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Posts Tagged ‘meaning’

Hello,

This week’s word is lethologica (pronunciation here) and according to the Oxford English Dictionary it’s a rare word for the inability to remember a particular word or name. Unless you’re one of those blessed people with perfect recall for names of those they’ve met previously, I am sure you’re grappled for a name at some point. I used to try and bluff my way out or avoid the name entirely but having been on the receiving end of that approach, it doesn’t work. Now I admit my fuzziness and ask for a reminder.

Being unable to retrieve a particular word from the memory vaults can hit even a word nerd like myself and can be frustrating so I was delighted to discover there’s a term for this struggle. Lethologica is a relatively recent addition to the English language, possibly coined by Carl Jung and first seen c. 1915. It’s formed by joining two Greek words – lethe which means forgetfulness and logos which means word.

In Greek mythology the River Lethe, also known at the River of Oblivion, ran through the underworld. The souls of the dead drank from it to forget their earthly memories. The goddess of forgetfulness, also called Lethe, supervised this process.

The other four rivers were the Styx or River of Hatred which ringed Hades seven times, the Acheron or River of Pain which is the one the ferryman Charon crossed with the souls, the Phelegethon or River of Fire leading to Tartarus, and the Cocytus or River of Wailing where souls not buried properly were abandoned. Interestingly the Acheron is a real river in Greece.

So the next you’re struggling to name a person or find the perfect word, try distracting your friends with the history of lethologica instead.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and what was that word again – oh yes – wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’m delighted to announce that Wordfoolery has made it to the shortlist in the 2017 V by Very Irish Blog Awards in two categories – Arts & Culture and Books & Literature.

 

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Hello,

Today’s word is zodiac because it has a surprising link to zoology. I found this recently when researching star-gazing. My DH very kindly gave me a telescope for my birthday (last year) and I’m educating myself a little before I take it down a dark lane on a clear night for a test run. The guide I’m using informed me that zodiac and zoo are related words.

The excellent Online Etymology Dictionary added that zodiac is a late 1300s addition to English from the Old French word zodiaque which in turn came from Latin zodiacus and Greek zodiakos which literally translates as circle of little animals.

The astrology enthusiasts amongst you will point out one of the twelve original constellations was not an animal. I’ll pause now and insert a jigsaw I made recently while readers try to remember which one isn’t an animal.

If you said Libra, then you’re right (it’s scales, in case you’re wondering).

However the Greeks were still right about the circle of animals. They only had eleven constellations. Libra was originally the claws of what we now call Scorpio. The Romans split that double constellation and gave us Libra.

Some of you may recall that in 2011 a thirteenth constellation was added to astrology. In fact nothing was added, unless you want to. There are at least 88 constellations in the sky as seen from Earth but this 13th one is a strong contender for inclusion in astrological charts. It’s called Ophiuchus (or the Snake Bearer) and fits between Scorpio and Sagittarius (30 November and 18 December). As a snake, it fits into the zoologically themed zodiac nicely.

Perhaps in another few years we’ll add in another constellation, for fun.

Until next time happy reading, writing, wordfooling, and star-gazing,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

I bet you know the expression “under the aegis of”. For example “The negotiations for a settlement in the dispute took place under the aegis of the Conflict Resolution Board”. We know it means the discussions were under the protection and guidance of that board.

But what exactly is an aegis (pronunciation here) and how did it enter English?

This is one we can blame on the Greeks, those pesky ancients practically wrote the first English dictionary, but at least we have a very clear idea of what an aegis (also spelled egis) is. It’s a shield, specifically the shield of Zeus or Athena. It’s made of goatskin (not gold or bronze, most surprising) and at its centre is the head of a gorgon.

The word aegis entered English in the late 1600s, via Latin. The aeg part was originally aig or aix, meaning “related to a goat” and the –is suffix tells us it was a type of shield. If you were under the aegis of Zeus or Athena you were in a very safe place indeed.

Now I think I’d prefer a metal shield to one made of goat’s hide but I must admit that the addition of a Gorgon’s head does give you the luxury upgrade. The gorgons were three sisters who Greek legends tell us lived in the west, near the setting sun. They all had snakes instead of hair, which must have made a visit to the hairdressers a real nightmare.

They were named Stheno (the strong), Euryale (the wide leaping), and Medusa (ruler or queen). The only one you’ve heard of will be Medusa. She’s the one whose very look would turn you to stone. I can see how having her head affixed to my shield would give a certain edge in battle.

The next time a dry news report tells you about some event being under the aegis of a person or organisation, remember that if you mess with them they may turn their deadly shield against you. Even Captain America would be jealous of that bit of kit.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)

p.s. If you’re curious my adventures in CampNaNo this July have been productive so far despite external circumstances forcing me to change my project, twice. The DS is still chipping away at his story too, very proud of him.

 

 

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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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