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Hello,

This week’s word is ullage thanks to the entertaining “Movies & Booze” radio slot on Newstalk on Friday afternoons. I’m often driving on a Friday afternoon and the movie reviews combined with chat about wines and beers are always knowledgeable and fun. Last Friday the wine expert used the word ullage, much to the amusement of his co-hosts, and it seemed like a perfect choice for some wordfoolery here.

Beware of the ullage!

The word ullage describes the empty part of a container, or the loss of liquid by evaporation or leakage. Ullage is the empty gap in a wine bottle which is there to allow for expansion in the wine due to temperature variations.

That definition reminded me of a distillery tour I took at Bushmills, many years ago, when the guide explained that the evaporation of whiskey during the long maturation in casks was called the angel’s share. It conjured images of tipsy angels fluttering above the casks having a wee dram and causing ullage in the casks.

Ullage’s route to English has a surprising origin in the Latin word for eye – oculus (which has links to ocular and binoculars as you might expect). What has an eye to do with the angel’s share?

The next step is ouiller (or euillier) which was the Old French verb meaning to fill up. It translated literally as to “fill to the eye”. It is likely that the bunghole of the barrel was called the eye. From ouiller to uillage in Anglo Norman French is an easy hop and by the late 1400s the word ullage was used in Late Middle English, yet another of those words imported to England by the Normans, and their wine merchants.

The next time you open a bottle, or cask, of booze you can ponder the angel’s share and the barrel’s eye.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Dalliance

Hello,

This week’s word is dalliance (pronunciation here) which is generally used now to describe a light flirtation or romantic relationship, but it didn’t always mean that.

Mucky & Chicken’s friendship was more than a dalliance

First we need to take a look at the verb dally. Yeah, I didn’t realise it was a verb either. To dally is to play, dawdle, or waste time. My mother used to warn me not to dilly-dally on the walk home from school. I’m pretty sure she talked about shilly-shallying too, but perhaps I’ll look at that another day.

Dalliance is formed from dally + -ance so literally it means the act of playing or wasting time. There’s a good chance it came to English (mid 1300s) from French, as did so many words brought over with the Anglo-French connections of the time, but nobody is really sure.

What is certain is that daliance and daliaunce were used from that time in English to describe an edifying or spiritual conversation. That’s not how I would describe flirtation!

By the late 1300s dalliance had transformed in any general conversation including small talk, flirtation, or coquetry.

By the 1540s the word was being applied to idle or frivolous activity, so I can only imagine that the light romantic talk had progressing to light romantic actions by that time.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and dallying with wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Academy

Hello,

This week everybody else under my roof returns to the halls of academia so I think it’s timely to share another extract from my forthcoming book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” which explores the origins of eponyms and the intriguing life stories of those people who gave their name to the English language.

Ready for lessons

Extract from “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” by Grace Tierney (copyright reserved)

Academy (from the “Be a Greek, or a God, or preferably both” chapter)

Plato’s academy was a pleasure garden in suburban Athens where Plato taught his followers. He founded it in 387 B.C. and it was the first higher learning institution in the Western World. Aristotle studied there before founding his own school, the Lyceum.

The site of the academy had been sacred to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, since the Bronze age and it held a grove of sacred olive trees. Even when the Spartans conquered the area they refused to ravage these groves, although sadly the Romans chopped them to build siege engines in 86 B.C.. Torch-lit races and funeral games took place there and the road to the academy was lined with the gravestones of Athenians.

Plato’s academy, founded in this special place, was free to attend and women were amongst the students. The subjects, informally taught, included mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy with frequent debates and lectures by Plato.

The academy was named for the mythical Greek hero Akademos who had owned the land where the olive grove and later the academy was established. He was renowned for saving the city of Athens due to yet another disaster caused by Helen of Troy. This was before the Trojan War and this time it wasn’t her fault.

King Theseus, the slayer of the minotaur and the ruler of Athens was now 50 and widowed. He abducted Helen, then aged only 12. Her twin demi-god brothers Castor and Pollux threatened to destroy Athens to liberate their young sister. Akademos knew where she was hidden and revealed the location to the twins thus saving Athens.

When he died he was buried in the olive grove on his land which was long-dedicated to Athena.

Raphael’s famous fresco “The School of Athens” on the walls of the Vatican Museum depicts the students at Plato’s academy.

The site of the academy was rediscovered in the 20th century and is now a free museum.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Bombilate

Hello,

This week’s word is bombilate, because it’s fun to say and thankfully has nothing (well, nearly nothing) to do with explosives.

