Euneirophrenia and Sweet Dreams


Welcome to the new subscribers and thanks to all who took part in the book launch last week. It feels great to finally have “Words the Vikings Gave Us” out in the world and landing on people’s shelves.

This week’s word is euneirophrenia and it comes with a word of warning. I stumbled across it on Pinterest and now I can’t find it in Websters, Collins, the OED, or Etymologyonline which makes me suspect this one is a recent creation for clicks and likes. However, it describes a state of being which I cannot name in any other way so there’s a need for this word. Perhaps it will catch on?

Euneirophrenia is the peaceful state of mind you achieve upon waking from pleasant dreams.

Ted woke from dreams of honey

A few online sources suggest euneirophrenia’s roots lie in Greek, eu (good), oneiro (dream), phrenia (state of mind) and I’d give that one about a 50% credibility grade. Yes, the prefix eu can be used that way. I found oneiromancy defined as “divination through dreams,” (in English since the 1600s) and it is formed from oneiro (dream) and mancy (divination) from Greek. You could even be an oneiromantis back then, an interpreter of dreams. That would be a fun on to put on your resume/cv.

Phrenia presents some issues though. The closest I could get was phrenic, an English adjective since the 1700s describing the diaphragm. It reached English via Latin phrenicus and Greek phren (the diaphragm muscle). Its etymology demonstrates neatly both my issues with euneirophrenia’s roots.

  1. Although theories abound about eating at night causing bad dreams you can’t really link “state of mind” directly to “diaphragm” without some major anatomical contortions.
  2. It is pretty rare to find a word in English that came directly from Greek without a clear story attached (a Greek myth, for example, or an object English borrowed from Greece). It is much more common for the word to have traveled to English via Latin and probably French or Italian as well.

I’ve found exceptions to this, of course, usually when somebody in the 1800s decided to coin a word and using their knowledge of schoolboy Greek compounded a few Greek words together to create a term. Honestly, I think euneirophrenia falls into this category. If anybody can provide any further information on its history or examples of its use earlier than the year 2000, then please comment below and I’ll update this post. If I’ve learned anything in 13 years of wordfooling here it is that it’s impossible to know everything about every word, and to be suspicious of cute obscure words on Pinterest posts.

I explored two other slumber related words previously on the blog – uhtceare and dormiveglia which you might also enjoy.

Before I finish, a couple of post-launch tidbits. The launch day competition for a necklace of replica Viking beads has closed. The winner was Nell Jenda and her prize has been dispatched.

The very lovely Dan and Shauna of Bunny Trails podcast had me on to chat about “Words the Vikings Gave Us” and you can listen to our chat here. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their podcast (available wherever you get your podcasts) about the origin of phrases is well worth a listen.

Also since my last blog, Sharon Bennett Connolly – author of four nonfiction books about Norman England and host of the brilliantly named History The Interesting Bits blog was kind enough to let me share a guest post titled “Six Misunderstandings about the Vikings”. She has had some great guests on the blog over the years so if you enjoy history I can definitely recommend spending some time scrolling over there.

I’ll let you know as they go live but brace yourselves because Wordfoolery is going on podcast tour this year with stops at The Endless Knot, Words for Granted, What in the Word, Lexitecture, and Mark Lestrange. Etymology is alive and well in the pod world.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Book Launch – Words the Vikings Gave Us


Today’s the day – my latest etymology book, “Words the Vikings Gave Us” is now live and available to buy in paperback and ebook editions (all the buy links are here). If you’d like a signed copy you can order that directly from me.

If you’re a regular Wordfoolery reader, you’ll already know what to expect – the history and stories behind more than 300 words from akimbo to yule which we use in everyday English because we borrowed them from the Vikings and Old Norse. Words like kiss, ombudsman, bluetooth, frisbee, thing, and hustings. They’re drawn from ship life, Viking food, farming, norse romance, myths, politics, modern Vikings, anatomy, place names, daily life, and of course how to fight like a Viking.

I’m running a few extracts, Viking facts, and polls over on my Facebook and Twitter accounts today (14 September 2021) so if you’re on those, pop in and say Hi.

Competition Time!

The competition prize

I’m giving away a handmade Viking-style necklace today to celebrate my book “Words the Vikings Gave Us” launching into the world. It’s made with replica Viking glass beads. Viking raiders used to bring beads back home from their trips as gifts to their loved ones. Hence the more beads, the more status.

To enter, reply to this post with proof of book purchase or email grace [at] gracetierney [dot] com.

The competition is open worldwide and closes at 20:00 (GMT+1) 14 Sep 2021

The winner will be announced here on the blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook. Readers who have bought signed copies are in the hat, so you don’t need to message me. If you win I’ll be touch for your address.

