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Hello,

Along with a passion for words, I also enjoy foraging. There’s something satisfying about finding local plants and using them in old recipes. Last weekend, for example, I took a walk to gather elder flowers and bottled up some elder flower cordial. I’m far from expert and take great care to pick sustainably and with careful identification, but with help from a handful of good books on the topic I’ve been expanding my hedgerow harvest from simple blackberrying to blackberry and apple jam, crab apple whiskey, and wild garlic pesto. Pinterest is a good starting place for information, if you’d like to try it yourself.

Beware of nettles

When I was walking back with my elder flowers I passed a large clump of nettles and remembered a strange fact about them from “Foraging” by John Lewis-Stempel – “In Scotland, the natives made cloth from nettles as late as the 18th century”.

Nettle’s word history ties in with the idea of cloth. Nettle entered English from Old English netele which in turn came from Old Saxon netila and related words netele (Middle Dutch), netel (Dutch), Nessel (German), and naedlae (Danish). All of these terms come from the root ned which means “to tie or bind”.

Twisted fibres used to bind are but a short hop to cloth via a loom and it wasn’t just done in Scotland. I recently read Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales (for my ongoing quest to read the entire 501 Books list) and in one of them (The Wild Swans) a princess must knit nettle shirts to save her brothers from an evil queen. She suffers terribly during her task due to nettle stings.

The history of nettle cloth is well documented elsewhere online, if you’re curious, and dates back to 3000 B.C.. Nettle cloth, or ramie, which is like linen was widely used worldwide even during World War II, even next to the skin.

To nettle someone is a more recent verb use of the word. It means to irritate or provoke someone and is from the 1560s. I imagine touching a stinging nettle would provoke you alright.

If you’re unfortunate enough to be nettle stung I do have one piece of advice based on a foraging talk I attended a few years ago. The charming expert began with a demonstration of how to handle nettle stings. He was scathing on the common misconception that dock leaves help. They don’t and I can vouch for that from my own childhood. At best the application of dock (also called burdock) leaves makes you feel a little better as a distraction/attention thing.

Dock – pointless for nettle stings

He introduced us to another plant, smaller leaved than dock, which generally grows on the edges of paths worn through grassland – plantain (plantago major). Apparently it was called whitefoot by native Americans as it grew where the colonists walked. It has strong anti-histamine properties and is well known for this in some countries and totally unknown in others which is a shame. He demonstrated with sheer bravado, holding a fistful of nettles for a minute, showing us his red, welted hand (to groans from his audience), and then rubbing the welts with dampened, crushed plantain leaves. In half a minute the welts and pain were gone.

 

Plantain – try it on nettle stings

I’ve yet to try this myself but I spread the word and both my children have helped stung friends with good effect.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. Stay away from those nettles, unless you’re making nettle soup.

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is bewilder. Modern usage of the word is for mental confusion. The female shopper was bewildered by the vast choice of shoes available in the store, for example, but its origins are more physical than mental.

Samuel Johnson, that dictionary-compiling hero, defined bewilder as “to lose in pathless places, to confound for want of a plain road”. Anybody who has ever had a trail peter out to nothing when hiking in unknown countryside can empathise with this experience. Yes, a map and a compass (plus the skills to use them) will get you safely home, but there’s a moment of worry nonetheless. Will you have to slog through a bog to reach your starting point? Is it getting dark yet? Is everybody in your group able to handle off-trail hiking?

A sign in the pathless places

Wilderness is increasingly rare in this world. The “pathless places” are fewer than they were in Johnson’s day. I suspect most of the new frontiers are under oceans rather than up hills.

Bewilder comes from another verb, one almost as rare as true wilderness now – wilder. Wilder means “to lose one’s way, as in a wild or unknown place” and it was first used in 1613. I love the idea of saying one morning “I’m going wildering today. I may see you this evening, or possibly not, if I become bewildered.”

