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Archive for the ‘coastal’ 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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Asgard II at Howth

Hello,

This week’s word is thanks to Terry Breverton’s excellent non-fiction tome “Nautical Curiosities” which I recently finished reading with a fistful of inspirations for my coastal novel series and for this blog. There may be a flood of nautical words on the horizon, you have been warned.

I’ll begin with gollywobbler because it’s such a ridiculous word. The gollywobbler is a “large square staysail hoisted between the masts of schooner in a reaching wind to increase speed”. As a motion-sickness-afflicted landlubber myself I scurried to the dictionary to understand that description. I’ll enlighten you as best I can.

A staysail is a fore and aft sail set on lines that run diagonally downward from a mast. These lines (what sailors call ropes) are called stays, hence the name. Unlike the square-rigged sails on a schooner, staylines are in line with the keel of the boat, i.e. at right angles to the rest of the sails. Thus, presumably, they catch wind from other directions and increase the ship’s speed. A reaching wind comes side-on to the boat and the staysails are perfectly positioned to use a reaching wind. Gollywobblers are still used on sailing boats today and there’s even a series of wines named after them.

The origin of gollywobbler is, sadly, unknown, but I imagine that running aloft to hoist one would have been a wobbly and rather terrifying task on the taller of the tall-ships. The gollywobbler is believed to have given rise to the expression “I have the collywobbles” which means to be afraid.

In other news this week, I’ve finished the major editing on my book about the fascinating people behind eponyms “How to Get Your Name into the Dictionary”. Now begins the the fine edits and work with the proof-reader and cover-designer. I’ll keep you posted on progress. If any of you review books, let me know in the comments or @Wordfoolery on twitter and I’ll send an ARC your way.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

After a relatively mild winter, the storms of spring recently landed here in Ireland. I’m lucky to be on the East coast (away from the wildest of the Atlantic winds and generally the worst of the weather) but Storm Doris still managed to pop out four of our garden fence panels and blasted trees, trampolines, roof-tiles, and electricity wires down around the village.

Anchors away

Anchors away

So when I read stories this week of windjammers in Breverton’s “Nautical Curiosities” I had to find out how they got their name. Terry Breverton tells me that “windjammer was a derogatory term among steamship crew for any square-rigged sailing ship”. Merriam-Webster adds that the term arose in the 1880s.

Windjammer is a collective name for various types of square-rigged sailing ships built in the late 1800s to carry large amounts of bulk cargo such as timber, grain, or ore, between continents using the prevailing winds. They’re not the same as the earlier sailing ships, the clippers, which carried less and traveled faster. Windjammers had between three and five masts and often circumnavigated the globe on their voyages.

The steamship crews didn’t need to mock the windjammers. Once steam was perfected the days of sail were, sadly, numbered. The steam ships could round Cape Horn (the tip of South America) in 1,000 miles but under sail it would take 1,500 miles. Heading east, with the winds, that would take a week. Heading west, against the winds, that could take two or even three weeks. In 1914 the Edward Sewall took 67 days, twice being blasted back to a position she’d already passed and finally covering 5,000 miles in the trip.

There are two stories about the origin of the word windjammer. The first, and most likely to be true, is that it came from English – the sails “jammed” the wind, i.e. blocked it, because there were so many of them.

The second while less likely to be correct, has a certain romance to it. The idea is that the word comes from Dutch and German verb jammern which means to wail and refers to the sound of strong winds blowing through all that rigging.

Happy wordfooling this week and if the winds pick up, jump on a windjammer,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve just joined Instagram. I’m posting photos of historic spots in Ireland (and on my travels). If your instagram passion is history – let me know and I’ll follow.

p.p.s. To readers in the UK and Ireland – Happy World Book Day on Thursday!

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distress-signalsHello,

Despite spending a significant amount of time teaching Beaver Scouts and Scouts the basics of distress signals over the last five years I was surprised to discover the origin of the mayday call recently.

Mayday is the international radio distress call for help and is used to indicate there is an immediate danger of loss of life, for example a ship that is sinking. It is used primarily by aviators and mariners.

Like other distress signals, such as whistle blasts and piles of rocks, it is always transmitted in groups of three.

It originates from the French phrase “m-aidez” which means “help me” and isn’t as old a call as I’d thought.

Mayday originated in 1923 in Croydon, London. Frederick Stanley Mockford, a senior radio operator at Croydon airport, was asked to think of a word to indicate emergency that could be easily understood by pilots and ground staff. As most flights were between Croydon and Paris, he picked “m’aider” (short for “venez m’aider” – come and help me). In 1927 the voice call mayday on radio replaced the Morse Code SOS on telegraph as the standard distress call. Croydon Airport, replaced by Heathrow, closed in 1959.

Interestingly, a false mayday call in the US is punishable by up to six years in jail and/or a quarter of a million dollar fine.

Until next time I hope you have no reason to call mayday,

Grace (@ Wordfoolery)

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Asgard II at Howth

Asgard II at Howth

Hello,

This week’s words – grommet and idler – have a nautical flavour, but I never knew they had marine roots, or is that depths?

I thought a grommet was another word for a widget – a small useful gadget, but actually they were ship’s boys, apprentices who did menial tasks aboard. The name comes from Spanish grumete (a novice seaman) and the term was originally applied to boys from the Cinque Ports who tended the ship when she was in port.

