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Posts Tagged ‘word history’

Hello,

It snowed here last night, a rare enough event on Ireland’s east coast, a scattering of the white stuff lies on the grass outside my house and the paths are icy. The temperature on the walk to school was low enough to convince me to postpone my daily walk until noon when it will hopefully be warmer. Instead I’ve retreated to my hibernacle.

My hibernacle, don’t you have one?

Mine consists of a soft purple blanket nest, a good book, and a large bar of quality chocolate.

My hibernacle

A hibernacle is “a place where an animal hibernates, but it can also mean a winter retreat for humans” according to The Free Dictionary.

Humans and hibernating animals have shared the history of hibernacle from the start. The word arose in New Latin from hibernaculum which means winter quarters or tents for winter. Animals don’t live in tents so clearly the origin is with winter shelter for humans. Soldiers or nomads would need a stronger, more snow-proof, shelter in winter than what’s required in warmer months. Of course here in Ireland you need something waterproof year-round.

By the 1690s hibernacle entered English in the animal biology sense, as a shelter for over-wintering animals. It has retained that sense to modern times but there’s a case for bringing back the human version too. Yes, we can’t hibernate but the appeal of curling up under a blanket with a box-set or good book is strong on snow-days.

If you don’t have a hibernacle, perhaps it’s time to create one?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling in your hibernacle,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello & Happy New Year,

This week’s word is thanks to my friend Deirdre who mentioned its murky ambiguity when we were hiking last weekend. Fulsome, it transpires, has two, contradictory meanings.

My much-used 1984 Collins English Dictionary simply refers readers from fulsome (pronunciation here) to the definition for full, but the history of this word is far from simple.

Merriam-Webster explains this word, whose first use was in the 1300s, was originally a Middle English version of itself – fulsom coming directly from compounding the words full and some. However its meaning wasn’t the same then. Back then fulsome meant cloying or over the top. Interestingly the OED claims the word dates to 1250 and meant abundant originally so the confusion may go “way back”.

The effusive meaning persisted but the idea of fulsome as abundant gained ground through the 1600s, leaving wordsmiths in a quandary. By the 1800s the positive sense died away and even left dictionaries but by the 1900s the positive sense overtook the negative, leaving the dictionaries wrong-footed.

A fulsome huggle of teds

In modern use fulsome can again, go either way. If the head of state gives fulsome praise or a fulsome apology to a politician, it’s now almost impossible to tell if that’s a good or a bad thing. Best advice? Steer clear of fulsome until the meaning settles because using it is bound to cause confusion.

Until next time I wish you a fulsome January,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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