Don’t worry, the blog with be back to “normal” next week, chatting about the history of unusual words. I’ll also have news about some word history blogs as several have been kind enough to invite me on for a chat about Viking words.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Birth, Scoff, and Sky – a Trio of Old Norse Words


After recording an interview about “Words the Vikings Gave Us” with the wonderful Dan and Shauna of the Bunny Trails podcast yesterday (I’ll let you know when it’s available for listening) I’m getting that “oh wow, I’m launching a book tomorrow” feeling inside today – one part excitement and three parts terror. If Vikings can set sail into unexplored oceans in a small wooden boat, I guess I can cope with a book launch, right?

To get us all in the mood, here are three short words from the book – birth, scoff (a favourite word of mine), and sky. I hope you enjoy them.

{Three extracts from “Words the Vikings Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2021}


We get the word for childbirth and the fact of being born from the Old Norse word byrdr. In Middle English birth was sometimes even used to describe the conception of a child. The suffix –th in this word is to indicate the word is for a process (like death, growth, strength, and even bath).


Scoff, in the sense of mocking or making light of something, has been in English since the 1300s. It arrived from Old Norse skaup or skop (mockery or ridicule) and can also be seen in skof (Middle Danish). They may have their roots in the Proto-Germanic terms skuf, which also provides scop, the Old English word for poet.

Sunset, Wexford harbour, Ireland


The English word for sky is a direct import of the Old Norse word for cloud. What this tells us about the weather in Viking countries versus the British Isles is debatable.

The original Saxon word would have been heofen, which is related to the idea of Heaven. In Middle English sky was used interchangeably for the concept of a religious heaven and for the upper regions of the air above us. By the 1800s and 1900s sky had given us other airy ideas such as sky-high (1812), the sky’s the limit (1908), sky dive (1965), and even sky writing (1922).

{end of extract}

You might be wondering what’s happening at the book launch tomorrow. I’ve had a few questions about the availability of free booze already (sorry, that’s a no). With the times we are in, my own preference to hide behind a large stack of books, and the fact that Wordfoolery readers are scattered all around the globe I’m going with a virtual book launch day again – starting around 09:00 (GMT+1) and running through until about 20:00. If you can join in for some of it you’ll be very welcome. If you can’t, most of it will be online afterwards and you can explore at your leisure.

What’s in the day? Behind the scenes I’ll be firing off press releases with a sense of glorious abandon and updating every social profile I possess (yes, I’m on too many platforms, I know). For lovely readers I’ll be posting two Viking polls, sharing extracts and fun Viking facts, thanking my word donors, and running a competition. I’ll raise a Viking toast at the end of the day to celebrate my book being out in the world, sailing around in its little longship, hopefully conquering new worlds. Most events will be running on my Twitter and Facebook pages, plus a post or two here on the blog.

Wordfoolery will chatting about the book on Sinéad Brassil’s morning show on LMFM radio in Ireland on the 15th of September and I’ll also be appearing on a few podcasts and blogs over the coming days and weeks, I’ll let you know about those as they go live.

All the details on where to buy the book are here.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

The Word Slang has Viking Roots


I have my Viking hat on at the moment, as I prepare to launch “Words the Vikings Gave Us” on 14th September 2021 and I’ve chosen another Viking word this week, slang. I hope you enjoy it.

Slang {extract from “Words the Vikings Gave Us”, copyright Grace Tierney 2021}

Any writer on the topic of language will encounter the evolution of words from slang to mainstream phrases, and often the reverse process, but the origin of the word slang itself is worthy of study too.

Slang appeared in mainstream English around 1756 to denote the special vocabulary of “tramps or thieves” but by 1801 it was being used for the jargon associated with any particular profession and shortly thereafter it had the meaning it retains today – that of vivid, novel, informal language.

Slang changes almost daily, particularly amongst teens who’d die rather than admit their parental generation might understand their secret language because once they were young too (gasp!). Niche groups, group activities, incoming languages from visitors and migrants combine with pop culture to add new slang words to the dictionary. Some thrive, some die.

It’s very appropriate then that slang itself came with a group of incomers who weren’t approved of by mainstream society – the Vikings. Old Norse had the word slangi (tramp) and slangr (the straying of sheep). Norwegian has slenge (hang loose, dangle) and Danish has slaenge (to sling) plus derived words relating to a gang of people.

From those Scandinavian roots we get the northern England dialect word slang to describe a narrow piece of land running between other larger parcels of land. This led to the idea of slang patter (patter meaning talk in this case) which was associated with such lands.

