Archive for the ‘environment’ Category


This week’s word is squirrel. They have been on my mind this week as I beheld my tiny hazelnut harvest (pictured left) and muttered darkly about “bushy-tailed urban criminals”.

I grow fruit, vegetables and herbs for my family’s table. I planned my garden to be productive, including as many native plants as I could. This involved me planting a hazelnut tree in my front garden. I researched it in the hope I could get hazelnuts (my favourite nut) but the books all said to plant at least three together if you wanted nuts and I didn’t have the space, so I selected a contorted hazel with curled stems that looks great in winter and an unholy mess in the summer.

We wind lights around it at Christmas and during the unwinding process one January I was stunned to find a scattering of hazels on the (hazelnut coloured) gravel beneath. I shouldn’t have been shocked. As I explored the lanes around our village I noticed other bushes in gardens and the motorway embankment is planted with native trees, including hazels.

Contorted hazel covered in ice

Contorted hazel covered in ice

I came to depend on a small hazelnut harvest each Christmas, growing as the tree grew in size. Not this year. This year it has halved and many of the nuts show signs of attack by tiny claws. I’m blaming the squirrels. There’s a healthy population of red squirrels in old woodlands nearby and I’ve spotted one clinging to the wall of my neighbour’s house. I’m all for squirrels and I’m happy to support our native reds over invasive grey squirrels any day but do they have to eat my hazelnuts?

Squirrels have been with us for some time (about 36 million years according to the fossil record) and they get everywhere, not just at my hazel tree. The word entered the English language  in the early 1300s. It came from the Anglo-French word esquirel. That came from the Old French word escurueil which was used for the beast or its fur (perhaps culled by angry nuttery owners). It came from scurius and sciurus in Vulgar Latin and Latin but it’s when we reach Greek that the fun starts.

The Latin words came from the Greek word skiouros which is formed from skia (shadow) and oura (tail or backside) with the idea being that the squirrel was a beast whose tail cast a shadow. I have a vision of ancient Greek squirrels using their tails to shade themselves from the relentless Greek sunshine, probably while nibbling on stolen hazelnuts.

Until next time remember to share the hazelnuts, the squirrels need them too,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)


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It was feculent weather on Saturday at Slieve Gullion Forest Park. We cajoled our short-legged Beaver Scouts uphill (children aged 6-8), settled for a picnic and instantly the heavens opened. We grabbed a few wet bites of pinics, enjoyed watching the local hunters training their gundogs with dummies on the hillside in a brief window of dry weather, and then sauntered back downhill. We waited, out of the rain but watching very happy ducks in their rain-lashed pond, for the Cubs and Scouts (on longer hikes) to join us for our transport home.

We thought we were wet, but we weren’t really. When the older scouts arrived, drenched to the skin through multiple layers of “waterproofs”, we understood what feculent really meant. Their off-road trail had turned to a slippery morass down which they had slithered.

So, feculent (pronounced fek-ull-ent), first defined in Dr. Johnson’s dictionary of English (a book I really must buy), means that something is foul, turbid, muddy, or containing the dregs of fecal matter. Delightful.

I’ll be spending my week washing the feculent remains of that hike from our gear and praying the weather isn’t similar at our overnight camp next weekend. I keep reminding the world that June is meant to be summertime in Ireland, but the world isn’t listening. It’s raining as I write this.

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


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Hurricane Irene grabbed all the weather headlines recently, but it was the tail-end of Hurricane Katia that caused trouble for me this week. She created 6-10 metre swells on the west coast of Ireland and the ferry to InishBofin for my writing weekend was cancelled (wisely) by the skipper. As a result I won’t be posting any idyllic island images today, sorry.

But the wind, which caused a fair bit of damage to my own garden on the east coast, got me thinking about windy words.

As a child I was delighted to discover that the inventor of the commonly used Beaufort Wind  Scale in 1805, was Irish-born like me, Sir Francis Beaufort. Many thanks to Wikipedia for the following details on how it works which I had forgotten despite learning the indicators as part of my geography studies aged 12. The modern version of the scale used in Ireland and Britain (with some additions for tropical cyclones on the China Sea area) is as follows  –

Zero – calm – smoke rises vertically

1 – light air – ripples without crests

2 – light breeze – leaves rustle

3 – gentle breeze – light flags extended

4 – moderate breeze – whitecaps on waves

5 -fresh breeze – small trees begin to sway

6 – strong breeze – umbrella use becomes difficult and empty rubbish bins (garbage cans) tip over – I love this description!

