Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “word inventing”

Why We Say: Hair of Dog to Ham Actors


Moving from “G” to “H” in sayings gleaned from Dictionary of Word Origins by Jordan Almond, we explore the following:

Hair of the Dog: today this refers to taking a drink to combat the morning after over indulgence; however, it originally referred to taking a hair from the dog that inflicted the damage and placing into the wound. Connection? Both cures deal with the logic-deprived means of dealing with a bite.

sobur.co

Going off half-cocked alludes to pursuing a line of action and not being prepared, with the result being less than satisfactory, which is derived from the original meaning of hunters carrying their gun at half cock for safety reasons, yet not fully engaging back into lock and loaded when ready to shoot. Both instances are from not taking “ready, aim, fire” seriously.

Ham actors are known today as those who overact, not being of high caliber in their theatrical attempts. This terms stems from the long ago practice of applying ham fat to the face to more easily remove the burnt cork used to create blackface, a part of a stage comedian’s routine. A ham actor comes from “hamfatter”—not a compliment. Hogging the stage is another aspect.

Handwriting on the wall is a portent of doom and goes back to the rule of Belshazzar. In Daniel 5 the words “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin“ appeared on the wall announcing the end of Belshazzar’s kingdom.

Hangout usually refers to a place where people gather or getting together and it stems from the phrase “Where do you hang out your sign?” which was the question professionals, artisans, and tradesmen would ask one another when inquiring about their their business.

Hard up is a tough place to be since it means being broke and hanging in the wind and that makes sense since the nautically inclined know that to put the helm hard up is to turn the ship away from the wind. So if a person is “hard up” it’s doubtful they can handle the financial storms that come up now and then.

Harping on a subject, going over the same subject repetitively is much like playing one string on the harp—not pleasant and somewhat annoying.

finedictionary.com

If something is “haywire” it usually indicates it’s broken, and that’s from the logging camp days when loggers would take the wire from hay bales to mend equipment.

If you are known to wear your heart in your sleeve, you probably show your emotions easily. In the days of chivalric knights, a knight would tie a scarf from his lady love around his arm to indicate his favor—all would see where his heart lay.

If someone is on their “high horse” he or she is acting superior, and in those yesteryear days of transportation, someone riding high up on their horse was definitely superior to those having to walk.

More “H” sayings next month…

Word Nerd Confessions: October


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I might have mentioned it before that my heritage harkens back to the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Since that discovery I have grown more aware of all that is Scottish. This month I favor words that have Scottish roots. I might have to dedicate a post to famous Scots. I do enjoy listening to David Tennant and his broguish wit.

Who has the knack for Scottish wit and bravado? The Doctor, of course.

grumphie: a pig

hooly: gently

sennachie: a storyteller

blellum: an indiscreet talker

atweel: surely

shavie: a trick or a prank

I’ve come across other Scottish words in my readings of authors such as D.E. Stevenson and Allan MacKinnon that leave me puzzled to the point of setting my book down and searching out its meaning.

One of the words that stumped me was “ken.” Sentences like, “I ken your meaning,” really threw me. Context sleuthing pointed me towards understanding, but I finally looked it up and got this from dictionary. com:

verb (used with object),  kenned or kent, ken·ning.

Chiefly Scot.

  1. to know, have knowledge of or about, or be acquainted with (a person or thing).
  2. to understand or perceive (an idea or situation).

Scots Law. to acknowledge as heir; recognize by a judicial act.Archaic. to see; descry; recognize.

To “ken” something means to have a deeper understanding that just a mere acknowledgement. It’s one of those words that doesn’t translate well out of its cultural context–I ken that some words do better in their home language.

What Scottish words have you come across? Better yet, which of the above is one you are adopting? I’m leaning towards grumphie, as I do enjoy Guinea pigs. Then again, tossing out hooly at the right instance could be satisfying.

Word Nerd Confessions: May


It is the month of Maying. Flowers blooming, warm weather, longer days, one month until summer break. Yes, there is much to like about May. Since May is full of color, warmth, and anticipatory of summer, I thought a smorgasbord of words would be appreciated for this month’s Word Nerd Confessions:

1. ergate: worker ant

2. dorp: village

3. paladin: defender of a noble cause

4. kibitzer: giver of unwanted advice

5. ululate: to complain loudly; to howl as a dog might

6. banausic: to serve a mechanical or practical purpose only

7. incogitant: thoughtless; inconsiderate

8. antinome: something that is contradictory

9.polyhistor: someone of great and varied learning

10. tittle: a small mark in punctuation as in the dot over the “i”

11. aggiornamento: bringing something up to date for current needs

12. thimblerig: the sleight of hand game to fool someone as in the pea under the cups

13. nocent: harmful; injurious

14. cruciverbalist: a designer or aficionado of crossword puzzles

15. hypogeal: underground; subterranean

 

What three words caught your fancy this month?
I’m partial to antinome. I’m gonna throw that one at Mike during a Debatable. Ssh, don’t tell him. Nocent and paladin could also be appropriate for a Debatable.

