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Hello,

Poor handwriting has been a hot topic in my house recently. In my daugher’s school pupils write all their work in joined script from age 10. I remember the pain my older child went through at this stage and I thought I was ready for it. Plus I know this child’s fine motor skills are much better than her older sibling’s. Perhaps she would escape my genes for terrible handwriting?

I wasn’t ready. She didn’t escape.

The teacher, to encourage the children, has a system whereby good handwriting (calligraphy) is rewarded with a smiley face stamp on their work. Gather enough of these (an unspecified number which really irritated my highly numerate daughter, and her mother) and you get a coveted “pen license” and may use a biro instead of a pencil. In my day it was an ink pen, which actually does force you to form letters properly, but apparently that’s not a thing now.

On the first day 75% of the class got the stamp at least once. Not my little one.

Two weeks later, still no stamp, although her handwriting looked fine to me. Very unhappy daughter.

Finally she gets a stamp. The reason for the delay? She wasn’t leaving an empty line between each sentence.

She still hasn’t earned that pen license but at least we know it’s not down to her cacography (pronunciation here). The word dates from 1580 and comes from the Greek kakos meaning bad (perhaps leading to the slang description of food/clothes as being kak or cack-handed for clumsy or left-handed?).

I’m lucky they invented computers in my lifetime and you can enjoy a neat font on this blog rather than my usual scribble which was poor age 10 and has worsened over time, particularly thanks to speed-note-taking in my university years.

An example of my own cacography

An example of my own cacography

There are two benefits to cacography in my experience –

  1. nobody can decipher your private notes or diary
  2. you can read the worst hand-writing in the world with ease – even doctor’s prescriptions

Until next time happy reading, wordfooling and writing (be it calligraphic or cacographic),

Grace

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Hello,

This week’s word is dapper. I complimented my pre-teen son on looking dapper last week and while he was happy to take the praise he pointed out that dapper is modern slang and I’m way too old to be using it. As he would say “I got burned”. Ah the joys of parenthood.

Urban Dictionary confirmed his slang usage – it’s pretty close to “swag” – e.g. “OMG that new game is dapper.” I am trying not to worry that I need to refer to Urban Dictionary to understand my children, sigh.

Those of us over the age of 20 will recall that dapper describes someone (often male) who is neat, trim, smart, active and typically well-dressed and mannered. For me the perfect dapper gent was Cary Grant, but I am sure you have your own examples.

I guessed dapper dated to the 1920s, there’s something about a man in a sharp hat that just screams dapper to me. However dapper actually dates back to Late Middle English daper about 1400. It has roots in  Middle Dutch dapper meaning nimble and German tapfer meaning brave.

I’m just relieved that the new usage of dapper to mean cool or trendy doesn’t stray too far from the dapper I know and can still be applied to a well-styled outfit.

Until next time happy reading, writing and wordfooling and good luck in deciphering pre-teen slang,

Grace

 

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Hello,

Until recently I’d forgotten that I love maths. I’ve had an on-off relationship with it. Adored it up to age 12, got distracted by other subjects from 12-15, struggled from 15-19 (integration – I’m looking at you), but warmed to it through the rest of my university and computing career.

Image from matsordenruntresa.blogspot.com

Image from matsordenruntresa.blogspot.com

Now as a writer and mother it gets used here and there, unlike words which are the bricks of my trade.

Then I read “The Martian” by Andy Weir (brilliant book, can’t recommend it enough) and it reminded me why I loved maths in the first place. It is how the world works. Astronomy, physics, chemistry, baking, finance, art, music, computing, gaming, graphics (and much more) are fundamentally underpinned by mathematics and frankly, that makes it cool.

My kids already had that worked out (and really enjoyed “The Martian” movie last weekend). They’ve been fascinated with the concept of mathematical infinity ever since I mentioned it in passing one day. Well here’s another one for you – googolplex. This is the number represented as 1 in base ten (i.e. “normal numbers”!) with a googol of zeros after it. What’s a googol then? It is 10 to the power of 100 and was coined by a nine year old in 1920 as being “keep writing zeros until you get tired”.

According to QI, this means a googolplex is a number so vast that it can’t be written down as the universe isn’t vast enough to contain all the zeros.

See? Maths is cool.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and word (or number) fooling,

Grace

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Hello,

Serendipity is on my side. I investigated a word my mother uses – hansel – and discovered the term has a direct link to today. The term cropped up in a book I read recently “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke. It formed part of a summoning spell and the handsel was a gift to bind the person who was summoned.

