Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Ghost of a chance (and other ghostly bits)


Ghost in and of itself is a word that goes a long way back. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary it starts with:
Old English gast "breath; good or bad spirit, angel, demon; person, man, human being," in Biblical use "soul, spirit, life," from Proto-West Germanic *gaistaz (source also of Old Saxon gest, Old Frisian jest, Middle Dutch gheest, Dutch geest, German Geist "spirit, ghost").... The gh- spelling appeared early 15c. in Caxton, influenced by Flemish and Middle Dutch gheest, but was rare in English before mid-16c.
What about idioms such as ghost of a chance, give up the ghost, and the ubiquitous Old West ghost town? In fact, could my 1880s characters use any of these phrases?

Hmmmm.
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Delving a little further down in the OED entry:
[Ghost in the sense of] "slight suggestion, mere shadow or semblance" (in ghost image, ghost of a chance, etc.) is first recorded 1610s; sense of "one who secretly does work for another" is from 1884. Ghost town is from 1908. Ghost story is by 1811.
Checking The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer, I see they peg ghost of a chance from the mid-1800s. I'm glad of that! In fact, in Americanisms, Old and New by John Stephen Farmer (c. 1889), this phrase shows up in a VERY long definition of bucket-shop (which would be another fun bit of slang to explore some day).

I find it hard to believe that ghost town doesn't appear until the early 20th century, but Ammer's Dictionary of Idioms and Google's Ngram viewer concur.

Ngram: Always a good check for the first appearance of a term in books.

At least, my 1880s characters can indulge in a ghost story and certain non-returning fictional unfortunates can give up the ghost (c. late 1300s).

Might I have a ghost of a chance of sighting a ghost in the ghost town of Bodie, California?




Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: In a dither, a flutter, a tizzy


With nights getting longer and Halloween approaching, here around the homestead we're all in a dither over getting our decorations up and preparing for the holiday season (but really, do the stores have to throw up Christmas displays in early October??).

Perhaps you, too, are in a dither, or maybe in a flutter or even a tizzy.... all of which pretty much boil down to "a state of tremulous agitation." Now, if you had to guess, would you think dither, flutter or tizzy is the oldest version? And which would you guess is the most recent?
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I guessed, and...
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...I was wrong! Which is why it's always good to check these phrases out and not (ahem) assume.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer, in a flutter dates from the mid-1700s, whereas the noun dither is from the early 1800s and goes back to the Middle English verb didderen (to tremble). In a tizzy, however, is relatively new, dating from about 1930 and is of "uncertain origin."

The mystery surrounding tizzy sent me searching for more, and I turned up this interesting tidbit about the word on World Wide Words:
....Tizzie Lish [was] a character played by Bill Comstock on the radio show Al Pearce and His Gang. The show began on KFRC in San Francisco in 1929 but moved to NBC in 1933, where it continued until 1947. Tizzie was usually all of a dither and she would proceed to dictate very bad recipes, insisting that listeners find a pencil and paper to write them down. ... Our word tizzy for being in a state of nervous excitement, agitation or worry is recorded first in the US in 1935 and almost certainly comes from — or at least was popularised by — the radio character. 

I actually found a 1940s 30-minute episode of Al Pearce and His Gang on YouTube, right here. There is also an audio recording of a  five-minute audition of Tizzie Lish, courtesy of rand’s esoteric otr (with otr being short for "old time radio"). If you want a little more about Tizzie Lish, here is an entire post about the character and Bill Comstock, the radio actor who played her.

Finally, in a strange sort of roundabout connection to the world of radio, the word dither turns out to have a very specific definition in the technical world of audio and video. According to Wikipedia:
Dither is an intentionally applied form of noise used to randomize quantization error, preventing large-scale patterns such as color banding in images. Dither is routinely used in processing of both digital audio and video data, and is often one of the last stages of mastering audio to a CD.
I imagine you are probably in a dither (in the non-audio sense) after all this nattering, so I'll let you go!
A dithering David (at least, in the technical sense)
By David by Michelangelo; dithered by User:Gerbrant using own software - cropped from Image:Dithering algorithms.png, Public Domain, Link

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Blatherskite


Now here's a wonderful word for you: Blatherskite.

Can you guess what it means?

No peeking at an online dictionary! You have to guess first...
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Personally, I wondered if it had something to do with blather, as when someone is blabbing on and on and not making much sense.

Well, I was on the right track, apparently. According to Merriam Webster,  the noun blatherskite means either (1) a person who blathers a lot or (2) nonsense, blather, and it dates from the mid-1600s... Now that's a word with a history!

World Wide Words delved into its origins and subsequent popularity in the U.S.:
Both halves of the word seem to be from Old Norse. Blether is a Scots word meaning loquacious claptrap, which comes from Old Norse blathra, to talk nonsense; it exists in various forms now, such as blather or blither (if you call someone a blithering idiot, as people in Britain often did in my youth, you’re using the same word, though most of the meaning had by then been leached out of it). Skate (skite, as Australians and New Zealanders will know it) is more problematic, but is the Scots word for a person held in contempt because of his boasting, which may derive from an Old Norse word meaning to shoot (and, if true, is probably the origin of the American skeet, as in skeet shooting, so that phrase actually means “shoot shooting”).
WWW goes on to explain that blatherskite first appeared in Maggie Lauder, a Scots ballad circa 1643. The ballad was very popular with the American side in the War of Independence. Alas, it doesn't pop up in daily conversation at the present, although it does seem appropriate for the times...

