Category Archives: my books

Wordfoolery on Scripted Scribbles

Hello,

The Wordfoolery book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (buy it here) is featured this week on the Scripted Scribbles Podcast. Andrew, Daniel, and John gave it a glowing review – enjoying the anecdotes about the origin of groggy, a cup of joe, and the original molotov cocktail. They described it as a “really good book” filled with “a wealth of information” and “a bargain”. They gave a thumbs up to this blog too, which is always great to hear.

Their podcast also covered the audiobook of “Mythos” by Stephen Fry, friendly chat about fantasy, sci-fi, and how Rupert the Bear books can help you calm down after scary horror movies

I listened on itunes/apple podcasts. It’s also available on Buzzsprout and Spotify. I’m delighted they chose to feature the book and I hope you enjoy their bookish podcast.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase using them this blog earns a small percentage to help with running costs.

Snollygoster

Hello,

This week’s word, snollygoster, has been chosen simply because it’s fun to say. Go on, you can play the pronunciation file here. See what I mean?

Snollygoster may be common knowledge to my American readers as it’s listed as a U.S. dialect word in the dictionary, but it was a new one to me. I think we should adopt it on this side of the pond too.

A snollygoster is a shrewd or unprincipled person. The word was used by President Truman to describe congressional politicians in the 1950s, but its first usage dates to a hundred years earlier. Perhaps snollygosters have infested democracy for a long time.

Sadly the origins of this word are unclear. Some etymologists list it as fanciful and don’t even attempt to delve deeper. Others hint at links to German but without details. I think, based on my limited German schooling, that root could be right. The clearest I came across says it comes from schnelle Geister (quick spirits, in the ghostly sense). I’m not sure how German immigrants to America could have changed fast moving ghosts into difficult politicians, although perhaps they were referring to the speed of change in their principles and ideals?

Either way, I think we’re still haunted by snollygosters (and their Irish political cousins the cute hoor) and the word should make a swift comeback in political commentary everywhere.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

p.s. my first word history book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” will be featured on the Scripted Scribbles podcast next week. I’ll post about it here when it’s live, and provide the links so you can listen in. In the meantime if you’re curious about the podcast (available on Apple, Spotify, and Buzzsprout) which features a wide variety of authors and books – check out their facebook page here.

Belay and Putting a Pin in It

Hello,

I’m editing my book “Words The Sea Gave Us” this month before its release later this year and my mind is filled with the nautical words and phrases which the sea has given to the English language, so I thought I’d share one with you today. Have you ever heard a Star Trek captain saying “belay that order” or a manager in a meeting suggest you put a “pin in it”? Then you’ve had a taste of what a belaying pin did on a sailing ship.

Belaying pins on a traditional sailing ship

{Extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019}

If you watch enough seafaring movies, or indeed Star Trek episodes, you’ll eventually hear a captain say something like “Belay that order” to one of their crew. The order will be paused, but why?

The answer lies in the Age of Sail and with one small piece of wooden equipment. The captain is referring to the belaying pin, a wooden peg, something akin to a rolling pin, around which a line could be made fast (and stopped). A series of such pins were typically positioned along the ship’s rail. Basically the captain is saying – “tie up that order for the moment”.

Belay (1540s) comes from the Old English word belecgan which meant to lay a thing about, thus describing how you would lay the rope around the belaying pin.

Belaying is also used in mountain climbing terminology from the same source.

It is tempting to associate the over-used office phrase “put a pin in it” with the belaying pin as both refer to postponing a task however the pin in that phrase is widely accepted to have been the pin of a hand grenade in World War Two where putting the pin back in deferred the explosion.

One belaying pin, ready for any use

A belaying pin was a common improvised weapon aboard a ship as they were close to hand and about the right size and weight to be used as a club.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Gift – a present from the Vikings

Hello,

This month I’m taking part in CampNaNoWriMo. It’s a spin-off from the main National Novel Writing Month in November and runs in April and July instead. Rather than striving for 50,000 words in one month (a hefty challenge but one I’ve been enjoying since 2007) you can set your own goal – 30 hours editing your poetry book, 10,000 words of short fiction, two acts of your screenplay, whatever you want. I’ve signed up to write 25,000 words of “Words The Vikings Gave Us”, another book in the series inspired by this blog and I’m doing OK so far (22,000 words, thanks for asking).

