Tag Archives: Words the Sea Gave Us

Let’s not Hebetate

Hello,

This week’s word, hebetate, is a suggestion from blog reader, Allan Greenwill. If you too would like to suggest a word for the Wordfoolery treatment, you can do so here.

Hebetate, I confess, was a new word for me. It means to make or become dull , blunted, or obtuse. You’ll get the pronunciation here.

Don’t run with

Naturally, any seamstress or chef wants their tools as sharp as possible which is why my mother always yelped if we reached for her special “sewing scissors” to cut paper rather than fabric (apparently cutting tin foil will sharpen them again). Now I’m the keeper of the Special Sewing Scissors and am equally protective of their edge and would be very unhappy if they were to hebetate.

The dictionary definitions of hebetate, however, imply it’s not just your cutting tool which can blunt, but your mind, your debating powers. Nobody wants to become obtuse or blunted in their use of reason, logic, and language.

Hebetate has a pretty simple word origin. It entered English in the late 1500s directly from the Latin verb hebetare (to dull or blunt) and word hebes (dull, blunt). Hebetate is related to hebetude, another English word from the same roots which arrived a few decades later. It again means dull or blunt but is also used figuratively to describe somebody as sluggish or stupid.

In other news this week, the publicity round for the latest Wordfoolery book, “Words The Sea Gave Us”, is continuing. The lovely folk at the Marine Times (September issue is in shops now) gave us a plug. “Seascapes”, Ireland’s weekly radio show about all things maritime (broadcast on RTÉ One radio nationwide at 10.30p.m. every Friday) invited me to talk about the book. I started listening to the show, when I was supposed to be studying for school, thirty years ago and it was a huge thrill to see the studio where they record it and to meet the presenter, Fergal Keane. I rambled on about the beaufort scale, slush funds, blazers, and hammocks on the moon. The episode went out already, but you can listen to the podcast here.

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.

Words The Sea Gave Us

Hello,

Today is the book launch for “Words The Sea Gave Us” so instead of exploring one word I’ll be talking about my book which features 370 words and phrases the English language borrowed from the sea. From baggywinkle and gollywobbler to tempest and flotsam, the sea in all her moods has given us a boatload of words throughout history. This book explores their origins along with a cargo of old sailor’s yarns. Cast your line for the salty history of skyscraper, mollgogger, strike, cyber, and phrases like getting hitched, red herring, hot pursuit, and taking them down a peg.

Out now!

I investigated the parts of a ship, sail names, crew titles, surfer slang, marine monsters, nautical navigation, flying the flag, and, of course, how to talk like a scurvy pirate. Then I stowed  some sea fables, fashions, and weather in the hold too. You don’t have to be a maritime expert for this one. It’s ideal for word geeks, sailors, and beachcombers.

You’ll find out about the last Royal Navy cutlass attack (1940s), where cyber really comes from, the icky origin of a slush fund, and how London ships gave us the first ever strike. Other discoveries include the simple line which saved thousands of seafarers, why Long John Silver didn’t have a peg leg, the origin of a booby trap, and the meaning of scuttlebutt, mollgogger, and gollywobbler. If you don’t know the difference between being one or three sheets in wind I can enlighten you with a side trip to the Great Rum Debate in the UK parliament.

What more would you expect from a book that reached Number One in Ship History upon its ebook release?

“Tierney navigates us through a whole archipelago of word histories, in categories including pirates, surfer slang, and sea monsters. She writes with aplomb, extensive knowledge, and the occasional dash of droll humor.”

You’ll find all the buy links for it on my books page. Or just hop over to Amazon. Some readers have already been kind enough to let me know that they’ve enjoyed the book.

“The man who has everything certainly covers it but your book was a complete surprise and also a joy to him to receive.”

I’ve also setup a PayPal system for you to order signed books direct from me, if you’d prefer the personal touch, and don’t mind my terrible handwriting. If you’re interested, comment on this post with your email address or contact me.

