Category Archives: Words

I Love Language … and Words

Yeah, yeah, yeah …

I’m supposed to be working, but a new book just showed up on my front door step and I can barely contain myself.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love words? Oh my goodness, but they make me happy. (okay, whoops, I was totally gone there for about thirty seconds while my mind wandered off to chase down some of my favorite words. Anyway …)

David Crystal’s book, “Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar” is sitting in front of me and I’m typing this before I’ve even finished the preface … because, well … words!

I have to share this with you because it made my heart skip a beat.

from Old French gramaire,
which was an adaptation of Latin grammatica
which in turn came from Greek grammatiki
meaning ‘pertaining to letters or literature’
which later narrowed to mean just the language of texts
which in the Middle Ages meant chiefly Latin
and so took on the meaning of ‘special learning, knowledge’
and then ‘secret knowledge’ as in magic and astrology
which is how it was first used in Scotland in the 18th century
when the word was pronounced with an l instead of an r
and the meaning developed of ‘enchantment, spell’
and later became the word we know today, meaning
‘charm, attractiveness, physical allure’
glamour (British English)
glamor (American English)

(Crystal, 2017)

Process on that little passage, then re-read the title and subtitle.

Think about how that single word transformed throughout the centuries and what a gift it is. These are the things that thrill my mind and send me wandering off the normal path of life so I can explore deep and creative thoughts.

My goodness, I love words.

Oh Words, You Vex Me

TB likes words too. This was taken in 2013 – Book 3’s manuscript.

For the last week I’ve been head down in an online course taught by a Brit. Consequently, the pronunciation of words that ramble around my mind is a bit off-kilter. I may never be able to say some of these words correctly again.

I’ve also been completely caught up in the Maisie Dobbs series of books by Jacqueline Winspear. Set in London during the early twentieth century (1913 – 1939), I’ve been inundated with vocabulary that requires me to tap on the dictionary function of my Kindle. While I have a pretty good grasp of language and can generally intuit a word’s meaning from context, there’s nothing more fun for me than to be introduced to new words.

Today, as I attended a webinar led by this British speaker, he posted a slide that used the word instalment. As soon as it arrived on the screen, some helpful Hannah typed a comment regarding the typo. Well. No. Not really.  A moderator quickly posted back that in ‘English,’ it was not misspelled, which made me laugh out loud.

I believe that this points out several pieces of learning we should embrace.

  1. English is an incredibly fascinating language.
  2. American English is a young language, yet has bastardized many different languages and cultural references. Our way isn’t necessarily the right way for anyone but us.
  3. Discovering all we can about words, language, and etymology makes us smarter and increases our ability to communicate.
  4. By the way, we’re not always as smart as we think we are.

As immense as my vocabulary is, I recognize that I have barely tapped into the breadth of the English language.

Have you ever played the game “Balderdash”? You receive a card with a word and everyone writes down their definition. Points are awarded to those definitions that sound good enough to get people to believe they’re correct.

The first time I played that game, I was floored by the number of words I’d not yet experienced. Not just obscure words that dropped out of circulation or scientific terms, but words that just never made it into my circle of knowledge. That was quite distressing to someone who treasures words as much as I do.

My mother loved words more than anyone I’ve ever know. Her favorite thing to do, though, was to mash them to pieces and spit them back out, causing no end of conflict in her children’s vocabulary when in front of a teacher in school … or friends … or when leading a group … you know. Just plain trouble.

To this day, I have trouble saying the word rhinoceros.  Say the word quietly in your head for a moment. The accent is on the second syllable, right?

Well, not for me. Mom always pronounced it as rhi’ – no – sore – ass. Consequently (and it’s surprising how often this comes up), I begin the word with the accent on the first syllable and have to stop myself and start over. Sure, I could shorten the word to rhino, but that’s not usually what happens.

I’m still embarrassed about the day I argued with an office mate about a word I’d heard my entire life. He insisted that it wasn’t a real word. I pushed back. He sent me to the dictionary.

Stallfoundered is not a real word.

Thanks, Mom. It might be a great word, but nobody else uses it.

So this week, I’m embracing British pronunciations and learning words such as costermonger. I’m in no hurry to leave this headspace. It’s kind of fun. I have yet to exchange an ‘s’ for a ‘z’ in words like apologize (apologise) or add back the ‘u’ in words such as honor. British English adds an additional ‘l’ sometimes when adding ‘ing’ (travelling or fuelling- American English is traveling or fueling). Then I discover that somehow we’ve added those lost ‘l’s to install or enthrall.

