Tag Archives: meaning

Over a Barrel

Hello,

With only one week left of pre-ordering on my new book “Words The Sea Gave Us” I’m getting excited about launch day (13th July). This week’s word is the phrase “over a barrel” and it’s a nautical phrase with two possible shipboard roots.

Over a Barrel {extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2020}

To have somebody over a barrel is to have the upper hand as they are rendered helpless.

There are two excellent reasons to put somebody over a barrel in a seafaring context. Either could be the source of this phrase which only entered printed English in 1938, but may have been around earlier.

The first option is to stretch a naughty sailor over the barrel before bringing out the cat o’ nine tails (see the Tight Ship chapter).

The second, more likely and equally helpless option, is the common method of reviving somebody who’d nearly drowned. The unfortunate soul was placed face down over the barrel which was then rolled back and forth vigorously to drain the seawater from their lungs and hopefully jolt them back into breathing. It’s unknown how often the over the barrel idea succeeded.

Barrel, despite being a very common item for centuries, has unknown origins. It was present by the 1300s in several European languages in various spellings, but the source hasn’t been found although barriclus in Medieval Latin is a good candidate.

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.

The History of the Word Barber and their Poles

Hello,

Today, if you live in Ireland, you can once again get your hair cut. As I write, the menfolk of my household are making the trip, through rain and wind, to resume their pre-virus hairstyles. It’s been a hard three months for those who like a neat trim.

Beard growing became a staying-at-home hobby for some.

For the day that’s in it I’ve decided to explore the word history of barber – a word the Romans gave us, with a little help from those fashionable French. If you’ve stumbled on this post looking for barbarians and barbarous, you can read more about their roots (pun intended) in my earlier post, or take a look at the barbaric yawp.

Despite the many shaggy hairstyles sported in historic sculptures, tapestries, and portraits, barbers have been part of life for longer than you might guess. Barber entered the English language around 1300 from the Anglo-French word barbour. It came from Old French barbeor (or barbieor, spelling was fluid back then) and ultimately from the Latin word barba (beard) which also gives us the word barb (as on an arrow or other weapons).

Barbers were early practitioners of the portfolio career concept. As somebody with access to cutting implements they often performed minor surgeries as well as hair-cuts and shaves. By the time of King Henry VIII of England they were limited to hair-cutting, blood-letting, and dentistry – hopefully not all at the same time.

The red and white striped barber’s pole used to identify their shop dates back the late 1600s and was a visual reminder of somebody’s arm, wrapped in a white bandage, after a blood-letting procedure. The pole itself was meant to represent the stick the patient would squeeze to make their veins stand out and make the cutting easier.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. Don’t forget “Words The Sea Gave Us” is now available for digital pre-orders. If you’d like a review copy – drop me a comment below. I’m planning a blog tour too – if you’d like me to guest post / be interviewed on your blog – let me know.

p.p.s. CampNaNo runs in April and July each year and I’ll be taking part again this July – aiming for another 30,000 words of my serialised novel “The Librarian’s Secret Diary”. Between camp and my book launch, it’s going to be a very busy July!

 

 

Snoofing

Hello,

This week’s word is snoofing, a word I found on a train in 2017.

I was about to say I couldn’t recall the last time I was on a train, but I can. It was six months ago. I used to commute daily by train and as offspring of non-driving, city-living parents I grew up exploring my city via public transport, but now it’s a rare pleasure for me to travel via train, nearly always for meeting friends or enjoying city pursuits like theatre, museums, etc. With such events currently limited I have no idea when I will next take the train and today I’m missing that experience. Where better to enjoy the passing view, eavesdrop for dialogue inspiration, or to read my book?

Snoofing is a waste of such luxuries in my opinion. Snoofing is an invented word (spotted on a fun poster on an Irish Rail train in 2017) combining spoofing (faking, coined in the late 1800s) and snoozing to give us a term for pretending to be asleep in order to avoid conversation or being obliged to give up your seat to somebody more worthy on public transport. The classic pose is that of a cowboy with his stetson pulled down over his eyes, but appearing to be visually glued to your telephone screen is a more common one in my experience. I commuted through both of my pregnancies and sadly snoofing was widespread. I sat on the floor when I had to, but getting up again when you’re carrying a baby-bump is tricky.

