Category Archives: books

Library Tales – the Real Dewey & the Librarian’s Secret Diary

Hello,

This week’s word is dewey (also spelled dui, see below) – a word closely associated with libraries, in honour of my latest fiction serial over on Channillo, the reading subscription service (think Netflix for books). “The Librarian’s Secret Diary” kicked off last Wednesday and will be updated with a new episode every Wednesday. The first episode is available free here.

But what about the Dewey Decimal System? It’s an eponymous term and as such was featured in my first word history book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary”. Dewey was an unusual person, to say the least, like many of the people whose lives I explored in the book. He wouldn’t have fared well in a post #MeToo world. I hope you enjoy the extract.

Dewey Decimal System

{copyright Grace Tierney, 2018}

This system of library classification was first published in 1876 by Melvil Dewey (1851-1931) and is now used in 135 countries worldwide. He devised the system while working at Amherst College library.

Melvil supported the idea of spelling standardisation, or as he would say “simpler spelin”. He changed his name from Melville to Melvil and even tried Dui as a surname for a while. He was instrumental in organising the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.

His main flaw was an “inability to control himself around women”. He was rumoured to ask female applicants to his School of Library Economy for their bust size and photograph with their applications because you can’t “polish a pumpkin”. The bust part is untrue, mercifully.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

“The Librarian’s Secret Diary” is a humourous diary-style story about Nina, the new librarian on the block. She’s learning the shelves with her buzzword-spouting boss and the senior librarian who hates reading and can’t wait to retire. She records the crazy reader requests and the knitting group in-fighting in her secret diary while trying to get the printer to work, flirting with the inter-library-loan guy, and struggling to discover why their romance books are acquiring red pen marks on page five.

Wearing My Huffle-Buffs

Hello,

This week I’ve been wearing my huffle-buffs often, it’s probably time I explained that term.

My gardening huffle-buffs, beside the peas & beans bed

According to Haggard Hawks (on twitter and on their website), huffle-buffs is “an old Scots dialect word for worn out, comfortable clothes”. As worn out, comfortable clothes are my favourites, this particular term stuck in my daily usage as soon as I came across it. It’s much better than the alternatives – slobs, lounge-wear, athleisure – in my opinion.

At the moment, because we’re still observing a “stay at home” rule in Ireland, my spring garden is getting more attention than usual and my gardening huffle-buffs (a fisherman’s smock from Kinsale, Co. Cork which is 18 years old and a faded pair of eco-cotton trousers from Gudrunsjoden which is 16 years old) have become my daily uniform as I battle back the bramble invasion in the cut flower bed and do my annual vegetable growing tasks. I’m sowing & tending three varieties of tomatoes, garlic, courgette, spinach, lettuce, spring onions, peas, borlotti, runner beans, cucumbers, and peppers this year along with my ongoing crops of herbs, apples, damson plums, hazelnuts, grapes, wild garlic, rhubarb). The tough denim smock is particularly handy when a) sunburn can be an issue and b) you have nettles and brambles ready to attack you at every turn.

Huffle-buffs appear in Scottish dictionary listings from the early 1800s so it’s not as old as you might think, unless it just took a while to make it into the dictionary. Huffle on its own can mean to blow in gusts of wind.

If you go hunting for huffle-buffs’ origin you will get side-tracked into the origin of the house of Helga Hufflepuff in the Harry Potter books and I can’t help thinking that may be a fair connection as although JK Rowling was born near Bristol (and hence is English) she wrote a considerable amount of the first book while living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Perhaps the local vernacular snuck into Hufflepuff’s name? Alternatively Helga must have been a very windy witch to have two words for gust in her surname – huffle and puff.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling in your comfiest huffle-buffs,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve made it to 19,946 words on “The Librarian’s Secret Diary” in CampNaNo so far this month. It will be launching on Channillo.com in May. My two other books “Hamster Stew” and “Nit Roast” are already completed and fully available to read there (first chapter is free to read).

