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Hello,

This week’s word is influenza. Thankfully my family have avoided this year’s virus to date but the news is warning us to be careful. The schools are spreading the word on good anti-flu hygiene, our church has cancelled certain activities to limit contagion, and I know people with suppressed immune systems who are living a hermit existence to avoid it. Influenza is no joke and the strain this year is hardest on youngsters under the age of 15. I’m watching my offspring closely.

Ready to Flight the Flu

Influenza is an Italian gift to the English language. It was used in Italian to describe diseases from the 1500s but not always for the flu. Scarlet fever, for example, was seen as an influenza. The word had roots in influence. The influence in this case was an occult one. The stars and planets in the sky were blamed for invisibly creating such fevers in humans as early as medieval Latin and the word influentia which meant “flowing in” and is related to fluent speech or being under the influence of drink.

Then in 1743 an influenza outbreak began in Italy and the word made it to English shores.

It’s not hard to see why a society unaware of viruses might look to the stars for an explanation of a disease which appeared from nowhere. It surprised me to discover the virus was only discovered in pigs in 1931 by Richard Shope.

Until next time healthy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. my writing plans for 2018 include – publishing “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary” (inspired by this blog), completing serial publication of “Hamster Stew & Other Stories” and launching the sequel “Nit Roast & Other Stories”, revision & submission of “Red Sails” (my middle grade book), ongoing blogging, column-writing, articles and, of course, my annual NaNoWriMo adventure. How about you – any cool plans for this year?

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Hello,

This week I’m taking a brief look at brevity which is a key tool in any writer’s toolbox. I once had a staff job for the Good Book Guide where I reviewed books in a short paragraph. It was vital training in how difficult it is to use one words when you could use ten. Mark Twain was right when he claimed “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”.

Anybody who writes flash fiction or haiku will be familiar with the difficulty of brevity. Shakespeare understood. He has Polonius, a notoriously wordy character in Hamlet, declare that “Brevity is the soul of wit”.

Brevity entered English in the late 1400s and means shortness in speech or writing. It arrived there from Latin where brevis means short or brief. Before England brevis travelled from Rome to France as brievete meaning brevity – although it looks more like a vet for brie cheese in my opinion. Unlike many words with hundreds of years of use, brevity moved between languages with little change and has retained its meaning to modern times.

Brevity is something I shall be avoiding next month as I dive into my annual NaNoWriMo adventure. The challenge is to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days so excess words are encouraged. I’ll be mentoring the writers in my region (Ireland North East) as usual, running writing events, and writing my own novel too. I’ll let you know how it’s going. Are any of you taking the NaNo challenge this year?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

Wordfoolery was on holidays last week and that means one thing – reading. I came across fustilug as an insult in “Closed Casket” by Sophie Hannah. She was writing in the voice of Agatha Christie and continuing the detecting work of the egg-headed Hercule Poirot but she sent me to my dictionary.

A fustilug is an obsolete word for a fat, gross, or frowzy person, especially a woman – according to The Collins Dictionary.

Hannah’s fustilug was male so feel free to insult anybody with it. Chances are they won’t know what you’re talking about, a definite upside of using old-fashioned invective.

Lug is a dialect term in British English for an ear and fusty can mean smelly, so the origin may lie with somebody with smelly ears although the mind boggles at how you could have smelly ears. Grubby, I grant you, but ear wax doesn’t smell, does it?

Wordsmith came to my aid. Fusty is a Middle English term for smelly or mouldy and lug in this case is used in the verb sense of carrying something heavy. They date fustilug’s first documented use to 1607 so I am very tempted to use it in my 1588 story “Ready for the Storm”.

Opening email after my holidays (I relish leaving email at home) I got the lovely news that Wordfoolery has been longlisted by the 2017 V by Very Blog Awards Ireland in the Books & Lit category along 19 others, including TaraSparling, Bleach House Library, and WordHerding. I’m delighted to be in such good company.

 

It inspired me to brush up the blog a little – a new tagline and my publications list has its own page finally. You may also notice a book cover on the sidebar. It’s not my eponym book “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary”, sorry. It will be published later this year.

No, it’s my first ever serialised novel. When Channillo asked me to pitch for their subscription reading platform, I suggested “Hamster Stew & Other Stories”. It launched with its free first installment on Wednesday. I’ll be adding new installments of Trish McTaggart’s chaotic family life every Wednesday.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. welcome to our recent subscribers – feel free to suggest a word – all feedback welcome

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Hello,

Today’s word is an expression – “pulling the wool over their eyes” which means to deceive someone. I came across it in “Sticklers, Sideburns and Bikinis” by Graeme Donald, a fun little word book if you’re in the mood for such things.

