Category Archives: Words the Sea Gave Us

Let’s not Hebetate

Hello,

This week’s word, hebetate, is a suggestion from blog reader, Allan Greenwill. If you too would like to suggest a word for the Wordfoolery treatment, you can do so here.

Hebetate, I confess, was a new word for me. It means to make or become dull , blunted, or obtuse. You’ll get the pronunciation here.

Don’t run with

Naturally, any seamstress or chef wants their tools as sharp as possible which is why my mother always yelped if we reached for her special “sewing scissors” to cut paper rather than fabric (apparently cutting tin foil will sharpen them again). Now I’m the keeper of the Special Sewing Scissors and am equally protective of their edge and would be very unhappy if they were to hebetate.

The dictionary definitions of hebetate, however, imply it’s not just your cutting tool which can blunt, but your mind, your debating powers. Nobody wants to become obtuse or blunted in their use of reason, logic, and language.

Hebetate has a pretty simple word origin. It entered English in the late 1500s directly from the Latin verb hebetare (to dull or blunt) and word hebes (dull, blunt). Hebetate is related to hebetude, another English word from the same roots which arrived a few decades later. It again means dull or blunt but is also used figuratively to describe somebody as sluggish or stupid.

In other news this week, the publicity round for the latest Wordfoolery book, “Words The Sea Gave Us”, is continuing. The lovely folk at the Marine Times (September issue is in shops now) gave us a plug. “Seascapes”, Ireland’s weekly radio show about all things maritime (broadcast on RTÉ One radio nationwide at 10.30p.m. every Friday) invited me to talk about the book. I started listening to the show, when I was supposed to be studying for school, thirty years ago and it was a huge thrill to see the studio where they record it and to meet the presenter, Fergal Keane. I rambled on about the beaufort scale, slush funds, blazers, and hammocks on the moon. The episode went out already, but you can listen to the podcast here.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Kerfuffle

Hello,

With the excitement of the book launch for “Words The Sea Gave Us” mostly behind me now it’s time for a non-nautical word this week – kerfuffle.

A kerfuffle is defined as “noise, excitement, and argument” (thanks to the Cambridge Dictionary, the pronunciation is available there too). Some other dictionaries note the word is informal British English. Apart from the argument, that sums up last week for me.

I guessed kerfuffle would be an old word but Etymology Online, usually reliable on dates, says it only entered English in the 1970s, was used with a variant spelling (kafuffle) from the 1940s, and in Canadian English from the 1930s.

The spelling variation leads us back further in the word’s history as the previous version is carfuffle, when it was being used by Scottish writers. The car to ka or ker change is pretty natural as there is no letter K in the alphabet for Scots Gaelic (or Irish Gaeilge for that matter), so you have English speakers adjusting the spelling when they adopted the word.

The fuffle part, however, didn’t change and it gets us further back in time. Fuffle dates back to the 1500s and was a Scottish verb meaning to disorder or dishevel (can one be hevelled, I wonder?).

The Scottish roots explain, in my opinion at least, the connection to Canadian English as the point where carfuffle crossed into English and became kerfuffle. Many Scottish emigrants settled in the eastern coastal regions of Canada during the 1800s. Apparently if you visit areas like Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island you’ll find plenty of Gaelic accents and language influences. I hope to explore that in person myself some day.

I enjoyed the kerfuffle of the book launch last week and I’m very happy to welcome new blog readers who found Wordfoolery as a result <waves>. A few readers have already been kind enough to review the book favourably, thank you, it really helps the visibility of the book online, even if it’s only a few words.

Those of you who read ebooks on Apple devices (phone, tablet, macbook) may find it worthwhile to hop over to my twitter account as I’m currently running a giveaway of a free Apple Books / iBooks edition. It’s free to enter and open internationally in any country where such books are sold (US, UK, Canada, Ireland etc).

