How Blockbusters moved from Bombs to Movies

Hello,

This week’s word is blockbuster – a film term with military roots.

Blockbuster entered English in 1942 to describe a large bomb which would flatten a city block with its destructive power.

By the 1950s the term was being used in the U.S. to describe a real estate agent who sold a house to a non-white family in a racially non-diverse neighbourhood, thus causing an exodus of home owners.

Thankfully the word got a new usage in the 60s when successful movies were described by it. Any big hit could qualify. However perhaps the best-known early blockbuster was Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” (1975) when audiences talked about the movie afterwards and went back to see it and its thrills multiple times. Audiences would line up right around the block to buy a ticket, busting the block.

Now every summer we have a slew of such blockbusters released to entertain audiences. It’s hard to see how such large audiences will manage social distancing in cinemas this summer, but as a cinema fan I have my fingers crossed for some blockbusters sometime this year if it’s safe to release them.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling.

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Beware of the Barbarians

Hello,

This week’s word is barbarian and is with thanks to the No Such Thing as a Fish podcast who are still broadcasting their witty and intelligent musings about odd facts every week, now from their individual homes, which can’t be easy. They mentioned the origin of barbarian in a recent episode and it went straight onto my “to investigate” list.

My favourite barbarians

Barbarian entered the English language as an adjective in the mid 1300s to describe somebody or something which was from another nation or culture. Initially there was no negative connotation to this word. It wasn’t until the late 1500s that it came to mean something or somebody uncivilised or savage. I found this surprising as I assumed the word came from Roman times to describe anybody who lived outside the empire. Given that barbarians over-ran Rome a few times in its later, declining, years I assumed the Romans would have seen the barbarians in a negative light.

Looking back further I discovered the word barbarian actually comes from the Greeks, not the Romans. The ancient Greeks had a plural noun barbaroi which meant “all that are not Greek” and was especially applied to the Medes and Persians (both lived in the area now known as Iran). The word arose from a root word barbar which was meant to describe the way the foreign speech of the Persians and Medes sounded to Greek listeners. You know the way background actors in movies sometimes mutter “rhubarb” to make a basic speech noise? Well the Greeks would have thought they were saying “barbar“. Hence the barbaroi.

From barbaroi the word barbaros (foreign, strange, ignorant) arrived in Greek. Basically anybody who didn’t speak Greek was barbaros. Later the ancient Romans, who were technically barbaros themselves, adopted the word as barbarus and applied it to any tribes or nations who weren’t Roman or Greek. This moved to Medieval Latin at barbarinus and Old French as barbarin (which gives us Berber) and by the time it reached English it was spelled barbarian.

Along the way the term has been used to single out foreigners in other times and languages too. In Renaissance Italy it was used to describe any non-Italian and it has been used to translate Chinese words of contempt for foreigners also.

Sadly, so long as groups have a concept of “us” there will always be a concept of “them” and they are often called barbarians, no matter how sophisticated their language and culture.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve made it to 27,067 words in my CampNaNo serial “The Librarian’s Secret Diary”. Four days of writing to go and it will be launching on Channillo.com on Wednesday 6th of May. It’s been great fun to write and hopefully will be an entertaining read for anybody who has ever wondered what really goes on behind the shelves in the library.

Wearing My Huffle-Buffs

Hello,

This week I’ve been wearing my huffle-buffs often, it’s probably time I explained that term.

My gardening huffle-buffs, beside the peas & beans bed

According to Haggard Hawks (on twitter and on their website), huffle-buffs is “an old Scots dialect word for worn out, comfortable clothes”. As worn out, comfortable clothes are my favourites, this particular term stuck in my daily usage as soon as I came across it. It’s much better than the alternatives – slobs, lounge-wear, athleisure – in my opinion.

At the moment, because we’re still observing a “stay at home” rule in Ireland, my spring garden is getting more attention than usual and my gardening huffle-buffs (a fisherman’s smock from Kinsale, Co. Cork which is 18 years old and a faded pair of eco-cotton trousers from Gudrunsjoden which is 16 years old) have become my daily uniform as I battle back the bramble invasion in the cut flower bed and do my annual vegetable growing tasks. I’m sowing & tending three varieties of tomatoes, garlic, courgette, spinach, lettuce, spring onions, peas, borlotti, runner beans, cucumbers, and peppers this year along with my ongoing crops of herbs, apples, damson plums, hazelnuts, grapes, wild garlic, rhubarb). The tough denim smock is particularly handy when a) sunburn can be an issue and b) you have nettles and brambles ready to attack you at every turn.

Huffle-buffs appear in Scottish dictionary listings from the early 1800s so it’s not as old as you might think, unless it just took a while to make it into the dictionary. Huffle on its own can mean to blow in gusts of wind.

If you go hunting for huffle-buffs’ origin you will get side-tracked into the origin of the house of Helga Hufflepuff in the Harry Potter books and I can’t help thinking that may be a fair connection as although JK Rowling was born near Bristol (and hence is English) she wrote a considerable amount of the first book while living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Perhaps the local vernacular snuck into Hufflepuff’s name? Alternatively Helga must have been a very windy witch to have two words for gust in her surname – huffle and puff.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling in your comfiest huffle-buffs,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve made it to 19,946 words on “The Librarian’s Secret Diary” in CampNaNo so far this month. It will be launching on Channillo.com in May. My two other books “Hamster Stew” and “Nit Roast” are already completed and fully available to read there (first chapter is free to read).