Today I’ll be chatting on facebook and twitter about “Words The Sea Gave Us”, running a nautical word poll, and sharing snippets from the book, so if you’re about, please drop by. If you’d like to hear me read from “Words The Sea Gave Us” then check out the Bunny Trails podcast, episode 86.

Thank you to the blog readers and other friends who donated word and phrase suggestions for this book and whose names are in the book beside their words. Thank you to Peter Sheehan, Brendan Tierney, Nell Jenda, Rick Ellrod, Kimberly Sullivan, ZZNewell, Christine Byrne Carroll, Paul Powell, Rita Fitzsimons, Paddy “PJ” Callahan, IrishSmuggling, and Clíodna Johnston.

Don’t forget the Various Vessels download is available here on the blog to help you know your arks from your ketches.

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.

The Nautical Roots of Heave-Ho

Hello,

Are you ready for some nautical nonsense? Wonderful, welcome aboard!

This week Wordfoolery’s desk is awash with “book jobs”, apologies for it spilling over here with another nautical expression, heave ho. The end is in sight as I now have the official book launch date to announce – next Monday, the 31st of August. It will all be happening here on the blog and over on my twitter feed (@Wordfoolery) and you are all formally invited to join in as this blog is the reason this book exists. It will be a relief and joy to finally unleash “Words The Sea Gave Us” on the word lovers of the world.

You can <voice drops to a whisper> buy an ebook or paperback copy already as I did a sneaky “soft launch” to test the cover printing, but if you wait you’ll have the option of a signed paper copy direct from me to you (or to a friend with a gift inscription, of course). If you’d like to get on the list for that you can comment on this post or drop me a message.

In fact some of you lovely people had already bought and read the book. Thank you so much, it helps so much in the making the book visible and attractive to other readers!

Alright, enough about book launches, what about heave-ho?

Heave-Ho! {extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney}

Heave-Ho! is a common call in sea shanties but to understand what it means you have to explore the two parts individually.

Heave entered Old English as hebban from German, Dutch, and Old Norse roots all with the same meaning of lift or take up, but with a variety of different spellings. It was only in 1944 that heave took on the second meaning of a dismissal.

Ho is always an interjection of some sort. English has numerous version from gung-ho (see the Flying the Flag chapter) to heigh-ho and tally-ho. Using a series of ho-ho-ho to indicate laughter dates back to the 1100s, probably thanks to Saint Nicholas.

Ho used with a place name (for example, Westward-Ho) was used by boatmen to indicate departure for that place from the 1500s and ho would have been used solo from the 1300s to attract attention and demand silence, for example to stop chatter amongst the crew.

These two nautical versions of ho give us the clue for heave-ho – the call to work demanded the hands listen for the rhythmic call of when to lift or pull (for example a large sail, a new mast, a net full of fish, or the anchor). Each time the caller said Heave, they’d pull, then the Ho was the pause. The call was repeated, perhaps with the addition of a sea shanty for morale and team rhythm, until the task was completed.

In more recent land-based usage to get the heave-ho is to be dismissed from your work or relationship.

{end of extract}

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.

Listen to Wordfoolery on the Bunny Trails Podcast

Hello,

Last weekend I had a great chat with Dan and Shauna on the Bunny Trails podcast (a whimsical exploration of words and turns of phrase coming from Kansas, USA) all about my latest book “Words The Sea Gave Us”. I really enjoyed taking part in my first ever podcast session (despite a massive cargo ship full of nerves) and I hope you enjoy listening too. At the very least it offers you a chance to finally hear what I sound like! And yes, I know, I speak far too fast, call it an Irish thing.

You can read the transcript of the episode if you click the image below, listen to the audio here, or search for Bunny Trails wherever you usually pick up your podcasts. I’ve tried some of their back catalogue too and they are well worth a listen.

