Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Flim-flam


Another "f" word for slang-o-rama... no, not THAT word. I'm talking about flim-flam, hot on the heels of last week's flibbertigibbet. (What can I say? The number of intriguing slang words starting with "f" or "b" seem to far outnumber those that start with other letters of the alphabet.)

So, what is flim-flam and where did this odd f-f word construction come about? Well...
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The Online Etymological Dictionary was brief and not very helpful:
also flimflam, 1530s, a contemptuous echoic construction, perhaps connected to some unrecorded dialectal word from Scandinavian (compare Old Norse flim "a lampoon"). From 1650s as a verb. Related: Flim-flammer.
The Word Detective has a bit more, bundling a discussion of flimflam together with claptrap and flapdoodle (remember what I said about "f" words?), noting that "some of our most colorful English words are used to mean nonsense." From there, the Detective rolls up his/her sleeves and plunges in:
“Flim-flam” dates back to the 16th century, and from the beginning meant “nonsense or idle talk” as well as “humbug, a flimsy pretense or deception.”  The distinctive trait  to “flim-flam” is its transparency;  a “flim-flam” is not a sophisticated scam or con but rather the sort of shallow trick that a reasonable person wouldn’t fall for.  As a verb, for example, “flim-flam” in the US came to mean specifically “to distract or confuse a customer so as to be able to shortchange him.”  The origin of “flimflam” is somewhat uncertain, but the “flim” part may be based on a English dialectical word of Scandinavian origin similar to the Old Norse “flim” (a lampoon or mockery).  Such a Norse origin of “flim,” if true, would be a legacy of the Viking invasions of Britain in the 8th to 11th centuries.
According to Collins Dictionary, a flimflam man (which redirects to the non-gender-specific flimflam artist) is a trickster or swindler. 

Hmmm. I can use that!

Watch out for the flim-flam man!
By Feliks Pęczarski - wolnelektury.pl, Public Domain, Link


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Flibbertigibbet


My protagonist Inez Stannert would surely bristle if someone called her a flibbertigibbet, and rightly so! The term might more aptly be applied to one of my secondary San Francisco characters, Carmella Donato. The definition according to Merriam-Webster is "a silly flighty person."

Hmmm.

Now I'm wondering... have I ever heard a man called a flibbertigibbet? Can't say that I have. So is it a gender-neutral appellation? And when did it first come into use?

Time for some research!
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Merriam-Webster says this about the word's background:
Flibbertigibbet is one of many incarnations of the Middle English word flepergebet, meaning "gossip" or "chatterer." (Others include "flybbergybe," "flibber de' Jibb," and "flipperty-gibbet.") It is a word of onomatopoeic origin, created from sounds that were intended to represent meaningless chatter. Shakespeare apparently saw a devilish aspect to a gossipy chatterer; he used "flibbertigibbet" in King Lear as the name of a devil. This use never caught on, but the devilish connotation of the word reappeared over 200 years later when Sir Walter Scott used "Flibbertigibbet" as the nickname of an impish urchin in the novel Kenilworth. The impish meaning derived from Scott's character was short-lived and was laid to rest by the 19th-century's end, leaving us with only the "silly flighty person" meaning.

World Wide Words provides a time frame for the early incarnation (1450 for fleper-gebet), adding "It started out to mean a gossip or chattering person, but quickly seems to have taken on the idea of a flighty or frivolous woman."

The Online Etymological Dictionary also pins this word on the fairer sex, providing as a definition: "chattering gossip, flighty woman."

The Word Detective also dives into the word's use and background, noting that flibbertigibbet first appeared in print in 1549, and going on to say, that, while it is, strictly speaking, a gender-neutral word, "in practice it is, and long has been, usually applied to women." The post concludes, somewhat snidely:
The air-brained motormouths among us have given us more than just “flibbertigibbet,” of course.  The words “babble,” “prattle” and “chatter” all also originated as onomatopoeic attempts to replicate the sound of someone who has nothing to say but simply will not shut up.
I guess I'd better conclude this post or stand accused of running on at the mouth, which would make me a...