If you spot somebody snoofing the best approach is direct. A polite interruption and explanation of your need for a seat usually shames them into yielding their position, if you can be brave enough to take this path.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Brannock Device – One Two, Buckle My Shoe

Hello,

I love when one of my predictions comes true. Today is the first day here in Ireland of shops re-opening. Yes, we had groceries and pharmacies, but this is the day you can pop in for a spool of thread, a new book, or a bunch of flowers – the little things that are fun to buy, but not, as we had presumed, essential.

I’ve been saying for some time that the first shop which would logically be required would be footwear for children. They can manage on hand-me-down clothes from older siblings but growing children need new shoes more regularly than most parents like. Sure enough, queues are already forming at shoe-shops in the city centre. I suspect a few keen walkers and runners need new shoes too after all the daily exercise loops, too.

Once upon a time, long before this blog, I worked part-time in a busy shoe shop (Saxone’s on Henry Street, long closed now). We dreaded two times of the year in particular. The wide-eyed frenzy of Christmas Eve last-minute purchasers and the equally scary Back To School weeks when we would wrangle recalcitrant small feet into the foot measure and then find an appropriate pair of shoes to match. The child always wanted something shiny and expensive while the parents wanted a sensible shoe with growing room. Compromise was tricky, especially in a small space crowded with families on full volume.

Today I’m pitying the staff in the re-opening shoe shops who are now trying to use the foot measure with masks, gloves, and perspex screens. Small children can be anxious about this process and the new work-wear won’t be helping matters. Nor will the long queues.

It was only recently that I discovered the name of the foot measure, in a facebook post riddled with typos, the brannock device. It was patented in 1925 by a young American inventor, Charles F. Brannock. It’s a graduated metal foot plate with sliding toe stop, heel cup, and usually a strap to hold wriggling feet in place. Charles spent the rest of his 89 years making and selling these industry standard devices which are still made in New York today and exported worldwide.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Binkying Bunnies

Hello,

Happy June everybody. The sun is shining here and the birds chirping so this week’s word is a happy one – binkying. I came across it in “The Simple Things” magazine which is one of those rare things – a magazine without celebrity gossip or makeup tips. Instead they focus on unusual people, foraging, the outdoors, and simple things to add joy to your life.

Perhaps you know binky, but it was new to me. Binkying is a big twisty hop rabbits do when they’re happy. Humans don’t often jump for joy much beyond the age of ten, but apparently rabbits never lost the trick. Binky is also an informal term for a soft toy or blanket that a small child loves and sleeps with.

Piegon and Buttercup tucked up in bed, tired from binkying

The word history for binky is murky at best. First record of usage appears to be 1935 but origin is given as a Binky, a rabbit character in “Life is Hell” a comic book series by Matt Groening in 1977. Yes, Matt went on to create “The Simpsons”.

American readers will probably also know binky as a brand of baby soother/pacifier and a trademark since 1935 in the U.S.A.. Keen readers of Terry Pratchett’s wonderful Discworld fantasy novels will also know that Death’s horse in the series was called Binky.

Word Detective adds that binky pre-dates the trademark as a term for a small item in 1912 and one of the commenters there adds the gem that in Edwardian England the names given to as yet unnamed girl babies was Bunty and for boy babies it was Binky.

The trail for the origin of binky wanders through both baby and bunny history without reaching a true conclusion, but I’d be betting the rabbits got there first. All I know for sure is that if I ever get a pet rabbit it will be either Bunty or Binky.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Doxxing

Hello,

I’m extending an extra welcome to the new readers who joined wordfoolery this week, feel free to join in on the comments. This week’s word is doxxing. It’s been on my “to write about” list for a while now so I’m unsure where I came across it, but I know I originally thought it had to be an old Dublin insult, akin to pox bottle.

Security is key

Doxxing is negative, but not in that way. It’s a pretty recent word, with earliest usage being 2009, although the practice probably dates back to the 1990s. It is defined (in Merriam Webster) as “to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge”. The etymology is simple – it’s a contraction of document dropping where the plural docs is pronounced dox.

Document itself comes from Latin originally – the verb docere meaning to teach or show.

Doxxing is unpleasant for the victim in all cases but can be highly dangerous, as when the home addresses of police officers are revealed, for example. High profile victims of doxxing have included Beyoncé and Hilary Clinton. Surprisingly the unearthing and publishing of tax numbers, private phone numbers, and details about offspring is often legal. The use of the information once it is out “in the wild” online is much more dubious.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Queue in Queuetopia along with Wolfe Tone and Churchill

Hello,

This week’s word is queue as that appears to be my new hobby – queuing in a socially distant manner for groceries. My record so far is two hours, sigh.

