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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.

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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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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