Honey bee on garlic chives flower

Bombilate (pronunciation here) is a rare verb meaning to buzz or hum and is, naturally enough, associated with bees like the honeybee I snapped in my garden today enjoying the nectar from the garlic chives. I was hoping for a bumblebee as I love the idea of a bumblebee bombilating (there’s poetry in that) but sadly they weren’t bumbling around today. A local friend makes excellent honey in his hives and I always wonder if the bees in my garden are his, but then, does any beekeeper really “own” their bees? I don’t think so.

Bombilate entered English in the early 1600s and is another one of those words the Romans and Greeks gave us. Greek has bombos which means booming or humming. Latin has bombus with the same meaning. Your guess is as good as mine on who got there first with that one (I’m betting on the Greeks), but it’s pretty obvious that they’re related.

From bombus we get bomba in Italian, then bombe in French and bomb in English by the late 1600s. Oh wait, did I say bombilate had nothing to do with explosives? Yeah, that wasn’t entirely true, they have the same root.

Bomb – a disarmed sea mine from the Irish National Maritime Museum

Now go back to Latin and bombus (humming, remember?). As well as migrating through languages to give us the word bomb, it also swerved off to medieval Latin as bombilare meaning “to buzz” and hence into English with the same meaning by the early 1600s.

Did medieval, or Roman, bombs buzz? Did they think bees sounds like weapons? Having been the victim of a nasty wasp attack this summer (I accidentally damaged their nest, mea culpa), I can definitely see the whole wasp=weapon=humming connection.

Until next time, let the humming insects bombilate in peace,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I couldn’t resist including one non-bombilating creature – this butterfly photo-bombed my bee photography earlier.

p.p.s. I should also mention that I’m pleased and delighted to announce that I’ve been longlisted in the 2018 Ireland Blog Awards. I’m also helping to judge the longlist (not in my own category of course) which is proving to be enlightening and great fun.

Photo-bombing butterfly on the regular chives

Hello,

Today the CAO results come out in Ireland. The what? Students, aged about 18, sit exams in eight subjects to complete their second level education. They found out last week how they did in those exams. Since then the Central Applications Office (CAO) have taken those results, looked at their applications for university (and other third level establishments), and worked out if the students earned enough points from their exams to study their top choice.

Image from pexels.com

If a particular course is only run in one place and only 20 students can enter then the points are likely to be high. If it’s run in several places and hundreds of students can enter, the points are lower. Then they factor in what’s popular with students this year and that skews the points too. It’s complicated and very stressful for the students.

As a result (pun intended) I’m thinking about the word result today. I expected it to be a fairly modern word, thinking it related to results-driven office work, but it’s another one the Romans gave us.

Classical Latin has a verb resultare (a frequentative of past participle of resilire, to rebound, if you really need to know). This verb, as you might guess from the spelling, also relates to resilience in English. Resultare edged its way into medieval Latin with the meaning to spring back, and hence to late Middle English as a verb.

By the 1620s it was being used, still as a verb, to mean springing back, but by the 1640s it had transformed into a noun meaning outcome or effect. You’d have to wait until 1771 to see it used in the mathematical sense of a result being an answer or solution.

I love that result started life as something springy. It’s wonderful that it was less about a definitive answer and more about resilience, springing back, and finding another jumping off point. I hope anybody disappointed with their CAO results today can take that meaning instead.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and springing,
Grace (@Wordfoolery)
p.s. Regular readers will know I take part in National Novel Writing Month each November. This year I’ll be drafting another non-fiction book inspired by this blog “Words The Sea Gave Us”. I’m currently researching nautical words and would love input from my blog readers. If you’ve got a fun sea-related word, stick it in the comments below and I’ll try to include it (and will put you in the acknowledgements, of course). Thank you!

Carousel

Hello,

I’m just back from my family trip to Paris and I finally managed to snap a carousel so I can explore its word history. Choose your unicorn, pay for your ticket and off we go.

Carousel with a rather famous neighbour

The use of the word carousel to indicate a slowly rotating merry-go-round for children featuring horses, carriages, and tiny trains is relatively recent innovation, 1895 to be precise. Even more recent is the luggage carousel in the airport.

The word itself goes back further and still involves horses. The first stop on this ride is the Romans. The Latin word carrus means a two-wheeled wagon and as you can imagine has links to the modern word car. From carrus you get the Italian word carro which means chariot (two-wheeled again). After that it’s a hop to carusiello in Italian for a tilting match which slid into French as carrousel (yes, two Rs).