Wonderful English Words from Ireland – Bocketty

Hello,

This week’s word is a favourite of my own, but spotting it in Niall Williams’ excellent novel “This is Happiness” (a coming of age story set in a small Irish village when electricity was installed for the first time) reminded me that I hadn’t included it here on Wordfoolery yet. The word I’m talking about is bocketty (also spelled bockety and bockedy).

I’ve been unable to source a pronunciation audio file for this one but it’s pretty easy to say bock-et-tee (equal stress on all three parts). You won’t find it in mainstream English dictionaries but it shows up in slang dictionaries s meaning “imperfect or physically impaired” and that was the use Williams made of it when he described bocketty men walking to an early Mass who had lost a toe, or two, in farming accidents and wearing their ill-fitting Sunday-best shoes.

In my home bocketty is used to describe anything which is a tad wonky – a far-from straight line drawn without the use of a ruler, a cake whose rise was uneven but would be fine once we applied enough icing (frosting for American readers), or a anything improvised and good enough for use, but not perfect. The Burrow, home to Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter books, is perhaps the best visual example of a bocketty house.

She made the bocketty stitching into a “design feature”.

Apparently the word comes from late 1800s Irish (Oxford Dictionary) but I was unable to source the original Irish word as the spelling must have changed – there is no letter K in the Irish alphabet for a start. Despite having a lack of formal recognition, bocketty is a common word in speech here today and turns up in the writing of many Irish authors (Éamon Kelly, Anne Enright, Niall Williams, etc.). I am curious to know if bocketty is ever used in British-English or American-English – so if you use it yourself outside of Ireland, please drop me a comment. Thanks!

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Skinflint

Hello,

As promised, after last week’s review of my favourite books of 2019, we’re back to unusual words. This week’s word is skinflint which is a great way of saying that somebody is tight, canny, or mean with their money. Scrooge was a world-class skinflint, until he met the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.

Skinflint came to my notice last week when I was reading “War and Peace” written by Leo Tolstoy in the 1800s, one of the books on my 501 Books to Read Before you Die list and actually one I read as a teen but wanted to re-read. It took me nearly two months, but it was worth it (just avoid the epilogue which is tedious). Anyhow, in it a soldier characters says “a German knows how to skin a flint, as the proverb says” and it made me wonder if Tolstoy had introduced the word to English, perhaps via a Russian proverb.

I’ve been unable to source the Russian proverb (it’s possible Tolstoy invented it, or it was short-lived soldier slang) but I did find a similar expression in French – tondre un oeuf (shave an egg) with thanks to WordHistories.net, in the early 1600s, so clearly this phrase has cousins in other European languages.

However skinflint definitely existed as an English word before Tolstoy’s time. It dates back to the 1600s and flay-flint was also used with the same sense. In the 1700s you might call a miser a nipcheese which I rather like as everybody in my house gets very fussy if their favourite cheese is nibbled without permission.

An early use of skinflint in print was the 1656 poem called “The Legend of Captain Jones” about one of the first English settlers at Jamestown, Virginia in North America which had the line –

“Jones was one would Skinne a Flint, and eat him when he h’had done”

Flint (top) and steel (below)

It’s still unclear to me how, or why, you would skin a flint. Flints are stones used most often in the past as either arrowheads, basic knives or to generate a spark (when struck by steel) to light a fire. My own flint and steel are pictured here and yes, there’s a bit of a knack to getting that spark but it’s possible.

I did find some suggestions that the skinflint would split a flint stone (easy enough to do) in order to get a second for free. Typically only one stone would be needed per person so that’s pointless penny-pinching of the sort Scrooge would approve.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Wordfoolery’s Favourite Books of 2019

Hello,

As you might guess, I read compulsively. I’ve taken a look back at my reading (60 books so far this year) during 2019 with help from my Goodreads account and here are ten of my favourite books of the year. They’re not all recent releases, as books often wait in my Towering To Be Read Pile and because I’m still working my way through the 501 Books to Read Before You Die List. If you want to buy a book for somebody as a gift this year, or you want to treat yourself, 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 next Monday.

