Horripilation: Hair-Raising Stuff!

We all know what it is to have goosebumps.

It refers to the way in which the little hairs on our skin stand on end in response to certain sensations or experiences. It makes our skin tingle and can feel as though something with tiny feet is walking over our skin.

This is called goosebumps because  The term, which reflects the way in which the skin looks like the skin of plucked poultry, goes back to the mid 1800s. Earlier than that, it was referred to as goose-flesh in 1801, goose-skin in 1761, goose’s skin in 1744 and, as far back as the early 1400s, hen-flesh. 

It’s very interesting to see the evolution of the term over time, and then to see it persist for so long now because there really is no better way to describe the appearance of the skin.

Also interesting is the fact that goosebumps also has two other descriptive names: piloerection and horripilation.

Piloerection, meaning the actual standing up of the hair, comes from the same word pilus  and the Latin ‘erectio’  which  is the source of words such as ‘erect’ and ‘erection’, and beyond that needs no further explanation.Horripilation comes from the Latin word ‘horripiliatio’, from horripilāre  which means ‘bristle’. This in itself is a portmanteau of the Latin words horrere meaning ‘shudder’ and pilus meaning ‘hair’.

This makes horripilation a relative of ‘horror’ as they share the same Latin root, although ‘horror’ took another detour and came into English via the French word ‘horreur’.

To refer to something frightening or exciting as ‘hair-raising’ is, therefore, not a metaphor, but is rather a direct description of the physical effects of the experience.  We’ve got the nerdy words to prove it.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
Merriam-Webster.com
Online Etymology Dictionary

Horripilation: it’s hair-raising stuff!
#words #horror #SpookySeason

Octothorpe

Hashtag Octothorpe Drawn in sand
Image by yourschantz on Pixabay

Octothorpe is a less-well known name for that beloved symbol we call the hash symbol. It has been used for a plethora of functions for centuries, but it has really taken on new life in the 21st century with the proliferation of hashtags on social media. 

Octo comes from the Latin for eight, just as it does in words like octopus or octagon, and in October— which used to be the eighth month, but that’s another story. When you look at the hash symbol, it has eight points. That part is logical enough. 

The origin of the rest of the word is much more recent and much less clear.. 

The popular story is that it was named after Jim Thorpe, an athlete whose Olympic medals were taken from him because he had been a professional basketballer. Workers at Bell Laboratories, who happened to be fans of his, named the symbol in his honor at some point on the 1960s or 1970s. 

That’s a pretty cool story, supported by some dictionaries, but it’s not the only one. The name was almost certainly coined at Bell Laboratories, but the real story behind it is unclear. 

One theory is that it comes from a team member burping while talking about the hash symbol with his co-workers. A third theory is that it comes from an Old English word for “village.” Yet another is that the Bell Laboratories workers deliberately chose something that non-English speakers would find hard to pronounce. Of all the possible options, I really hope that wasn’t it. 

Octothorpe
#words #vocabulary #Explained

Sources:

Ultracrepidarian.

Ultracrepidarian judgement critical
Image by LKP_LKD on Pixabay

Ultracrepidarian is an old word that can be used as either a noun or an adjective to describe someone who is critical and judgemental, or who gives advice or opinions, about matters in which they have little or no knowledge, experience or expertise. 

Although somewhat different to a malapert, it is entirely possible for a person to be both.  

The earliest record of the word ultracrepidarian comes from the early 1800s, when it was derived from the  Latin phrase ultrā crepidam which means  “above the sole”. This was a reference to a story relayed by Pliny the Elder about a Greek painter named Apelles, who when criticised by a cobbler, said something to the effect of “nē suprā crepidam sūtor jūdicāre” or “let the cobbler not judge above the sandal”. 

People generally don’t welcome advice or critique that they have not sought. If advice must be given, it’s probably wise to stick to one’s actual area of knowledge and expertise. Even more importantly, it’s essential to be kind and gentle about it, and to try to be humble. That’s how to avoid being ultracrepidarian. 

Sources:
dictionary.com
Merriam-Webster.com

Ultracrepidarian: that annoying person who knows everything.
#language #words #etymology #blogpost

Malapert

Peacock malapert know-it-all overconfident showy
Image from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay

A malapert is a person who acts like they know everything and is confident that they are always right. 