7 – high wind – effort needed to walk against the wind

8 – gale – cars veer on the road

9 – strong gale – large amounts of seaspray reduce visibility, some tree branches will break

10 – storm – trees broken or uprooted

11 – violent storm – widespread damage to trees and roof-tiles

12- hurricane – huge seas, totally white with waves and spray. Extensive damage to weaker structures like barns, mobile homes etc.

A sombre read, isn’t it? Reminds me of the power of the wind, and wave. The highest up the scale I’ve experienced personally is only 10 and I’m very glad of that. Yesterday, the end of Hurricane Katia, who had dropped to Atlantic storm level came through my village as a puny 7, but she still managed to wrench up a badly planted fruit tree and rip several fruit-laden branches from my tomato-patch.


Other windy words you might enjoy weaving into your weather-related small-talk this week include –

zephyr – a soft, gentle breeze

el Nino and la Nina – linked air pressure events in the Pacific which have massive influence on weather patterns globally. Explained here.

draught, gust, puff, squally, tempest, tornado, blustery

Chinook, Mistral, Monsoon, Sirocco and several other famous regional winds identified here.


My two final words relate to wind too. Do you know what they mean? Windbag and windjammer.


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

And may your umbrella always remain the right way out,





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My Earth Hour 2011 Lantern


Now before I get onto the meaning to paraprosdokian, can you take a look at the image on the left? This is a lantern I created to show my support for Earth Hour 2011. You can create your own at Earth Hour Lantern and post it on your blog or facebook page. If you’re not aware of Earth Hour, it’s an annual event, taking place in more than 126 countries, where individuals, communities, and governments turn out the lights for one hour to raise awareness of climate change and the damage it is doing to our planet. This year’s Earth Hour will take place at 8.30pm on Saturday 26th March (GMT) and details of events near you can be found at Earth Hour. Last year many Dublin pubs held candlelight trad music sessions. I like that idea.

I’ve taken part for the last two years. It is wonderful to walk around the house, switching off the lights (and computer, television, etc), lighting the candles, and peering out to see if my neighbours have joined me in this simple protest. The added advantage is that it makes me realise how much energy we waste in our home, and gets me talking to my family, rather than just slumping in front of a flickering television.

Now, onto the words!

This week’s word is paraprosdokian which Wikipedia defines as “ A figure of speech (from Greek “παρα-“, meaning “beyond” and “προσδοκία”, meaning “expectation”) in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.”

Paraprosdokian is pronounced para-proz-doke-ian (audio here) but it doesn’t exactly trip off my tongue. However my friend Marie kindly sent me a few examples of paraprosdokian sentences (source unknown)…

I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way.   So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.
Light travels faster than sound.   This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
We never really grow up; we only learn how to act in public.     (as a mother I fully agree!)
War does not determine who is right — only who is left.
To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism.  To steal from many is research.   (my friends in academia chortle over this one)

Here’s my own attempt – “Save the planet, drive to your recycling centre with your recyclables”.

Have a try yourself and stick it in a comment on this post. I’d love to see what my readers come up with.

Until next time, happy reading, writing, and fooling with words,


p.s. for those of you with unpublished novels under the bed – consider the Pageturner contest at UK agent Tibor Jones. It’s free to enter and open to all genres written in English. Deadline is 8th March 2011 and submissions can be emailed.



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Thanks to some unusually cold weather here, I’m blogging on Thursday evening rather than Monday. I’m aiming to resume the usual Monday evening slot from next week. Apparently this cold snap is the worst since 1981, which I recall as the year the snow caused my school to close – the only time during my education and an event which caused much rejoicing in my young heart.

This week’s word is sharawadgi (I have been unable to source pronunciation details for this word, sorry!). The garden visit site defines this word as being a Chinese gardening term of unknown origin which describes a garden design feature of irregular, surprisingly and great beauty. The European gardeners adopted the concept when they began building follies in their large estate gardens. Wikipedia goes to great length to resolve the unknown origin part, but it seems likely this is an invented term and none the less fun for that.

