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Archive for the ‘word origin’ Category

Hello,

This week’s word is chicanery (pronunciation here). Chicanery means to achieve your goal via subterfuge. It’s not a word you hear that often now, even though it is certainly something that still happens, with sad regularity.

The word history of chicanery is enshrouded in enough mystery to suggest subterfuge. It entered English in the early 1600s in a legal context. It referred to quibbling and sophistry and came from the similar French word chicanerie and the Middle French verb chicaner (to quibble or to pettifog). How it reached French is a little more debatable. It may be from the Middle Low German schikken (to arrange) or may even be from a golf-like game once played in the Languedoc region of the south of France. Perhaps early French lawyers liked to quibble over points of law as they got in a round before court?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

Despite this being my tenth win of the challenge (from 12 attempts), NaNoWriMo 2018 was a tough one. There’s a reason why the official recommendation is to write fiction during NaNo – it’s much quicker. I was working from a long list of nautical words and phrases (and a big stack of reference books) for “Words The Sea Gave Us”, but even with advance research I still found my writing pace significantly slower than in fiction years.

However, I’m proud to say I made it to 58,069 words by the end of the month and 90% of the first draft written. Next year I’m writing fiction.

Here’s a quick snippet from this year’s draft – the origin of the phrase “touch and go”, which is how NaNo felt at times this November!

“If a situation is touch and go you’re in a tricky spot, it could go either way, even a slight mistake could prove disastrous.

If you’re an airplane pilot you might be more familiar with touch and go (or circuit and bumps) as the training exercise where you barely land and then immediately take off for another circuit.

The idea of touch and go with the precarious situation sense arose in the 1800s from the world of sailing ships which might give the seabed, rocks, or other obstacle a glancing blow, but then continue on their course. The stakes are high. The ship could run aground or find a hole in its hull, but if the captain and crew are quick to react disaster can be averted.”

Now with NaNo behind me, I’m plotting the rest of my year and looking forward to 2019 writing goals. Have you any plans for 2019 yet?

My first task will be reminding readers that “How To Get Your Name In the Dictionary” is out now on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Kindle, the Apple Bookstore, and Kobo. It’s the perfect gift for anybody in your life who loves crosswords, scrabble, biographies, or history. It’s filled with more than 260 eponyms from around the world – the stories behind fashion icons like the trilby, the people behind recipes like tarte tatin or pavlova, inventions like the ferris wheel and guillotine, and charming villains like Casanova. Buying a copy is a great way to support this blog. Thank you.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is knot, a word I explored and added to “Words the Sea Gave Us” this week in my NaNoWriMo 2018 challenge. I passed the 50,000 words mark today, but I’m still writing as I haven’t finished my draft yet.

Knot-tying is a vital skill for any sailor and the word has various uses afloat. Rigging a sailing ship requires various knots, but knots are also associated with speed at sea. The knot has been the nautical measure of speed since the 1630s thanks to a simple device used in the Age of Sail. A log would be thrown overboard while the ship was under sail, attached to it was a line with knots tied at regular distances (1/120 of a mile between each knot was standard). The ship’s speed was then measured by an hourglass sand timer for a set time (a half minute ,for example). The number of knots payed out on the line during that time, was the speed.

One knot became equivalent to one nautical mile so a ship travelling at the speed of ten knots will cover approximately ten nautical miles in one hour. This is roughly equal to 11.5 miles per hour as a land speed. The use of the log in this process also gave us the concepts of a logbook and logging in.

Knots themselves of course existed on land before they were used at sea but sailors invented many of the new designs for specific tasks such as mooring boats, and quick release knots for loosening sails.

Knot may be one of the words the Vikings gave us. English appears to have acquired knot from knutr in Old Norse via German Knoten, Dutch knot, and finally as cnotta in Old English.

One final knot story is a sailor’s yarn that one day a witch was persuaded by a sailor to sell him some wind. Like Odysseus and the bag of wind the Greek god Aeolos, keeper of the winds, gave him, the sailor was presented with a piece of rope with three knots in it. She warned him to untie the first for a breeze, the second for a steady wind, and the third only as a last resort.

The sailor went to sea, delighted with his gift. He untied the first and a gentle breeze billowed out his sails. His ship moved, but too slowly for his liking so he loosened the second knot and sped away from shore for his destination. After transacting his business there he boarded his ship once more and looked at the final knot. It was getting dark and he wanted to return home quickly. The final knot could be the solution to his problem.

He untied the final knot and unleashed a hurricane that split the sails of his ship and resulted in him and his crew sinking below the angry waves.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Four days to go – 52,192 words and counting!

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Hello,

This week’s word is cutlass – a nautical knife I researched and added to “Words The Sea Gave Us” this week in my 2018 NaNoWriMo adventure. I’ve made it to 38,000 words so far, in large part thanks to a writing weekend with a friend in Carlingford. While we were there I spotted this lovely sailing skip (a ketch, I think) across the harbour as inspiration.

The cutlass was a short, heavy sword (or large knife) with a slightly curved blade (but not so much as a scimitar) with one cutting edge. It was used more for cutting than for for thrusting. Despite starting with the same letters the word cutlass is unrelated to cut.

Cutlass came into English in the late 1500s from an original Latin root of cultellus (a small knife), the smaller form of culter (knife or ploughshare).

Although also used on land the cutlass became the weapon of choice for all sailors, not just pirates, as it was cheap to make, required very little training, and a cutting weapon is more effective than a thrusting blade like a rapier, against enemies not wearing armour. Sailors didn’t wear armour as

a) it’s too bulky for somebody to run up the lines to adjust sails

b) if you fall overboard you’re going to sink and sink fast

The cutlass’ shorter length was better for close combat on the deck of a cramped ship.

