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Archive for the ‘word origin’ Category

Hello,

This week’s word is lethologica (pronunciation here) and according to the Oxford English Dictionary it’s a rare word for the inability to remember a particular word or name. Unless you’re one of those blessed people with perfect recall for names of those they’ve met previously, I am sure you’re grappled for a name at some point. I used to try and bluff my way out or avoid the name entirely but having been on the receiving end of that approach, it doesn’t work. Now I admit my fuzziness and ask for a reminder.

Being unable to retrieve a particular word from the memory vaults can hit even a word nerd like myself and can be frustrating so I was delighted to discover there’s a term for this struggle. Lethologica is a relatively recent addition to the English language, possibly coined by Carl Jung and first seen c. 1915. It’s formed by joining two Greek words – lethe which means forgetfulness and logos which means word.

In Greek mythology the River Lethe, also known at the River of Oblivion, ran through the underworld. The souls of the dead drank from it to forget their earthly memories. The goddess of forgetfulness, also called Lethe, supervised this process.

The other four rivers were the Styx or River of Hatred which ringed Hades seven times, the Acheron or River of Pain which is the one the ferryman Charon crossed with the souls, the Phelegethon or River of Fire leading to Tartarus, and the Cocytus or River of Wailing where souls not buried properly were abandoned. Interestingly the Acheron is a real river in Greece.

So the next you’re struggling to name a person or find the perfect word, try distracting your friends with the history of lethologica instead.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and what was that word again – oh yes – wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’m delighted to announce that Wordfoolery has made it to the shortlist in the 2017 V by Very Irish Blog Awards in two categories – Arts & Culture and Books & Literature.

 

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Hello,

This week’s word is gizzard, simply because I like the way it sounds. I also have a fondness for words containing the letter z. When I taught myself to type when I was ten, I felt sorry for the letters z and q because they’re so rarely used and relegated to the cold outer corners of the keyboard.

Friendly robin in Connemara National Park

The gizzard is part of a bird’s intestines where food is ground up for further digestion, sometimes with the aid of grit. A similar structure exists in earthworms, fish, molluscs, some insects. There is evidence to suggest that some dinosaur species had gizzards too, as did the friendly robin I met in Connemara last month (see left).

Gizzard dates to the 1400s and entered English from the Latin term gigeria which is the plural for giblets, i.e. cooked chicken entrails, a dish my father always savours but not one I’d try personally. From Latin it wandered to French as gesir, and later guisier, the Old North French word for fowl’s liver. From there it finally slipped into Middle English as giser and gizzard for liver. The gizzard isn’t really a liver, but I can imagine it being an easy mistake when cooking chicken entrails, a slippery business at best.

Given that crocodiles and alligators have gizzards I can’t help wondering about the guzzling gizzard of the greedy lizard – a sentence with a plethora of neglected “z”s to enjoy.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and guzzling with your gizzard,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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Hello,

This week’s word is groin, or groyne. A groin is a long narrow structure in coastal engineering built out into the water to prevent beach erosion by trapping sand. It stabilises the beach on the updrift side but may cause issues in the other direction. As a result they are often built in groups known as groin fields.

Groins (pronunciation here) aren’t that common on the Irish coastline. There’s a small timber groin field at Malahide in Dublin and I also spotted some at Curracloe Beach in Wexford earlier this summer (see above) although these ones, made from tree trunks taken from the local pine forest, were not perpendicular to the shore, but parallel, to conserve the large dune network.

Even if you haven’t visited Curracloe yourself, you may have seen it on the big screen thanks to the amazing opening minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” and the beach-date scene in “Brooklyn”. The groins weren’t visible in either but those soldiers struggled almost as much as I did to climb the dunes. Mercifully I wasn’t under fire at the time.

Groin joined the English language in the 1500s as a dialect word meaning “snout”. That in turn came from Old French groign and Latin words grunium “pig’s snout” and grunnire a verb meaning “to grunt”. The next time I spy a line of timber posts running out to sea to disrupt erosion I will think of the land as snuffling its way out into the pig trough of waves.

One interesting side note – there’s some debate about the spelling – groin or groyne. Wikipedia and the Oxford English Dictionary think the spelling in the US is groin versus groyne in British English. I’ve never seen groyne in a lifetime of reading British English and even the Encyclopedia Britannica thinks the British spelling is groin. Perhaps groyne is being eroded on this side of the Atlantic?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and Wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

Wordfoolery was on holidays last week and that means one thing – reading. I came across fustilug as an insult in “Closed Casket” by Sophie Hannah. She was writing in the voice of Agatha Christie and continuing the detecting work of the egg-headed Hercule Poirot but she sent me to my dictionary.

A fustilug is an obsolete word for a fat, gross, or frowzy person, especially a woman – according to The Collins Dictionary.

Hannah’s fustilug was male so feel free to insult anybody with it. Chances are they won’t know what you’re talking about, a definite upside of using old-fashioned invective.

