Tag Archives: origin

Wearing My Huffle-Buffs

Hello,

This week I’ve been wearing my huffle-buffs often, it’s probably time I explained that term.

My gardening huffle-buffs, beside the peas & beans bed

According to Haggard Hawks (on twitter and on their website), huffle-buffs is “an old Scots dialect word for worn out, comfortable clothes”. As worn out, comfortable clothes are my favourites, this particular term stuck in my daily usage as soon as I came across it. It’s much better than the alternatives – slobs, lounge-wear, athleisure – in my opinion.

At the moment, because we’re still observing a “stay at home” rule in Ireland, my spring garden is getting more attention than usual and my gardening huffle-buffs (a fisherman’s smock from Kinsale, Co. Cork which is 18 years old and a faded pair of eco-cotton trousers from Gudrunsjoden which is 16 years old) have become my daily uniform as I battle back the bramble invasion in the cut flower bed and do my annual vegetable growing tasks. I’m sowing & tending three varieties of tomatoes, garlic, courgette, spinach, lettuce, spring onions, peas, borlotti, runner beans, cucumbers, and peppers this year along with my ongoing crops of herbs, apples, damson plums, hazelnuts, grapes, wild garlic, rhubarb). The tough denim smock is particularly handy when a) sunburn can be an issue and b) you have nettles and brambles ready to attack you at every turn.

Huffle-buffs appear in Scottish dictionary listings from the early 1800s so it’s not as old as you might think, unless it just took a while to make it into the dictionary. Huffle on its own can mean to blow in gusts of wind.

If you go hunting for huffle-buffs’ origin you will get side-tracked into the origin of the house of Helga Hufflepuff in the Harry Potter books and I can’t help thinking that may be a fair connection as although JK Rowling was born near Bristol (and hence is English) she wrote a considerable amount of the first book while living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Perhaps the local vernacular snuck into Hufflepuff’s name? Alternatively Helga must have been a very windy witch to have two words for gust in her surname – huffle and puff.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling in your comfiest huffle-buffs,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve made it to 19,946 words on “The Librarian’s Secret Diary” in CampNaNo so far this month. It will be launching on Channillo.com in May. My two other books “Hamster Stew” and “Nit Roast” are already completed and fully available to read there (first chapter is free to read).

Cantankerous

Hello,

This week’s word is cantankerous, and no, not because I’m in a grumpy mood today.

Somebody who is cantankerous is bad-tempered and argumentative. The word has been in English since the 1700s when it was believed to come from Wiltshire dialect but it is likely to have older roots. There was a possibly related word contakour in Middle English around 1300 which meant troublemaker. Contakour was a borrowing from Anglo-French contec (discord) and Old French contechier.

“Grumpy Tiki” – a wood carving by my DH whose cantankerous face adorns our garden

Alternatively, some dictionaries reckon it’s related to the word rancour (rancor in American English). Rancour (bitterness and grief) entered English around 1200 from Old French rancor. Rancor came from Latin rancorem (a rancid stinking smell or grudge) from the Latin verb rancere (to stink).

Using that set of origins you could assume that a cantankerous person bears a grudge and may be less than fragrant too.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Saunter

Hello,

This week’s word is saunter. Walking is on my mind simply because I can’t. I broke a toe a few weeks ago and haven’t resumed my daily walks yet, much to my chagrin. When I do, I shall be sauntering rather than striding along at my usual pace.

What does saunter (pronunciation here) mean? It is to stroll in a slow, relaxed manner.

There are competing theories on the history of the word and it has changed meaning during its life.

The leisurely walk idea dates to 1660, but in the late 1400s to saunter was to muse or be in a reverie, so perhaps the reason they were walking slowly was because they were lost in thought.

The first origin theory is that it entered English from Anglo-French in the 1300s as a twist on s’aventurer (to take risks), but the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) find this unlikely.

Merriam Webster reckon saunter is probably from Middle English santren (to muse).

OED say it entered via Late Middle English and is of unknown origin.

Saint Kevin’s pilgrim path to Glendalough, Wicklow, Ireland

Henry David Thoreau spread a fourth, incorrect, origin. He thought saunter came from Sainte-Terre, the French for Holy Land and that saunterers were pilgrims en route to Jerusalem, literally sainte-terrers. Sadly the dictionaries and linguists are united in rejecting this notion, but it’s an appealing idea.

I enjoyed a saunter during 2018 Pilgrim Path Week on the trail pictured, but not as far as Sainte Terre. If you enjoy sauntering, mark the 19th of June in your diary. It’s World Sauntering Day.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and sauntering,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Coming soon!

p.s. After ten years of blogging about the history of words I’ll be launching my first nonfiction book inspired by the Wordfoolery Blog on the 22nd of October. “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” is a light-hearted look at the lives of the soldiers, inventors, style icons, and villains who gave their names to the English language as eponyms. From atlas to zeppelin English is full of words named for Greek gods, explorers, serious scientists, and crafty chefs. These heroes and heroines, scattered through world history, all did something extraordinary to squeeze their name into the dictionary, and this book celebrates their biographies.

If any of you would like an advance copy for book review purposes, or would like me to guest post on your blog, you can contact me in the comments below or message @Wordfoolery on twitter. Thank you.

