Category Archives: eponyms

Eponym Series – Rugby

Hello,

With the group stages of the Ruby World Cup almost complete in Japan, it’s a good time to dip back into my nonfiction book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (available in paperback and ebook formats on Amazon US, Amazon UK, Kindle, Kobo, Apple Books, and Overdrive). Why? Because rugby is an eponym. Well, it’s a toponym actually (a word named for a place) so this week the word history of rugby is about the word, the people, and the place.

{extract from “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” copyright Grace Tierney}

The sport of rugby, a fast game of kicking and running with an oval ball involving moves like line-outs, rucks, mauls, and scrums, is named for the private boys’ school Rugby.

Popular legend has it that the game was created in 1823 when William Ellis Webb with a fine disregard for the rules of football (soccer) took the ball in his arms and ran with it. There’s little proof this actually happened but it is so firmly entrenched in the minds of rugby players and supporters worldwide that when they came to name the Rugby World Cup trophy they called it after Webb. Webb played cricket, but not rugby, for Oxford University and became a clergyman.

Early forms of soccer had been played since the Middle Ages, and probably even in Roman times as a game called harpastum. It often resembled a mob rather than a sport with the entire village on one side or the other. Each side struggled to kick an inflated pig’s bladder through the town to markers to win.

Predictably the wildness of these games led them to be outlawed. In the period 1314-1527 nine European monarchs outlawed the playing of football and encouraged their subjects to practice their archery instead which was a nice useful skill for warfare. Youths continued to play football.

Saint Paul’s School Rugby Team in the 1950s

By 1750, the game of football, as played at the school in Rugby, allowed the handling of the ball and still involved huge numbers of players on each side, but nobody was allowed run with it in their hands towards the goal, at least until Webb presumably gave it a go. The introduction of running with ball in hand happened there sometime between 1820 and 1830 and was probably met with outrage on this “breaking” of the rules. However by 1841 it had become an essential part of the game. Rugby and soccer were different sports from that time.

The game, and its formal code of rules, came to be played at other private boys’ schools and gradually crept into mainstream sporting life. By 1871 the Rugby Football Union was founded and more detailed rules drawn up. Wasps, a well-known rugby union club, missed out on being a founding member of the Rugby Football Union because their representative went to the wrong pub for the meeting.

Later the sport spawned American football and Australian Rules football. In 1876 there was a schism, largely down to money and class issues, in the rugby world that resulted in rugby union and rugby league and eventual changes in rules on both sides.

In 1995 rugby union became a professional sport. The first Rugby World Cup was played in 1987. The winner gets the Webb Ellis Cup in memory of the man who probably didn’t invent the game at Rugby School, England.

Many of the national rugby union sides have nicknames, often related to animals – the Springboks (South Africa), All Blacks (New Zealand), les Bleus (France), the Wallabies (Australian), los Pumas (Argentina), the Eagles (U.S.A.), and the Dragons (Wales).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Consider supporting this blog by buying my eponym book. Then you can read more about the people who gave their names to the English language and their extraordinary lives. Everybody from chefs to fashion icons are there, from villains to scientists and inventors. It’s a perfect book for dipping into, packed with wordy trivia and history. All the book details are here.

Wordfoolery on Scripted Scribbles

Hello,

The Wordfoolery book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (buy it here) is featured this week on the Scripted Scribbles Podcast. Andrew, Daniel, and John gave it a glowing review – enjoying the anecdotes about the origin of groggy, a cup of joe, and the original molotov cocktail. They described it as a “really good book” filled with “a wealth of information” and “a bargain”. They gave a thumbs up to this blog too, which is always great to hear.

Their podcast also covered the audiobook of “Mythos” by Stephen Fry, friendly chat about fantasy, sci-fi, and how Rupert the Bear books can help you calm down after scary horror movies

I listened on itunes/apple podcasts. It’s also available on Buzzsprout and Spotify. I’m delighted they chose to feature the book and I hope you enjoy their bookish podcast.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase using them this blog earns a small percentage to help with running costs.

What a load of Bunkum

Hello,

This week’s word is bunkum, which I came across this week while researching nautical words for “Words The Sea Gave Us”, my next nonfiction book. Bunkum, sometimes shortened to bunk, isn’t a word I ever use, but I may take it up purely because its history is wonderfully foolish.

Bunks (not bunkum) on the Dunbrody Famine Ship

On Feburary 25th, 1820 Felix Walker (1753-1828), who represented Buncombe County, North Carolina in the American House of Representatives (a.k.a. Congress) wanted to contribute to a long-running Missouri statehood debate in Congress. He began a speech which was quickly discerned to be “long, dull, irrelevant”. He was called upon to cut it short. He refused, insisting that he wanted to prove to his voters and their newspapers that he was active in the House. “I shall not be speaking to the House, but to Buncombe”.

To the frustration of the other representatives he insisted on finishing his long “speech for Buncombe”. Thereafter buncombe (later spelled phonetically as bunkum) came to describe meaningless political nonsense. By 1841 it was a word (a toponym in fact) for any kind of nonsense.

Today’s politicians rarely talk any bunkum, of course.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. Welcome to all my recent subscribers. It’s great to have you around. Feel free to suggest a word for Wordfoolery to investigate and to chat in the comments.

How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary

Hello,

This week on Wordfoolery instead of one word I’m talking about more than 260 words, all of them eponyms and all explored in my new book, inspired by this blog, “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” and launching today.