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

Godsgrave – Jay Kristoff

Amazon.com

Book 2 in the Nevernight Chronicles. The first book was “Harry Potter meets assassin school” but now our heroine is qualified and on a mission which puts her undercover as a gladiator. Luckily she has some magic up her sleeve. I adore this series.

 

Crown of Swords (Book 7 in Wheel of Time Series) – Robert Jordan

Amazon.com

I read books 4-8 of this series this year. Epic fantasy in a medieval style world with plenty of magical creatures and quests. Along with strong male characters we also have feisty female characters from queens to village healers to leaders of rebel magic organisations. Crown of Swords is the 7th book and well worth a look.

 

Mistletoe and Murder – Robin Stevens

Amazon.com

I read this one so I can “book chat” with my 14 year old daughter. Suitable from age 10 up but good even for adult readers. If you love Agatha Christie-era detective fiction mixed with boarding school stories you need this series in your life. Hazel and Daisy (the school-girl detectives in 1930s England) are in Cambridge this time and solving murders amongst the stone spires and Christmas joy of the university.

 

Off The Rails – Christopher Fowler

Amazon.com

The aging detectives Bryant & May and the rest of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit are back on the case – this time with strange goings on in the Underground train system. If you love London, clever crime fiction, and wit – this series is perfect.

 

The Trespasser – Tana French

Amazon.com

Tana French’s work reached a wider audience with the recent BBC-RTE-Starz version of “Dublin Murders” and this one features the same detective. I hadn’t read her work before and am delighted to jump on the band wagon. Murders, contemporary Dublin, tough cops, and messy home life – what more could you want?

 

Vikings – Neil Oliver

Amazon.com

I was researching Viking words for a forthcoming book this spring and used this book. It takes a broad look at Vikings from Russia to Vinland and covers hundreds of years. It is easy to read but rich in detail and knowledge that will be new to most readers.

 

Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness

Amazon.com

Book 2 of the All Souls Trilogy. This series has been referred to as Twilight for Adults as it features vampires and romance but I enjoyed the academic and wicca elements she weaves in. The best of the three books is this one, in my opinion, because the two leads time travel back to Tudor London. Book 1 has already been a big hit on Sky One tv. Books 2 & 3 will follow (release date unconfirmed as at Dec 2019).

 

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

Amazon.com

if you love books and bookshops this is an essential read. True story of when a witty American reader corresponded with a stiff-upper-lipped English bookseller. Short but perfect.

 

Stardust – Neil Gaiman

Amazon.com

A deceptively simple tale of a boy on a quest to catch a fallen star and win his lady. He crosses into a strange world and finds it might be his real home. Fantasy from a master.

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.

 

Right, that’s enough book chat. Next week I’ll be back with strange and unusual words. Wishing you happy reading in 2020.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar to say thanks for this year’s words.

p.p.s. You can read about my 2018 Books of the Year too.

Word Geek Books – the perfect gift

Hello,

If, like me, you’re still rushing around finding gifts for those you love this year, I may have a simple solution for you. Go to a book shop and buy a book for everybody you know, plus one for yourself (as a shopping incentive). They don’t need batteries. There’s one to suit anybody. They are recyclable, reusable, and nearly always printed on paper from sustainably managed forests. They’re super easy to wrap and, particularly if you choose an independent book-shop, you are supporting local jobs.

An easy to wrap gift for Christmas

Since 2009 I’ve been blogging every Monday about unusual words here on Wordfoolery. In 2013 I started a series about eponyms (words in the English language named after a specific person – think boycott, guillotine, sadist, casanova, or cardigan). Soon, I discovered the lives behind eponyms are incredibly varied and span centuries and continents. A series of blog posts wasn’t going to be enough. I began to write my first word book inspired by this blog “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” which tells the stories of more than 260 different people (and some places like DumDum and Limerick) who gave their names to the English dictionary.