There won’t be a Monday blog post for the next two weeks as Wordfoolery and family are heading away (beside the sea, of course!) but I’ll be back on Monday the 17th of August with more strange and unusual English words.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

The Nautical Roots of Hot Pursuit

Hello,

For me the phrase “hot pursuit” is associated with crazy car chases, so I was surprised during the writing of “Words The Sea Gave Us” to discover it has nautical roots.

The perfect car for a hot pursuit

Hot Pursuit {extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney}

To be in hot pursuit of something is to make every effort to catch it. It’s commonly applied to road chases of criminals by the police, but the phrase started on the seas.

In the 1400s pursuit on the ocean blue came in two temperatures – hot or cold. Cold pursuit (or cold chase) was a ship hunting down another in international waters but without seeing the pursued ship. The hot pursuit was the same chase but this time with a quarry ship in sight.

Although not written into law, it was common custom that in such cases the pursuing ship could follow its prey into a country’s own waters to finish the job. Hot pursuit was only allowed if the chase could be proven to have begun in international waters and open seas. Otherwise it was a hostile act against that country.

{end of extract}

Cold pursuit has fallen by the wayside, but hot pursuit retained a similar meaning in car chases once the phrase moved ashore. The pursuing car can see its prey ahead, perhaps aided by helicopter support.

Unfortunately today I’m in cold pursuit of a new book launch date for “Words The Sea Gave Us”. As planned, the ebook editions for Kindle, Kobo, and Apple Books went live this morning and I’ve already had some lovely feedback from readers who pre-ordered their copies, but the paperback launch which was supposed to happen today hit a very unexpected last minute snag with the printers and the earliest it will be resolved is the 24th of July. Rather than confuse people I’m pausing the paperback launch until I can be 100% sure of it. I’ll announce the new launch day here as soon as I have it. I’ve also devised a way to get signed paperback copies to those who’d like them – watch this space.

Sincere apologies to anybody who was waiting to buy the paperback. Trust me, you’re not half as disappointed as I am.

In good news, however, I’ve been delighted with the response to advance review copies and hope to announce some fun Wordfoolery events here soon, including my first ever podcast appearance!

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.

Over a Barrel

Hello,

With only one week left of pre-ordering on my new book “Words The Sea Gave Us” I’m getting excited about launch day (13th July). This week’s word is the phrase “over a barrel” and it’s a nautical phrase with two possible shipboard roots.

Over a Barrel {extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2020}

To have somebody over a barrel is to have the upper hand as they are rendered helpless.

There are two excellent reasons to put somebody over a barrel in a seafaring context. Either could be the source of this phrase which only entered printed English in 1938, but may have been around earlier.

The first option is to stretch a naughty sailor over the barrel before bringing out the cat o’ nine tails (see the Tight Ship chapter).

The second, more likely and equally helpless option, is the common method of reviving somebody who’d nearly drowned. The unfortunate soul was placed face down over the barrel which was then rolled back and forth vigorously to drain the seawater from their lungs and hopefully jolt them back into breathing. It’s unknown how often the over the barrel idea succeeded.

Barrel, despite being a very common item for centuries, has unknown origins. It was present by the 1300s in several European languages in various spellings, but the source hasn’t been found although barriclus in Medieval Latin is a good candidate.

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.

Cover Reveal of “Words The Sea Gave Us”

Hello,

Today pre-orders open on my new word history book – “Words The Sea Gave Us” (Amazon Kindle edition link) – and I’m very happy to reveal the cover here on the blog that inspired the book series. Drum roll please…

What do you think? It’s been designed by Peter Sheehan again and I absolutely love it. My hope is that each of the Words books will be in a different colour so a shelf of them will look stunning. All I have to do is write a few more them, gulp.

What’s it about?

“Words The Sea Gave Us” is a light-hearted look at the words the English dictionary borrowed from the sea. From baggywinkle and gollywobbler to tempest and flotsam, the sea in all her moods has given a boatload of words to the English language throughout history. This book explores their origins along with a cargo of old sailor’s yarns. Cast your line for the salty history of skyscraper, mollgogger, strike, cyber, and phrases like getting hitched, red herring, hot pursuit, and taking them down a peg.

