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Category Archives: Etymology

Just Jot It January: Day fourteen…

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As we reach the end of week two of Just Jot It January, it occurs to me (after reading some of the other posts that follow today’s prompt; “motivation”) that there are almost as many reasons for writing a blog as there are bloggers writing them.

I suppose it isn’t all that surprising, given the fact that everyone is unique and we all want something different from life, which explains why everyone has their own personal set of criteria for what makes blogging worthwhile.

For now though, I’m more interested in finding out why one blogger in particular chooses to do what they do.

Namely, me.

Because, if I’m honest, I really have no idea.

The only reason I’ve decided to break my self-imposed rule to try this month’s challenge without resorting to Linda G Hill’s prompts, is that I have been asked several times recently why I write, or what “inspires” me to do so, and I realised that it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about.

I had little or no interest in the internet until the arrival of smartphones, but as soon as I got my hands on the first primitive version of this incredible, science fiction-like pocket computer that we all now take for granted, I was hooked almost immediately.
And my first addiction was Facebook.

Initially, the nostalgic novelty of being able to reconnect with old school friends was enough to suck me into the social network, but after it became clear that I could communicate with an endless supply of other users, all over the world, people I’d never even heard of before, let alone met, I began to really have fun.

I have always loved language; the way words work, the etymology of communication and the way sentences seem to just flow when they spill from the word processor, typewriter or pen of certain writers.
The way that writers like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett could turn an everyday phrase into a comedic gem by adding a couple (or a few) extra words, words that didn’t strictly need to be there, but oh, you were glad of their understanding of what gave those extra words power.
The way that those little black marks on a page can form pictures in your head fascinated me, even as a child, but it had just never occurred to me to try to translate that wonder into pictures of my own.

But once I began to write smartass comments on Facebook and construct little rants and memes of my own, mainly for my own entertainment, I found the idea of having a platform of my own, from which I could address the vast expanse of the Weird Wide Web, increasingly attractive.
This first dabbling in virtual creativity coincided with my introduction by a  mutual friend to the extraordinarily talented blogger, author, globetrotting urban explorer and all round bohemian, Mr Darmon Richter, who encouraged and assisted me in making my bumbling way into the blogosphere.

Meanwhile, WordPress made the process of getting started an idiot-proof experience, even for someone with my Olympian level of idiocy with all things internet related and Diary of an Internet Nobody was born.

And then I started writing stuff down. I didn’t know any better.

As anyone who knows me personally will tell you, I can talk.
And talk.
So, with an audience of, theoretically, several billion, I just started writing what I’d say if I was talking to you, (until you surreptitiously looked at your watch and mumbled about needing to be somewhere, anywhere, urgently) I didn’t see the point of having a theme, my reasoning was; I’m not an expert on anything, I’ll just say whatever comes into my head and see if anyone listens.

Then fiction came along.
Well, it had been there before, I’d read bloody loads of it.
But this time I thought I’d do it from the sharp end, so to speak.*

Then I stumbled upon Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompts and I thought I’d have a go at doing them all as short stories.
Which is where I get to the point where it all gets a bit vague, because from the first time I sat down to write a story, it was, umm, well, it was easy.

I know that sounds smug and immodest, but I don’t know how else to explain it.
My very first attempt was prompted by;
” “ke.”  Use the letter combination at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the word you choose to base your post on…”
And this came to me, literally as I wrote it.
I was quite pleased, despite the fact a few people didn’t get it (you might need to read it twice) and every other story I’ve written, with the exception of The Wrong Stuff (which I had a rough idea about for the first post and then decided it would be fun to see where it went on its own) has been pretty much the same way, with varying levels of success.
Including having three stories published in an anthology, available on Amazon AT THIS LINK, just in case I’d forgotten to mention that.

None of which comes anywhere close to tackling “motivation” I’m afraid, but then I did tell you at the start that I had no idea.

* – I read this a few times and I know it doesn’t work as an analogy, but I still like it.

#JusJoJan

Pingback to Linda G Hill.

 

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Eating our words…

It hasn’t escaped my attention that a large portion of my blog traffic comes from America, so I hesitate (ever so briefly) to do anything to alienate my transatlantic readers, but what with so much internet content generated in the U.S. and the fact that I have a lot of  Facebook friends over there, I am constantly reminded that we are indeed, as George Bernard Shaw said, “…two countries separated by a common language”

Noah Webster published his A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in America in 1806, and anyone with even a minimal grasp of the definition of the word “dictionary” will tell you that it refers to a list of new and pre-existing words, together with their meanings.