 
I sense blatherskite is in the air, everywhere...
Image by Prawny from Pixabay


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: High jinks


I missed a week of posting on slang-o-rama because I was getting up to high jinks in Colorado, culminating in being inducted into the Colorado Authors' Hall of Fame along with an amazing slate of Colorado-based writers. I was overwhelmed, to say the least, at this incredible honor. It was wonderful to attend the ceremony, meet the other inductees and the organizers, have a chance to thank folks, and... 

Hmmm. High jinks. What does that mean, exactly? Am I using it correctly? And where did the term come from?
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Engaging in shadow-puppet high jinks at the induction ceremony? Or just trying to see past the light?
Photo by Devyn McConachie
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Merriam-Webster's Word History blog says:
High jinks, also spelled hi-jinks, is defined in our dictionary as "boisterous or rambunctious carryings-on" or "carefree antics or horseplay," and if it sounds a bit old-fashioned, that's because it is.

According to the M-W post, the earliest use of this term (slightly different spelling) appeared in a 1683 English translation of Erasmus:
And as to all those Shooing-horns of drunkenness, the keeping every one his man, the throwing Hey-jinks, the filling of bumpers, the drinking two in a hand, the beginning of Mistresses healths; and then the roaring out of drunken catches, the calling in a Fidler, the leading out every one his Lady to dance, and such like riotous pastimes, ...
Witt against wisdom, or, A panegyrick upon folly
M-W adds that hey-jinks (also spelled high jinks) was the name of a dice game of chance. It shows up in a 1699 dictionary of underworld slang, which notes: "Highjinks: A Play at Dice who Drinks." 

The Word Detective defines jinks as “playful, rowdy activity” or “disruptive pranks or unruly behavior," and adds more details about that dice game:
Apparently high jinks in the 16th century was a drinking game (at the time also known as “high pranks”) in which the loser in a throw of dice had to perform a silly task (or drink a certain quantity of alcohol).

Apparently, by the mid-19th century, high jinks had come to mean “lively merrymaking” and “boisterous pranks” in general.

Lively merrymaking sums up the event for me! To be recognized in this way is an honor that I'll cherish forever... 
No high jinks from me here, just a whole lot of happiness and gratitude to receive this award and be part of the wonderful evening!
Photo by Bill McConachie

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Whoops! Missed a week!

Sorry dear readers... I missed a week of slang-o-rama!
We'll return to the usual etymological high jinks* on Wednesday, September 25....

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* A not very subtle clue as to what we'll be investigating next Wednesday.
High jinks? Pieter Quast [Public domain]
 



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Brouhaha


Ohhhhh did I really try to use brouhaha in the upcoming book in my Silver Rush series? *

Yes, yes I did. But I was gently corrected, because....
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...according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (I have the 10th edition, which I'm looking at right now), brouhaha, which means hubbub or uproar, was first used in 1890.

Well, dang. 

I'm nine years ahead of timeframe with that one.

You must admit, it is a fun word to say and spell. And it sure sounds "period." I wonder how it evolved... hmmm.... It turns out World Wide Words has the skinny on brouhaha:


... It’s a negative word for some unpleasant confusion; a more neutral alternative might be the equally odd-looking hubbub. We know the word came from the French word spelled the same way; it’s found in French from the sixteenth century on, but it only arrived in English at the end of the nineteenth century. It seems to have been used in French drama as a noise made by the devil, who cried brou, ha, ha!.
Many etymologists will say that the word was just a noisy nonsense exclamation that imitated the thing it referred to. But there is a theory, put forward by Walther von Wartburg, that it actually comes from the Hebrew barukh habba, meaning “welcome” — literally “blessed be the one who comes”...
The post goes on to say that there may be a different derivation. A WWW subscriber, who did some work on the origins of brou in French, suggested a more likely origin may be bull baiting and that the word may be linked to the Italian or Spanish bravo. He pointed to the French rabrouer, to taunt, as a linked term.

Fascinating, eh? Alas, I shall have to nudge my series forward almost a decade before I can use this word.
Is it a brouhaha or a revolution or a welcoming committee?
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay


* And here comes the BSP (blatant book promotion): The next book in my Silver Rush series is Mortal Music. MM is scheduled for release in late January. If this makes your "buy now" senses come alive, you can pre-order it at indiebound, amazon, B&N, and so on and so forth....

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Hunker down


While viewing the terrifying images of Hurricane Dorian and the resultant damage and destruction these past few days, I found a phrase that often came mind was hunker down in the sense of "take cover." According to dictionary.com, hunker down can mean to hide, hide out, or take shelter. Another definition is to squat on one's heels.

Hunker—Such an odd word, don't you think?

At least, I thought so...

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World Wide Words has a nice discussion of the phrase, noting:
It sounds like the most typically American of phrases, but it seems originally to have been Scots, first recorded in the eighteenth century. Nobody seems to know exactly what its origin is, though it has been suggested it’s linked to the Old Norse huka, to squat; that would make it a close cousin of old Dutch huiken and modern German hocken, meaning to squat or crouch, which makes sense.
The Online Etymological Dictionary agrees, adding:
Hunker down, Southern U.S. dialectal phrase, is from 1902, popularized c. 1965; in this use the verb is perhaps from northern British hunker "haunch."
So, first U.S. use is early 20th century?

Hmmmm.
 
Using ngram and Google Books, I did find one appearance (in the sense of squatting) in Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, Volume 14, published 1875.

But honestly, this is probably of little interest to the people who are in Dorian's path. If you are one of those folks, please: hunker down someplace safe, and don't take chances!

'Tis the season to hunker down...
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay