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Archive for the ‘words’ Category

Hello,

Today the CAO results come out in Ireland. The what? Students, aged about 18, sit exams in eight subjects to complete their second level education. They found out last week how they did in those exams. Since then the Central Applications Office (CAO) have taken those results, looked at their applications for university (and other third level establishments), and worked out if the students earned enough points from their exams to study their top choice.

Image from pexels.com

If a particular course is only run in one place and only 20 students can enter then the points are likely to be high. If it’s run in several places and hundreds of students can enter, the points are lower. Then they factor in what’s popular with students this year and that skews the points too. It’s complicated and very stressful for the students.

As a result (pun intended) I’m thinking about the word result today. I expected it to be a fairly modern word, thinking it related to results-driven office work, but it’s another one the Romans gave us.

Classical Latin has a verb resultare (a frequentative of past participle of resilire, to rebound, if you really need to know). This verb, as you might guess from the spelling, also relates to resilience in English. Resultare edged its way into medieval Latin with the meaning to spring back, and hence to late Middle English as a verb.

By the 1620s it was being used, still as a verb, to mean springing back, but by the 1640s it had transformed into a noun meaning outcome or effect. You’d have to wait until 1771 to see it used in the mathematical sense of a result being an answer or solution.

I love that result started life as something springy. It’s wonderful that it was less about a definitive answer and more about resilience, springing back, and finding another jumping off point. I hope anybody disappointed with their CAO results today can take that meaning instead.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and springing,
Grace (@Wordfoolery)
p.s. Regular readers will know I take part in National Novel Writing Month each November. This year I’ll be drafting another non-fiction book inspired by this blog “Words The Sea Gave Us”. I’m currently researching nautical words and would love input from my blog readers. If you’ve got a fun sea-related word, stick it in the comments below and I’ll try to include it (and will put you in the acknowledgements, of course). Thank you!

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Hello,

I’m just back from my family trip to Paris and I finally managed to snap a carousel so I can explore its word history. Choose your unicorn, pay for your ticket and off we go.

Carousel with a rather famous neighbour

The use of the word carousel to indicate a slowly rotating merry-go-round for children featuring horses, carriages, and tiny trains is relatively recent innovation, 1895 to be precise. Even more recent is the luggage carousel in the airport.

The word itself goes back further and still involves horses. The first stop on this ride is the Romans. The Latin word carrus means a two-wheeled wagon and as you can imagine has links to the modern word car. From carrus you get the Italian word carro which means chariot (two-wheeled again). After that it’s a hop to carusiello in Italian for a tilting match which slid into French as carrousel (yes, two Rs).

By the 1640s English had acquired the carousel from French as a playful tournament of knights in chariots or on horseback. The interesting thing being the retention of two wheeled chariots right from Roman times up to the 1600s in England. Chariots aren’t used much in warfare these days and I’ve struggled to imagine how knights could use them but according to a letter in 1673 such a carousel would provide –

“instruction to all such ingenious young gentlemen as desire to learne the art of perfect horsemanshipp.” [sic]

I was intrigued as to what a knight’s carousel would have looked like. The Smithsonian Magazine claims it came from a 12th century training game played by Arabian and Turkish warriors throwing a clay ball between them which was filled with perfume. A fumbled catch meant the knight reeked until he could wash. This doesn’t seem to include chariots however.

There is the idea of a melée in knights’ tournaments where many knights fought at the same time and the last one standing won the day, I imagine a carousel could work the same way except you fought in a circle that decreased in size until it was a duel. If the training was chariot or horse-based it might have been more like our images from the iconic movie “Ben Hur”, but that would be a tricky, and high-risk game which could injure the extremely valuable war-horses of the day. They cost so much that it would be like allowing a learner driver get behind the wheel of your Bugatti super car for a rally drive.