This slang patter became linked over time with the people who lived on the slang lands, perhaps roving traders who camped there. Their colourful sales pitches and often rough language were the origin of slang in English.

One wonderful related American English word, slangwhanger (1807), hasn’t survived and really should be revived. It meant a noisy or abusive writer or talker.

{end of extract}

Sadly I didn’t unearth any Viking slang words during my research for the book but I have included the Norse origins of snub, scold, and scoff which might put readers on the right track to verbally abusing a Viking. Whether that’s a wise course of action is not for me to say. Just remember they also gave us anger, bash, club, gun, hit, knife and die.

If you’re interested in Viking history you may enjoy my new download “Nine Things You Never Knew About Vikings”. To access that just click on the Downloads tab on the menu or through this link.

Want a copy of the book? All the details on where to buy the book are here.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

We Know Vikings Weren’t Lawless, Thanks to the Dictionary


I have my Viking hat on at the moment, as I prepare to launch “Words the Vikings Gave Us” on 14th September 2021, so I’ve chosen another Viking word to play with this week. I hope you enjoy it.

Law {extract from “Words the Vikings Gave Us”, copyright Grace Tierney 2021}

Law was spelled as lagu in Old English and was defined as a rule, regulation, or right. It came into the English language from the Old Norse word lagu (laws plural). Lagu wasn’t used much in Old English where the alternative word ae was more common, however over time it became the dominant word and we’re still using law instead of ae today.

Laws govern a wide variety of rules and rights in society and the sciences. For example you have the laws of physics since the 1660s, laying down the law (in this case biblical law pronounced from the pulpit) from the 1750s, and law and order have been linked from the late 1700s.

As the systems of politics and the courts grew there were laws to cover everything from the poor laws (to provide for paupers from the pockets of wealthy landowners), bylaws (another Viking donation to the English language), corn laws, traffic laws, tax laws, and many more but it all started with the Vikings, despite being rebuked by the native English as being lawless.

{end of extract}

Yes, Vikings gave us the word law. In fact, they gave us so many words in the area of power and politics that I dedicated a chapter to the topic. Writing the book provided many surprises like that. The Vikings are a misunderstood group.

If you’re interested in Viking history you may enjoy my new download “Nine Things You Never Knew About Vikings”. To access that just click on the Downloads tab on the menu or through this link.

Want a copy of the book? Pre-order on Kindle or Kobo and it will download automatically to your ebook reader on the 14th. Paperbacks will go live on the same date and signed copies will be available directly from me soon (I’ll post the link).

If you are a book blogger/reviewer/podcaster (or know one, please share!) then get in touch via Twitter or my About page for a digital ARC or interview requests etc. I’m always happy to talk about the history of words, and Vikings.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Vikings Gave Us the Word for Hugging


Today the pre-orders on Kindle and Kobo open for my latest Wordfoolery book – “Words the Vikings Gave Us” (launching in ebook and paperback editions on 14 September 2021) so I reckon it’s time to look at a Viking word here on the blog.

I could have gone with a fighting word (berserk or ransack), a political word (hustings or ombudsman), or a modern Viking word like kindle (yes, the reading device is named with Old Norse in mind), plogging, or bluetooth (there’s a Viking king behind that one) but when I was writing the book the thing (another Viking word) which most surprised me was how many romantic words (hug, kiss, honeymoon, handfast, and husband for example) have their roots in Viking culture and their language, Old Norse.

Hug {extract from “Words the Vikings Gave Us”, copyright Grace Tierney 2021}

The word hug is, sadly, a relatively late addition to the English dictionary. It arrived in the 1560s and was spelled as hugge, at least initially. It’s believed to have come from the Old Norse word hugga which translates beautifully as “to comfort”.

Hugga itself comes from hugr (courage, mood) and is from a Proto-Germanic root which also gives us hycgan (to think or consider) in Old English and the name Hugh. There may also be a link to the German verb hegen (to foster or cherish). Hegen originally meant “to enclose with a hedge” but while a hedge may enclose or cherish livestock, the Old Norse idea of comforting is closest to what a hug means today.

{end of extract}

In the run up to the book launch (14th of Septmber) I’ll be blogging about Viking words here but if you’re interested in Viking history you may enjoy my new download “Nine Things You Never Knew About Vikings”. To access that just click on the Downloads tab on the menu or through this link. In it I explain why we all think Vikings wore horned helmets (spoiler, they didn’t), how they beat Columbus to North America by a few centuries, and ruled parts of Britain for longer than the Romans. Oh yeah, and the current Danish royal family are descended from them too. I couldn’t overwhelm the word book with Viking history but some of the stories were simply too good to exclude so they ended up in the download, which is completely free, by the way.