 

Of course both wilder and bewilder come originally from wild, which has German roots and is linked to the word for woodland so perhaps the original wilderness was a trackless forest, truly a disorienting and hard to navigate space, rather than the wide open plains or uplands we think of today in a world which has lost many of its ancient forests. It is hard to imagine my own country covered in trees, but the truth is that 400 years ago we Irish clustered in towns around the coast, connected by sea and rivers, for the simple reason that walking or riding through the woodlands was a sure way to become bewildered.

Not quite a trackless forest

Wildering can be scary but rewarding. Have fun in the pathless places, physical or mental, this week,

@Wordfoolery (a.k.a. Grace)

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Hello,

Last Thursday I attended my first ever award ceremony so I’m skipping the word-fooling today and giving you the inside scoop on the V by Very Irish Blog Awards 2017. I’ll be back with more unusual words next week, don’t fret.

The awards had a theme of Movie Icons and funnily enough I don’t have a Monroe dress or a touch of Tiffany in my wardrobe so I tried to think of something linked to books as words and books are what I do. Sherlock Holmes is the most filmed fictional character ever, so that seemed appropriate. He’s on my mind at the moment anyhow because of  CSI-themed event I’m planning for next year.

Mercifully Amazon came up trumps with a deerstalker hat and pipe in a hurry.

I traveled to Dublin and met up with my writing friend and wordfoolery reader Noelle Ameijenda who had donned her best Science Officer garb from “Star Trek” for the event. We couldn’t miss the venue as it had a huge billboard sign above the entrance announcing the event.

Very glam, we thought, and it was backed up by the professional photographer inside taking everybody’s photos. Unfortunately we never laid our hands on the pic of the two of us together so you’ll have to make do with my increasingly wobbly photos from the night. That had nothing to do with the free bubbly, honest.

First stop, after the cloakroom, was the Green Room where we picked up a drink and enjoyed meeting some of the movie cut-outs they’d scattered around the room. I never got time to get a selfie with Chewbacca or Audrey Hepburn but we did meet Two Storm Troopers on their Night Off, a.k.a. the BlabbaTheHutt podcasters and bloggers of all things Star Wars.

The force was strong in them and they were loving the Star Wars cutouts in the room, of course. Next stop was some lovely food from KC Peaches and grabbing the last seats in the room for the start of the awards ceremony itself which was hosted by the Lords of Strut. These two lads from Cork have to be seen to be believed. Their acrobatic antics and posing was top notch, if a little bizarre at times. Their stylist should be shot, but I imagine that’s the point and they certainly knew how to get the room engaged in a very long list of finalists and awards that might otherwise have dragged.

Wordfoolery was a finalist in two categories and one was the first to be announced – Arts & Culture. The award went to Luwd Media (personal) – a film & tv blog and Writing.ie (corporate) – a well-known advice hub for writers. Able to relax now, I settled back and we chatted with the Film in Dublin blog team beside us. They run a site about all things film (reviews, festivals, special events) in the Dublin area. We appeared to be on the “lucky” balcony as loads of people rushed from their seats to collect their shiny gold letter b-shaped awards from the stage.

The halfway break saw us topping up the drinks and losing our seats in the process so we perched beside Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader on the main floor for the second half of the awards. It was a family reunion type thing.

We reached the Books & Literature category and I got to see Wordfoolery’s name up in lights.

For some reason that was super exciting and I didn’t mind a bit when Gobblefunked (personal) won the category as it’s a great blog about kids books and then Ballyronan Reads (librarians recommending books – what’s not to like?) won the corporate category with silver to the O’Brien Press blog. With competition like that I was happy to be amongst the finalists.

Congratulations to all the winners. It was wonderful to see how enthusiastic the blogging community in Ireland is and I wasn’t a bit surprised to find out how friendly too. Thanks again to Noelle for coming along, I’m very jealous of your costume!

The night was moving on to clubbing but it was a school-night so we grabbed our goodie bags and Sherlock left the building.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’m always curious about what people get in the goodie bags. So here you go, the full loot –

Pipe and hat – model’s own!

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Hello,

Did you know that despite democracy coming from ancient Greece, the word ballot comes from Italy?

Ballot (pronunciation here) has a multitude of uses in modern English as both noun and verb but all are related to voting.