More than 370 words and phrases are featured from “above board” to yardarm – drawn from parts of a ship, sail names, crew titles, surfer slang, marine monsters, nautical navigation, flying the flag, and of course, how to talk like a scurvy pirate. Throw in some sea fables, fashions, and weather and you’re ready to set sail. Previous nautical experience not required.

The book is ideal for word geeks, sailors, and beachcombers.

What’s a pre-order?

The idea is that you order a copy of the ebook edition (for a paperback and library editions you’ll have to wait until Launch Day, the 13th of July) and it’s delivered to your ebook reader on launch day. The book is currently available to pre-order on kindle, Apple Books, and Kobo. Apparently pre-ordering books helps their sales ranking. I just like having books pop up on my ebook app.

Do You Review Books? Are Open to Guest posts on your Blog?

If so, please get in touch (@Wordfoolery on Twitter is easiest, or comment below). I discovered when promoting my first word book (“How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” – all about eponyms and the amazing people who gave them to the English language) that it is really tricky to get non-fiction books reviewed so if you do it, or you know somebody, let me know. I can provide review copies. Even just a sentence or two on Amazon can really help – don’t feel you have to write a massive book report!

When Will the Book Launch?

13th of July 2020. I can’t wait. Watch this space for details. The launch will be entirely online so you can all join in.

Would you like Free Sample?

Firstly, there’s a new page on the blog here – Downloads. I’ve created a free nautical download, called Various Vessels, all about ship names for those who don’t know their ketch from their dhow. Here’s also a little snippet from the book, a preview before launch day.

Junk (extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney copyright 2020)

A junk is a flat bottomed sailing boat from the Far East. She has no keel, a high stern, and her rudder can be raised or lowered. The two or three masts carry battened square sails which used to be made from bamboo, rattan, or woven grass. Easy to steer and good at sea, the junk was the vessel of choice for Far Eastern pirates for centuries.

The word junk for this type of ship entered English in the late 1500s from the Portuguese word junco, but originally from the Malay word jong or djong (large boat).

The word junk which is now used to describe rubbish also comes from the sea, but not from the eastern sailing ship. Junk entered English spelled as junke in the 1300s to describe the oddments of rope which were used to caulk gaps in the boat’s planking. That type of junk came from Old French junc (rush or reed) for something of little value and originally from Latin iuncus (reed).

By the 1660s junk described refuse from boats and by 1884 it referred to rubbish of any kind, but usually with an implication of being re-used later. The original junk shop was actually called a marine shop in 1800, a place for selling items discarded from a ship. This later gave us junk art (1961), junk food (1971), and a surprisingly early dictionary entry for junk mail (1954).

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.

p.p.s. “Words the Sea Gave Us” is my most recent book, but you’ll find details of all my books (nonfiction and serialised novels) and where to read them on the Books Page.

Carpetbagger History

Hello,

This week’s word is carpetbagger which I came across in the excellent military history word book “Sticklers, Sideburns and Bikinis” by Graeme Donald that I’ve mentioned here before. Carpetbagger isn’t a commonly used word here in Ireland but I had a vague memory of Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind” being called that word.

Vague memories are often incorrect, however, and Rhett wasn’t a carpetbagger at all. He was a blockade runner whose ship slipped past the Union blockade to bring supplies to the south (and earn a good profit in the process).

Carpetbagger entered American English in the 1860s as a negative word for opportunistic whites from the northern part of the country who moved south after the fall of the Confederacy to grab political power (from which some local residents were barred at the time) or to seize property and lands taken by the Union army. Such people arrived carrying their worldly goods in sturdy bags made from carpet scraps.

I wasn’t able to source a copyright free image for this one, but if you picture Mary Poppin’s bag (the one she can find anything in, even a standard lamp) then you’re on the right track.

