Category Archives: crafts



This week’s word is myriad (pronunciation here) because it’s a favourite of mine. A myriad is a very large number of something. You might have a myriad of midges trying to bite you on a country walk, or a myriad of choices when selecting the right dress for the ball (hey, I can dream!).

In my case I’ve been looking at the vendor list for a yarn festival later this month, Woollinn, and reviewing a myriad of indie dyers and their yarns. I want them all, but am trying to be logical and only buy what I need and will actually use. This is a major challenge for any crafter.

A myriad of yarns

Words for large numbers in languages are often fun to explore and myriad is no exception. Most cultures manage words for one, two, or even up to ten but in early languages the tendency thereafter was to settle on a word for “many” and use that for everything from 25 to ten million.

Myriad entered English during the 1500s as the word for 10,000 or an indefinitely large number. It came to English from the Middle French word myriade, which in turn was a borrowing from Latin myrias (ten thousand). Myrias came from Greek myrioi which either meant 10,000 or countless, infinite and boundless. So it appears that even the wise and wonderful ancient Greeks struggled to imagine counting above 9,999.

I have counted my yarn stash and I don’t have 10,000 balls of wool awaiting my attention so I think I may purchase a skein or two at the festival after all.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Nettles and Fabric – A Twisted Word History


Along with a passion for words, I also enjoy foraging. There’s something satisfying about finding local plants and using them in old recipes. Last weekend, for example, I took a walk to gather elder flowers and bottled up some elder flower cordial. I’m far from expert and take great care to pick sustainably and with careful identification, but with help from a handful of good books on the topic I’ve been expanding my hedgerow harvest from simple blackberrying to blackberry and apple jam, crab apple whiskey, and wild garlic pesto. Pinterest is a good starting place for information, if you’d like to try it yourself.

Beware of nettles

When I was walking back with my elder flowers I passed a large clump of nettles and remembered a strange fact about them from “Foraging” by John Lewis-Stempel – “In Scotland, the natives made cloth from nettles as late as the 18th century”.

Nettle’s word history ties in with the idea of cloth. Nettle entered English from Old English netele which in turn came from Old Saxon netila and related words netele (Middle Dutch), netel (Dutch), Nessel (German), and naedlae (Danish). All of these terms come from the root ned which means “to tie or bind”.

Twisted fibres used to bind are but a short hop to cloth via a loom and it wasn’t just done in Scotland. I recently read Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales (for my ongoing quest to read the entire 501 Books list) and in one of them (The Wild Swans) a princess must knit nettle shirts to save her brothers from an evil queen. She suffers terribly during her task due to nettle stings.

The history of nettle cloth is well documented elsewhere online, if you’re curious, and dates back to 3000 B.C.. Nettle cloth, or ramie, which is like linen was widely used worldwide even during World War II, even next to the skin.

To nettle someone is a more recent verb use of the word. It means to irritate or provoke someone and is from the 1560s. I imagine touching a stinging nettle would provoke you alright.

If you’re unfortunate enough to be nettle stung I do have one piece of advice based on a foraging talk I attended a few years ago. The charming expert began with a demonstration of how to handle nettle stings. He was scathing on the common misconception that dock leaves help. They don’t and I can vouch for that from my own childhood. At best the application of dock (also called burdock) leaves makes you feel a little better as a distraction/attention thing.

Dock – pointless for nettle stings

He introduced us to another plant, smaller leaved than dock, which generally grows on the edges of paths worn through grassland – plantain (plantago major). Apparently it was called whitefoot by native Americans as it grew where the colonists walked. It has strong anti-histamine properties and is well known for this in some countries and totally unknown in others which is a shame. He demonstrated with sheer bravado, holding a fistful of nettles for a minute, showing us his red, welted hand (to groans from his audience), and then rubbing the welts with dampened, crushed plantain leaves. In half a minute the welts and pain were gone.


Plantain – try it on nettle stings

I’ve yet to try this myself but I spread the word and both my children have helped stung friends with good effect.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. Stay away from those nettles, unless you’re making nettle soup.

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

A Knitting Nepp


This week’s word is courtesy of Linda Keller in my local knitting & crochet group. I’ve been crocheting for thirty years and she surprised me with a yarn term last week I’d never encountered before – nepp (pronunciation here). As I was crafting a scarf with the yarn in question, I decided to investigate.

