Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Aprosexia

This week's word is not really slang, but a medical term from the late 19th century that applies perfectly to today's world...

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According to The Little Book of Lost Words by Joe Gillard, aprosexia is defined as "a complete inability to focus or concentrate due to a distracted, wandering mind." I found a lovely reference to it, in the 1889 Annual of the Universal Medical Science and Analytical Index, Volume 4, to wit:

(You can read Dr. Guye's medical paper here, in the Sept. 28, 1889, issue of The British Medical Journal.) 

Whereas physicians from the past blamed this distracted state on "nasal disorders," nowadays it's ascribed to our fixation with social media, smart phones, Netflix... well, you get the idea.

Does this expression look familiar?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I'd investigate this fascinating word further, but I'm definitely suffering from aprosexia today, so I think I'll take a break and go find some chocolate to eat instead.

By Emily boston - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47278239

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Catnap (by DMcC)

Hello all... My assistant slang-o-rama-ist, the euphonious DMcC (aka Devyn McConachie), returns with another post for your edification. Enjoy! - Ann

Devyn McConachie is a designer-editor-cartoonist, currently lurking about Portland, Oregon. Were it not for her wobbly landlubber legs and love of indoor-living, she would absolutely have taken up a career as a sea-pirate. Landlocked as she is, she instead fills her days with graphic design, animation, illustration, and copy editing.
For more info and to view her visual portfolio, visit this here link
 She also has an Etsy shop (arts, hats, and cards) right here 
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As the days stretch longer and warmer, filled with buzzing of bees and rustling of leaves, I find myself more and more often nodding off in the afternoon, dazedly daydreaming of a sweet siesta... 

And I’m not alone—Ann’s office assistant, the Diva Miss Mia, is well-known for her slumbering prowess. With a snooze after every meal and regular dozes in the office, she’s always sleeping on the job. She is, undoubtedly, a master of the cat-nap.

The skilled snoozer, the Diva Miss Mia, prepares to catch her forty furry winks.

Now there’s a word! Before my eyelids droop too far, let’s see where cat-napping came from... 

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 The Online Etymology Dictionary defines the noun cat-nap (also spelled catnap or cat’s nap) as “a short, light sleep,” which was first recorded in 1823; cat-nap as a verb emerged in 1859.

As I was prowling the web for more snooze clues, I came across an interesting tidbit of research: most animals have polyphasic sleep patterns, meaning that they sleep in more than one chunk each day. And according to research by historian A. Roger Ekirch, until relatively recently, we humans were polyphasic, too.

While studying letters, legal documents, medical records, and other written miscellany from before the Industrial Revolution, Ekrich came across the terms first sleep and second sleep. From context, he concluded that these were distinct periods of nighttime slumber, each lasting three or four hours, and with an hour or so of wakefulness in between. Those wee waking hours could be used for keeping watch, telling stories, interpreting dreams, committing petty crime, and any number of other activities.

How about that—two cat-naps a day, plus time to play!

-- But is she on her first or second sleep?
The Sleeping Beauty - Edward Burn-Jones, 1870-1890

And our snoozing tendencies didn’t stop with the Industrial Revolution. Consider the classic Mediterranean siesta (from the Latin sexta, or “sixth hour”), a post-lunch doze, popular in warm climates. Or how about the Japanese inemuri, the face-planting snooze of the exhausted and overworked?

Perhaps you’ve also heard of the power nap, a 10-30 minute daylight snooze (sometimes supplemented with a strong dose of coffee) for optimized productivity and cognitive performance. Somehow, though, the term power nap doesn’t hold the same appeal to me as the luxuriously lazy-sounding cat-nap.

So although the language has changed, perhaps we’ve always been catnappers at heart. As usual, maybe those cats know something that we don’t…

Two catnapping experts, hard at work.
Sleeping Girl (Girl With a Cat) - Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama Redux and News Flash: Knock me down with a feather


I have news to share, and an idiom to go with it...

