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Myriad

Hello,

This week’s word is myriad (pronunciation here) because it’s a favourite of mine. A myriad is a very large number of something. You might have a myriad of midges trying to bite you on a country walk, or a myriad of choices when selecting the right dress for the ball (hey, I can dream!).

In my case I’ve been looking at the vendor list for a yarn festival later this month, Woollinn, and reviewing a myriad of indie dyers and their yarns. I want them all, but am trying to be logical and only buy what I need and will actually use. This is a major challenge for any crafter.

A myriad of yarns

Words for large numbers in languages are often fun to explore and myriad is no exception. Most cultures manage words for one, two, or even up to ten but in early languages the tendency thereafter was to settle on a word for “many” and use that for everything from 25 to ten million.

Myriad entered English during the 1500s as the word for 10,000 or an indefinitely large number. It came to English from the Middle French word myriade, which in turn was a borrowing from Latin myrias (ten thousand). Myrias came from Greek myrioi which either meant 10,000 or countless, infinite and boundless. So it appears that even the wise and wonderful ancient Greeks struggled to imagine counting above 9,999.

I have counted my yarn stash and I don’t have 10,000 balls of wool awaiting my attention so I think I may purchase a skein or two at the festival after all.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Lollygagging

Hello,

This week’s word comes with thanks to Lyric FM’s Marty in the Mornings show which I often listen to when walking. This week Marty is away and his substitute has been including an etymology spot each day, much to my delight. Today’s word was abendrot – the colour of the sky at sunset – literally evening red from German. Yesterday’s entry in the slot caught my attention in particular – lollygagging.

lollygagging skeleton

The mountain goat lollygagged too long on the mountain path

Lollygagging is defined as delaying or dawdling, perhaps to avoid work. It was originally spelled lallygag and entered American English in 1862. It’s still listed as American English in the Oxford English Dictionary online yet my  British English speaking mother used it all her life. The suggested roots for the word are lolly (tongue) and gag (to deceive or trick).

The association of lolly with the tongue is also the source of the word lollipop or lolly for a hard candy/sweet on a stick which dates back to the late 1700s. Perhaps one should lick a lolly while lollygagging?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and lollygagging,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Gift – a present from the Vikings

Hello,

This month I’m taking part in CampNaNoWriMo. It’s a spin-off from the main National Novel Writing Month in November and runs in April and July instead. Rather than striving for 50,000 words in one month (a hefty challenge but one I’ve been enjoying since 2007) you can set your own goal – 30 hours editing your poetry book, 10,000 words of short fiction, two acts of your screenplay, whatever you want. I’ve signed up to write 25,000 words of “Words The Vikings Gave Us”, another book in the series inspired by this blog and I’m doing OK so far (22,000 words, thanks for asking).

Anyhow, as a result my mind is obsessing with words from Old Norse and I thought I’d share one with you today on the blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Gift wrapping

{extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us”, copyright Grace Tierney, 2019}

Gift became an English word in the mid 1200s for “that which is given” from Old Norse gift (gift or good luck). Gift was part of surnames from the 1100s. Old English also had gift (from similar Proto Germanic sources) but it was only used for dowries, a bride-price, or a marriage gift given by the groom which were all very important at that time.

Shortly after gift arrived in English it gained a second meaning, that of a natural talent or inspiration (perhaps given by God) which leads to the word gifted.

Vikings exchanged gifts during courtship even though some matches were made more for power and family influence than for love, as was common elsewhere during the era too.

A woman would make her suitor a shirt if she liked him and he might give her purple flowers. During the wedding ceremony the bride would give her groom a new sword. He’d then thrust it into the central pillar of the house and the depth of the cut determined how successful their union would be (the sexual link on that gesture is pretty clear).

The bride typically brought fabric, a spinning wheel, a loom, and a bed to the marriage. Richer women might bring jewellery, animals, and even farms too. Whatever a woman gifted to the marriage remained her property (even in widowhood or divorce) and could be left to her children.

The groom also made key gifts as part of the marriage. First there was mundr – a set price from groom to bride’s father essentially to prove he had the means to support a woman and any offspring. Second was the morgengifu (morning gift) from the husband to the wife the morning after their wedding which she retained in her own right. This could be land, slaves, animals, money etc. depending on the wealth of her husband and gave her much more independence than woman in other societies of the time. Lastly came the heimanfylgia – the woman’s inheritance from her father which was given to the groom for his use. However in the event of a widowhood or divorce this had to be repaid to the woman for her use.

Generally the meanings of related words in Proto Germanic langauges are similar to that in Old Norse but gift is an exception. It means married in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

I hope you enjoyed the extract. Gift isn’t the most unusual word in English but Viking gift giving certainly was. If you’d like to read more about the history of words you can check out “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (2018) about eponyms and available as paperback & ebook, “Words The Sea Gave Us” (coming 2019), and “Words The Vikings Gave Us” (coming 2020).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Radiance

Hello,

This week’s word is radiance because it’s elegant and inspiring. In my corner of the world there’s more daylight available now. Combined with the blossoms on the trees, there’s plenty of radiance in my garden at the moment.

Radiance entered English in the 1600s with a descriptive sense of a “brilliant light” from the word radiant. Radiant came from the Latin verb radiare (to beam or shine), which also gives us the word radiation.

By the 1700s radiance had acquired a more figurative sense so if you described the object of your love as being radiant you weren’t comparing them to a lighthouse or the dazzling light of the sun anymore.

