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Turning a Blind Eye

Hello,

This week’s word is the phrase “turning a blind eye” and it’s from my next blog-inspired book “Words the Sea Gave Us” which I’m writing during NaNoWriMo 2018. It’s Day 12 and I’m on 20,233 words and counting.

The idea of deliberately ignoring something in this case comes from Nelson and his damaged eyesight.

In 1801 at the Battle of Copenhagen Nelson is reputed to have disregarded a direct order to disengage from Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Legend has it that Nelson put his telescope to the eye-patch on his blind eye and claimed he couldn’t see Parker’s signal.

That’s the short version of the story and gives us the popular phrase. The long version is somewhat more complex. Parker had huge faith in Nelson and arranged in advance that if he hoisted the disengage signal Nelson would have his blessing to ignore it, as he was the man in the thick of it and best placed to judge the next move. This he explained to his signals officer when he gave the order.

Nelson, however, had to do something to placate Colonel Stewart of the Royal Marines who was nearby when the order came in as the colonel wasn’t aware of the arrangement and might not have approved of such naval nonsense. Hence all the telescope drama.

The icing on this particular cake comes from the fact that Nelson wasn’t blind. He did take damage to his eye at the Battle of Calvi in 1794 from some flying debris but he wasn’t blinded, never wore an eye-patch, and never got the navy to pay out disability compensation despite numerous attempts.

It is likely the expression had been used in English before Nelson’s disregard for that order, but his fame certainly helped it into common usage.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Hello,

Regular wordfools will know that I take part in National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) every November. In fact, I take the whole “write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days” challenge to the next level by also mentoring a region (Ireland North East) as a volunteer municipal liaison at the same time. This explains why this morning over breakfast I was checking how many writers I have (33) and how many have started writing (18), before opening my own draft of “Words The Sea Gave Us” and disappearing into maritime research.

Yes, I’m writing another book about words, the first of a series. This one delves into the many wonderful words the sea has given us. I mean who can fail to love galoot, gollywobbler, or scuttlebutt?

So this week I have an example from my book-in-progress – bosun.

The bosun is the officer whose job it is to look after the ship and its equipment. On a merchant ship this is the petty officer in charge of hull maintenance and related work, while in the navy the bosun is a warrant officer in charge of the hull and all related equipment.

The bosun is typically an experienced sailor and supervises the deck crew.

Although bosun appears to be a rather unusual word, it’s just boatswain with funny nautical spelling, and boatswain is a simple compound word of boat and swain. Swain means servant and comes from the Old Norse word sveinn which was a boy servant.

The bosun has the privilege of carrying a special silver bosun’s whistle which they use to call the hands to their duties. Because of the whistle’s high pitch its call could be heard even during high winds. Various commands were indicated by different notes, or combinations of notes – haul, away boats, all hands on deck, pipe down, carry on, etc.

When an important visitor, or the captain, boarded the ship the bosun would use his whistle to alert the crew. This tradition, called manning the side, grew from the bosun’s need to call crew to hoist visitors up the side of the vessel when weather was too rough for ladders.

The visitor would be hauled up, above crashing waves, in a bosun’s chair. Modern bosun’s chairs are similar to equipment used in rock climbing, complete with safety harnesses, clips and additional lines etc. but the original versions were improvised with a short plank or canvas for a seat and some clever knot-work by the sailors so the person could be pulled aboard from a smaller boat bobbing on the waves below. Bosun’s chairs are still used today in ship painting, sea rescues, and window cleaning.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. Good luck to any of you trying out NaNoWriMo,

Grace (@Wordfoolery) “Words The Sea Gave Us” – 8,084 words and counting

Pumpkin

Hello,

As I’ll be carving for Halloween later, I’ve decided to explore the origin of the word pumpkin today.

Our 2017 pumpkins

Pumpkin has its origins in Greece and Mexico, much to my surprise. The oldest botanical evidence for pumpkins were seeds found in Mexico and dating to about 6000 B.C. Their name, however, comes from Greece rather than Mexico.