If you’re interested in pre-ordering a digital copy of “Words the Vikings Gave Us” you can do so via Kindle and Kobo worldwide. The Kindle US pre-order link is here. It’s around the $2.99/€2.99 price everywhere. It will download automatically to your ebook reader on the 14th. Paperbacks will go live on the same date and signed print copies will be available directly from me nearer the time. Don’t worry, I’ll post the links once I have them live.

If you are a book blogger/reviewer/podcaster (or know one, please share!) then get in touch via Twitter or my About page for a digital ARC or interview requests etc. I’m always happy to talk about the history of words.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

The History of Book Blurbs


This week’s word is blurb as book covers are very much on my mind this week. A book’s blurb is the text provided on the back cover to tempt readers into purchasing. If you own any books from before the 1900s, you may have noticed they lack this text and wondered why.

Blurb is actually an eponym (a word added to the dictionary from somebody’s name) and as such appeared in my book “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary”. To be more precise, it appeared as my blurb on the back cover of the paperback edition. I couldn’t resist. Here’s what it says –


A blurb is the short publicity piece on the back cover of a book and, like everything else inside this book, it’s an eponym with an intriguing story attached. In the early 1900s American novels commonly had a picture of an attractive young woman on the cover, regardless of the book’s topic. In 1907 the humourist and illustrator Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) decided to satirise this practice by putting a sickly sweet fictional girl named Miss Belinda Blurb on the cover of his book “Are you Bromide?” Unfortunately his plan back-fired when his book sold so well that the term entered publishing history and all future books included a back cover blurb.

The wonderful reference site, Etymology Online, adds a little more historical background than I could fit in my own blurb. The term blurb appears to have been first used by an American scholar called Brander Matthews in 1906 or possibly by Frank A. Munsey who wrote, in red ink, across the front of his magazine that “this number of Munsey’s the hottest pie that ever came out of my bakery”. Undoubtedly the word was popularised by Gelett and his fictional Miss Blurb.

This morning the first paperback copy of “Words the Vikings Gave Us” with the final cover art arrived on my doorstep. This lovely event would usually trigger me into Book Launch Mode but tomorrow my mother is being discharged from hospital after 13 weeks so all things book are firmly pinned to my “Deal with Later” board while I go into Help Mum Mode instead. Top of the list is replacing her hearing aid which was lost on day one of her stay and annihilated her ability to communicate. Mind your hearing, everybody, it’s very important.

In the meantime, however, you might like to have a sneaky look at the Viking book’s blurb?

“Words the Vikings Gave Us” (2021)

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Are Oblivion’s roots Smooth or Sticky?


This week’s word is oblivion. According to the Cambridge Dictionary this is the state of being completely forgotten or completely destroyed. For example, a bad book of poetry would be consigned to oblivion with the passage of time, or a city could be bombed into oblivion.

Oblivion was also a legal concept after the restoration of the British monarchy with King Charles II. The Indemnity and Oblivion Act of 1660 promised a pardon, with some exceptions, for everybody who had committed crimes during the Civil War and the Interregnum (1649-1660, the time after Charles I lost his head and before his son Charles II resumed the throne – literally “between reigning monarchs”). No action was to be taken against them and the Interregnum was to be legally forgotten. Officially declaring 11 years to have never existed is an unusual concept but perhaps the best they could do to heal deep divisions?

Oblivion entered English in the late 1300s, spelled as oblivioun, to describe forgetfulness and memory loss. They borrowed it from the same word in Old French which had come directly from oblivionem (forgetfulness) and oblivisci (to forget) in Latin, so this is a word the Romans gave us.

A yawning Roman – tired and forgetful perhaps?

The origin of the word in Latin is obscure but some fun theories exist. It could have roots in smoothing over or effacing something (as a painter or carver smooths over mistakes) as ob means over and levis means smooth or grind down. Levis (nothing to do with a famous denim brand) has roots in lei (slime, sticky) so that leaves me wondering if we’re talking about smoothing over sticky paint or plaster. Honestly, we don’t know, and probably never will. It has been lost to oblivion. The English meaning of oblivion expanded from simple forgetfulness to the state of being forgotten entirely in the early 1400s.

If you’re interested in the role the Greeks had to play in forgetfulness, check out my earlier post about lethologica (the inability to recall a specific name or word) and its links to the Greek River Lethe (also known as the River of Oblivion) which runs through the Underworld.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. regular Wordfools will be glad to hear I received the final cover art for “Words the Vikings Gave Us” this week – it looks stunning. Never fear, you’ll be the first ones to hear about the cover reveal and book launch.