My eponymous heroes and heroines range from sharp-shooting teenage girls to lovers escaping palaces on bed-sheet ropes. ingenious inventors and daring scientists feature, of course, but so do soldiers, chefs, goddesses, revolutionaries, murderers and their victims, villains galore, and an elephant. Several regular readers of the blog suggested words for inclusion and earned themselves a spot in the acknowledgements (thank you all!).

The book launched last year and I’m very proud of it. As a reader of this blog you are likely to enjoy it, so consider treating yourself (or asking somebody to buy it for you). You might even know somebody else who loves words, books, history, or biographies who might like it as a gift. It’s perfect for dipping into. It’s available in paperback from Amazon in various countries worldwide, Wordery, or by request from local bookshops. The ebook is reasonably priced and available for Kindle, Kindle UK, Apple books, and Kobo. Both formats are available for library users too (especially Overdrive) – just ask your librarian. You’ll find all the purchase options on the My Books page, which also lists my novels if you’d prefer something fictional this Christmas.

If you have been kind enough to buy a copy already, thank you so much. I’ve discovered in the last year that getting book reviews for nonfiction is tricky (most book bloggers prefer fiction sadly) so I’d really appreciate it if you could drop an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your own blog. Reviews are incredibly important to indie authors like myself and are the best Christmas present you can give us.

If you’re trying to Buy Irish this year you might be interested to know that although my book is printed overseas – the author, proofreader, and cover designer are all Irish. Plus, I dedicated an entire chapter to Irish eponyms.

Right, that’s enough shameless self-promotion. Next week I’ll do a round-up of my favourite books of 2019 (the 2018 list is here) and after that we’ll be back to strange and unusual words.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar to say thanks for this year’s words.

p.p.s. My next blog book “Words The Sea Gave Us” covering the origins of maritime words from baggywinkle to skyscraper – will be launching in 2020 – watch this space.

Slumgullion

Hello,

This week’s word is slumgullion. This one has been on my “to write about” list for a while because it looked like fun. I didn’t even know what it meant.

Thanks to Merriam Webster (and the audio pronunciation is available there too) for the definition. Slumgullion is a meat stew. Other dictionaries add that this one is an informal (a.k.a. slang) American English word, which probably explains why I hadn’t heard of it. Also they note slumgullion isn’t filled with the most expensive cuts of meat.

Finding a definitive recipe for a stew which was created when the cook needed to use whatever he or she could lay their hands on is a tricky prospect. Most of the modern recipes suggest using minced beef, various chopped vegetables, plus stock and perhaps tinned tomatoes. The Shared Tastes blog explored the older recipes and even includes one using moose meat (not common in my local shop here in Ireland). Various references to slumgullion in literature associate it with the whaling ships and pirates so it might be the stew cousin to my favourite historic seafaring dish, salmagundi. Either way, if you fancy cooking a pot of slumgullion, you can pretty much invent your own version.

Slumgullion was probably a word created by compounding slum and gullion around the 1840s. Slum in this case had nothing to do with urban ghettos. It was an Old English word for slime. Gullion was a dialect word for mud or a cesspool. It may have reached English from Scots, or Irish where the word goilín means a pit or pool.

Slumgullion may have started on whaling ships. One of the earliest print usages was spelled as slobgullion in “Moby Dick” to describe the watery gloop which drains from whale blubber, and perhaps reminded sailors of particularly poor stew in the galley. The word appears to have moved with the sailors to the mines during the Californian Gold Rush to describe the muddy sludge at a mining sluice. The use to describe a stew dates to the 1870s.

According to “The Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” (Eric Partridge) there’s even a related word – a slubberdegullion who is a dirty slobbering fellow. Perhaps such a character created the first stew?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Note: this post contains affiliate links – if you purchase through them, a small fee goes to this blog to help running costs. Thank you.