Last week also found me participating in my first ever radio interview when Sinéad Brassil of LMFM radio kindly asked me to chat about my books and the history of words. She podcasted the interview so if you’re curious you can listen to it here. It’s about 15 minutes long and includes the history of boycotts, booby traps, and more. My teens are now referring to me as a word history celebrity and hoping their friends don’t find out. Sigh.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Words The Sea Gave Us

Hello,

Today is the book launch for “Words The Sea Gave Us” so instead of exploring one word I’ll be talking about my book which features 370 words and phrases the English language borrowed from the sea. From baggywinkle and gollywobbler to tempest and flotsam, the sea in all her moods has given us a boatload of words throughout history. This book explores their origins along with a cargo of old sailor’s yarns. Cast your line for the salty history of skyscraper, mollgogger, strike, cyber, and phrases like getting hitched, red herring, hot pursuit, and taking them down a peg.

Out now!

I investigated the parts of a ship, sail names, crew titles, surfer slang, marine monsters, nautical navigation, flying the flag, and, of course, how to talk like a scurvy pirate. Then I stowed  some sea fables, fashions, and weather in the hold too. You don’t have to be a maritime expert for this one. It’s ideal for word geeks, sailors, and beachcombers.

You’ll find out about the last Royal Navy cutlass attack (1940s), where cyber really comes from, the icky origin of a slush fund, and how London ships gave us the first ever strike. Other discoveries include the simple line which saved thousands of seafarers, why Long John Silver didn’t have a peg leg, the origin of a booby trap, and the meaning of scuttlebutt, mollgogger, and gollywobbler. If you don’t know the difference between being one or three sheets in wind I can enlighten you with a side trip to the Great Rum Debate in the UK parliament.

What more would you expect from a book that reached Number One in Ship History upon its ebook release?

“Tierney navigates us through a whole archipelago of word histories, in categories including pirates, surfer slang, and sea monsters. She writes with aplomb, extensive knowledge, and the occasional dash of droll humor.”

You’ll find all the buy links for it on my books page. Or just hop over to Amazon. Some readers have already been kind enough to let me know that they’ve enjoyed the book.

“The man who has everything certainly covers it but your book was a complete surprise and also a joy to him to receive.”

I’ve also setup a PayPal system for you to order signed books direct from me, if you’d prefer the personal touch, and don’t mind my terrible handwriting. If you’re interested, comment on this post with your email address or contact me.

Today I’ll be chatting on facebook and twitter about “Words The Sea Gave Us”, running a nautical word poll, and sharing snippets from the book, so if you’re about, please drop by. If you’d like to hear me read from “Words The Sea Gave Us” then check out the Bunny Trails podcast, episode 86.

Thank you to the blog readers and other friends who donated word and phrase suggestions for this book and whose names are in the book beside their words. Thank you to Peter Sheehan, Brendan Tierney, Nell Jenda, Rick Ellrod, Kimberly Sullivan, ZZNewell, Christine Byrne Carroll, Paul Powell, Rita Fitzsimons, Paddy “PJ” Callahan, IrishSmuggling, and Clíodna Johnston.

Don’t forget the Various Vessels download is available here on the blog to help you know your arks from your ketches.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Signed Wordfoolery Books

Hello,

When I released “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” I was surprised by how many people wanted to buy signed paperbacks. Naturally I was happy to help, although I still feel that anybody who wants me to write on their book clearly hasn’t seen my dreadful handwriting.

If you would like a signed copy of the book (either of the books, or both!) posted to you here’s what you need to do.

  1. Get in touch with me – email grace at gracetierney dot com / message me on facebook or twitter / comment on this blog post with your email address
  2. I’ll need a) what you’d like written. For example – my name / a message to a gift recipient / Ahoy! , b) your full name and address, c) which book(s) you want, d) payment in advance at PayPal
  3. The cost (including post & packaging) is –
    Ireland €14
    United Kingdom £15
    Europe €16
    Other countries available on request

I’ll send you a message when the parcel is dispatched.

Typically parcels from Ireland will arrive in Ireland in less than one week, UK in less than two weeks, Europe in less than two weeks, but books may take up to six weeks to reach US, Canada, Australia.

