On Tenterhooks.

Image Credit: Daniel_Nebreda

This morning I used the term “on tenterhooks” and then wondered where it came from.

It’s a term that means painful anticipation or being kept in suspense, commonly used by English speakers to describe any situation of tension or anxiety while waiting.

I imagined something being suspended or hung up, waiting for something to happen— which is exactly how I felt when I said it. I imagined the hooks to be larger and more cruel than they actually were, perhaps as some form of medieval torture or punishment, like hanging someone on a wall or in mid air using hooks to hold the body. That is an indication of several truths about me: my own feelings at the time, my love of medieval history, and my horror author’s tendency toward macabre imagination.

As it turns out, I was overthinking that part.

A little research at etymonline.org and worldwidewords.org informed me that it’s a very old word from the early 14th century that relates to the preparation of cloth, particularly woven woollen fabric, by hanging it up on a frame known as a tenter to stretch, straighten the weave, and dry. Tenter hooks were bent nails that held the fabric in place on the frame.

By the early 1500s, people spoke of being on the tenters to express being in suspense or waiting anxiously. The phrase “on tenterhooks” appeared in print for the first time in Tobias Smollett’s Roderick Random in 1748.

It is related to the word tent in that the word was used to describe the way in which hides, skins or coarse cloth were hung over a framework of poles to create a temporary dwelling, which then came to be called a tent.

Both tent and tenterhooks come to English from the Latin, tendere, meaning to stretch, via the old French word tente. They are related to the words tense, tension, intense and the phrase highly strung.

Although the ideas have come to be closely associated, tenterhooks and suspense are not related words.

Forwallowed.

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

image by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay

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. 

Forwallowed: an old but highly relevant word that deserves to be brought back.
#words #englishvocabulary #englishtips #vocabulary #blogpost

Ducking Out For A Break.

I try to spend some time each day away from screens and away from work of any description.

It’s good therapy to walk, listen, and breathe, far away from such demands.

It refreshes me, body and soul, and boosts my creativity and concentration.

One of the places I like to visit is the small lake in my town. It has a walking track, an exercise circuit, benches to rest on, barbecue and picnic tables, a playground, and a friendly group of ducks.

Just now, as I wrote “a group of ducks”, I began to muse over which was the correct collective noun for ducks. I suspected that “flock” was used when in flight, and that “brace” was used when they were on the ground, but thought I should check.

A little research in the interests of accuracy yielded surprising results. Did you know there are more than a dozen different collective nouns used for ducks?

According to collectivenounslist.com, those are:

  • Badelynge
  • Badling
  • Brace
  • Dopping
  • Flock
  • Flush
  • Paddling
  • Plump
  • Pump
  • Raft
  • Sword
  • String
  • Team
  • Twack

Some of these terms are more commonly used than others, and I cannot help but think some of them are archaic words. Badelynge definitely looks like the kind of spelling one finds in Chaucer or other Middle English texts. I also suspect that this word has been transformed into “badling” as language and spelling evolved over time.

How, though, are we not commonly calling a group of ducks a “twack”? It’s highly expressive and so delightfully onomatopoeic! Furthermore, it couldn’t possibly be mistaken for a term relating to any other creature.

From now on, ‘badelynge’ and ‘twack’ are the terms I’ll be using to refer to my ducky friends at the lake. Hey nonny nonny!

A twack of ducks! With a badelynge of ducks in the water beneath the boardwarlk!

New Words

As I often explain to my students, language adapts and evolves all the time. People invent new words, or blend old ones, to create new meanings or to explain something in a new way. 

I’m always fascinated by the process, and take interest in which words are being “added to the dictionary”. Even that phrase makes me laugh, because we all know there’s more than one dictionary, and they don’t all add new words at the same time. 

The article titled Five New Words To Watch comes from the Macquarie Dictionary Blog.

The Macquarie Dictionary is my favourite for a number of reasons. Macquarie University is my alma mater, and back when the first Macquarie Dictionary was being written and compiled, I had the privilege of having two of the contributors as my lecturers and tutors in English and Linguistics. More importantly, the definitions are clear and easily understandable, Australian colloquialisms are included, and the pronunciation guide is provided in the international phonetic alphabet, which I love. 

Yeah. Nerdy, I know. 
But if you’ve been following my blog for three minutes, you’ll know I’m unapologetic about that. 

I hope you enjoy this article.
If you’d like to tell me your favourite newish words, or words you’ve invented, I’d be super happy for you to leave a comment!  

‘Definitely’ and ‘Defiantly’ Are Different Words.

I am still coming to terms with the fact that this post needed to be written. How do people not know these are different words?

Apparently, though, it’s an all-too-common problem. Social media is littered with posts where someone has answered with “Defiantly!” when what the responder really meant to say was “Definitely!”.

It happens in my own conversations several individuals on a regular basis. In fact, it happened again just yesterday, so I took a screenshot with this blog post in mind.

Yes. I most definitely did turn my friend into a hamburger to protect their identity. 

I don’t know whether autocorrect is to blame, presumably as a result of poor typing, or if it’s just plain old-fashioned ignorance. The answer to that probably varies from one perpetrator to another, but  either way, continuing to mistake one for the other is inexcusable. 

Definitely means “for sure” or “absolutely”. 
In fact, those are excellent choices for anyone who wants to agree with something, but doesn’t actually know how to spell “definitely”. 

Here’s a hint, though.
Definitely even sounds exactly as it is spelt: def-in-it-ely.
It’s phonetically straightforward.

Therefore, anyone trying to spell it should get to the ‘a’ in ‘defiantly’ and know they’re making bad choices. 