However, what Noah proposed to do was to list and re-spell any words he didn’t like the look of, purely on the strength of aesthetics;

Find that “re” at the end of centre a bit difficult to remember?
No worries, let’s make it “er” and say no more about it.

Have trouble with that pesky “ough” sound in plough, it’s hard to get your head round isn’t it?
Hey presto! Plow.

As for all those ridiculous “..nce” words like licence.
Pah! Henceforth let them end in “se” and have done with it.

Worst of all, who could forget the trauma caused by all the unlicenced, sorry, unlicensed “U”-shaped interlopers in good ol’ American words like color and humor?
Begone foul vowel!

And the national antipathy towards poor maligned vowels didn’t end there. Even official names of natural elements weren’t safe.
Not content with removing extraneous silent letters from words, the language police denuded aluminium of its penultimate “i”, changing the pronunciation forever to aluminum, like something out of a bad fifties sci-fi movie.

Fortunately sanity prevailed when Webster proposed changing the traditional spelling of women, to the more literally-minded and aesthetically pleasing wimmen. This was one semantic step too far and was vetoed.

But words themselves are not the only English hand-me-downs that get the stateside language makeover, plenty of their definitions go through the linguistic blender too.

Let’s start with the traditional English biscuit.
All biscuits in America are cookies apparently, not just the ones made of cookie dough (or possibly Doh!) that we call cookies, but all biscuits.
Except crackers.
And biscuits.
Because they’re scones.

Yes, in the States what we would call a scone is called a biscuit and is eaten with gravy.
And don’t go imagining a cream tea with Bisto over it either, that’s not what they mean by gravy.
No, “gravy” is a thick white sauce, often with sausage meat in it, poured over scones biscuits and eaten for breakfast.

What’s wrong with bacon, egg and fried bread?
Well, it turns out that what’s wrong with that is, the fried bread.
From what I hear, raw dough is fried, presumably resulting in a sort of bread dumpling, but a decent fried slice is harder to come by.
Unless you want Toad in the Hole, that is.

Excuse me, what?

Ok this gets a little complicated, so listen up.
Over there, Toad in the Hole is basically a cheesy fried slice with an egg in the middle.
Explaining that it should be made with Yorkshire pudding won’t help you either, you’ll just get blank looks unless you have the extraordinary luck to guess the word Popover.
That’s right, Popover is what they call the same batter mix (with added butter) that we put sausages in and call Toad in the Hole.

– You want vegetables with that?
– Thanks, how about some nice mashed swede?
– No, sorry. How about some rutabaga instead?
– Ok, I’ll try anything once…..Hang on this is swede..

Of course being so enormous, America can be excused for playing fast and loose with its own version of English. I mean, if you’re going to make up words anyway, why insist on them meaning the same thing everywhere.
Ok, there’ll be minor differences in pronunciation and usage.
In one state for instance, the generic term for carbonated soft drinks might be soda, in another it could be pop.
But some places take this grammatical laziness to a new level.

I’m reliably informed that in some southern states, even ordering a Coke is not as simple as it sounds.
Because everything is Coke.
If you want Coke, order Coke.
If you want Fanta, order Coke.
If you want Dr Pepper, (what’s the worst that could happen?) order Coke. (you could get Coke, that’s what)
If you want… well, you get the idea.

Must make vending machines very confusing;
– Hey! That goddamn machine just gave me a Coke!
– I’m sorry sir, what did you order?
– A Coke.
– Ah…

 
 

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So long summer…

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Today is the autumnal equinox and the time has come to say goodbye once again to the heat of summer and welcome the (hopefully) balmy days of autumn.

Pagans celebrate the the festival of Mabon tonight, a feast to mark the change of seasons and a chance to give thanks for the bounty of nature.

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The name probably originated with the myth of Mabon ap Modron, a follower of King Arthur from Cornwall who was rescued from kidnapping and imprisonment by Arthur and his Knights so he could help locate a legendary hunting dog.
Apparently they quizzed all the forest animals in order to ascertain where he was being held and interestingly, Arthur and his men were supposedly transported to Mabon’s prison in Gloucester by a giant salmon, although what any of this has to do with the coming of autumn is beyond me.