I love that cover. Peter Sheehan did an amazing job.

The English language is a cornucopia, brimming with words to amaze and delight. Flip open a dictionary at any page and you’ll find treasure. Since 2009 I’ve explored extraordinary words weekly on the Wordfoolery blog and in 2013 I began a series of posts exploring eponyms.

I discovered the lives behind eponyms are incredibly varied and span centuries and continents – a short series of blog posts wasn’t going to be enough. Any history of the English language is also the history of the men and women who gave their names to the dictionary. This book is my tribute to them.

My eponymous heroes and heroines range from sharp-shooting teenage girls to lovers escaping palaces on bed-sheet ropes. Ingenious inventors and daring scientists feature, of course, but so do soldiers, chefs, goddesses, revolutionaries, murderers and their victims, villains galore, and an elephant. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them. If you do, please leave a review somewhere as it really helps me as an indie author.

Thanks to the Wordfoolery readers who were kind enough to suggest eponyms for inclusion (and who appear in the book as a thank you). Take a bow Nell Jenda, Rick Ellrod, Peter Sheehan, Dianne Thomas, and Rosemary Costello.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

“How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” is available on Amazon (US, UK, and elsewhere) in paperback and kindle format. You’ll also find it as an ebook on Kobo, Apple Books, and in libraries via OverDrive. All the links are below. If you can’t get it, get in touch. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saunter

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.

Academy

Hello,

This week everybody else under my roof returns to the halls of academia so I think it’s timely to share another extract from my forthcoming book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” which explores the origins of eponyms and the intriguing life stories of those people who gave their name to the English language.

Ready for lessons

Extract from “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” by Grace Tierney (copyright reserved)

Academy (from the “Be a Greek, or a God, or preferably both” chapter)

Plato’s academy was a pleasure garden in suburban Athens where Plato taught his followers. He founded it in 387 B.C. and it was the first higher learning institution in the Western World. Aristotle studied there before founding his own school, the Lyceum.

The site of the academy had been sacred to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, since the Bronze age and it held a grove of sacred olive trees. Even when the Spartans conquered the area they refused to ravage these groves, although sadly the Romans chopped them to build siege engines in 86 B.C.. Torch-lit races and funeral games took place there and the road to the academy was lined with the gravestones of Athenians.

Plato’s academy, founded in this special place, was free to attend and women were amongst the students. The subjects, informally taught, included mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy with frequent debates and lectures by Plato.

The academy was named for the mythical Greek hero Akademos who had owned the land where the olive grove and later the academy was established. He was renowned for saving the city of Athens due to yet another disaster caused by Helen of Troy. This was before the Trojan War and this time it wasn’t her fault.

King Theseus, the slayer of the minotaur and the ruler of Athens was now 50 and widowed. He abducted Helen, then aged only 12. Her twin demi-god brothers Castor and Pollux threatened to destroy Athens to liberate their young sister. Akademos knew where she was hidden and revealed the location to the twins thus saving Athens.

When he died he was buried in the olive grove on his land which was long-dedicated to Athena.

Raphael’s famous fresco “The School of Athens” on the walls of the Vatican Museum depicts the students at Plato’s academy.

The site of the academy was rediscovered in the 20th century and is now a free museum.

Interested in eponyms? I’ve written a book about nearly 300 of them and the lives of the fascinating people who gave their name to English. Out now in Amazon paperback (USA and UK), and ebook for Kindle, iBooks, and on Kobo.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Today is the Vernal Equinox

Lambing is in full swing

Hello,

Did you know today is the vernal equinox? I didn’t. I was more focused on the clocks going forward this weekend (for European Daylight Saving) which will mean I can do evening outdoor Scout meetings again and hike longer in the day. Yes, that’s the way my mind works.

But I had noticed that it was pretty springy around here today. The clue was the frantic baa-ing from the fields I passed on my morning walk as ewes sought to protect their new lambs from my gaze, the upswing in temperatures, and the consequent blooming of wild primroses, dandelions, and wood anemones on the banks.

So what’s the vernal equinox anyhow? It’s one of two times per year when the sun is positioned directly above the equator and hence we have equal day and night. The vernal (or spring) equinox marks the point in the year when the northern hemisphere begins to tilt towards the sun and we get longer, warmer days. It’s the astronomical start of spring (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere in which case it’s the start of autumn) and certainly in these parts it is when the countryside wakes up and the farmers stay up later. A brightly-lit tractor passed me this evening on its way to sow fields in the dark.

Wild Primroses (an edible flower)

Vernal equinox has Roman roots. Ver is Latin for spring and vernal means “of spring”. The Romans gave this word to several other languages in fact – Norse, Greek, Lithuanian, Armenian, Sanskrit, Slavonic, and Persian. Equinox is an almost direct import from Latin too. Aequi means equal and nox means night and the term entered English in late middle English.

The Romans can’t claim to have discovered it, however, as even megalithic people marked the equinox with stone circles and cultures worldwide have marked the date with various celebrations and rites, many associated with fertility. Knowing when to sow crops has always been an important consideration after a long dark winter.

The Romans took a typically imperial approach. They named the month, March, in honour of Mars their god of war for one simple reason. The weather in March, thanks to the equinox, dried up enough to allow war season to commence. They regarded it as the first month of their year.

I wish March marked such a dramatic change in weather in these latitudes. Sadly this morning’s sunshine has now vanished into a sudden temperature drop and a snow forecast. Spring takes a while to unfurl in these parts.

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

Grace