Language scholars believe William Shakespeare may have been responsible for giving us the word radiance. He was fond of dialect words and had no qualms about fooling with words to suit his needs. As a result he may have added up to 1700 new words to the English language during his career.

Radiance is used by Helena in Act I Scene I of “All’s Well That End’s Well”

‘Twere all one

That I should love a bright particular star

And think to wed it, he is so above me:

In his bright radiance and collateral light

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare…

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’m taking on the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge this month – starting the first draft of “Words The Vikings Gave Us”, another book in my nonfiction series covering everything from beserk to saga. If you have an English word of Viking origin (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) you’d like to see included – please reply to this post. I’ll acknowledge any reader suggestions in the published book. Thanks!

The Origin of Anecdotes

Hello,

Today’s word is anecdote with thanks to Everyday Etymology who mentioned it recently and sparked my interest.

Typesetter’s Case

Anecdote is used in recent times to identify a, usually brief, amusing story but this was not always the case. It entered English in the 1670s and originally described secrets and unpublished stories which is quite different from the little tales told by stars and authors promoting their latest movie or book on the sofa with a chat show host.

Anecdote either comes direct from the French word anecdote or from Greek roots (with a pit-stop in Latin). The Greek word anekdota means “unpublished things” and comes from an- (not) and ekdotos (published). Ekdotos itself means to “give out”. The whole concept amounts of anecdotes being something you do not give out or make public. An example of this was the “Anecdota”, the unpublished memoirs of the Roman emperor Justinian which were apparently packed with juicy court gossip, and this added to the original English anecdote’s meaning as being a secret story.

Human nature being fond of gossip and the inside story no doubt led to the erosion of the secrecy over time and now anecdotes are tidbits of news shared amongst friends, and on the chat show couch.

Where does this leave “anecdotal evidence“? By the original definition this is evidence which is not published and that’s where anecdote retains some of its original meaning as such evidence usually isn’t formally published but rather is gathered by oral stories. Good to see some secrecy has survived.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling with anecdotes,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Odalisque – a special type of woman

Hello,

This week’s word is odalisque which I came across recently in a newspaper article in “The Irish Times”. The journalist was discussing the recent actions of Jeff Bezos versus blackmail threats. The male writer, explained that as far back as the 1700s women who had sexual or compromising liaisons with wealthy men would announce they were writing their memoirs and wait for the payments to roll in, a form of pension if you like.

I’m not convinced it worked like that. Wealthy people don’t surrender wealth easily and those who trade on their looks and allure are often cast aside long before they secure their financial well-being. How many of those memoir writers were desperately poor? How many died of diseases caught from their powerful and respected “benefactors” in an era before antibiotics?

The article then mentioned Harriette Wilson, who tried this move on the Duke of Wellington (a member of the exclusive “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (alternative UK link) club, thanks to his own special style of bootwear) who responded famously “Publish and be damned!”. Wilson was a “successful odalisque” according to this writer. But what’s an odalisque?

An odalisque (pronunciation here) historically was a female slave or concubine in the Sultan’s harem in Turkey. This doesn’t describe Harriette. The modern meaning is an exotic, sexually attractive woman. This comes closer, but doesn’t include the idea that odalisques extorted to supplement their incomes.

The word odalisque comes directly from the harem. It entered English in the 1680s from French but ultimately from the Turkish word odaliq (maidservant) and from odah (room in a harem).

Underside of the harem’s roof in Sultan’s palace, Istanbul

Harriette did publish her memoirs (US edition / UK edition) after Wellington’s challenge. She was one of 15 children in her lower class family, four of whom became mistresses to wealthy men. She claimed she published because of the broken promises of her former lovers to support her as she aged. Her book discusses assaults on her, and outlines the stories of others like her who died paupers. Her name is less well known than Wellington, but nonetheless she was a brave woman.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

{Note – this post includes affiliate links}

The Strange Story Behind Hocus Pocus

Hello,

This week’s word is the exclamation “hocus pocus!” as used by magicians. You might also hear abracadabra or shazam, but we all prepare to be amazed if someone twirls a wand and calls on hocus pocus. But who was hocus pocus? Is it Elvish?

Ready for a magic trick?

Hocus pocus has been used by conjurors for centuries. It dates to the 1630s and as there was also hocas pocas as name for a juggler or magician in the 1620s, it might be older. Hocus pocus is also used as a noun to describe tricks, again from the 1640s.

As early as the 1650s astute observers were remarking that the phrase, used to distract and entertain the crowd during tricks, might have its origins in the Latin words spoken during catholic religious services. The phrase “This is my body” used during the consecration was spoken in Latin as “Hoc est corpus meum“. Few of the faithful would have understood enough Latin to follow the details of the priest’s words. It would be the 1960s before those words were spoken in the local language of a church, instead of Latin.

Jugglers and street entertainers were known for “borrowing” other common Latin phrases to use on audiences who generally wouldn’t be familiar with the language. In the 1670s the phrase hiccus doctius was a phrase used by jugglers during their performances and sometimes was used as another word for juggler, just like hocus pocus. Hiccus doctius is likely to have been a twist on hicce es doctus, “here is the learned man” in Latin.

Words change with use and mispronunciation in English, and in all languages. It’s not surprising that this process would happen especially with words from a language spoken often but only understood by the learned in society. The 15th century jugglers and conjurors took a solemn phrase and gave it new life on the streets. The reaction of the priests is not recorded.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)
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