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Hello,

This week’s word is jettatura (pronunciation here) which is a term for the evil eye or bad luck.

A glass token to avert jettatura

Jettatura entered English in the 1800s with the earliest use found in “The London Magazine”. The word originates in Italian, particularly in the southern regions, and is formed from iettare (to jinx or curse) and -atura.

What is jettaura or the evil eye? Accounts vary, as they often do for occult terms. In one version the person who is cursed with the evil eye will cast bad luck upon anybody they look at. This seems particularly unfair as you’re bound to curse those you love. The advice was to wear horns on your person to avert the curse.

The version I’ve encountered personally in the Greek islands and in Turkey (not a million miles away from southern Italy) is that anybody with blue eyes is deemed to carry the evil eye and may accidentally cause bad luck to those in their vicinity. This can be turned aside by a blue eyeball token (on your person or in your home) or by making the sign of horns with the fingers of your hands.

I have blue eyes and would sometimes find brown-eyed locals discreetly making the horn sign when they encountered me on the street or in marketplaces in the much the same habitual way my mother would make the sign of the cross when an ambulance passed us – partly to bless the efforts of the medical crew in helping the person inside and partly in hope that such trouble would bypass her and her family.

In Turkey particularly the glass eye tokens were everywhere and traders would sometimes slip one into my purchases either as an extra bonus or to ensure my blue-eyed jettatura went away with me rather than resting upon their business.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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Hello,

These week’s word, oniochalasia, has been inspired by a prolonged shopping trip last Saturday. My daughter needed an outfit for a special occasion and she thoroughly enjoyed the experience of trying on and purchasing her new clothes. I hope I haven’t given her oniochalasia, it’s an expensive habit.

Book store oniochalasia

So what is it? Oniochalasia is the purchasing of objects as a form of mental relaxation, in other words, retail therapy. If you enjoy shopping, and the buzz of a good bargain, you may suffer from this. Alternatively your credit card may suffer from the aftermath.

Sadly I wasn’t able to source a sound file for the pronunciation of this word but one video gave it as “on-chill-a-laze-e-a”. Oniochalasia appears to be a recently invented word coined from Greek sources – onio is the Greek for sell or sale while chalasia is the relaxing of a ring of muscle. Combine the two and you get relaxation because of purchases.

My daughter was definitely relaxed after our trip to the dress shops, unfortunately my tired feet and credit card are still recovering. I can vouch for book-shopping as being my oniochalasia method of choice. I had the pleasure of spending a large stack of book vouchers recently and it had a relaxing effect, until I tried to add them to my already large To Be Read pile and everything fell over.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Hello,

It snowed here last night, a rare enough event on Ireland’s east coast, a scattering of the white stuff lies on the grass outside my house and the paths are icy. The temperature on the walk to school was low enough to convince me to postpone my daily walk until noon when it will hopefully be warmer. Instead I’ve retreated to my hibernacle.

My hibernacle, don’t you have one?

Mine consists of a soft purple blanket nest, a good book, and a large bar of quality chocolate.

My hibernacle

A hibernacle is “a place where an animal hibernates, but it can also mean a winter retreat for humans” according to The Free Dictionary.

Humans and hibernating animals have shared the history of hibernacle from the start. The word arose in New Latin from hibernaculum which means winter quarters or tents for winter. Animals don’t live in tents so clearly the origin is with winter shelter for humans. Soldiers or nomads would need a stronger, more snow-proof, shelter in winter than what’s required in warmer months. Of course here in Ireland you need something waterproof year-round.

By the 1690s hibernacle entered English in the animal biology sense, as a shelter for over-wintering animals. It has retained that sense to modern times but there’s a case for bringing back the human version too. Yes, we can’t hibernate but the appeal of curling up under a blanket with a box-set or good book is strong on snow-days.

If you don’t have a hibernacle, perhaps it’s time to create one?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling in your hibernacle,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Hello,

I found this week’s word, scurryfunge, thanks to the Qi Elves and there’s some debate about it being a real word but after a long look at the arguments on StackExchange, I’ve decided it is probably a word and if not, it should be.

To work then, what does scurryfunge mean? Most agree it describes the frantic dash to tidy up before your guests arrive and it has roots in either Old or Middle English. I have scurryfunged many times in my life. I mean, that’s why we have cupboards, right? To shove stuff into before opening the front door?

Ready to scurryfunge

There is a fun alternate meaning too. It was used in the 1800s as meaning “to scour for marine curiosities”. As someone who loves coastal oddities, wordy and physical, I’ve scurryfunged that way too.

