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Posts Tagged ‘word origin’

Hello,

This week’s word is chicanery (pronunciation here). Chicanery means to achieve your goal via subterfuge. It’s not a word you hear that often now, even though it is certainly something that still happens, with sad regularity.

The word history of chicanery is enshrouded in enough mystery to suggest subterfuge. It entered English in the early 1600s in a legal context. It referred to quibbling and sophistry and came from the similar French word chicanerie and the Middle French verb chicaner (to quibble or to pettifog). How it reached French is a little more debatable. It may be from the Middle Low German schikken (to arrange) or may even be from a golf-like game once played in the Languedoc region of the south of France. Perhaps early French lawyers liked to quibble over points of law as they got in a round before court?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is knot, a word I explored and added to “Words the Sea Gave Us” this week in my NaNoWriMo 2018 challenge. I passed the 50,000 words mark today, but I’m still writing as I haven’t finished my draft yet.

Knot-tying is a vital skill for any sailor and the word has various uses afloat. Rigging a sailing ship requires various knots, but knots are also associated with speed at sea. The knot has been the nautical measure of speed since the 1630s thanks to a simple device used in the Age of Sail. A log would be thrown overboard while the ship was under sail, attached to it was a line with knots tied at regular distances (1/120 of a mile between each knot was standard). The ship’s speed was then measured by an hourglass sand timer for a set time (a half minute ,for example). The number of knots payed out on the line during that time, was the speed.

One knot became equivalent to one nautical mile so a ship travelling at the speed of ten knots will cover approximately ten nautical miles in one hour. This is roughly equal to 11.5 miles per hour as a land speed. The use of the log in this process also gave us the concepts of a logbook and logging in.

Knots themselves of course existed on land before they were used at sea but sailors invented many of the new designs for specific tasks such as mooring boats, and quick release knots for loosening sails.

Knot may be one of the words the Vikings gave us. English appears to have acquired knot from knutr in Old Norse via German Knoten, Dutch knot, and finally as cnotta in Old English.

One final knot story is a sailor’s yarn that one day a witch was persuaded by a sailor to sell him some wind. Like Odysseus and the bag of wind the Greek god Aeolos, keeper of the winds, gave him, the sailor was presented with a piece of rope with three knots in it. She warned him to untie the first for a breeze, the second for a steady wind, and the third only as a last resort.

The sailor went to sea, delighted with his gift. He untied the first and a gentle breeze billowed out his sails. His ship moved, but too slowly for his liking so he loosened the second knot and sped away from shore for his destination. After transacting his business there he boarded his ship once more and looked at the final knot. It was getting dark and he wanted to return home quickly. The final knot could be the solution to his problem.

He untied the final knot and unleashed a hurricane that split the sails of his ship and resulted in him and his crew sinking below the angry waves.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Four days to go – 52,192 words and counting!

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Hello,

This week’s word is cutlass – a nautical knife I researched and added to “Words The Sea Gave Us” this week in my 2018 NaNoWriMo adventure. I’ve made it to 38,000 words so far, in large part thanks to a writing weekend with a friend in Carlingford. While we were there I spotted this lovely sailing skip (a ketch, I think) across the harbour as inspiration.

The cutlass was a short, heavy sword (or large knife) with a slightly curved blade (but not so much as a scimitar) with one cutting edge. It was used more for cutting than for for thrusting. Despite starting with the same letters the word cutlass is unrelated to cut.

Cutlass came into English in the late 1500s from an original Latin root of cultellus (a small knife), the smaller form of culter (knife or ploughshare).

Although also used on land the cutlass became the weapon of choice for all sailors, not just pirates, as it was cheap to make, required very little training, and a cutting weapon is more effective than a thrusting blade like a rapier, against enemies not wearing armour. Sailors didn’t wear armour as

a) it’s too bulky for somebody to run up the lines to adjust sails

b) if you fall overboard you’re going to sink and sink fast

The cutlass’ shorter length was better for close combat on the deck of a cramped ship.

The legend goes that pirates would swing across on ropes from their ship to their prey with knives clenched in their teeth and that’s where we get armed to the teeth but sadly there’s little evidence that was true. Just another pirate book/movie legend.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

38,000 words and counting – 11 days to go!

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Hello,

This week’s word is the phrase “turning a blind eye” and it’s from my next blog-inspired book “Words the Sea Gave Us” which I’m writing during NaNoWriMo 2018. It’s Day 12 and I’m on 20,233 words and counting.

The idea of deliberately ignoring something in this case comes from Nelson and his damaged eyesight.

In 1801 at the Battle of Copenhagen Nelson is reputed to have disregarded a direct order to disengage from Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Legend has it that Nelson put his telescope to the eye-patch on his blind eye and claimed he couldn’t see Parker’s signal.

That’s the short version of the story and gives us the popular phrase. The long version is somewhat more complex. Parker had huge faith in Nelson and arranged in advance that if he hoisted the disengage signal Nelson would have his blessing to ignore it, as he was the man in the thick of it and best placed to judge the next move. This he explained to his signals officer when he gave the order.

Nelson, however, had to do something to placate Colonel Stewart of the Royal Marines who was nearby when the order came in as the colonel wasn’t aware of the arrangement and might not have approved of such naval nonsense. Hence all the telescope drama.

The icing on this particular cake comes from the fact that Nelson wasn’t blind. He did take damage to his eye at the Battle of Calvi in 1794 from some flying debris but he wasn’t blinded, never wore an eye-patch, and never got the navy to pay out disability compensation despite numerous attempts.

