Forlorn

Hello,

This week’s word is forlorn, with thanks to my DS who says it’s his favourite word at the moment. I considered telling him mine is floccinoccinihilipilification (to make little of something) but I knew I’d get an eye-roll in return.

Forlorn arrived in English as forloren during the 1100s from Old English forleosan (to lose or let go). Forleosan was compounded from for (completely) and leosan (to lose). Similar compound words about loss existed in Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch, Gothic, and Old High German so its Germanic roots are clear.

Forlorn boots at Lugnaquilla, Wicklow

Forloren’s original meaning was disgraced or depraved and it wasn’t until the 1530s that it changed to mean forsaken or abandoned. Then in the 1580s it changed again to describe somebody who is miserable or wretched.

The most common use of forlorn in modern English is the phrase forlorn hope which dates right back to the 1570s and was a loose translation of verloren hoop in Dutch where hoop means a troop or group of soldiers. A verloren hoop was a military suicide mission, but forlorn in English is more likely to describe a faint hope rather than anything quite so dramatic.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Rigmarole

Hello,

This week’s word is rigmarole. It’s one I use in speech fairly often (usually entreating my teens to get to the point of their story) but I hadn’t seen it in print for a while so when I spotted it in “A Crown of Swords”, the seventh book in the Wheel of Time fantasy series by Robert Jordan, which I’m enjoying at the moment, it reminded me to hunt up its origins.

A rigmarole (pronunciation here) is defined as a confused or meaningless story or a complex and sometimes a ritualised procedure. Hence it can either be a verbal thing like the rambling story which never reaches a logical conclusion, or it can be an overly elaborate approach to a task. As a writer, both those things are to be avoided.

Rigamarole doesn’t have the clearest of origin stories but I’ll do my best. It arrived in mainstream English in the 1700s to describe a long, rambling verbal story, possibly from a local expression in Kent. In the 1500s, in Middle English, there was a thing called a ragman’s roll and that was probably the source of the Kent expression.

What was a ragman’s roll? I assumed it was a rolled up pack by a traveling salesman, but apparently not. The roll in this case was more akin to a school roll (list of enrolled pupils). The roll was a long list or catalogue, in this case describing, in verse, characters in a medieval game of chance called Rageman. The fact that the game was complex probably added to the meaning of rigmarole over time.

Rageman probably came into English from Anglo-French Ragemon le bon (Ragemon the good) who was both a character on this list and the title of one of the verses.

A long list – my rigmarole of craft projects to be completed

I was unable to get clear instructions on how to play Ragman’s Roll but it was widely popular in Anglo-Norman households. Some descriptions claim there were up to 50 mini verses (often bawdy) from which each player would draw one at random to tell their fortune, particularly as it related to matters of love. Thanks to Philip G Hunt’s blog for those details.

By 1939 the idea of a rigmarole being a long list had transformed into foolish or complex activities as well as such stories and lists.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Banjax

Hello,

This week’s word is banjax (pronunciation here). It’s an informal word which teeters on the edge of slang but does get a definition in several major dictionaries. Although it might not be acceptable in an English essay for an exam, it is a mainstream word, albeit one which is most widely used in Ireland (Hiberno English) than in other English-speaking countries.

So what does banjax mean? Well, it describes something, or someone, who is worn out, tired, broken beyond repair. If the mechanic has given up on your car then it would be banjaxed, or if you had worked nights for a month and could barely put one foot in front of another you would be banjaxed.

My Dad as a Schoolboy

The best description I ever heard of banjax came from my father. He told me when he was growing up in Killester (Dublin) there was still an undeveloped field opposite his house on the Howth Road. It was home to one sad, lonely donkey who had retired after a long life as a working animal. The way he described the creature it reminded me of Eeyore in the A.A.Milne stories. The local kids loved the donkey and would pull up juicy grass to feed it through the gate. They named it Banjax.

Sadly, like the end of the donkey’s story, banjax’s origins are lost to us. The word appeared in Ireland around the 1930s. The only guess I found was that it could be connected to the word banjo. You will sometimes hear a person say they are banjoed when they are tired, so there may be a connection, but it remains to be proven. If you’ve theories of you own, please let me know in the comments.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

This post is made in memory of my Dad who died last week. He filled his home with books, his time with crosswords, and his daughters with a love of words and history.

Picnic like a Victorian

Hello,

Although Ireland has avoided the European heatwaves recently, to a large extent, we have managed a few sunny days during August and they spurred me into a walk around my local park. The wide open grass & meadow areas were scattered with picnic blankets, laughing children, and dogs who wanted to say hello.

As a result, this week’s word is picnic and it’s one the French gave us. The word started in French as piquenique (it can also be used as a verb in French) in the late 1600s, probably from the verb piquer (to pick or peck) in Old French. The second part might be from nique (a worthless thing) in German, or may simply have been added because it sounds like the first element.

It was used as picnic in English during the 1700s but only rarely. The Victorian era saw the more widespread use of the term but it wasn’t an exclusively outdoor meal at that point. The English picnic in the 1800s was a fashionable social event in the style of a pot-luck where everybody contributes a dish or two. Over time this became associated with the outdoor versions of such gatherings. The move towards the outdoors in the mid-1800s was thanks to the Romantic movement in art and literature which revered nature.

