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Hello,

The recent outcry about workplace harassment reminded me of the interesting history of the phrase “making a pass at somebody”. While the two things should be entirely different, of course, it’s undeniable that there’s now concern that making the first move romantically could cause trouble if either party is reading the signals wrong and this has been true with this phrase from the very beginning.

There are two possible sources for this phrase, both of them more military than romantic.

To make a pass in swordplay is to make a lunge or thrust and it’s used with this meaning in “Hamlet” in 1604.

This very likely entered military parlance from the high seas during the Age of Sail where making a pass wasn’t between two combatants but between warships according to “Sticklers, Sideburns and Bikinis” by Graeme Donald. The ships would make a side by side pass of each other to enable the captains to assess their gun-power. This would sometimes involve firing at the same time because the guns were primarily mounted in the sides of the ships. To fire a broadside, the ships had to be roughly parallel.

This nautical origin for the phrase isn’t listed in any of the dictionaries I checked but does seem reasonable. Sailors could easily have brought the term ashore to their notorious romantic lives when the mutual “checking out” was a precursor to a dalliance if acceptable to both parties.

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

Grace

p.s. I’ve made it to 27,000 words in NaNoWriMo. If you’re trying it this year I hope your story is flowing well.

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Hello,

This week’s word is a phrase, I hope you won’t mind. The expression “to handle with kid gloves” has an intriguing origin story and I couldn’t resist.

vintage white leather gloves

Kid gloves have nothing to do with children, well not human children. Kid is a soft white leather from the skins of goat kids popular among the wealthy from the 1700s. Sometimes they were made from lambskin.

Kid gloves are very thin so if you’re wearing them it is as if you are barely wearing any gloves at all. We’ve all had the sensation of wearing thick, bulky gloves and having to remove them to perform a delicate task. Here the idea is that even delicate tasks are possible while wearing kid gloves.

Kid gloves are also easily marked. If you handled an object roughly while wearing such a glove you would acquire stains on the glove, not a good thing. Equally if you’re wearing visibly white gloves then those around you can see you’re not adding any dirt or damage to whatever you’re handling. This is why servants wore white kid gloves to avoid smudging the silverware. Many believe curators do the same but there is evidence to suggest a clean, un-gloved hand may be best, depending on the artifact, and they only wear gloves on TV because they’re tired of complaint letters!

The phrase came to mean over-cautious in the 1840s but when it crossed the Atlantic from England in the late 1840s to North America it regained its early positive association with delicate handling of sensitive situations and people. By 1865 the well-mannered White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland” carried a pair.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling with or without gloves,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve the first week of NaNoWriMo 2017 behind me now and 15,000 words of “Nit Roast & Other Stories” in the bag.

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Hello,

This week I’m taking a brief look at brevity which is a key tool in any writer’s toolbox. I once had a staff job for the Good Book Guide where I reviewed books in a short paragraph. It was vital training in how difficult it is to use one words when you could use ten. Mark Twain was right when he claimed “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”.

Anybody who writes flash fiction or haiku will be familiar with the difficulty of brevity. Shakespeare understood. He has Polonius, a notoriously wordy character in Hamlet, declare that “Brevity is the soul of wit”.

Brevity entered English in the late 1400s and means shortness in speech or writing. It arrived there from Latin where brevis means short or brief. Before England brevis travelled from Rome to France as brievete meaning brevity – although it looks more like a vet for brie cheese in my opinion. Unlike many words with hundreds of years of use, brevity moved between languages with little change and has retained its meaning to modern times.

Brevity is something I shall be avoiding next month as I dive into my annual NaNoWriMo adventure. The challenge is to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days so excess words are encouraged. I’ll be mentoring the writers in my region (Ireland North East) as usual, running writing events, and writing my own novel too. I’ll let you know how it’s going. Are any of you taking the NaNo challenge this year?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

I bet you know the expression “under the aegis of”. For example “The negotiations for a settlement in the dispute took place under the aegis of the Conflict Resolution Board”. We know it means the discussions were under the protection and guidance of that board.

But what exactly is an aegis (pronunciation here) and how did it enter English?

This is one we can blame on the Greeks, those pesky ancients practically wrote the first English dictionary, but at least we have a very clear idea of what an aegis (also spelled egis) is. It’s a shield, specifically the shield of Zeus or Athena. It’s made of goatskin (not gold or bronze, most surprising) and at its centre is the head of a gorgon.

The word aegis entered English in the late 1600s, via Latin. The aeg part was originally aig or aix, meaning “related to a goat” and the –is suffix tells us it was a type of shield. If you were under the aegis of Zeus or Athena you were in a very safe place indeed.

Now I think I’d prefer a metal shield to one made of goat’s hide but I must admit that the addition of a Gorgon’s head does give you the luxury upgrade. The gorgons were three sisters who Greek legends tell us lived in the west, near the setting sun. They all had snakes instead of hair, which must have made a visit to the hairdressers a real nightmare.

They were named Stheno (the strong), Euryale (the wide leaping), and Medusa (ruler or queen). The only one you’ve heard of will be Medusa. She’s the one whose very look would turn you to stone. I can see how having her head affixed to my shield would give a certain edge in battle.

The next time a dry news report tells you about some event being under the aegis of a person or organisation, remember that if you mess with them they may turn their deadly shield against you. Even Captain America would be jealous of that bit of kit.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)

p.s. If you’re curious my adventures in CampNaNo this July have been productive so far despite external circumstances forcing me to change my project, twice. The DS is still chipping away at his story too, very proud of him.

 

 

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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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