Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Playing hooky


Well, I took last week away from almost everything to go to Iceland and chase around after the Northern Lights. I had a marvelous time, yet still felt a little guilty, as if I was playing hooky from my endless lists of to-dos and responsibilities. But abandon Slang-o-rama? Never!

So, let's take a closer look at playing hooky...
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... However, first, a few photos from my trip...
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Now that I've shared some of the lovely scenery from this fascinating land of ice and snow, let's return to play hooky, which, according to Dictionary.com, means "be absent from school or some other obligation without permission."

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer notes that the term play hooky dates from the mid-1800s and adds
In this term, the noun hooky may have come from the phrase hook it, meaning "escape."
I shall close with a little Led Zepplin, because.... (see link re: land of ice and snow, above).

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Bugaboo


With tomorrow being Halloween, bugaboo is a word appropriate to the season because, well...
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Image by Mojca JJ from Pixabay
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Now, let's find out where this interesting word came from and how long it's been around...

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary bugaboo is "something to frighten a child, fancied object of terror." It dates from 1843 (nice to know!), perhaps evolving from the 1740 buggybow (now that's one I haven't heard of before).

The OED also notes that bugaboo is probably an alteration of bugbear (another word with a fascinating history... check out the link). The entry dives in a little further, saying that the Dictionary of American Slang by Robert L. Chapman links bugaboo to Bugibu, demon in the Old French poem "Aliscans" from 1141, "which is perhaps of Celtic origin (compare Cornish bucca-boo, from bucca 'bogle, goblin')."

So, there you have it, a little word history to chew over as you eye the chocolates and other sweets in your Halloween offerings for the little hobgoblins who come a-knocking on your door for treats. Enjoy the end-of-October festivities, and don't let the bugaboos get to you!

 Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Heebie-jeebies


I'm on a roll, so we'll continue with our spooky slang-o-rama explorations for October. If this time of year gives you the heebie-jeebies, that is, leaves you with a feeling of anxiety, apprehension or illness, well....

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... I am here to help you out. At least, etymologically speaking.

The Phrase Finder has a nice entry on the term, noting:
The sound of this term seems to hark back to earlier rhyming phrases, like hocus-pocus and mumbo-jumbo, with a touch of the jitters thrown in. The meaning is more like the British term - the screaming habdabs.
Heebie and jeebie don't mean anything as independent words and heebie jeebies was coined at a time and place when there was a spate of new nonsense rhyming pairs, called rhyming reduplications, - the bee's knees, etc., that is, 1920s USA.
The term is widely attributed to William Morgan "Billy" de Beck. The first citation of it in print is certainly in a 1923 cartoon of his, in the 26th October edition of the New York American: "You dumb ox - why don't you get that stupid look offa your pan - you gimme the heeby jeebys!"
World Wide Words also credits de Beck with its creation, citing the same 1923 appearance. The Word Detective agrees. Dictionary.com dates it even earlier: 1905–10... but I can't find any use from that timeframe (at least through Google's ngram). I did find it in a 1911 book—The Story of Carol by Edmondstoune Duncan (what a name, right? Perfect for a fictional character!). You can view the passage here.

I'd love to find an earlier appearance of this term, so if anyone spots one, let me know!

Feeling anxious? Got the heebie-jeebies? If so, you've got lots of company!
The Scream By Edvard Munch

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