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Hello,

This week everybody else under my roof returns to the halls of academia so I think it’s timely to share another extract from my forthcoming book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” which explores the origins of eponyms and the intriguing life stories of those people who gave their name to the English language.

Ready for lessons

Extract from “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” by Grace Tierney (copyright reserved)

Academy (from the “Be a Greek, or a God, or preferably both” chapter)

Plato’s academy was a pleasure garden in suburban Athens where Plato taught his followers. He founded it in 387 B.C. and it was the first higher learning institution in the Western World. Aristotle studied there before founding his own school, the Lyceum.

The site of the academy had been sacred to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, since the Bronze age and it held a grove of sacred olive trees. Even when the Spartans conquered the area they refused to ravage these groves, although sadly the Romans chopped them to build siege engines in 86 B.C.. Torch-lit races and funeral games took place there and the road to the academy was lined with the gravestones of Athenians.

Plato’s academy, founded in this special place, was free to attend and women were amongst the students. The subjects, informally taught, included mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy with frequent debates and lectures by Plato.

The academy was named for the mythical Greek hero Akademos who had owned the land where the olive grove and later the academy was established. He was renowned for saving the city of Athens due to yet another disaster caused by Helen of Troy. This was before the Trojan War and this time it wasn’t her fault.

King Theseus, the slayer of the minotaur and the ruler of Athens was now 50 and widowed. He abducted Helen, then aged only 12. Her twin demi-god brothers Castor and Pollux threatened to destroy Athens to liberate their young sister. Akademos knew where she was hidden and revealed the location to the twins thus saving Athens.

When he died he was buried in the olive grove on his land which was long-dedicated to Athena.

Raphael’s famous fresco “The School of Athens” on the walls of the Vatican Museum depicts the students at Plato’s academy.

The site of the academy was rediscovered in the 20th century and is now a free museum.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is bombilate, because it’s fun to say and thankfully has nothing (well, nearly nothing) to do with explosives.

Honey bee on garlic chives flower

Bombilate (pronunciation here) is a rare verb meaning to buzz or hum and is, naturally enough, associated with bees like the honeybee I snapped in my garden today enjoying the nectar from the garlic chives. I was hoping for a bumblebee as I love the idea of a bumblebee bombilating (there’s poetry in that) but sadly they weren’t bumbling around today. A local friend makes excellent honey in his hives and I always wonder if the bees in my garden are his, but then, does any beekeeper really “own” their bees? I don’t think so.

Bombilate entered English in the early 1600s and is another one of those words the Romans and Greeks gave us. Greek has bombos which means booming or humming. Latin has bombus with the same meaning. Your guess is as good as mine on who got there first with that one (I’m betting on the Greeks), but it’s pretty obvious that they’re related.

From bombus we get bomba in Italian, then bombe in French and bomb in English by the late 1600s. Oh wait, did I say bombilate had nothing to do with explosives? Yeah, that wasn’t entirely true, they have the same root.

Bomb – a disarmed sea mine from the Irish National Maritime Museum

Now go back to Latin and bombus (humming, remember?). As well as migrating through languages to give us the word bomb, it also swerved off to medieval Latin as bombilare meaning “to buzz” and hence into English with the same meaning by the early 1600s.

Did medieval, or Roman, bombs buzz? Did they think bees sounds like weapons? Having been the victim of a nasty wasp attack this summer (I accidentally damaged their nest, mea culpa), I can definitely see the whole wasp=weapon=humming connection.

Until next time, let the humming insects bombilate in peace,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I couldn’t resist including one non-bombilating creature – this butterfly photo-bombed my bee photography earlier.

p.p.s. I should also mention that I’m pleased and delighted to announce that I’ve been longlisted in the 2018 Ireland Blog Awards. I’m also helping to judge the longlist (not in my own category of course) which is proving to be enlightening and great fun.

Photo-bombing butterfly on the regular chives

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Hello,

I’m just back from my family trip to Paris and I finally managed to snap a carousel so I can explore its word history. Choose your unicorn, pay for your ticket and off we go.

Carousel with a rather famous neighbour

The use of the word carousel to indicate a slowly rotating merry-go-round for children featuring horses, carriages, and tiny trains is relatively recent innovation, 1895 to be precise. Even more recent is the luggage carousel in the airport.