In 17th and 18th century England the gentry cropped their own hair and wore elaborate powdered wigs made of wool instead. The habit spread to North America around the same period. This meant that during a duel your opponent might pull your wool wig down over your eyes, thus giving themselves an advantage.

The first known use of the phrase was in a 1839 American publication which suggests the wigs may have been those worn by lawyers and judges in courtrooms at that date. Thus a clever, or lucky, lawyer might pull the wool over the eyes of the presiding judge.

I prefer the dueling explanation because it’s more dramatic.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and don’t let anybody pull the wool over your eyes,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve just finished participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. Despite changing projects twice this month, I managed to win and made a strong start on two writing projects – book editing, and a first draft. It’s a great way to keep your writing on track during the holiday/vacation season.

 

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Hello,

I bet you know the expression “under the aegis of”. For example “The negotiations for a settlement in the dispute took place under the aegis of the Conflict Resolution Board”. We know it means the discussions were under the protection and guidance of that board.

But what exactly is an aegis (pronunciation here) and how did it enter English?

This is one we can blame on the Greeks, those pesky ancients practically wrote the first English dictionary, but at least we have a very clear idea of what an aegis (also spelled egis) is. It’s a shield, specifically the shield of Zeus or Athena. It’s made of goatskin (not gold or bronze, most surprising) and at its centre is the head of a gorgon.

The word aegis entered English in the late 1600s, via Latin. The aeg part was originally aig or aix, meaning “related to a goat” and the –is suffix tells us it was a type of shield. If you were under the aegis of Zeus or Athena you were in a very safe place indeed.

Now I think I’d prefer a metal shield to one made of goat’s hide but I must admit that the addition of a Gorgon’s head does give you the luxury upgrade. The gorgons were three sisters who Greek legends tell us lived in the west, near the setting sun. They all had snakes instead of hair, which must have made a visit to the hairdressers a real nightmare.

They were named Stheno (the strong), Euryale (the wide leaping), and Medusa (ruler or queen). The only one you’ve heard of will be Medusa. She’s the one whose very look would turn you to stone. I can see how having her head affixed to my shield would give a certain edge in battle.

The next time a dry news report tells you about some event being under the aegis of a person or organisation, remember that if you mess with them they may turn their deadly shield against you. Even Captain America would be jealous of that bit of kit.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)

p.s. If you’re curious my adventures in CampNaNo this July have been productive so far despite external circumstances forcing me to change my project, twice. The DS is still chipping away at his story too, very proud of him.

 

 

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Hello,

Earlier this week I created the index for my eponym book, a thrilling task as I’m sure you can imagine. It got me thinking about the word itself. Clearly it has some Latin roots going on, but where exactly do we get index from?

index-finger

The word in means “towards” in Latin and an index does point us towards information so that makes sense and also links it to the index (or pointer) finger.

It expands to indic- as prefix (still in Latin) to mean “forefinger or sign”. That combines with either dicere or dicare to give us index. Dicere means “to say” and dicare means “to make known”. Taken together that gives us index as meaning “to point the way and to make known”, that’s pretty good fit for the modern use of the word, or finger.

Index reached middle English by the early 1400s and has retained its meaning since although an index will mean different thing to people working in different fields. An index is vital in databases, for example, where it points to the data. They are part of scientific instruments. We have a price index in economics and sadly an index of forbidden books within religious history. The interesting thing is that index in all these cases has the same core meaning – it’s a way to point out the relevant information. Most words I explore here change over a 600 year history, but index is still pointing the way.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

 

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Hello,

This week’s word is a phrase, suggested to me by friend-of-the-blog, Noelle.

“Heavens to Murgatroyd!” is an exclamation of surprise, particularly in American English, and it was a new one to me although I had heard heavens to Betsy (same usage) a few times. Unfortunately it appears that Murgatroyd and Betsy aren’t real people but I am very tempted to put a character called Betsy Murgatroyd in my next story. Perhaps her inclusion can be a dare for NaNoWriMo 2016 in my region?

The excellent Phrase Finder, a long-time favourite of mine, has investigated the phrase thoroughly and tells us that Heavens to Murgatroyd dates from the mid 20th century thanks to a pink character called Snagglepuss on the Yogi Bear cartoon in the 1960s. You can see him do the line in this YouTube snippet.

The phrase predates the cartoon slightly thanks to a movie called “Meet the People” and the screenwriters for that were Gilbert and Sullivan fans likely to have chosen Murgatroyd thanks to the plethora of ghostly Sir Murgatroyds in one of their comic operas.

At this point nobody can be sure of where Murgatroyd came from, but what is certain is that he was a surprising fellow.

As for Betsy, although she pre-dates Murgatroyd to about 1880, nobody is sure about her either. Sometimes words and phrases must remain mysteries.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

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