Scurry is a well-known verb to indicate rushing, particularly of the mouse variety. Funge is a bit trickier to track down but the best guesses relate to changing something, in this case from being messy to being superficially tidy and ordered.

I should also note scurrifunge is an acceptable alternate spelling and apparently scurryfunge is still a dialect word in use in the Newfoundland region – can anybody confirm that, please? Sadly in mainstream English scurryfunge has fallen out of use and yet, the act it describes hasn’t, so I think it’s due a revival.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Varmints and Vermin

Hello,

This week’s words are varmints and vermin. I can’t say the word varmint without imagining a grizzled Wild West prospector, possibly missing a tooth, or two. I was curious, is varmint an uniquely American word for describing both animal pests and rascals of the two-legged variety?

Too friendly a mouse to be vermin

Sadly the pronunciation of varmint (available here) is not provided by that curmudgeonly character and varmint pre-dates the American frontier. It comes from Middle English, was used as early as 1539, and is a variant of vermin with what’s called a “parasitic t”. I don’t relish the notion of letters attaching themselves like leeches to other words, although it would explain the spelling of pneumonia.

Despite its source in Middle English varmint is now listed in both Oxford and Collins dictionaries as being informal North American slang. Its use for animal pests came first. The secondary meaning of a troublesome person arrived in the 1700s.

Rats made of shells in the French Vendee region

Vermin’s use for such trouble-makers has earlier roots. By the 1560s if you referred to the farmer next door as vermin, everybody would have understood. This isn’t surprising as vermin is the older word. The Latin for worm is vermis. This became the collective noun verminum in vulgar Latin and referred to all sorts of pests – insects and possibly reptiles included. Old French seized on it as vermin and referred to difficult creatures such as moths. worms, and mites. By 1300 the Normans had brought it with them to England in Anglo-French. Every language, it seems, requires a term for varmints.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling, hopefully without varmints,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Hello,

This week’s word is influenza. Thankfully my family have avoided this year’s virus to date but the news is warning us to be careful. The schools are spreading the word on good anti-flu hygiene, our church has cancelled certain activities to limit contagion, and I know people with suppressed immune systems who are living a hermit existence to avoid it. Influenza is no joke and the strain this year is hardest on youngsters under the age of 15. I’m watching my offspring closely.

Ready to Flight the Flu

Influenza is an Italian gift to the English language. It was used in Italian to describe diseases from the 1500s but not always for the flu. Scarlet fever, for example, was seen as an influenza. The word had roots in influence. The influence in this case was an occult one. The stars and planets in the sky were blamed for invisibly creating such fevers in humans as early as medieval Latin and the word influentia which meant “flowing in” and is related to fluent speech or being under the influence of drink.

Then in 1743 an influenza outbreak began in Italy and the word made it to English shores.

It’s not hard to see why a society unaware of viruses might look to the stars for an explanation of a disease which appeared from nowhere. It surprised me to discover the virus was only discovered in pigs in 1931 by Richard Shope.

Until next time healthy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. my writing plans for 2018 include – publishing “How to Get Your Name in the Dictionary” (inspired by this blog), completing serial publication of “Hamster Stew & Other Stories” and launching the sequel “Nit Roast & Other Stories”, revision & submission of “Red Sails” (my middle grade book), ongoing blogging, column-writing, articles and, of course, my annual NaNoWriMo adventure. How about you – any cool plans for this year?

Fulsome, or is it?

Hello & Happy New Year,

This week’s word is thanks to my friend Deirdre who mentioned its murky ambiguity when we were hiking last weekend. Fulsome, it transpires, has two, contradictory meanings.

My much-used 1984 Collins English Dictionary simply refers readers from fulsome (pronunciation here) to the definition for full, but the history of this word is far from simple.

Merriam-Webster explains this word, whose first use was in the 1300s, was originally a Middle English version of itself – fulsom coming directly from compounding the words full and some. However its meaning wasn’t the same then. Back then fulsome meant cloying or over the top. Interestingly the OED claims the word dates to 1250 and meant abundant originally so the confusion may go “way back”.

The effusive meaning persisted but the idea of fulsome as abundant gained ground through the 1600s, leaving wordsmiths in a quandary. By the 1800s the positive sense died away and even left dictionaries but by the 1900s the positive sense overtook the negative, leaving the dictionaries wrong-footed.

A fulsome huggle of teds

In modern use fulsome can again, go either way. If the head of state gives fulsome praise or a fulsome apology to a politician, it’s now almost impossible to tell if that’s a good or a bad thing. Best advice? Steer clear of fulsome until the meaning settles because using it is bound to cause confusion.

Until next time I wish you a fulsome January,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)