Neppy yarn – Northern Lights by James C Brett

A nepp yarn is one which has tiny flecks of a contrasting colour twisted into the fibre during the spinning process. This technique is particularly popular in tweed style textiles. Technically a nepp yarn creates a nub or knot by tightly twisting an effect fibre around the base fibre, typically in a different colour. I hadn’t heard of a nub either, except in the idea of “getting to the nub of an issue” which I presume refers to exploring a knotty topic until you uncover the final core tangle.

Some US dictionaries contain neppy as an adjective to describe fabric containing neps (note the single p) but if you check out nep you’ll stumble into New Economic Policy which doesn’t help us. Nepps can be regarded as flaws in a fabric such as denim but most yarn-crafters would see the little flecks as decorative rather than defective.

Be careful to avoid neppy confusion with nap. Nap refers to the plush pile on fabrics like velvet and moleskin.

As for word origin, nepp’s history is a knotty problem. I did find it in German, however, where it refers to a rip-off or highway robbery so perhaps the idea of nepps indicating poor quality comes from Germany. My own neppy yarn looks great, so I don’t think I was a victim of highway robbery when I bought it last week.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. NaNoWriMo Update – I made it to 40,132 words today and hope to pass the 50,000 word finish line by the end of the week. I’m participating in the All Ireland Word War (a friendly team writing event) so I’ll push on with “Nit Roast & Other Stories” until the end of November. As usual, I’ll need to invest more time in finishing my story after NaNo is complete.

The Eponym Series – Magenta


This week I’m back talking about unusual colour words but this one is an eponym, magenta.

Shades of magenta

Shades of magenta

I’ve magenta in my watercolour box but rarely use it unless working on flowers. There really isn’t that much bright pink in real life, unless you’re female and under the age of nine.

I recently discovered that magenta is an eponym. Magenta is a town in Lombardy, Italy. On the 4th of June 1859 Napoleon faced General Franz Gyulai of Austrian there and nearly 9,000 troops died. Their bones were gathered in an ossuary which still exists today.

Meanwhile the very first red aniline dyes hit the market under the names fuchsine or roseine (probably named to be like carmine, another dye/watercolour paint and similar to two flower names). They didn’t sell. When the name was changed to magenta in honour of the battle of the same name, and the rather gruesome association with blood reds, it flew off the shelves. Flowery names don’t sell paint apparently.

Interested in eponyms? Check out my earlier posts on cardigan, wellington, braille, bork, bowler hat, lynch, ferris wheel, boycott, guillotine. I’ve written a book about nearly 300 of them and the lives of the fascinating people who gave their name to English. “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” is out now in Amazon paperback (USA and UK), and ebook for Kindle, iBooks, and on Kobo.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


Hodgepodge, hotchpotch, and mishmash


This week’s word is hodgepodge (pronunciation here), and its close cousins hotchpotch and mishmash. All three terms describe a mixture of different things, a jumble of items without order or reason.

hodgepodge of ribbons (1)

Hodgepodge of Ribbons


Any crafter has a box, basket or jar containing a hodgepodge. My mother had her button tin thriftily containing snipped off buttons from clothes outgrown by family members, plus odd zips, buckles, and clips of various types. I adored rummaging in it. My daughter has several hodgepodge boxes and jars filled with shells, stones, buttons, beads, and string. As a crocheteer I’ve a large oddments basket stuffed with ends of balls of yarn used as colour inspiration and for smaller trims and striped hats for charity.

A Hodgepodge Jar

A Hodgepodge Jar

Perhaps the crafting female of the species is most drawn to this pack-rat ability to cluster items in a hodgepodge. Anybody creating mood boards on pinterest is channelling the same urge. But most of us will also know a small boy who, if forced to, will turn out an amazing mishmash of items from his pocket (sticks, a feather, broken crayon, a leftover sweet, ammo for a long-lost toy). The adult male will claim to be immune to such gathering but if you investigate closely you will find either a box or drawer containing old plugs, a hotchpotch of batteries, and spare screws. My own DH gathers wood because of his wood-carving hobby so I find hodgepodges of timbers, all sizes, slipped behind trees to dry outdoors or perched in odd places around our shed waiting to fall on me when I pull out the spade.

hotchpotch of yarn

It doesn’t surprise me that there are so many charming terms for these random collections or that hodgepodge dates back to the 15th century. We humans started as gatherers as well as hunters, remember. In some ways this blog is my hodgepodge of unusual words.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling.