I wish these were all full

I wish these were all full

Every time my mother (of Scottish descent, way back) gave me a new purse, bag, or wallet she always insisted on placing a coin in it before formally giving it to me. I loved the idea. Who dislikes the idea of a present that comes with free cash? I do it myself with my own children. But over time I noticed that we were the only family honouring this tradition.

Wikipedia informs me that handseling a purse is a British tradition to ensure good monetary luck for the receiver. The word handsel is found from 1050. It comes from a Saxon root (also used in Danish) and means “to deliver into the hand”, which makes sense.

I also found that Handsel Day (c. 1825) was the day when tips and small gifts were expected by servants, postmen, etc. Money is the most common handsel gift on the day, but if giving an object make sure it’s not sharp or it will cut the relationship, apparently. Handsel Day was supplanted by British Boxing Day traditions over time. Here in Ireland we much prefer St. Stephen’s Day for the 26th of December  (there’s much tutting if you use the other term) and those who tip service providers do so in the run up to Christmas, not on the 26th.

Thanks to a dispute in Scotland about the Julian vs. Gregorian calendars you may celebrate Handsel Day on the first Monday in January or Auld Handsel Day on the first Monday after the 12th, and yes, that would be today.

I think we should revive Handsel day (on whichever date suits) as a way of brightening up January and easing the post-Christmas-financial-blues. What do you think? Does your family follow any rare or unusual traditions?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

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Hello,

This week’s word is pandemonium (pronunciation here) which seemed fitting as today saw me dispatching my two youngsters back to school and my husband back to academia.

Re-adjusting to early starts, lunchboxes, homework (which apparently is impossible to complete without annoying your sibling at the same table), and the complex schedule of after-school activities will take us all some time. Getting everybody out the door on time was an exercise in managing pandemonium, although returning to a quiet house and a full schedule of writing was my version of heaven.

The excellent Online Etymology Dictionary assures me that John Milton invented the word pandemonium in 1667 when writing “Paradise Lost”. He used it as the name of the palace in the middle of Hell, Satan’s capital, and he coined the word from pan (Greek for all) and daemonium (Latin for evil spirit). Later meanings as “place of uproar” date from 1779 and “wild, lawless confusion” from 1865 although I suspect those meanings fit in pretty well with Milton’s vision too.

I just hope that while I’ve been enjoying a silent day writing, my family haven’t been creating pandemonium elsewhere.

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

Grace

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Hello,

After an eventful weekend (my nine-year old son broke his arm and required surgery to re-align it) I did consider a medical word for this week. But the rough fabric around his cast was on my mind today. So here’s a list of words for describing fabric which might prove useful in describing characters’ outfits.

I’m a keen sewer but I’ve only used a handful of these, so far, as some have faded into history. The main distinction for sewers is between woven fabrics like cotton and knitted fabrics like jersey because that influences how we sew with them. But the variations are endless.