By the 1640s English had acquired the carousel from French as a playful tournament of knights in chariots or on horseback. The interesting thing being the retention of two wheeled chariots right from Roman times up to the 1600s in England. Chariots aren’t used much in warfare these days and I’ve struggled to imagine how knights could use them but according to a letter in 1673 such a carousel would provide –

“instruction to all such ingenious young gentlemen as desire to learne the art of perfect horsemanshipp.” [sic]

I was intrigued as to what a knight’s carousel would have looked like. The Smithsonian Magazine claims it came from a 12th century training game played by Arabian and Turkish warriors throwing a clay ball between them which was filled with perfume. A fumbled catch meant the knight reeked until he could wash. This doesn’t seem to include chariots however.

There is the idea of a melée in knights’ tournaments where many knights fought at the same time and the last one standing won the day, I imagine a carousel could work the same way except you fought in a circle that decreased in size until it was a duel. If the training was chariot or horse-based it might have been more like our images from the iconic movie “Ben Hur”, but that would be a tricky, and high-risk game which could injure the extremely valuable war-horses of the day. They cost so much that it would be like allowing a learner driver get behind the wheel of your Bugatti super car for a rally drive.

My own theory is that the carousel might have been like the quintain. This simple device, used to train knights and squires in castle courtyards and town squares, consisted of an upright post with swiveling arms spread wide. One arm ended in a shield which the rider targeted, the other ended in a filled sack. Hit the shield just right and the quintain would spin away from you allowing you to ride on. Hit it wrong and the sack would swing round and swipe you from your steed. It is likely that such devices were setup at town fairs. Couldn’t a smaller version for wannabe squires have gradually led to a rotating horse-riding device for children at such fairs?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Hello,

This week, after a wonderful weekend in Galway that included a little Lynch research on the side, it’s time to revisit the origin of the word lynch (explored in a 2014 post). This is an extract from my forthcoming non-fiction paperback and ebook “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” which rambles through the fascinating life stories of those who gave their names to the English language via eponyms.

(extract from “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” by Grace Tierney, c. 2018)

Lynch family crest, medieval stone carving, St. Nicolas’ church, Galway

The Irish origin of this word is somewhat questionable, but I suspect it has Irish roots somewhere, if only because Lynch is a common Irish surname.

Most of us know that to lynch someone is to punish them, typically by hanging, without the benefit of due legal process. The real mystery lies in working out who was the original Lynch.

The Irish claim to the word is based in Galway city. The story goes that in 1493 James Lynch Fitzstephen, the mayor of Galway, strung up his own son from the upstairs window of his house for murdering a young Spanish man over a romantic rivalry. There’s even a plaque at the window which you can see in Galway.

It’s a dramatic story and a great one for tourists but almost certainly false because the term didn’t gain usage for another 300 years. In fact the window with the plaque doesn’t even date from the correct period and is no longer in the original Lynch house.

Lynch Castle, Galway (now a bank)

 

A variation of the story is that the Lynch son embezzled money from his father’s merchant business overseas and covered it by throwing a Spaniard overboard on his return trip. A sailor denounced him on his death bed and his father, a local judge (and first mayor of Galway), condemned him to death. When the public gathered to prevent the hanging the father took matters into his own hands and hung his son from the house’s window.

The tomb of James Lynch, first mayor of Galway in St. Nicolas medieval church

It’s only fair to point out that second version does include a trial, although one wonders how fair it was.

The much more likely source for lynching (although nobody is 100% certain) is an American Quaker Charles Lynch (1736-1796), a planter in Virginia who held an irregular court to imprison loyalist supporters of Britain during the American War of Independence. Charles later got Lynch’s Law passed to excuse him from wrong-doing because it was war-time, a clever move.

The controversy around Lynch’s Law brought the word into common usage to indicate anything done without due legal process.

Although lynching later came to be associated with racial issues, Charles was known to be colour blind in his judgments.

Inhabitants of Lynchburg, Virginia will already know of their own connection to this tale, the town was founded by Charles’ older brother.

Added Bonus

When exploring the Lynch tombs in Galway I encountered a wordy stone-carved Latin tombstone, pictured here.

Tomb of Stephen Lynch, St. Nicolas’ church, Galway

The inscription translates as –

“Stephen Lynch of illustrious lineage, the darling of his soldiers and the terror of his enemies, in years still a young man, but old in valour, of whom the world was not worthy, was exalted to Heaven the 14th of March A.D. 1644”.

What a wonderful description, wish I could have one that good when I kick the bucket.

Wordfoolery is running away to Paris next week, so I’ll be skipping one post but will be back fooling with words on Monday 13th. Until then happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)