Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Hello,

This week’s word, immense, was recently listed as one of readers’ favourite words in English. After exploring another gigantic word, brobdingnagian, last week I thought we could continue the large theme this week.

An immense crochet monkey

Immense is the adjective used to describe something which is great beyond measure. It entered English in the early 1400s from Old French immense and ultimately from Latin immensus which means boundless or immeasurable. The prefix in– (opposite) and mensus (measured) were joined together to give us immensus.

Immense became a particularly fashionable word in the 1700s. It would have been a trending hashtag online if such a thing had been possible. Instead it was mocked in the press as being used to describe every possible item and experience –

“every thing was immense great and immense little, immense handsome and immense ugly”.

Popular words are often over-used but at least immense survived this mockery and is still a useful, and beloved, word today for describing the vast and impressive vistas and emotions of this world.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Hello,

This week’s word is brobdingnagian. A character is described in “Hall of Mirrors” by Christopher Fowler (witty detective fiction country house mystery) as being

“positively brobdingnagian when balanced upon a minuscule wire-framed chair”

and I had a feeling it was a reference to the classic satire Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift but I had to pull out the dictionary to be sure, as I thought the only adjective he’d spawned with his writing was lilliputian for people small in either stature or outlook.

Sure enough brobdingnagian (pronounciation here) describes anything of tremendous, or gigantic, size. Swift described Gulliver’s encounter with the land of Brobdingnag in his classic book. It’s inhabited by humans of massive size and is almost the opposite of Lilliput where the people are tiny relative to his brave shipwreck survivor, Gulliver.

The witch Cailleach Beara at Slieve Gullion Forest Park

What I hadn’t realised was that Swift gave English several other words thanks to his hugely popular book, many of which entered the language shortly after its publication in 1726. He wrote the book while working as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

You may not use big-endian and little-endian for controversies over nothing significant (or ways of organising digital data), or some of his other lesser known words, but I bet you’ve heard of a yahoo being an uncivilised person.

If you’d like to encounter the giant witch I’ve included above – check out the Giant’s Lair Trail at Slieve Gullion Forest Park. There are many legends about the witch attached to the landscape of the area and the trail is perfect for families, or you can tackle Slieve Gullion mountain if you prefer something more energetic.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Friggle

Hello & Happy New Year,

Today’s word is friggle and it has nothing to do with resolutions or a “New Year – New You”. You’re safe here.

Friggle is an English dialect word for fussing over trifles. I assume this means unimportant things rather than layered desserts. Friggle is not a dialect word I’d ever heard and I’ve been unable to identify which area of Britain is home to friggling. Do any of you know?

Its origins are lost but may include connections to fiddling, wiggling, or fumbling and there are definite links to the idea of finagling something. As somebody who likes the details to be right, I think there may be a link to niggle, that feeling at the back of your mind that some tiny thing has been overlooked.

Some of the words on this blog defy my efforts to illustrate them with images but I found inspiration this week with my daughter who likes all the small elements of her lego creations to be perfect. She spent an hour cleaning the cafe with a toothbrush yesterday. She’s definitely a friggler.

The waitress friggled all her cafe items

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Hello,

This is a bonus post, please forgive me for the lack of unusual words. I’ll be back on Monday with my English oddments.

As you might guess, I read compulsively across many genres, fiction, and non. I’ve taken a look back at my reading during 2018 (with thanks to 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 for a while and because I’m still working my way through the 501 Books to Read Before You Die List. If you got a book voucher for Christmas I’d recommend any of these books. If you order through the links provided below a tiny fee is paid towards supporting this blog.

If you’re not a reader or prefer posts about unusual words, don’t worry normal service will resume tomorrow.

Thank you.

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

 

The Complete Peanuts, Vol 5, 1959-1960 – Charles M. Schulz

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Comic strips, including the introduction of Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally, and Snoopy’s impressions of a fierce mountain lion. Hardback series.

 

The Diary of a BooksellerThe Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Funny, sarcastic, and touching. A true account of a year in the life of the owner of a small second-hand bookshop in Scotland.

 

Bryant & May - Wild Chamber: (Bryant & May Book 15)Wild Chamber – Christopher Fowler

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

If you love London, or history, or humour and you haven’t read any Bryant & May detective stories yet – you are in for a treat. Frequently provides unusual words for this blog. I read four others this year and they were all excellent. Series.

 

Arsenic for Tea – Robin Stevens

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

A children’s book (I borrowed from my daughter) but easily one of the best detective books I read this year. Agatha Christie, for kids, in a boarding school in the 1930s. Series.

 

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle Book 1)Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Fantasy about a girl training to be a magical assassin to avenge her family. If you thought Snape was bad, check out the potions teacher here who poisons the entire class before their first class, and really doesn’t care how many of them survive. Witty, clever, brutal. Brilliant.

 

1848406363On This Day – Vol 2 – Myles Dungan

Amazon.co.uk only

Collection of pieces, mostly about Irish history, first broadcast on radio. Dungan has a great tone and although I knew some of the stories already, he tells them well.

 

 

0008150109The Things I Should Have Told You – Carmel Harrington

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

I love chick-lit, rom-coms, and women’s fiction. In this story about a family reconnecting on a road-trip across Europe in a camper van, Harrington proves she can do it, and do it well.

