Tag Archives: word origin

Loathing Expergefactors

Hello,

This week’s word is an old one I stumbled across a few months ago – an expergefactor. It sounds like a gruesome remedy for a stomach ailment, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s worse than that.

An expergefactor is something which wakes you in the morning. This can range from your alarm clock to next door’s cat, the beep of your phone or the rattle of your letterbox. If you’re very lucky it will be a kiss from a loved one. Unfortunately the history of the expergefactor is shrouded in a sleepy mist. It dates to the 1800s but I can’t find an official etymology for it despite it appearing on several lists of Old English Words deserving a comeback. The closest I came to it is that factor is something which serves a purpose – a corn factor deals in corn, for example. The related verb Expergefaction probably comes from the Latin verb expergisci meaning to become awake.

How you feel about your expergefactor will be determined by a combination of elements including: the volume of disturbance, the time of day, the time you fell asleep, and whether you can now gently arise and eat a leisurely breakfast while reading your book, or you have to scramble around for food while convincing reluctant small people to find their shoes before school.

My least favourite expergefactor was a cockerel at Knockree Youth Hostel on a teenage hiking trip. He decided that despite the fact that we had talked until one in the morning it would be appropriate to perch outside our windows and repeatedly yodel at four a.m.. I recently re-visited the hostel with my son on a similar trip and was relieved to find the cockerel was no more. I suspect a disgruntled hiker ate him for dinner.

In writing about this word I’ve realised that I am now a redundant expergefactor. I used to wake my son, an easy task as merely opening the door was enough to have him bounce out of bed. He’s a morning person. Now he relies on Alexa and listens to the news headlines before rising. Waking my daughter was trickier. She, like me, was not a morning person and had to be coaxed and cajoled from her slumber with hugs and gentle chatter. Now she relies on her old-fashioned alarm clock and regularly has eaten her breakfast before I drag myself from the duvet. If this redundancy means I enjoy an extra ten minutes in bed before my expergefactor rouses me, I’m fine with it.

Who or what is your expergefactor?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I was delighted to be the feature interview over at Smart Thinking Books this week, a publication about nonfiction books.

 

Groak – to gaze at somebody else’s food

Hello,

I found the word groak with thanks to the excellent word expert Susie Dent on twitter and I’ve been using it frequently this week. To groak is to gaze longingly at somebody else’s food in the hope that they might share it with you, or better yet simply hand you the entire plate. Its origins are vague with the best guess being Scots or Ulster Gaelic so perhaps the first groaker was longing for a bowl of porridge, or a “wee dram” of something stronger.

Pets of all types are good at this, January dieters too, and you must always keep an eye on those who virtuously announce they don’t want or need a dessert but would love a second spoon for yours. In my life the greatest danger of groaking comes from my children. The eldest, when they were only two, managed to quietly pull their father’s chicken caesar salad to their side of the table while pushing away their own toasted cheese sandwich.

A hungry Roman groaker

Now both of them are teens, with the legendary appetites which appear to “come as standard”, so when we proposed a trip to IKEA this week their immediate response was “Meatballs!”. This didn’t strike fear into my soul as I prefer the salad bowls, but my poor husband paled and whispered that this time he’d buy them extra large portions in the hope that he could eat his own meal in peace.

Yes, we have meatball groakers. They suction up their own food at supersonic speeds and then gaze at anybody who still had some food on their plate, i.e. their father, until he gives in and redistributes his grub.

So the next time somebody, be they family or family pet, stares at every mouthful on your fork, you’ll know they’re groaking.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve started a twitter list of the wordy people I follow there. You can subscribe to it. If you tweet about etymology and words let me know and I’ll add you. It’s a handy way to focus your twitter reading.

 

Nefelibata – the Cloud Walker

Hello,

Happy New Year to all of you and Happy Nollaig na mBan (women’s Christmas) to all my female friends here. The old Irish tradition of Women’s Christmas is celebrated on the 6th of January (and features in several of my books). It is the time when women took the day off after the hard work of preparing for Christmas and visited their female friends, leaving the menfolk to cook their own dinners. In theory at least the tasks are more evenly distributed these days, but it’s still a good reminder to celebrate female friendships. I’ll be celebrating later today with hot chocolate, homemade gingerbread, “Anne with an E” on Netflix, and my daughter.

For now, however, I’m back writing after the Christmas break and living in my imagination again which made me think of the word nefelibata. I can’t recall where I found this one, possibly on a pretty online image, but it’s a beautiful word.

Dreamy clouds at sunset, Wexford harbour, Ireland

A nefelibata (pronunciation here) is somebody who lives in their imagination, an unconventional person who doesn’t always obey society’s rules. The word isn’t strictly speaking English, but like deja vu, pizza, and schmuck it’s one which deserves adoption by English-speakers. It is actually Portugese and is compounded from nephele (cloud) and batha (a place to walk) which means its literal translation is cloud-walker, a person who lives in the clouds of their own dreams. As my 2020 writing year begins with planning books, articles, and writing events I think I need to schedule a little cloud-walking too.

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

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Bibacious and Keck – drinking words

Hello,

The festive season can be a somewhat drink-sodden celebration and with New Year’s Eve approaching it’s time for some boozy words. The pair I’ve chosen I found in the “QI Second Book of General Ignorance”. I love QI, the BBC comedy show about unusual facts. The spin-off podcast created by the QI Elves (a.k.a. researchers) “No Such Thing as a Fish” is a wonderfully witty and entertaining listen if you’re looking for something fun to cheer up January 2020.

The first of the words is bibacious, a gem of a word, which QI found in Doctor Johnson’s Dictionary (sadly his famous dictionary appears to be out of print, but if any of you find a copy, please let me know). Bibacious describes somebody who is a binge-drinker or simply fond of drinking so you can decide yourself how insulting it is although Webster’s dictionary reckons it means you are addicted to drinking. It comes from the Latin verb bibere (to drink) and dates to the 1600s.

A bibacious cocktail menu

The second Dr. Johnson word is keck (pronunciation here) which is to heave the stomach as if about to vomit. Collins English Dictionary tells me this one has three meanings – 1) to retch or feel nauseous, 2) to feel/express disgust, or 3) an alternate name for cow parsley. The noun and verb forms are sadly disconnected so I can’t speculate about how much cow parsley you would eat before you retched. Keck dates to the late 1500s and its roots lie in its sound resembling that of a person being unwell.

I hope that if you have a bibacious New Year’s Eve, it doesn’t result in any kecking.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Skinflint

Hello,

As promised, after last week’s review of my favourite books of 2019, we’re back to unusual words. This week’s word is skinflint which is a great way of saying that somebody is tight, canny, or mean with their money. Scrooge was a world-class skinflint, until he met the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.

Skinflint came to my notice last week when I was reading “War and Peace” written by Leo Tolstoy in the 1800s, one of the books on my 501 Books to Read Before you Die list and actually one I read as a teen but wanted to re-read. It took me nearly two months, but it was worth it (just avoid the epilogue which is tedious). Anyhow, in it a soldier characters says “a German knows how to skin a flint, as the proverb says” and it made me wonder if Tolstoy had introduced the word to English, perhaps via a Russian proverb.

I’ve been unable to source the Russian proverb (it’s possible Tolstoy invented it, or it was short-lived soldier slang) but I did find a similar expression in French – tondre un oeuf (shave an egg) with thanks to WordHistories.net, in the early 1600s, so clearly this phrase has cousins in other European languages.

However skinflint definitely existed as an English word before Tolstoy’s time. It dates back to the 1600s and flay-flint was also used with the same sense. In the 1700s you might call a miser a nipcheese which I rather like as everybody in my house gets very fussy if their favourite cheese is nibbled without permission.

