Tag Archives: meaning

Slumgullion

Hello,

This week’s word is slumgullion. This one has been on my “to write about” list for a while because it looked like fun. I didn’t even know what it meant.

Thanks to Merriam Webster (and the audio pronunciation is available there too) for the definition. Slumgullion is a meat stew. Other dictionaries add that this one is an informal (a.k.a. slang) American English word, which probably explains why I hadn’t heard of it. Also they note slumgullion isn’t filled with the most expensive cuts of meat.

Finding a definitive recipe for a stew which was created when the cook needed to use whatever he or she could lay their hands on is a tricky prospect. Most of the modern recipes suggest using minced beef, various chopped vegetables, plus stock and perhaps tinned tomatoes. The Shared Tastes blog explored the older recipes and even includes one using moose meat (not common in my local shop here in Ireland). Various references to slumgullion in literature associate it with the whaling ships and pirates so it might be the stew cousin to my favourite historic seafaring dish, salmagundi. Either way, if you fancy cooking a pot of slumgullion, you can pretty much invent your own version.

Slumgullion was probably a word created by compounding slum and gullion around the 1840s. Slum in this case had nothing to do with urban ghettos. It was an Old English word for slime. Gullion was a dialect word for mud or a cesspool. It may have reached English from Scots, or Irish where the word goilín means a pit or pool.

Slumgullion may have started on whaling ships. One of the earliest print usages was spelled as slobgullion in “Moby Dick” to describe the watery gloop which drains from whale blubber, and perhaps reminded sailors of particularly poor stew in the galley. The word appears to have moved with the sailors to the mines during the Californian Gold Rush to describe the muddy sludge at a mining sluice. The use to describe a stew dates to the 1870s.

According to “The Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” (Eric Partridge) there’s even a related word – a slubberdegullion who is a dirty slobbering fellow. Perhaps such a character created the first stew?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Ineffable

Hello,

This week’s word is ineffable, a word which I use in conversation, usually when talking about somebody being ineffably cool, but didn’t fully understand until I delved into it today.

So let’s start with a definition – ineffable is an adjective to describe “that which is too great or extreme to be expressed in words”. It is also “that which must not be uttered”. The second meaning was the one that flummoxed me. I had no idea that ineffability had an association with taboos. Oh and in case you’re not sure – here’s the pronunciation audio.

Ineffably elegant telephone kiosk in Stockholm which would display ineffable trousers – the scandal!

Ineffable is one the Romans gave us and has been in English since the late 1300s when it arrived with the meaning of something being too great for words. It traveled via Old French (ineffable) and ultimately from Latin ineffabilis (unutterable) which was compounded from in (not, opposite as used in inimitable, for example) and effabilis (speakable). Effabilis itself was formed from effari (to utter) whose roots are in fari (to speak).

The taboo sense of ineffable arrived in the late 1500s, but it was the 1800s which had the most fun with the word and its meaning. In the 1820s, if you referred to ineffables you were talking about trousers. Yes, really.

Certain parts of British society at that time period (before Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, but not exactly the most progressive time all the same) would have been prudish so calling trousers unspeakable is far from remarkable. Perhaps the most popular version of such over the top modesty was the idea of table and piano legs being covered so scandalous legs wouldn’t been seen or mentioned, but sadly that’s not really true. If you’d like more info on that story I’ll direct you to Atlas Obscura’s excellent article.

Until next time beware of ineffable trousers,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Jinx

Hello,

This week’s word is jinx with thanks to the excellent Haggard Hawks twitter account. They mentioned a while back that the jinx was originally a bird and it intrigued me so I dug a little deeper.

The first thing I found is that this word has entered the English language twice – once in the USA and once in England but at very different time periods.

In the 1690s, jynx was used to describe a spell or charm. It was sometimes also spelled as jyng (the Tudors were erratic spellers). The word arose from iynx in Latin and in Greek which was a bird used in witchcraft and divination.

A shell bat in the Vendee, France – symbol of witchcraft

The jynx, or wryneck as it’s known these days, is a small woodpecker bird with dull brown and grey plumage native to Europe whose ability to turn its head through 180 degrees gives rise to its modern name. I wasn’t able to discover exactly how it was used in divination (although given the ancients’s love for reading entrails I fear the bird might not have survived the rites), but it features in Greek mythology too. In one story Lynx was a nymph, the daughter of Pan and Echo. She cast a love spell on Zeus and Hera turned her into a bird called the iynx in revenge. In another story she dared to pit her musical talent against the muses and was turned into a bird for her presumption. The bird could be used to create love through witchcraft.

In British English that connection with misfortune (although not always in love) persists. If I say I don’t want to jinx something it means that I don’t to cause it to fail.

Jinx only appeared in American English around 1911 and it arose originally as baseball slang.

The New York Mets, City Park

If a player or team is subject to a jinx then they will have a losing streak until they can shake it off. It’s unclear if the Greek myths, the bird, or some other source brought jinxes to baseball, but there they have stayed.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Forlorn

Hello,

This week’s word is forlorn, with thanks to my DS who says it’s his favourite word at the moment. I considered telling him mine is floccinoccinihilipilification (to make little of something) but I knew I’d get an eye-roll in return.

