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Barricade

Hello,

This week’s word is barricade and again it’s one that can be used as a noun or a verb. When I think of barricades I immediately picture a dramatic scene from Les Miserables with rousing singing and waving flags but barricades don’t date to the French Revolution. They’re much older but they do have a French link.

Barrels ready for a barricade

A barricade is an improvised defensive barrier made to stop your enemy’s advance. Films would have us believe that barricades always include a wooden cart and a few chairs but in fact an authentic barricade should include barrels.

Barricade entered English around the 1640s from Middle French which had borrowed the word from Spanish barricada or barricado (in the 1580s) which literally means “made of barrels”. Barrica is Spanish for barrel or cask.

The earliest recorded use of barrels in a barricade dates to that period too. During the 1588 Huguenot riots in Paris large barrels were filled with earth and stones to create obstacles in the streets.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Gadzookery

Hello,

This week I want to explore and promote gadzookery here on Wordfoolery. To get started I’ll take a look at the annoyance/surprise exclamation “Gadzooks!” which dates back to the 1600s but was used regularly through to the end of the 1800s. Like the use of heck instead of hell, gadzooks is a stand in for another phrase “God’s hooks!”. Gad was often used instead of god. Egad is another example of this.

God’s hooks doesn’t sound too sacrilegious to a modern reader but it’s a reference to the nails used during the crucifixion of Jesus and apparently that was a step too far, back in the day.

words both new and old

After gadzooks fell from regular use the term gadzookery was adopted (around 1955) to refer to the deliberate use of old-fashioned language. If, like me, you enjoy using older words like zwodder, bumptious, and jargogle then you’re indulging in gadzookery.

Ironically gadzookery itself has suffered the fate of falling from regular use, so anybody accusing you of gadzookery is possibly guilty themselves.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and gadzooking,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I got some good news this week, gadzooks! The sequel to my comedy serial novel “Hamster Stew & Other Stories” has been accepted by online reading platform Channillo.com. “Nit Roast & Other Stories” will debut there in early August.

 

Zigzag

Hello,

This morning I indulged in a little light time-travel. My youngest is attending a camp at Dublin City University this week and I had a few hours to kill so I wandered up to the library and asked if I could use the facilities as an alumni. The lovely librarian sorted me out and buzzed me in with the warm words “welcome back”.

Back in the stacks

The library isn’t even in the same building anymore, but it was a delight to sit in the new space and remember my younger self. I stacked a quiet cubicle with books and settled in. I started research on my next non-fiction book “Words the Sea Gave Us” which I’ll be drafting during NaNoWriMo this November, but I couldn’t help jotting down gems for Wordfoolery too.

Zigzag (also zig-zag, both are used) is the first on my library list. As noted before, I have a fondness for words containing neglected letters in the English alphabet and zigzag has two.

crochet zigzags

What’s a zigzag? It’s a line with sharply alternately right and left turns. They go way back, you’ll find them on the stone carvings at Newgrange (famous Irish stone age burial mound, older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids at Giza).

Zigzag entered English in the early 1700s and was used by Jonathon Swift in 1728. The word comes from French and before that from German zickzack where it was applied to describe fortifications. It’s worth noting that Zacke in German meant a tooth or prong which makes sense if you think about the sticky-out-bits (the technical term!) on castellations and fort walls. To perform one of these turns in your course you would zig, or possibly zag so it can be used as a verb too.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Taking Umbrage

Hello,

Hinterland Festival

This week I’m exploring the word umbrage, with thanks to John McKenna whose writing workshop I attended last weekend at the Hinterland Festival. The annual festival is held in Kells, Ireland and features over 60 events over four days for readers, writers, and younger visitors. This year I was proud to be chosen as the winner of their inaugural short fiction contest and closed their Lit Crawl event with a reading of my story “The Purple Tree” in the library.

 

 

Anyhow, back to umbrage. John mentioned it was his favourite word at the moment as he’d only recently discovered its meaning related to being in the shadow of trees.

In the shadow of trees

Naturally I had to investigate. The first surprise is that “to take umbrage” dates back to the early 1600s. I always thought that had to be a stiff-upper-lipped Victorian expression, but apparently people have been suspicious of slights against them for much longer.

Umbra, meaning shade or shadow, is a Latin word, with possible Sanskrit roots. From there it edged into Middle French as ombrage (which gives us the currently popular ombré colour effect) and shaded into English by the early 1400s. The excellent Phrase Finder web site confirms that umbrage sometimes referred to the foliage of trees causing shade. Originally taking umbrage meant to sit under shady trees in the 1540s but a hundred years later the meaning had twisted, perhaps because of the association of darkness with negativity.