We have our own personal Mabon animal staying with us from today. Roo, a sprightly, good natured eleven year old collie, who we occasionally care for when her humans are away, is lodging with us for three weeks.

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It’s good to have a dog around the place again and it was as good an excuse as any to go for a stroll and snap a few shots of the first autumnal signs in the countryside, including the huge swathes of maize in the fields and the splashes of bright berries in the hedgerows.

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To finish, I’d like to share one of the poems that actually stuck with me from school, John Keats‘ “Ode To Autumn”, along with another schooldays favourite, and somehow just as appropriate, Jean Michel Jarre’s beautiful album “Equinox”.

Enjoy.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run; 
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o’erbrimm’d their clammy cells.   
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? 
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad
may find Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;  
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, 
Drowsed with the fume of poppies,
while thy hook Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flower;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep Steady thy laden head across a brook; 
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look, 
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.   
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? 
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day  
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; 
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn 
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft 
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; 
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;  
Hedge-crickets sing;
and now with treble soft 
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft; 
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.  

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10 Comments

Posted by on September 22, 2013 in Etymology, Personal anecdote, Photography

 

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Grockles, Oliver Reed, and musical clowns…

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I’ve lived in Barnstaple, North Devon for over fifteen years now, so I certainly don’t fall into the category of what people in these parts call grockles, but neither am I included in the exclusive subset of locals, you don’t get to adopt that honorific until you’re a thirty year veteran.

I think when the real locals realise that you’re here to stay, instead of buying a second home (bad) or thoughtlessly pumping money into the biggest economy in the West Country, tourism (theoretically better) they start grudgingly thinking of you as resident aliens or simply from away.
I probably fall into the limbo state known only as an incomer, still obviously not from “around here” but recognisable enough to be accepted.

Not that I’m complaining you understand. I love living here, the people are friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed. The countryside is beautiful and there is stunning scenery wherever you look.
The only problem at this time of year is that everyone wants to look at it.
From everywhere.

In short, Grockles.

Yes, I think fifteen years is easily long enough for me to have earned the right to moan about the hoards of lobster coloured, shorts and tropical shirt wearing, surfboard toting, loudly arguing strangers that invade our town every summer, even though I’m falling into the same trap as the locals, cursing what is primarily the lifeblood of the area for half the year.

Being a busy market town with decent high street shops and easy access to all the nearby tourist spots, we tend to draw all the folks who are having a day off from the beach, or need to stock up at the supermarket, which is of course wonderful for local businesses (when I was a market trader none of my fellow stallholders referred to this period as the summer holidays, it was always just “the six weeks”), but not so good if you live here and want to use those same businesses for your daily shopping.
I’ve already seen a comment on my Facebook feed this morning saying that “the grockles have eaten every last scrap of bread in Tesco”

And because we’re so convenient for the surfdude-magnets of Woolacombe and Croyde Bay, the ever popular The Big Sheep (honestly, it’s not just stunned tourists gawping at a gigantic sheep in a field), and the walkers paradise that is Exmoor National Park, (including the “Little Switzerland” area of Lynton and Lynmouth, worth visiting if only to discover the magical wooded valley that is Watersmeet), we get inundated from all directions.

So I’m perfectly well aware that it’s uncharitable of me to complain, when all you lovely people have helped make Devon and Cornwall the top UK tourist destination, and put money into our local economy, etc etc.. we appreciate it, we really do.
So come on down, we (and the locals) love to see you.

But do you really need to bring four generations of your family grocery shopping with you, even though you’re only pushing around a trolley with a bag of charcoal briquettes and a bottle of sun cream?
And do they all need to stand in the queue with you, honestly?

And because you happened to have got on so well with that nice family from Guilford who are in the chalet next door at the holiday park, when you bump into them halfway down the frozen food aisle, is it strictly necessary that your combined party of 19 children, five grandparents, and four angry spouses hold an impromptu discussion on what plans you all have for dinner that evening?

There aren’t any rules, as far as I’m aware, saying that you are required to push a trolley each either, they do take up rather a lot of room.

I’m also fairly sure that there isn’t a recent law stating that all your children should use the entire floor area of the shop as a skating rink, scooter and/or skatepark, or racetrack for various radio controlled vehicles, all whilst screaming their darling little heads off.
Or did I miss that?

