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Hello,

Today’s word, bastard, may offend some readers but it has a fascinating word history.

Let’s get the meaning sorted first. It has two main definitions –

  1. a person born to unmarried parents
  2. a despicable person

Fortunately the social stigma once attached to the first case is lessening in most cultures. Despicable people, sadly, will always be with us.

The word originated in medieval Latin as bastum. A bastum was a pack saddle. Bastums were used as improvised beds during journeys. The ending -ard was added to create bastardus and name the person conceived in such an impromptu sleeping arrangement. Finally, with a short detour through old French, we arrived at bastard in Middle English and it’s been with us ever since.

Curiously the German word bänkling, which also means bastard, literally translates as “child begotten on a bench”. Location matters, it seems.

The meaning of bastard in Middle English, around the 1200s, wasn’t the meaning we understand today. A bastard was the acknowledged child of a nobleman by a woman other than his wife. The term was irrelevant to the ordinary folk and wasn’t seen as a stigma until the late 1500s. William the Conqueror (Battle of Hastings in 1066, and all that) was often referred to in state documents as William the Bastard.

A related term is gimbo which is the bastard child of a bastard, despite sounding like an exotic stew.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Hello,

Tongues have been on my mind this week, as my own has been suffering from some ill-health. In browsing for a new word to explore I strayed across umami. A word that yummy to pronounce (listen here) has to be enjoyed on Wordfoolery.

Tickling tastebuds with tortellini bake

What is umami? It is one of the five basic tastes our tongues can detect – sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. Umami’s flavour is described as meaty or brothy although it is not exclusive to meat dishes. You’ll find it in mushrooms and seaweeds too. It was scientifically discovered in 1908 but had been used in cookery for hundreds of years prior. It’s even present in breast milk.

Umami is a loanword from Japanese. It translates as “a pleasant savoury taste” and is formed from the words umai  (delicious) and mi (taste).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. welcome to my new readers – always a pleasure to meet new wordfools!

Hello,

Today’s words are yon, yonder, and yonderly and yonder is with thanks to my daughter. She has decided to refer to certain uniquely male parts of her brother’s anatomy not by the the correct scientific terms but as “down yonder“. I suspect her main motivation is to irritate him. It’s working. Ah the joys of sibling love.

Dreaming of the Wild Blue Yonder

The archaic word yonder, which means “over there” or “some distance from here” entered Middle English around 1200 A.D.  and has Dutch and German roots. There’s a Dutch word ginder which shares its meaning and the Saxons used jendra, Old High German used jener and the Goths tribe used jaind.

My favourite use of yonder is in “Romeo and Juliet” when Romeo says “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” when he’s watching Juliet. It is somewhat more romantic than “down yonder” coupled with a girlish giggle.

Yon is used too, and it means “that” and perhaps more precisely “that thing over there”. For example, “there’s a crow roosting in yon tree”. It shares the same roots as yonder. My favourite use for it is “hither, thither, and yon” – such a wonderful way to describe someone dashing about the place and a good description of my activities this week.

The final word of the trio is yonderly, which relates to distance as you might expect but this time it’s emotional distance rather than physical distance. A person who is described as yonderly is reserved, aloof with a dash of gloominess. I was unable to find any word origin information for yonderly but I think we can safely assume it’s a close relation of yonder and yon.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling as you dash hither, thither, and yon,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Hello,

This week’s word is curfew thanks to my son’s history book.

Curfew entered English during the Middle Ages and it originated in French. The phrase “couvre feu” means “cover fire” and it evolved into the Middle English word curfue, and later to curfew.

At the time the majority of buildings in villages and towns were built of wood, the exceptions being churches and the lord’s manor house or castle. The gaps between buildings were narrow so if a fire caught hold you could easily have half the town burned to a cinder before the bucket line got into gear.

One way to lessen this danger was to limit the times when people could have an active fire in their hearth. The church bell rang around sunset to indicate curfeu, time to cover over (bank) your fire for the night. The town bailiff would enforce the rule by taking a stroll around town, which I suspect may have led to the phrase “no smoke without fire”.