Forlorn arrived in English as forloren during the 1100s from Old English forleosan (to lose or let go). Forleosan was compounded from for (completely) and leosan (to lose). Similar compound words about loss existed in Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch, Gothic, and Old High German so its Germanic roots are clear.

Forlorn boots at Lugnaquilla, Wicklow

Forloren’s original meaning was disgraced or depraved and it wasn’t until the 1530s that it changed to mean forsaken or abandoned. Then in the 1580s it changed again to describe somebody who is miserable or wretched.

The most common use of forlorn in modern English is the phrase forlorn hope which dates right back to the 1570s and was a loose translation of verloren hoop in Dutch where hoop means a troop or group of soldiers. A verloren hoop was a military suicide mission, but forlorn in English is more likely to describe a faint hope rather than anything quite so dramatic.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Picnic like a Victorian

Hello,

Although Ireland has avoided the European heatwaves recently, to a large extent, we have managed a few sunny days during August and they spurred me into a walk around my local park. The wide open grass & meadow areas were scattered with picnic blankets, laughing children, and dogs who wanted to say hello.

As a result, this week’s word is picnic and it’s one the French gave us. The word started in French as piquenique (it can also be used as a verb in French) in the late 1600s, probably from the verb piquer (to pick or peck) in Old French. The second part might be from nique (a worthless thing) in German, or may simply have been added because it sounds like the first element.

It was used as picnic in English during the 1700s but only rarely. The Victorian era saw the more widespread use of the term but it wasn’t an exclusively outdoor meal at that point. The English picnic in the 1800s was a fashionable social event in the style of a pot-luck where everybody contributes a dish or two. Over time this became associated with the outdoor versions of such gatherings. The move towards the outdoors in the mid-1800s was thanks to the Romantic movement in art and literature which revered nature.

Of course farm labourers had brought a chunk of bread and cheese, or a savoury pastry, to the fields for centuries before picnics became fashionable – that’s the source of the still popular ploughman’s lunch. Middle class and upper class Victorians and Edwardians brought the catering to the next level, probably thanks to servants. Fortnum & Mason’s developed the scotch egg and provided everything you’d need to picnic on the plains of Africa or the hills of Sussex.

By 1861 Mrs Beeton included sample picnic menus in her famous book of “household management”. The main course for one suggested the following –

“a joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, 2 ribs of lamb, 2 shoulders of lamb, 4 roast fowls, 2 roast ducks, 1 ham, 1 tongue, 2 veal and ham pies, 2 pigeon pies, 6 medium sized lobsters, 1 piece of collared calves head.”

Thankfully since her time packing a picnic has become simpler and available to all, once the weather co-operates. The word is even used figuratively to mark something as being easy to achieve (since the late 1800s).

Wishing you happy late summer picnics. Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Pandiculation

Hello,

Appropriately enough I’m writing my blog post this morning having risen early to get some words down before the rest of the house awakens. This week’s word, with thanks to the wonderful television medical series “House” (featuring Hugh Laurie as a brilliant and sarcastic but sociopathic diagnostician in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes). They used pandiculation in an episode and sent me scurrying for my dictionary.

Pandiculation (audio pronunciation available here) is a “stretching and stiffening of the trunk and extremities when drowsy or after waking from sleep”. Basically if you yawn and stretch when you wake up, you’re pandiculating.

Yawn like a roman (sculpture at Ostia Antica, the old Roman harbour)

Pandiculation entered English in the 1600s from simple Latin roots. Pandiculari is the Latin for “to stretch oneself” thanks to pandere (to stretch or to spread). This is one the Romans gave us, as illustrated above.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Ransack

Hello,

It’s day 22 of CampNaNo 2019 and I’m on 18,012 words. Writing during the academic holidays can be challenging in my house, but I’m plugging away at “Words The Vikings Gave Us” and every day the Vikings surprise me more. This week’s word from my Norse exploration is ransack, I hope you enjoy it.

Viking Chessman from the Isle of Lewis

Extract from “Words the Vikings Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019

Ransack

Ransack entered English during the 1200s from Old Norse rannsaka (to pillage). The word in Norse had a precise meaning – to search a house, legally, to uncover stolen goods, whereas in English it has illegal associations. Rannsaka was formed by compounding two words rann (house) and saka (to search). Saka is related to the Old Norse verb soekja (to seek).

It’s likely the English understanding of the word as being a violent, illegal, raiding of a place came about because of the word sack (to plunder). Sack, however, didn’t have Viking roots.

Sack comes from the Middle French expression mettre à sac (put in a bag) which was a military command to troops, allowing them to plunder a city. The particular idea reaches back through word history to Italian (sacco) and Roman armies (saccus). In this case the Viking association with ransack is legal and calm, and we can blame the Romans for the inspiration for wild plundering.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)