Having negotiated the more-than-usually gridlocked nightmare that was my weekly shopping expedition to Tesco this morning, lobster hued grockles and all, it was almost a relief to arrive at the till to impoverish myself just that little bit further, particularly as I managed to find my favourite checkout operator, a nice Scottish lady called Jess who always has a smile and time for a chat.
I gave her one of my custom-made Diary of an Internet Nobody stickers a few weeks ago and she always asks whether I’ve done anything new.
So if you’re reading this Jess, this one’s for you. (Oh, and if you click the little button that says “Follow blog by email” at the top of the page, you’ll be notified each time I post something) I don’t know how you cope to be honest, you must have the patience of a saint.

I’ll give you one positive thing about our seasonal invasion though, it certainly serves as a reminder to be well behaved when you go grockling up someone else’s hometown.

And as for the word “grockle” itself, well, it’s popularly believed to have first been used in the 1964 British film noir The System, (also known as The Girl Getters) starring Oliver Reed, Jane Merrow and David Hemmings, about the pursuit of holidaying girls by local lads in a small West Country town.

You can watch the whole film here.

But I prefer the version that many locals still insist is the correct explanation.
In the 1930’s there was a Swiss music hall act called Grock the Musical Clown who regularly had a red face, baggy clothing and a handkerchief tied round his head.
Residents of the area clearly noticed his similarity to the increasing number of visitors “from away” who were starting to frequent seaside destinations in the years between the wars, and a new term was coined.

So just for completeness, here’s a film of Grock himself in action.

And if you’re off on holiday soon, think of the locals, however “local” they are, they still have to live there…

 

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A day for all reasons…

I’m frequently being castigated for my cynical views on the proliferation of the various celebrations that spring from the minds of marketing executives around the world, and it seems that even the implementers of such events were equally put out by the rampant commercialism that became synonymous with their originally laudable creations.

Take today for example.
I’ve noticed on my Facebook feed that a lot of people have been celebrating Mothers’ Day around the world this Sunday.
This, I have to admit, did give me one slight moment of affiliate panic, thinking that I’d missed the first guilt-rip-off of the year. But of course, being English, we have to be bloody different to everyone else and have ours in March.

I took this as a sign that we were probably the ones who came up with the idea of honouring our family matriarchs with their own day, never really having considered that it may have originated elsewhere.

But no, it was an American invention.
I immediately thought; Well that makes sense, another import from the land of commercialism.

Although it seems as if I did a disservice to the woman who began the tradition.

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Daughter of Invention – Anna Jarvis.

Mothers’ day was initially the idea of West Virginian peace worker Anna Jarvis, who dedicated the day to her late mother in 1908, at a memorial in Grafton.
Her idea was to show appreciation for her mother, to encourage other women to do the same, and to have children write letters of tribute to their mothers. She even gave out free carnations at her mother, Ann’s memorial.

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The Mother’s Day shrine and more recent Mother and Child statue, Grafton, VA.

It seems, however, that it took only a few years for the local florists and candy makers to take commercial advantage of her good intentions.
Indeed, by 1920 Jarvis was so offended by the attempt to hijack her idea for financial gain, she was actually instrumental in trying to get the celebration banned, going so far as to get herself arrested for disturbing the peace by gatecrashing, and protesting at, a confectioners convention in 1925.

Sadly, she died penniless after having spent much of her later life campaigning against what her own innocent idea had become.

A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.
—Anna Jarvis.

Now I’m not saying that I disapprove of the concept of honouring the woman who brought me into the world, or the woman who, after Mum died and my Dad remarried, worked so hard to bring up someone else’s kids as well as her own.

But why should I be forced into doing so on one particular day?

I do, of course, as we are all so conditioned by the media to observe such things that it would seem unreasonably churlish not to do so.

How many more of these days of tribute are we going to get though?

I mean, the beginnings of Father’s Day were equally free from cynical financial motives.

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          Sonora Smart Dodd.

Another formidable woman, Sonora Smart Dodd, was responsible for the appearance of the paternal equivalent of Jarvis’s memorial, dedicating a day to her father, and to other Civil War veterans in Spokane, WA, in 1910.
Although the holiday was a long time catching on.

When Dodd left for a few years it died out, and it was only when she returned to the area some time later that she convinced local traders that producing male-orientated gifts such as pipes and tobacco would be in their interests – as well as reinvigorating her idea – which finally caught on locally. But it still took until 1966 before president Johnson made it a nationally recognised event.