Anyhow, as a result my mind is obsessing with words from Old Norse and I thought I’d share one with you today on the blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Gift wrapping

{extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us”, copyright Grace Tierney, 2019}

Gift became an English word in the mid 1200s for “that which is given” from Old Norse gift (gift or good luck). Gift was part of surnames from the 1100s. Old English also had gift (from similar Proto Germanic sources) but it was only used for dowries, a bride-price, or a marriage gift given by the groom which were all very important at that time.

Shortly after gift arrived in English it gained a second meaning, that of a natural talent or inspiration (perhaps given by God) which leads to the word gifted.

Vikings exchanged gifts during courtship even though some matches were made more for power and family influence than for love, as was common elsewhere during the era too.

A woman would make her suitor a shirt if she liked him and he might give her purple flowers. During the wedding ceremony the bride would give her groom a new sword. He’d then thrust it into the central pillar of the house and the depth of the cut determined how successful their union would be (the sexual link on that gesture is pretty clear).

The bride typically brought fabric, a spinning wheel, a loom, and a bed to the marriage. Richer women might bring jewellery, animals, and even farms too. Whatever a woman gifted to the marriage remained her property (even in widowhood or divorce) and could be left to her children.

The groom also made key gifts as part of the marriage. First there was mundr – a set price from groom to bride’s father essentially to prove he had the means to support a woman and any offspring. Second was the morgengifu (morning gift) from the husband to the wife the morning after their wedding which she retained in her own right. This could be land, slaves, animals, money etc. depending on the wealth of her husband and gave her much more independence than woman in other societies of the time. Lastly came the heimanfylgia – the woman’s inheritance from her father which was given to the groom for his use. However in the event of a widowhood or divorce this had to be repaid to the woman for her use.

Generally the meanings of related words in Proto Germanic langauges are similar to that in Old Norse but gift is an exception. It means married in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

I hope you enjoyed the extract. Gift isn’t the most unusual word in English but Viking gift giving certainly was. If you’d like to read more about the history of words you can check out “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (2018) about eponyms and available as paperback & ebook, “Words The Sea Gave Us” (coming 2019), and “Words The Vikings Gave Us” (coming 2020).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Radiance

Hello,

This week’s word is radiance because it’s elegant and inspiring. In my corner of the world there’s more daylight available now. Combined with the blossoms on the trees, there’s plenty of radiance in my garden at the moment.

Radiance entered English in the 1600s with a descriptive sense of a “brilliant light” from the word radiant. Radiant came from the Latin verb radiare (to beam or shine), which also gives us the word radiation.

By the 1700s radiance had acquired a more figurative sense so if you described the object of your love as being radiant you weren’t comparing them to a lighthouse or the dazzling light of the sun anymore.

Language scholars believe William Shakespeare may have been responsible for giving us the word radiance. He was fond of dialect words and had no qualms about fooling with words to suit his needs. As a result he may have added up to 1700 new words to the English language during his career.

Radiance is used by Helena in Act I Scene I of “All’s Well That End’s Well”

‘Twere all one

That I should love a bright particular star

And think to wed it, he is so above me:

In his bright radiance and collateral light

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare…

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’m taking on the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge this month – starting the first draft of “Words The Vikings Gave Us”, another book in my nonfiction series covering everything from beserk to saga. If you have an English word of Viking origin (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) you’d like to see included – please reply to this post. I’ll acknowledge any reader suggestions in the published book. Thanks!

Wordfoolery’s Favourite Books in 2018

Hello,

This is a bonus post, please forgive me for the lack of unusual words. I’ll be back on Monday with my English oddments.

As you might guess, I read compulsively across many genres, fiction, and non. I’ve taken a look back at my reading during 2018 (with thanks to my Goodreads account) and here are thirteen of my favourite books of the year. They’re not all recent releases, as books often wait in my Towering To Be Read Pile for a while and because I’m still working my way through the 501 Books to Read Before You Die List. If you got a book voucher for Christmas I’d recommend any of these books. If you order through the links provided below a tiny fee is paid towards supporting this blog.

If you’re not a reader or prefer posts about unusual words, don’t worry normal service will resume tomorrow.

Thank you.

They’re listed in random order. I can’t rank books, I love them too much.

 

The Complete Peanuts, Vol 5, 1959-1960 – Charles M. Schulz

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Comic strips, including the introduction of Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally, and Snoopy’s impressions of a fierce mountain lion. Hardback series.

 

The Diary of a BooksellerThe Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Funny, sarcastic, and touching. A true account of a year in the life of the owner of a small second-hand bookshop in Scotland.