... well, you know.


Equal opportunity for flibbertigibbets!
Gossip, by Eugene de Blaas (1903) - Christie's, Public Domain, Link

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: In one's cups


Good buddy Dani Greer directed my attention to the phrase in his cups, and once my focus settled there, it wouldn't go away... at least not without a little digging!

We all know what the term in his (or her or their) cups means, right? The definition is drunk or intoxicated.

Ah, but that's not all!

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According to the Word Detective, it can also mean to simply be imbibing. Only WD explains this much more engagingly:
There are actually two meanings to the phrase “in his cups” (which can be rendered, of course, just as well with “her,” “their,” or, in case one encounters a drunken robot, “its”). “In one’s cups” can mean inebriated (i.e., drunk as a skunk), but it can also mean merely to be engaged in drinking alcoholic beverages, an endeavor which will not necessarily culminate in drooling on parking meters. This sense appears a bit earlier than the “stinking drunk” sense.
The post also notes that the idiom first appeared in printed form in 1611, in the King James Version of the Bible (“And when they are in their cups, they forget their love both to friends and brethren”).

WD also mentions the book Drunk: The Definitive Drinker’s Dictionary by Paul Dickson (Hmmm.... Guess what book I plan to add to my library?? You guessed it!)

The Online Etymological Dictionary adds a little bit of additional etymological history:
To be in one's cups "intoxicated" is from 1610s (Middle English had cup-shoten "drunk, drunken," mid-14c.).

So, there you go! Feel free to raise a cup (or glass or some other container) of your favorite beverage along with me, even if it isn't alcoholic in nature, to celebrate knowing more about the phrase in one's cups.


via GIPHY
In one's cups? I think the more appropriate term for this illustration might be getting potted...

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Strike a chord (and NEWS!)



I am happy to see that A DYING NOTE strikes a chord with so many readers. To see what I'm talking about, check out the news at the end of this post.

But first:

Strike a chord.

Obviously a musical term, but when did it first come into use as an idiom? Hmmmm.
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According to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer, strike a chord (definition: trigger a feeling or memory) alludes to striking the strings of keys of a musical instrument. If I want to strike an "emotional" chord in my 1880s fictional world, I'm good to go! The expression came into use in the first half of the 1800s.

What a lovely image! It also just happens to "strike a chord"  with regards to the next book in my Silver Rush series: MORTAL MUSIC (coming February 2020).
The Mondona Singer (1884) by Giovanni Boldini - http://www.wikiart.org/en/giovanni-boldini/the-mondona-singer-1884, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38385417

Now... for my news:
I'm thrilled to tell you that A DYING NOTE has racked up a couple more mystery award nominations:
Finalist for the Macavity/Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery, presented by Mystery Readers International. Macavity winners will be announced at Bouchercon in Dallas, TX, on Oct. 31.
 
Finalist for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for Mystery. Winners and runners-up will be announced at Killer Nashville in Franklin, TN, Tennessee, on Aug. 24



And there's more!
I am honored to be an inductee to the Colorado Authors' Hall of Fame. A red carpet awards ceremony will be held Sept. 14, in Denver, CO. The ceremony is open to the public. The complete list of inductees and tickets are available here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Whippersnapper


Just the other day I was bemoaning that I didn't have the energy I once had when I was a young whippersnapper. Well, you can probably guess what happened next!
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I recalled my grandmother (and mother) calling overly energetic children whippersnappers. Thinking about it now, I wondered if the word evolved from stagecoach days, from drivers snapping their whips when they wanted their horses to speed it up.

Sounds reasonable, right?

But I was wrong!