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Fabric words


After an eventful weekend (my nine-year old son broke his arm and required surgery to re-align it) I did consider a medical word for this week. But the rough fabric around his cast was on my mind today. So here’s a list of words for describing fabric which might prove useful in describing characters’ outfits.

I’m a keen sewer but I’ve only used a handful of these, so far, as some have faded into history. The main distinction for sewers is between woven fabrics like cotton and knitted fabrics like jersey because that influences how we sew with them. But the variations are endless.

Some of my fabric stash

Some of my fabric stash

  • cotton – entwined with history
  • linen – from the flax plant, creases easily
  • felt – created by heating wool, or shrinking your favourite jumper on a hot wash
  • wool – from sheep, although other sources include goats and rabbits
  • gabardine – I associate this one with my old school coat but the word is around since 1590 and associated with Burberry since 1879. Usually closely woven wool.
  • tweed – wool, originally named tweel (the Scots for twill) but mis-read on an order form, associated with the River Tweed and the name stuck.
  • twill – weaving method used in chino, denim, drill, garbardine, serge and tweed.
  • fustian or bombast – heavy cotton for menswear, especially padding – hence the use of bombast to mean extraneous words
  • camblet – a fine wool and silk blend, also known as camlet
  • cherryderry – a light cotton and silk blend with stripes or checks
  • holland – fine cotton
  • kersey – coarse woollen cloth originally from Kersey in Suffolk, England
  • broadcloth – heavy felted wool cloth made from medieval times onwards
  • calamanco – thin wool fabric, sometimes patterned, glazed or damasked
  • linsey-woolsey – a linen and wool blend used for petticoats
  • muslin – think Jane Austen dresses and straining jam
  • calico – checked cotton
  • chiffon – light sheer fabric from cotton, silk or synthetic sources. From the French word for cloth.
  • taffeta or taffety – a Persian word for a crisp, smooth silk or synthetic fabric. Used to create the original hot air balloons, but more common in ball gowns.
  • voile – soft, sheer fabric used for curtain panels or layered in dresses. From the French word for veil.
  • tulle – a fine netting, probably orginating in the French city of the same name. Best known in ballet tutus.
  • satin and sateen – glossy front, matt back – made from silk, synethics, or cotton (sateen).
  • crepe de chine or crape – thin silk (or synethetic) fabric with a crisp appearance. Think kimono fabric.
  • bombadine – dress material, many source materials, largely used for mourning-wear.
  • silk, shot silk, raw silk – created from the cocoons of the mulberry silkworm, although many other insects create silk too. Silk and the silk road has an amazing history but I don’t have space for it all here.
  • velvet – soft fabric created using a specific weaving method from medieval times or earlier. See here for details and variants like devore, crushed etc.
  • velveteen – imitation velvet
  • velour – a plush knitted fabric sometimes found on upholstery or leotards.
  • moleskin – not from moles. A heavy cotton fabric.
  • jersey – t-shirt fabric, originally made in wool and from Jersey in the UK.
  • fleece – soft warm fabric popular in outdoor wear – can be made from recycled plastic bottles.
  • lining – usually a silky style polyester in modern times, but can be any lightweight fabric.
  • oilcloth – a heavy waxed cotton used for tablecloths and outdoor cushions (wipe-clean).
  • nylon, lycra, pvc, polyester, acrylic, velcro, gortex etc – numerous petrol-based synethic fabrics invented in modern times – some with trademark names. I like velcro because it’s named for velour and crochet combined.
  • border anglaise – delicate white cotton pierced with patterns edged with white thread.
  • corduroy – ridged like a ploughed field.
  • denim – named after the serge fabric made in Nimes in France. Jeans in their turn were named for the French term for Genoa in Italy where those trousers were first made.
  • serge – a twill fabric around since 8th century.
  • chino – cotton twill fabric popular in trousers. Word source may relate to a toasted colour, or Chinese manufacture.
  • damask – around from the early Middle ages and named for Damascus on the Silk Road – a woven, reversible fabric with the pattern woven into it.
  • leather – generally from cows.
  • furs – sadly from almost any animal caught by man. Ermine being from a stoat or weasel.
  • kid – white leather from goat kids. To handle with kid gloves (a delicate situation) means that you made clear you leave no smudge or stain upon the situation.