The legend goes that pirates would swing across on ropes from their ship to their prey with knives clenched in their teeth and that’s where we get armed to the teeth but sadly there’s little evidence that was true. Just another pirate book/movie legend.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

38,000 words and counting – 11 days to go!

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Hello,

This week’s word is the phrase “turning a blind eye” and it’s from my next blog-inspired book “Words the Sea Gave Us” which I’m writing during NaNoWriMo 2018. It’s Day 12 and I’m on 20,233 words and counting.

The idea of deliberately ignoring something in this case comes from Nelson and his damaged eyesight.

In 1801 at the Battle of Copenhagen Nelson is reputed to have disregarded a direct order to disengage from Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Legend has it that Nelson put his telescope to the eye-patch on his blind eye and claimed he couldn’t see Parker’s signal.

That’s the short version of the story and gives us the popular phrase. The long version is somewhat more complex. Parker had huge faith in Nelson and arranged in advance that if he hoisted the disengage signal Nelson would have his blessing to ignore it, as he was the man in the thick of it and best placed to judge the next move. This he explained to his signals officer when he gave the order.

Nelson, however, had to do something to placate Colonel Stewart of the Royal Marines who was nearby when the order came in as the colonel wasn’t aware of the arrangement and might not have approved of such naval nonsense. Hence all the telescope drama.

The icing on this particular cake comes from the fact that Nelson wasn’t blind. He did take damage to his eye at the Battle of Calvi in 1794 from some flying debris but he wasn’t blinded, never wore an eye-patch, and never got the navy to pay out disability compensation despite numerous attempts.

It is likely the expression had been used in English before Nelson’s disregard for that order, but his fame certainly helped it into common usage.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is saunter. Walking is on my mind simply because I can’t. I broke a toe a few weeks ago and haven’t resumed my daily walks yet, much to my chagrin. When I do, I shall be sauntering rather than striding along at my usual pace.

What does saunter (pronunciation here) mean? It is to stroll in a slow, relaxed manner.

There are competing theories on the history of the word and it has changed meaning during its life.

The leisurely walk idea dates to 1660, but in the late 1400s to saunter was to muse or be in a reverie, so perhaps the reason they were walking slowly was because they were lost in thought.

The first origin theory is that it entered English from Anglo-French in the 1300s as a twist on s’aventurer (to take risks), but the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) find this unlikely.

Merriam Webster reckon saunter is probably from Middle English santren (to muse).

OED say it entered via Late Middle English and is of unknown origin.

Saint Kevin’s pilgrim path to Glendalough, Wicklow, Ireland

Henry David Thoreau spread a fourth, incorrect, origin. He thought saunter came from Sainte-Terre, the French for Holy Land and that saunterers were pilgrims en route to Jerusalem, literally sainte-terrers. Sadly the dictionaries and linguists are united in rejecting this notion, but it’s an appealing idea.

I enjoyed a saunter during 2018 Pilgrim Path Week on the trail pictured, but not as far as Sainte Terre. If you enjoy sauntering, mark the 19th of June in your diary. It’s World Sauntering Day.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and sauntering,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Coming soon!

p.s. After ten years of blogging about the history of words I’ll be launching my first nonfiction book inspired by the Wordfoolery Blog on the 22nd of October. “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” is a light-hearted look at the lives of the soldiers, inventors, style icons, and villains who gave their names to the English language as eponyms. From atlas to zeppelin English is full of words named for Greek gods, explorers, serious scientists, and crafty chefs. These heroes and heroines, scattered through world history, all did something extraordinary to squeeze their name into the dictionary, and this book celebrates their biographies.

If any of you would like an advance copy for book review purposes, or would like me to guest post on your blog, you can contact me in the comments below or message @Wordfoolery on twitter. Thank you.

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Hello,

This week’s word is garbled, which I came across in an article about spices in “Simple Things” magazine.

The modern sense of garbled is to mix-up something, usually language. For example, “my phone signal was patchy and everything she said to me came out garbled“. The older sense of garbled is almost entirely the opposite and relates to spices rather than words. The complete reversal of meanings for words is surprisingly frequent in English, I’m not sure what that tells me about English-speakers. Are we contrary or confused?

Spicy

The original source of the word garble is lost at sea, the Mediterranean Sea to be specific, but I’ll try to make it clear.

Latin, as usual, has a hand in it. The Latin word cribrum means sieve. The Late Latin word cribellum is a diminutive of that (little sieve). From there we get gharbal (to sift) in Arabic, garbellare (to sift) in Italian, garbillare (to sift grain) in Spanish. There was plenty of contact between these nations via the Mediterranean over the years and traders would always be talking about taking impurities from their spice and grain products. Spices were imported from Arabic countries via Venice, to Europe.

By the late 1300s the word is garbeler in Anglo French and has reached English as garble by the early 1400s with the meaning of “inspecting and removing dirt from spices”. The article I read in “Simple Things” explained that even today garbled means hand-sorted in the spice trade.

In Middle English (also early 1400s) a garbeler (from Anglo French garbelour) was an official who garbled spices and other dry goods, so it used to be an occupation.

By the late 1400s the idea of garbled meaning sorted was still there, but it also had been joined by the meaning of “distorting for a devious purpose”.  Perhaps the garbelers had been corrupted with bribes by spice-traders?

The association with distorting language arrived in the 1680s and hasn’t left  since.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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