MORTAL MUSIC, the seventh book in my Silver Rush series, has been nominated for the 2021 Macavity / Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery

When I heard about this, well, you could have knocked me down with a feather. Given that MORTAL MUSIC was released just before the pandemic hit, I felt sure people were focused on things other than reading (things like stocking up on toilet paper and researching where to buy hand sanitizer and jigsaw puzzles). So yes, I am surprised, but happily so, and honored to be included with such a fine group of Macavity nominees!

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As for knock me down (or over) with a feather, yep, I already looked at this idiom at the end of 2018. But I kinda forgot about all that in my excitement, and researched it all again, so pardon the (partial) repetition below.

In this discussion in Quora, one responder noted its written appearance in Porcupine's Works; Containing Various Writings and Selections, Exhibiting a Faithful Picture of the United States of America, Volume 4 by William Cobbett, in 1801. Another pointed to a StackExchange exchange, which mentions the same Cobbett reference (with a slightly earlier date of 1796), and an even earlier variant—beat me down with a feather—in Samuel Richardson's Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740). And of course, as someone else pointed out, once you see a phrase like this in print, you know it has probably been circulating for a while in the spoken word.

Defined as "extremely astonished, surprised" by Merriam-Webster Online, I'd say knocked down with a feather sums up exactly how I feel right now.

And if you are wondering, "Who is Sue Feder?" this 2006 post from The Rap Sheet provides a little background on her, and why there is an award in her honor.

Knocked down with a feather, perhaps? (It's a mystery!)
Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill by Pieter Claesz (Dutch, Berchem? 1596/97–1660 Haarlem), 1628.  Medium: Oil on wood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Limey (by guest author Camille Minichino)


Please welcome today's guest, author and good buddy Camille Minichino, she of many authorial pen names, including her latest, Elizabeth Logan. Her (that is, Elizabeth's) newest book is MURPHY'S SLAW in her Alaskan Diner Series. For more about Camille and her work, check out her website at http://www.minichino.com/

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Uh-oh, another rather unpleasant medical story, after last week’s collywobbles

 Here’s a reminder of our susceptibility to disease throughout history: the story of scurvy, and eventually, the origin of the term limey to describe an Englishman.

 Early explorers called scurvy the "scourge of the sea." The disease was widespread during the Victorian era, causing ulcers, gum disorders, and blackened skin from internal hemorrhaging. According to historian Stephen Bown, scurvy was responsible for more deaths at sea than storms, shipwrecks, combat, and all other diseases combined.

The precise cause had been a mystery until Royal Navy surgeon James Lind stepped in.

In May of 1747, the Scottish doctor began groundbreaking clinical testing and showed that diet, specifically vitamin deficiency, was involved. He saw to adding lemon or lime juice to the sailors’ diet. Lind is credited with the successful treatment and cure.

 By the 1800s, the term limey was used for British sailors, then English immigrants. It eventually made its way to the U. S., where its use was extended to describe any Englishman.

As an example of its non-derogatory use, an 1824 Chicago Tribune article used the term to describe Professor William A Craigie, an editor of the OED.

Still, it might be wise to refrain from using the term unless you’re sure whom you are addressing.

"ACK! Scurvy! We need citrus and we need it now!"
Nocturne by James Abbott McNeill Whistler - Artdaily.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11704020

Dr. James Lind: "Orange you glad to see me??"
By Sir George Chalmers, c 1720-1791 - [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32922810 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Collywobbles

 I had occasion to use the word collywobbles today, and as is my wont, I began to muse over it. Colly... wobbles... 

Besides just having a nice ring to it, it sounds like a very ancient word. Medieval, even.

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However, Dictionary.com dates it to 1815-ish or so, and provides two definitions (1) intestinal cramps or other intestinal disturbances; or (2) a feeling of fear, apprehension, or nervousness.

