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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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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,

This week’s word is exquisite. I was hiking on Sunday and admiring the new season’s ferns. I love the way they unfurl from the tightest little buds. A stem relaxes into existence and then each leaflet unrolls out from the stem itself. During high summer they’re easy to ignore, providing a green carpet under trees and along stone walls but on a bright spring day their exquisite growth dance is beauty in miniature.

The adjective exquisite entered the English language in the early 1400s from a Latin source and it meant “carefully selected” as it was a direct borrowing of the Latin word exquisitus which meant “careful choice” from the verb exquirere. Exquirere is compounded from ex for out (think exit, for example) and quarere meaning “to seek” (think query, for example).

It’s unclear how but exquisite’s meaning in English mutated with use. By the late 1500s it had changed to mean “something of delightful excellence”. By the 1700s it had refined to mean “something of delightful excellence produced by art rather than nature”. By the early 1800s it had a noun form which was used as another term for a dandy or foppish character.

Hence I shouldn’t describe the delicate tendrils of the new ferns as exquisite. They require no artist to tend them, but I still think they out-shine any sculpture.

Until next time, enjoy the small details in life. Happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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Asgard II at Howth

Hello,

This week’s word is thanks to Terry Breverton’s excellent non-fiction tome “Nautical Curiosities” which I recently finished reading with a fistful of inspirations for my coastal novel series and for this blog. There may be a flood of nautical words on the horizon, you have been warned.

I’ll begin with gollywobbler because it’s such a ridiculous word. The gollywobbler is a “large square staysail hoisted between the masts of schooner in a reaching wind to increase speed”. As a motion-sickness-afflicted landlubber myself I scurried to the dictionary to understand that description. I’ll enlighten you as best I can.

A staysail is a fore and aft sail set on lines that run diagonally downward from a mast. These lines (what sailors call ropes) are called stays, hence the name. Unlike the square-rigged sails on a schooner, staylines are in line with the keel of the boat, i.e. at right angles to the rest of the sails. Thus, presumably, they catch wind from other directions and increase the ship’s speed. A reaching wind comes side-on to the boat and the staysails are perfectly positioned to use a reaching wind. Gollywobblers are still used on sailing boats today and there’s even a series of wines named after them.

The origin of gollywobbler is, sadly, unknown, but I imagine that running aloft to hoist one would have been a wobbly and rather terrifying task on the taller of the tall-ships. The gollywobbler is believed to have given rise to the expression “I have the collywobbles” which means to be afraid.

In other news this week, I’ve finished the major editing on my book about the fascinating people behind eponyms “How to Get Your Name into the Dictionary”. Now begins the the fine edits and work with the proof-reader and cover-designer. I’ll keep you posted on progress. If any of you review books, let me know in the comments or @Wordfoolery on twitter and I’ll send an ARC your way.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Sheffry Sunset

Sheffry Sunset

Hello,

Today is the halfway point in NaNoWriMo 2016 and I’ve reached the halfway point in my eponym history book, “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary” despite running away for the weekend.

Regular readers will know that I’m a Scout leader (or adult scouter as we’re known these days). Each year there’s a national training weekend for leaders to improve their hill-walking skills called the Mountain Moot and unfortunately it’s scheduled right in the middle of NaNo. I totally shouldn’t go along, but I do anyway convincing myself that taking off three writing days will return me with renewed writing vim and vigour.

That is not always the case but it does have an advantage. Do a tough enough hike and your leg muscles will prevent you from wandering too far from your writing desk for a few days. I won’t be walking anywhere for a day or two but perhaps the memories of mountain ranges stretching from Killary Harbour to Clare Island will inspire me?

Plus, how could I, as a Tolkien fan, resist a meeting called a moot? I didn’t spot any ents though. They were probably hiding in the clouds that shrouded the summit of Sheffry.

Oh and the teachers’ strike I was lamenting last week has been put on pause pending talks. Clearly I was a wonderful home-school teacher as my eldest danced and sang around the room when he heard he could return to school. Ah well, I’ll just have to stick to the writing then.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Wordcount = 26,153

 

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