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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Hello,

Wordfoolery was gallivanting last week but as always I had my ear tuned in for unusual words. Amongst other nautical locations (my DS now blanches if I mention nautical history or maritime festivals) we took the excellent tour of the Dunbrody Famine Ship which is moored in New Ross, Co. Wexford.

The Dunbrody

Having studied the Great Famine (1844-1849) endlessly during school lessons in Ireland, I thought I knew everything about the ships dubbed “coffin ships” that stacked the emigrants high and shipped them from Ireland to Britain, Canada, America and elsewhere in search of survival. I was keen to see the ship however as she was built about 20 years ago by volunteers to be a total replica of the original 1844 Dunbrody, no mean feat when the skills to create tall-ships are increasingly lost to us.

She’s a fine ship, despite the dark history she illustrates. The mortality rate on the voyages was about 30% but it was still better odds than staying in Ireland where the population dropped by 50% in the five years of that famine (there were many other famines in Ireland in the 1800s).

The engaging, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable guide, who happily handled queries on the wider historic context of the famine and ship, decided to involve the younger members of my party in demonstrating life on board. DD got to stir the oatmeal/porridge on the deck’s brazier but DS got the plum job, he was handed a wooden bucket and challenged to handle it. Holding it at arm’s length he guessed it was the ship’s bathroom facilities and mimed tossing it overboard, after being advised to check which way the wind was blowing first.

Bathroom or Scuttlebutt?

I hoped the bucket wasn’t dual purpose, both for fresh and shall we say “used” water? If so it would be a primitive scuttlebutt. Butt is an old word for a barrel or cask, nothing to do with your rear. To scuttle something is to cut a hole in it – for example to hole the hull of a ship in order to sink it. The two together describe a cask or bucket with a lid. The lid had a hole in it so sailors could scoop out water using a drinking cup, but without allowing flies or dirt into the cask.

The scuttlebutt was a place to congregate and exchange news from the 1700s on board ships, hence its meaning as gossip or insider news. It crossed over to landlubber use c. 1950s. The modern equivalent would be water-cooler-gossip and an eponymous version exists in Australia with the furphy (whose story I explore in my book “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary” – coming later this year).

If you’re visiting the south-east of Ireland and have an interest in history, I can recommend the tour, just be careful of what way the wind is blowing.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (a.k.a. Wordfoolery)

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Grand Bazaar fez, modeled by Eli

Grand Bazaar fez, modeled by Eli

Hello,

This week’s words take us to Persia, Istanbul and Italy. I hope you have your passports and visas in order.

A recent column in “The Irish Times” newspaper mused on a charity jumble sale of the author’s youth which was always billed as a bazaar. It set me on the trail of bazaar and bizarre, the later being one of my favourite words. It’s a great adjective – helpful to describe outlandish outfits, unusual behaviour, and characters who defy conventions.

While I’ve visited many jumble sales in my time, selling old teapots, homemade jam, and raffle tickets, I’ve only encountered one bazaar, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We visited it on a sorching hot day in 2002 and entering its cool vaulted maze was a relief, for a moment. Then the sheer variety of goods on display assaulted my eyes and the scents of spices, perfume oils, and leathers assailed my nose. We joked that you could buy anything there – from gherkins to giraffes. Your most bizaare request would merely require a moment for the stall holder to rummage in the back. Who needs Aladdin’s lamp if you can browse the bazaar?

I don’t come from a nation of hagglers. If you tell me the price, that’s what I’ll pay. But bazaars demand a different approach. DH took the first shot, taking about a third off the original quote and going from there. He secured a leather weekend bag that has served him well since. The vendors of Istanbul, and trust me everybody is a seller in Istanbul (or has a cousin with a carpet shop), all have a story to tell. In that respect they reminded me strongly of the Irish. Don’t expect to buy in a rush. Leave them with a fair profit. Don’t bargain without any intention of purchase. I can’t tell you if we got the bargaining right but I still love the perfume oils I selected from the tiniest, most fragrant stall I found. My fez, although never worn, is the jewel of my hat collection.

Bazaar isn’t a Turkish word, but it’s in the right neck of the woods. It comes from the Persian (modern day Iran) word bāzār which means marketplace.

Bizarre, meaning odd or fantastic, certainly describes the goods in the bazaar but it has a completely different root. It entered English in the 1600s from French where it had the same meaning. Earlier in French it had the additional meaning of brave or like a soldier, which makes sense to me as it take bravery to make bizarre choices. Spanish and Portugese also gained the word at around the same time, again with the secondary meaning of brave or handsome. I have a mental image of an unusual, but brave and handsome, soldier fighting his way across France, Spain and Portugal in the 17th century.

Unfortunately my imaginings are flawed as the original root is most likely to be bizza and bizzarro in Italian which mean irascible or fits of anger.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

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.

Lugnaquilla

Lugnaquilla

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,

Grace

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Hello,

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 😉

Grace

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Hello,

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,

Grace

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,

Grace

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