Tag Archives: 501 books to read before you die



As promised, after last week’s review of my favourite books of 2019, we’re back to unusual words. This week’s word is skinflint which is a great way of saying that somebody is tight, canny, or mean with their money. Scrooge was a world-class skinflint, until he met the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.

Skinflint came to my notice last week when I was reading “War and Peace” written by Leo Tolstoy in the 1800s, one of the books on my 501 Books to Read Before you Die list and actually one I read as a teen but wanted to re-read. It took me nearly two months, but it was worth it (just avoid the epilogue which is tedious). Anyhow, in it a soldier characters says “a German knows how to skin a flint, as the proverb says” and it made me wonder if Tolstoy had introduced the word to English, perhaps via a Russian proverb.

I’ve been unable to source the Russian proverb (it’s possible Tolstoy invented it, or it was short-lived soldier slang) but I did find a similar expression in French – tondre un oeuf (shave an egg) with thanks to WordHistories.net, in the early 1600s, so clearly this phrase has cousins in other European languages.

However skinflint definitely existed as an English word before Tolstoy’s time. It dates back to the 1600s and flay-flint was also used with the same sense. In the 1700s you might call a miser a nipcheese which I rather like as everybody in my house gets very fussy if their favourite cheese is nibbled without permission.

An early use of skinflint in print was the 1656 poem called “The Legend of Captain Jones” about one of the first English settlers at Jamestown, Virginia in North America which had the line –

“Jones was one would Skinne a Flint, and eat him when he h’had done”

Flint (top) and steel (below)

It’s still unclear to me how, or why, you would skin a flint. Flints are stones used most often in the past as either arrowheads, basic knives or to generate a spark (when struck by steel) to light a fire. My own flint and steel are pictured here and yes, there’s a bit of a knack to getting that spark but it’s possible.

I did find some suggestions that the skinflint would split a flint stone (easy enough to do) in order to get a second for free. Typically only one stone would be needed per person so that’s pointless penny-pinching of the sort Scrooge would approve.

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.

Wordfoolery’s Favourite Books of 2019


As you might guess, I read compulsively. I’ve taken a look back at my reading (60 books so far this year) during 2019 with help from my Goodreads account and here are ten of my favourite books of the year. They’re not all recent releases, as books often wait in my Towering To Be Read Pile and because I’m still working my way through the 501 Books to Read Before You Die List. If you want to buy a book for somebody as a gift this year, or you want to treat yourself, I’d recommend any of these books. If you order through the links provided below a tiny fee is paid towards supporting this blog.

If you’re not a reader, or prefer posts about unusual words, don’t worry normal service will resume next Monday.

They’re listed in random order. I can’t rank books, I love them too much.

Godsgrave – Jay Kristoff


Book 2 in the Nevernight Chronicles. The first book was “Harry Potter meets assassin school” but now our heroine is qualified and on a mission which puts her undercover as a gladiator. Luckily she has some magic up her sleeve. I adore this series.


Crown of Swords (Book 7 in Wheel of Time Series) – Robert Jordan


I read books 4-8 of this series this year. Epic fantasy in a medieval style world with plenty of magical creatures and quests. Along with strong male characters we also have feisty female characters from queens to village healers to leaders of rebel magic organisations. Crown of Swords is the 7th book and well worth a look.


Mistletoe and Murder – Robin Stevens


I read this one so I can “book chat” with my 14 year old daughter. Suitable from age 10 up but good even for adult readers. If you love Agatha Christie-era detective fiction mixed with boarding school stories you need this series in your life. Hazel and Daisy (the school-girl detectives in 1930s England) are in Cambridge this time and solving murders amongst the stone spires and Christmas joy of the university.


Off The Rails – Christopher Fowler


The aging detectives Bryant & May and the rest of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit are back on the case – this time with strange goings on in the Underground train system. If you love London, clever crime fiction, and wit – this series is perfect.


The Trespasser – Tana French


Tana French’s work reached a wider audience with the recent BBC-RTE-Starz version of “Dublin Murders” and this one features the same detective. I hadn’t read her work before and am delighted to jump on the band wagon. Murders, contemporary Dublin, tough cops, and messy home life – what more could you want?


Vikings – Neil Oliver


I was researching Viking words for a forthcoming book this spring and used this book. It takes a broad look at Vikings from Russia to Vinland and covers hundreds of years. It is easy to read but rich in detail and knowledge that will be new to most readers.


Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness


Book 2 of the All Souls Trilogy. This series has been referred to as Twilight for Adults as it features vampires and romance but I enjoyed the academic and wicca elements she weaves in. The best of the three books is this one, in my opinion, because the two leads time travel back to Tudor London. Book 1 has already been a big hit on Sky One tv. Books 2 & 3 will follow (release date unconfirmed as at Dec 2019).


84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff


if you love books and bookshops this is an essential read. True story of when a witty American reader corresponded with a stiff-upper-lipped English bookseller. Short but perfect.


Stardust – Neil Gaiman


A deceptively simple tale of a boy on a quest to catch a fallen star and win his lady. He crosses into a strange world and finds it might be his real home. Fantasy from a master.

How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary – Grace Tierney

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Apple Books / Kobo

Inspired by this blog, a fun journey through the lives of the people who gave their name to the English language. From apgar to zeppelin with stops for casanova, guillotine, sandwich, and cardigan, each one of them lived an extraordinary life. Packed with wordy trivia and perfect for history buffs.


Right, that’s enough book chat. Next week I’ll be back with strange and unusual words. Wishing you happy reading in 2020.

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 to say thanks for this year’s words.

p.p.s. You can read about my 2018 Books of the Year too.