I enjoy the fact that the world is filled with inconsistencies and differences. It makes things more interesting. We aren’t all the same. We haven’t completely homogenized our cultures to bland and boring.

What’s one thing about language (s) that fascinates you? I’m not asking what frustrates you – that’s a topic for another day. Something that you just love.

Day Off!

Grey is taking the day off, too.

Grey is taking the day off, too.

I’m taking the day off.

Last night at 2 am, I sent the manuscript off to my wonderful beta readers and for the first time in a couple of months, I’m not trying to figure out how to keep Polly out of trouble.

That’s not actually true. Book 16 already presents challenges for the poor girl, but that’s neither here nor there today.

So … here I go. Did you ever wonder where the idiom ‘neither here nor there’ comes from? Apparently I did today.

It’s from a sermon by John Calvin on Deuteronomy in the year 1583. Well, it’s from Golding’s translation of that sermon.

“True it is that our so doing is neither here nor there (as they say) in respect of God.”

Did you notice the words in parentheses? As they say? It seems like that phrase had been around for a while. So … now you know.

Speaking of parenthesis. Did you ever wonder where those come from? Well, a parenthesis is actually the phrase that is inserted into a passage. It comes from the Greek word parénthesis, which comes from words that mean “alongside of” and “to place” So … to place alongside of.

The parenthesis is usually marked off by brackets, dashes or commas. It doesn’t need to be enclosed by the curved brackets which are actually called parentheses (plural). As time has progressed, these punctuation marks have become the only common use for the term. We no longer use the word for those inserted phrases.

And now you know.

NOW I’m going to take a day off.

A Tale of … The Mondegreen Rabbit Hole

What is your goto treat?

Polly’s is ice cream sandwiches. Once Henry discovered that, he was in like Flynn.

Errol Flynn - dems some smoldering good likes right dere!

Errol Flynn – dems some smoldering good likes right dere!

Sidenote: I just had to look up the origins of that phrase – in like Flynn. Oh my! What in the world? I had no idea. It means to have easily achieved a goal … well, according to legend, this has to do with Errol Flynn’s notorious womanizing tactics and successes … uh, okay. The man was gorgeous; I get it, but whoa.

Another possibility was that it referred to a NYC political boss whose candidates that he backed were a sure thing because of his power.

However, if you use the phrase “In like Flint,” that’s a malapropism – it’s not the original phrase, but the James Coburn movie’s title was a play on “In like Flynn.”

Malapropism? That is a “usually humorous misapplication of a word or phrase” (Merriam-Webster).  The word malapropism comes from a character named Mrs. Malaprop in a play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Before he introduced her in 1775, Shakespeare’s character named Dogberry from “Much Ado About Nothing” made those errors and they were then called dogberryisms.

Some of Mrs. Malaprop’s best phrases were things like: he is the very pineapple of politeness (pinnacle), she’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile (alligator), it gives me the hydrostatics to such a degree (hysterics).

A quick link to a different page and I discovered celebrity malapropisms.

“Listen to the blabbing brook.” (babbling) Norm Crosby

“We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” (hostage) George W. Bush

“The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.” (order) Richard Daley, former Chicago mayor

Yogi Berra was a master of malapropisms: “Texas has a lot of electrical votes.” (electoral)

And if this weren’t enough insanity, there is another type of malapropism called a mondegreen (sigh, more information). A mondegreen comes from something being misheard. For those of us who grew up with 60s and 70s music, we created a bunch of them.

“There’s a bathroom on the right” rather than “There’s a bad moon on the rise.” (CCR)

“Bring me an iron lung” instead of “Bring me a higher love.” (Steve Winwood)

“The girl with colitis goes by” (seriously?) instead of “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.” (Beatles)

“Excuse me while I kiss this guy” rather than “Excuse me while I kiss the sky.” (Jimi Hendrix)

“Midnight after you’re wasted” instead of “Midnight at the oasis.” (Maria Muldaur)

And where does the word mondegreen come from? (Why not, I’ve flown down the rabbit hole with both eyes open.)

The author, Sylvia Wright, heard a Scottish ballad called “The Bonny Earl of Murray” as

Ye highlands and ye lowlands
Oh where hae you been?
Thou hae slay the Earl of Murray
And Lady Mondegreen.

The actual lyric reads:
…Thou hae slay the Earl of Murray
and laid him on the green.

My favorite will always be the story (whether legendary or true) of the little boy who returned home after attending Sunday School all excited because they’d talked about bears that day. When his mother pressed for more information, he told the story of “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear.”

That was a fun trip in and amongst words, phrases and all of the craziness that goes with them. I guess I’ll write about ice cream and treats another day. Back to work for me, now.