I had the second definition in mind, thinking nervous, apprehension = wobbly knees or some such. Diving a little deeper into the vast Internet sea, I pulled up this from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

"nauseated feeling, disordered indisposition in the bowels," 1823, probably a fanciful formation from colic and wobble. Perhaps suggested by cholera morbus.

For those who are curious, as I was, here's a definition of cholera morbus from the National Institute of Health:

An old term that is no longer used in the scientific literature. Cholera morbus refers to acute GASTROENTERITIS occurring in summer or autumn; characterized by severe cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. 

Oh ugh! And I thought having the collywobbles just meant being kind of anxious.

You can read all kinds of fascinating collywobbles quotes in Green's Dictionary of Slang right here. My favorite is this from Albert Smith's The Medical Student in 1861:

...It is absolutely necessary to preserve his health, and keep him from getting the collywobbles in his pandenoodles. 

Pandenoodles??

Sounds like a good one for a future Slang-o-rama post...

I think I know how she feels...
The physiognomy of mental diseases, by Sir Alexander Morison, 1843
CC-BY-4.0






Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Landlubber

 

Being landlocked and far away from ocean's edge, does that make me a landlubber? And what's a lubber, anyway?

Let's find out!

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According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

landlubber (n.) also land-lubber, "A useless long-shorer; a vagrant stroller. Applied by sailors to the mass of landsmen, especially those without employment" [W.H. Smyth, "The Sailor's Word-book"], c. 1700, from land (n.) + lubber (q.v.).

Wow, circa 1700. This term goes back a ways, which I'm always happy to see. But I still have no clue as to what lubber entails. However, OED has a link for me to follow:

lubber (n.) mid-14c., "big, clumsy, stupid fellow who lives in idleness," from lobre, earlier lobi "lazy lout," probably of Scandinavian origin (compare Swedish dialectal lubber "a plump, lazy fellow"). But OED suggests a possible connection with Old French lobeor "swindler, parasite," with sense altered by association with lob (n.) in the "bumpkin" sense. Sometimes also Lubbard (1580s), with pejorative suffix -ard. Since 16c. mainly a sailors' word for those inept or inexperienced at sea (as in landlubber), but earliest attested use is of lazy monks (abbey-lubber). Compare also provincial English lubberwort, name of the mythical herb that produces laziness (1540s), Lubberland "imaginary land of plenty without work" (1590s).

As a verb, lubber, meaning "to sail clumsily; to loaf about,"  dates to the 1520s.

PhraseFinder has a bit more, if you're interested.

I guess I should be careful whom I call a landlubber from now on.

Oh those landlubbers. Can't trust 'em.
By Unknown author or not provided - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17220889

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Gallivant

With the lifting of various pandemic restrictions, it seems that many folks are eager to gallivant—that is (according to Merriam-Webster) "to travel, roam, or move about for pleasure."  A second, older definition that might also apply: "to go about usually ostentatiously or indiscreetly with members of the opposite sex."

Older, eh? And just how old, and from what corner of the etymological realm does gallivant hail?

Let us found out...

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Merriam-Webster has this explanation:

Back in the 14th century, a young man of fashion (or a ladies' man) was called a gallant. By the late 1600s, gallant was being used as a verb to describe the process a paramour used to win a lady's heart; to gallant became a synonym of "to court." Etymologists think that the spelling of the verb gallant was altered to create gallivant, which originally meant "to act as a gallant."

World Wide Words notes that gallivant hints of galloping about in frolicsome high spirits, and offers up an early Oxford English Dictionary definition: "to gad about in a showy fashion." Gad, it turns out, originates from gadling, an obsolete German word for a vagabond.

But I digress.

Turning to the Online Etymological Dictionary, I discover to my glee that they also reference the "gad about" definition, and provide a date for gallivant: 1809.

So, if you go gallivanting or gadding about, do take care and follow the precautions set out by various health organizations. We're not out of the pandemic woods yet!

Should you a-gallivanting go, be sure to wear your mask...
Masked Party in a Courtyard by Pietro Longhi, 1755 (St. Louis Art Museum)