Archive for the ‘travel’ Category


This week’s word is inspired not by urban pitfalls but by my own mountain clumsiness. I spent last Saturday climbing Lugnaquilla in the Wicklow Mountains and managed to dip first my right foot and later my left foot in the lovely, cold, brown water of the rushing streams we needed to cross during the hike. There appears to be a magnetic attraction between my boots and running water, most annoying. My, more experienced, companion remained dry-shod and laughing.



I may lack her agility in the mountains but at least I built up a good immunity to the Georgian beau traps of Dublin when I frequented the city.

A beau trap is early 19th century slang for a paving stone which is loose enough for rainwater to gather underneath. Dublin city dwellers will know that we get a spot of rain now and then. Stealthy puddles gather under the large Georgian stone footpaths (sidewalks for my US friends) and unless you avoid those slabs or hit them in the exact right spot it “tips up and pumps half a litre of rainwater up your trouser” (as Terry Pratchett points out in “A Slip of the Keyboard”).  This rainwater is always a murky grey shade and invariably ice-cold.

Douglas Adams (the reason why all my novels have 42 chapters) once created an alternative word for this – the affpuddle – which I rather like too.

Why is it called a beau trap? The elegant young men of the 1800s (also known as beaus) wore those tight white stockings to show off their well turned ankles and calves and such a sinister pool of city rainwater was a trap for those beaus.

Whether you’re walking in cities or hills beware of wobbly stones and beau traps this week.Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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liberty from belowHello,

I’m just back from a wonderful week in New York city. While tramping the tourist trail I had my ears open for interesting words. I gathered a few eponyms (for a larger project I’m plotting) but it was a small word that caught my eye – ace.

Growing up in Ireland, with a  tennis obsessed sister, there was only one tennis championship as far as we were concerned. One event that sent every child outside with badly strung wooden rackets and half-flat balls to pretend to be McEnroe or Bjorn Borg. For two glorious weeks each summer our television showed nothing but Wimbledon. We ate strawberries at every opportunity and we groaned when the airplanes overhead (we lived on a flight route to Dublin Airport) drowned out the commentary and the gentle “pock” of balls.

How I longed to be a ball girl. I lacked the hand-eye co-ordination to be a tennis ace on Centre Court, but surely I could be a ball girl? It even came with its own language and strange scoring method – love-all, change balls, set, double fault, ace.

Over the years my love affair with tennis faded. I didn’t have the time to devote two weeks to watching it. But last week in Manhattan the screens in diners showed either baseball or Wimbledon and my own children were astonished to find our “local” competition engrossing viewers halfway across the world.

Let's Go Mets!

Let’s Go Mets!

So when, reading the great displays on the hangar deck of the USS Intrepid (former air-craft carrier and now excellent hands-on sea, air and space museum), I thought their reference to ace was related to tennis. Nope. They had a different kind of ace in mind and one that required more than just serving well enough to avoid a return shot. The flying ace entered the language in World War I via French, the single dot on a die, and card games but for five hundred years it referred to bad luck, another word whose meaning has completely reversed since its birth.

To qualify as a flying ace, you had to earn five victories in the aerial battles. It puts the efforts of Andy Murray and Serena Williams in the shade. If they lose a game they can try again next week, if those marvelous men (and now women) in their flying machines lost a dog fight, the consequences were far greater. Ace may be a small word but it describes big deeds.

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


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Wordfoolery is just back from her holiday in Tuscany, Italy. I’m tempted to discuss an Italian word this week in honour of my trip but honestly my Italian isn’t strong enough despite consuming liberal quantities of gelati to aid fluency. The pomegranate ice-creams in San Gimignano and the peach in Castellina were the best, in case you’re interested.

Siena Pallio parade - check out the shoes!

Siena Pallio parade – check out the shoes!

Instead I’m opting for a medical term – idiopathic. This was on my mind as I had to consult my local doctor before departure for a checkup. He was obviously using a seasonal checklist as he reminded me to wear sunscreen (I’m a factor 50 girl all the way) and recommended a new cream to use in addition to anti-histamine tablets for my severe idiopathic urticaria.

I stared at him for a moment. That sounded scary and I didn’t remember having any horrid sounding diseases. He caught my look and explained that’s the medical term for the fact that a simple insect bite causes me to swell up.

But idiopathic caught my mind as it sounded way too close to idiot for my liking. Was this a sneaky doctor way to laugh at those of us covered in itchy lumps every summer?

Luckily he wasn’t mocking me. It just means that the disease has an unknown cause. The word origins are Greek (not Italian, that would be too neat) – idios – one’s own, and pathos – suffering. Literally idiopathic means a disease of its own kind.

Given that my reaction to the bites only began after a spider bite in Canada in my early twenties, I know the cause of my disease, but I’ll let the doc away with it for the moment. Now at least I have a rather grand name for an irritating side-effect of the summer.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. Don’t let those mozzies bite and don’t forget the sun-screen😉


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this week’s word is hoodwinked (pronunciation here) which most will know as a evocative way of saying tricked or deceived. But its word origins are a little more unusual.

Falconry Centre at Alliwee Caves

Falconry Centre at Alliwee Caves

The Masonic Dictonary explains that hood comes from Old German and meant a head covering like a hat or helmet. You then add on wink, from the same language origins, meaning to close the eyes (so the next time a small child describes their blink as a wink, they’re actually correct). The combination of hood and wink described a headdress which covered the head and closed the eyes, and it came from the ancient sport of falconry where the trained bird of prey wears a hoodwink until the falconer wants to let it fly after prey.

It’s easy to see how the idea of not seeing truthfully could turn into the idea of deliberately stopping the truth being seen.

But why the Masonic connection?

Those being initiated into the order wear a hoodwink. It heightens their senses and is used as a representation of mystical darkness. So now you know.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


p.s. if you ever get a chance to visit a falconer, grab it. I’ve been lucky enough to see these amazing birds, and their handlers, at Alliwee (Co. Clare), and at the Bird Control Unit at Baldonnell airport (Co. Dublin) where they are used to keep down local bird life around the runways, thus limiting bird-strike issues.

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Cover Image for Hooked Hello,

This week I’ve been thinking about the words we use to refer to the ones we love (be that romantic, friendly, or familial love). Simple terms like my love, darling, or dearie all refer to the actual love, but others have a unifying theme.

In English, for example, we say honey, sugar, sweetie, sweetpea, pumpkin, cupcake – all words that say the object of our affection is sweet in some way.

Some of these sugary terms are used in other languages and cultures too, but not always. However the term used will always refer to something that culture values.

In Thai, for example, you may call them your little elephant (elephants are seen as very lucky). In Arabic a man may refer to a woman as being his gazelle. A Russian may call you their little kitten or little bird. If a Frenchman calls you his little cabbage then you’ve been complimented. In Argentina you might be called my bug, or my sky (high and unreachable!). In Finland you could be somebody’s breadcrumb. In Ecudor couples may call each other fatty (yes it’s a positive term there), and in Danish you’d be skat which means treasure and is also the word for taxes – gulp. My favourite Irish (Gaelic) term is mo ghrá which means “my love”, but there’s also mo chuisle mo chroí which means “the pulse of my heart”.

You’ll find a more complete list here and here.

So while love may make the world go round, you may need to bring your dictionary with you on the trip.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


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This week’s word is money. Not because I’ve found a horde of gold. Nor because it’s a particularly fun word to say. But because its word origins are interesting.

First, a quick recap on your Greek and Roman gods. You probably remember the Greek god Zeus (big beard, lightening bolt, king of the gods, the works). He’s known as Jupiter or Jove to the Romans.

Jupiter was married to his sister, Juno (known as Hera to the Greeks). She had the month of June named after her and was patron of marriage.

Roman Coin (replica)

Roman Coin (replica)

There was a flock of sacred geese kept in the temple of Juno in Rome. The story goes (according to Livy, a Roman historian who lived 400 years later) that around 390 B.C. the Gauls (a.k.a the French) tried a night attack on Rome but the noisy geese raised the alarm and saved the city. The Gauls were sneaking up on the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter (dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva) which contained the gold, silver, and bronze treasury of ancient Rome. Basically it was a heist gone wrong on the wealth of the most powerful empire in the Western world.

After this incident Juno got a new title – Juno Moneta – Juno who warns – and in 344 B.C. a temple to Juno Moneta was built in Rome as the new treasury and mint. I’ll bet they hired in a few more geese at the same time.

roman mint cropped

Temple of Moneta / The Roman Mint


Monetary, money, and mint all come from the word moneta. Apparently the temple’s columns and walls were gilded and the money was stored beneath. It must have shone in the Italian sunshine. Sadly that splendour is no more but you can visit its exterior on a tour of the Roman Forum, as I did last month.

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


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This week Wordfoolery brings you woggle because it sounds funny and conjures images of a wobbly teddy bear on a high wire. I’ve spent the last two weekends camping, first with my Beaver Scouts and then helping with the Cub Scouts because they were short-handed. It’s amazing how much gear children leave in lost property after a camp and woggles are very high on that list because they’re small and easy to misplace.

woggle I was really hoping that the woggle was named for a person – Mrs Esmerelda Woggle of Woggledon Hall, Surrey perhaps? Then I could have included it in my eponym series but although the woggle was invented, it wasn’t by Esmerelda.

The woggle was invented by an Australian Scout Bill Shankley in the 1920s as a device to tie a neckerchief – that’s the coloured scarf worn by Scouts and Girl Guides worldwide. There are a number of different designs now and some are only allowed for specific levels of Scouting achievement or particular groups but basically if it holds together the ends of your necker, it’s a woggle. Now I have woggle-envy after seeing the Maori head carved woggles used in New Zealand.

The word woggle can also be used as a verb. According to Merriam Webster it means to alter or waggle something. Presumably a Scout could woggle his woggle then? Or wiggle-waggle his woggle?

Now that’s why I enjoy a word like woggle.

I’ll be travelling for the next two weeks but will try to schedule a post here during my absence. Failing that, I’ll be wordfooling again on the 8th of July.

Until next time happy reading, writing and wordfooling.


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