What two words did you not realize that there existed such a word of explanation?
Didn’t know a cruciverbalist is what you call people who create crossword puzzles. I just thought they had more time and talent than me. Worker ants are ergates–I had no idea.

Image result for worker ant

What word do you simply like because of the way it sounds?
Tittle, of course. It tickles the tongue and makes me want to laugh. That little dot is a tittle. Tee hee.

Shakespeare Celeb: William’s Words


Words Shakespeare Invented
(under the guise of April’s Word Nerd Confessions)

Getty Images/Edward Gooch

image: Mental Floss

While Shakespeare was a creative wordsmith–no doubt there, it should be noted that he tended to borrow from other sources and polish them so well that they became associated more with him than the original. I cite the sonnet form, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar as starter examples.

Another aspect of polishing came to words. It’s thought Shakespeare contributed at least 1,500 words to the common language, some sources say it’s closer to 1,700. He achieved this by changing nouns into verbs or verbs into adjectives or splicing together words. Shakespeare Online.com, a marvelous source of all matter Shakespeare, has compiled a short list of some of his contributions. For further elaboration on his wordly inventions please click here.

Note: clicking on the word will take you to the play where it was used.

academe accused addiction advertising amazement
arouse assassination backing bandit bedroom
beached besmirch birthplace blanket bloodstained
barefaced blushing bet bump buzzer
caked cater champion circumstantial cold-blooded
compromise courtship countless critic dauntless
dawn deafening discontent dishearten drugged
dwindle epileptic equivocal elbow excitement
exposure eyeball fashionable fixture flawed
frugal generous gloomy gossip green-eyed
gust hint hobnob hurried impede
impartial invulnerable jaded label lackluster
laughable lonely lower luggage lustrous
madcap majestic marketable metamorphize mimic
monumental moonbeam mountaineer negotiate noiseless
obscene obsequiously ode olympian outbreak
panders pedant premeditated puking radiance
rant remorseless savagery scuffle secure
skim milk submerge summit swagger torture
tranquil undress unreal varied vaulting
worthless zany gnarled grovel

Ready for a challenge? Create a sensible sentence with as many of the above words as possible. Here’s a starter…

So–next time you reach for the skim milk, hoping you won’t be disheartened  to discover it’s worthless and sour, initiating a rant of discontent, consider a generous thanks to the Bard for providing a varied list to select from so as not to impede  your outbreak towards those accused of leaving milk past its prime in the refrigerator, because a  tranquil   kitchen produces radiance. I know, this sentence is laughableif not zany.

DOWO: The “C” List


Onward we travel into the Dictionary of Word Origins, adventuring in the land of “C.”

What is the phrase “carte blanche” all about?

It once was the custom for officials, or personage of importance, to provide a trusted subordinate with blank paper with their signature. These signed documents could then be used as necessary. “White paper” doesn’t quite sound as impressive as the French translation carte blanche. “Just sign here,” takes on another meaning.


Why is the feline in Alice in Wonderland known as a Cheshire cat?

Alice probably didn’t realize that the cat she came to know in her dreamy adventure was sporting a grin that emulated the cheeses sold in the Irish Cheshire Country. These cheeses were molded to look like cats with very wide grins. Hmm, think there is a connection between Cheshire cats and why we say “cheese” tight before our picture is taken?

Image: pngmart.com

Why is something that is a hint called a “clue?”

In middle English a ball of thread was known as a “clew” or “clue” and when applied to the story of Theseus, the way out of the maze was how he followed an unrolled ball of thread. Hint, hint the thread of logic is quite clear here in this story of how he unraveled his escape plan. Then again, what if the Minotaur was smarter?

babblecomics.blogspot.com

How is a disappointed person “crestfallen?”

Roosters carry into a fight their bright red coxcomb or crests upright, signaling their readiness and awareness The losing rooster runs from the fight with a drooping crest. Not having seen a rooster fight (or having a desire to do so) I remain a wee bit skeptical on this one.

wordsdontfailme.tumblr.com

What is meant to “curry favor?”

In Middle English “horse ” is  favel, and to “curry” a horse is to groom it with a special comb. The results are usually a sleek looking horse. The idea here is for someone who hopes to makes a impression will do something noticeable like a groom hoping to catch his master’s attention might curry the favel. Sometimes the attempt is quite obvious.

johnhartstudio.com

The Challenge: Can you create a sentence with the above sayings? Give it a try…Or at least one saying:

Winter Reset Terms


Valentine’s Day reset winter by delivering eight inches of snow. I would have preferred a FDT delivery of daffodils.