Maybe it’s time to Oozle

Hello,

This week’s word is oozle, with thanks to the O series of “Qi” on BBC.

Ozzle appeared on a list of unusual O words on the programme I watched recently and although they didn’t discuss it, it struck me as one worth future investigation. Turns out that oozle is a rare word used in Australia and New Zealand so it wasn’t surprising that it was a new one for me as I’ve yet to journey that far.

According to the OED, oozle means to move slowly or lazily and dates to the late 1800s. It is compounded from ooze and the suffix -le. Ooze itself is an older word which entered English in the late 1300s as a verb and noun, all related to slow moving sap, mud, or slime from a selection of Saxon, Norse, and Germanic root words.

The slow turtle was inspired by the sloth to oozle a little more this week

As a result the idea of something, or somebody oozling is that they are moving as slowly as sap slipping from a cut in the bark of a tree, or mud slowly settling. One creature which has mastered the art of being slow is the sloth, native creature to Central and South America and an inspiration to me and my family as we slouch with books and leftover Easter chocolate at the moment. I may not oozle quite as slowly as a sloth, but I’m working on it. Slowly.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Peregrinations and Wanderings

Hello,

At home for the foreseeable future, I glance at my hiking folder. Packed with routes torn from magazines, downloaded from tourist sites, and constructed from my map shelf, it’s a temptation I must resist for a while but planning future peregrinations will become a hobby soon, I think.

Saint Kevin’s pilgrim path to Glendalough, Wicklow, Ireland

A peregrination is a long or meandering journey, the sort Frodo and Sam took from the Shire in “The Lord of the Rings” books, and definitely further than the 2km radius I am currently allowed. Thankfully etymology, seeking the historic roots of words, encourages time travel and that’s not forbidden.

Peregrination entered English in the late 1500s from the Latin word pergrinatus (to travel aboard, to wander). Peregrinus was used as the Latin for a foreigner or pilgrim, a fact I’m sure Tolkien, a Oxford University linguistics professor, knew when he named one of the traveling hobbits Peregrin Took (Pippin to his friends).

Foreign, in the case of peregrination, comes from the Latin adverb peregre, meaning from outside Roman territory. Technically I guess than means if you want to peregrinate you need to do so outside the lands conquered by Rome. As Ireland escaped that particular fate, my hiking routes folder is filled with peregrination options ready to tempt me as soon as I can expand my world again. In the meantime perhaps I’ll join a quartet of hobbits on their voyages instead.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. apologies for the missing post last week. I was unwell.

The Word History of Looting

Hello,

With people everywhere developing a strange obsession with purchase of toilet paper, I’ve decided to take a linguistic look at the word looting, which luckily has nothing to do with loo rolls, despite the similar spelling.

Graeme Donald tells me in his book of military word history “Stickler, Sideburns and Bikinis” that the word loot comes from the Hindustani word lut (plunder). He tells the story of a lootie. The lootie was an irregular local soldier who was attached the British army in India during the 1800s who was paid in an unusual way. They received food and lodging and an extra bonus – the right to loot bodies after the battles.

The Hindi word lut came from Sanskrit lotram (booty or stolen property) and ultimately from a PIE root word reup (to snatch) which is related to our modern verb to rip, as one might rip a sheet of toilet paper from the roll.

Amazingly, lootie does turn up as a colloquial Anglo-India word entering English from 1821, and I even found an account of looties carrying away nine elephants, a tough trick at the best of times and hardly something you might find in a dead soldier’s pocket. Looting and picking over bodies after battles has been a feature of war for thousands of years, but I was surprised to find it authorised by the British army in the 1800s.

Hopefully the current loo-roll obsession won’t lead to anything along these lines.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Carpetbagger History

Hello,

This week’s word is carpetbagger which I came across in the excellent military history word book “Sticklers, Sideburns and Bikinis” by Graeme Donald that I’ve mentioned here before. Carpetbagger isn’t a commonly used word here in Ireland but I had a vague memory of Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind” being called that word.

Vague memories are often incorrect, however, and Rhett wasn’t a carpetbagger at all. He was a blockade runner whose ship slipped past the Union blockade to bring supplies to the south (and earn a good profit in the process).

Carpetbagger entered American English in the 1860s as a negative word for opportunistic whites from the northern part of the country who moved south after the fall of the Confederacy to grab political power (from which some local residents were barred at the time) or to seize property and lands taken by the Union army. Such people arrived carrying their worldly goods in sturdy bags made from carpet scraps.

I wasn’t able to source a copyright free image for this one, but if you picture Mary Poppin’s bag (the one she can find anything in, even a standard lamp) then you’re on the right track.