The idea of curfew being a time at which you must return to your dwelling didn’t arise until the 1800s and is now mostly associated with teenagers and the declaration of martial law.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)

Hello,

This week’s word is forage. I was chatting about hedgerow harvesting this morning with Scout friends (it’s part of our Backwoods badge) and then couldn’t resist thoughts of foraging while walking. When I returned home I pulled out recipes for gorse wine and hawthorn blossom liquer. Foraging is addictive.

Hedgerow jam – damson & blackberry

Foraging entered the English language c. 1200s from Latin. Foragium was the Anglo-Latin word for fodder or food for horses and cattle. Around the same time it was in Old French as fourrage or fuerre which meant hay or straw, typically for animals. Frankish and old German had fuotar, fodr and fodr which all related to fodder or food.

Nettle soup anyone?

By the 1400s the word had moved on in meaning and related to plundering or pillaging. By the late 1400s that had changed to encompass the idea of roving around in search of provisions. From the 1700s onwards the notion had acquired a military twist. Foraging for provisions for the army’s beasts and soldiers was a vital skill when moving through the countryside. Those with the ability to live off the land were more likely to survive a campaign.

Plantain or Whitefoot – perfect for nettle stings

Luckily I don’t have to feed an army, although my teenage son gives me some insight into that particular challenge, but I love being able to use the environment around me to vary my diet and continue local traditions and folklore. Each year I add one or two new items to my foraging menu. If you’re interested there are great resources on Pinterest (you’ll find me and my foraging board there as GraceTierneyIRL) and the book “Wild and Free Cooking from Nature” by Cyril and Kit Ó’Céirín is a great starting point if you’re foraging in Ireland or the UK. There’s so much more out there than a few blackberries in the autumn.

Primrose – edible flower

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

Grace

Hello,

This week’s word is exquisite. I was hiking on Sunday and admiring the new season’s ferns. I love the way they unfurl from the tightest little buds. A stem relaxes into existence and then each leaflet unrolls out from the stem itself. During high summer they’re easy to ignore, providing a green carpet under trees and along stone walls but on a bright spring day their exquisite growth dance is beauty in miniature.

The adjective exquisite entered the English language in the early 1400s from a Latin source and it meant “carefully selected” as it was a direct borrowing of the Latin word exquisitus which meant “careful choice” from the verb exquirere. Exquirere is compounded from ex for out (think exit, for example) and quarere meaning “to seek” (think query, for example).

It’s unclear how but exquisite’s meaning in English mutated with use. By the late 1500s it had changed to mean “something of delightful excellence”. By the 1700s it had refined to mean “something of delightful excellence produced by art rather than nature”. By the early 1800s it had a noun form which was used as another term for a dandy or foppish character.

Hence I shouldn’t describe the delicate tendrils of the new ferns as exquisite. They require no artist to tend them, but I still think they out-shine any sculpture.

Until next time, enjoy the small details in life. Happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Hello,

Today’s phrase is gung ho which means eager or overzealous enthusiasm. To my ears it sounds Asian in origin but actually this phrase was given to the English language by the American military.

Gung ho entered English during World War II. General Evans Carlson of the U.S. marines was impressed with the name and work ethic of the Chinese industrial co-operatives which had been co-founded by a New Zealander friend of his – kung hou – which translates as “work together in harmony”.

He explained the idea to his soldiers – one group of workers all dedicated to one objective. He held gung ho meetings to explain orders and overcome issues with little regard for traditional rank and hierarchy. The phrase caught on first in his own command and later spread throughout the marines and entered general parlance.

Gung ho gained a high profile when it was used as the title of a 1943 box-office hit film starring Randolph Scott about Carlson’s battalion’s innovative commando-style attack on Makin Island in the Pacific Ocean in 1942.

Until next week happy reading, writing, and gung ho wordfooling,

Grace (aka @Wordfoolery)

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