Barmy, Beer, and Barmbrack

Hello,

Today’s the first of July and as I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, the summertime challenge from the people who bring us National Novel Writing Month every November. It’s a smaller event with friendly camp cabins (online support forums) instead of real-world writer meetings so I’m chatting with writers from America, Sweden, and elsewhere this month as I work away on the second half of my nonfiction book “Words The Vikings Gave Us”.

Camp Nano is a relaxing event for me as I don’t have the responsibility of running meetings and forums as I do during the November challenge. Plus, instead of targeting 50,000 words in a month I can set my own target (25,000 words this July).

One of the words I wrote about today at camp was barmy – a word the Vikings gave us. So I thought I’d share it here too.

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

Barmy

To describe somebody as barmy in British English is to say they are foolish or crazy. Barmy is an adjective form of the noun barm – the froth on yeasty malt liquor, typically during the creation of beer or ale. The bubbly barm was also used to leaven bread and certain cakes. Both jobs would have been common on Viking-era farms and for many centuries thereafter, so it’s no surprise that barm comes from an Old Norse word barmr (froth).

Beer capping machine in the Smithwick’s Brewery in Kilkenny, Ireland

Barm entered Old English as beorma to mean either yeast or the head of a beer, again with that frothy meaning. It is likely the Vikings brought the word to English.

The Viking influence on English was particularly strong in Northern English because it was a centre for their settlements and population. Viking footprints on barm are easily spotted in barm cake. This cake, from North-Western England, leavened with barm, is a soft, rounded, flattish bread roll.

Another barm-related recipe is that for barmbrack (sometimes mis-named barnbrack) – the traditional Halloween cake across Ireland. The barmbrack (bairín breac in Irish which translates as speckled loaf) is a round fruit cake leavened with yeast or barm which is usually served sliced and buttered. Traditionally items were baked inside the dough and finding one in your slice was deemed to be a primitive form of fortune telling. The dried pea predicted you wouldn’t marry that year, the stick foretold an unhappy marriage, the rag suggested poverty, the coin claimed future wealth, and finding the ring assured you of a wedding before the next Halloween.

Wales has a similar fruit bread called bara brith, but without the surprise ingredients and fortune telling.

Perfect beer for a wordfool

 

   It wasn’t until the 1800s that barmy gained the additional meaning of foolish or mad from its connection to frothy, bubbly behaviour.

 

 

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Cantankerous

Hello,

This week’s word is cantankerous, and no, not because I’m in a grumpy mood today.

Somebody who is cantankerous is bad-tempered and argumentative. The word has been in English since the 1700s when it was believed to come from Wiltshire dialect but it is likely to have older roots. There was a possibly related word contakour in Middle English around 1300 which meant troublemaker. Contakour was a borrowing from Anglo-French contec (discord) and Old French contechier.

“Grumpy Tiki” – a wood carving by my DH whose cantankerous face adorns our garden

Alternatively, some dictionaries reckon it’s related to the word rancour (rancor in American English). Rancour (bitterness and grief) entered English around 1200 from Old French rancor. Rancor came from Latin rancorem (a rancid stinking smell or grudge) from the Latin verb rancere (to stink).

Using that set of origins you could assume that a cantankerous person bears a grudge and may be less than fragrant too.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Dilligaff

Hello,

This week’s word is slang so don’t expect any intellectual Latin or Greek roots this time. The word is dilligaf (also spelled with two ffs, I’ll explain in a moment) and I came across it on a typography trail tour at Hinterland Literary Festival in Kells, Ireland last summer when I was lucky enough to win their inaugural short fiction prize and get a free pass to the festival. I had a fantastic time (despite being very nervous about my reading that evening). If you’re able to make the trip I’d recommend it. There’s a friendly feel to the event and the whole town gets involved. It’s on the 27th-30th of June this year.

