Tag Archives: word origin

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!

 

Booze

Hello,

This week’s word is booze. Not because NaNoWriMo 2019 is driving me to drink (it’s not, honest!) but because I was out buying wine for the festive season at the weekend.

Smithwicks bottled water as well as ale

Booze has been a verb since as early as the 1300s when it was spelled bouse. By the 1600s it was bouze and by the 1700s we had booze (to drink heavily). Using booze as a noun appeared in the 1800s, possibly earlier too.

The original bouse came into English from the Middle Dutch verb busen (to drink heavily) which is turn came from Middle High German bus (to swell or inflate) – so beer bellies must have been a thing back in history as well as in more modern times.

Perhaps the most fun connection with booze as a word is the 1800s distillery run in Philadelphia by a man called E.G. Booz. Johnson’s early dictionary of English has an entry for a drink called rambooze made of wine, ale, eggs, and sugar during the winter or wine, milk, sugar, and rose-water in the summer. Perhaps that will make a comeback during the upcoming festive season?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I hope you’re all flying along if you’re taking the novel-in-a-month NaNo challenge. I’m on 33,147 words today and pretty happy because I managed to make myself cry at the right part of the story this morning. If I can’t make myself cry, I’ve no hope with future readers, right?

The Whole Kit and Caboodle

Hello,

This week’s word is caboodle and the phrase kit and caboodle, as nobody really uses caboodle solo anymore. Although it’s probably worth mentioning that there’s a book token company called by that name who run book title quizzes which are fun, although sadly I’ve never won.

What does kit and caboodle mean anyhow? It’s a collection of things, generally implying a very full, or perhaps even over-complete, collection. In that sense it is akin to the idea of packing the kitchen sink.

Kit and caboodle have similar meanings which is where the over-complete meaning arises. Kit relates to tool-kit or a soldier’s kit-bag – a set of things you need to do a particular task. Caboodle means a collection too, but this time probably comprised of people rather than objects or tools.

my crochet caboodle

It appears that caboodle was rarely used solo outside of American English and the phrase itself dates to the late 1800s. A boodle was a term for a pile of money, especially at the gaming tables at that time. It appears this phrase is one the Americans gave us. Boodle may come from the Dutch word boedel (property) which would fit in with the betting usage. The dictionaries don’t have a definitive answer for this one. There’s even an alternate spelling – kaboodle. But for a disputed phrase it sure is a popular one with a good sound to it. Kit and caboodle isn’t disappearing anytime soon.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve made it to 20,000 words on my NaNoWriMo project. I hope you’re enjoying the challenge too if you’re taking part.

The Explosive Origin of the word Guy

Hello,

This week’s word comes with thanks to friend of the blog, Damian T Gordon, and it’s a simple word with an explosive history – guy.

There are two nouns in English spelled as guy and both date to the 1600s. The first is a nautical one – a rope, chain, or wire which comes from Old French and the word guide. You’ll find guy-lines on sailing boats.

The second gives us the modern use (in American English since 1847) of guy to mean a person, usually male. Guy was used earlier in British English (1830s) for a poorly dressed man but originally it was associated with an effigy of Guy Fawkes (typically dressed in old cast off clothes) which were paraded through the streets by children on the 5th of November and then burned on top of a bonfire.

That explains where the word comes from but why were children burning guys in the first place? All the clues you need are in the rhyme which begins –

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

I won’t include the entire text as it descends into sectarianism. The 5th of November is when children, and adults, celebrate the foiling of Guy Fawke’s (1570-1606) plot to blow up the British Houses of Parliament at Westminster on that date in 1605.

Religion was a contentious issue in Britain at that time. Fawke’s and his fellow conspirators wanted to kill Protestant King James I and replace him with a Catholic monarch. When the plot was exposed they had already stockpiled gunpowder in a cellar beneath the parliament buildings and Guy was caught red handed there.

With Westminster behind scaffolding currently, we’ll make do with a red phone box

The 5th of November is still remembered with bonfires and fireworks in Britain and is more popular there than Halloween. Certain areas are particularly keen on the event. The town of Lewes has multiple competing Bonfire Societies battling for the best bonfire and display, often with topical characters burned alongside Fawkes.

Although born in England, Guy was also known as Guido, when fighting overseas so we narrowly avoided having a musical called “Guidos and Dolls”.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. Hello to several new readers of the blog, some of whom found me via the NaNoWriMo novel-writing challenge. I made it to 8,110 words today – so the month is off to a good start.

Eldritch

Hello,

In honour of the forthcoming feast of Halloween (or Samhain depending on your viewpoint) I’ve chose eldritch as the word this week.

Eldritch describes something as weird, sinister, or ghostly. The left-handed amongst you won’t be happy with sinister being in that grouping, but that’s another day’s exploration. Either way eldritch seems appropriate for the season when the darkness gathers earlier and earlier in the day, mists swirl through forests, and numerous smaller folk jump out demanding treats.

“Traditional Irish halloween Jack-o’-lantern” by Rannpháirtí anaithnid at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Traditional_Irish_halloween_Jack-o%27-lantern.jpg#/media/File:Traditional_Irish_halloween_Jack-o%27-lantern.jpg

There is considerable confusion about the origin of the word eldritch, which is about 500 years old. Merriam Webster reckon it originally meant fairyland thanks to Middle English’s elfriche. The word riche or rice was an Old English word for realm or kingdom. YourDictionary points out that el means strange or other, so the reference is to something otherworldly. Others connect the el to elves. Either way we’re talking about the malicious, scary forms of fairies here, rather than the twinkly type who live in pretty garden flowers.

My favourite source with contentious word histories is Etymology Online and they lean towards el being else or otherwise and ritch relating to realm or kingdom making eldritch describe something which comes from the otherworld, a land which is not like ours. That would certainly describe some of the eldritch creatures who will arrive at my door after dark on Halloween looking for sweet bribes to leave me in peace. I think I’ll pay up!

Light a pumpkin to scare away the eldritch creatures!

If you’re interested in other spooky words – check out Macabre and Samhainophobia and Gaelic Halloween, previous Wordfoolery posts at this eldritch time of year when the veil between our world and the otherworld is weak and porous. Next week I’ll be exploring the word guy and its link to the 5th of November.

Until next time, boo!

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. Are any of you taking on the NaNoWriMo novel-writing challenge during November? It will be my 13th year so I’m busy sharpening pencils and crafting my outline this week. Later today I’ll be hosting the Kick Off event for my region –  Ireland North East.

Corny

Hello,

This week’s word is corny. Something is corny if it’s banal or sentimental so it’s generally used in a derogatory fashion. The question is – how did mawkish sentimentality become associated with delicious corn on the cob, or corn off the cob for that matter?

According to the QI Elves on the No Such Thing As A Fish podcast – we have the word corny thanks to American corn farmers and they’re mostly right.

Corny originated as American English slang in 1932 to describe something as sentimental, old-fashioned, and appealing to country folk.

Assuming all North American country folk are involved in farming corn is a stretch, however 59% of US farmland is growing it even today. That’s 90 million acres of land and it’s 95% of the feed grain produced in the country. So perhaps associating American farmers with corn production isn’t too wide of the mark. I remain to be convinced of their penchant for old-fashioned, corny sentimentality though.

Corny entered the English language a little earlier than the 1930s, however. Chaucer used the word to describe ale in the late 1300s, possibly meaning the drink was malty. From the 1570s corny could also describe corn or anything full of corn – which seems logical. It took another 370 years to arrive as a way to denigrate songs and movies as cloyingly sweet or old-fashioned.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and corn-eating,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)