Early American ballot box with ballottas used by a social club called The Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia (source Wikipedia)

Ballot began life in Venice, probably with the Italian word pallotte which means “little ball” because they used small balls as counters in secret votes. The word gradually changed to ballotta and transferred to Middle French as ballotte and finally to English by the 1540s as ballot.

Before it even reached English the balls had been replaced in most cases by small slips of paper but balls were still used in certain contexts. One such context is where a club’s rules say that even one nay-vote is sufficient to defeat a proposal. A nay is indicated by a black ball and an aye is indicated by a white ball. Using a ballot box such as the one above (combined with a covering cloth) enabled all to vote and the result to be see instantly. This practice led to the idea of black-balling, typically to exclude a possible new member who didn’t fit the existing ethos of the club.

Curiosity led me to the website for the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia. They’re still going strong and if you’re over 40 and a long standing resident of the area you can apply to join. They still vote on memberships but they don’t mention the balloting method.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ll be attending the V by Very Irish Blog Awards in Dublin this week as Wordfoolery made the finals. If you’re there too be sure to say hello. I’ll be the one in the Sherlock hat.

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Hello,

This week’s word is lethologica (pronunciation here) and according to the Oxford English Dictionary it’s a rare word for the inability to remember a particular word or name. Unless you’re one of those blessed people with perfect recall for names of those they’ve met previously, I am sure you’re grappled for a name at some point. I used to try and bluff my way out or avoid the name entirely but having been on the receiving end of that approach, it doesn’t work. Now I admit my fuzziness and ask for a reminder.

Being unable to retrieve a particular word from the memory vaults can hit even a word nerd like myself and can be frustrating so I was delighted to discover there’s a term for this struggle. Lethologica is a relatively recent addition to the English language, possibly coined by Carl Jung and first seen c. 1915. It’s formed by joining two Greek words – lethe which means forgetfulness and logos which means word.

In Greek mythology the River Lethe, also known at the River of Oblivion, ran through the underworld. The souls of the dead drank from it to forget their earthly memories. The goddess of forgetfulness, also called Lethe, supervised this process.

The other four rivers were the Styx or River of Hatred which ringed Hades seven times, the Acheron or River of Pain which is the one the ferryman Charon crossed with the souls, the Phelegethon or River of Fire leading to Tartarus, and the Cocytus or River of Wailing where souls not buried properly were abandoned. Interestingly the Acheron is a real river in Greece.

So the next you’re struggling to name a person or find the perfect word, try distracting your friends with the history of lethologica instead.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and what was that word again – oh yes – wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’m delighted to announce that Wordfoolery has made it to the shortlist in the 2017 V by Very Irish Blog Awards in two categories – Arts & Culture and Books & Literature.

 

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Hello,

Today’s word is zodiac because it has a surprising link to zoology. I found this recently when researching star-gazing. My DH very kindly gave me a telescope for my birthday (last year) and I’m educating myself a little before I take it down a dark lane on a clear night for a test run. The guide I’m using informed me that zodiac and zoo are related words.

The excellent Online Etymology Dictionary added that zodiac is a late 1300s addition to English from the Old French word zodiaque which in turn came from Latin zodiacus and Greek zodiakos which literally translates as circle of little animals.

The astrology enthusiasts amongst you will point out one of the twelve original constellations was not an animal. I’ll pause now and insert a jigsaw I made recently while readers try to remember which one isn’t an animal.

If you said Libra, then you’re right (it’s scales, in case you’re wondering).

However the Greeks were still right about the circle of animals. They only had eleven constellations. Libra was originally the claws of what we now call Scorpio. The Romans split that double constellation and gave us Libra.

Some of you may recall that in 2011 a thirteenth constellation was added to astrology. In fact nothing was added, unless you want to. There are at least 88 constellations in the sky as seen from Earth but this 13th one is a strong contender for inclusion in astrological charts. It’s called Ophiuchus (or the Snake Bearer) and fits between Scorpio and Sagittarius (30 November and 18 December). As a snake, it fits into the zoologically themed zodiac nicely.

Perhaps in another few years we’ll add in another constellation, for fun.

Until next time happy reading, writing, wordfooling, and star-gazing,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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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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