Birthday.

April 20th is the anniversary of the birth of both my grandfather and my niece. While my grandfather is no longer with us to celebrate his birthday, we will have dinner and cake tonight in honour of my niece. 

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The word birthday dates back to the late 14th century, having come from the Old English word byrddæg which meant the anniversary or celebration of one’s birth. At that time, though, it was usually used to commemorate the birth of s very important people, such as kings or saints. Regular folk did not commonly speak of the day on which they were born as their birthday until the 1570s, and about fifty years later they also spoke of their birthnight.

Author’s note: I am disappointed that we no longer speak about our birthnight. I was born at 7pm on a Thursday, and I could really make a thing of saying “tonight is my birthnight!” all day, and “last night was my birthnight!” on the morrow.

By Shakespeare’s time, observation of one’s own birthday was far more commonplace. Not only does Cleopatra acknowledge her own birthday in Antony and Cleopatra, so does the Roman senator Cassius in Julius Caesar V.i: “This is my birthday; as this very day / Was Cassius born.”
In Pericles II.i the first of three fishermen with whom Pericles discusses the king, Simonides, observes that it the king “hath a fair daughter, and tomorrow is her birthday, and there are princes and knights come from all parts of the world to joust and tourney for her love.” This shows that celebrating or at least making note of one’s own birthday was something understood by the regular folk who made up most of Shakespeare’s audiences in the late 1590s and early 1600s.

The tradition of birthday cake also came from Germany in early modern times: presumably as people started to observe their own birthdays, they started celebrating with special food as they had long done for kings’ and saints’ days. By the 1800s, the German tradition of Kinderfest was fully established. This involved presenting the birthday child with a cake topped with candles — one for each year of their life, plus one in the middle of the cake to represent life— which would be kept burning all day, and replaced as they burned down. This was done because they believed people were more vulnerable to evil spirits on their birthdays, and the burning candles would ward those spirits off. After dinner, the cake was presented again, with the candles still burning. The child would make a wish and blow out the candles, with the smoke rising to heaven to keep the evil spirits away once the candles had been extinguished. Then the cake would be shared among the family.

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This is very similar to what many people do today, albeit without the religious superstition and all-day candle burning.

Sources:
Etymonline
Etymologeek
Candles, Wishes, and the History Behind Our Birthday Cake Traditions
Why Do We Eat Birthday Cake?

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Birthday.
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Sleuth

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A sleuth is a detective: most often, the word is used to describe an amateur or privately employed detective rather than a police officer. As a word, it was very popular in early detective fiction such as that written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, and is perhaps less popular now than in previous generations. Even so, it it is a word with a fascinating history.

As a keen reader of mystery fiction for many years now I am familiar with many sleuths. I started with Tricia Belsen, the Hardy Boys and the like. Scooby Doo and the gang were my favourite TV sleuths, but my parents loved Jessica Fletcher. As an adult, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and Phryne Fisher rank among my favourites. As much as I love Agatha Christie’s work, I always found Hercule Poirot to be insufferably smug and somewhat condescending, but that is a different discussion.

Sleuth had come into English at some point before 1200 AD, meaning ‘a definite track or trail left by someone or something’. This came from the  Old Norse word sloð  which means trail. This word was used to describe dogs skilled at tracking and following a scent or trail, known as sleuth-hounds. Thus, the first sleuths were not people, but dogs!

Eventually, the  word came to be used for a person who tracked prey, or fugitives, or anything else in need of finding. It was used as a noun for a keen investigator by the mid 1800s, and for someone looking for clues to solve a crime in 1872.  “detective” is 1872, shortening of sleuth-hound “keen investigator” (1849), a figurative use of a word that dates back to late 14c. meaning a kind of bloodhound.

Sleuth was not used as a verb until the early 20th century, when it was used to mean the act of investigating. The first written record of sleuth as a verb was in 1905.  To sleuth out meant to investigate or discover, and the act of doing so was sleuthing.

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Sources:

Etymonline
Sesquiotica
The Word Detective

Sleuth.
#vocabulary #etymology

Easily Confused Words: Sputter vs. Splutter

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Today’s post comes in response to a heartfelt plea for clarification between sputter and splutter:

These two words are easily confused, not just because they sound so similar, but also because they can both relate to the way in which people speak. 

Both suggest a degree of incoherence or inability to express oneself in a composed manner. The difference is in the manner of expression: sputter is more explosive and suggestive of anger or violence, while splutter suggests confusion that comes from excitement or struggling to find the right words. 

Dona may be reassured that she has not in fact been making a terrible mistake, and most of her readers might not ever have noticed the difference.

When writing about how people speak, the choice between sputter and splutter is one of nuance and tone rather than being right or wrong. 

Easily Confused Words: Sputter vs. Splutter #words #language #blog

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PS: Dona Fox writes excellent horror stories. If that’s your thing follow her and read her books!

Forwallowed.

Forwallowed is a very old, but very relevant, word.

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Having successfully incorporated ‘forswunk’ into my vocabulary and introduced it to my friends and family, I am delighted to have discovered another word equally useful as a fibromyalgia sufferer. 

Forwallowed’ is an archaic word from the 15th century that means ‘weary from tossing and turning all night’. 

Not only is it perpetually relevant to my life, it sounds and feels beautiful when spoken. 