An early use of skinflint in print was the 1656 poem called “The Legend of Captain Jones” about one of the first English settlers at Jamestown, Virginia in North America which had the line –

“Jones was one would Skinne a Flint, and eat him when he h’had done”

Flint (top) and steel (below)

It’s still unclear to me how, or why, you would skin a flint. Flints are stones used most often in the past as either arrowheads, basic knives or to generate a spark (when struck by steel) to light a fire. My own flint and steel are pictured here and yes, there’s a bit of a knack to getting that spark but it’s possible.

I did find some suggestions that the skinflint would split a flint stone (easy enough to do) in order to get a second for free. Typically only one stone would be needed per person so that’s pointless penny-pinching of the sort Scrooge would approve.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Cobalt and the Imp

Hello,

This week’s word is cobalt, not so much because it’s an unusual word, but because it has an unusual history. This post was inspired by a tweet by @BookishLex, one of many word enthusiasts on twitter. If you’re curious about others you can check out my list of etymology people – it’s a work in progress, a handy way to get in my daily dose of word geekery.

The blue squares on these cubes are cobalt

Cobalt entered the English language in the late 1600s to describe a steel grey metal, not the colour blue. The metal was rarer than nickel but similar in structure and was also sometimes called Parcelsus. It was discovered by George Brandt of Sweeden.

So how did the word become associated with blue? The rock from which the metal came was also laced with arsenic and sulphur (sulfur in American English) which, as you can imagine, didn’t have a healthy influence on the miners. The miners, who were seeking silver in the Harz Mountains in Germany, named the rock kobold (which became cobalt when it arrived in English). Kobold had an earlier meaning though, it was a household goblin from the 1200s – a term for a troublesome creature which was compounded from kobe (hut) and holt (goblin) in Middle High German. When the miners were troubled by a mysterious effect (the arsenic, for example) they blamed it on a local goblin.

The extension of cobalt to describe a shade of blue arose in the 1800s as a mineral containing the metal had been used to create that shade of blue for glass since the 1500s. We don’t know if the goblins themselves were blue, or appeared blue if you inhaled enough sulphur dust in the mine.

Until next time be careful of any blue goblins you encounter,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. Since my last blog post I finished my 2019 NaNoWriMo challenge with 50,434 words and a fairly complete draft of “The Irish Family Christmas”. Plenty of editing needed, but that will be a job for 2020.

Tory

Hello,

This week, with a general election looming in Britain, and my daughter studying for an Irish history exam it seemed I couldn’t escape the word tory. So please excuse the politics, but I promise the word has a surprising history.

The word tory is one the Irish gave to the English language. The Irish verb tóir means to pursue or chase. The word toraidhe (which does sound pretty like tory) comes from that verb and is a noun for an outlaw or bandit, one who is pursued. Like many placenames around Ireland, the word toraidhe was anglised into a more English-style spelling as tory and was a term for any Irish robber or outlaw in the late 1500s.

Tory was then applied to Irish Catholics who had been dispossessed of their land during the plantations (when land was taken from Catholic chieftains and granted to settlers deemed to be loyal to the crown). During the 1600s, some of these Irish tories turned to robbery from the English and Scottish settlers on what had been their land originally.

Then in 1679 tory took a new turn. It was used to describe the supporters of the Catholic Duke of York (later King James II) in his claim to the English throne. After 1689, Tory was the name of a British political party originally formed by these Yorkist Tories. It was also applied to the supporters of the exiled King James II, who were also known as Jacobites.

In North American history, colonists who remained loyal to the British crown after 1769 were called tories. During the American War of Independence a tory was loyal to Britain and in the American Civil War they were southern unionists.

By the early 1800s, the term Tory had been overtaken by Conservative to describe politicians of the right wing party in Britain but it is still used as a casual term for the party, so Boris Johnson is following in the footsteps of American loyalists, supporters of Catholic king for Britain, and originally Irish guerilla fighters. It’s a complex lineage for any political party.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

NaNoWriMo 2019 Update – It’s day 25 of writing and I have 47,084 words of my latest book drafted. Hurrah!