Monthly Archives: August 2016

The myth of the Anglo-Saxon Expletive.

In my last blog I set a red herring about Anglo-Saxon swear words. How many times has a writer referred to a character coming out with a few crisp Anglo-Saxon expletives if, say, they have hit their thumb with a hammer? Or rain has drowned out the barbecue – again? You may be surprised to know, however, that, whilst the anguish such events cause do warrant a curse or several, they are unlikely to be Anglo-Saxon in origin. Such ripe language has entered into common English usage via many other language routes.

Anglo saxon monkThe fact is very little was written during that era (approximately 500 – 1066AD), and it is the written word that tends to last. What writing that has survived, was done by monks and was largely on religious, legal, or medical matters. Overt cursing and profanity would be frowned upon under any circumstances in such ecclesiastical or scholarly settings – and certainly not tolerated in written form.

A few words have come to us via the oral tradition (‘turd’ is a possible example), but, from what records we have, the Anglo-Saxons were surprisingly clinical and straightforward about, say, bodily excretions. They used such words as we might use them in an article in a medical magazine for example, rather than as a term to embellish colloquial speech. (Unlike Old Norse and other Germanic languages, whose written records show the real source of quite a few of our ‘naughty’ words.)

So, were our Anglo-Saxon ancestors exceptionally pure in thought word and deed? Unlikely – we just don’t have the written records to prove otherwise.

The nearest we get is through the monastic love of riddles. As is evident from the Book of Riddles associated with Exeter Cathedral, many a monk, when not working on biblical or other scholarly tracts, passed the time composing riddles. Most aren’t great works of literature, but several are notable for their double meanings. I can picture groups of the more free-spirited monks giggling over the – usually sexual – innuendos, as they wrote or read the following riddles:

I am a wonderful creature, I bring joy to womenARS_red_onion
And am useful to those nearby; I harm
No one except my destroyer.
My position is high; I stand up in bed;
Beneath, in my hidden place, I am hairy. Sometimes
The beautiful daughter of a poor man,
A courageous girl, will get a grip on me.
She assaults my redness, takes my head,
And holds me tight. She will soon feel
The effect of meeting me, of being near me
This curly-haired woman. Her eye will become wet.

ARS kneading-dough


I know of something growing in a corner,
Swelling and standing up, lifting its covering;
On that boneless thing, a young woman
Proudly gripped with her hands; with her apron
A lord’sdaughter covered the swollen thing.


Of course, just like you, their purer minded brothers found nothing at all smutty about these ditties. After all, what is rude about a description of an onion, or dough for making bread?

(Note: Both riddles were translated into modern English by Kate Wiles and taken from an article in the TLS)

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What did the Romans ever do for us?

roman soldierWhat did the Romans ever do for us?

Well increased our vocabulary for a start.

In Britain, many of us may pride ourselves on our Anglo-Saxon roots (and we have the expletives and drinking habits to prove them).

But much of our language has its origins in Europe, especially Rome and the Latin speaking Romans who invaded and settled here.


Some words or abbreviations we use without even thinking about their ‘foreigness.’ For example:

  • etcetera / etc.
  • et al
  • in situ
  • versus
  • i.e. (Latin origin – id est)
  • e.g. (Latin origin – exempli gratia)
  • ergo (therefore).

We know some other words or phrases are Latin, but either because they have roman scholarsome specific technical or legal meaning (or we want to impress with our erudition) they are still in common use:

  • In camera – in private
  • In loco parentis – in place of the parent
  • Habeas corpus (Literally – you may have the body – a legal right to prevent unlawful detention).
  • Infra dig (full Latin = Infra dignatum – infra means below) – undignified.
  • Ne plus ultra – perfection
  • Inter alia – among other things.
  • in extremis – at point of death
  • non sequitor – (something) does not follow
  • Ipso facto – by that very fact.
  • Nil desperandum – never say die

Some Roman aphorisms remain well known: In vino veritas – people say what they really think when they’re drunk, and carpe diem  – seize the day, are perhaps the best known.

One of my favourite phrases is nolens, volens – whether willing or not. Shakespeare, who studied Latin at school, was no doubt aware of this one when he ‘invented’ the phrase willy-nilly.

But then, as the Romans used to say: nil nove sub sole – there’s nothing new under the sun.

If you want to know more Latin phrases and tags with which to impress your friends and readers, then Eugene Ehrlich’s dictionary entitled Nil Desperadum  is a good start.

roman lady


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Happy Everybody Reads YA Sunday

Happy Everybody Reads YA Sunday Blog Share!