Rigmarole

Hello,

This week’s word is rigmarole. It’s one I use in speech fairly often (usually entreating my teens to get to the point of their story) but I hadn’t seen it in print for a while so when I spotted it in “A Crown of Swords”, the seventh book in the Wheel of Time fantasy series by Robert Jordan, which I’m enjoying at the moment, it reminded me to hunt up its origins.

A rigmarole (pronunciation here) is defined as a confused or meaningless story or a complex and sometimes a ritualised procedure. Hence it can either be a verbal thing like the rambling story which never reaches a logical conclusion, or it can be an overly elaborate approach to a task. As a writer, both those things are to be avoided.

Rigamarole doesn’t have the clearest of origin stories but I’ll do my best. It arrived in mainstream English in the 1700s to describe a long, rambling verbal story, possibly from a local expression in Kent. In the 1500s, in Middle English, there was a thing called a ragman’s roll and that was probably the source of the Kent expression.

What was a ragman’s roll? I assumed it was a rolled up pack by a traveling salesman, but apparently not. The roll in this case was more akin to a school roll (list of enrolled pupils). The roll was a long list or catalogue, in this case describing, in verse, characters in a medieval game of chance called Rageman. The fact that the game was complex probably added to the meaning of rigmarole over time.

Rageman probably came into English from Anglo-French Ragemon le bon (Ragemon the good) who was both a character on this list and the title of one of the verses.

A long list – my rigmarole of craft projects to be completed

I was unable to get clear instructions on how to play Ragman’s Roll but it was widely popular in Anglo-Norman households. Some descriptions claim there were up to 50 mini verses (often bawdy) from which each player would draw one at random to tell their fortune, particularly as it related to matters of love. Thanks to Philip G Hunt’s blog for those details.

By 1939 the idea of a rigmarole being a long list had transformed into foolish or complex activities as well as such stories and lists.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you order through them, this blog earns a small fee. Thank you.

Wordfoolery on Scripted Scribbles

Hello,

The Wordfoolery book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (buy it here) is featured this week on the Scripted Scribbles Podcast. Andrew, Daniel, and John gave it a glowing review – enjoying the anecdotes about the origin of groggy, a cup of joe, and the original molotov cocktail. They described it as a “really good book” filled with “a wealth of information” and “a bargain”. They gave a thumbs up to this blog too, which is always great to hear.

Their podcast also covered the audiobook of “Mythos” by Stephen Fry, friendly chat about fantasy, sci-fi, and how Rupert the Bear books can help you calm down after scary horror movies

I listened on itunes/apple podcasts. It’s also available on Buzzsprout and Spotify. I’m delighted they chose to feature the book and I hope you enjoy their bookish podcast.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

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Denouement – a knotty literary device

Hello,

This week’s word is denouement, with thanks to “The Penultimate Peril” by Lemony Snicket, the second last book in the Series of Unfortunate Events adventure books (for age 9-12) which I enjoyed earlier this year.

Some colourful knots

As you might guess this is a word the French gave us, although the French version is spelled slightly differently – dénouement. The denouement in a story takes place after the climax. It resolves all the loose ends of plots and any remaining secrets are revealed. Generally in a tragedy the characters end up worse off than they started and in a comedy the characters end up happier.

An example from history, rather than fiction, would be in World War II. The climax is the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan whereas the denouement is Japan’s official surrender. In “Romeo & Juliet” the climax would be their mutual deaths, whereas the prince’s speech afterwards, resolving the story, is the denouement.

Denouement transferred from French to English around the mid 1700s and despite its association with drawing together loose ends and tying up the various plot lines, it’s actually closer to untying something, at least linguistically speaking. Dénouement in French came from dénouer (to untie) and from desnouer in Old French. Desnouer was compounded from des (un-) and nouer (to knot or tie) which ultimately comes from the Latin word nodus, for knot. Nodus also give us the idea of a node in a network, such as neural networks.

So, denouement comes from the idea of untying knots although writers often think of it more as a place where various stands of plot are tied together in a neat bow to complete a narrative.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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