The Greek word pepon (πέπων) means large melon and probably originates from peptein meaning to cook or ripen. This passed through Latin as peponem and thence to Middle French as pompon. From French the word entered English as pumpion in the 1540s. By the 1640s, with help from some American colonists, it had found its resting place as pumpkin. Less than a decade later there are references to pumpkin pie and its fate was sealed.

I’m just glad that these days we grow pumpkins in Ireland. Having exported the festival of Halloween to North America we’re very happy to import the idea of pumpkin lanterns as a thank you. Why? Because in living memory (i.e. about half my knitting & crochet group) it was turnips (or swedes) which were carved for Halloween lanterns and trust me, carving a tough turnip is a much more perilous pursuit than pumpkin-carving. The result is pretty gruesome though.

“Traditional Irish Halloween Jack-o’-Lantern” by Rannpháirtí Anaithnid. Licensed under Creative Commons

Until next time happy reading, writing, and pumpkin carving,

Grace

Looking for more Wordfoolery? Check out my new book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” – an exploration of the varied life-stories of those who gave their names as eponyms to the English language. All the buy links are in the side bar on the right —->>

 

Hello,

This week on Wordfoolery instead of one word I’m talking about more than 260 words, all of them eponyms and all explored in my new book, inspired by this blog, “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” and launching today.

I love that cover. Peter Sheehan did an amazing job.

The English language is a cornucopia, brimming with words to amaze and delight. Flip open a dictionary at any page and you’ll find treasure. Since 2009 I’ve explored extraordinary words weekly on the Wordfoolery blog and in 2013 I began a series of posts exploring eponyms.

I discovered the lives behind eponyms are incredibly varied and span centuries and continents – a short series of blog posts wasn’t going to be enough. Any history of the English language is also the history of the men and women who gave their names to the dictionary. This book is my tribute to them.

My eponymous heroes and heroines range from sharp-shooting teenage girls to lovers escaping palaces on bed-sheet ropes. Ingenious inventors and daring scientists feature, of course, but so do soldiers, chefs, goddesses, revolutionaries, murderers and their victims, villains galore, and an elephant. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them. If you do, please leave a review somewhere as it really helps me as an indie author.

Thanks to the Wordfoolery readers who were kind enough to suggest eponyms for inclusion (and who appear in the book as a thank you). Take a bow Nell Jenda, Rick Ellrod, Peter Sheehan, Dianne Thomas, and Rosemary Costello.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

“How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” is available on Amazon (US, UK, and elsewhere) in paperback and kindle format. You’ll also find it as an ebook on Kobo, Apple Books, and in libraries via OverDrive. All the links are below. If you can’t get it, get in touch. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saunter

Hello,

This week’s word is saunter. Walking is on my mind simply because I can’t. I broke a toe a few weeks ago and haven’t resumed my daily walks yet, much to my chagrin. When I do, I shall be sauntering rather than striding along at my usual pace.

What does saunter (pronunciation here) mean? It is to stroll in a slow, relaxed manner.

There are competing theories on the history of the word and it has changed meaning during its life.

The leisurely walk idea dates to 1660, but in the late 1400s to saunter was to muse or be in a reverie, so perhaps the reason they were walking slowly was because they were lost in thought.

The first origin theory is that it entered English from Anglo-French in the 1300s as a twist on s’aventurer (to take risks), but the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) find this unlikely.

Merriam Webster reckon saunter is probably from Middle English santren (to muse).

OED say it entered via Late Middle English and is of unknown origin.

Saint Kevin’s pilgrim path to Glendalough, Wicklow, Ireland

Henry David Thoreau spread a fourth, incorrect, origin. He thought saunter came from Sainte-Terre, the French for Holy Land and that saunterers were pilgrims en route to Jerusalem, literally sainte-terrers. Sadly the dictionaries and linguists are united in rejecting this notion, but it’s an appealing idea.

