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Hello,

This week’s word is macabre. I probably should have written about this at Halloween but I forgot amidst the excitement of pumpkin carving and costumed children. Don’t fret, I still have eldritch up my sleeve for Halloween 2019.

Plague doctor’s outfit displayed in Rothe House, Kilkenny, Ireland

Macabre (pronunciation here) is a wonderful word to describe anything gruesome, particularly if associated with death. Macabre with this meaning is in English from the late 1880s but it was used in English long before that and has a rather ancient origin.

To find its roots you need to go back to Old French where you had a danse macabré from the late 1300s. This dance of death was a type of morality play depicting Death and his victims dancing behind him. By the 1500s the performance and term had spread to English as Macabrees daunce.

Where the macabré part of the phrase came from is somewhat disputed. It may have been somebody’s surname but many believe it is a reference to the slaughter and martyrdom of the Maccabees in the apocryphal books of the Bible. The Maccabees led a successful revolt to re-establish Jewish worship at the temple in Jerusalem which is celebrated during Hanukkah. Later some of them were martyred for refusing to sacrifice their Jewish faith. They are now venerated as martyrs in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox faiths. It is these martyrs who were supposed to be depicted in the danse macabré, to inspire the faithful presumably.

If you’re curious about the rather macabre outfit pictured you may be interested to know that it’s a recreation of a plague doctor’s outfit from Tudor times and is on display in the excellent Rothe House in Kilkenny, a rare and beautiful 1600s Irish merchant’s house complete with period correct gardens.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

If you enjoyed this post, why not check out Wordfoolery’s book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictonary”? It tells the life stories of more than 200 villains, inventors, and fashion icons who gave their names as eponyms to the English language. Everybody from Guillotine to Molotov is included. Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK as paperback or kindle and also on Kobo and Apple books. (affiliate links)

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Hello,

This is a bonus post, please forgive me for the lack of unusual words. I’ll be back on Monday with my English oddments.

As you might guess, I read compulsively across many genres, fiction, and non. I’ve taken a look back at my reading during 2018 (with thanks to my Goodreads account) and here are thirteen of my favourite books of the year. They’re not all recent releases, as books often wait in my Towering To Be Read Pile for a while and because I’m still working my way through the 501 Books to Read Before You Die List. If you got a book voucher for Christmas I’d recommend any of these books. If you order through the links provided below a tiny fee is paid towards supporting this blog.

If you’re not a reader or prefer posts about unusual words, don’t worry normal service will resume tomorrow.

Thank you.

They’re listed in random order. I can’t rank books, I love them too much.

 

The Complete Peanuts, Vol 5, 1959-1960 – Charles M. Schulz

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Comic strips, including the introduction of Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally, and Snoopy’s impressions of a fierce mountain lion. Hardback series.

 

The Diary of a BooksellerThe Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Funny, sarcastic, and touching. A true account of a year in the life of the owner of a small second-hand bookshop in Scotland.

 

Bryant & May - Wild Chamber: (Bryant & May Book 15)Wild Chamber – Christopher Fowler

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

If you love London, or history, or humour and you haven’t read any Bryant & May detective stories yet – you are in for a treat. Frequently provides unusual words for this blog. I read four others this year and they were all excellent. Series.

 

Arsenic for Tea – Robin Stevens

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

A children’s book (I borrowed from my daughter) but easily one of the best detective books I read this year. Agatha Christie, for kids, in a boarding school in the 1930s. Series.

 

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle Book 1)Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Fantasy about a girl training to be a magical assassin to avenge her family. If you thought Snape was bad, check out the potions teacher here who poisons the entire class before their first class, and really doesn’t care how many of them survive. Witty, clever, brutal. Brilliant.

 

1848406363On This Day – Vol 2 – Myles Dungan

Amazon.co.uk only

Collection of pieces, mostly about Irish history, first broadcast on radio. Dungan has a great tone and although I knew some of the stories already, he tells them well.

 

 

0008150109The Things I Should Have Told You – Carmel Harrington

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

I love chick-lit, rom-coms, and women’s fiction. In this story about a family reconnecting on a road-trip across Europe in a camper van, Harrington proves she can do it, and do it well.

 

 

0141439939The Diary of Samuel Pepys – Samuel Pepys

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

One from my 501 list – Pepys lived through plague, the restoration of Charles II, and the Great Fire of London.

 

 

1101988665The Masked City – Genevieve Cogman

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

A magical library connected to all libraries on all worlds across space and time. Just add librarians who are nearly immortal and can work magic with words to fight dragons and faeries. Series.

 

 

031620689XThe Silkworm – Robert Galbraith (JR Rowling)

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

The Cormoran Strike detective novels are enjoyable, intelligent, and feature one of the best detective pairs ever. No wizards. Series.

 

 

1455524174Two Kinds of Truth – Michael Connelly

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

The 20th Harry Bosch novel and Connelly is still hitting the high notes. Bosch is my favourite American policeman, even now that he’s retired. Series.

 

 

0440217563Voyager – Diana Gabaldon

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Gabaldon’s historic fiction (with a dash of time-travel & romance) Outlander series (now an excellent TV series) is a regular re-read of mine featuring the best depiction of a married, loving, couple I’ve ever read. Perfectly researched. From Scotland during Bonnie Prince Charlie’s uprising to revolutionary America the story sweeps you along and the characters become family. Her books frequently inspire words for this blog. Series.

