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Hello,

Wordfoolery was on holidays last week and that means one thing – reading. I came across fustilug as an insult in “Closed Casket” by Sophie Hannah. She was writing in the voice of Agatha Christie and continuing the detecting work of the egg-headed Hercule Poirot but she sent me to my dictionary.

A fustilug is an obsolete word for a fat, gross, or frowzy person, especially a woman – according to The Collins Dictionary.

Hannah’s fustilug was male so feel free to insult anybody with it. Chances are they won’t know what you’re talking about, a definite upside of using old-fashioned invective.

Lug is a dialect term in British English for an ear and fusty can mean smelly, so the origin may lie with somebody with smelly ears although the mind boggles at how you could have smelly ears. Grubby, I grant you, but ear wax doesn’t smell, does it?

Wordsmith came to my aid. Fusty is a Middle English term for smelly or mouldy and lug in this case is used in the verb sense of carrying something heavy. They date fustilug’s first documented use to 1607 so I am very tempted to use it in my 1588 story “Ready for the Storm”.

Opening email after my holidays (I relish leaving email at home) I got the lovely news that Wordfoolery has been longlisted by the 2017 V by Very Blog Awards Ireland in the Books & Lit category along 19 others, including TaraSparling, Bleach House Library, and WordHerding. I’m delighted to be in such good company.

 

It inspired me to brush up the blog a little – a new tagline and my publications list has its own page finally. You may also notice a book cover on the sidebar. It’s not my eponym book “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary”, sorry. It will be published later this year.

No, it’s my first ever serialised novel. When Channillo asked me to pitch for their subscription reading platform, I suggested “Hamster Stew & Other Stories”. It launched with its free first installment on Wednesday. I’ll be adding new installments of Trish McTaggart’s chaotic family life every Wednesday.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. welcome to our recent subscribers – feel free to suggest a word – all feedback welcome

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Hello,

Today’s word is an expression – “pulling the wool over their eyes” which means to deceive someone. I came across it in “Sticklers, Sideburns and Bikinis” by Graeme Donald, a fun little word book if you’re in the mood for such things.

In 17th and 18th century England the gentry cropped their own hair and wore elaborate powdered wigs made of wool instead. The habit spread to North America around the same period. This meant that during a duel your opponent might pull your wool wig down over your eyes, thus giving themselves an advantage.

The first known use of the phrase was in a 1839 American publication which suggests the wigs may have been those worn by lawyers and judges in courtrooms at that date. Thus a clever, or lucky, lawyer might pull the wool over the eyes of the presiding judge.

I prefer the dueling explanation because it’s more dramatic.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and don’t let anybody pull the wool over your eyes,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve just finished participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. Despite changing projects twice this month, I managed to win and made a strong start on two writing projects – book editing, and a first draft. It’s a great way to keep your writing on track during the holiday/vacation season.

 

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Hello,

I bet you know the expression “under the aegis of”. For example “The negotiations for a settlement in the dispute took place under the aegis of the Conflict Resolution Board”. We know it means the discussions were under the protection and guidance of that board.

But what exactly is an aegis (pronunciation here) and how did it enter English?

This is one we can blame on the Greeks, those pesky ancients practically wrote the first English dictionary, but at least we have a very clear idea of what an aegis (also spelled egis) is. It’s a shield, specifically the shield of Zeus or Athena. It’s made of goatskin (not gold or bronze, most surprising) and at its centre is the head of a gorgon.

The word aegis entered English in the late 1600s, via Latin. The aeg part was originally aig or aix, meaning “related to a goat” and the –is suffix tells us it was a type of shield. If you were under the aegis of Zeus or Athena you were in a very safe place indeed.

Now I think I’d prefer a metal shield to one made of goat’s hide but I must admit that the addition of a Gorgon’s head does give you the luxury upgrade. The gorgons were three sisters who Greek legends tell us lived in the west, near the setting sun. They all had snakes instead of hair, which must have made a visit to the hairdressers a real nightmare.

They were named Stheno (the strong), Euryale (the wide leaping), and Medusa (ruler or queen). The only one you’ve heard of will be Medusa. She’s the one whose very look would turn you to stone. I can see how having her head affixed to my shield would give a certain edge in battle.

The next time a dry news report tells you about some event being under the aegis of a person or organisation, remember that if you mess with them they may turn their deadly shield against you. Even Captain America would be jealous of that bit of kit.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)

p.s. If you’re curious my adventures in CampNaNo this July have been productive so far despite external circumstances forcing me to change my project, twice. The DS is still chipping away at his story too, very proud of him.

 

 

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Hello,

Wordfoolery was gallivanting last week but as always I had my ear tuned in for unusual words. Amongst other nautical locations (my DS now blanches if I mention nautical history or maritime festivals) we took the excellent tour of the Dunbrody Famine Ship which is moored in New Ross, Co. Wexford.

The Dunbrody

Having studied the Great Famine (1844-1849) endlessly during school lessons in Ireland, I thought I knew everything about the ships dubbed “coffin ships” that stacked the emigrants high and shipped them from Ireland to Britain, Canada, America and elsewhere in search of survival. I was keen to see the ship however as she was built about 20 years ago by volunteers to be a total replica of the original 1844 Dunbrody, no mean feat when the skills to create tall-ships are increasingly lost to us.

She’s a fine ship, despite the dark history she illustrates. The mortality rate on the voyages was about 30% but it was still better odds than staying in Ireland where the population dropped by 50% in the five years of that famine (there were many other famines in Ireland in the 1800s).