 

Bryant & May - Wild Chamber: (Bryant & May Book 15)Wild Chamber – Christopher Fowler

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

If you love London, or history, or humour and you haven’t read any Bryant & May detective stories yet – you are in for a treat. Frequently provides unusual words for this blog. I read four others this year and they were all excellent. Series.

 

Arsenic for Tea – Robin Stevens

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

A children’s book (I borrowed from my daughter) but easily one of the best detective books I read this year. Agatha Christie, for kids, in a boarding school in the 1930s. Series.

 

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle Book 1)Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Fantasy about a girl training to be a magical assassin to avenge her family. If you thought Snape was bad, check out the potions teacher here who poisons the entire class before their first class, and really doesn’t care how many of them survive. Witty, clever, brutal. Brilliant.

 

1848406363On This Day – Vol 2 – Myles Dungan

Amazon.co.uk only

Collection of pieces, mostly about Irish history, first broadcast on radio. Dungan has a great tone and although I knew some of the stories already, he tells them well.

 

 

0008150109The Things I Should Have Told You – Carmel Harrington

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

I love chick-lit, rom-coms, and women’s fiction. In this story about a family reconnecting on a road-trip across Europe in a camper van, Harrington proves she can do it, and do it well.

 

 

0141439939The Diary of Samuel Pepys – Samuel Pepys

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

One from my 501 list – Pepys lived through plague, the restoration of Charles II, and the Great Fire of London.

 

 

1101988665The Masked City – Genevieve Cogman

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

A magical library connected to all libraries on all worlds across space and time. Just add librarians who are nearly immortal and can work magic with words to fight dragons and faeries. Series.

 

 

031620689XThe Silkworm – Robert Galbraith (JR Rowling)

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

The Cormoran Strike detective novels are enjoyable, intelligent, and feature one of the best detective pairs ever. No wizards. Series.

 

 

1455524174Two Kinds of Truth – Michael Connelly

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

The 20th Harry Bosch novel and Connelly is still hitting the high notes. Bosch is my favourite American policeman, even now that he’s retired. Series.

 

 

0440217563Voyager – Diana Gabaldon

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Gabaldon’s historic fiction (with a dash of time-travel & romance) Outlander series (now an excellent TV series) is a regular re-read of mine featuring the best depiction of a married, loving, couple I’ve ever read. Perfectly researched. From Scotland during Bonnie Prince Charlie’s uprising to revolutionary America the story sweeps you along and the characters become family. Her books frequently inspire words for this blog. Series.

How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary – Grace Tierney

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Apple Books / Kobo

Inspired by this blog, a fun journey through the lives of the people who gave their name to the English language. From apgar to zeppelin with stops for casanova, guillotine, sandwich, and cardigan, each one of them lived an extraordinary life. Packed with wordy trivia and perfect for history buffs.

 

Happy reading in 2019,

Grace (@wordfoolery)

 

Touch and Go

Hello,

Despite this being my tenth win of the challenge (from 12 attempts), NaNoWriMo 2018 was a tough one. There’s a reason why the official recommendation is to write fiction during NaNo – it’s much quicker. I was working from a long list of nautical words and phrases (and a big stack of reference books) for “Words The Sea Gave Us”, but even with advance research I still found my writing pace significantly slower than in fiction years.

However, I’m proud to say I made it to 58,069 words by the end of the month and 90% of the first draft written. Next year I’m writing fiction.

Here’s a quick snippet from this year’s draft – the origin of the phrase “touch and go”, which is how NaNo felt at times this November!

“If a situation is touch and go you’re in a tricky spot, it could go either way, even a slight mistake could prove disastrous.

If you’re an airplane pilot you might be more familiar with touch and go (or circuit and bumps) as the training exercise where you barely land and then immediately take off for another circuit.

The idea of touch and go with the precarious situation sense arose in the 1800s from the world of sailing ships which might give the seabed, rocks, or other obstacle a glancing blow, but then continue on their course. The stakes are high. The ship could run aground or find a hole in its hull, but if the captain and crew are quick to react disaster can be averted.”

Now with NaNo behind me, I’m plotting the rest of my year and looking forward to 2019 writing goals. Have you any plans for 2019 yet?

My first task will be reminding readers that “How To Get Your Name In the Dictionary” is out now on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Kindle, the Apple Bookstore, and Kobo. It’s the perfect gift for anybody in your life who loves crosswords, scrabble, biographies, or history. It’s filled with more than 260 eponyms from around the world – the stories behind fashion icons like the trilby, the people behind recipes like tarte tatin or pavlova, inventions like the ferris wheel and guillotine, and charming villains like Casanova. Buying a copy is a great way to support this blog. Thank you.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)