It is one of those words that evokes the sadness and tiredness of the very feeling it expresses, both physically and mentally, almost like a form of emotional onomatopoeia.  

It seems so versatile and germane that I don’t understand why it ever fell out of fashion. Forwallowed is a wonderfully expressive word that deserves to be brought back into regular use.

Mission accepted. 

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Forwallowed: an old but highly relevant word that deserves to be brought back.
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Easy Ways To Build Your Word Power Without Investing Extra Time Every Day

Boosting your vocabulary and improving your communication skills does not have to cost extra time or money.

The best way to build your vocabulary and improve your ability to use the new words you learn is through reading. Books are magic in many ways, including their ability to expand the mind and the vocabulary simultaneously. 

Some people find that challenging for a variety of reasons: they may have limited free time due to parenting, caring or work demands, or they may have low literacy levels to start with. They might not be native English speakers, and find a whole book way too daunting. They may have limited or decreased eyesight for any number of reasons. 

The first piece of good news is that there are ways to develop and improve one’s vocabulary without having to pick up a book. The second is that these are things a person can fit into a day without requiring much extra time at all. 

Learning through listening is a valuable and highly beneficial skill that is greatly under-utilised these days. 

There are podcasts relating to just about every field of employment, hobby or pursuit, or field of interest that will boost a person’s vocabulary both in general ways and by using language specific to that area. This can be invaluable for achieving higher professional standards and keeping on top of key terms used in a particular field or occupation. There is no doubt that actually knowing what you and others are talking about is far better than appearing as though you do. 

Audiobooks and podcasts are both brilliant ways of enriching the time already spent commuting, at the gym, cooking, or cleaning the house. One can escape into fictional worlds or choose content that enhances your knowledge and understanding of the world around them. They can delve into the past or ponder the future. 

There are podcasts of book readings and dramatisations. There are podcasts of everything from stand up comedy to beauty tips. And the beauty of podcasts is that they are usually absolutely free, although some do offer premium content to particularly avid listeners who are willing to pay for extra listening material.

Podcasts are easily searched using key words in any podcast app, most of which are also free, Personally, I love both Downcast and Podbean because they are easy to use and offer an enormous range of podcasts. 

Audiobooks don’t have to be fiction, either. There are probably bazillions of non-fiction books available on audio format. If cost is an issue, local libraries often have an audiobook lending service that removes that barrier. 

Radio — particularly the public talk-back variety — can be another great source of interesting listening material. Although it’s generally not limited to specific areas of interest, radio presenters often use highly varied and interesting language to keep their shows engaging and fresh. In Australia, the ABC has interesting conversations on all sorts of topics happening all the time. There are some stations dedicated to sport or news and current affairs, and others that offer diverse topics of intelligent conversation with both expert guests and listeners calling in to contribute. There’s a brilliant quiz called The Challenge just after midnight Sydney/Melbourne time every night, which is very entertaining and quite enriching for the vocabulary, too. And now that we live in the age of the Internet, that content is all freely available world-wide using the ABC Listen app on any device. I know from personal experience that there are similar stations and programs in Canada and The USA, too. 

Although a little more time-consuming than adding listening material to a regular routine,  one can also boost their vocabulary by watching or listening to documentaries. Free-to-air TV may not present as many documentaries as it used to, but for anyone subscribed to Netflix, Foxtel or any of the thousands of other streaming services, there are plenty available there, too. These can be great for developing both vocabulary and general knowledge at the same time. 

“Word of the Day” features are offered by many online dictionary websites and apps. Each day, they will select a random word and send a notification, message or email including the word and its meaning and usage. 

Whichever choices of source or content or style one makes, it is important to go beyond just hearing new words being spoken in order to incorporate them into regular vocabulary. Thankfully, this doesn’t have to be time-consuming either. 

The first step is to find out what the word means. While you are listening, it takes just a few seconds to look up an unfamiliar word on Google or an online dictionary, and by doing so, turn it into a word you understand are able to use. You can even ask Siri or Alexa to look it up for you if you’re really pushed for time. 

Repetition equals reinforcement. Using a new word several times a day in regular conversation or even by making up different sentences or silly rhymes in your head for a few days will consolidate your learning and understanding of the word so that in a week, you’ve got it for keeps. 

Making use of a new word doesn’t mean trying to inject it into conversation and potentially getting it wrong, or sounding like you are showing off. That kind of artifice isn’t helpful to anyone. Instead, you can create genuine conversations by sharing your new word with family over dinner, or turn it into a game in which the closest guess among family members is treated as winning, or ask your friends if they know the word. It could make an engaging social media post that could created and shared in less than a minute. 

Jotting down a new word and its meaning into a notebook takes less than a minute, and provides quick and powerful reinforcement of the learning. When you write down something you have heard or read, your brain processes that information in multiple ways, making your learning more complex and more likely to be retained. That notebook also then becomes a great personal reference tool for looking up words on future occasions, too! Any regular notebook would do the trick, or one of those alphabetised address books could be handy for this purpose, too. After all, there’s no rule that says they can only be used for phone numbers! 

The alternative term for vocabulary is ‘word power’ for very good reason. Why not take one of more these opportunities to improve yours? 

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Easy Ways To Build Your Word Power Without Investing Extra Time Every Day #vocabulary #languagelearning #LearningNeverStops #learning #selfimprovement