The engaging, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable guide, who happily handled queries on the wider historic context of the famine and ship, decided to involve the younger members of my party in demonstrating life on board. DD got to stir the oatmeal/porridge on the deck’s brazier but DS got the plum job, he was handed a wooden bucket and challenged to handle it. Holding it at arm’s length he guessed it was the ship’s bathroom facilities and mimed tossing it overboard, after being advised to check which way the wind was blowing first.

Bathroom or Scuttlebutt?

I hoped the bucket wasn’t dual purpose, both for fresh and shall we say “used” water? If so it would be a primitive scuttlebutt. Butt is an old word for a barrel or cask, nothing to do with your rear. To scuttle something is to cut a hole in it – for example to hole the hull of a ship in order to sink it. The two together describe a cask or bucket with a lid. The lid had a hole in it so sailors could scoop out water using a drinking cup, but without allowing flies or dirt into the cask.

The scuttlebutt was a place to congregate and exchange news from the 1700s on board ships, hence its meaning as gossip or insider news. It crossed over to landlubber use c. 1950s. The modern equivalent would be water-cooler-gossip and an eponymous version exists in Australia with the furphy (whose story I explore in my book “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary” – coming later this year).

If you’re visiting the south-east of Ireland and have an interest in history, I can recommend the tour, just be careful of what way the wind is blowing.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (a.k.a. Wordfoolery)

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Asgard II at Howth

Hello,

This week’s word is thanks to Terry Breverton’s excellent non-fiction tome “Nautical Curiosities” which I recently finished reading with a fistful of inspirations for my coastal novel series and for this blog. There may be a flood of nautical words on the horizon, you have been warned.

I’ll begin with gollywobbler because it’s such a ridiculous word. The gollywobbler is a “large square staysail hoisted between the masts of schooner in a reaching wind to increase speed”. As a motion-sickness-afflicted landlubber myself I scurried to the dictionary to understand that description. I’ll enlighten you as best I can.

A staysail is a fore and aft sail set on lines that run diagonally downward from a mast. These lines (what sailors call ropes) are called stays, hence the name. Unlike the square-rigged sails on a schooner, staylines are in line with the keel of the boat, i.e. at right angles to the rest of the sails. Thus, presumably, they catch wind from other directions and increase the ship’s speed. A reaching wind comes side-on to the boat and the staysails are perfectly positioned to use a reaching wind. Gollywobblers are still used on sailing boats today and there’s even a series of wines named after them.

The origin of gollywobbler is, sadly, unknown, but I imagine that running aloft to hoist one would have been a wobbly and rather terrifying task on the taller of the tall-ships. The gollywobbler is believed to have given rise to the expression “I have the collywobbles” which means to be afraid.

In other news this week, I’ve finished the major editing on my book about the fascinating people behind eponyms “How to Get Your Name into the Dictionary”. Now begins the the fine edits and work with the proof-reader and cover-designer. I’ll keep you posted on progress. If any of you review books, let me know in the comments or @Wordfoolery on twitter and I’ll send an ARC your way.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

Today, in honour of International Women’s Day, I’m posting an extract from my forthcoming eponym book “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary” about Marie Curie, an inspiring female scientist with a fascinating story.

The curie is a unit of radioactivity and it is named for Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934).

Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win it in two different sciences (physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911). Only 5% of all Nobel Prizes awarded to date have been to women, with two of them in physics since 1901. She won her prize for physics jointly with her husband and Henri Becquerel. The committee originally intended to award it only to the two male scientists but one member told Pierre and he insisted his wife be recognised too.

She coined the term radioactivity, developed techniques to isolate radioactive isotopes, and discovered two elements – polonium and radium. She created and ran x-ray units in field hospitals in World War I. Her husband Pierre, also a scientist, dropped his own research on crystals to join her research which they conducted in a leaky shed on university grounds. They did not patent their discoveries which proved to be very valuable to industry.

Pierre died in 1906 in a traffic accident. Marie continued their work, becoming the first female professor at the University of Paris. She died many years later due to exposure to radium during her research and to x-rays during her field hospital work.

Curie studied at the clandestine flying university in Warsaw before working to fund her studies in Paris. The flying university was an educational establishment that didn’t agree with ruling policy at the time and had to meet in secret. They admitted female students and allowed the use of laboratory equipment which had been banned in schools following uprisings.

Curie’s papers, and even her cookbook, from the 1890s are so highly contaminated by radioactivity that they are stored in lead boxes and require specialist clothing to be viewed.

Curie is just one of many women to have contributed words to the dictionary. Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

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Hello,

Earlier this week I created the index for my eponym book, a thrilling task as I’m sure you can imagine. It got me thinking about the word itself. Clearly it has some Latin roots going on, but where exactly do we get index from?

index-finger

The word in means “towards” in Latin and an index does point us towards information so that makes sense and also links it to the index (or pointer) finger.

It expands to indic- as prefix (still in Latin) to mean “forefinger or sign”. That combines with either dicere or dicare to give us index. Dicere means “to say” and dicare means “to make known”. Taken together that gives us index as meaning “to point the way and to make known”, that’s pretty good fit for the modern use of the word, or finger.

Index reached middle English by the early 1400s and has retained its meaning since although an index will mean different thing to people working in different fields. An index is vital in databases, for example, where it points to the data. They are part of scientific instruments. We have a price index in economics and sadly an index of forbidden books within religious history. The interesting thing is that index in all these cases has the same core meaning – it’s a way to point out the relevant information. Most words I explore here change over a 600 year history, but index is still pointing the way.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

 

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