Over time the word was used for several types of unpopular people out to take advantage of situations for their own advancement including ( but not limited to) – political candidates running in areas where they are not resident, somebody opening an account in a building society solely in the hope the business will go public and they’ll get a windfall payment in the process (UK and Ireland), an amateur Gaelic games player from Ireland who plays without salary but with rich side benefits in the US during the Irish off-season (Ireland), teachers and missionaries who moved from north to southern states (US), and even a steak stuffed with oysters (New Zealand).

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.

p.p.s. I’m working away on my next word history book, “Words The Sea Gave Us” at the moment and hoping to launch online in May. I got a sneak peak of the cover this week, very exciting! I’ll let you  know when pre-orders and advance review copies are available. Watch this space.

Belay and Putting a Pin in It

Hello,

I’m editing my book “Words The Sea Gave Us” this month before its release later this year and my mind is filled with the nautical words and phrases which the sea has given to the English language, so I thought I’d share one with you today. Have you ever heard a Star Trek captain saying “belay that order” or a manager in a meeting suggest you put a “pin in it”? Then you’ve had a taste of what a belaying pin did on a sailing ship.

Belaying pins on a traditional sailing ship

{Extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019}

If you watch enough seafaring movies, or indeed Star Trek episodes, you’ll eventually hear a captain say something like “Belay that order” to one of their crew. The order will be paused, but why?

The answer lies in the Age of Sail and with one small piece of wooden equipment. The captain is referring to the belaying pin, a wooden peg, something akin to a rolling pin, around which a line could be made fast (and stopped). A series of such pins were typically positioned along the ship’s rail. Basically the captain is saying – “tie up that order for the moment”.

Belay (1540s) comes from the Old English word belecgan which meant to lay a thing about, thus describing how you would lay the rope around the belaying pin.

Belaying is also used in mountain climbing terminology from the same source.

It is tempting to associate the over-used office phrase “put a pin in it” with the belaying pin as both refer to postponing a task however the pin in that phrase is widely accepted to have been the pin of a hand grenade in World War Two where putting the pin back in deferred the explosion.

One belaying pin, ready for any use

A belaying pin was a common improvised weapon aboard a ship as they were close to hand and about the right size and weight to be used as a club.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Touch and Go

Hello,

Despite this being my tenth win of the challenge (from 12 attempts), NaNoWriMo 2018 was a tough one. There’s a reason why the official recommendation is to write fiction during NaNo – it’s much quicker. I was working from a long list of nautical words and phrases (and a big stack of reference books) for “Words The Sea Gave Us”, but even with advance research I still found my writing pace significantly slower than in fiction years.

However, I’m proud to say I made it to 58,069 words by the end of the month and 90% of the first draft written. Next year I’m writing fiction.

Here’s a quick snippet from this year’s draft – the origin of the phrase “touch and go”, which is how NaNo felt at times this November!

“If a situation is touch and go you’re in a tricky spot, it could go either way, even a slight mistake could prove disastrous.

If you’re an airplane pilot you might be more familiar with touch and go (or circuit and bumps) as the training exercise where you barely land and then immediately take off for another circuit.

The idea of touch and go with the precarious situation sense arose in the 1800s from the world of sailing ships which might give the seabed, rocks, or other obstacle a glancing blow, but then continue on their course. The stakes are high. The ship could run aground or find a hole in its hull, but if the captain and crew are quick to react disaster can be averted.”

Now with NaNo behind me, I’m plotting the rest of my year and looking forward to 2019 writing goals. Have you any plans for 2019 yet?

My first task will be reminding readers that “How To Get Your Name In the Dictionary” is out now on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Kindle, the Apple Bookstore, and Kobo. It’s the perfect gift for anybody in your life who loves crosswords, scrabble, biographies, or history. It’s filled with more than 260 eponyms from around the world – the stories behind fashion icons like the trilby, the people behind recipes like tarte tatin or pavlova, inventions like the ferris wheel and guillotine, and charming villains like Casanova. Buying a copy is a great way to support this blog. Thank you.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)