These days, we might call them a know-it-all.  
We could also call them a wise guy, a smart aleck, or an expert on everything. There are a number of less polite terms available to those willing to use them, too. 

The difference between a pedant and a malapert is that a pedant knows they are right about something in particular, while a malapert thinks they are right about everything. 

Malapert is a word that dates back to the 14th century, coming into English from the Old French words mal meaning bad or badly, and apert meaning skilful or clever. By the mid1400s, it was being used to describe a type of person rather than just a behaviour or attitude. Given that Shakespeare uses the word three times in his plays, each time without any explanation, one can assume that the word was commonly used and understood throughout the medieval and early modern periods.

In Henry 6, Queen Margaret and her son, the young Lancaster Prince Edward, engage in a contest of insults with their captors: Clarence and Gloucester. As sons of Richard, Duke of York these two are the Lancastrian King Henry’s enemies, as the two houses are rivals for the English throne. Clarence calls the young prince malapert, highlighting his youthful confidence by calling him an “untutor’d lad”. 

Almost as proof of Clarence’s assessment, the prince responds by insulting them again. Despite the clevernesand bravery of his words, this proved to be a bad move, as “perjur’d George” and “misshapen Dick” respond by stabbing him to death. End of argument. 

In Richard III, the same Queen Margaret tells the Marquess of Dorset that he is malapert and warns him that his newly found nobility won’t protect him from being destroyed by the Yorks, particularly Richard (Gloucester) whom  she describes as a “bottled spider” and a “poisonous bunch-back’d toad”. Richard turns the insult back on Margaret, and Dorset promptly turns it right back on him. 

In the comedy Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch and Sebastian are engaged in an argument when Sir Toby insists that he “must have an ounce or two of this malapert blood” from his rival. 

This is a word I have long been aware of, yet I have definitely not made as good use of it as I could have done. This, however, is likely to change in the near future. 

Malapert
#words #language #etymology #blogpost

Uhtcare

Uhtcare— pronounced oot-care — is a lovely Old English word that dates back to the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Wife’s Lament’, and was probably used throughout medieval times.

I heard it for the first time today in the Something Rhymes With Purple podcast by Susie Dent and Gyles Brandreth.

Image by pasja1000 on Pixabay

Uhtcare translates to ‘dawn care’ and relates to the anxiety of lying in bed worrying about the coming day before it has even really started. It comes from the OE words uht meaning before dawn and cearu/caru meaning anxiety.

It wasn’t just the beauty of the word that struck me, but also the timeliness of hearing it today. Completely forwallowed after a night of very little sleep courtesy of painsomnia, I could totally relate to that feeling! I was lying in bed before dawn this morning wondering if it were at all possible for me to actually make it to work today. I thought about the lessons I wanted to teach, and how much effort it always takes to ensure that a substitute teacher has everything they need to deliver my lessons effectively.I also felt incredibly guilty about the fact that we have only just returned to face to face teaching, and there I was thinking about staying home.

Still, I knew I wouldn’t be a safe driver today, and I also knew there was very little likelihood of me teaching anything effectively at all.

So, I got up at 5.45 am and made sure all my lessons, material and extra notes for my replacement for the day were loaded in the school’s system and ready to go.

Image by MichaelGaida on Pixabay

Given that we don’t really have an adequate alternative for such a useful and expressive word in today’s English, It is a shame that this word has fallen out of use. Maybe it’s time to bring it back.

Uhtcare: lying awake before dawn, worrying about the day.
Anglo-Saxon/Old English
#English #words #blogpost

Sources:
Something Rhymes With Purple podcast: Vedettes 15/9/2020

Ten Rare But Useful Words Everyone Should Know

Anglish Wordbook

Grawlix.

Grawlix is an unusual word that most people haven’t heard of, although they’ve probably seen grawlixes many times before. 

A grawlix is a combination of symbols— most commonly the ones above the numbers on the keyboard— used in place of a offensive language in comics, cartoons and illustrations. It works as a visual, rather than verbal, euphemism.

The term was coined in the 60s by Mort Walker , the creator of the comic strip Beetle Bailey, although the practice had already been in use long before it was given a name.The grawlix is a clever and very effective way to express emotions like anger or frustration without actually offending anyone or causing problems with editors and censors. 

An alternative term that has been suggested is the obscenicon, which is very clever but doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of traction. Time will tell, as it always does when it comes to words and language. 

Somehow, grawlix just sounds more evocative and kind of sweary in itself.

