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Posts Tagged ‘meaning’

Hello,

Today’s word, bastard, may offend some readers but it has a fascinating word history.

Let’s get the meaning sorted first. It has two main definitions –

  1. a person born to unmarried parents
  2. a despicable person

Fortunately the social stigma once attached to the first case is lessening in most cultures. Despicable people, sadly, will always be with us.

The word originated in medieval Latin as bastum. A bastum was a pack saddle. Bastums were used as improvised beds during journeys. The ending -ard was added to create bastardus and name the person conceived in such an impromptu sleeping arrangement. Finally, with a short detour through old French, we arrived at bastard in Middle English and it’s been with us ever since.

Curiously the German word bänkling, which also means bastard, literally translates as “child begotten on a bench”. Location matters, it seems.

The meaning of bastard in Middle English, around the 1200s, wasn’t the meaning we understand today. A bastard was the acknowledged child of a nobleman by a woman other than his wife. The term was irrelevant to the ordinary folk and wasn’t seen as a stigma until the late 1500s. William the Conqueror (Battle of Hastings in 1066, and all that) was often referred to in state documents as William the Bastard.

A related term is gimbo which is the bastard child of a bastard, despite sounding like an exotic stew.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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Hello,

Today’s words are yon, yonder, and yonderly and yonder is with thanks to my daughter. She has decided to refer to certain uniquely male parts of her brother’s anatomy not by the the correct scientific terms but as “down yonder“. I suspect her main motivation is to irritate him. It’s working. Ah the joys of sibling love.

Dreaming of the Wild Blue Yonder

The archaic word yonder, which means “over there” or “some distance from here” entered Middle English around 1200 A.D.  and has Dutch and German roots. There’s a Dutch word ginder which shares its meaning and the Saxons used jendra, Old High German used jener and the Goths tribe used jaind.

My favourite use of yonder is in “Romeo and Juliet” when Romeo says “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” when he’s watching Juliet. It is somewhat more romantic than “down yonder” coupled with a girlish giggle.

Yon is used too, and it means “that” and perhaps more precisely “that thing over there”. For example, “there’s a crow roosting in yon tree”. It shares the same roots as yonder. My favourite use for it is “hither, thither, and yon” – such a wonderful way to describe someone dashing about the place and a good description of my activities this week.

The final word of the trio is yonderly, which relates to distance as you might expect but this time it’s emotional distance rather than physical distance. A person who is described as yonderly is reserved, aloof with a dash of gloominess. I was unable to find any word origin information for yonderly but I think we can safely assume it’s a close relation of yonder and yon.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling as you dash hither, thither, and yon,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is nostalgia, not because I’m feeling wistful about the past but because I like it as a word and saw it in a book this morning and wondered why it’s so close in spelling to neuralgia – could there be a link?

As with many English words I had to turn to the Greeks for an explanation, but the Swiss had a big hand in it too. Nostos is the Greek for “return home”. I love that they have a word for that as opposed to returning to any other location and it looks a little like the word nest too (nest is an old Norse word meaning “food for a journey”). However with the Odyssey in their literature canon, it’s not surprising they have a word for journeys home.

Algos is the Greek for pain which explains the similarity to neuralgia – nerve pain. Together they give us nostalgia – the pain of homesickness.

But wait, doesn’t nostalgia refer to a wistful longing for times past? Well, no actually it doesn’t. Or at least it didn’t until about the 1920s when its use in French novels helped it gain the more modern meaning.

Nostalgia goes way back in time (sorry, couldn’t resist that pun).

To 1668 in fact when it was coined by Swiss scholar Johannes Hofer to refer to extreme homesickness as a disease. By 1754 it was recognised by French army medics. It was particularly noted in relation to the Swiss (pining for the chocolate perhaps?) and could often prove to be fatal. The playing of the bagpipes could trigger it in Scottish troops.

During the American Civil War it was a major issue for Northern troops who recorded 2588 cases in the first two years of the conflict, 13 of them fatal.

I am grateful that nostalgia is no longer a killer disease but something more gentle. But if you come across a homesick Swiss person I suggest you send them home without delay.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

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Hello,

I’ve been mulling over the notion of hiking. I have a short-term job that involves a fair amount of walking so my regular morning walks and longer hikes with family and Scouts have been shelved as a result. I’m missing them but looking forward to getting back out on the hills soon. Fingers crossed that the often damp Irish weather co-operates when I have the free time.

These boots are made for walking

These boots are made for walking

In the meantime I investigated the word hike. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells me the word isn’t half as old as I had imagined. Earliest version seems to be yike in 1736 meaning to walk vigorously. Then in 1809 we get hyke as an English dialect word of unknown origin. In 1830 it is being used in the sense of contemptuously – take yourself off in East Anglia and London. It didn’t gain widespread use to mean long walks in the countryside until the early 1900s.