It is likely the expression had been used in English before Nelson’s disregard for that order, but his fame certainly helped it into common usage.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

Regular wordfools will know that I take part in National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) every November. In fact, I take the whole “write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days” challenge to the next level by also mentoring a region (Ireland North East) as a volunteer municipal liaison at the same time. This explains why this morning over breakfast I was checking how many writers I have (33) and how many have started writing (18), before opening my own draft of “Words The Sea Gave Us” and disappearing into maritime research.

Yes, I’m writing another book about words, the first of a series. This one delves into the many wonderful words the sea has given us. I mean who can fail to love galoot, gollywobbler, or scuttlebutt?

So this week I have an example from my book-in-progress – bosun.

The bosun is the officer whose job it is to look after the ship and its equipment. On a merchant ship this is the petty officer in charge of hull maintenance and related work, while in the navy the bosun is a warrant officer in charge of the hull and all related equipment.

The bosun is typically an experienced sailor and supervises the deck crew.

Although bosun appears to be a rather unusual word, it’s just boatswain with funny nautical spelling, and boatswain is a simple compound word of boat and swain. Swain means servant and comes from the Old Norse word sveinn which was a boy servant.

The bosun has the privilege of carrying a special silver bosun’s whistle which they use to call the hands to their duties. Because of the whistle’s high pitch its call could be heard even during high winds. Various commands were indicated by different notes, or combinations of notes – haul, away boats, all hands on deck, pipe down, carry on, etc.

When an important visitor, or the captain, boarded the ship the bosun would use his whistle to alert the crew. This tradition, called manning the side, grew from the bosun’s need to call crew to hoist visitors up the side of the vessel when weather was too rough for ladders.

The visitor would be hauled up, above crashing waves, in a bosun’s chair. Modern bosun’s chairs are similar to equipment used in rock climbing, complete with safety harnesses, clips and additional lines etc. but the original versions were improvised with a short plank or canvas for a seat and some clever knot-work by the sailors so the person could be pulled aboard from a smaller boat bobbing on the waves below. Bosun’s chairs are still used today in ship painting, sea rescues, and window cleaning.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. Good luck to any of you trying out NaNoWriMo,

Grace (@Wordfoolery) “Words The Sea Gave Us” – 8,084 words and counting

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Hello,

As I’ll be carving for Halloween later, I’ve decided to explore the origin of the word pumpkin today.

Our 2017 pumpkins

Pumpkin has its origins in Greece and Mexico, much to my surprise. The oldest botanical evidence for pumpkins were seeds found in Mexico and dating to about 6000 B.C. Their name, however, comes from Greece rather than Mexico.

The Greek word pepon (πέπων) means large melon and probably originates from peptein meaning to cook or ripen. This passed through Latin as peponem and thence to Middle French as pompon. From French the word entered English as pumpion in the 1540s. By the 1640s, with help from some American colonists, it had found its resting place as pumpkin. Less than a decade later there are references to pumpkin pie and its fate was sealed.

I’m just glad that these days we grow pumpkins in Ireland. Having exported the festival of Halloween to North America we’re very happy to import the idea of pumpkin lanterns as a thank you. Why? Because in living memory (i.e. about half my knitting & crochet group) it was turnips (or swedes) which were carved for Halloween lanterns and trust me, carving a tough turnip is a much more perilous pursuit than pumpkin-carving. The result is pretty gruesome though.

“Traditional Irish Halloween Jack-o’-Lantern” by Rannpháirtí Anaithnid. Licensed under Creative Commons

Until next time happy reading, writing, and pumpkin carving,

Grace

Looking for more Wordfoolery? Check out my new book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” – an exploration of the varied life-stories of those who gave their names as eponyms to the English language. All the buy links are in the side bar on the right —->>

 

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Hello,

This week’s word is garbled, which I came across in an article about spices in “Simple Things” magazine.

The modern sense of garbled is to mix-up something, usually language. For example, “my phone signal was patchy and everything she said to me came out garbled“. The older sense of garbled is almost entirely the opposite and relates to spices rather than words. The complete reversal of meanings for words is surprisingly frequent in English, I’m not sure what that tells me about English-speakers. Are we contrary or confused?

Spicy

The original source of the word garble is lost at sea, the Mediterranean Sea to be specific, but I’ll try to make it clear.

Latin, as usual, has a hand in it. The Latin word cribrum means sieve. The Late Latin word cribellum is a diminutive of that (little sieve). From there we get gharbal (to sift) in Arabic, garbellare (to sift) in Italian, garbillare (to sift grain) in Spanish. There was plenty of contact between these nations via the Mediterranean over the years and traders would always be talking about taking impurities from their spice and grain products. Spices were imported from Arabic countries via Venice, to Europe.

By the late 1300s the word is garbeler in Anglo French and has reached English as garble by the early 1400s with the meaning of “inspecting and removing dirt from spices”. The article I read in “Simple Things” explained that even today garbled means hand-sorted in the spice trade.

In Middle English (also early 1400s) a garbeler (from Anglo French garbelour) was an official who garbled spices and other dry goods, so it used to be an occupation.

By the late 1400s the idea of garbled meaning sorted was still there, but it also had been joined by the meaning of “distorting for a devious purpose”.  Perhaps the garbelers had been corrupted with bribes by spice-traders?

The association with distorting language arrived in the 1680s and hasn’t left  since.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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