They also pointed out something which I can’t believe I missed. The distasteful character of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter books is named for two types of darkness – umbrage and dolour which means sorrow and distress.

The idea of shade as a negative thing is still active in modern slang. Throwing shade, or simply shading someone means you’re insulting them.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Talking Guff

Hello,

This week’s word is guff, purely because I enjoy saying it. Plus it’s handy for rhyming with stuff, puff, and tough enough.

Foolish talk

Guff, in case you don’t know, is nonsense talk or empty foolish words. If you’re accused of “talking guff” your audience doesn’t think much of the topic of your conversation. Such an audience would be proud of “not taking any guff“.

I hadn’t realised guff had a secondary meaning, in Scotland, of an unpleasant smell. That meaning leads to the roots of the word.

Guff entered English in the early 1800s as a reference to a puff or whiff of a bad smell. So guff was being compared to a windy noxious aroma. It gives a new nuance to blowing hot air or talking out of one’s behind.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

 

Hello,

Along with a passion for words, I also enjoy foraging. There’s something satisfying about finding local plants and using them in old recipes. Last weekend, for example, I took a walk to gather elder flowers and bottled up some elder flower cordial. I’m far from expert and take great care to pick sustainably and with careful identification, but with help from a handful of good books on the topic I’ve been expanding my hedgerow harvest from simple blackberrying to blackberry and apple jam, crab apple whiskey, and wild garlic pesto. Pinterest is a good starting place for information, if you’d like to try it yourself.

Beware of nettles

When I was walking back with my elder flowers I passed a large clump of nettles and remembered a strange fact about them from “Foraging” by John Lewis-Stempel – “In Scotland, the natives made cloth from nettles as late as the 18th century”.

Nettle’s word history ties in with the idea of cloth. Nettle entered English from Old English netele which in turn came from Old Saxon netila and related words netele (Middle Dutch), netel (Dutch), Nessel (German), and naedlae (Danish). All of these terms come from the root ned which means “to tie or bind”.

Twisted fibres used to bind are but a short hop to cloth via a loom and it wasn’t just done in Scotland. I recently read Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales (for my ongoing quest to read the entire 501 Books list) and in one of them (The Wild Swans) a princess must knit nettle shirts to save her brothers from an evil queen. She suffers terribly during her task due to nettle stings.

The history of nettle cloth is well documented elsewhere online, if you’re curious, and dates back to 3000 B.C.. Nettle cloth, or ramie, which is like linen was widely used worldwide even during World War II, even next to the skin.

To nettle someone is a more recent verb use of the word. It means to irritate or provoke someone and is from the 1560s. I imagine touching a stinging nettle would provoke you alright.

If you’re unfortunate enough to be nettle stung I do have one piece of advice based on a foraging talk I attended a few years ago. The charming expert began with a demonstration of how to handle nettle stings. He was scathing on the common misconception that dock leaves help. They don’t and I can vouch for that from my own childhood. At best the application of dock (also called burdock) leaves makes you feel a little better as a distraction/attention thing.

Dock – pointless for nettle stings

He introduced us to another plant, smaller leaved than dock, which generally grows on the edges of paths worn through grassland – plantain (plantago major). Apparently it was called whitefoot by native Americans as it grew where the colonists walked. It has strong anti-histamine properties and is well known for this in some countries and totally unknown in others which is a shame. He demonstrated with sheer bravado, holding a fistful of nettles for a minute, showing us his red, welted hand (to groans from his audience), and then rubbing the welts with dampened, crushed plantain leaves. In half a minute the welts and pain were gone.

 

Plantain – try it on nettle stings

I’ve yet to try this myself but I spread the word and both my children have helped stung friends with good effect.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. Stay away from those nettles, unless you’re making nettle soup.

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Hello,

I’m back from a lovely weekend in a yurt in Wicklow with my family and thanks to a combination of antibiotics and anti-histamines (insects love to bite me, but my body doesn’t enjoy the experience) I’m only leaving my zwodder today.

A Yurt with a View

Zwodder, in case you’re unfamiliar with 19th century Somerset dialect words, means a drowsy state of body or mind and I wish it could make a comeback as a commonly used English word. The weather here has been perfect recently – clear blue skies, warm but not too hot, a light breeze. Tradition (but not science) holds such weather is because 120,000 students are sitting state examinations at the moment, the poor things. All I know is it makes for perfect zwoddering conditions.

My zwoddering spot

Zwodder certainly doesn’t appear to have standard English roots due to its spelling. Middle Dutch has swadderen which means to be weary or staggering due to drinking. Anglo-Saxon had swodrian which meant becoming drowsy or falling asleep. Zwodder’s roots may lie in the Land of Nod amongst a haze of Zzzz.

Until next time I wish you a comfortable hammock and time to zwodder,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)