Category Archives: my books

Carpetbagger History

Hello,

This week’s word is carpetbagger which I came across in the excellent military history word book “Sticklers, Sideburns and Bikinis” by Graeme Donald that I’ve mentioned here before. Carpetbagger isn’t a commonly used word here in Ireland but I had a vague memory of Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind” being called that word.

Vague memories are often incorrect, however, and Rhett wasn’t a carpetbagger at all. He was a blockade runner whose ship slipped past the Union blockade to bring supplies to the south (and earn a good profit in the process).

Carpetbagger entered American English in the 1860s as a negative word for opportunistic whites from the northern part of the country who moved south after the fall of the Confederacy to grab political power (from which some local residents were barred at the time) or to seize property and lands taken by the Union army. Such people arrived carrying their worldly goods in sturdy bags made from carpet scraps.

I wasn’t able to source a copyright free image for this one, but if you picture Mary Poppin’s bag (the one she can find anything in, even a standard lamp) then you’re on the right track.

Over time the word was used for several types of unpopular people out to take advantage of situations for their own advancement including ( but not limited to) – political candidates running in areas where they are not resident, somebody opening an account in a building society solely in the hope the business will go public and they’ll get a windfall payment in the process (UK and Ireland), an amateur Gaelic games player from Ireland who plays without salary but with rich side benefits in the US during the Irish off-season (Ireland), teachers and missionaries who moved from north to southern states (US), and even a steak stuffed with oysters (New Zealand).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

p.p.s. I’m working away on my next word history book, “Words The Sea Gave Us” at the moment and hoping to launch online in May. I got a sneak peak of the cover this week, very exciting! I’ll let you  know when pre-orders and advance review copies are available. Watch this space.

Rambunctious, Rumbustious, and Ramgumptious

Hello,

I decided to take a look at the origins of rambunctious this morning, but along the way I was distracted by rumbustious and ramgumptious. I hope you’ll forgive me.

Rambunctious (pronunciation here) describes unruly or boisterous behaviour and was used in print from about 1830 in North America. It may have been an adaptation of the British English word rumbustious which had the same meaning and appeared there in the late 1700s as a compounding of robust and boisterous. The OED suggests it may have links to bumptious too.

Whatever the truth, it sounds bumpy and unruly and has stuck in both American and British English ever since. It is the perfect word to describe the lambs in the fields on my daily walk which delight in skipping, butting, and climbing on top of their patient mothers, and yet always stand still when I try to capture their antics in a photo or video.

Rambunctious lambs, not rams (pardon the pun)

Rumbustious isn’t a word we use commonly today. It dates to the late 1700s and includes the prefix rum which was used in a slang sense of good or fine – something I will recall the next time I sip a glass of rum.

Several other words of the same type were coined around the same time, none of which are in use now and yet might be worth revival. A rambumptious person was conceited and self-assertive, a rambuskious one was rough, but the one I love is ramgumptious which combines rambunctious with gumption (which I wrote about back in 2009) to tell us the person is shrewd but also bold and rash – what an amazing combination of personal characteristics.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. In other writing news this week – my next word book inspired by this blog, has just been sent off for proof copies. “Words The Sea Gave Us” will be launching later this year. Watch this space!

 

Loathing Expergefactors

Hello,

This week’s word is an old one I stumbled across a few months ago – an expergefactor. It sounds like a gruesome remedy for a stomach ailment, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s worse than that.

An expergefactor is something which wakes you in the morning. This can range from your alarm clock to next door’s cat, the beep of your phone or the rattle of your letterbox. If you’re very lucky it will be a kiss from a loved one. Unfortunately the history of the expergefactor is shrouded in a sleepy mist. It dates to the 1800s but I can’t find an official etymology for it despite it appearing on several lists of Old English Words deserving a comeback. The closest I came to it is that factor is something which serves a purpose – a corn factor deals in corn, for example. The related verb Expergefaction probably comes from the Latin verb expergisci meaning to become awake.

How you feel about your expergefactor will be determined by a combination of elements including: the volume of disturbance, the time of day, the time you fell asleep, and whether you can now gently arise and eat a leisurely breakfast while reading your book, or you have to scramble around for food while convincing reluctant small people to find their shoes before school.

My least favourite expergefactor was a cockerel at Knockree Youth Hostel on a teenage hiking trip. He decided that despite the fact that we had talked until one in the morning it would be appropriate to perch outside our windows and repeatedly yodel at four a.m.. I recently re-visited the hostel with my son on a similar trip and was relieved to find the cockerel was no more. I suspect a disgruntled hiker ate him for dinner.

