Category Archives: nanowrimo

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!

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)

Nautical Knots

Hello,

This week’s word is knot, a word I explored and added to “Words the Sea Gave Us” this week in my NaNoWriMo 2018 challenge. I passed the 50,000 words mark today, but I’m still writing as I haven’t finished my draft yet.

Knot-tying is a vital skill for any sailor and the word has various uses afloat. Rigging a sailing ship requires various knots, but knots are also associated with speed at sea. The knot has been the nautical measure of speed since the 1630s thanks to a simple device used in the Age of Sail. A log would be thrown overboard while the ship was under sail, attached to it was a line with knots tied at regular distances (1/120 of a mile between each knot was standard). The ship’s speed was then measured by an hourglass sand timer for a set time (a half minute ,for example). The number of knots payed out on the line during that time, was the speed.

One knot became equivalent to one nautical mile so a ship travelling at the speed of ten knots will cover approximately ten nautical miles in one hour. This is roughly equal to 11.5 miles per hour as a land speed. The use of the log in this process also gave us the concepts of a logbook and logging in.

Knots themselves of course existed on land before they were used at sea but sailors invented many of the new designs for specific tasks such as mooring boats, and quick release knots for loosening sails.

Knot may be one of the words the Vikings gave us. English appears to have acquired knot from knutr in Old Norse via German Knoten, Dutch knot, and finally as cnotta in Old English.

One final knot story is a sailor’s yarn that one day a witch was persuaded by a sailor to sell him some wind. Like Odysseus and the bag of wind the Greek god Aeolos, keeper of the winds, gave him, the sailor was presented with a piece of rope with three knots in it. She warned him to untie the first for a breeze, the second for a steady wind, and the third only as a last resort.

The sailor went to sea, delighted with his gift. He untied the first and a gentle breeze billowed out his sails. His ship moved, but too slowly for his liking so he loosened the second knot and sped away from shore for his destination. After transacting his business there he boarded his ship once more and looked at the final knot. It was getting dark and he wanted to return home quickly. The final knot could be the solution to his problem.

He untied the final knot and unleashed a hurricane that split the sails of his ship and resulted in him and his crew sinking below the angry waves.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Four days to go – 52,192 words and counting!

Cutlass

Hello,

This week’s word is cutlass – a nautical knife I researched and added to “Words The Sea Gave Us” this week in my 2018 NaNoWriMo adventure. I’ve made it to 38,000 words so far, in large part thanks to a writing weekend with a friend in Carlingford. While we were there I spotted this lovely sailing skip (a ketch, I think) across the harbour as inspiration.

The cutlass was a short, heavy sword (or large knife) with a slightly curved blade (but not so much as a scimitar) with one cutting edge. It was used more for cutting than for for thrusting. Despite starting with the same letters the word cutlass is unrelated to cut.

Cutlass came into English in the late 1500s from an original Latin root of cultellus (a small knife), the smaller form of culter (knife or ploughshare).

Although also used on land the cutlass became the weapon of choice for all sailors, not just pirates, as it was cheap to make, required very little training, and a cutting weapon is more effective than a thrusting blade like a rapier, against enemies not wearing armour. Sailors didn’t wear armour as

a) it’s too bulky for somebody to run up the lines to adjust sails

b) if you fall overboard you’re going to sink and sink fast

The cutlass’ shorter length was better for close combat on the deck of a cramped ship.

The legend goes that pirates would swing across on ropes from their ship to their prey with knives clenched in their teeth and that’s where we get armed to the teeth but sadly there’s little evidence that was true. Just another pirate book/movie legend.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

38,000 words and counting – 11 days to go!

Turning a Blind Eye

Hello,

This week’s word is the phrase “turning a blind eye” and it’s from my next blog-inspired book “Words the Sea Gave Us” which I’m writing during NaNoWriMo 2018. It’s Day 12 and I’m on 20,233 words and counting.

The idea of deliberately ignoring something in this case comes from Nelson and his damaged eyesight.

In 1801 at the Battle of Copenhagen Nelson is reputed to have disregarded a direct order to disengage from Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Legend has it that Nelson put his telescope to the eye-patch on his blind eye and claimed he couldn’t see Parker’s signal.

That’s the short version of the story and gives us the popular phrase. The long version is somewhat more complex. Parker had huge faith in Nelson and arranged in advance that if he hoisted the disengage signal Nelson would have his blessing to ignore it, as he was the man in the thick of it and best placed to judge the next move. This he explained to his signals officer when he gave the order.

Nelson, however, had to do something to placate Colonel Stewart of the Royal Marines who was nearby when the order came in as the colonel wasn’t aware of the arrangement and might not have approved of such naval nonsense. Hence all the telescope drama.

The icing on this particular cake comes from the fact that Nelson wasn’t blind. He did take damage to his eye at the Battle of Calvi in 1794 from some flying debris but he wasn’t blinded, never wore an eye-patch, and never got the navy to pay out disability compensation despite numerous attempts.

It is likely the expression had been used in English before Nelson’s disregard for that order, but his fame certainly helped it into common usage.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Bosun and NaNoWriMo 2018

Hello,

Regular wordfools will know that I take part in National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) every November. In fact, I take the whole “write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days” challenge to the next level by also mentoring a region (Ireland North East) as a volunteer municipal liaison at the same time. This explains why this morning over breakfast I was checking how many writers I have (33) and how many have started writing (18), before opening my own draft of “Words The Sea Gave Us” and disappearing into maritime research.

Yes, I’m writing another book about words, the first of a series. This one delves into the many wonderful words the sea has given us. I mean who can fail to love galoot, gollywobbler, or scuttlebutt?

So this week I have an example from my book-in-progress – bosun.

The bosun is the officer whose job it is to look after the ship and its equipment. On a merchant ship this is the petty officer in charge of hull maintenance and related work, while in the navy the bosun is a warrant officer in charge of the hull and all related equipment.

The bosun is typically an experienced sailor and supervises the deck crew.

Although bosun appears to be a rather unusual word, it’s just boatswain with funny nautical spelling, and boatswain is a simple compound word of boat and swain. Swain means servant and comes from the Old Norse word sveinn which was a boy servant.

The bosun has the privilege of carrying a special silver bosun’s whistle which they use to call the hands to their duties. Because of the whistle’s high pitch its call could be heard even during high winds. Various commands were indicated by different notes, or combinations of notes – haul, away boats, all hands on deck, pipe down, carry on, etc.

When an important visitor, or the captain, boarded the ship the bosun would use his whistle to alert the crew. This tradition, called manning the side, grew from the bosun’s need to call crew to hoist visitors up the side of the vessel when weather was too rough for ladders.

The visitor would be hauled up, above crashing waves, in a bosun’s chair. Modern bosun’s chairs are similar to equipment used in rock climbing, complete with safety harnesses, clips and additional lines etc. but the original versions were improvised with a short plank or canvas for a seat and some clever knot-work by the sailors so the person could be pulled aboard from a smaller boat bobbing on the waves below. Bosun’s chairs are still used today in ship painting, sea rescues, and window cleaning.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. Good luck to any of you trying out NaNoWriMo,

Grace (@Wordfoolery) “Words The Sea Gave Us” – 8,084 words and counting