The Cinque Ports (French for Five Ports) were a medieval group of ports in Southern England who furnished men and repairs to the British fleet up to the time of the Spanish Armada when silting of the harbours limited their usefulness.

A useful junior sidekick certainly explains why Aardman named Wallace’s loyal canine pal Gromit. If you haven’t seen Wallace & Gromit, then I heartily recommend any of their animated movies. A more common usage of grommet is for a metal eyelet or a small gadget inserted in the ear, but I like the idea of a grommet scampering around sailing ships and making themselves useful.

You might think that idlers would be the opposite of grommets. Nowadays an idler is someone who shirks work, but in original 1700s usage an idler was a crew-member who worked regular daytime hours on the ship – a carpenter, sail-maker, or surgeon – and hence was spared the night watches. They were idle during the night, hence idlers.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (neither a grommet nor an idler)

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Hello,

I finally made a visit to the National Maritime Museum of Ireland in Dun Laoghaire last weekend, with family in tow, so it’s time for another entry in Wordfoolery’s Nautical Series – tonne.

anchor When over-burdened with shopping (or an anchor like this lovely example outside the museum) I’d often say that it weighed a tonne. However I’ve edited the phrase out of my writing because I couldn’t get clarity on the correct spelling (tonne or ton?).

Imagine my surprise to find a detailed explanation of the phrase when researching for my coastal novels in the museum. Tonne comes from the idea of a ship’s tonnage but has little to do with the weight of the ship. Tonnage, or as it was originally know tunnage, was measured for tax purposes and related to the number of tuns of wine the ship could carry. All good ships transport nothing but wine, of course.

One tun held 252 gallons of wine (tax-men despise even numbers) which is approximately 1,150 litres or 2,2,40 pounds of weight. So when I said my bags weighed a tonne, I should have said they weighed a tun, although I’m not strong enough to lift 2,240 pounds of groceries, or wine!

Pirate Captain Grace

Pirate Captain Grace

If you want to get into nautical detail the gross tonnage of the ship is the volume of its cargo space while deadweight tonnage (DWT) refers not to – “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum” – but to the total weight of passengers, cargo, fuel, stores minus the weight of the ship herself.

As for the origin of tun as a word, that has the fingerprints of many languages – Old English tunne, Old Frisian tunne, Middle Dutch tonne, Old High German tunna, German tonne, Latin tunna, Old French tonne and possibly even Middle Irish tunna and toun (meaning hide or skin). I’ve noticed that words relating to ships often have a mixed source like this. I assume this is because the ships and their sailors moved around, pilfering words from languages when it helped them communicate with their polyglot crews and traders. Seas are fertile places for creating vocabulary.

If you’re visiting Dublin, I can heartily recommend a visit to the maritime museum in Dun Laoghaire (just hop on a DART train out from the city centre) – there are great hands-on exhibits for the kids and it’s small enough for the whole family to avoid museum fatigue. Run by volunteers (hence the reasonable entry fee), it is crammed with details on the huge and varied contributions made by the Irish to seafaring life – inventing submarines, founding several nation’s navies, shipwrecks, polar exploration, Atlantic cable-laying, the Beaufort scale, and I discovered Marconi had an Irish mother.

Museum Teddy wasn't sure about this whole breeches buoy thing

Museum Teddy wasn’t sure about this whole breeches buoy thing

They were even kind enough to indulge my curious children by showing how the museum’s teddy travels between ships by breeches buoy.

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

Grace

Please don’t forget to vote today for Wordfoolery in the Arts&Culture section of the Irish Blog Awards – thanks!

 

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Hello,

I’m not entirely sure how I got onto the topic (possibly thanks to a visit to Sheridan’s Cheese mongers in Carnaross) but I found myself  trying to explain what a monger was to my offspring this week, and failing. I mean, does a monger merely sell a product and, if so, what is a coster monger selling? If a fish monger sells fish, then why isn’t a butcher called a meat monger? Plus, I think I prefer cheese-wrangler as a term – like an animal wrangler on a movie set. I have a mental image of a woman in an apron wielding a cheese slicer and herding naughty rounds of brie and stilton into their paddocks.

So I had a look around the dictionaries and discovered that the term monger (pronounced to rhyme with hunger) denotes somebody who peddles or deals in a commodity for example an ale monger sells beer. Mongering is also a verb (dating from 12th century) and the combined form as a noun denoting a seller of something dates from the 1860s. Its origins lie in Greek, via Latin and Old English, and relate to charming somebody, which I suppose is part of the charisma of a good monger.

A monger in 1790 was also a small merchant vessel, a sea ship presumably used by small traders or mongers.

I then had a look around some of the more common mongers. Fish mongers sell fish, of course. An iron monger sells hardware items like tools and household implements. A coster monger sells items, especially fruit and vegetables, from a handcart in the street.

"Molly Malone 073007" by Wilson44691 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Molly_Malone_073007.JPG#/media/File:Molly_Malone_073007.JPG

“Molly Malone 073007” by Wilson44691 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Molly Malone (of Dublin fame) was a coster monger selling cockles and mussels and her fellow coster mongers can still be found today on Moore Street in Dublin selling vegetables and fruit. Why coster? A costard was a cooking apple.

Mongering can have negative connotations too. You’ll find warmongering, gossip-mongering and scaremongering rife in the world. But I will stick to frequenting the cheese mongers.

Until next week happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

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