Ullage and the Angel’s Share

Hello,

This week’s word is ullage thanks to the entertaining “Movies & Booze” radio slot on Newstalk on Friday afternoons. I’m often driving on a Friday afternoon and the movie reviews combined with chat about wines and beers are always knowledgeable and fun. Last Friday the wine expert used the word ullage, much to the amusement of his co-hosts, and it seemed like a perfect choice for some wordfoolery here.

Beware of the ullage!

The word ullage describes the empty part of a container, or the loss of liquid by evaporation or leakage. Ullage is the empty gap in a wine bottle which is there to allow for expansion in the wine due to temperature variations.

That definition reminded me of a distillery tour I took at Bushmills, many years ago, when the guide explained that the evaporation of whiskey during the long maturation in casks was called the angel’s share. It conjured images of tipsy angels fluttering above the casks having a wee dram and causing ullage in the casks.

Ullage’s route to English has a surprising origin in the Latin word for eye – oculus (which has links to ocular and binoculars as you might expect). What has an eye to do with the angel’s share?

The next step is ouiller (or euillier) which was the Old French verb meaning to fill up. It translated literally as to “fill to the eye”. It is likely that the bunghole of the barrel was called the eye. From ouiller to uillage in Anglo Norman French is an easy hop and by the late 1400s the word ullage was used in Late Middle English, yet another of those words imported to England by the Normans, and their wine merchants.

The next time you open a bottle, or cask, of booze you can ponder the angel’s share and the barrel’s eye.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

A Midsummer Zwodder

Hello,

I’m back from a lovely weekend in a yurt in Wicklow with my family and thanks to a combination of antibiotics and anti-histamines (insects love to bite me, but my body doesn’t enjoy the experience) I’m only leaving my zwodder today.

A Yurt with a View

Zwodder, in case you’re unfamiliar with 19th century Somerset dialect words, means a drowsy state of body or mind and I wish it could make a comeback as a commonly used English word. The weather here has been perfect recently – clear blue skies, warm but not too hot, a light breeze. Tradition (but not science) holds such weather is because 120,000 students are sitting state examinations at the moment, the poor things. All I know is it makes for perfect zwoddering conditions.

My zwoddering spot

Zwodder certainly doesn’t appear to have standard English roots due to its spelling. Middle Dutch has swadderen which means to be weary or staggering due to drinking. Anglo-Saxon had swodrian which meant becoming drowsy or falling asleep. Zwodder’s roots may lie in the Land of Nod amongst a haze of Zzzz.

Until next time I wish you a comfortable hammock and time to zwodder,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Varmints and Vermin

Hello,

This week’s words are varmints and vermin. I can’t say the word varmint without imagining a grizzled Wild West prospector, possibly missing a tooth, or two. I was curious, is varmint an uniquely American word for describing both animal pests and rascals of the two-legged variety?

Too friendly a mouse to be vermin

Sadly the pronunciation of varmint (available here) is not provided by that curmudgeonly character and varmint pre-dates the American frontier. It comes from Middle English, was used as early as 1539, and is a variant of vermin with what’s called a “parasitic t”. I don’t relish the notion of letters attaching themselves like leeches to other words, although it would explain the spelling of pneumonia.

Despite its source in Middle English varmint is now listed in both Oxford and Collins dictionaries as being informal North American slang. Its use for animal pests came first. The secondary meaning of a troublesome person arrived in the 1700s.

Rats made of shells in the French Vendee region

Vermin’s use for such trouble-makers has earlier roots. By the 1560s if you referred to the farmer next door as vermin, everybody would have understood. This isn’t surprising as vermin is the older word. The Latin for worm is vermis. This became the collective noun verminum in vulgar Latin and referred to all sorts of pests – insects and possibly reptiles included. Old French seized on it as vermin and referred to difficult creatures such as moths. worms, and mites. By 1300 the Normans had brought it with them to England in Anglo-French. Every language, it seems, requires a term for varmints.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling, hopefully without varmints,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

A Light Touch – Kid Gloves

Hello,

This week’s word is a phrase, I hope you won’t mind. The expression “to handle with kid gloves” has an intriguing origin story and I couldn’t resist.

vintage white leather gloves

Kid gloves have nothing to do with children, well not human children. Kid is a soft white leather from the skins of goat kids popular among the wealthy from the 1700s. Sometimes they were made from lambskin.

Kid gloves are very thin so if you’re wearing them it is as if you are barely wearing any gloves at all. We’ve all had the sensation of wearing thick, bulky gloves and having to remove them to perform a delicate task. Here the idea is that even delicate tasks are possible while wearing kid gloves.

Kid gloves are also easily marked. If you handled an object roughly while wearing such a glove you would acquire stains on the glove, not a good thing. Equally if you’re wearing visibly white gloves then those around you can see you’re not adding any dirt or damage to whatever you’re handling. This is why servants wore white kid gloves to avoid smudging the silverware. Many believe curators do the same but there is evidence to suggest a clean, un-gloved hand may be best, depending on the artifact, and they only wear gloves on TV because they’re tired of complaint letters!

The phrase came to mean over-cautious in the 1840s but when it crossed the Atlantic from England in the late 1840s to North America it regained its early positive association with delicate handling of sensitive situations and people. By 1865 the well-mannered White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland” carried a pair.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling with or without gloves,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve the first week of NaNoWriMo 2017 behind me now and 15,000 words of “Nit Roast & Other Stories” in the bag.