Undoubtedly a garden of perfect symmetry and ideally clipped grass and plants is soothing on the mind. However nothing pleases me more than turning a corner and finding a wonderful plant, sculpture, or view to amaze me. It’s that “wow factor” that interior designers adore in TV home makeover programmes. Today I had my sharawadgi moment without the use of greenery, which was handy as there’s very little verdant growth in my neighbourhood these days with the snow and ice.

I turned a corner and happened upon a very dapper snowman. He wore his Dublin team scarf, a glorious green tribly, traditional carrot nose, and a wide smile. I couldn’t help but smile back at him. He was almost the same height as me which meant some hard work had been applied to his construction because I had failed to even form snowballs from the rather icy-snow lying on our garden. I went home, gathered my camera and walked out to snap the snowmen of Stamullen. I think you’ll agree that they’re a random bunch. They are irregular. I think them beautiful and they definitely surprised me in their sheer variety and number. Much of their charm lies in their head-gear or smile but certainly, they each gave me a sharawadgi moment today.

happy reading and writing,


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In this part of the world, it’s harvest time. Most of the work is finished near me, the hay is saved (I saw some old-fashioned pitchfork created haystacks the other day – a rare sight now), most of the cereal crops are in and I run less risk of encountering a massive combine harvester on the local narrow lanes, but I’m still passing plenty of root-vegetable trucks and in my own garden I’m gathering about 15 tomatoes at day (I grow 8 tomato plants – roma plum tomatoes and gardener’s delight cherry tomatoes outdoors) knowing that the first frosts will arrive here soon and then I’ll have to ripen the rest indoors (I will be eating them until Christmas). I’ve jarred up my dried herbs, potted up a bounty of blackberry and apple jam (my second favourite, damson is best but my tree is young and non-productive so far), and gathered the onions and garlic that survived the wet clay I planted them in. I’ve still got leeks, parsnips, beetroots, lettuce, courgette, carrots, apples, crab apples, and sconzonera (like a nutty carrot – delightful) to gather in over the next month or so. I love this time of year!

garden_july_2005_veg_bkt_1 It is also the time of year when my children’s minds turn obsessively to the crucial decision of “which costume for Halloween?” Thankfully for my wallet my youngest is happy to wear last year’s black and pink witch costume again, especially as I’ve given in to her request for a broomstick to embellish the ensemble. My eldest can be trickier as he tends to change his mind at the last minute in an attempt to gain a second costume for our literally bursting costume box. We had a few hours, just the two of us, last Friday, and I sat him down with paper and pencil and we designed his outfit. Re-using a previous year’s skeleton outfit and adding a shop-bought scythe (plastic, I hasten to add), and a black cloak which I will try to construct on my trusty sewing machine, I think we have the core of an excellent costume of Death from the Discworld. He hasn’t read the wonderful Terry Pratchett books yet, but he loves the covers and is confident (more than I am) that I can create a suitably spooky look by October 31st. However my sister (who joins us on the night with her own son) has just upped the ante by texting me a picture of her costume so now I have to create something for myself – argh. Not enough hours in the day!

Anyhow, scythes were naturally a topic in our house this week and co-incidentally so were combine harvesters due to an animated one in a school story. I had to explain how each worked. Did you know you can still do courses on how to cut your fields by scythe and we had proverbs involving them? I’d say it’s a great workout and in fact I think the company I previously worked for once did a charity meadow-reap in a park by scythe and had half the staff out with bad backs afterwards. I’ve never handled a real one, but I have played with a (very blunt) sickle as several hung on the garden wall of my grandparents’ home and they fascinated me. I suppose the soviet hammer (industry) and sickle (agriculture) was a clever piece of design considering it covered the two big employments of the day. Of course a sickle is a unit of currency in Harry Potter’s world, I doubt Stalin would like that too much. If you’re interested in either tool for your own plot, much to my surprise, they can both still be bought online – do a quick google search.

If you’re harvesting this month, I wish you sharp tools, huge crops, crisp weather, and no back-ache.

Happy writing and reading,


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