Tag Archives: Wordfoolery Wednesdays

The Finishing Touch of the Colophon


This week’s word is colophon and unless you work in publishing, this may be a new one to you. It was to me. The colophon, in modern times, is the statement at the start of book stating details like date of publication, publisher’s name, place of publication etcetera.

The colophon from my book “Words The Sea Gave Us”

The colophon used to be printed at the end of the book, but “the first shall be last” and all that. Just as movie credits on old films used to be at the start and now they’re at the end, so too colophon has relocated. It’s a shame though because the word evolution of colophon is related to being at the end.

Colophon entered English in the late 1770s from Late Latin, but originally from the Greek word kolophōn (summit, final touch) and the root word kel (hill, summit). Graeme Donald’s book “Sticklers, Sideburns, and Bikinis” elaborates on the hill part. Colophon is actually a toponym, a word named for a place. Colophon was a mountain city state in Ionia. They had great cavalry in their army who were renowned for always holding out until the very last moment to make a final and decisive contribution to battles. Hence the colophon should be the final, and most important, finishing touch to a book.

Colophon is 15 miles northwest of Ephesus in the Izmir region of what is now modern Turkey. The ruins of the city, high on the hills, can still be seen today.

Last week, at the kind invitation of Sinéad Brassil, I started a regular monthly slot called “Wordfoolery Wednesdays” on LMFM radio. We chatted about feckless, doom-scrolling, macabre & eldritch (with Halloween coming soon), and the local origins of the Beaufort Scale. If you missed it live, you can listen back to the podcast here. I’ve added a new page to the blog for the various audio interviews and this monthly chat. You’ll find it under the Listen to Wordfoolery tab at the top of the page.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

The Obscure Origins of the Game of Poker


This morning, for some strange reason, my mind is on the game of poker. Not the poker you use to stir up your fire (which dates to the 1530s in English and yes, it does relate to being a object used to poke the fire).

As I’ve found before when looking at words around card playing, there’s little definitive clarity to be found when it comes to poker. This seems appropriate to me as a total poker amateur. On the rare nights when our family sits down for a game we all have to refer to the sheet of rules on which hands beat others. I suspect this means we would be easy prey for any hustler in a hundred mile radius. Luckily we play only for the plastic chips, and the bragging rights of being the winner.

Sadly this is not the hand I usually get when playing

Bragging is appropriate as it turns out. An earlier version of the game was called Brag. I think I recall them playing it in Jane Austen novels?

Even if you’ve never played a hand of poker in earnest I’m sure you’ve seen it played in movies – by cowboys in a saloon, gangsters in a back room, or grifters in a casino. The game first appeared around the late 1820s, perhaps starting amongst riverboat gamblers on the great Mississippi river. As a result the word entered English with thanks to the Americans.

It wasn’t entirely American however. There was an earlier card game called Pochspiel in German. Spiel means play or game, and the Poch part of the word comes from pochen (the verb to brag or bluff). There may even have been a French game called poque which was very similar. It appears that several countries had card games involving bluffing around the same time period and any of them could have been the original source but the American gamblers slipped the word into mainstream English usage and usually take credit on this one. Whist, another very popular card game (this time taught to me by a nun in the 1980s!) also involves bluffing and it dates back to the 1660s, so poker isn’t the first by any means.

The related term is, of course, poker face. Early examples of its use to describe somebody controlling their facial expressions to improve their chances in the game date back to the 1870s. This is something I’ve yet to achieve so it’s probably best that I stick to playing with plastic chips rather than cash.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@wordfoolery)

p.s. I’m delighted to announce that starting this Wednesday (14th Oct) I’ll be joining Sinéad Brassil on LMFM radio once a month to chat about the history of unusual words and phrases on Wordfoolery Wednesdays. If you live in the Louth Meath area you can tune in live on 95.8fm, listen live via the internet, or listen to the podcast afterwards (I’ll share the link on the blog and on my social media when it’s available).