love-duckHappy Saint Valentine’s Day,

It’s a grey and dreary 14th of February here in Ireland. You would think the early Christian martyr Saint Valentine would have arranged for better weather considering we’ve given his old bones a resting place, a gift from Pope Gregory XVI in 1836.

I found this week’s word, aubade, on Pinterest which I joined last week. I finally have a spot to save all those craft, garden and scout project ideas I gather around the Web, huzzah! I’ll be using it for book and blog research as well, of course. Are any of you on it? I’m looking for boards to follow. You’ll find me as GraceTierneyIrl.

An aubade is a song or poem greeting the dawn, or sometimes a tale of lovers parting at dawn. It entered the English lexicon in the 1600s with the meaning of dawn serenade. It came from French but has Spanish and Latin roots in auba (dawn) and alba/albus (white). I notice Albus Dumbledore was well-named in that regard. The reference to alba confused me as I knew it was an old name for Scotland and had assumed it was Latin, but no, it’s a Scottish Gaelic word dating back to 900, long before aubades were sung to highland lassies.

Ironically serenade, a song at night, typically sung to one’s lover through their window, entered English earlier than the aubade but again it came via French, those romantic old devils. In arrived there from Italian with both sera (evening) and sereno (calm and open air) contributing to the word.

If you feel inclined to sing an aubade or serenade to your beloved today, I’ll add one word of warning – find out first if they’re a night owl or early bird, unless you want something thrown at your head.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)


Living in the northern hemisphere, it is tempting during the winter to imitate other mammals and hibernate. Both my children attempted that ploy this morning to avoid education. It put me in mind of two unusual words relating to sleep.

The first is uhtceare (pronounced oot-care), an Old English word for the experience of waking before dawn and not being able to get back to sleep because you’re worrying about something. I suspect even the most laid-back amongst us have struggled with uhtceare at least once. The word is a joining of two other words – uht meaning “the hour before sunrise” and ceare meaning “care or worry”. The idea of a care being a worry is one that’s not used as often in modern English and it’s shame as it tells us an important fact. If we worry, predawn or not, it’s because we care. Often our worries are for other people – parents worrying about bullied children, friends worrying about sick friends etc. Suffering from uhtceare is a form of love.

"Ted was worried about honey supplies running low."

“Ted was worried about honey supplies running low.”

The second sleepy word is dormiveglia, an Italian word that I think should be added to English as we don’t have a term for what it describes. Dormiveglia is the space of time between sleeping and waking (or vice versa). When not obeying an alarm call it’s a magic time when you grasp the tail-end of dreams with your fingertips and enjoy the warmth of your bed, content to lie there and muse. I love dormiveglia all the more now as a parent when it’s too rare.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and snoozing,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)


The Start of the Index


Earlier this week I created the index for my eponym book, a thrilling task as I’m sure you can imagine. It got me thinking about the word itself. Clearly it has some Latin roots going on, but where exactly do we get index from?


The word in means “towards” in Latin and an index does point us towards information so that makes sense and also links it to the index (or pointer) finger.

It expands to indic- as prefix (still in Latin) to mean “forefinger or sign”. That combines with either dicere or dicare to give us index. Dicere means “to say” and dicare means “to make known”. Taken together that gives us index as meaning “to point the way and to make known”, that’s pretty good fit for the modern use of the word, or finger.

Index reached middle English by the early 1400s and has retained its meaning since although an index will mean different thing to people working in different fields. An index is vital in databases, for example, where it points to the data. They are part of scientific instruments. We have a price index in economics and sadly an index of forbidden books within religious history. The interesting thing is that index in all these cases has the same core meaning – it’s a way to point out the relevant information. Most words I explore here change over a 600 year history, but index is still pointing the way.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)




This week’s word is squirrel. They have been on my mind this week as I beheld my tiny hazelnut harvest (pictured left) and muttered darkly about “bushy-tailed urban criminals”.

I grow fruit, vegetables and herbs for my family’s table. I planned my garden to be productive, including as many native plants as I could. This involved me planting a hazelnut tree in my front garden. I researched it in the hope I could get hazelnuts (my favourite nut) but the books all said to plant at least three together if you wanted nuts and I didn’t have the space, so I selected a contorted hazel with curled stems that looks great in winter and an unholy mess in the summer.

We wind lights around it at Christmas and during the unwinding process one January I was stunned to find a scattering of hazels on the (hazelnut coloured) gravel beneath. I shouldn’t have been shocked. As I explored the lanes around our village I noticed other bushes in gardens and the motorway embankment is planted with native trees, including hazels.

Contorted hazel covered in ice

Contorted hazel covered in ice

I came to depend on a small hazelnut harvest each Christmas, growing as the tree grew in size. Not this year. This year it has halved and many of the nuts show signs of attack by tiny claws. I’m blaming the squirrels. There’s a healthy population of red squirrels in old woodlands nearby and I’ve spotted one clinging to the wall of my neighbour’s house. I’m all for squirrels and I’m happy to support our native reds over invasive grey squirrels any day but do they have to eat my hazelnuts?

Squirrels have been with us for some time (about 36 million years according to the fossil record) and they get everywhere, not just at my hazel tree. The word entered the English language  in the early 1300s. It came from the Anglo-French word esquirel. That came from the Old French word escurueil which was used for the beast or its fur (perhaps culled by angry nuttery owners). It came from scurius and sciurus in Vulgar Latin and Latin but it’s when we reach Greek that the fun starts.