In writing about this word I’ve realised that I am now a redundant expergefactor. I used to wake my son, an easy task as merely opening the door was enough to have him bounce out of bed. He’s a morning person. Now he relies on Alexa and listens to the news headlines before rising. Waking my daughter was trickier. She, like me, was not a morning person and had to be coaxed and cajoled from her slumber with hugs and gentle chatter. Now she relies on her old-fashioned alarm clock and regularly has eaten her breakfast before I drag myself from the duvet. If this redundancy means I enjoy an extra ten minutes in bed before my expergefactor rouses me, I’m fine with it.

Who or what is your expergefactor?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I was delighted to be the feature interview over at Smart Thinking Books this week, a publication about nonfiction books.

 

Word Geek Books – the perfect gift

Hello,

If, like me, you’re still rushing around finding gifts for those you love this year, I may have a simple solution for you. Go to a book shop and buy a book for everybody you know, plus one for yourself (as a shopping incentive). They don’t need batteries. There’s one to suit anybody. They are recyclable, reusable, and nearly always printed on paper from sustainably managed forests. They’re super easy to wrap and, particularly if you choose an independent book-shop, you are supporting local jobs.

An easy to wrap gift for Christmas

Since 2009 I’ve been blogging every Monday about unusual words here on Wordfoolery. In 2013 I started a series about eponyms (words in the English language named after a specific person – think boycott, guillotine, sadist, casanova, or cardigan). Soon, I discovered the lives behind eponyms are incredibly varied and span centuries and continents. A series of blog posts wasn’t going to be enough. I began to write my first word book inspired by this blog “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” which tells the stories of more than 260 different people (and some places like DumDum and Limerick) who gave their names to the English dictionary.

My eponymous heroes and heroines range from sharp-shooting teenage girls to lovers escaping palaces on bed-sheet ropes. ingenious inventors and daring scientists feature, of course, but so do soldiers, chefs, goddesses, revolutionaries, murderers and their victims, villains galore, and an elephant. Several regular readers of the blog suggested words for inclusion and earned themselves a spot in the acknowledgements (thank you all!).

The book launched last year and I’m very proud of it. As a reader of this blog you are likely to enjoy it, so consider treating yourself (or asking somebody to buy it for you). You might even know somebody else who loves words, books, history, or biographies who might like it as a gift. It’s perfect for dipping into. It’s available in paperback from Amazon in various countries worldwide, Wordery, or by request from local bookshops. The ebook is reasonably priced and available for Kindle, Kindle UK, Apple books, and Kobo. Both formats are available for library users too (especially Overdrive) – just ask your librarian. You’ll find all the purchase options on the My Books page, which also lists my novels if you’d prefer something fictional this Christmas.

If you have been kind enough to buy a copy already, thank you so much. I’ve discovered in the last year that getting book reviews for nonfiction is tricky (most book bloggers prefer fiction sadly) so I’d really appreciate it if you could drop an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your own blog. Reviews are incredibly important to indie authors like myself and are the best Christmas present you can give us.

If you’re trying to Buy Irish this year you might be interested to know that although my book is printed overseas – the author, proofreader, and cover designer are all Irish. Plus, I dedicated an entire chapter to Irish eponyms.

Right, that’s enough shameless self-promotion. Next week I’ll do a round-up of my favourite books of 2019 (the 2018 list is here) and after that we’ll be back to strange and unusual words.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar to say thanks for this year’s words.

p.p.s. My next blog book “Words The Sea Gave Us” covering the origins of maritime words from baggywinkle to skyscraper – will be launching in 2020 – watch this space.

Cobalt and the Imp

Hello,

This week’s word is cobalt, not so much because it’s an unusual word, but because it has an unusual history. This post was inspired by a tweet by @BookishLex, one of many word enthusiasts on twitter. If you’re curious about others you can check out my list of etymology people – it’s a work in progress, a handy way to get in my daily dose of word geekery.

The blue squares on these cubes are cobalt

Cobalt entered the English language in the late 1600s to describe a steel grey metal, not the colour blue. The metal was rarer than nickel but similar in structure and was also sometimes called Parcelsus. It was discovered by George Brandt of Sweeden.

So how did the word become associated with blue? The rock from which the metal came was also laced with arsenic and sulphur (sulfur in American English) which, as you can imagine, didn’t have a healthy influence on the miners. The miners, who were seeking silver in the Harz Mountains in Germany, named the rock kobold (which became cobalt when it arrived in English). Kobold had an earlier meaning though, it was a household goblin from the 1200s – a term for a troublesome creature which was compounded from kobe (hut) and holt (goblin) in Middle High German. When the miners were troubled by a mysterious effect (the arsenic, for example) they blamed it on a local goblin.