(Ironically, it appears that the American public initially rejected the idea, as they considered it a cynical attempt by merchants to jump on the bandwagon of Jarvis’s earlier idea)

So what will be the next day that somebody thinks we need to celebrate?
We already have Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, April Fools Day, Groundhog Day, and now we even have National Grandparents Day.

Whatever next, International Son’s Day?

Ah, hang on, I think I might have something there…

 
16 Comments

Posted by on May 12, 2013 in aardvark, Blogging, Etymology

 

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The (should be) famous five…

Once again Diary of an Internet Nobody has been honoured with an award!

This time it’s Lanthie at Life Cherries blog that I have to thank for the distinction of the fabulously named Epically Awesome Award of Epic Awesomeness.

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As I discovered from previous nominations, there are always various questions to be answered, or random facts to be given about oneself, prior to nominating other blogs for these awards.

I’m not really one for rules, so I thought I’d just give you some random facts, and see where they lead.

1) The Portuguese for “good little bay” is Bom baim.
In the seventeenth century, this nickname for an Indian port was changed to Bombay by the invading English.
In 1995 the name was changed again to reflect it’s ancient roots.
Named for the Koli goddess Mumbadevi, coupled with AaI, “mother” in the Marathi language, the city has been Mumbai ever since.
This is the sort of thing that I’m sure SimplySud would be able to tell you, and by coincidence, he’s my first nomination. Go and check out his excellent blog, and let him show you life in Mumbai from the perspective of a “somewhat normal guy”.

2) There is an animal, of which there are over 1700 species, which lives for up to 30 years, can store food outside of it’s metabolic system for future digestion, enabling it to go without eating for up to a year, and which will glow brightly under ultraviolet light.
It can live in temperatures encountered only in the hottest deserts, and yet survive the cold down to fifty below zero.
The sort of temperature range between say, frozen beer ice cream, and teeth melting chilli. Both of which can be found at  Sting of the Scorpion.
And who’d have guessed it, that’s not only the weapon of choice for the animal in question, but my 2nd nomination too.

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3) There is a plant that has been around for thousands of years, comes originally from Afghanistan, was cultivated for it’s seeds and aromatic leaves, and comes in many beautiful colours.
I’m afraid that I’m seriously addicted to them, they are part of nearly every day in one way or another, and I expect they’re part of most of yours too.
What do you mean you don’t do that sort of thing?
Everyone likes carrots, surely?

Yes, carrots. They weren’t originally grown for the root, that didn’t come about for a few centuries, after they’d been cultivated to tenderise them from their woody origins.
Well, if I need my favourite root vegetable in a hurry, then nomination number 3, P.B. Scott over at Chasing Carrots blog is the man I’d call. Check him out for music, fashion, video, opinion, tech, and more.

4) The internet is a truly exceptional place for trivia enthusiasts like myself.
I mean, where else can you find a video of the extraordinary Tapir Penis?
Or discover the fabulous Frank Zappa gig, (also available on the Tinseltown Rebellion album) during which he claimed to be making a quilt from female undergarments, encouraging women to rip panties off and throw them at the stage.
Not too many people wearing a pinstripe suit at that gig.
Another web tool that has been invaluable to me as a blogger is Google images, where I pinch a lot of clip art and generic pictures from.
You could even find a sepia print with papers in it like this one;

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Now, it may no longer be a surprise to the observant among you that all of these things are anagrams of my fourth nominee, Patinspire with her mix of inspiration and motivation.
Go visit her and get some positivity in your life.

5) Kangaroos cannot walk backwards.
Cane toads can be boiled to make hallucinogenic drugs.
Wombats can run at 25mph.
The Echidna is named after an ancient Greek mythological creature, a half-woman, half-snake called the Mother of all monsters.
The word Didgeridoo does not come from any aboriginal language, and is in fact an onomatopoeic word of European origin, describing the “didgeree didgeree didgeree” rhythmic sound the instrument makes.

All these facts and more could almost certainly be confirmed by my fifth and final nominee, poet, writer, blogger, photographer, draughtsman, and Australian, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Ian Cochrane.

And that’s about it.

Go and visit these five blogs, they will enhance your life, and you might just learn something.

Something useful, that is.

 

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These foolish things…

If you watch the opening sequence of John Frankenheimer’s 1975 movie French Connection II (second rate, fictionalised sequel to William Friedkin’s ’71 classic true crime thriller} you’ll see Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle lumbering around Marseilles fish market as children scamper about sticking paper fish to people’s backs, including Doyle’s.

