Category Archives: my 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)

Gormless

Hello,

This week’s word, again via a draft extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us” (Camp NaNo is coming along nicely, thanks for asking) is gormless. I love this word. It’s so perfect for describing somebody totally lacking in common sense and the ability to get going.

Camp NaNo July 2019

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

Gormless, that wonderfully descriptive word for somebody lacking basic sense and wit, is one of those words that the Vikings may have given to English but in a rather convoluted way.

Gormless didn’t reach the English dictionary until 1746, thus ruling out a direct borrowing from the Viking raiders in earlier times, yet its roots are solidly embedded in Viking soil.

Gome was an English word from 1200 for understanding and it came from Old Norse gaumr (care or heed). Gome had -less added to it to describe somebody lacking in understanding or sense as being gaumless or gawmless. It’s believed that gaumless finally led to gormless.

Gorm does have another Viking link, however. King Gorm the Old ruled Denmark from 936 to his death in 958. He lived to about the age of 60, which was old for the times.

Gorm is perhaps best known for fathering three sons – Toke, Knut, and Harald and being the last Danish king to rule over a kingdom following the Norse gods. Whereas his son, Harald, who ruled after him as King Harald Bluetooth (yes that’s where we get bluetooth technology) moved toward Christianity and united Denmark and Norway. Harald and Gorm, were linked via legend to Ragnor Lodbrok and Ivarr the Boneless (whose stories are told in the TV series “Vikings”). Gorm is claimed as ancestor to the current Danish royal family and it’s unknown if he was lacking in common sense.

 

In other news this week I’ve finished uploading all 49 episodes of my serialised comedy novel “Nit Roast & Other Stories” over on Channillo, the subscription reading platform. This means that anybody taking out a free 30 day trial membership for the site would be able to binge-read the whole story about Trish McTaggart, her chaotic family, her feud with a member of the Mother Mafia, and her efforts to learn how to say no to her daughter’s efforts to fill their home with creatures large and small. They might want to read any of the other serials too, of course – loads of great writers on there to choose from in a host of genres.

 

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Barmy, Beer, and Barmbrack

Hello,

Today’s the first of July and as I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, the summertime challenge from the people who bring us National Novel Writing Month every November. It’s a smaller event with friendly camp cabins (online support forums) instead of real-world writer meetings so I’m chatting with writers from America, Sweden, and elsewhere this month as I work away on the second half of my nonfiction book “Words The Vikings Gave Us”.

Camp Nano is a relaxing event for me as I don’t have the responsibility of running meetings and forums as I do during the November challenge. Plus, instead of targeting 50,000 words in a month I can set my own target (25,000 words this July).

One of the words I wrote about today at camp was barmy – a word the Vikings gave us. So I thought I’d share it here too.

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

Barmy

To describe somebody as barmy in British English is to say they are foolish or crazy. Barmy is an adjective form of the noun barm – the froth on yeasty malt liquor, typically during the creation of beer or ale. The bubbly barm was also used to leaven bread and certain cakes. Both jobs would have been common on Viking-era farms and for many centuries thereafter, so it’s no surprise that barm comes from an Old Norse word barmr (froth).

Beer capping machine in the Smithwick’s Brewery in Kilkenny, Ireland

Barm entered Old English as beorma to mean either yeast or the head of a beer, again with that frothy meaning. It is likely the Vikings brought the word to English.

The Viking influence on English was particularly strong in Northern English because it was a centre for their settlements and population. Viking footprints on barm are easily spotted in barm cake. This cake, from North-Western England, leavened with barm, is a soft, rounded, flattish bread roll.

Another barm-related recipe is that for barmbrack (sometimes mis-named barnbrack) – the traditional Halloween cake across Ireland. The barmbrack (bairín breac in Irish which translates as speckled loaf) is a round fruit cake leavened with yeast or barm which is usually served sliced and buttered. Traditionally items were baked inside the dough and finding one in your slice was deemed to be a primitive form of fortune telling. The dried pea predicted you wouldn’t marry that year, the stick foretold an unhappy marriage, the rag suggested poverty, the coin claimed future wealth, and finding the ring assured you of a wedding before the next Halloween.

Wales has a similar fruit bread called bara brith, but without the surprise ingredients and fortune telling.

Perfect beer for a wordfool

 

   It wasn’t until the 1800s that barmy gained the additional meaning of foolish or mad from its connection to frothy, bubbly behaviour.

 

 

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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

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