Thanks!

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

The Nautical Roots of Heave-Ho

Hello,

Are you ready for some nautical nonsense? Wonderful, welcome aboard!

This week Wordfoolery’s desk is awash with “book jobs”, apologies for it spilling over here with another nautical expression, heave ho. The end is in sight as I now have the official book launch date to announce – next Monday, the 31st of August. It will all be happening here on the blog and over on my twitter feed (@Wordfoolery) and you are all formally invited to join in as this blog is the reason this book exists. It will be a relief and joy to finally unleash “Words The Sea Gave Us” on the word lovers of the world.

You can <voice drops to a whisper> buy an ebook or paperback copy already as I did a sneaky “soft launch” to test the cover printing, but if you wait you’ll have the option of a signed paper copy direct from me to you (or to a friend with a gift inscription, of course). If you’d like to get on the list for that you can comment on this post or drop me a message.

In fact some of you lovely people had already bought and read the book. Thank you so much, it helps so much in the making the book visible and attractive to other readers!

Alright, enough about book launches, what about heave-ho?

Heave-Ho! {extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney}

Heave-Ho! is a common call in sea shanties but to understand what it means you have to explore the two parts individually.

Heave entered Old English as hebban from German, Dutch, and Old Norse roots all with the same meaning of lift or take up, but with a variety of different spellings. It was only in 1944 that heave took on the second meaning of a dismissal.

Ho is always an interjection of some sort. English has numerous version from gung-ho (see the Flying the Flag chapter) to heigh-ho and tally-ho. Using a series of ho-ho-ho to indicate laughter dates back to the 1100s, probably thanks to Saint Nicholas.

Ho used with a place name (for example, Westward-Ho) was used by boatmen to indicate departure for that place from the 1500s and ho would have been used solo from the 1300s to attract attention and demand silence, for example to stop chatter amongst the crew.

These two nautical versions of ho give us the clue for heave-ho – the call to work demanded the hands listen for the rhythmic call of when to lift or pull (for example a large sail, a new mast, a net full of fish, or the anchor). Each time the caller said Heave, they’d pull, then the Ho was the pause. The call was repeated, perhaps with the addition of a sea shanty for morale and team rhythm, until the task was completed.

In more recent land-based usage to get the heave-ho is to be dismissed from your work or relationship.

{end of extract}

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Listen to Wordfoolery on the Bunny Trails Podcast

Hello,

Last weekend I had a great chat with Dan and Shauna on the Bunny Trails podcast (a whimsical exploration of words and turns of phrase coming from Kansas, USA) all about my latest book “Words The Sea Gave Us”. I really enjoyed taking part in my first ever podcast session (despite a massive cargo ship full of nerves) and I hope you enjoy listening too. At the very least it offers you a chance to finally hear what I sound like! And yes, I know, I speak far too fast, call it an Irish thing.

You can read the transcript of the episode if you click the image below, listen to the audio here, or search for Bunny Trails wherever you usually pick up your podcasts. I’ve tried some of their back catalogue too and they are well worth a listen.

There won’t be a Monday blog post for the next two weeks as Wordfoolery and family are heading away (beside the sea, of course!) but I’ll be back on Monday the 17th of August with more strange and unusual English words.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

The Nautical Roots of Hot Pursuit

Hello,

For me the phrase “hot pursuit” is associated with crazy car chases, so I was surprised during the writing of “Words The Sea Gave Us” to discover it has nautical roots.

The perfect car for a hot pursuit

Hot Pursuit {extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney}

To be in hot pursuit of something is to make every effort to catch it. It’s commonly applied to road chases of criminals by the police, but the phrase started on the seas.

In the 1400s pursuit on the ocean blue came in two temperatures – hot or cold. Cold pursuit (or cold chase) was a ship hunting down another in international waters but without seeing the pursued ship. The hot pursuit was the same chase but this time with a quarry ship in sight.