The Latin words came from the Greek word skiouros which is formed from skia (shadow) and oura (tail or backside) with the idea being that the squirrel was a beast whose tail cast a shadow. I have a vision of ancient Greek squirrels using their tails to shade themselves from the relentless Greek sunshine, probably while nibbling on stolen hazelnuts.

Until next time remember to share the hazelnuts, the squirrels need them too,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)



This week’s word is flabbergast because I love it. It goes so far beyond astonishment, surprise, and shock. I can picture the victim of the flabbergasting literally reeling backwards.

Unfortunately the origins of flabbergast are unclear. The word entered mainstream English in the late 1700s and may be a composite word composed of flabber and aghast (meaning shocked) – the notion being that you are so aghast that you literally quiver like a jelly. The truth is, nobody knows. There are some mentions of it being a Suffolk or Perthshire dialect word.

The origin of ghast in aghast is interesting. It’s an old word for ghost. So flabbergasted is the correct response to seeing a ghost and adds credence to the idea of the flabber relating to shaking in shock.

I think there’s a short ghost story in this for children – “The Tale of the FlabberGhast” – what do you reckon?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


Grand Bazaar fez, modeled by Eli

Grand Bazaar fez, modeled by Eli


This week’s words take us to Persia, Istanbul and Italy. I hope you have your passports and visas in order.

A recent column in “The Irish Times” newspaper mused on a charity jumble sale of the author’s youth which was always billed as a bazaar. It set me on the trail of bazaar and bizarre, the later being one of my favourite words. It’s a great adjective – helpful to describe outlandish outfits, unusual behaviour, and characters who defy conventions.

While I’ve visited many jumble sales in my time, selling old teapots, homemade jam, and raffle tickets, I’ve only encountered one bazaar, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We visited it on a sorching hot day in 2002 and entering its cool vaulted maze was a relief, for a moment. Then the sheer variety of goods on display assaulted my eyes and the scents of spices, perfume oils, and leathers assailed my nose. We joked that you could buy anything there – from gherkins to giraffes. Your most bizaare request would merely require a moment for the stall holder to rummage in the back. Who needs Aladdin’s lamp if you can browse the bazaar?

I don’t come from a nation of hagglers. If you tell me the price, that’s what I’ll pay. But bazaars demand a different approach. DH took the first shot, taking about a third off the original quote and going from there. He secured a leather weekend bag that has served him well since. The vendors of Istanbul, and trust me everybody is a seller in Istanbul (or has a cousin with a carpet shop), all have a story to tell. In that respect they reminded me strongly of the Irish. Don’t expect to buy in a rush. Leave them with a fair profit. Don’t bargain without any intention of purchase. I can’t tell you if we got the bargaining right but I still love the perfume oils I selected from the tiniest, most fragrant stall I found. My fez, although never worn, is the jewel of my hat collection.

Bazaar isn’t a Turkish word, but it’s in the right neck of the woods. It comes from the Persian (modern day Iran) word bāzār which means marketplace.

Bizarre, meaning odd or fantastic, certainly describes the goods in the bazaar but it has a completely different root. It entered English in the 1600s from French where it had the same meaning. Earlier in French it had the additional meaning of brave or like a soldier, which makes sense to me as it take bravery to make bizarre choices. Spanish and Portugese also gained the word at around the same time, again with the secondary meaning of brave or handsome. I have a mental image of an unusual, but brave and handsome, soldier fighting his way across France, Spain and Portugal in the 17th century.

Unfortunately my imaginings are flawed as the original root is most likely to be bizza and bizzarro in Italian which mean irascible or fits of anger.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Hello and Happy New Year,

I generally post about unusual English words but I hope you’ll excuse me if I delve into German today, it seems appropriate for this particular week.

Regular readers will know that I’m a big QI fan, the quiz show of “quite interesting” facts formerly hosted by Stephen Fry but now under the excellent captaincy of Sandi Toksvig. You can find out more about the show here. I heartily recommend the spin-off podcast “No Such Thing as a Fish” by the show’s researchers.

I found this week’s phrase in one of the QI books, “1,411 Facts to Knock you Sideways” and it is Eierlegende Wollmilchsau. Something of a mouthful even with six years of learning German behind me, I have looked around for an audio pronunciation file and can’t find one. Try it slowly with me – “air-leg-enda  voll-milk-sow”. Well done!

It translates literally as an egg-laying wool milk sow, a creature that gives us ham, milk, wool, and eggs. It’s the perfect farmyard beast but isn’t the result of some dodgy genetic experiment. It’s actually the term for someone who can do everything. The equivalent English term is “Jack of all trades” but it doesn’t have the whispered after note “master of none”. The German beast actually can do it all and is typically applied to the female of the human species, a wonder-woman of sorts.

This amazing creature was mentioned as early as 1959 in poetry but it’s a fairly modern word and sometimes references technical devices that promise to do it all.

This week is the one when it’s hard to avoid articles and social media items about new diets, exercise regimes, career moves, and relationship advice designed to change our lives.

Remember that the Eierlegende Wollmilchsau is an imaginary beast. By all means try out something new this year. Learning keeps us engaged with life. Getting outdoors and eating well will do you no harm. But if you start laying eggs it might be time to ignore the “New Year, New You” articles and put your feet up with a good book.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,