Today I’m sharing an excerpt from Journey to the Fair Mountain. This is a short story describing a teenager’s journey through the snow to be married off to her late father’s cousin, the king of Denmark, and so save the family home for her mother and younger sisters. If only it had been the king’s younger brother she had been due to marry. But then Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, would have had a very different plot!


I knocked the door softly and heard my father’s weak voice summon me in. The room was hot and reeked of sickness. I stood in the doorway and curtseyed, reluctant to go further into the stench, but my father raised his hand and beckoned me to him. I had no option but to advance and kneel by his bedside. He put a cold, thin hand on the top of my head. When he spoke his breath was laboured, each word struggling to get out. “Dearest daughter, you know that I am dying.” I raised my head to protest, but he stayed me with his hand. “No, no time for protest. Too tired.” He paused to regain his strength, his lungs heaving to take in enough breath to continue. “My esteemed cousin, my heir, has written. He is, as you know, a widower. He has offered his hand in marriage to my oldest daughter.” I gasped. I had no wish to marry, even though I was nearly seventeen. Surely he understood that? My father saw the alarm in my eyes. “It will secure this castle as a home for your mother and sisters,” he said. “And you will become the queen.”

Journey to the Fair Mountain is one of several stories based on females in Shakespeare’s plays. I you enjoy this one, you may like to read, Chains Of Magic (Othello) A Midsummer Day’s Dream, or The Ghost Queen (The Winter’s Tale). All are published by Solstice. The Ghost Queen is due out in September as part of the latest Solstice anthology – Realms of Fantastic Stories.

Journey to the Fair MountainLinks:
Chains of magic
a midsummer day's dream


Meet Author Natalie Silk

Natalie SilkToday, I’m handing over my blog to fellow Solstice author – Natalie Silk:

My current work is Snowfall’s Secret.  It’s a about a girl from another world who must live like any other tween on Earth (and she suffers from amnesia).  Of course, she learns to enjoy shopping at the mall with her very own debit card and has a few secrets. At its core is the message that everyone has value and has something special to share.

Snowfall's Secret-1The story was inspired by a dream I had when I was twelve.  I saw five monks standing in a semi-circle.  They were all wearing a triangle-shaped pendant with a red stone in the center.  One of the monks looked at me and said, “You’re not ready,” and I woke.  I had subsequent dreams of a girl with a pendant to the one the monks wore and I wrote them all down.

My favorite character to write about (funny how that turned out) was a secondary one to the story:  Mrs. Margot Greenfield. I based her on a favorite childhood teacher.

By the way, my favorite genre to write is science fiction.  Surprise!  Just kidding.

My focus right now is science fiction for girls; but I’m still playing around with a short story that’s alternative history to give myself a mental stretch.  I have this irrational fear that the last thing I finish writing will be my last.  I wonder if I’m not alone.

I’m pretty ‘old school’ when it comes to my writing habits.  The first thing I do is buy a brand new hand-sized spiral notebook and use it to write the basic story that’s mostly action punctuated here and there by dialogue.   The little notebook helps me believe that I’m accomplishing so much.  I then use my trusty laptop to write the second draft that looks as if I threw words down to see what sticks.  The technical term I like to use is word hurl.  Each subsequent draft looks a little more refined than the previous one.  I then use the little spiral notebook to make notes and jot down ideas for the story.

I began writing when I was ten and back then we didn’t have home computers.

I’ve been asked advice by aspiring writers.  I’m very, very flattered.  But let me tell you, I’m still an aspiring writer. My advice is simple:  don’t ever, ever (and I mean ever) give up.

Please reach out to me on:


Twitter @natalieasilk:

My website:



Happy Everybody Reads YA Sunday

‘Happy Everybody Reads YA’ Sunday Blog Share.

Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my novel Girl Friends. Until recently nobody talked much about the sexual exploitation of young girls. But thanks to a very tenacious youth worker, a Times newspaper reporter who wouldn’t give up either, and scores of brave girls and young women, there have been several successful prosecutions across the UK. In my own city a campaign has started to raise awareness among young people, so that they can spot if one of their friends is at risk.

In Girl Friends, Courtney is at a loss to understand what is happening to her best friend, Grace, although all the signs are there. It takes another, older, girl to put the pieces of the jigsaw together – and their detective work is almost too late for Grace.


