Category Archives: Etymology

Is a scapegoat what we think it is?

A few posts ago (on 4th February), I wrote about how the term whipping boy was used wrongly to mean a scapegoat. Which doesn’t mean to say that people should be called to account if they use the term – of course not; that would just be being pedantic. But why should those of us who now know its false derivation, not view the term with a supercilious smirk?

What about the word scapegoat though? Does that still mean, er, scapegoat – a person made to take the blame for one or more others? It seems so. The word was first used in 1530 by William Tyndale in his translation of The Bible from Hebrew. He took the wordGoats Go.. Inspecting. Azazel to mean ‘the goote on which the lotte fell to scape.’ (OT, Leviticus, Chapter 8). In the Mosaic ritual for the Day of Atonement two goats are selected: one to be sacrificed, the other to be laden with the sins of the community and sent off into the wild – literally, the goat that escapes.

Since Tyndale, other animals have been used in literature for the same purpose, usually with humorous intent. But scapegoose, scapehorse and scapecat, have never really caught on.

That deals with the goat bit of the word. Does scape also mean what we think it does? I believe so. My dictionary describes it as an archaic word for escape – as in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, when Cassius says to Brutus:

“How scaped I killing, when I crossed you so?” (Act IV, scene 3).

By the way, if you find anything wrong with this post, don’t blame me. Blame the spell checker – my usual scapegoat for any spelling, grammatical or other mistakes.

This post is going out on 14th February, Valentine’s Day. Would you like a gentle love story to read? Then try my short story, Sleeping Beauty. You might think the young heroine is a scapegoat at first – until it all ends happily ever after.

myBook.to/TheSleepingBeauty

NB: Most of my novels and short stories can be found on Amazon Books:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

or http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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Whipping Boys – fact or fiction?

My Collins dictionary defines a whipping boy as ‘a person of little importance who is blamed for the incompetence etc. of others, especially his superiors; scapegoat. [Seventeenth century. Originally referring to a boy who was educated with a prince and who received punishment for any faults committed by the prince]’

This is what I and many others have believed, including Mark Twain who popularised the term in his story, The Prince and the Pauper. Past historians have gone further and

Edward_VI_Scrots_c1550_cropped

Edward VI did NOT have a whipping boy to take his punishment for him!

named, for example, Barnaby Fitzpatrick as the whipping boy for Edward VI. William Murray was supposed to have played the same role for Charles 1.The idea was that, as a Royal could not be physically punished, he could be made to feel bad knowing someone else was being whipped on his behalf.

However key historical records have recently been digitalised and modern historians now have the evidence from these that Barnaby et al were no more painfully employed than as grooms / servants. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has always disputed the existence, ever, of whipping boys – and now the definition has been removed from the BBC education website – Bitesize. It’s more likely that the term was first coined by a seventeenth century playwright, Samuel Rowley.

I doubt if the mere fact that the term has no historical validity will stop me, occasionally, using the phrase as an alternative to ‘scapegoat’. But, if there was no such practice of using a whipping boy as a scapegoat, how can I be sure that there was an original scapegoat?

But that is a discussion for another blog!

Links to my published work:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

Divided by a common language?

imagesAmong the many things the UK has in common with the USA, is the English language. Except that, with a huge ocean and many centuries between when the English spoken was pretty much the same and now, subtle, and not so subtle, divergences have given rise to the sentiment conveyed in the title of this post. No one is quite sure who said these famous words. They are often attributed to George Bernard Shaw. But they might be from Oscar Wilde,George_Bernard_Shaw_1934-12-06 or Mallory Browne, or Raymond Gram Swing, or the prolific Anon.

Some of the misunderstandings over words and phrases are humorous (to Brits, anyway – the American term ‘fanny’ is a more sexual part of the anatomy in Britain, so not a word to be used in polite society without a titter or a tut). Some are misleading (American pants are British trousers; the American woman’s purse is the British woman’s handbag). Some are annoying (‘have a nice day’ / ‘take care.’ – No, I’ll damn well have a sh***y day, and run out in front of cars, if I want to. But then, as the English novelist, Kingsley Amis, really did say: ‘If you can’t annoy someone with what you write, there’s little point in writing.’ And the same, I suppose, can go for speaking.