My own theory is that the carousel might have been like the quintain. This simple device, used to train knights and squires in castle courtyards and town squares, consisted of an upright post with swiveling arms spread wide. One arm ended in a shield which the rider targeted, the other ended in a filled sack. Hit the shield just right and the quintain would spin away from you allowing you to ride on. Hit it wrong and the sack would swing round and swipe you from your steed. It is likely that such devices were setup at town fairs. Couldn’t a smaller version for wannabe squires have gradually led to a rotating horse-riding device for children at such fairs?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week, after a wonderful weekend in Galway that included a little Lynch research on the side, it’s time to revisit the origin of the word lynch (explored in a 2014 post). This is an extract from my forthcoming non-fiction paperback and ebook “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” which rambles through the fascinating life stories of those who gave their names to the English language via eponyms.

(extract from “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” by Grace Tierney, c. 2018)

Lynch family crest, medieval stone carving, St. Nicolas’ church, Galway

The Irish origin of this word is somewhat questionable, but I suspect it has Irish roots somewhere, if only because Lynch is a common Irish surname.

Most of us know that to lynch someone is to punish them, typically by hanging, without the benefit of due legal process. The real mystery lies in working out who was the original Lynch.

The Irish claim to the word is based in Galway city. The story goes that in 1493 James Lynch Fitzstephen, the mayor of Galway, strung up his own son from the upstairs window of his house for murdering a young Spanish man over a romantic rivalry. There’s even a plaque at the window which you can see in Galway.

It’s a dramatic story and a great one for tourists but almost certainly false because the term didn’t gain usage for another 300 years. In fact the window with the plaque doesn’t even date from the correct period and is no longer in the original Lynch house.

Lynch Castle, Galway (now a bank)

 

A variation of the story is that the Lynch son embezzled money from his father’s merchant business overseas and covered it by throwing a Spaniard overboard on his return trip. A sailor denounced him on his death bed and his father, a local judge (and first mayor of Galway), condemned him to death. When the public gathered to prevent the hanging the father took matters into his own hands and hung his son from the house’s window.

The tomb of James Lynch, first mayor of Galway in St. Nicolas medieval church

It’s only fair to point out that second version does include a trial, although one wonders how fair it was.

The much more likely source for lynching (although nobody is 100% certain) is an American Quaker Charles Lynch (1736-1796), a planter in Virginia who held an irregular court to imprison loyalist supporters of Britain during the American War of Independence. Charles later got Lynch’s Law passed to excuse him from wrong-doing because it was war-time, a clever move.

The controversy around Lynch’s Law brought the word into common usage to indicate anything done without due legal process.

Although lynching later came to be associated with racial issues, Charles was known to be colour blind in his judgments.

Inhabitants of Lynchburg, Virginia will already know of their own connection to this tale, the town was founded by Charles’ older brother.

Added Bonus

When exploring the Lynch tombs in Galway I encountered a wordy stone-carved Latin tombstone, pictured here.

Tomb of Stephen Lynch, St. Nicolas’ church, Galway

The inscription translates as –

“Stephen Lynch of illustrious lineage, the darling of his soldiers and the terror of his enemies, in years still a young man, but old in valour, of whom the world was not worthy, was exalted to Heaven the 14th of March A.D. 1644”.

What a wonderful description, wish I could have one that good when I kick the bucket.

Wordfoolery is running away to Paris next week, so I’ll be skipping one post but will be back fooling with words on Monday 13th. Until then happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is tank and we’re talking about the military type, not a water tank or a fish tank.

Tank entered the English language in the early 1600s with the meaning of “a pool for irrigation or drinking water”. The Portugese word tanque (reservoir) may come from Vulgar Latin stanticare and estancar (hold back a current of water) or may have a Hindi source in India. Gujarti (language of Gujarat Indian state) has the word tankh (cistern) and Marathi (spoken by 80 million Marathi people in India) has tanken or tanka (reservoir). The roots aren’t clear on origin but clearly a word like tank was used with the watery meaning in several locations.

Tank as a name for an armoured vehicle moving on continuous tracks entered English much later, 1915 to be precise, and was originally a British code word. In late 1915 when the “caterpillar machine-gun destroyer machines” were being developed it was decided to call the team the Tank Supply Committee. Alternatives suggested were cistern and reservoir as the tanks looked like water tanks in the early stages of their creation and were disguised as such. The shortest term, tank, was chosen.

Tanks were first used in action at Pozieres ridge, on the Western Front, Sept. 15, 1916, and the name was quickly picked up by the soldiers. My grandfather later described hearing them trundling up to the lines under cover of darkness, much to the amazement of the troops who were used to bicycles, horses, and swords being used in the conflict.

I only recently discovered an Irish link to the military tank (thanks to “On This Day Volume 2” by Miles Dungan). Walter Gordon Wilson, born in Dublin in 1874, invented the tank along with William Tritton. Early models were called Little Willie, Big Willie, and the Centipede. The tanks used in 1916 were hot, noisy, and often broke down before they reached the trenches but the duo improved them and by 1918 they were playing an important role in the Great War.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is barricade and again it’s one that can be used as a noun or a verb. When I think of barricades I immediately picture a dramatic scene from Les Miserables with rousing singing and waving flags but barricades don’t date to the French Revolution. They’re much older but they do have a French link.

Barrels ready for a barricade

A barricade is an improvised defensive barrier made to stop your enemy’s advance. Films would have us believe that barricades always include a wooden cart and a few chairs but in fact an authentic barricade should include barrels.

Barricade entered English around the 1640s from Middle French which had borrowed the word from Spanish barricada or barricado (in the 1580s) which literally means “made of barrels”. Barrica is Spanish for barrel or cask.

The earliest recorded use of barrels in a barricade dates to that period too. During the 1588 Huguenot riots in Paris large barrels were filled with earth and stones to create obstacles in the streets.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week I want to explore and promote gadzookery here on Wordfoolery. To get started I’ll take a look at the annoyance/surprise exclamation “Gadzooks!” which dates back to the 1600s but was used regularly through to the end of the 1800s. Like the use of heck instead of hell, gadzooks is a stand in for another phrase “God’s hooks!”. Gad was often used instead of god. Egad is another example of this.

God’s hooks doesn’t sound too sacrilegious to a modern reader but it’s a reference to the nails used during the crucifixion of Jesus and apparently that was a step too far, back in the day.

words both new and old

After gadzooks fell from regular use the term gadzookery was adopted (around 1955) to refer to the deliberate use of old-fashioned language. If, like me, you enjoy using older words like zwodder, bumptious, and jargogle then you’re indulging in gadzookery.

Ironically gadzookery itself has suffered the fate of falling from regular use, so anybody accusing you of gadzookery is possibly guilty themselves.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and gadzooking,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I got some good news this week, gadzooks! The sequel to my comedy serial novel “Hamster Stew & Other Stories” has been accepted by online reading platform Channillo.com. “Nit Roast & Other Stories” will debut there in early August.

 

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Hello,

This morning I indulged in a little light time-travel. My youngest is attending a camp at Dublin City University this week and I had a few hours to kill so I wandered up to the library and asked if I could use the facilities as an alumni. The lovely librarian sorted me out and buzzed me in with the warm words “welcome back”.

Back in the stacks

The library isn’t even in the same building anymore, but it was a delight to sit in the new space and remember my younger self. I stacked a quiet cubicle with books and settled in. I started research on my next non-fiction book “Words the Sea Gave Us” which I’ll be drafting during NaNoWriMo this November, but I couldn’t help jotting down gems for Wordfoolery too.

Zigzag (also zig-zag, both are used) is the first on my library list. As noted before, I have a fondness for words containing neglected letters in the English alphabet and zigzag has two.

crochet zigzags

What’s a zigzag? It’s a line with sharply alternately right and left turns. They go way back, you’ll find them on the stone carvings at Newgrange (famous Irish stone age burial mound, older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids at Giza).

Zigzag entered English in the early 1700s and was used by Jonathon Swift in 1728. The word comes from French and before that from German zickzack where it was applied to describe fortifications. It’s worth noting that Zacke in German meant a tooth or prong which makes sense if you think about the sticky-out-bits (the technical term!) on castellations and fort walls. To perform one of these turns in your course you would zig, or possibly zag so it can be used as a verb too.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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