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Archive for the ‘Words the Romans Gave Us’ Category

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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Hello,

This week’s word, boscaresque, is particularly appropriate in October in my opinion. I came across it in “Simple Things” magazine. Boscaresque is an adjective to describe a particularly scenic grove of trees. Anybody in the northerm hemisphere must have noticed the trees looking particularly fine right now in their autumn colours.

Autumn at Castle Leslie

Regular Woodfoolery readers may be remembering a related word I posted about a while back – bosky – again relating to trees.

Finding the origin of boscaresque proved challenging. Despite extensive use online, it wasn’t turning up in dictionaries (other than a 2010 entry in Urban Dictionary) which can be a sign of a modern invented word. Its relationship to bosky is simple, it’s those Romans again. Latin boscum or boscus means wood, then you add on the French suffix -esque (meaning looking like, in a positive sense) and you’ve got it (thanks Tweetionary).

I was relieved to discover boscaresque isn’t new at all, although it is likely to have been coined from Latin and French as mentioned above.

Caroline Derry provided a guest post for the London Historians’ Blog this year on the topic of John Evelyn’s life in Deptford. Evelyn, best known now as a famous diarist (although overshadowed by Samuel Pepys who I read this summer). He was also a huge influence on forestry and gardening. Pepys was a fan of his gardens, as was another contemporary who said they were “most boscaresque“.
So, it’s not a new word, it dates back to the mid 1600s.
Until next time happy reading, writing, wordfooling, and kicking leaves,
Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is ullage thanks to the entertaining “Movies & Booze” radio slot on Newstalk on Friday afternoons. I’m often driving on a Friday afternoon and the movie reviews combined with chat about wines and beers are always knowledgeable and fun. Last Friday the wine expert used the word ullage, much to the amusement of his co-hosts, and it seemed like a perfect choice for some wordfoolery here.

Beware of the ullage!

The word ullage describes the empty part of a container, or the loss of liquid by evaporation or leakage. Ullage is the empty gap in a wine bottle which is there to allow for expansion in the wine due to temperature variations.

That definition reminded me of a distillery tour I took at Bushmills, many years ago, when the guide explained that the evaporation of whiskey during the long maturation in casks was called the angel’s share. It conjured images of tipsy angels fluttering above the casks having a wee dram and causing ullage in the casks.

Ullage’s route to English has a surprising origin in the Latin word for eye – oculus (which has links to ocular and binoculars as you might expect). What has an eye to do with the angel’s share?

The next step is ouiller (or euillier) which was the Old French verb meaning to fill up. It translated literally as to “fill to the eye”. It is likely that the bunghole of the barrel was called the eye. From ouiller to uillage in Anglo Norman French is an easy hop and by the late 1400s the word ullage was used in Late Middle English, yet another of those words imported to England by the Normans, and their wine merchants.

The next time you open a bottle, or cask, of booze you can ponder the angel’s share and the barrel’s eye.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is bombilate, because it’s fun to say and thankfully has nothing (well, nearly nothing) to do with explosives.

Honey bee on garlic chives flower

Bombilate (pronunciation here) is a rare verb meaning to buzz or hum and is, naturally enough, associated with bees like the honeybee I snapped in my garden today enjoying the nectar from the garlic chives. I was hoping for a bumblebee as I love the idea of a bumblebee bombilating (there’s poetry in that) but sadly they weren’t bumbling around today. A local friend makes excellent honey in his hives and I always wonder if the bees in my garden are his, but then, does any beekeeper really “own” their bees? I don’t think so.

Bombilate entered English in the early 1600s and is another one of those words the Romans and Greeks gave us. Greek has bombos which means booming or humming. Latin has bombus with the same meaning. Your guess is as good as mine on who got there first with that one (I’m betting on the Greeks), but it’s pretty obvious that they’re related.

From bombus we get bomba in Italian, then bombe in French and bomb in English by the late 1600s. Oh wait, did I say bombilate had nothing to do with explosives? Yeah, that wasn’t entirely true, they have the same root.

Bomb – a disarmed sea mine from the Irish National Maritime Museum

Now go back to Latin and bombus (humming, remember?). As well as migrating through languages to give us the word bomb, it also swerved off to medieval Latin as bombilare meaning “to buzz” and hence into English with the same meaning by the early 1600s.

Did medieval, or Roman, bombs buzz? Did they think bees sounds like weapons? Having been the victim of a nasty wasp attack this summer (I accidentally damaged their nest, mea culpa), I can definitely see the whole wasp=weapon=humming connection.

Until next time, let the humming insects bombilate in peace,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I couldn’t resist including one non-bombilating creature – this butterfly photo-bombed my bee photography earlier.

p.p.s. I should also mention that I’m pleased and delighted to announce that I’ve been longlisted in the 2018 Ireland Blog Awards. I’m also helping to judge the longlist (not in my own category of course) which is proving to be enlightening and great fun.

Photo-bombing butterfly on the regular chives

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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,

Hinterland Festival

This week I’m exploring the word umbrage, with thanks to John McKenna whose writing workshop I attended last weekend at the Hinterland Festival. The annual festival is held in Kells, Ireland and features over 60 events over four days for readers, writers, and younger visitors. This year I was proud to be chosen as the winner of their inaugural short fiction contest and closed their Lit Crawl event with a reading of my story “The Purple Tree” in the library.

 

 

Anyhow, back to umbrage. John mentioned it was his favourite word at the moment as he’d only recently discovered its meaning related to being in the shadow of trees.

In the shadow of trees

Naturally I had to investigate. The first surprise is that “to take umbrage” dates back to the early 1600s. I always thought that had to be a stiff-upper-lipped Victorian expression, but apparently people have been suspicious of slights against them for much longer.

Umbra, meaning shade or shadow, is a Latin word, with possible Sanskrit roots. From there it edged into Middle French as ombrage (which gives us the currently popular ombré colour effect) and shaded into English by the early 1400s. The excellent Phrase Finder web site confirms that umbrage sometimes referred to the foliage of trees causing shade. Originally taking umbrage meant to sit under shady trees in the 1540s but a hundred years later the meaning had twisted, perhaps because of the association of darkness with negativity.

They also pointed out something which I can’t believe I missed. The distasteful character of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter books is named for two types of darkness – umbrage and dolour which means sorrow and distress.

The idea of shade as a negative thing is still active in modern slang. Throwing shade, or simply shading someone means you’re insulting them.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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