Picnic like a Victorian

Hello,

Although Ireland has avoided the European heatwaves recently, to a large extent, we have managed a few sunny days during August and they spurred me into a walk around my local park. The wide open grass & meadow areas were scattered with picnic blankets, laughing children, and dogs who wanted to say hello.

As a result, this week’s word is picnic and it’s one the French gave us. The word started in French as piquenique (it can also be used as a verb in French) in the late 1600s, probably from the verb piquer (to pick or peck) in Old French. The second part might be from nique (a worthless thing) in German, or may simply have been added because it sounds like the first element.

It was used as picnic in English during the 1700s but only rarely. The Victorian era saw the more widespread use of the term but it wasn’t an exclusively outdoor meal at that point. The English picnic in the 1800s was a fashionable social event in the style of a pot-luck where everybody contributes a dish or two. Over time this became associated with the outdoor versions of such gatherings. The move towards the outdoors in the mid-1800s was thanks to the Romantic movement in art and literature which revered nature.

Of course farm labourers had brought a chunk of bread and cheese, or a savoury pastry, to the fields for centuries before picnics became fashionable – that’s the source of the still popular ploughman’s lunch. Middle class and upper class Victorians and Edwardians brought the catering to the next level, probably thanks to servants. Fortnum & Mason’s developed the scotch egg and provided everything you’d need to picnic on the plains of Africa or the hills of Sussex.

By 1861 Mrs Beeton included sample picnic menus in her famous book of “household management”. The main course for one suggested the following –

“a joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, 2 ribs of lamb, 2 shoulders of lamb, 4 roast fowls, 2 roast ducks, 1 ham, 1 tongue, 2 veal and ham pies, 2 pigeon pies, 6 medium sized lobsters, 1 piece of collared calves head.”

Thankfully since her time packing a picnic has become simpler and available to all, once the weather co-operates. The word is even used figuratively to mark something as being easy to achieve (since the late 1800s).

Wishing you happy late summer picnics. Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

The Marvellous Word History of Mummies

Hello,

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy the Qi Elves’ podcast “No Such Thing as a Fish“. They are clever people chatting about cool facts and having a huge amount of fun teasing each other at the same time. Mostly I laugh along, but now and then I rush off to jot down a word for this blog, a fact for a nonfiction book, or inspiration for a story.

Which is a roundabout way of explaining why mummy is the word (as opposed to mums the word) this week here on Wordfoolery. They mentioned that we get the word mummy from bitumen and that bitumen is extracted from natural islands in the Dead Sea. Don’t ask me where they found that gem but I reckon it’s obscure enough for me to explore here.

Mummy in Louvre, Paris. Note the intricate wrapping of the head.

Mummy arrived in English in the 1300s spelled as mummie but at that time it described a substance prepared from a mummy and used in medicine, to staunch internal bleeding apparently. Delightful notion.

The word came to English via Latin (mumia) but originated in Arabic mumiyah (embalmed body) from Persian mumiya (asphalt) and mum (wax). Egyptologists believe that Arabs who saw the blackened appearance of the mummies thought the remains were covered in bitumen and named them accordingly.

Mummy in the Vatican Museum, Rome. Note the dark exterior.

The connection of the word mummy with Egyptian mummies didn’t reach English until the 1600s. Of course mummies existed long before that time. The Chinchorros of South America created the first, around 5,000 B.C. and the Egyptians adopted the idea around 2,500 B.C. Creating each one took about forty days.

Not all mummies were human. There’s an Egyptian mummified cat in the National Museum of Ireland and others include jackals, baboons, horses, and lions.

 

In Victorian times, hosts would buy a mummy and throw a party at which the unwrapping of the body served as the entertainment for the evening. The mind boggles.

Bitumen was used in the mummification process, so the Persians weren’t too far off in their naming of mummies. Bitumen, if you didn’t know (I had to look this one up) is a natural oily form of petroleum also known as tar (the more common term for it here in Ireland). Bitumen occurs naturally in several places around the world including the La Brea Tar Pits in California and the Dead Sea. It was used by humans as early as 40,000 years ago for waterproofing and glue.

As well as being ground up for medicines and unwrapped at parties, mummies were also used as the main component in the paint called mummy brown. Thankfully the manufacturer stopped this in the 1960s, because they had run out of available mummies.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Pandiculation

Hello,

Appropriately enough I’m writing my blog post this morning having risen early to get some words down before the rest of the house awakens. This week’s word, with thanks to the wonderful television medical series “House” (featuring Hugh Laurie as a brilliant and sarcastic but sociopathic diagnostician in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes). They used pandiculation in an episode and sent me scurrying for my dictionary.

Pandiculation (audio pronunciation available here) is a “stretching and stiffening of the trunk and extremities when drowsy or after waking from sleep”. Basically if you yawn and stretch when you wake up, you’re pandiculating.