How a Greek Goddess Gave us the Word Iridescent


I’ve been pondering the word history of colours recently. My previous posts about colours are still popular (Colour Rhymes, Mummy Brown, and Magenta). I enjoy painting with watercolours and it would be fun to work my way through my paintbox exploring the history of each name – burnt Sienna is named after the earth around that beautiful Tuscan town, for example. Words for another day, perhaps.

This week’s word, iridescent, is more of a swirl of various colours. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “showing many bright colours that change with movement”.

The best examples are found in the movement of nature – the glamorous sheen on the feathers of a starling or kingfisher, the shine of mother-of-pearl, the glint of the light caught on the wings of a dragonfly. Sadly I’m not a good enough photographer to have caught any of those glorious images with my camera lens so you’ll have to settle for the only iridescent items I could find in my home – my cuff-links.

iridescent (and a little blurry, sorry!)

Luckily the origin of the word is easier to capture than its visual image. Iridescent entered English in the 1700s to describe anything rainbow-coloured. It was coined from the Latin word iris (rainbow), although we don’t know who exactly came up with it.

Iris is also used in English for a family of gorgeous flowers which consistently fail to flourish in the heavy clay soils of my garden, and for the coloured part of the eye. It is always associated with bright colours.

That association doesn’t arise in Latin, it’s one the Greeks gave us and as regular wordfoolery readers know, where there’s a Greek origin, there’s nearly always a god or goddess hanging around looking for credit. Iris and iridescent is no exception.

Iris was the messenger of Hera, queen of the Greek gods. She was the personification of the rainbow and iris means rainbow in Greek (and in Latin as previously mentioned).

Iris traveled along her rainbow with the speed of the wind to bring messages to earth. She had golden wings to help her on her way. It’s not surprising that she traveled with the speed of the wind as she married Zephyrus, the god of the west wind. You may remember him from my post about the zephyr wind.

By the command of Zeus, Iris carried a jug of water from the River Styx, the river souls cross to enter the realm of Hades. She used this to put to sleep those who perjure themselves.

The element iridium is named for her. Sadly it is not iridescent. It’s silvery. It was discovered and named in 1803 by a British scientist called Smithson Tennant. He named it after Iris because many of the salts he obtained while working on the element were bright in colour.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling.

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I finished July’s session of CampNaNoWriMo with 30,419 more words written of my ongoing serial “The Librarian’s Secret Diary” – the adventures of a new librarian in a small Irish town, working with her buzzword-spouting boss and her book-hating senior librarian. New episodes go live every Wednesday over on the subscription reading platform Channillo (you can try the first episode for free there).

Foible’s Roots Lie in Fencing


With the Olympics all over our TV screens at the moment I reckon it’s time to explore a word sports gave to us – foible.

A foible, in case you don’t know, is defined as a minor weakness of eccentricity in somebody’s character. You might say that you tolerate somebody’s foibles because you love them, for example. I have several foibles, as do most of us I suspect – a weakness for etymological mutterings and a fondness for anything remotely related to swashbuckling, for example. I blame Sunday afternoons watching old Errol Flynn movies on TV when I was a child.

Imagine my excitement when, aged 16, it was announced in my school that for something different in Transition Year (a year between junior and senior school, optional in many schools here, but compulsory in mine where students are encouraged to try new subjects and activities) sports class, we would all be learning how to fence. I was pretty much on the fence (pun intended) about school sports as our school played hockey, basketball, and tennis and my hand-eye co-ordination wasn’t good enough for any of them, but fencing, now that I could handle.

My Viking sword (sadly only a letter opener)

When I discovered that the feet positions and posture were similar to ballet, which I’d attempted, and the terms were all in French, which I loved – my mind was made up – fencing was for me.

I’m not sure who came up with the idea to teach fencing to 100 teenage girls, but it was pure genius. Self defense might have been more practical, I’ll admit, but if anybody comes at me with an epee they’re going to be in trouble.

In fencing the foible is the part of a sword blade from the middle to the point (that part of an epee bends to a remarkable degree) and it is this term which ultimately gave us the word foible in the English language. It joined in the mid 1600s, in the sword-related sense, directly from French foible, although these days the word has changed spelling to be faible in French. The idea of the blade being weaker at that point came from an Old French word feble (feeble).

By the 1670s the meaning of foible had extended to describe a weak point of character and it has been with us ever since, perhaps with an added implication of the weakness being somehow charming or excusable, like my fondness for swords and swashbuckling.

Until next time happy reading, writing, swashbuckling, and wordfooling.

Grace (@Wordfoolery)