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“Does my halibut look big in this?”

This is the French tradition of Poisson d’Avril, the equivalent of our April fools day, and refers not only to the “April’s fish” stuck to an unsuspecting fool’s back, but to any other pranks that are successfully pulled that day.

The tradition of getting one over on your mates at the start of spring has been around for hundreds, even thousands of years.
The oldest known example of a long running tradition of pranks played on a certain day is from Iran, where as far back as two and half thousand years ago, in the 6th century BC, Sizdah Be-dar was celebrated on the thirteenth day of the Persian new year (which more or less coincides with 1st April) and literally means “to be rid of thirteen”.

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13 was seen as unlucky – as in several other cultures, hence the many hotels around the world with no thirteenth floor – and so people spent the day outside, apparently thereby ridding their house of the bad luck.

Whilst out enjoying the spring sunshine, people attended picnics, frequently the scene of good natured tricks being played on family and friends, which itself became a part of the celebration.

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       A modern 13 Bedar picnic.

The picnics, sometimes huge affairs with thousands of people, continue to this day. Now sometimes referred to simply as 13 Bedar, they are held in parks and public spaces, often with people dressing in traditional costumes as part of the festival.

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It has also long had a connection with the custom of young unmarried girls singing their wishes for a husband, whilst knotting together stalks of grass, as knotted grass stems are said to be symbolic of a bond between man and woman.

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Many nations take the tradition of the April fool hoax to a whole new level of social interaction, with the media getting involved in all sorts of wind-ups.
In Sweden, for instance, the media will happily participate in this type of mass pranking – although most outlets will print or broadcast exactly one false story.
And in Denmark, in 2001, a news channel reported that a Copenhagen subway train had somehow derailed and burst up through the pavement above. They even went to the trouble of mocking-up this elaborate prop, featuring a sawn up subway car, presumably positioned overnight;

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My personal favourite vintage media April fool prank (which fooled thousands of people when first aired – the BBC of the fifties being as trusted as the Voice of God) has to be this pricelessly straight faced Panorama report from 1957, concerning the annual spaghetti harvest.

In Belgium, the day seems unfairly weighted in favour of the children, who are permitted the luxury of locking parents or teachers out of their house/classroom, only re-admitting them after receiving a promise of treats later on.

And in Poland, the tradition has been so ingrained in popular culture over hundreds of years (with the modern day media often collaborating with pranksters, broadcasting information that appears to authenticate hoaxes) that the 1683 anti-Turkish treaty with King Leopold the first, at the start of the Great Turkish War, signed on the 1st April, was backdated to March 31st, to ally public suspicion that it was a piss take.

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Leopold I – “Watch this, I put clingfilm over the toilet”

As for the UK, the earliest known example of an actual prank, as opposed to an obscure (and disputed) 14th century reference in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, was the terribly English jape of advertising the Washing of the Lions at the Tower of London in the 1850’s

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Coincidentally, bearing in mind their country’s obsession with all things April foolish, half of new Indie punk band Washing the Lions are Polish, and the other half are from California, where they hold an annual Iranian Sizdah Be-dar picnic;

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Sizdah Be-dar picnic, Los Gatos, CA.

Which just goes to show, everybody should think of April Fools day as just one more example of how we’re not so different after all.

Let’s all be fools together…

 
23 Comments

Posted by on April 1, 2013 in Etymology

 

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What came first, Easter or the Egg…?

Being an atheist, I don’t celebrate Easter.

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This doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the root of such things, in much the same way as words and their meanings fascinate me, and I find it especially interesting when a biblical story is closely linked with something that came from a entirely different culture, and a totally different period in history, it always amuses me when religion can’t get it’s story straight.

And what about the Easter bunny?
And Easter eggs?
Where does all that come in?

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                  “Who, me?”

I don’t remember (and correct me if I’m wrong) a flock of Disney-style bunnies helping to roll away a stone shaped like a giant hot cross bun, to revive the sacred star of the show with a nice soft boiled egg and some soldiers.

So imagine my delight when I was confronted by one of those generic, captioned pictures on Facebook, claiming that Easter was in fact based on the similarly pronounced Ishtar.

