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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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nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_winnerHello,

Today is the last day of NaNoWriMo 2016. Everywhere around the world crazy-eyed, caffeine-hyped writers are scrambling to pull words from their imaginations and pin them to the page. I know the novelists in my region are busy because our forums have fallen silent. There’s no more time for procrastination, there’s writing to do.

My own writing space is quiet too. It has transformed into a reading space. Why? Because I passed 50,000 words on Monday and my reward is a couple of days off, curled up with a mug of hot chocolate and a Neil Gaiman novel.

I’ve learned from previous NaNos (this is my tenth year in the challenge and my eighth win) that I can’t keep up the pace straight into December. So although I do need to write another 8,000 words to finish the first draft I won’t be tackling that immediately. I’ll take time to catch up on work for Scouts. I’ll finish my gift shopping. I’ll remind my garden that I love it. I’ll re-connect with my family and loved ones.

The last couple of chapters will come in their own good time. I certainly won’t forget to write about my eponymous villains. How could I omit Ponzi, de Sade, Machiavelli, Sacher-Masoch, and Quisling?

Starting NaNoWriMo is always scary, even with practice. You can’t be sure you’ll make it. You never know what November has in store. This year was no exception. The school strike stole writing days. As always, I ended up on antibiotics at one point. Our heating broke. I completely forgot my monthly column deadline and had to rush one together at very short notice. None of that matters now. I’ve a huge start made on “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary” and that’s the greatest feeling in the world.

Until next time (when I’ll get back to unusual words) happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

(November word count 50,300)

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nanowrimo_2016participantHello,

It’s week three of my NaNoWriMo 2016 efforts and my scribblings are starting to look like a book. The “research pile” is turning into the “topics written pile” and I’ve become an even bigger eponym nerd. I mean, seriously, did you know serendipity is an eponym? Or that an eleven year old girl named Pluto after the Roman god of the Underworld?

A part of me is dying for a quiz to come up so I can go along and slay them with all this trivia. Another part knows I am geeky company right now. But, as I teach my children, being a geek about something means you’re passionate about it. That’s a good thing.

To “win” NaNoWriMo you have to paste a copy of your novel into their word-count widget. Obviously you could totally cheat and paste in 50,000 mentions of rhubarb but it’s an honour system. This facility opened yesterday and all around the world I know writers are doing that triumphant check already. They are validating their word count and printing off their winner’s certificate. I think that’s pretty special. At the start of the month they had an idea. Now they have the start of a story (or an entire story if it’s a short novel or novella). They have a draft they can refine, edit, tweak and eventually get somebody to read. They can call themselves writers.

Many writers, particularly in the early years, are shy about calling themselves writers but I think it’s simple. If you write stories (or articles/poems/novels/plays/limericks/whatever) on a regular basis then you’re a writer. It actually doesn’t matter if your story ends up on the bestseller lists. It matters that you sit down and write. Talking about writing doesn’t count.

Write enough and you will improve. Write enough and people will want to read your stories. They will enter other people’s brains and imaginations and in some small way, change the world.

Until next time happy writing,

Grace (38,257 words written – the end is in sight!)

p.s. yes I know it’s technically week four of NaNo, but it’s my third Monday which is when I blog

 

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Sheffry Sunset

Sheffry Sunset

Hello,

Today is the halfway point in NaNoWriMo 2016 and I’ve reached the halfway point in my eponym history book, “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary” despite running away for the weekend.

Regular readers will know that I’m a Scout leader (or adult scouter as we’re known these days). Each year there’s a national training weekend for leaders to improve their hill-walking skills called the Mountain Moot and unfortunately it’s scheduled right in the middle of NaNo. I totally shouldn’t go along, but I do anyway convincing myself that taking off three writing days will return me with renewed writing vim and vigour.

That is not always the case but it does have an advantage. Do a tough enough hike and your leg muscles will prevent you from wandering too far from your writing desk for a few days. I won’t be walking anywhere for a day or two but perhaps the memories of mountain ranges stretching from Killary Harbour to Clare Island will inspire me?

Plus, how could I, as a Tolkien fan, resist a meeting called a moot? I didn’t spot any ents though. They were probably hiding in the clouds that shrouded the summit of Sheffry.

Oh and the teachers’ strike I was lamenting last week has been put on pause pending talks. Clearly I was a wonderful home-school teacher as my eldest danced and sang around the room when he heard he could return to school. Ah well, I’ll just have to stick to the writing then.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Wordcount = 26,153

 

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