I’m sure this list isn’t complete, can you add any?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


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The Addictive Blog Award


Many thanks to Kimberly Sullivan for nominating me for The Addictive Blog Award. Kimberly is one of the beta readers for my current novel-in-revision “Hooked” over on Critique Circle and she blogs about her own women’s fiction writing and her varied travels from her base in Rome. I’ll be using her local hints for my trip to Rome this June.

For this award I need to write about why I blog and then nominate ten other blogs that I find addictive.

Why I blog

I began blogging in the spring of 2009 with the aim of sharing my passion for unusual and fun words. My first word was flibbertigibbet, so that will give you the general idea. Since then I’ve explored the meaning and origins of strange words every week and sometimes talked about my writing, especially during November when I’m a Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month or when I’ve had a new piece published. My love of gardening creeps in now and then too.

Nominate Others

The following ten blogs (in alphabetical order) are ones I visit regularly because I share their passions…

  • Carolann Copland of Carousel Creates – I was lucky enough to spend a blissful and educational weekend as Carousel Creates, the writing retreat in the Dublin Mountains, this spring and Carolann is a real lady.
  • Errol and Debbie at Nanotoons – I really shouldn’t waste time during November reading comics online and watching a crazy NaNo musical, but I can’t resist because they are just so funny and I think they might have based the insane ML on me.
  • Ficticious Amo –  anybody who’s actually tweeted with Toby from the West Wing is cool in my book but meeting AnneMarie in person at Carousel and listening to her amazing fiction made me realise that she’s effortlessly cool all by herself. Read her fiction and be transported into her world.
  • Hope Clark – Hope has been writing about writing for a long time and she brings her trademark common sense and wit to everything she does. I am a huge fan of her newsletters (which I have been honoured to write features for in the past) and her blog is great too.
  • The Irish Writers’ Centre Blog – I’m biased because I guest posted for this blog during NaNoWriMo 2011, but actually it’s an interesting blog because it is populated by guest posts by all levels and types of writers who are joined by just one thread – they write in Ireland.
  • Jade at CraftHope – regular readers of my blog will know that I craft. I crochet, sew, make jewellery, paint, make cards, and basically have more arts and crafts supplies in my home than is sensible. So when I came across Craft Hope it was a eureka moment. Jade, a stay-at-home mom of four in Texas, began the blog in 2009 as a way of co-ordinating hand-crafted gifts for those that need them. The first project generated 27 pillow dresses for kids in Mexico made by Jade and some online crafting friends. Since then it was blossomed beyond belief. She’s on project 21 now and has helped more than 100,000 children and adults in need right around the globe. There’s a great book of projects (and suggested venues to donate them too) and I cannot recommend her site and her projects enough. If you know anybody who crafts – direct them here so they can make a difference with their skills.
  • Kristin and Kelly at Dinner du Jour –  love good food for your family? Then you’ll love this blog written by two old friends, now seperated by the Atlantic and blogging together to bridge the gap. Kristin used to be in my knitting group and was a great knitter, but honestly – her recipes are even better.
  • The Madwoman in the Attic – I met Lisa in my role as a mentor for National Novel Writing Month. I think I’m a compulsive reader (witness my Reading 501 books blog) but she puts me in the shade and in her role as a bookseller for Waterstones bookshop in Drogheda she is ideally placed to promote great writing. Want something amazing to read? Ask Lisa.
  • PurlBee – my favourite crafting blog. Beautifully photographed, brilliantly detailed, and endlessly inspiring. Covers crochet, knit, sewing, embroidery, weaving and general craft.
  • QuickCrop – Andrew and Niall grow vegetables and they know what they’re talking about when it comes to growing them in Ireland, which is important because our growing season is different to the South of England which is where a lot of our seeds originate. Not only that but they’re irreverent bloggers who share useful tips for gardeners experienced and less so. They also make great raised bed kits that form the skeleton of my own veg plot in my back garden.

Thank you all for writing such great blogs. I love reading them. I’ll be back next week with more unusual words at Wordfoolery, but until then happy reading, writing, and wordfooling.