Of course farm labourers had brought a chunk of bread and cheese, or a savoury pastry, to the fields for centuries before picnics became fashionable – that’s the source of the still popular ploughman’s lunch. Middle class and upper class Victorians and Edwardians brought the catering to the next level, probably thanks to servants. Fortnum & Mason’s developed the scotch egg and provided everything you’d need to picnic on the plains of Africa or the hills of Sussex.

By 1861 Mrs Beeton included sample picnic menus in her famous book of “household management”. The main course for one suggested the following –

“a joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, 2 ribs of lamb, 2 shoulders of lamb, 4 roast fowls, 2 roast ducks, 1 ham, 1 tongue, 2 veal and ham pies, 2 pigeon pies, 6 medium sized lobsters, 1 piece of collared calves head.”

Thankfully since her time packing a picnic has become simpler and available to all, once the weather co-operates. The word is even used figuratively to mark something as being easy to achieve (since the late 1800s).

Wishing you happy late summer picnics. Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

The Marvellous Word History of Mummies

Hello,

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy the Qi Elves’ podcast “No Such Thing as a Fish“. They are clever people chatting about cool facts and having a huge amount of fun teasing each other at the same time. Mostly I laugh along, but now and then I rush off to jot down a word for this blog, a fact for a nonfiction book, or inspiration for a story.

Which is a roundabout way of explaining why mummy is the word (as opposed to mums the word) this week here on Wordfoolery. They mentioned that we get the word mummy from bitumen and that bitumen is extracted from natural islands in the Dead Sea. Don’t ask me where they found that gem but I reckon it’s obscure enough for me to explore here.

Mummy in Louvre, Paris. Note the intricate wrapping of the head.

Mummy arrived in English in the 1300s spelled as mummie but at that time it described a substance prepared from a mummy and used in medicine, to staunch internal bleeding apparently. Delightful notion.

The word came to English via Latin (mumia) but originated in Arabic mumiyah (embalmed body) from Persian mumiya (asphalt) and mum (wax). Egyptologists believe that Arabs who saw the blackened appearance of the mummies thought the remains were covered in bitumen and named them accordingly.

Mummy in the Vatican Museum, Rome. Note the dark exterior.

The connection of the word mummy with Egyptian mummies didn’t reach English until the 1600s. Of course mummies existed long before that time. The Chinchorros of South America created the first, around 5,000 B.C. and the Egyptians adopted the idea around 2,500 B.C. Creating each one took about forty days.

Not all mummies were human. There’s an Egyptian mummified cat in the National Museum of Ireland and others include jackals, baboons, horses, and lions.

 

In Victorian times, hosts would buy a mummy and throw a party at which the unwrapping of the body served as the entertainment for the evening. The mind boggles.

Bitumen was used in the mummification process, so the Persians weren’t too far off in their naming of mummies. Bitumen, if you didn’t know (I had to look this one up) is a natural oily form of petroleum also known as tar (the more common term for it here in Ireland). Bitumen occurs naturally in several places around the world including the La Brea Tar Pits in California and the Dead Sea. It was used by humans as early as 40,000 years ago for waterproofing and glue.

As well as being ground up for medicines and unwrapped at parties, mummies were also used as the main component in the paint called mummy brown. Thankfully the manufacturer stopped this in the 1960s, because they had run out of available mummies.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Pandiculation

Hello,

Appropriately enough I’m writing my blog post this morning having risen early to get some words down before the rest of the house awakens. This week’s word, with thanks to the wonderful television medical series “House” (featuring Hugh Laurie as a brilliant and sarcastic but sociopathic diagnostician in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes). They used pandiculation in an episode and sent me scurrying for my dictionary.

Pandiculation (audio pronunciation available here) is a “stretching and stiffening of the trunk and extremities when drowsy or after waking from sleep”. Basically if you yawn and stretch when you wake up, you’re pandiculating.

Yawn like a roman (sculpture at Ostia Antica, the old Roman harbour)

Pandiculation entered English in the 1600s from simple Latin roots. Pandiculari is the Latin for “to stretch oneself” thanks to pandere (to stretch or to spread). This is one the Romans gave us, as illustrated above.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Wordfoolery is now open to Guest Posts

Hello,

This year the Wordfoolery blog is ten years old and I’ve been celebrating by quietly making a few changes around here. I’ve spruced up the theme, tidied some pages, and refreshed the banner. I’ve expanded the reach of the blog via pinterest, mix, and bloglovin’ too. I’m also working hard on my second and third books inspired by the blog (“Words The Sea Gave Us” and “Words The Vikings Gave Us”).

Now I’m happy to announce that Wordfoolery is open to guest posts!

The full submission details / writer guidelines are here.

If you’ve a favourite word (or words), a passion for word history, a review of a wordy book (or dictionary?), a rant about US vs UK spelling conventions etc. then send me your suggestion and we’ll see if it fits on Wordfoolery. Unfortunately guest posts are unpaid (like my own!) but I’m happy to promote the post and allow links to your writing, website, books, or blog. Please note that guest posts should be between 300 and 1,000 words in length.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)