Although not written into law, it was common custom that in such cases the pursuing ship could follow its prey into a country’s own waters to finish the job. Hot pursuit was only allowed if the chase could be proven to have begun in international waters and open seas. Otherwise it was a hostile act against that country.

{end of extract}

Cold pursuit has fallen by the wayside, but hot pursuit retained a similar meaning in car chases once the phrase moved ashore. The pursuing car can see its prey ahead, perhaps aided by helicopter support.

Unfortunately today I’m in cold pursuit of a new book launch date for “Words The Sea Gave Us”. As planned, the ebook editions for Kindle, Kobo, and Apple Books went live this morning and I’ve already had some lovely feedback from readers who pre-ordered their copies, but the paperback launch which was supposed to happen today hit a very unexpected last minute snag with the printers and the earliest it will be resolved is the 24th of July. Rather than confuse people I’m pausing the paperback launch until I can be 100% sure of it. I’ll announce the new launch day here as soon as I have it. I’ve also devised a way to get signed paperback copies to those who’d like them – watch this space.

Sincere apologies to anybody who was waiting to buy the paperback. Trust me, you’re not half as disappointed as I am.

In good news, however, I’ve been delighted with the response to advance review copies and hope to announce some fun Wordfoolery events here soon, including my first ever podcast appearance!

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Over a Barrel

Hello,

With only one week left of pre-ordering on my new book “Words The Sea Gave Us” I’m getting excited about launch day (13th July). This week’s word is the phrase “over a barrel” and it’s a nautical phrase with two possible shipboard roots.

Over a Barrel {extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2020}

To have somebody over a barrel is to have the upper hand as they are rendered helpless.

There are two excellent reasons to put somebody over a barrel in a seafaring context. Either could be the source of this phrase which only entered printed English in 1938, but may have been around earlier.

The first option is to stretch a naughty sailor over the barrel before bringing out the cat o’ nine tails (see the Tight Ship chapter).

The second, more likely and equally helpless option, is the common method of reviving somebody who’d nearly drowned. The unfortunate soul was placed face down over the barrel which was then rolled back and forth vigorously to drain the seawater from their lungs and hopefully jolt them back into breathing. It’s unknown how often the over the barrel idea succeeded.

Barrel, despite being a very common item for centuries, has unknown origins. It was present by the 1300s in several European languages in various spellings, but the source hasn’t been found although barriclus in Medieval Latin is a good candidate.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Cover Reveal of “Words The Sea Gave Us”

Hello,

Today pre-orders open on my new word history book – “Words The Sea Gave Us” (Amazon Kindle edition link) – and I’m very happy to reveal the cover here on the blog that inspired the book series. Drum roll please…

What do you think? It’s been designed by Peter Sheehan again and I absolutely love it. My hope is that each of the Words books will be in a different colour so a shelf of them will look stunning. All I have to do is write a few more them, gulp.

What’s it about?

“Words The Sea Gave Us” is a light-hearted look at the words the English dictionary borrowed from the sea. From baggywinkle and gollywobbler to tempest and flotsam, the sea in all her moods has given a boatload of words to the English language throughout history. This book explores their origins along with a cargo of old sailor’s yarns. Cast your line for the salty history of skyscraper, mollgogger, strike, cyber, and phrases like getting hitched, red herring, hot pursuit, and taking them down a peg.

More than 370 words and phrases are featured from “above board” to yardarm – drawn from parts of a ship, sail names, crew titles, surfer slang, marine monsters, nautical navigation, flying the flag, and of course, how to talk like a scurvy pirate. Throw in some sea fables, fashions, and weather and you’re ready to set sail. Previous nautical experience not required.

The book is ideal for word geeks, sailors, and beachcombers.

What’s a pre-order?

The idea is that you order a copy of the ebook edition (for a paperback and library editions you’ll have to wait until Launch Day, the 13th of July) and it’s delivered to your ebook reader on launch day. The book is currently available to pre-order on kindle, Apple Books, and Kobo. Apparently pre-ordering books helps their sales ranking. I just like having books pop up on my ebook app.