 

 

0141439939The Diary of Samuel Pepys – Samuel Pepys

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

One from my 501 list – Pepys lived through plague, the restoration of Charles II, and the Great Fire of London.

 

 

1101988665The Masked City – Genevieve Cogman

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

A magical library connected to all libraries on all worlds across space and time. Just add librarians who are nearly immortal and can work magic with words to fight dragons and faeries. Series.

 

 

031620689XThe Silkworm – Robert Galbraith (JR Rowling)

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

The Cormoran Strike detective novels are enjoyable, intelligent, and feature one of the best detective pairs ever. No wizards. Series.

 

 

1455524174Two Kinds of Truth – Michael Connelly

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

The 20th Harry Bosch novel and Connelly is still hitting the high notes. Bosch is my favourite American policeman, even now that he’s retired. Series.

 

 

0440217563Voyager – Diana Gabaldon

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Gabaldon’s historic fiction (with a dash of time-travel & romance) Outlander series (now an excellent TV series) is a regular re-read of mine featuring the best depiction of a married, loving, couple I’ve ever read. Perfectly researched. From Scotland during Bonnie Prince Charlie’s uprising to revolutionary America the story sweeps you along and the characters become family. Her books frequently inspire words for this blog. Series.

How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary – Grace Tierney

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Apple Books / Kobo

Inspired by this blog, a fun journey through the lives of the people who gave their name to the English language. From apgar to zeppelin with stops for casanova, guillotine, sandwich, and cardigan, each one of them lived an extraordinary life. Packed with wordy trivia and perfect for history buffs.

 

Happy reading in 2019,

Grace (@wordfoolery)

 

Tinsel

Hello,

I hope you’re enjoying Christmas Eve. Preparations are well underway here at Wordfoolery HQ and the festive spirit has inspired me to explore the word tinsel today.

Tinsel edged noticeboard, with thanks to my daughter

I was surprised to find that tinsel can be a noun, adjective, and verb. The noun relates to threads, sheets, or strips of metal (or plastic) used to create a sparkling appearance in decorations and fabrics. The version I’m most familiar is the festoon of tinsel, a sparkling feather boa, slung around Christmas trees. Personally I prefer decorative ribbons on our tree, so the annual tinsel explosion happens in my daughter’s room instead.

Tinsel as an adjective describes anything which is like tinsel, or is gaudy. Tinsel as a verb is the act of interweaving or adorning with tinsel. I assume this means if you drape your tree in tinsel you are tinseling when you do it.

Tinsel is a surprisingly old word. Its first usage was as early as 1538. It entered Middle English as tyneseyle which was a cloth interwoven with metallic thread and the word probably came from Anglo-French tencelé which itself came from the verb estenceler – to sparkle.

The king of England at the time was the Tudor monarch Henry VIII. He’d buried three wives by that point and had a fondness for rich fabrics like cloth of gold so we may have him to thank for the fashion for tinsel as courtiers would copy his style.

By the 1650s the idea of tinsel had become associated with things which were showy but ultimately of little worth. Again this fall in tinsel’s reputation may be related to politics as by 1650 England had been rocked by Cromwell and the Roundheads. Charles II sat on the throne but had been forced to curtail some of the more over the top aspects of his court fashions for fear of following his father to the chopping block.

The use of Tinsel Town to describe Hollywood dates to 1972. Although it also describes my daughter’s bedroom at this time of year.

Happy Christmas, and until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Scobberlotcher

Hello,

This week’s word is scobberlotcher, which I came across in “Wild Chamber” by Christopher Fowler. If you haven’t stumbled across his mature, and eccentric, detectives Bryant & May (yes, like the matches company) and you enjoy London history along with wit and peculiar crimes, then check them out. You’re in for a treat.

Bryant, in particular, has a fondness for obscure terms so my copy of the novel is now dotted with notes for this blog. You have been warned.

Library at Russborough House – perfect for scobberlotchering

A scobberlotcher (pronunciation here) is a harmless idle person, so it’s a useful insult for anybody who is unlikely to bother looking it up after you fling it at them. Scobberlotcher dates to the 1600s and its origins are obscure. The lotcher part may come from loiter, to hang around aimlessly. Loiter itself comes from the Dutch verb leuteren, to idle.

I’m far from scobberlotchering this week with last minute Christmas preparations afoot and a plethora of lunches to attend. It’s a shame so many social events are squeezed into December, when spreading them throughout the year might share the joy and ease the purse, but I’ll manage. I hope you find some time to scobberlotcher this week.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Chicanery

Hello,

This week’s word is chicanery (pronunciation here). Chicanery means to achieve your goal via subterfuge. It’s not a word you hear that often now, even though it is certainly something that still happens, with sad regularity.

The word history of chicanery is enshrouded in enough mystery to suggest subterfuge. It entered English in the early 1600s in a legal context. It referred to quibbling and sophistry and came from the similar French word chicanerie and the Middle French verb chicaner (to quibble or to pettifog). How it reached French is a little more debatable. It may be from the Middle Low German schikken (to arrange) or may even be from a golf-like game once played in the Languedoc region of the south of France. Perhaps early French lawyers liked to quibble over points of law as they got in a round before court?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)