The word itself goes back further and still involves horses. The first stop on this ride is the Romans. The Latin word carrus means a two-wheeled wagon and as you can imagine has links to the modern word car. From carrus you get the Italian word carro which means chariot (two-wheeled again). After that it’s a hop to carusiello in Italian for a tilting match which slid into French as carrousel (yes, two Rs).

By the 1640s English had acquired the carousel from French as a playful tournament of knights in chariots or on horseback. The interesting thing being the retention of two wheeled chariots right from Roman times up to the 1600s in England. Chariots aren’t used much in warfare these days and I’ve struggled to imagine how knights could use them but according to a letter in 1673 such a carousel would provide –

“instruction to all such ingenious young gentlemen as desire to learne the art of perfect horsemanshipp.” [sic]

I was intrigued as to what a knight’s carousel would have looked like. The Smithsonian Magazine claims it came from a 12th century training game played by Arabian and Turkish warriors throwing a clay ball between them which was filled with perfume. A fumbled catch meant the knight reeked until he could wash. This doesn’t seem to include chariots however.

There is the idea of a melée in knights’ tournaments where many knights fought at the same time and the last one standing won the day, I imagine a carousel could work the same way except you fought in a circle that decreased in size until it was a duel. If the training was chariot or horse-based it might have been more like our images from the iconic movie “Ben Hur”, but that would be a tricky, and high-risk game which could injure the extremely valuable war-horses of the day. They cost so much that it would be like allowing a learner driver get behind the wheel of your Bugatti super car for a rally drive.

My own theory is that the carousel might have been like the quintain. This simple device, used to train knights and squires in castle courtyards and town squares, consisted of an upright post with swiveling arms spread wide. One arm ended in a shield which the rider targeted, the other ended in a filled sack. Hit the shield just right and the quintain would spin away from you allowing you to ride on. Hit it wrong and the sack would swing round and swipe you from your steed. It is likely that such devices were setup at town fairs. Couldn’t a smaller version for wannabe squires have gradually led to a rotating horse-riding device for children at such fairs?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week, after a wonderful weekend in Galway that included a little Lynch research on the side, it’s time to revisit the origin of the word lynch (explored in a 2014 post). This is an extract from my forthcoming non-fiction paperback and ebook “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” which rambles through the fascinating life stories of those who gave their names to the English language via eponyms.

(extract from “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” by Grace Tierney, c. 2018)

Lynch family crest, medieval stone carving, St. Nicolas’ church, Galway

The Irish origin of this word is somewhat questionable, but I suspect it has Irish roots somewhere, if only because Lynch is a common Irish surname.

Most of us know that to lynch someone is to punish them, typically by hanging, without the benefit of due legal process. The real mystery lies in working out who was the original Lynch.

The Irish claim to the word is based in Galway city. The story goes that in 1493 James Lynch Fitzstephen, the mayor of Galway, strung up his own son from the upstairs window of his house for murdering a young Spanish man over a romantic rivalry. There’s even a plaque at the window which you can see in Galway.

It’s a dramatic story and a great one for tourists but almost certainly false because the term didn’t gain usage for another 300 years. In fact the window with the plaque doesn’t even date from the correct period and is no longer in the original Lynch house.

Lynch Castle, Galway (now a bank)

 

A variation of the story is that the Lynch son embezzled money from his father’s merchant business overseas and covered it by throwing a Spaniard overboard on his return trip. A sailor denounced him on his death bed and his father, a local judge (and first mayor of Galway), condemned him to death. When the public gathered to prevent the hanging the father took matters into his own hands and hung his son from the house’s window.

The tomb of James Lynch, first mayor of Galway in St. Nicolas medieval church

It’s only fair to point out that second version does include a trial, although one wonders how fair it was.

The much more likely source for lynching (although nobody is 100% certain) is an American Quaker Charles Lynch (1736-1796), a planter in Virginia who held an irregular court to imprison loyalist supporters of Britain during the American War of Independence. Charles later got Lynch’s Law passed to excuse him from wrong-doing because it was war-time, a clever move.

The controversy around Lynch’s Law brought the word into common usage to indicate anything done without due legal process.

Although lynching later came to be associated with racial issues, Charles was known to be colour blind in his judgments.