Do You Review Books? Are Open to Guest posts on your Blog?

If so, please get in touch (@Wordfoolery on Twitter is easiest, or comment below). I discovered when promoting my first word book (“How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” – all about eponyms and the amazing people who gave them to the English language) that it is really tricky to get non-fiction books reviewed so if you do it, or you know somebody, let me know. I can provide review copies. Even just a sentence or two on Amazon can really help – don’t feel you have to write a massive book report!

When Will the Book Launch?

13th of July 2020. I can’t wait. Watch this space for details. The launch will be entirely online so you can all join in.

Would you like Free Sample?

Firstly, there’s a new page on the blog here – Downloads. I’ve created a free nautical download, called Various Vessels, all about ship names for those who don’t know their ketch from their dhow. Here’s also a little snippet from the book, a preview before launch day.

Junk (extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney copyright 2020)

A junk is a flat bottomed sailing boat from the Far East. She has no keel, a high stern, and her rudder can be raised or lowered. The two or three masts carry battened square sails which used to be made from bamboo, rattan, or woven grass. Easy to steer and good at sea, the junk was the vessel of choice for Far Eastern pirates for centuries.

The word junk for this type of ship entered English in the late 1500s from the Portuguese word junco, but originally from the Malay word jong or djong (large boat).

The word junk which is now used to describe rubbish also comes from the sea, but not from the eastern sailing ship. Junk entered English spelled as junke in the 1300s to describe the oddments of rope which were used to caulk gaps in the boat’s planking. That type of junk came from Old French junc (rush or reed) for something of little value and originally from Latin iuncus (reed).

By the 1660s junk described refuse from boats and by 1884 it referred to rubbish of any kind, but usually with an implication of being re-used later. The original junk shop was actually called a marine shop in 1800, a place for selling items discarded from a ship. This later gave us junk art (1961), junk food (1971), and a surprisingly early dictionary entry for junk mail (1954).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

p.p.s. “Words the Sea Gave Us” is my most recent book, but you’ll find details of all my books (nonfiction and serialised novels) and where to read them on the Books Page.

Slumgullion

Hello,

This week’s word is slumgullion. This one has been on my “to write about” list for a while because it looked like fun. I didn’t even know what it meant.

Thanks to Merriam Webster (and the audio pronunciation is available there too) for the definition. Slumgullion is a meat stew. Other dictionaries add that this one is an informal (a.k.a. slang) American English word, which probably explains why I hadn’t heard of it. Also they note slumgullion isn’t filled with the most expensive cuts of meat.

Finding a definitive recipe for a stew which was created when the cook needed to use whatever he or she could lay their hands on is a tricky prospect. Most of the modern recipes suggest using minced beef, various chopped vegetables, plus stock and perhaps tinned tomatoes. The Shared Tastes blog explored the older recipes and even includes one using moose meat (not common in my local shop here in Ireland). Various references to slumgullion in literature associate it with the whaling ships and pirates so it might be the stew cousin to my favourite historic seafaring dish, salmagundi. Either way, if you fancy cooking a pot of slumgullion, you can pretty much invent your own version.

Slumgullion was probably a word created by compounding slum and gullion around the 1840s. Slum in this case had nothing to do with urban ghettos. It was an Old English word for slime. Gullion was a dialect word for mud or a cesspool. It may have reached English from Scots, or Irish where the word goilín means a pit or pool.

Slumgullion may have started on whaling ships. One of the earliest print usages was spelled as slobgullion in “Moby Dick” to describe the watery gloop which drains from whale blubber, and perhaps reminded sailors of particularly poor stew in the galley. The word appears to have moved with the sailors to the mines during the Californian Gold Rush to describe the muddy sludge at a mining sluice. The use to describe a stew dates to the 1870s.

According to “The Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” (Eric Partridge) there’s even a related word – a slubberdegullion who is a dirty slobbering fellow. Perhaps such a character created the first stew?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Note: this post contains affiliate links – if you purchase through them, a small fee goes to this blog to help running costs. Thank you.