For a relatively simple word, queue has some intriguing historical links to both Irish patriot Wolfe Tone and British statesman Winston Churchill.

Queue entered English in the late 1400s to describe the ribbons around a scrolled letter with seals dangling on the ends. Think of a formal message to a king or noble and you’d be on the right track.

The word was a direct adoption from French queue (tail) which came from Old French cue (tail) which perhaps is a more sensible spelling, but not the one that stuck with us. Cue came to French from Latin coda or cauda, both meaning tail also.

Queue, by the 1500s, was being used for tail in English too, especially for animals in heraldry – the shields and symbols of noble families. Around the same time queue came to describe a line of dancers which by the early 1800s could be a line of people. The idea of a queue being a line of people waiting for something arose in the late 1800s and has been with us ever since.

A queue was also used in hair-styles too. From the 1700s, or possibly earlier, a queue was a braid of hair. In an era when men’s hair was often worn long they might gather it back in a braid for practical reasons, especially in military and naval situations. Sailors, for example, often applied tar to their queues to keep the hair from getting in the way and this was part of the reason why they were nicknamed tars.

Where does Wolfe Tone enter the history of queuing? Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798) was a barrister and founding member of the United Irishmen and a leader of the 1798 Irish rebellion against British rule. He used his contacts in France to gain a supporting fleet from Napoleon but the landings and the rebellion ultimately failed. Many of his writings still exist (three volumes of his writings have been edited by T. W. Moody and R.B. McDowell) and they include his explanation of the French use of the word queue in the late 1700s to describe waiting in a line of people. This is one of the earliest uses of queue with this sense in an English publication and may have given the word to the language.

Wolfe Tone never met Winston Churchill, whose biography I am currently reading, and who also left a lasting impression on Ireland’s path to independence. I suspect Wolfe Tone wouldn’t have approved of Churchill deploying the infamous Black and Tan troops to crush resistance in 1920 or his role as a major negotiator of the 1921 treaty to end the Irish War of Independence which divided the island of Ireland.

Churchill’s vocabulary was vast and he wasn’t adverse to coining a new word when he needed it to destroy his enemy. After World War II his party had been ousted from power by the Labour Party. During the 1950 election campaign he targeted the ongoing post-war austerity overseen by Labour and coined the word queuetopia during a speech in Woodford, Essex claiming that under Labour the country had shortages of nearly everything, leading to long lines, a veritable queuetopia thanks to their socialist ideals.

In case you’re curious, Winston lost in 1950 by a slim margin but when Labour held another election in 1951 to improve their grip on power he claimed victory and Labour were out of power for the next 13 years.

As for me, I’m hoping our current queuetopia eases as soon as it is safe to do so.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Library Tales – the Real Dewey & the Librarian’s Secret Diary

Hello,

This week’s word is dewey (also spelled dui, see below) – a word closely associated with libraries, in honour of my latest fiction serial over on Channillo, the reading subscription service (think Netflix for books). “The Librarian’s Secret Diary” kicked off last Wednesday and will be updated with a new episode every Wednesday. The first episode is available free here.

But what about the Dewey Decimal System? It’s an eponymous term and as such was featured in my first word history book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary”. Dewey was an unusual person, to say the least, like many of the people whose lives I explored in the book. He wouldn’t have fared well in a post #MeToo world. I hope you enjoy the extract.

Dewey Decimal System

{copyright Grace Tierney, 2018}

This system of library classification was first published in 1876 by Melvil Dewey (1851-1931) and is now used in 135 countries worldwide. He devised the system while working at Amherst College library.

Melvil supported the idea of spelling standardisation, or as he would say “simpler spelin”. He changed his name from Melville to Melvil and even tried Dui as a surname for a while. He was instrumental in organising the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.

His main flaw was an “inability to control himself around women”. He was rumoured to ask female applicants to his School of Library Economy for their bust size and photograph with their applications because you can’t “polish a pumpkin”. The bust part is untrue, mercifully.

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.

“The Librarian’s Secret Diary” is a humourous diary-style story about Nina, the new librarian on the block. She’s learning the shelves with her buzzword-spouting boss and the senior librarian who hates reading and can’t wait to retire. She records the crazy reader requests and the knitting group in-fighting in her secret diary while trying to get the printer to work, flirting with the inter-library-loan guy, and struggling to discover why their romance books are acquiring red pen marks on page five.

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.