Some of my fabric stash

Some of my fabric stash

  • cotton – entwined with history
  • linen – from the flax plant, creases easily
  • felt – created by heating wool, or shrinking your favourite jumper on a hot wash
  • wool – from sheep, although other sources include goats and rabbits
  • gabardine – I associate this one with my old school coat but the word is around since 1590 and associated with Burberry since 1879. Usually closely woven wool.
  • tweed – wool, originally named tweel (the Scots for twill) but mis-read on an order form, associated with the River Tweed and the name stuck.
  • twill – weaving method used in chino, denim, drill, garbardine, serge and tweed.
  • fustian or bombast – heavy cotton for menswear, especially padding – hence the use of bombast to mean extraneous words
  • camblet – a fine wool and silk blend, also known as camlet
  • cherryderry – a light cotton and silk blend with stripes or checks
  • holland – fine cotton
  • kersey – coarse woollen cloth originally from Kersey in Suffolk, England
  • broadcloth – heavy felted wool cloth made from medieval times onwards
  • calamanco – thin wool fabric, sometimes patterned, glazed or damasked
  • linsey-woolsey – a linen and wool blend used for petticoats
  • muslin – think Jane Austen dresses and straining jam
  • calico – checked cotton
  • chiffon – light sheer fabric from cotton, silk or synthetic sources. From the French word for cloth.
  • taffeta or taffety – a Persian word for a crisp, smooth silk or synthetic fabric. Used to create the original hot air balloons, but more common in ball gowns.
  • voile – soft, sheer fabric used for curtain panels or layered in dresses. From the French word for veil.
  • tulle – a fine netting, probably orginating in the French city of the same name. Best known in ballet tutus.
  • satin and sateen – glossy front, matt back – made from silk, synethics, or cotton (sateen).
  • crepe de chine or crape – thin silk (or synethetic) fabric with a crisp appearance. Think kimono fabric.
  • bombadine – dress material, many source materials, largely used for mourning-wear.
  • silk, shot silk, raw silk – created from the cocoons of the mulberry silkworm, although many other insects create silk too. Silk and the silk road has an amazing history but I don’t have space for it all here.
  • velvet – soft fabric created using a specific weaving method from medieval times or earlier. See here for details and variants like devore, crushed etc.
  • velveteen – imitation velvet
  • velour – a plush knitted fabric sometimes found on upholstery or leotards.
  • moleskin – not from moles. A heavy cotton fabric.
  • jersey – t-shirt fabric, originally made in wool and from Jersey in the UK.
  • fleece – soft warm fabric popular in outdoor wear – can be made from recycled plastic bottles.
  • lining – usually a silky style polyester in modern times, but can be any lightweight fabric.
  • oilcloth – a heavy waxed cotton used for tablecloths and outdoor cushions (wipe-clean).
  • nylon, lycra, pvc, polyester, acrylic, velcro, gortex etc – numerous petrol-based synethic fabrics invented in modern times – some with trademark names. I like velcro because it’s named for velour and crochet combined.
  • border anglaise – delicate white cotton pierced with patterns edged with white thread.
  • corduroy – ridged like a ploughed field.
  • denim – named after the serge fabric made in Nimes in France. Jeans in their turn were named for the French term for Genoa in Italy where those trousers were first made.
  • serge – a twill fabric around since 8th century.
  • chino – cotton twill fabric popular in trousers. Word source may relate to a toasted colour, or Chinese manufacture.
  • damask – around from the early Middle ages and named for Damascus on the Silk Road – a woven, reversible fabric with the pattern woven into it.
  • leather – generally from cows.
  • furs – sadly from almost any animal caught by man. Ermine being from a stoat or weasel.
  • kid – white leather from goat kids. To handle with kid gloves (a delicate situation) means that you made clear you leave no smudge or stain upon the situation.

I’m sure this list isn’t complete, can you add any?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

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rock paper scissorsHello,

This week’s word is fargling – from the verb “to fargle” and there’s some dispute over it being a word. I can’t find it in the major online dictionaries and there has been debate online since it was mentioned during an episode of “QI”. However I like it, and that’s good enough for inclusion on Wordfoolery.

As far as I can tell – fargling is any game which is used to resolve a dispute between two or more people. Now it probably wouldn’t work too well at a UN Security Council meeting but it’s perfect for determining who gets the first turn on the swing.

The classic American fargle is rock-paper-scissors, which is also known as roshambo. If you’re curious about the roshambo alternative I’m afraid I can’t help you but there’s a hiliarious post about it by Straight Dope.

But did you know that there are other ways to fargle?

For a start there’s Rock Paper Scissors Extreme – in my house this was invented by my son, but I suspect this one occurs everytime a player is unhappy with losing with the original format. You simply create random additional items – for example light-sabre beats paper, earthquake beats rock. You get the idea.

Rock-paper-scissors just didn’t feature in my childhood at all because I grew up in Ireland during the 70s. Modern Irish kids use it, having seen it on the television, but they also use the methods we had back then, plus a couple that are new to me.

1. All put a single foot into a circle and one caller rhymes “Igle, oogle, chocolate bobble, igle, oogle, out” while pointing at each foot in turn. The player with “out” is out. Then go again until only one child remains – the winner. I can’t find this one on the Web.

2. Put your fists into a tower at waist-height, alternating fists between players (a bit like when sports players layer up splayed hands in a circle) – then rhyme “one potato, two potato, three potato, four. Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more.” The fist from the bottom comes to tap the fist on the top on each change of potato and the one tapped on “more” is out. There are versions of this here and it looks like it made it to Sesame Street too. Warning – the fist bumping can get quite “vigorous” with older children.

3. Again putting in a single foot there’s the classic “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers let him go. Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.” Except that’s not the version I learnt as a child, sadly it was the racist one which is not in use anymore, thank goodness. Even so the Irish version differs “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe. Catch a tiger by the toe. If he squeals, let him go. Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.” You’re out on “go”.

There are some more examples of international versions of these fargling rhymes in this Wiki post if you’re curious.

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

Grace

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