Defiantly is a word most often used by parents or teachers describing the way in which a child refused to do as they were told. 
Examples:
The child sat in stony silence, arms crossed defiantly. 
“No!” Robin yelled defiantly, “I won’t apologise for being a grammar snob!” 

You get the idea. 

It’s definitely in your interests to get this right.

Make good choices, people… please?

‘Then’ and ‘Than’ Are Not The Same Word.

Some word confusions are understandable, especially if they sound the same when spoken. We call those homophones, and they sound the same even if they are spelt differently.  Examples are peak/pique/peak or there/their/they’re.

The confusion between ’then’ and ’than’, however, is a completely different matter.

Sadly, this is happening more and more, especially on social media. I don’t even spend that much time on Facebook, but it feels like I see someone saying something like “Nothing is better then this!”  or “I love you more then anything!” at least twice a day. 

Yes, they are similar. 
However, they are clearly not the same.
They don’t look the same.
They don’t sound the same. 
If one doesn’t mix up ’then’ or ’than’ with ’thin’, there is no excuse for mistaking them for one another. 

I swear, it makes my eyes want to bleed.

The two words’ meanings are so vastly different that getting them wrong just makes the person writing look  either poorly educated or plain stupid, even if they are neither. 

This is one of the best and most self-evident arguments in existence for proofreading what one is writing, anywhere and every time. 

‘Then’ rhymes with ‘when”— which is an easy way to remember that it relates to time or sequence. 
Examples: 
He put on his shirt, then his jeans, and then his boots. 
She ran up the hill, then back down again. 
When you have tidied your room, then you can go to the movies. 

‘Than’ rhymes with ‘man’ and is used for making a comparison. 
Examples:
His piece of pizza is bigger than mine. 
A triangle has fewer angles than a square. 
I would rather stay home and read a book than go to work. 

Knowing which is which, and taking care to use the right words all the time, is a simple way to protect your credibility.

And for the love of Merlin’s beard, if you call yourself an author or a teacher, get it right. It’s not that hard. 

Being Conscious of One’s Conscience

Said to me today: “I don’t want that on my conscious.”
Me: “You probably don’t want it on your conscience, either.” 
Them: “Huh?”
Me: “They are different words.” 
Them: “Really?”
Me: “I promise you.”

These commonly confused words sound similar but they are not homophones. 

Conscious is an adjective. It is a descriptive word that means awake or aware. 

Examples:
I’m conscious of the confusion between words that sound similar but which are very different in meaning.
He passed out, but he is conscious again now. 

Conscience is a noun. It’s the name given to that part of our being that tells us not to do something we know we shouldn’t, and accuses us when we have done something wrong so that we feel bad about it. 

Examples:
She was good at acting innocent, but her conscience was plagued by guilt.
His conscience reminded him daily of the things he had done. 

The difference in the way these words sound is minor, but the difference in meaning is significant

Don’t Waver Over Your Waivers!

A mistake frequently made in writing is to say that someone “did not waiver” in their faith, or from a decision they had made.  What they really mean is that the person in question did not waver

Once again, it is a failure to choose between differently spelled homophones that is the problem here. 

Waiver: the renunciation or surrendering of  ownership, a right  or a claim
Example: The council decided to waive the annual fee for dog registration. The waiver resulted in more households registering  their pets. 

Waver: to hesitate or falter, or to flicker, quiver or tremble.
Examples: Her feelings for him wavered between passionate love and indifference. 
He did not waver in his support for the mayor, who was a woman of integrity. 
The flame of the candle wavered in the gentle breeze.

At least when one waves at the waves, the spelling is the same so you can’t get it wrong!

Misunderstood Shakespeare: “What The Dickens”

Many people assume that “What the dickens?” is a reference to the author Charles Dickens. 

Considering that Shakespeare wrote this expression in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ in 1600 and Charles Dickens was born in 1812, that is entirely impossible. 

Instead, ‘dickens’ is a euphemism for ‘devil’, as is ‘deuce’. When Mrs Page says “I cannot tell what the dickens his name is…” she really means ‘what the devil”.

It’s a more polite way of expressing strength of an idea or emphasising their intent, in this case, that she has no idea of the identity of the person she is being asked about. It’s exactly the same as people saying ‘heck’ instead of hell, ‘gosh’ instead of ‘God’ and ‘jeez’ instead of ‘Jesus’, and is probably  done for the same reason: superstitious avoidance of using religious terms, or “using in vain” the names of religious entities. 

There’s also a chance that, for some folks, old-fashioned good manners may enter into it, too. 

In short, this is a euphemism: an inoffensive word or phrase used to replace an impolite or offensive one. We use euphemism when we talk about “powdering my nose” or “going to see a man about a dog” instead of “going to the bathroom”, or “bathroom” instead of “toilet”.

Like many of Shakespeare’s words and phrases, “what the dickens” has stood the test of time and is still used as a euphemism today.

A Fit of Pique.

I get really annoyed when I see people writing about peaking someone’s interest. 

A mountain is peaked. A cap can be peaked. 
People can even look peaked: in this sense, it means they are pale. 
A career can peak. 
In fact, someone’s interest in something can peak, right before it declines again. 

While they sound the same, the correct term for having caused intense interest or curiosity, is piqued

To pique someone’s interest is to heighten or arouse it. In other words, it is to stimulate their curiosity or attention. 

A fit of pique is an episode of annoyance or irritation – such as might happen, for example, if someone’s negative emotions are piqued. 

A related word is piquant, which means provocative, tantalising, spicy or tangy. Food that excites the taste buds or a story that excites the imagination can both be described as piquant. 

The other homophone is peeked. This is the past tense of peek: to take a quick look, or a sneaky one. 

So… now that I’ve piqued your interest with my fit of pique, and you’ve peeked at my post… I’m sure your interest has long since peaked. 

See? Homophones can be fun!