View from Glendalough Red Route hiking trail, Wicklow, Ireland

View from Glendalough Red Route hiking trail, Wicklow, Ireland

It looks like the idea of “take a hike” as a way of telling someone to go away is far from recent. Another especially American hike phrase is the use of “Hut, hut, Hike” as a call in American football. I’m no expert on the game but it’s well explained over at Today I Found Out.

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

Grace

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Hello,

This week’s word comes thanks to Woodfoolery friend, Sheena, who suggested psephology – a branch of political science dealing with the study and scientific analysis of elections. It is pronounced seef-ology, in case you’re wondering.

Those of you of a certain vintage may recall the lovely Maureen Lipman in an ad for British Telecom ringing her grandson about his exam results. The poor boy hadn’t done well, but had managed one subject ending in “ology” and she was very impressed because it made him a scientist.

I suspect psephology would impress her too. Psephologists who are experts in politics, statistics and demographics use historic voting records, polls, campaign finance information and any other data they can find, to dig into an election not for predicting results but rather for finding the current state of politics.

The reason I like psephology isn’t because I love a good old graph or election night drama. It is because of the word’s origin. Despite being coined as recently as 1952, its roots lie in the distant past.

Psephos means pebble in Greek and psephology is the study of voting pebbles, used by the Greek in those early days of democracy. In an era where e-voting is becoming more popular I love the idea of an ancient Greek psephologist in his robes carefully counting the pebbles in the latest election and formulating theories based on them. It raises the question for the electorate – should we “vote early, vote often” or not “cast the first stone”?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

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Hello,

This week’s word is legend, partly because I love myths and legends and partly because as a cartophile I relish reading the legend on maps (the words, typically on the bottom of a map, explaining the symbols’ meanings).

legend map

Until recently I hadn’t paid much thought to those two rather different uses of the same word. Plenty of words have more than one meaning. But then I caught the tail end of a radio interview and the interviewee mentioned that legend refers purely to words and writing things down.

Intrigued, I rummaged in the dictionaries.

Unsurprisingly, legend’s roots lie in Latin. Legere means to read. I imagine it’s related to legible, for example.

Then medieval Latin gives us legenda – things to be read. Something was a legenda if, in a largely illiterate world, it was worthy enough to be written down in the first place. The exact opposite of a modern throwaway tweet.

The key to a map needs to be read too, particularly if you want to be able to read the map’s symbols.

Legenda migrates into old French as legende. Fair enough.

Then in the early 17th century legend turn up in Old English, but in a specific sense – the story of a saint’s life. Such a legend was typically read aloud on that saint’s day.

Over time legends came to include heros, myths, and other more pagan tales. On a recent Beaver Scout camp we declared one young boy a Camping Legend because despite his mother’s careful packing and our regular reminders – he managed to remain in the same clothes and avoid a toothbrush for the entire trip. After all, you are meant to get grubby on camp, right?

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

Grace

 

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Hello,

Poor handwriting has been a hot topic in my house recently. In my daugher’s school pupils write all their work in joined script from age 10. I remember the pain my older child went through at this stage and I thought I was ready for it. Plus I know this child’s fine motor skills are much better than her older sibling’s. Perhaps she would escape my genes for terrible handwriting?

I wasn’t ready. She didn’t escape.

The teacher, to encourage the children, has a system whereby good handwriting (calligraphy) is rewarded with a smiley face stamp on their work. Gather enough of these (an unspecified number which really irritated my highly numerate daughter, and her mother) and you get a coveted “pen license” and may use a biro instead of a pencil. In my day it was an ink pen, which actually does force you to form letters properly, but apparently that’s not a thing now.

On the first day 75% of the class got the stamp at least once. Not my little one.

Two weeks later, still no stamp, although her handwriting looked fine to me. Very unhappy daughter.

Finally she gets a stamp. The reason for the delay? She wasn’t leaving an empty line between each sentence.

She still hasn’t earned that pen license but at least we know it’s not down to her cacography (pronunciation here). The word dates from 1580 and comes from the Greek kakos meaning bad (perhaps leading to the slang description of food/clothes as being kak or cack-handed for clumsy or left-handed?).

I’m lucky they invented computers in my lifetime and you can enjoy a neat font on this blog rather than my usual scribble which was poor age 10 and has worsened over time, particularly thanks to speed-note-taking in my university years.

An example of my own cacography

An example of my own cacography

There are two benefits to cacography in my experience –

  1. nobody can decipher your private notes or diary
  2. you can read the worst hand-writing in the world with ease – even doctor’s prescriptions

Until next time happy reading, wordfooling and writing (be it calligraphic or cacographic),

Grace

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