“That’s interesting. But I can’t see Grace falling for anything like that. She may not work hard at school or get great grades, but she’s not stupid.”

“Well, maybe she believed that Kal had something more to offer her, something she really, really wanted. Something that made the loss of your friendship, the rows at the home, and missing school etcetera, all worthwhile.”

“Oh, God, yes,” I am about to sit down again, but Hannah’s words deliver another shock. “He’s told her he can put her in touch with a man who can arrange a modelling contract for her. She’s mad to be a model— would do anything for it.”

“There you are then.” Hannah sounds almost pleased, and this makes me so angry I nearly hit her.

“But that solves nothing. We think we may know now why she’s behaving like she is, and can guess it won’t work out for her. And aren’t we the clever ones. But meanwhile, she believes she has a modelling contract almost in the bag. In fact she’s going today to meet this mythical man to get it sorted.”


Girl Friends -

Other stories available from my Amazon author pages:


I’ll drink to that!

Ever thought about the number of phrases there are to describe someone who is drunk?

Some are obvious, if euphemistic. They describe the physical state of the person – tired and emotional, legless; or the location as a result of their intoxication – under the table*. Several are more specific, often begin with a ‘p,’ and not really suitable for a family blog.

Some words and phrases are clearly associated with imbibing more than is entirely good for us, but we don’t necessarily know why. We know, for example, that to be plastered is to have drunk more than we can properly handle, but not necessarily that the term came from plasterers using alcohol to stiffen their mix for plastering ceilings. After several hours of working close to the ceiling, breathing in the alcoholic fumes, they would descend from the scaffolding decidedly squiffy – in other words, plastered.

To be steaming, or the less well known steam boats, are terms for drunkenness that come steamboatfrom Scotland. At the turn of the twentieth century, day trips on paddle steamers became popular with working people who couldn’t afford holidays. On the ships, alcohol was readily available and many indulged, and were steaming by the time they returned to port. Later in the century, with cheap travel via the railways, and later via plane, becoming available, the fashion for steam boat jaunts declined. Not the fashion for overindulgence as a holiday pursuit, though, but I’ve jet to hear the term ‘easyjetting’ or ‘ryanairing’ to replace steaming.

Keeping with the nautical theme is the phrase three sheets to the wind (originally three sheets in the wind). A sheet is a cable, not a sail, and a tally of the number of sheets, was widely used by sailors to describe how drunk their shipmates were. Three sheets in the wind meant they were falling over drunk, but one sheet in the wind (or a sheet in the wind’s eye as Long John Silver says in Treasure Island) was to be merely tipsy.

*Talking of the term ‘under the table,’ I’m not that fussed on martini, but I do like
Dorothy Parker’s
cautionary ditty re over-indulgence:

dorothy-parkerI like a drop of martini

Two at the very most

After three I’m under the table

After four I’m under my host.


And that’s it for this week. Cheers!

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Everybody Reads YA

It’s Sunday again so welcome to ‘Everybody Reads YA’ Sunday blog share!

Today I’m going to share an excerpt from my first YA novel, the Amazon best seller And Alex Still Has Acne. Set in the West Midlands, UK, this is a contemporary adventure story involving Alex, his best friend Sam, and his sister Nicky.


And Alex -cover        Alex sat silently for several minutes. He had never knowingly broken the law before, apart from cycling on the pavement – but then his mother preferred him to do that than run risks on the road. He didn’t like the idea at all. But Sam was his friend, and he didn’t like to abandon him either. Moreover, despite himself, he felt a tingling of excitement at what Sam was proposing. Anyway, he could never knowingly give up an opportunity for more food these days.                                                                       “Where?” Sam knew his friend was not enquiring where his house was, and felt a glow of pleasure that Alex was in on this with him. He too felt a tingle of excitement, plus a mixture of guilt and fear – but not enough of either to stop him. “The One-Stop. It’s big enough to have blind corners and small enough to not have any security.”  “You’ve done this before.” It was a statement rather than a question.


Life for 14 year old Alex is OK most of the time. He enjoys school, has a best friend, Sam, and a pretty and only mildly irritating younger sister, Nicky. But then Sam starts acting strangely, and so does Nicky – and both insist on sharing secrets with him and then making him promise not to tell anyone. Then Nicky goes missing and only Alex feels he knows where to find her. But is Sam anywhere around to help?

Links: You can  find And Alex Still has Acne, my latest YA novel – Girl Friends – and other stories on my Amazon Author page:

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