

Groak – to gaze at somebody else’s food

Hello,

I found the word groak with thanks to the excellent word expert Susie Dent on twitter and I’ve been using it frequently this week. To groak is to gaze longingly at somebody else’s food in the hope that they might share it with you, or better yet simply hand you the entire plate. Its origins are vague with the best guess being Scots or Ulster Gaelic so perhaps the first groaker was longing for a bowl of porridge, or a “wee dram” of something stronger.

Pets of all types are good at this, January dieters too, and you must always keep an eye on those who virtuously announce they don’t want or need a dessert but would love a second spoon for yours. In my life the greatest danger of groaking comes from my children. The eldest, when they were only two, managed to quietly pull their father’s chicken caesar salad to their side of the table while pushing away their own toasted cheese sandwich.

A hungry Roman groaker

Now both of them are teens, with the legendary appetites which appear to “come as standard”, so when we proposed a trip to IKEA this week their immediate response was “Meatballs!”. This didn’t strike fear into my soul as I prefer the salad bowls, but my poor husband paled and whispered that this time he’d buy them extra large portions in the hope that he could eat his own meal in peace.

Yes, we have meatball groakers. They suction up their own food at supersonic speeds and then gaze at anybody who still had some food on their plate, i.e. their father, until he gives in and redistributes his grub.

So the next time somebody, be they family or family pet, stares at every mouthful on your fork, you’ll know they’re groaking.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve started a twitter list of the wordy people I follow there. You can subscribe to it. If you tweet about etymology and words let me know and I’ll add you. It’s a handy way to focus your twitter reading.

 

The Many Ways to Say You Need the Bathroom

Hello,

I was shelving my copy of “The Horologicon” by Mark Forsyth this week and noticed I’d marked his section about how to say you need to use the bathroom. Apparently in Victorian times you would explain that you needed to visit Mrs. Jones. Jones isn’t a particularly unusual surname so I do wonder how Mrs. Jones felt about this phrase.

The need to urinate has spawned a vast array of euphemisms. Here is a selection. Feel free to add some in the comments as I’m sure I won’t be comprehensive. Some are more explicit than others so don’t read on if you’re easily offended. That’s why we have euphemisms in the first place, I suppose.

  • Pay a visit to Mrs. Jones (Victorian)
  • Powder your nose (mainly used in US)
  • Caught short
  • Take a leek
  • Tinkle
  • Take the Browns to the Super Bowl (American)
  • Drain the snake
  • Use the restroom (American)
  • Visit the little girls’/boys’ room
  • I need to wash my hands
  • Spend a penny (English – public toilets used to require a penny to open the door to the cubicle)
  • visit the conveniences
  • call of nature
  • going to the loo
  • where’s the head (nautical)
  • going to the jacks (I think this one is Irish – can anybody confirm? May comes from jakes, the Tudor term for the toilet)
  • I’m going to talk to a man about a horse/package
  • I need to freshen up (American – not always understood in British English)
  • Going for a big greasy jobby (Scottish)
  • going for a slash/piss/wee
  • go potty (small children) presumably from the old-fashioned chamber pots originally
  • I’m going to the throne room

The toilet itself can be named john, pisser, loo, bog, can, throne, smallest room, privy (dates back to 1200s), washroom (especially in Canada), lav (short for lavatory), WC (water closet), crapper, outhouse, dunny (Australia), biffy (America), commode (from French), netty or necessary (Northern England), carsey/karzy (Cockney) etc. There’s a very good article about the etymology of many of those here.

The origin of the word loo is debatable. It is often seen as a shortening of the word lavatory from the early 1900s. Lavatory came from the French phrase lieux d’aisances (a place of ease) and was collected by British soldiers serving in France duringĀ  World War I but there’s also a chance that loo is a pun on Waterloo, based on the English use of WC or water closet.

Can you add to the list?

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.

 

Nefelibata – the Cloud Walker

Hello,

Happy New Year to all of you and Happy Nollaig na mBan (women’s Christmas) to all my female friends here. The old Irish tradition of Women’s Christmas is celebrated on the 6th of January (and features in several of my books). It is the time when women took the day off after the hard work of preparing for Christmas and visited their female friends, leaving the menfolk to cook their own dinners. In theory at least the tasks are more evenly distributed these days, but it’s still a good reminder to celebrate female friendships. I’ll be celebrating later today with hot chocolate, homemade gingerbread, “Anne with an E” on Netflix, and my daughter.

For now, however, I’m back writing after the Christmas break and living in my imagination again which made me think of the word nefelibata. I can’t recall where I found this one, possibly on a pretty online image, but it’s a beautiful word.

Dreamy clouds at sunset, Wexford harbour, Ireland

A nefelibata (pronunciation here) is somebody who lives in their imagination, an unconventional person who doesn’t always obey society’s rules. The word isn’t strictly speaking English, but like deja vu, pizza, and schmuck it’s one which deserves adoption by English-speakers. It is actually Portugese and is compounded from nephele (cloud) and batha (a place to walk) which means its literal translation is cloud-walker, a person who lives in the clouds of their own dreams. As my 2020 writing year begins with planning books, articles, and writing events I think I need to schedule a little cloud-walking too.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)