Category Archives: books

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)

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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

Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase using them this blog earns a small percentage to help with running costs.

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)

Note: this post contains an affiliate link to help defray the costs of the blog

Xenial Greeks Bearing Gifts

Hello,

Today’s word is xenial which I came across in “The Slippery Slope” (Series of Unfortunate Events Book 10) by Lemony Snicket. The author delights in unusual words and I’m reading the entire series at the moment so I can “talk books” (and words) with my daughter who loves them. They’re quick reads for an adult so it’s helping my Goodreads 2019 book reading challenge too.

Xenial is one of the words where the X is said like a Z, by the way. You can get a pronunciation audio file here or just go with zee-knee-ull.

Snicket’s character implies that xenial is another way to say somebody is friendly or helpful and he’s on the right track. Xenial describes friendly relations and hospitality especially by the host for their guest and in particular when those two people are from different city-states or countries. It has its origins in ancient Greece, xenos was the Greek word for guest. For example, Walder Frey was far from xenial when he hosted the Red Wedding in “Game of Thrones”.

xenial gift wrapping

Xenial entered English in the 1800s as an adjective for hospitality but clearly the ancient Greeks were a friendly bunch way before that date. Although we should also probably recall the ancient advice to beware of Greeks bearing gifts, even if they appear xenial at first glance.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

A Giant Look at Brobdingnagian

Hello,

This week’s word is brobdingnagian. A character is described in “Hall of Mirrors” by Christopher Fowler (witty detective fiction country house mystery) as being

“positively brobdingnagian when balanced upon a minuscule wire-framed chair”

and I had a feeling it was a reference to the classic satire Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift but I had to pull out the dictionary to be sure, as I thought the only adjective he’d spawned with his writing was lilliputian for people small in either stature or outlook.

Sure enough brobdingnagian (pronounciation here) describes anything of tremendous, or gigantic, size. Swift described Gulliver’s encounter with the land of Brobdingnag in his classic book. It’s inhabited by humans of massive size and is almost the opposite of Lilliput where the people are tiny relative to his brave shipwreck survivor, Gulliver.

The witch Cailleach Beara at Slieve Gullion Forest Park

What I hadn’t realised was that Swift gave English several other words thanks to his hugely popular book, many of which entered the language shortly after its publication in 1726. He wrote the book while working as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

You may not use big-endian and little-endian for controversies over nothing significant (or ways of organising digital data), or some of his other lesser known words, but I bet you’ve heard of a yahoo being an uncivilised person.

If you’d like to encounter the giant witch I’ve included above – check out the Giant’s Lair Trail at Slieve Gullion Forest Park. There are many legends about the witch attached to the landscape of the area and the trail is perfect for families, or you can tackle Slieve Gullion mountain if you prefer something more energetic.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Wordfoolery’s Favourite Books in 2018

Hello,

This is a bonus post, please forgive me for the lack of unusual words. I’ll be back on Monday with my English oddments.

As you might guess, I read compulsively across many genres, fiction, and non. I’ve taken a look back at my reading during 2018 (with thanks to my Goodreads account) and here are thirteen of my favourite books of the year. They’re not all recent releases, as books often wait in my Towering To Be Read Pile for a while and because I’m still working my way through the 501 Books to Read Before You Die List. If you got a book voucher for Christmas 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 tomorrow.

Thank you.

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

 

The Complete Peanuts, Vol 5, 1959-1960 – Charles M. Schulz

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Comic strips, including the introduction of Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally, and Snoopy’s impressions of a fierce mountain lion. Hardback series.

 

The Diary of a BooksellerThe Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Funny, sarcastic, and touching. A true account of a year in the life of the owner of a small second-hand bookshop in Scotland.

 

Bryant & May - Wild Chamber: (Bryant & May Book 15)Wild Chamber – Christopher Fowler

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

If you love London, or history, or humour and you haven’t read any Bryant & May detective stories yet – you are in for a treat. Frequently provides unusual words for this blog. I read four others this year and they were all excellent. Series.

 

Arsenic for Tea – Robin Stevens

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

A children’s book (I borrowed from my daughter) but easily one of the best detective books I read this year. Agatha Christie, for kids, in a boarding school in the 1930s. Series.

 

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle Book 1)Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Fantasy about a girl training to be a magical assassin to avenge her family. If you thought Snape was bad, check out the potions teacher here who poisons the entire class before their first class, and really doesn’t care how many of them survive. Witty, clever, brutal. Brilliant.

 

1848406363On This Day – Vol 2 – Myles Dungan

Amazon.co.uk only

Collection of pieces, mostly about Irish history, first broadcast on radio. Dungan has a great tone and although I knew some of the stories already, he tells them well.

 

 

0008150109The Things I Should Have Told You – Carmel Harrington

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

I love chick-lit, rom-coms, and women’s fiction. In this story about a family reconnecting on a road-trip across Europe in a camper van, Harrington proves she can do it, and do it well.

 

 

0141439939The Diary of Samuel Pepys – Samuel Pepys

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

One from my 501 list – Pepys lived through plague, the restoration of Charles II, and the Great Fire of London.

 

 

1101988665The Masked City – Genevieve Cogman

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

A magical library connected to all libraries on all worlds across space and time. Just add librarians who are nearly immortal and can work magic with words to fight dragons and faeries. Series.

 

 

031620689XThe Silkworm – Robert Galbraith (JR Rowling)

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

The Cormoran Strike detective novels are enjoyable, intelligent, and feature one of the best detective pairs ever. No wizards. Series.

 

 

1455524174Two Kinds of Truth – Michael Connelly

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

The 20th Harry Bosch novel and Connelly is still hitting the high notes. Bosch is my favourite American policeman, even now that he’s retired. Series.

 

 

0440217563Voyager – Diana Gabaldon

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Gabaldon’s historic fiction (with a dash of time-travel & romance) Outlander series (now an excellent TV series) is a regular re-read of mine featuring the best depiction of a married, loving, couple I’ve ever read. Perfectly researched. From Scotland during Bonnie Prince Charlie’s uprising to revolutionary America the story sweeps you along and the characters become family. Her books frequently inspire words for this blog. Series.

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.

 

Happy reading in 2019,

Grace (@wordfoolery)