This was more like it.
A festival centred on the cult of a demented courtesan – a sort of church-appointed prostitute – whose status as Sumerian goddess of fertility, sex, love, and war would have made for a much wilder Easter Sunday gathering.
The symbology of the rabbit and egg makes perfect sense, given her responsibility for rebirth and fertility, and the rabbit’s reputation for being at it like, well, rabbits all the time.

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Ishtar – Didn’t get the memo about the Easter party dress code.

Appearing to lend even more credibility to the connection is the fact that one of the targets for Ishtar’s affections was, according to ancient texts, legendary Mesopotamian superhero Gilgamesh, whose mythology runs in parallel to many of the biblical stories, including Noah’s flood.

(Interestingly, eighteen centuries before Christ, Gilgamesh was a contemporary of Enkidu –  the “Mesopotamian Adam”, created by their top god, Anu, from clay.)

But even he found Ishtar too high maintenance, rejecting the advances of the ancient world’s champion bunny-boiler, saying;

“Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured Lilac-breasted Roller , but still you struck and broke his wing […] You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong […] You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks.

Fair enough, I would steer clear of her too.

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Gilgamesh – “Leave it mate, she’s not worth it”

She wasn’t happy with this, stomping back to her dad, chief godfella, Anu, and demanding he give her the Bull of Heaven or else she’d open the gates of hell to turn the kingdom into a scene from The Walking Dead.
For the sake if a quiet life, he gave in, only for her to set the bull on Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who promptly killed it.

A woman scorned, never gonna end well.

But sadly, I had to put my Easter orgy on hold as, with the very minimum of research, I discovered that none of these connections were in fact, factual.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is real enough, and you can read it here should you so wish, and Ishtar’s part in that story isn’t in question.
It’s the connection to Easter that is nonsense.
The only non-Christian root of Easter, in English anyway, is the 8th century Saxon pagan goddess, Éostre, whose name in translation means April in old high-German.
And that’s only according to proto-journo, St (the Venerable) Bede.

             

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                      Éostre
Oi! Remember me? No? Anyone?

Nobody else seems to have noticed this quirk of language, and by the time even Bede wrote about it, the tradition of the Éostre festival had died out, replaced by the now familiar Christian resurrection myth.

All of which is a bit of a disappointment, as it would have made an interesting, informative, and educational blog post.

Oh well, never mind. I’ll think of something else to write about…

 
8 Comments

Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Blogging, Etymology

 

Tags: , , , ,

American idle…

I feel as though I should apologise.

I won’t of course, I rarely do, but if I was the type to do so, this would be the time at which I’d be doing it.

Right, that’s that out of the way, now let’s move on to what I’m definitely not apologising for.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am slightly hooked on Facebook (although I’m having so much fun doing this, I’m neglecting my fb duties more and more of late), and one of the things I enjoy about it most is the ability to make friends with people that you would never have met in normal life.
In my case, this, for the most part, seems to mean Americans.

In my dealings with our US cousins, I have frequently found myself with the opportunity to say things like “I’ve heard of those on American TV shows, what exactly are they?”
For instance, how many times have you seen people in US TV shows order “biscuits and gravy” in a diner? Always puzzled me, that one. Then it occurs to me to ask one of my new friends across the water, and I find “biscuits” are in fact a type of heavy savoury scone mix, often eaten with sausage meat. With gravy.
For breakfast.

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Now, I know that I could look all this sort of stuff up on the net, but when I see one of my friends, Max – a maple syrup producer, homesteader, and fixer of pretty much anything mechanical from what I gather – post, "Sloppy Joe is actually pretty good for breakfast.” then you just have to ask don’t you?
Turns out that it’s almost exactly what we would call a Bolognese sauce.

Once again, two countries separated by a common language.

Anyway, my point is, I may have been slightly unfair when I accused the Americans of having stolen acquired most of their language from the various settlers to the New World, instead of relying on the native dialects of the indigenous population.
For a start, the very word we use to describe them, Yankees, derives from the native American word yengees or yanghis, which was used to describe English and French colonists. Dutch settlers picked up on the word as soon as they arrived, and used it to describe all Americans.

They have also given us several common phrases that we use today, and to avoid being collared by a Lynch mob for not giving credit for their contribution, and being forced to Eat crow, before I Knock off work for the day, and this post Peters out, I will attempt to explain.