According to the Phrase Finder:
... 'Whipper snappers' were known by various names, all of them derived from the habit of young layabouts of hanging around snapping whips to pass the time. Originally these ne'er-do-wells were known simply, and without any great linguistic imagination, as 'whip snappers'. This term merged with an existing 17th century term for street rogues - 'snipper snappers', to become 'whipper snapper'. Christopher Marlowe mentions 'snipper snapper' in the 1604 edition of The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus, when referring to a 'hey-pass', which is what street jugglers were known as in Marlowe's day.
But I'll seeke out my Doctor... O yonder is his snipper snapper... You, hey-pass, where's your master?

The meaning of 'whipper snapper' has altered over the years, originally referring to a young man with no apparent get up and go, to be applied to a youngster with an excess of both ambition and impudence.

Okay, so when did the snipper-snapper and whip-snapper merge into whippersnapper? And when did the definition do a one-eighty, from "no ambition" to "too much ambition?" Because if I'm using one version in my fiction when the earlier version applied... or using it before it even existed... Well, better to find out now than never.

I used ngram to pull up some 19th century references, and found this in Gossip by Henry Morley, from 1859:



This passage definitely uses the word in the more modern sense: young, foolish, full of energy. So, I'm safe in having my 1880s characters growl over those foolish young whippersnappers.


When I think of the term "whippersnapper," I think of this.
The Old Stage-Coach of the Plains (1901) by Frederic Remington [Public domain]

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Fast and loose


The phrase to play fast and loose has a certain verbal momentum or swing to it that matches its Merriam-Webster definitions: Fast and loose—1. in a reckless or irresponsible manner 2. in a craftily deceitful way

All well and good, but where does this bit of slang come from? And how old is it? I'll let you ponder for a moment, then tell you...
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ponder ponder
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Pondering time is up!

According to a nifty little book I have on my shelves, Heavens to Betsy! and Other Curious Sayings by Charles Earle Funk, fast and loose is the name of an old cheating game, dating to the 16th century.
 
Phrase Finder adds some details about to play fast and loose:
This derives from an old deception or cheating game in which something that appears stuck (fast) easily becomes loose. It is nicely defined in James Halliwell's A dictionary of archaic and provincial words, obsolete phrases, proverbs and ancient customs, from the fourteenth century, 1847:
"Fast-and-loose, a cheating game played with a stick and a belt or string, so arranged that a spectator would think he could make the latter fast by placing a stick through its intricate folds, whereas the operator could detach it at once." 
Heavens to Betsy adds that the game must have been known long before the 19th century, given that its metaphorical use—to say one thing and do another; to be slippery as an eel; to have loose morals—appears in Tottel's Miscellany, 1557: "Of a new maried studient that plaied fast or loose." (i.e., was unfaithful).

Added to that is this quote from Shakespeare's King John (1595):
Heaven knows, they were besmear'd and over-stain'd
With slaughter's pencil, where revenge did paint
The fearful difference of incensed kings:
And shall these hands, so lately purged of blood,
So newly join'd in love, so strong in both,
Unyoke this seizure and this kind regreet?
Play fast and loose with faith?...
Fast and Loose is also the title of a 1939 thriller movie in which two rare-book sellers try to solve a murder that hinges on a missing scrap of a William Shakespeare manuscript.

Sounds like a possibility for movie night at home!

If you can find this movie online, you, too, could play fast and loose!
By MGM - source, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38286457

Monday, July 15, 2019

News Flash!

Interrupting the week to announce A DYING NOTE is a finalist for the Will Rogers Medallion Award in the "Western Maverick" category.
According to the letter I received, the Western Maverick category is a new one, "honoring books that do not easily fit into another category, but which are deserving of recognition as outstanding works."
What can I say? I'm honored beyond words (and also pretty darn tickled and proud to be considered a maverick...)!
Winners will be announced at the 2019 Award Ceremony, Saturday, October 26th, 2019, at Los Vaqueros Restaurant in the Ft. Worth Stockyards.