Inhabitants of Lynchburg, Virginia will already know of their own connection to this tale, the town was founded by Charles’ older brother.

Added Bonus

When exploring the Lynch tombs in Galway I encountered a wordy stone-carved Latin tombstone, pictured here.

Tomb of Stephen Lynch, St. Nicolas’ church, Galway

The inscription translates as –

“Stephen Lynch of illustrious lineage, the darling of his soldiers and the terror of his enemies, in years still a young man, but old in valour, of whom the world was not worthy, was exalted to Heaven the 14th of March A.D. 1644”.

What a wonderful description, wish I could have one that good when I kick the bucket.

Wordfoolery is running away to Paris next week, so I’ll be skipping one post but will be back fooling with words on Monday 13th. Until then happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is tank and we’re talking about the military type, not a water tank or a fish tank.

Tank entered the English language in the early 1600s with the meaning of “a pool for irrigation or drinking water”. The Portugese word tanque (reservoir) may come from Vulgar Latin stanticare and estancar (hold back a current of water) or may have a Hindi source in India. Gujarti (language of Gujarat Indian state) has the word tankh (cistern) and Marathi (spoken by 80 million Marathi people in India) has tanken or tanka (reservoir). The roots aren’t clear on origin but clearly a word like tank was used with the watery meaning in several locations.

Tank as a name for an armoured vehicle moving on continuous tracks entered English much later, 1915 to be precise, and was originally a British code word. In late 1915 when the “caterpillar machine-gun destroyer machines” were being developed it was decided to call the team the Tank Supply Committee. Alternatives suggested were cistern and reservoir as the tanks looked like water tanks in the early stages of their creation and were disguised as such. The shortest term, tank, was chosen.

Tanks were first used in action at Pozieres ridge, on the Western Front, Sept. 15, 1916, and the name was quickly picked up by the soldiers. My grandfather later described hearing them trundling up to the lines under cover of darkness, much to the amazement of the troops who were used to bicycles, horses, and swords being used in the conflict.

I only recently discovered an Irish link to the military tank (thanks to “On This Day Volume 2” by Miles Dungan). Walter Gordon Wilson, born in Dublin in 1874, invented the tank along with William Tritton. Early models were called Little Willie, Big Willie, and the Centipede. The tanks used in 1916 were hot, noisy, and often broke down before they reached the trenches but the duo improved them and by 1918 they were playing an important role in the Great War.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is barricade and again it’s one that can be used as a noun or a verb. When I think of barricades I immediately picture a dramatic scene from Les Miserables with rousing singing and waving flags but barricades don’t date to the French Revolution. They’re much older but they do have a French link.

Barrels ready for a barricade

A barricade is an improvised defensive barrier made to stop your enemy’s advance. Films would have us believe that barricades always include a wooden cart and a few chairs but in fact an authentic barricade should include barrels.

Barricade entered English around the 1640s from Middle French which had borrowed the word from Spanish barricada or barricado (in the 1580s) which literally means “made of barrels”. Barrica is Spanish for barrel or cask.

The earliest recorded use of barrels in a barricade dates to that period too. During the 1588 Huguenot riots in Paris large barrels were filled with earth and stones to create obstacles in the streets.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week I want to explore and promote gadzookery here on Wordfoolery. To get started I’ll take a look at the annoyance/surprise exclamation “Gadzooks!” which dates back to the 1600s but was used regularly through to the end of the 1800s. Like the use of heck instead of hell, gadzooks is a stand in for another phrase “God’s hooks!”. Gad was often used instead of god. Egad is another example of this.

God’s hooks doesn’t sound too sacrilegious to a modern reader but it’s a reference to the nails used during the crucifixion of Jesus and apparently that was a step too far, back in the day.

words both new and old

After gadzooks fell from regular use the term gadzookery was adopted (around 1955) to refer to the deliberate use of old-fashioned language. If, like me, you enjoy using older words like zwodder, bumptious, and jargogle then you’re indulging in gadzookery.

Ironically gadzookery itself has suffered the fate of falling from regular use, so anybody accusing you of gadzookery is possibly guilty themselves.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and gadzooking,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I got some good news this week, gadzooks! The sequel to my comedy serial novel “Hamster Stew & Other Stories” has been accepted by online reading platform Channillo.com. “Nit Roast & Other Stories” will debut there in early August.

 

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