The extension of cobalt to describe a shade of blue arose in the 1800s as a mineral containing the metal had been used to create that shade of blue for glass since the 1500s. We don’t know if the goblins themselves were blue, or appeared blue if you inhaled enough sulphur dust in the mine.

Until next time be careful of any blue goblins you encounter,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. Since my last blog post I finished my 2019 NaNoWriMo challenge with 50,434 words and a fairly complete draft of “The Irish Family Christmas”. Plenty of editing needed, but that will be a job for 2020.

Eponym Series – Rugby

Hello,

With the group stages of the Ruby World Cup almost complete in Japan, it’s a good time to dip back into my nonfiction book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (available in paperback and ebook formats on Amazon US, Amazon UK, Kindle, Kobo, Apple Books, and Overdrive). Why? Because rugby is an eponym. Well, it’s a toponym actually (a word named for a place) so this week the word history of rugby is about the word, the people, and the place.

{extract from “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” copyright Grace Tierney}

The sport of rugby, a fast game of kicking and running with an oval ball involving moves like line-outs, rucks, mauls, and scrums, is named for the private boys’ school Rugby.

Popular legend has it that the game was created in 1823 when William Ellis Webb with a fine disregard for the rules of football (soccer) took the ball in his arms and ran with it. There’s little proof this actually happened but it is so firmly entrenched in the minds of rugby players and supporters worldwide that when they came to name the Rugby World Cup trophy they called it after Webb. Webb played cricket, but not rugby, for Oxford University and became a clergyman.

Early forms of soccer had been played since the Middle Ages, and probably even in Roman times as a game called harpastum. It often resembled a mob rather than a sport with the entire village on one side or the other. Each side struggled to kick an inflated pig’s bladder through the town to markers to win.

Predictably the wildness of these games led them to be outlawed. In the period 1314-1527 nine European monarchs outlawed the playing of football and encouraged their subjects to practice their archery instead which was a nice useful skill for warfare. Youths continued to play football.

Saint Paul’s School Rugby Team in the 1950s

By 1750, the game of football, as played at the school in Rugby, allowed the handling of the ball and still involved huge numbers of players on each side, but nobody was allowed run with it in their hands towards the goal, at least until Webb presumably gave it a go. The introduction of running with ball in hand happened there sometime between 1820 and 1830 and was probably met with outrage on this “breaking” of the rules. However by 1841 it had become an essential part of the game. Rugby and soccer were different sports from that time.

The game, and its formal code of rules, came to be played at other private boys’ schools and gradually crept into mainstream sporting life. By 1871 the Rugby Football Union was founded and more detailed rules drawn up. Wasps, a well-known rugby union club, missed out on being a founding member of the Rugby Football Union because their representative went to the wrong pub for the meeting.

Later the sport spawned American football and Australian Rules football. In 1876 there was a schism, largely down to money and class issues, in the rugby world that resulted in rugby union and rugby league and eventual changes in rules on both sides.

In 1995 rugby union became a professional sport. The first Rugby World Cup was played in 1987. The winner gets the Webb Ellis Cup in memory of the man who probably didn’t invent the game at Rugby School, England.

Many of the national rugby union sides have nicknames, often related to animals – the Springboks (South Africa), All Blacks (New Zealand), les Bleus (France), the Wallabies (Australian), los Pumas (Argentina), the Eagles (U.S.A.), and the Dragons (Wales).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Consider supporting this blog by buying my eponym book. Then you can read more about the people who gave their names to the English language and their extraordinary lives. Everybody from chefs to fashion icons are there, from villains to scientists and inventors. It’s a perfect book for dipping into, packed with wordy trivia and history. All the book details are here.

Ransack

Hello,

It’s day 22 of CampNaNo 2019 and I’m on 18,012 words. Writing during the academic holidays can be challenging in my house, but I’m plugging away at “Words The Vikings Gave Us” and every day the Vikings surprise me more. This week’s word from my Norse exploration is ransack, I hope you enjoy it.

Viking Chessman from the Isle of Lewis

Extract from “Words the Vikings Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019

Ransack

Ransack entered English during the 1200s from Old Norse rannsaka (to pillage). The word in Norse had a precise meaning – to search a house, legally, to uncover stolen goods, whereas in English it has illegal associations. Rannsaka was formed by compounding two words rann (house) and saka (to search). Saka is related to the Old Norse verb soekja (to seek).

It’s likely the English understanding of the word as being a violent, illegal, raiding of a place came about because of the word sack (to plunder). Sack, however, didn’t have Viking roots.

Sack comes from the Middle French expression mettre à sac (put in a bag) which was a military command to troops, allowing them to plunder a city. The particular idea reaches back through word history to Italian (sacco) and Roman armies (saccus). In this case the Viking association with ransack is legal and calm, and we can blame the Romans for the inspiration for wild plundering.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)