Yawn like a roman (sculpture at Ostia Antica, the old Roman harbour)

Pandiculation entered English in the 1600s from simple Latin roots. Pandiculari is the Latin for “to stretch oneself” thanks to pandere (to stretch or to spread). This is one the Romans gave us, as illustrated above.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Wordfoolery is now open to Guest Posts

Hello,

This year the Wordfoolery blog is ten years old and I’ve been celebrating by quietly making a few changes around here. I’ve spruced up the theme, tidied some pages, and refreshed the banner. I’ve expanded the reach of the blog via pinterest, mix, and bloglovin’ too. I’m also working hard on my second and third books inspired by the blog (“Words The Sea Gave Us” and “Words The Vikings Gave Us”).

Now I’m happy to announce that Wordfoolery is open to guest posts!

The full submission details / writer guidelines are here.

If you’ve a favourite word (or words), a passion for word history, a review of a wordy book (or dictionary?), a rant about US vs UK spelling conventions etc. then send me your suggestion and we’ll see if it fits on Wordfoolery. Unfortunately guest posts are unpaid (like my own!) but I’m happy to promote the post and allow links to your writing, website, books, or blog. Please note that guest posts should be between 300 and 1,000 words in length.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Ransack

Hello,

It’s day 22 of CampNaNo 2019 and I’m on 18,012 words. Writing during the academic holidays can be challenging in my house, but I’m plugging away at “Words The Vikings Gave Us” and every day the Vikings surprise me more. This week’s word from my Norse exploration is ransack, I hope you enjoy it.

Viking Chessman from the Isle of Lewis

Extract from “Words the Vikings Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019

Ransack

Ransack entered English during the 1200s from Old Norse rannsaka (to pillage). The word in Norse had a precise meaning – to search a house, legally, to uncover stolen goods, whereas in English it has illegal associations. Rannsaka was formed by compounding two words rann (house) and saka (to search). Saka is related to the Old Norse verb soekja (to seek).

It’s likely the English understanding of the word as being a violent, illegal, raiding of a place came about because of the word sack (to plunder). Sack, however, didn’t have Viking roots.

Sack comes from the Middle French expression mettre à sac (put in a bag) which was a military command to troops, allowing them to plunder a city. The particular idea reaches back through word history to Italian (sacco) and Roman armies (saccus). In this case the Viking association with ransack is legal and calm, and we can blame the Romans for the inspiration for wild plundering.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Ugly & a Scruffy Viking

Hello,

This week on Camp NaNoWriMo I’ve reached 11,234 words and have been exploring the Viking origins of valkyrie, happy, and ugly amongst other words. So here’s the story of ugly and its link to scruffy Vikings.

{Extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019}

Ugly

Although they say love is blind, it can’t always ignore ugliness. Ugly entered English in the 1200s originally spelled as uglike (frightening or horrible in appearance) from Old Norse uggligr (dreadful or fearful) which comes from the word ugga (to fear).

Thanks to my Camp Nano fellow writer based in Sweden who told me that in Swedish uggla means owl and the wonderfully spelled rugguggla means scruffy. Rugguggla also describes an owl when it is moulting its feathers. They suggested perhaps that image led to the visual image of an ugly person. Now I can’t shake the idea of a scruffy little owl, feathers all over the place, topped with a tiny Viking helmet.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Gormless

Hello,

This week’s word, again via a draft extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us” (Camp NaNo is coming along nicely, thanks for asking) is gormless. I love this word. It’s so perfect for describing somebody totally lacking in common sense and the ability to get going.

Camp NaNo July 2019

Extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019

Gormless, that wonderfully descriptive word for somebody lacking basic sense and wit, is one of those words that the Vikings may have given to English but in a rather convoluted way.

Gormless didn’t reach the English dictionary until 1746, thus ruling out a direct borrowing from the Viking raiders in earlier times, yet its roots are solidly embedded in Viking soil.

Gome was an English word from 1200 for understanding and it came from Old Norse gaumr (care or heed). Gome had -less added to it to describe somebody lacking in understanding or sense as being gaumless or gawmless. It’s believed that gaumless finally led to gormless.

Gorm does have another Viking link, however. King Gorm the Old ruled Denmark from 936 to his death in 958. He lived to about the age of 60, which was old for the times.

Gorm is perhaps best known for fathering three sons – Toke, Knut, and Harald and being the last Danish king to rule over a kingdom following the Norse gods. Whereas his son, Harald, who ruled after him as King Harald Bluetooth (yes that’s where we get bluetooth technology) moved toward Christianity and united Denmark and Norway. Harald and Gorm, were linked via legend to Ragnor Lodbrok and Ivarr the Boneless (whose stories are told in the TV series “Vikings”). Gorm is claimed as ancestor to the current Danish royal family and it’s unknown if he was lacking in common sense.

 

In other news this week I’ve finished uploading all 49 episodes of my serialised comedy novel “Nit Roast & Other Stories” over on Channillo, the subscription reading platform. This means that anybody taking out a free 30 day trial membership for the site would be able to binge-read the whole story about Trish McTaggart, her chaotic family, her feud with a member of the Mother Mafia, and her efforts to learn how to say no to her daughter’s efforts to fill their home with creatures large and small. They might want to read any of the other serials too, of course – loads of great writers on there to choose from in a host of genres.

 

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)