I enjoyed a saunter during 2018 Pilgrim Path Week on the trail pictured, but not as far as Sainte Terre. If you enjoy sauntering, mark the 19th of June in your diary. It’s World Sauntering Day.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and sauntering,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Coming soon!

p.s. After ten years of blogging about the history of words I’ll be launching my first nonfiction book inspired by the Wordfoolery Blog on the 22nd of October. “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” is a light-hearted look at the lives of the soldiers, inventors, style icons, and villains who gave their names to the English language as eponyms. From atlas to zeppelin English is full of words named for Greek gods, explorers, serious scientists, and crafty chefs. These heroes and heroines, scattered through world history, all did something extraordinary to squeeze their name into the dictionary, and this book celebrates their biographies.

If any of you would like an advance copy for book review purposes, or would like me to guest post on your blog, you can contact me in the comments below or message @Wordfoolery on twitter. Thank you.

Garbled

Hello,

This week’s word is garbled, which I came across in an article about spices in “Simple Things” magazine.

The modern sense of garbled is to mix-up something, usually language. For example, “my phone signal was patchy and everything she said to me came out garbled“. The older sense of garbled is almost entirely the opposite and relates to spices rather than words. The complete reversal of meanings for words is surprisingly frequent in English, I’m not sure what that tells me about English-speakers. Are we contrary or confused?

Spicy

The original source of the word garble is lost at sea, the Mediterranean Sea to be specific, but I’ll try to make it clear.

Latin, as usual, has a hand in it. The Latin word cribrum means sieve. The Late Latin word cribellum is a diminutive of that (little sieve). From there we get gharbal (to sift) in Arabic, garbellare (to sift) in Italian, garbillare (to sift grain) in Spanish. There was plenty of contact between these nations via the Mediterranean over the years and traders would always be talking about taking impurities from their spice and grain products. Spices were imported from Arabic countries via Venice, to Europe.

By the late 1300s the word is garbeler in Anglo French and has reached English as garble by the early 1400s with the meaning of “inspecting and removing dirt from spices”. The article I read in “Simple Things” explained that even today garbled means hand-sorted in the spice trade.

In Middle English (also early 1400s) a garbeler (from Anglo French garbelour) was an official who garbled spices and other dry goods, so it used to be an occupation.

By the late 1400s the idea of garbled meaning sorted was still there, but it also had been joined by the meaning of “distorting for a devious purpose”.  Perhaps the garbelers had been corrupted with bribes by spice-traders?

The association with distorting language arrived in the 1680s and hasn’t left  since.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Boscaresque

Hello,

This week’s word, boscaresque, is particularly appropriate in October in my opinion. I came across it in “Simple Things” magazine. Boscaresque is an adjective to describe a particularly scenic grove of trees. Anybody in the northerm hemisphere must have noticed the trees looking particularly fine right now in their autumn colours.

Autumn at Castle Leslie

Regular Woodfoolery readers may be remembering a related word I posted about a while back – bosky – again relating to trees.

Finding the origin of boscaresque proved challenging. Despite extensive use online, it wasn’t turning up in dictionaries (other than a 2010 entry in Urban Dictionary) which can be a sign of a modern invented word. Its relationship to bosky is simple, it’s those Romans again. Latin boscum or boscus means wood, then you add on the French suffix -esque (meaning looking like, in a positive sense) and you’ve got it (thanks Tweetionary).

I was relieved to discover boscaresque isn’t new at all, although it is likely to have been coined from Latin and French as mentioned above.

Caroline Derry provided a guest post for the London Historians’ Blog this year on the topic of John Evelyn’s life in Deptford. Evelyn, best known now as a famous diarist (although overshadowed by Samuel Pepys who I read this summer). He was also a huge influence on forestry and gardening. Pepys was a fan of his gardens, as was another contemporary who said they were “most boscaresque“.
So, it’s not a new word, it dates back to the mid 1600s.
Until next time happy reading, writing, wordfooling, and kicking leaves,
Grace (@Wordfoolery)