Dress made from old books by an art student, Hinterland 2018

The typography tour of art installations around the town was wonderful. Because we were enjoying it so much the kind and knowledgeable guide chatted long past his assigned time. I love when that happens. He mentioned in passing that he’d acquired a new word that week and of course my ears pricked up.

Dilligaff, he explained, is an acronym for “Do I Look Like I Give a Flying F***?”

That got a good laugh from the tour group, even the genteel older ladies in our group raised a giggle.

Typography about colours, the 2018 Hinterland festival theme.

I’ve had a brief rummage to see if I can find the origin of dilligaf (the more common spelling omits the flying part) and there are suggestions that it may be military slang. It was popularised by an Australian comic songwriter called Kevin Wilson whose songs are pretty R-rated. One of his best-loved tunes is called “Dilligaf”. I’m not including a link in case WordPress takes offense!

One of many imagination quotations on the festival wall

Until next time happy reading, writing, and imagining instead of dilligaffing,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Numinous

Hello,

Today’s word is numinous. I happened upon it in an article (“A Pilgrim in the City” by Clare Gogerty, author of “Beyond the Footpath”) in the June issue of Simple Things magazine this weekend. She described places of worship as being numinous, “a welcome respite from the hurly-burly of the city”. She’s right, of course. Such places can be a quiet oasis that’s much needed regardless of your beliefs, but what exactly does numinous mean?

Chapel ceiling in Christchurch cathedral, Dublin

Numinous (pronunciation here) has three related meanings. The first is supernatural or mysterious – a ghost sighting might be numinous. The second is of a place which is filled with a sense of the divine presence. The third is something appealing to the higher emotions or aesthetic sense. So although places of worship may be numinous it can equally be applied to a beautiful space in nature or an elegant piece of secular architecture. I would argue that a sense of wonder is what links all three. The chapel pictured above is numinous in all senses, I think.

The origin of numinous lies in Latin. Numinous entered English around 1640 to mean “divine or spiritual” from the Latin word numen (divine will). Numen is more accurately translated as divine approval as indicated by the nod of a head because numen comes from nuere the verb to nod. So if something is numinous it has “the nod” direct from God apparently.

Do you have a numinous space somewhere in your world? I hope you enjoy it this week.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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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)

Ostracise

Hello,

This week’s word is ostracise (or ostracize for North American readers) because it relates to voting and I’ve been enjoying the drama of the European Parliament and local council elections here all weekend.

To ostracise somebody (in English since the late 1500s) is to exclude them from a community, an effective punishment for not obeying social rules. Ostracise is a word the Greeks gave us and the story behind it is intriguing.

Not fitting in with the others

The original Greek word was ostrakon which means broken pottery. In Athens, and other Greek city-states, a citizen who was perceived to be dangerous to the state could be banished for four or ten years but only after a vote. The voters would write a person’s name on an old shard of pottery. When the votes were sufficient, the person was ostracised by being exiled.

A similar system operated in the ancient city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily to determine a five year exile ,except they wrote the name on olive leaves. As a result it was called petalism or petalismos.

 

Other unusual voting items are the white and black balls in ballots, and the fava beans the Medicis used to vote in Florence, Italy during the 1400s. While in ancient Sparta the candidate with the loudest shouting supporters won the vote.

 

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@wordfoolery)

Wordfoolery on Scripted Scribbles

Hello,

The Wordfoolery book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (buy it here) is featured this week on the Scripted Scribbles Podcast. Andrew, Daniel, and John gave it a glowing review – enjoying the anecdotes about the origin of groggy, a cup of joe, and the original molotov cocktail. They described it as a “really good book” filled with “a wealth of information” and “a bargain”. They gave a thumbs up to this blog too, which is always great to hear.

Their podcast also covered the audiobook of “Mythos” by Stephen Fry, friendly chat about fantasy, sci-fi, and how Rupert the Bear books can help you calm down after scary horror movies

I listened on itunes/apple podcasts. It’s also available on Buzzsprout and Spotify. I’m delighted they chose to feature the book and I hope you enjoy their bookish podcast.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

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