As much as the different meaning of words and phrases can cause confusion, is the difference in nuance. The English person’s use of understatement, often puzzles American and other nationalities.  Carol Midgley, recently wrote about this in The Times:

“When a man says he’s going ‘for a pint’ he means five, minimum. ‘I’ve felt better,’ means ‘I’m so ill I could die.’ ‘I’ve been a bit silly,’ means I’ve gambled the house away, and got my wife’s sister pregnant.’ …

… When someone is described as a ‘livewire’ it means they are ‘a drunk.’ ‘She’s a bit tricksy’ means ‘she’s a complete bitch.’ …

… ‘You look well,’ means ‘you look fat.’ ‘Help yourself,’ means ‘only take one you greedy pig.’ ‘I might see you later,’ means you definitely won’t, and ‘Right, I must let you get on,’ means ‘I’m bored with this conversation and want to end it now.’ (I’ve used that one a few times.)

Although I have had a number of books published in America (by Solstice Publishing), all my work sells better in the UK. Perhaps this is because, despite knowing about pants and purses, I use more typically British terms and stylistic idiosyncrasies than I realise.

There’s plenty more I could say on this topic. But right now, I’m sure you are busy, so I must let you get on.

If you have enjoyed this post, and would like to read more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon Author pages:

Swear words and story telling.

My YA novel, Girl Friends, features a lot of characters who, in real life, would swear frequently and rather unimaginatively. My initial mistake was to reproduce their conversations faithfully. That is, until a more experienced author pointed out that a) this was boring and b) no publisher of a YA novel would consider publishing my book if it remained in such a raw state. I hope my subsequent re-drafting – which did find a publisher – resulted in a sharper, more readable story. It is certainly a lot shorter!

A problem in real life is that many people use expeltives without realising – in the end it just seems like padding around the small, not necessarily very rude or significant point they want to make. Constant swearing can be tedious to listen to – even more so to read.

Consider the following dialogue, quoted in The Joy of Words, by Fritz Spiegl, purportedly between a soldier charged with rape and his defence lawyer.

“Well, I met this f’kn bird in a f’kn disco and we had a couple of f’kn drinks and went back to her f’kn place to have some f’kn coffee.”

“Then what happened?”

“Well one f’kn thing led to another, and before I f’kn knew where I was, we, you know, we was having sexual intercourse.”

Here the most common expletive in the English language has been used with such a lack of discrimination it has become meaningless, and isn’t used when he gets to the nub of his account.

Or perhaps the soldier was wiser than we think. The word expletive actually comes from the Latin expletus / explere. This does not mean a swear word / to swear, but ‘a filling in’ – exactly how he used the word.

Aside from being a rather long-winded and boring book (in my opinion) maybe DH Lawrence, in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was fighting the wrong battle when he shocked polite society by trying to normalise the use of that particular expletive.

If you would like to read my novel, Girl Friends, or any of my other work, please follow one of the following links:

Girl Friends - coverGirl Friends

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS

myBook.to/GirlFriends

Amazon Author Pages

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

 

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Playing with words.

Just a few lines today on words that describe games people can play with words. (More popular perhaps in the time before TV and social media, but could come in useful in a power cut if all you have is pen, paper – and a torch.)

An acronym is made up of the first letter of each word in a phrase. It is a comparatively new phenomenon (the first recorded use is in the early 1940s). Radar (radio detecting and ranging), and scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) are acronyms) are acronyms. An acronym needs to be pronounceable – hence RSVP at the bottom of a letter requesting a reply is an initialism, not an acronym.

Acrostics is where, in a poem for example, a number of letters form a word or phrase. This could be at the beginning of each line in a poem as in Lewis Carroll’s (of Alice in Wonderland fame) poem which starts:

A boat beneath a sunny sky

Lingering onward dreamily

In an evening of July –

Children three that nestle near

Eager eye and willing ear

And goes on to spell out the real Alice’s full name through the first letter of every line.

An anagram is a rearrangement of letters of a word or phrase to form a different phrase or word: Evil / vile. Clint Eastwood / old west action. An antigram is similar, but the alteration means the dead opposite to the original word: funeral / real fun. (Sorry)

Lipograms are works where the author chooses to avoid using a particular letter. No problem if you decide, say, to omit the ‘z’ or ‘q.’ But Ernest Vincent Wright wrote a 50,000 word novel (Gatsby) without the letter ‘e’ in 1939. Univocalics, by contrast, are where just one vowel is used, as in ‘he went where she heeded her texts.’

Palindromes are words or phrases that read the same backwards as forwards: ‘Was it a car or a cat I saw?’ Or the more famous ‘Able was I ere I saw Elba.’

A pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet), as in ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.’ The same letter can be used more than once – I’m not sure anyone has managed to come up with a phrase that makes sense using each letter just once.