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“That’ll teach the limey bastard to complain about our spelling”

Back in the 1780’s, two US military men, both called Lynch, were having trouble with outlaws and bandits in their respective, neighbouring states. So they made an agreement that they should form a group of men – dubbed “Lynch’s mob” – who would bring these law-breakers to justice.
Corporal (Corporeal in those days), not capital punishment, would then be administered, such as beatings, floggings or horsewhippings etc.
The term to “lynch” somebody, or to have a “lynching” were only applied later on, usually to the mass hangings, by mobs, of mostly black, innocent victims.

(In fifty years, between 1880-1930, ten states alone recorded 2,805 lynchings. 2500 victims were black)

I had always assumed that the American term “Eating crow” was similar in origin to the british “Humble pie” (Literally, a pie made from the left-overs and offal, by the cooks in kitchens of large houses, to feed the staff)
But it is far more amusing than that.

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Now serving at Heston’s Little Chef

During a temporary armistice in the Anglo-American war of the early 19th century, a US soldier inadvertently crossed the English lines whilst out hunting crows.
Some smartass English officer heard about this and went to confront the man. He approached him unarmed, and in a friendly, conversational way, congratulated him on his haul of birds.
Having gained his trust, the officer asked to try shooting for himself with the American’s rifle.
Of course, immediately he got hold of the unfortunate soldier’s weapon, he turned it on him, forcing him to take a bite out of a dead crow, as a punishment for trespassing on british territory.

The story does, however, continue. Once he was satisfied that the US soldier was sufficiently defeated, the typically arrogant English officer gave him back his rifle, at which point the amazed American forced him, at gunpoint, to eat the rest of the crow.

“Knocking off for the day” is another phrase with it’s roots in a dark period of US history. During the days of slavery in the Deep South, the slave workers were transported between plantations on river boats. When it was time for the man beating out the rowing rhythm to change shifts, he would include a particular beat, to indicate it was time for the next man to take over.

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And finally, a saying that is due to our friends across the pond’s propensity for creative spelling.

In the 1800’s, during the Californian gold rush, gunpowder was commonly used to blast out seams of gold ore.
One of the constituent compounds of gunpowder is saltpetre, but the Americans spell it SaltPETER. So when a gold mine had come to the end of it’s useful life, it was said to have “Petered out”

Much like this post…

Incidentally, should you wish to try biscuits and gravy, go here.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on August 12, 2012 in Etymology, social networking

 

Tags: , , , ,

A question, for sport…

Right, time for a quiz.
What is a quiz?

Well?

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A quiz, I hear you cry, is a load of tricky questions, asked by some smug bloke in a pub, the point of which is to enable you to win a bottle of Scotch or a leg of lamb.

Or a TV show where a famously smug bloke asks desperately cheerful families in shellsuits how many people they think might have the same inane opinion on something as they do.

Or it’s sitting in a spotlit chair, answering questions about things you really should know the answers to, having thought about those same things To The Exclusion Of Everything Else for the last three months, making you a pariah amongst anyone who won’t “test me on the history of lampposts of the UK (1879-2005), go on, ask me anything”

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No, in fact it’s a discussion about graffiti.

Many words are made up.
Now, that sounds like a bit of a fatuous statement, but quite a lot of words come from a root of some sort, often in a completely different language i.e. Latin, French, etc

(In the case of America, of course, most of it came from somewhere else. Although they seem to have a creative way with spelling sometimes)

But that’s ok, we’ve got a sense of humor about it.

But sometimes, new words come along that supersede any ancient root, which is why new words are always being added to the dictionary – yuppie, girl power, chav, all words that have fallen into language through repeated common usage.

My absolute favourite example of this is the story of an Irishman called Daly.
This 18th century Dublin theatre manager bet his mates that he could introduce an entirely new word into the English language, a word with no meaning whatsoever.
Well, his friends took him up on the bet as he was obviously onto a loser with such a ambitious scheme.

So Daly set about his plan without delay, spending the following several hours criss-crossing the city, leaving his enigmatic message wherever he went:

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Within hours, people all over Dublin were discussing it, and the subject became such a hot topic that a newspaper ran a story about the graffiti epidemic.
At which point, Daly’s friends had to concede, as everyone was talking about the “quiz” and what it might mean. In fact it went on to be a subject of discussion all over Ireland, and England, for months afterwards.

The word has since been taken to mean the seeking and receiving of answers.

So the next time you see someone looking at you with a quizzical expression, you can tell them why.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 8, 2012 in Etymology

 

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