I am in need of spring, that event that is a long time in finally appearing, where greenery festoons the landscape instead of mutations of whiteness. Snow is no longer pretty after three months, after it’s been shoveled, blowed, and pushed about.

February’s snow tends to be fickle. It doesn’t quite have the tenacity of January’s snow days. It’s vacillating between being fiercely winter and nicely spring. It’s as if it is acknowledging March is on the move and will definitely arrive with a spring in its step. Forget about that woodchuck and his shadowy ideas about how long we have to wait for spring. Keep him sleeping, thanks.

Last week’s unexpected snow day led me to build my annual snow guy. My students liked my snowman show and tell photo, and one class named him Perceval–Percy among his friends. 

As the snow continues to fall, and continues to hamper greener days from arriving, I thought it appropriate to dust off my snow terms list:

▪ lookitsnow:  first snow of the season–Nov/Dec

▪ itzsnowing: comment of the day until mid-January

▪ ucksnow:  bridge between Jan/Feb when people begin getting weary of shoveling, scraping, and slipping around in the stuff

▪ snizzle: the on off dance of snow and rain found in late February

▪ snain: a more serious form of snizzle

▪ smush: slushy snow of Feb/Mar

▪ smud: ground showing with snow patches, squashy walking usually around early March

▪ ohnosnow: snow when daffs coming up and flakes coming down in March/April

▪ nomohsnow: snowfall and meltaway tease of April/May

(some days there is the occasional variety to the landscape)

Why We Say #22:Junk to Jeeps


Getting into the J zone of sayings with junk, jalopy, jazz, and jeep…

Jalopy: when a car goes south, south of the border

Archie probably didn’t buy his car from Mexico, although if he did, he might have bought it in the town of Jalopa. Since there was a shortage of cars in Mexico around the 1900s, many old automobiles would come to the country by way of USA cast offs. A car bought in Jalopa meant buying a worn out ride, sometimes a junky one. Eventually a jalopy car is what these were known to be called.

Junky Jewelry: be forewarned of Forney

Remember, those vendors are probably selling phoney Coach purses. Don’t buy one. Same goes for the watches. Stick to touristy stuff as souvenirs.

Well, we all know that some market vendors aren’t totally on the up and up when it comes to the authenticity of their wares. Purses, watches, clothing–consumer be wary. Forney, a manufacturer of cheap jewelry, may have started the knock-off industry, junk merchandise. Spotting a “Forney ring” became a buyer habit. The name changed to “phoney” and today we are still on the lookout for poorly made merchandise claiming to be the real deal.

 

watch out for those phoney phones

Jazz: mixing up the beat

There are many different thoughts to the origin of Jazz. Why We Say claims the word is derived from the Louisiana French verb “jasper” which means to speed up, chatter, or make fun. As we know, “it don’t mean a thing, it it don’t got that swing.” doowop doowop doowop

Jeep: initially an Army ride

When the US Army designed their “General Purpose Car” they probably didn’t know that the “G.P.” would eventually been shortened to jeep.

GP=jeep

morguefile image: click

one last minute “j”: jumping the gun

This one is easy. About 35 years ago, racers started off at the bang of run firing off a blank cartridge. Anticipation was undoubtedly high, so it wasn’t unusual for a runner to start off before the bang, which became known as jumping the gun.

Word Nerd and Proud of It


I am a professed Word Nerd. I collect words (lexophile) study them (etymologist), mispronounce them (cacoepy), and read about them (Book Booster). Maybe my mom propped up my crib with an old dictionary, because no one else in my family shows this proclivity.

My love for words overflows into all facets of my life. As a kid, other kids would roll their eyes at my vocabulary, and teachers would be either amused or irritated at me knowing what the vocabulary word meant without any prompting. “Show off” was sometimes bantered about when I was around. Not really. Misunderstood for my zeal of learning vocabulary, yes, that would be better.

Zoom up to my young mothering years (an empty nester now–still mothering, but from a defined distance). I guess I nearly ruined my children’s lives by trying to instill the love of words into their little bodies. “No one talks like us, Mom!” And that was a bad thing? The payoff came much later, when recently the youngest progeny phoned to say the boss folk liked how well he could express himself in company meetings. Ah–delayed gratification.

As a teacher, I legitimately get to introduce vocabulary to students and interject my enthusiasm for increasing word strength and even test them on what the words they need to know for life and  for state required assessments and get paid for it (I just committed a polysyndeton with all those conjunctions–great word).

Lately, as a blogger, I get more attuned to posts about words dropping my way. For instance, I found this gem in my box not too long ago, even though it’s a 2012 post, it’s still relevant to me.  It’s all about Word Hacking, that delicious art of creating new words. There is all sorts of action and exercise in Word Hacking. There’s combining, mash ups, and verbalizing, and nouning. One could seriously lose calories by inventing new words. Shakespeare must have been in stellar shape with all his inventiveness. Doesn’t this look ever so fun? Check out the full blog post

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