Over time the word was used for several types of unpopular people out to take advantage of situations for their own advancement including ( but not limited to) – political candidates running in areas where they are not resident, somebody opening an account in a building society solely in the hope the business will go public and they’ll get a windfall payment in the process (UK and Ireland), an amateur Gaelic games player from Ireland who plays without salary but with rich side benefits in the US during the Irish off-season (Ireland), teachers and missionaries who moved from north to southern states (US), and even a steak stuffed with oysters (New Zealand).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

p.p.s. I’m working away on my next word history book, “Words The Sea Gave Us” at the moment and hoping to launch online in May. I got a sneak peak of the cover this week, very exciting! I’ll let you  know when pre-orders and advance review copies are available. Watch this space.

Paradise is a Walled Garden

Hello,

This week’s word is paradise, with thanks to Qi who mentioned on a recent edition that it was a word the Persians gave us (along with chess and mummies, if you’re curious). Paradise is used now as a word for an ideal place, and in religious terms it can be the Garden of Eden in the Bible or a heavenly abode for the worthy after death.

I suspect that if you asked a hundred people to describe paradise, you would get a hundred different answers, but thanks to the Persians we have a word history answer available, regardless of your beliefs, or lack thereof. Paradise is a walled garden.

Walled medieval garden, Bloom 2016

Paradise is an Old English word which entered the language from Old French paradis thanks to the Norman invasion (1066 and all that). The French had it from Late Latin paradisus (park, orchard, garden to Eden) who grabbed it from the Greek paradeisos. The Greeks had borrowed it from an Iranian source avestan pairidaeza (enclosure or park). Pairidaeza is formed from pairi (around) and diz (to make a wall) so the core of the word paradise is the fact that it is a walled place, an enclosure of land.

The Greeks used it to describe an enclosed royal hunting ground in Persia and the name attached itself to the idea of the Garden of Eden in English around 1200, and as a description of Muslim heaven from about 1400.

A little corner of paradise

As a garden-lover I like the idea of paradise being a walled garden, filled with blooms, and buzzing with bees, beautiful scents, and bird song. I’m hoping I won’t have to do any weeding though. Perhaps I could sit back and read a good book instead.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Wonderful English Words from Ireland – Bocketty

Hello,

This week’s word is a favourite of my own, but spotting it in Niall Williams’ excellent novel “This is Happiness” (a coming of age story set in a small Irish village when electricity was installed for the first time) reminded me that I hadn’t included it here on Wordfoolery yet. The word I’m talking about is bocketty (also spelled bockety and bockedy).

I’ve been unable to source a pronunciation audio file for this one but it’s pretty easy to say bock-et-tee (equal stress on all three parts). You won’t find it in mainstream English dictionaries but it shows up in slang dictionaries s meaning “imperfect or physically impaired” and that was the use Williams made of it when he described bocketty men walking to an early Mass who had lost a toe, or two, in farming accidents and wearing their ill-fitting Sunday-best shoes.

In my home bocketty is used to describe anything which is a tad wonky – a far-from straight line drawn without the use of a ruler, a cake whose rise was uneven but would be fine once we applied enough icing (frosting for American readers), or a anything improvised and good enough for use, but not perfect. The Burrow, home to Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter books, is perhaps the best visual example of a bocketty house.

She made the bocketty stitching into a “design feature”.

Apparently the word comes from late 1800s Irish (Oxford Dictionary) but I was unable to source the original Irish word as the spelling must have changed – there is no letter K in the Irish alphabet for a start. Despite having a lack of formal recognition, bocketty is a common word in speech here today and turns up in the writing of many Irish authors (Éamon Kelly, Anne Enright, Niall Williams, etc.). I am curious to know if bocketty is ever used in British-English or American-English – so if you use it yourself outside of Ireland, please drop me a comment. Thanks!

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Rambunctious, Rumbustious, and Ramgumptious

Hello,

I decided to take a look at the origins of rambunctious this morning, but along the way I was distracted by rumbustious and ramgumptious. I hope you’ll forgive me.

Rambunctious (pronunciation here) describes unruly or boisterous behaviour and was used in print from about 1830 in North America. It may have been an adaptation of the British English word rumbustious which had the same meaning and appeared there in the late 1700s as a compounding of robust and boisterous. The OED suggests it may have links to bumptious too.

Whatever the truth, it sounds bumpy and unruly and has stuck in both American and British English ever since. It is the perfect word to describe the lambs in the fields on my daily walk which delight in skipping, butting, and climbing on top of their patient mothers, and yet always stand still when I try to capture their antics in a photo or video.

Rambunctious lambs, not rams (pardon the pun)

Rumbustious isn’t a word we use commonly today. It dates to the late 1700s and includes the prefix rum which was used in a slang sense of good or fine – something I will recall the next time I sip a glass of rum.

Several other words of the same type were coined around the same time, none of which are in use now and yet might be worth revival. A rambumptious person was conceited and self-assertive, a rambuskious one was rough, but the one I love is ramgumptious which combines rambunctious with gumption (which I wrote about back in 2009) to tell us the person is shrewd but also bold and rash – what an amazing combination of personal characteristics.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. In other writing news this week – my next word book inspired by this blog, has just been sent off for proof copies. “Words The Sea Gave Us” will be launching later this year. Watch this space!