So there you go – Boxing Day post-prandial games sorted!

If you have enjoyed this post, and would like to read more of my work, please go to my Amazon author page. I would particularly like to get young adults reading more and have written two novels specifically for this age group.

And Alex -cover

 

And Alex Still Has Acne: myBook.to/AndAlexStillHasAcne

 

 

 

Girl Friends - cover

 

Girl Friends: myBook.to/GirlFriends

 

 

Both are published by Solstice. http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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Christmas Phobias

Soon we will be celebrating Christmas. Our mundane routines taken over by the christmas crackerexcitement of visits to and from our loved ones, preparing and consuming food, drinking, parties …

Bring it on! But not quite yet – I like Christmas as much as the next person, but prefer to restrict it to the fortnight encompassing the 25th and New Year’s Eve. So, as it is not yet December, I feel entitled to spend a bit of time on the perils – for some – of the Christmas holidays.

Pity the poor person who is expected to join in a round of parties but has cherophobia (fear of gaiety), or chorophobia (dancing). Maybe their fears are more entrenched and they have koinoniphobia (fear of a room full of people), and the ensuing noise (noctiphobia), or smells (bromidrosiphobia – fear of body odour). Christmas

As for all meals, what fun do you get out of Christmas dinner if you suffer from deinophobia (fear of dining and over-dinner conversation)? Or potophobia? (fear of alcohol – also known, more obviously, as alcoholophobia).

Then there is the whole palavar of traveling around during the festive season, especially of you suffer from amaxophobia (fear of riding in a motorcar), or nostophobia (fear of returning home). What if other relatives will be there and you are afflicted by pentheraphobia (fear of your mother-in-law)? Christmas travel in the northern hemisphere may be tricky too if you suffer from chionophobia (fear of snow).

No doubt there are a lot of anxieties around giving and receiving gifts, not least for someone related to a writer (who has a new novel to shift), and suffers from bibliophobia (fear of books).

I must apologise to those of you who have read this far with growing annoyance. Maybe you suffer from phobologophobia – a fear of, or aversion to, phobia words!

However, if you have enjoyed this blog and would like to read more of my work, please go to my Amazon author page where you can find several novels and short stories, including one in the anthology – Festive Treats – that is free to download.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

Text Speak and ‘Proper’ Writing

There are stories about people attempting to write novels using Twitter (so much easier now that you have 280 characters to play with!). The process may certainly help concentrate the mind, and cut out padding, though this maybe counteracted by a lavish application of txt spk and emoticons, so you can pack more in each episode / tweet. Why write a tweet about someone feeling sad, if you can simply slip in a down-at-mouth emoji? The same goes for text messages.

text1For some people, text messaging abbreviations we are all familiar with (even if some of us are not too sure what they mean) illustrate an accelerating decline in standards of written English – there have been newspaper articles about candidates answering essay questions in public examinations using text speak, ffs!

But, according to researchers at Binghampton University, New York, use of emoticons, irregular spellings and abbreviations, and imaginative use of exclamation marks andtext 2 other forms of punctuation are def not sloppy, but an attempt to convey additional meaning. Whilst perhaps not a gr8 thing to do in every written document, their use can indicate that the writer is thinking about what they are trying to communicate and, if it comes across as a bit harsh, trying to soften the impact. (smiley face).

A texter is aware that the receiver of their message is not in front of them, so cannot make use of non-linguistic clues – the smile, to soften a blunt comment, the pitch of the voice to convey a certain amount of doubt rather than intransigence, or the breathlessness to illustrate that you really are sooo sorry to be keeping you waiting, but are coming as fast as you can …

The researchers also suggest that the omission of a full stop in a text message can indicate sincerity. They found that people who received a one word response to a text, which included a full stop, felt the response was less enthusiastic or genuine than if it came without one. For example, someone who replied ‘yeah’ to an invitation to meet up that evening, was more likely to keep the appointment than one who responded ‘yeah.’ The researchers were so taken by this that the title of their study is called Punctuation in text messaging may convey abruptness. Period. (Published in Computers in Human Behaviour, 2017)

Are there any lessons in this for writers of novels, short stories and plays? Not least, perhaps, it illustrates the importance of thinking about how words are received by a reader or, in dialogue, by other characters in the story. As we wax lyrical, with words tumbling onto the page, maybe we should pause every so often to think, hmm – how will this be interpreted? Who is receiving this? Just a thought. LOL

If you have enjoyed this post, and would like to read more of my work, please go to my Amazon book page.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

Or go to my publisher’s website:

http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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