How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary – Grace Tierney

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Apple Books / Kobo

Inspired by this blog, a fun journey through the lives of the people who gave their name to the English language. From apgar to zeppelin with stops for casanova, guillotine, sandwich, and cardigan, each one of them lived an extraordinary life. Packed with wordy trivia and perfect for history buffs.

 

Happy reading in 2019,

Grace (@wordfoolery)

 

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Hello,

Regular wordfools will know that I take part in National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) every November. In fact, I take the whole “write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days” challenge to the next level by also mentoring a region (Ireland North East) as a volunteer municipal liaison at the same time. This explains why this morning over breakfast I was checking how many writers I have (33) and how many have started writing (18), before opening my own draft of “Words The Sea Gave Us” and disappearing into maritime research.

Yes, I’m writing another book about words, the first of a series. This one delves into the many wonderful words the sea has given us. I mean who can fail to love galoot, gollywobbler, or scuttlebutt?

So this week I have an example from my book-in-progress – bosun.

The bosun is the officer whose job it is to look after the ship and its equipment. On a merchant ship this is the petty officer in charge of hull maintenance and related work, while in the navy the bosun is a warrant officer in charge of the hull and all related equipment.

The bosun is typically an experienced sailor and supervises the deck crew.

Although bosun appears to be a rather unusual word, it’s just boatswain with funny nautical spelling, and boatswain is a simple compound word of boat and swain. Swain means servant and comes from the Old Norse word sveinn which was a boy servant.

The bosun has the privilege of carrying a special silver bosun’s whistle which they use to call the hands to their duties. Because of the whistle’s high pitch its call could be heard even during high winds. Various commands were indicated by different notes, or combinations of notes – haul, away boats, all hands on deck, pipe down, carry on, etc.

When an important visitor, or the captain, boarded the ship the bosun would use his whistle to alert the crew. This tradition, called manning the side, grew from the bosun’s need to call crew to hoist visitors up the side of the vessel when weather was too rough for ladders.

The visitor would be hauled up, above crashing waves, in a bosun’s chair. Modern bosun’s chairs are similar to equipment used in rock climbing, complete with safety harnesses, clips and additional lines etc. but the original versions were improvised with a short plank or canvas for a seat and some clever knot-work by the sailors so the person could be pulled aboard from a smaller boat bobbing on the waves below. Bosun’s chairs are still used today in ship painting, sea rescues, and window cleaning.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. Good luck to any of you trying out NaNoWriMo,

Grace (@Wordfoolery) “Words The Sea Gave Us” – 8,084 words and counting

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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,

This week, after a wonderful weekend in Galway that included a little Lynch research on the side, it’s time to revisit the origin of the word lynch (explored in a 2014 post). This is an extract from my forthcoming non-fiction paperback and ebook “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” which rambles through the fascinating life stories of those who gave their names to the English language via eponyms.

(extract from “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” by Grace Tierney, c. 2018)

Lynch family crest, medieval stone carving, St. Nicolas’ church, Galway

The Irish origin of this word is somewhat questionable, but I suspect it has Irish roots somewhere, if only because Lynch is a common Irish surname.

Most of us know that to lynch someone is to punish them, typically by hanging, without the benefit of due legal process. The real mystery lies in working out who was the original Lynch.

The Irish claim to the word is based in Galway city. The story goes that in 1493 James Lynch Fitzstephen, the mayor of Galway, strung up his own son from the upstairs window of his house for murdering a young Spanish man over a romantic rivalry. There’s even a plaque at the window which you can see in Galway.

It’s a dramatic story and a great one for tourists but almost certainly false because the term didn’t gain usage for another 300 years. In fact the window with the plaque doesn’t even date from the correct period and is no longer in the original Lynch house.

Lynch Castle, Galway (now a bank)

 

A variation of the story is that the Lynch son embezzled money from his father’s merchant business overseas and covered it by throwing a Spaniard overboard on his return trip. A sailor denounced him on his death bed and his father, a local judge (and first mayor of Galway), condemned him to death. When the public gathered to prevent the hanging the father took matters into his own hands and hung his son from the house’s window.

The tomb of James Lynch, first mayor of Galway in St. Nicolas medieval church

It’s only fair to point out that second version does include a trial, although one wonders how fair it was.

The much more likely source for lynching (although nobody is 100% certain) is an American Quaker Charles Lynch (1736-1796), a planter in Virginia who held an irregular court to imprison loyalist supporters of Britain during the American War of Independence. Charles later got Lynch’s Law passed to excuse him from wrong-doing because it was war-time, a clever move.

The controversy around Lynch’s Law brought the word into common usage to indicate anything done without due legal process.

Although lynching later came to be associated with racial issues, Charles was known to be colour blind in his judgments.

Inhabitants of Lynchburg, Virginia will already know of their own connection to this tale, the town was founded by Charles’ older brother.

Added Bonus

When exploring the Lynch tombs in Galway I encountered a wordy stone-carved Latin tombstone, pictured here.

Tomb of Stephen Lynch, St. Nicolas’ church, Galway

The inscription translates as –

“Stephen Lynch of illustrious lineage, the darling of his soldiers and the terror of his enemies, in years still a young man, but old in valour, of whom the world was not worthy, was exalted to Heaven the 14th of March A.D. 1644”.

What a wonderful description, wish I could have one that good when I kick the bucket.

[Dec 2018 Update – the book is out now in Amazon paperback (USA and UK), and ebook for Kindle, iBooks, and on Kobo.]

Wordfoolery is running away to Paris next week, so I’ll be skipping one post but will be back fooling with words on Monday 13th. Until then 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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