Sources:
Lexico
Merriam-Webster
Grammarphobia

 Grawlix.
#language #words #swearing #interesting #language #blogpost

Asterisk.

The asterisk is the handy little star symbol* that we use to indicate that there is more information attached to something, to denote the existence of a footnote, to add emphasis to a word or point of notice, or to blank out letters in offensive words that we don’t want to type or write in full. 

The word asterisk means ‘little star’ and has been used as a noun since the late 14th century— well before the invention of the printing press— while the verb form “to asterisk something” was first recorded in 1733. 

Asterisk comes to use from Latin via Greek, but actually goes back to Proto-Indo-European roots, which is about as far back as any language or individual words can be traced. The PIE root *ster- is the source of the words for star in numerous languages including Hittite, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and, thus, English. 

Therefore, the word asterisk is related to asteroid, aster daisies, disaster, constellation and starfish, among others. It is also a cousin of names such as Esther, Estelle and Stella.**  

More recently, the asterisk also inspired the name of Asterix, the hero of the classic comics by Goscinny and Uderzo. Those books are characteristically full of puns and word play, and the names of Asterix and Obelix are derived from mispronunciations of asterisk and obelisk respectively. 

* located above the 8 on a keyboard
** They are not close cousins, but more like the kind who are jealous of each other because they all want to be the most popular starlet in the family, and only make small talk with one another at family reunions. 

Source: Online Etymology Dictionary

Asterisk
#etymology #words #history #asterisk #language #typography

What A Dictionary Does – and Does Not – Do

A dictionary is not a rule book for the language.

Image by libelulle789 on Pixabay.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but there seems to be some misunderstanding about the function or purpose of a dictionary, particularly on social media. 

A good dictonary serves a number of functions:

  • Dictionaries record language as it is used. Words are added to a dictionary when they become frequently used by the people who speak the language. One can’t just make up a word and apply to have it included. It needs to become part of the commonly spoken language of the people first. 
  • Dictionaries give meanings of words. 
  • Dictionaries provide accepted spellings of words, and often include alternative spellings. This varies according to the country of publication, particularly when it comes to the differences between English and American spellings of words. 
  • Dictionaries often give advice as to how a word should be pronounced. This too will vary according to common usage in the country in which the dictionary is published. Some dictionaries use the regular alphabet to achieve a phonetic respelling, while others use the International Phonetic Alphabet
  • Online dictionaries do all that, and also offer voice recordings to demonstrate pronunciation. They also provide direct links to thesaurus entries and related words. 
  • Dictionaries can also settle arguments. They are helpful in adjudicating spelling games such as Scrabble, and settling arguments about how a word is spelt or what it means. 
Image by PDPics on Pixabay

There are, however, things that dictionaries neither seek nor claim to do. 

  • A dictionary is not a rule book for the language. Just because a word isn’t in the dictionary does not actually mean that it’s not a word. If people say it, and other people understand it when they do, it’s a word. 
  • An Australian dictionary is not useful for recording American English, and vice versa.
  • A dictionary generally doesn’t give the etymology of a word, although it might suggest that it’s an old, obsolete or archaic word.
    There are etymological dictionaries that do this, but they are far less popular than the regular kind of dictionary with which most people are familiar. Some etymological dictionaries are specific to a particular area of study, while the Online Etymological Dictionary is a vast resource of the history of a plethora of English words and phrases.
  • A dictionary generally won’t include words that have fallen out of use. In the large dictionary on my desk at home, words like ‘forswunk’ and ’trustful’ are no longer included, while they would have been many years ago. It doesn’t mean they are no longer words: it simply means the likelihood of someone wanting to look them up is considered far less than someone wanting to look up ‘exhausted’ or ‘melancholy’ instead. 

What’s the best dictionary to use? 

Most people will find the greatest value in a dictionary which is compiled, written and published in the country in which they live and work. Most people will want one that is up to date. 

One of the two editions of the Macquarie Dictionary I own.

For Australian English, I love the Macquarie Dictionary.
For UK English, there is nothing that surpasses the Oxford English Dictionary, but the Cambridge English Dictionary is very good, too.

I have no preferred dictionary for American English, because I don’t use one. (If you can make a recommendation, please leave a comment!)

Old dictionaries hold particular appeal for scholars, teachers and lovers of language. They can be invaluable resources for authors and readers, too. 

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