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)

 

Belay and Putting a Pin in It

Hello,

I’m editing my book “Words The Sea Gave Us” this month before its release later this year and my mind is filled with the nautical words and phrases which the sea has given to the English language, so I thought I’d share one with you today. Have you ever heard a Star Trek captain saying “belay that order” or a manager in a meeting suggest you put a “pin in it”? Then you’ve had a taste of what a belaying pin did on a sailing ship.

Belaying pins on a traditional sailing ship

{Extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019}

If you watch enough seafaring movies, or indeed Star Trek episodes, you’ll eventually hear a captain say something like “Belay that order” to one of their crew. The order will be paused, but why?

The answer lies in the Age of Sail and with one small piece of wooden equipment. The captain is referring to the belaying pin, a wooden peg, something akin to a rolling pin, around which a line could be made fast (and stopped). A series of such pins were typically positioned along the ship’s rail. Basically the captain is saying – “tie up that order for the moment”.

Belay (1540s) comes from the Old English word belecgan which meant to lay a thing about, thus describing how you would lay the rope around the belaying pin.

Belaying is also used in mountain climbing terminology from the same source.

It is tempting to associate the over-used office phrase “put a pin in it” with the belaying pin as both refer to postponing a task however the pin in that phrase is widely accepted to have been the pin of a hand grenade in World War Two where putting the pin back in deferred the explosion.

One belaying pin, ready for any use

A belaying pin was a common improvised weapon aboard a ship as they were close to hand and about the right size and weight to be used as a club.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Denouement – a knotty literary device

Hello,

This week’s word is denouement, with thanks to “The Penultimate Peril” by Lemony Snicket, the second last book in the Series of Unfortunate Events adventure books (for age 9-12) which I enjoyed earlier this year.

Some colourful knots

As you might guess this is a word the French gave us, although the French version is spelled slightly differently – dénouement. The denouement in a story takes place after the climax. It resolves all the loose ends of plots and any remaining secrets are revealed. Generally in a tragedy the characters end up worse off than they started and in a comedy the characters end up happier.

An example from history, rather than fiction, would be in World War II. The climax is the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan whereas the denouement is Japan’s official surrender. In “Romeo & Juliet” the climax would be their mutual deaths, whereas the prince’s speech afterwards, resolving the story, is the denouement.

Denouement transferred from French to English around the mid 1700s and despite its association with drawing together loose ends and tying up the various plot lines, it’s actually closer to untying something, at least linguistically speaking. Dénouement in French came from dénouer (to untie) and from desnouer in Old French. Desnouer was compounded from des (un-) and nouer (to knot or tie) which ultimately comes from the Latin word nodus, for knot. Nodus also give us the idea of a node in a network, such as neural networks.

So, denouement comes from the idea of untying knots although writers often think of it more as a place where various stands of plot are tied together in a neat bow to complete a narrative.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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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)

Cunctator

Hello,

Today’s word is cunctator which I tripped over online this week and felt was fitting for a week where all the political talk in Britain and Europe is about postponements.

Like many others I can be a world class procrastinator. I can even put off procrastinating for another day, but I hadn’t realised I’m also a cunctator (pronunciation available here, be careful with how you say it!). I’m guessing the reason the word has fallen from regular use is thanks to its rather tricky pronunciation.

So what is a cunctator? They are one who puts off tasks, typically from sheer laziness.

Detail of a carving at Rome

The most famous cunctator of all was the Roman statesman and general Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus  (c. 280-203 B.C.) whose overly cautious military tactics against Hannibal and the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War (c. 200 B.C.) earned him the nickname which is the Latin for delayer. He attacked supply lines and made small attacks on favourable ground against the famous commander with much larger numbers. In this he is now seen as an originator of the tactics of guerrilla warfare. His strategy was undermined by his younger officers but gained him respect from Hannibal. You can read more, if you’re curious over at Wikipedia.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Wigs on the Green

Hello,

Today’s word is the phrase “there will be wigs on the green” with thanks to my friend Rita from Dublin who said it recently and reminded me of its existence. it’s such an evocative phrase for a verbal or physical argument that I had to investigate and was delighted when I discovered it is of Irish origin.

St Stephen’s Green in the past

As you might guess, the idea of wigs falling onto the green relates to powdered wigs being pulled off during a fight. Duels were a relatively common way to resolve disputes amongst the gentry in 1700s Dublin. Before the duel started the combatants would remove their wigs (and some clothes) and place them on the ground so they could fight unencumbered. Removal of wigs was only sensible as otherwise they might have “the wool pulled over their eyes” if their opponent pulled down their wig.

St. Stephen’s Green in more recent times

I had never realised, however, that the green in the phrase wasn’t just any piece of grass. The green in question was St. Stephen’s Green, a public park and popular city centre venue for such duels at that period. It’s still a busy park today and well worth a visit if you’re in Dublin. You won’t find any duels now but you might be able to spot bullet holes in the Fusilier’s Arch at the Grafton Street entrance to the park from the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule, although they filled in the trenches dug by the rebels since then.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Note – images in this post are with thanks to http://ststephensgreenpark.ie, run by the Office of Public Works who manage the park.

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!