Lug is a dialect term in British English for an ear and fusty can mean smelly, so the origin may lie with somebody with smelly ears although the mind boggles at how you could have smelly ears. Grubby, I grant you, but ear wax doesn’t smell, does it?

Wordsmith came to my aid. Fusty is a Middle English term for smelly or mouldy and lug in this case is used in the verb sense of carrying something heavy. They date fustilug’s first documented use to 1607 so I am very tempted to use it in my 1588 story “Ready for the Storm”.

Opening email after my holidays (I relish leaving email at home) I got the lovely news that Wordfoolery has been longlisted by the 2017 V by Very Blog Awards Ireland in the Books & Lit category along 19 others, including TaraSparling, Bleach House Library, and WordHerding. I’m delighted to be in such good company.

 

It inspired me to brush up the blog a little – a new tagline and my publications list has its own page finally. You may also notice a book cover on the sidebar. It’s not my eponym book “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary”, sorry. It will be published later this year.

No, it’s my first ever serialised novel. When Channillo asked me to pitch for their subscription reading platform, I suggested “Hamster Stew & Other Stories”. It launched with its free first installment on Wednesday. I’ll be adding new installments of Trish McTaggart’s chaotic family life every Wednesday.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. welcome to our recent subscribers – feel free to suggest a word – all feedback welcome

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Hello,

Today’s word is frog. It’s not a particularly unusual word. It’s not even hard to spell or pronounce. However its use as British slang for Frenchmen has an intriguing history.

The negative term frog for a Frenchman didn’t come from British sources and was long seen as a positive, even victorious nickname.

King Clovis (466-511) united and then ruled the kingdom of the Franks, but when he converted to Christianity in 496, at the behest of his wife, his German neighbours weren’t too happy with him and war broke out. On his way to battle, he crossed the River Main and made camp for the night. He dreamed his heraldic banner of three golden toads changed into three lilies. He woke, had a new banner made (the now famous fleur de lys), and won the day, and the war.

That Frankish kingdom became what we now know as France. Their early kings used the toad banner and Jean Crapaud (Johnny Toad) became a generic name for a Frenchman as a result. By 17th century Versailles the courtiers now serving kings named Louis (a name derived from Clovis) referred to themselves as toads and Parisians as frogs. The idea was that toads were bigger and more impressive. Visitors to the court heard this nomenclature and adopted it.

The crapaud term persisted and gave a new name “Crapaud’s Dice” to the popular gambling game of the time, hazard. In modern times we call it craps.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (Wordfoolery)

 

 

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Hello,

Today’s word is zodiac because it has a surprising link to zoology. I found this recently when researching star-gazing. My DH very kindly gave me a telescope for my birthday (last year) and I’m educating myself a little before I take it down a dark lane on a clear night for a test run. The guide I’m using informed me that zodiac and zoo are related words.

The excellent Online Etymology Dictionary added that zodiac is a late 1300s addition to English from the Old French word zodiaque which in turn came from Latin zodiacus and Greek zodiakos which literally translates as circle of little animals.

The astrology enthusiasts amongst you will point out one of the twelve original constellations was not an animal. I’ll pause now and insert a jigsaw I made recently while readers try to remember which one isn’t an animal.

If you said Libra, then you’re right (it’s scales, in case you’re wondering).

However the Greeks were still right about the circle of animals. They only had eleven constellations. Libra was originally the claws of what we now call Scorpio. The Romans split that double constellation and gave us Libra.

Some of you may recall that in 2011 a thirteenth constellation was added to astrology. In fact nothing was added, unless you want to. There are at least 88 constellations in the sky as seen from Earth but this 13th one is a strong contender for inclusion in astrological charts. It’s called Ophiuchus (or the Snake Bearer) and fits between Scorpio and Sagittarius (30 November and 18 December). As a snake, it fits into the zoologically themed zodiac nicely.

Perhaps in another few years we’ll add in another constellation, for fun.

Until next time happy reading, writing, wordfooling, and star-gazing,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

Today’s word is an expression – “pulling the wool over their eyes” which means to deceive someone. I came across it in “Sticklers, Sideburns and Bikinis” by Graeme Donald, a fun little word book if you’re in the mood for such things.

In 17th and 18th century England the gentry cropped their own hair and wore elaborate powdered wigs made of wool instead. The habit spread to North America around the same period. This meant that during a duel your opponent might pull your wool wig down over your eyes, thus giving themselves an advantage.

The first known use of the phrase was in a 1839 American publication which suggests the wigs may have been those worn by lawyers and judges in courtrooms at that date. Thus a clever, or lucky, lawyer might pull the wool over the eyes of the presiding judge.

I prefer the dueling explanation because it’s more dramatic.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and don’t let anybody pull the wool over your eyes,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve just finished participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. Despite changing projects twice this month, I managed to win and made a strong start on two writing projects – book editing, and a first draft. It’s a great way to keep your writing on track during the holiday/vacation season.

 

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