Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Reviewers say THE SECRET IN THE WALL is a "delight"

Interrupting Slang-o-rama this week to announce that Santa arrived early for me this year with two wonderful reviews of THE SECRET IN THE WALL from major review publications Kirkus Reviews and Publishers WeeklyKirkus Reviews sums up with:

"A convoluted mystery, based on true events and replete with rich period detail, that’s a delight to read."

(You can read the full Kirkus review here, but be aware: spoilers lurk within.) The Publishers Weekly review (also containing some spoilers) notes:

"Appealing characters match satisfying puzzles. Historical fans will be delighted."

"Delight" seems to be the watchword for this, the eighth book in my Silver Rush series. And truly, I could not be more delighted!

Can be pre-ordered from all the usual places (release date: mid-February 2022).
Go to my home page and scroll down for "buy" links.





Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Spuddle

 Whew, Thanksgiving is officially in the rear-view mirror. However, other late fall/early winter holidays and celebratory occasions are tumbling in and I feel like I'm dashing about (at least, mentally) without getting much done. In other words, I'm spuddling around.

As for spuddle, this is what I have to say about that...

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I first saw spuddle on Facebook, where writer/good buddy Dani Greer posted the graphic below:

I decided sighting this word must be a Slang-o-rama sign from the Universe. Gathering what little energy I had, I poked around the internet and found spuddle listed as a "word of the day" on For Reading Addicts. I then bumped into it on Dictionary.net, which referred me to Wiktionary, which led me to a lengthy entry in Joseph Wright's The English Dialect Dictionary (1905). This last provided a number of definitions, some of which involve digging in the ground and plowing. At that point, I decided I was done digging for information on spuddle... at least, for now.

Welcome to December! May any/all of your celebrations be of the non-spuddling sort.

Must recover now, so I can do more than spuddle for Christmas
The Tired Dancer, by John Reinhard Weguelin (1879)
Internet, Public Domain
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61888403






Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: From scratch

Here in the U.S. of A. today, many folks are no doubt making last-minute dashes to the grocery stores for foodstuffs and items for Thanksgiving on Thursday. Some will be grabbing pre-made goodies, while others (bless 'em) will be starting from scratch.

From scratch. Hmmmm. Have you ever wondered about that expression? I am wondering now, at any rate. How old is it? And did it arise from the world of cooking/baking, or something else?

Let's find out.

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According to Merriam-Webster, "to create something from scratch is to make it without any ingredients or materials prepared ahead of time. The scratch in from scratch originally referred to the starting line of a race "scratched" into the ground, from which all runners would be starting without a head start." So, basically, from scratch springs from sports-talk, then moved on over to refer to the realms of cooking and building.

The Phrase Finder notes that "the first person who is recorded as starting from scratch was participating in 'pedestrianism' - what we would now call running." The phrase appears in the British sporting newspaper The Era, in a report on a handicap running event in Sheffield in December 1853:

 The match on the Hyde Park Ground, Sheffield... has already created quite a furore of excitement among the sporting men of the North. The manner in which the men have been handicapped [is]: James Pudney (of Mile-end) and James Sherdon (of Sheffield), start from scratch; John Syddall, six yards; Richard Conway, twelve; John Saville, twenty...

From running to cooking is a ways to go. Well, I could probably be persuaded to run to the dining table for a piece of pumpkin pie made from scratch.

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving!






Wednesday, November 17, 2021

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


Please give three cheers for the return of my assistant Slang-o-rama-ist, Devyn McC! Devyn is a designer-editor-cartoonist, currently lurking near Portland, OR. Examples of Devyn’s work can be found at this here link and in the Slang-o-Rama archive.

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I'm not sure if it's the change in weather, the continued isolation, the new desk (our apartment now officially has 2.5 desks per resident—what can I say, I suppose we're deskaholics), or simply a shift of mood, but lately my brain has been a mess! 

Social media beckons, with glowing apps tempting my unfocused fingers; the fridge hums, heaving under the burden of untasted snacks; an ever-growing pile of unread books teeters next to the bed; my second-and-a-half desk wobbles fiercely, in need of a new screw… It seems that my home, like my brain, has become higgledy-piggledy mayhem.

This is what my brain/desk feels like.
https://www.pexels.com/photo/pile-of-covered-books-159751/

Now there's a thought (and a welcome distraction from my disaster of a deskspace). Whereabouts did higgledy-piggledy come from? And whence? And wherefore? And how many pigs are involved?

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Let's start with definitions, as provided by the Collins Dictionary

  1. adverb: in disorder; in jumbled confusion 
  2. adjective: jumbled; confused

 Well, my desk could have told you that much! (If only I could find it under all these papers…) Collins also notes that the term arose around 1590–1600, with origin unknown.

As I rooted for etymological clues, I found one of the earliest recorded uses of higgledy-piggledy in John Florio's 1598 text A Worlde of Wordes, nestled in the definition for alla rappa: "snatchingly, higledi-pigledie, shistingly, rap and run." Entertaining, but alas, not clarifying on the "pig" puzzle.

A (guinea) pig on the desk! That explains the mess…
https://pixabay.com/photos/animal-guinea-pig-pet-cute-rodent-4988403/

The Phrase Finder notes that higgledy-piggledy is a reduplicated phrase, which uses partial repetition for amusing effect. (Regular Slang-o-rama readers might recall seeing reduplication mentioned in shilly-shally, fiddle-faddle, argy-bargy, and pish-posh.) The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that H…-P... reduplications—as in higgledy-piggledy and hanky-panky—are quite common, with many dating to the 16th century, which lines up with John Florio's text. However, Phrase Finder, the Wiktionary, and most other dictionaries I scoured claim that it's uncertain whether or not higgledy-piggledy actually has anything at all to do with pigs. (Hogwash, I say!)

On another linguistic note, the Phrase Finder also mentions higgledy-piggledy is unusual among reduplication words, because it uses a full three syllables per word, as well as being a double-dactyl. (No relation to pterodactyls, alas…) A single dactyl is a word or phrase where the first syllable is stressed, followed by two unstressed syllables (HIGG-le-dy); a double-dactyl combines two dactyls (HIGG-le-dy PIGG-le-dy), and is a popular metre form for poems and nursery rhymes.

Speaking of nursery rhymes… In my digging, I came across one by the writer Samuel Griswold Goodrich (aka Peter Barley), who was known for being "an ardent opponent of nursery rhymes [who] nearly succeeded in having them banned, along with fairy tales, from the more expensive nurseries of both England and America" (quoted from user "Wizard of Oz" at wordwizard.com). In an attempt to besmirch the rhyming craft, Goodrich once declared: "Anybody, even a child, could make one up. Listen! 

 Higglety, pigglety, pop! 

The dog has eaten the mop; 

The pig’s in a hurry, 

The cat’s in a flurry, 

Higglety, pigglety, pop!" 

 Funnily enough? This poetic satire later become the central verse of a truly delightful children's book:

Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life
written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/61c76Xrp+7L.jpg

This classic features the exploits of Jennie, a small and hairy and intriguingly unsatisfied pooch (based on Sendak's real-life pet). She leaves home with naught but her nose in the air and a basket of snacks under her paw, looking for greener pastures and sweeter pastries elsewhere. And yes, it does involve mishap with a mop.

There's also a short film of the same name that was released in 2010, which I think perfectly captures the peculiarity of the book:

 

Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life from NFB/marketing on Vimeo.

With that, I feel we've found a good note to end on. I wasn't able to root out any satisfiably swine-related sources for higgledy-piggledy, and my desk isn't any cleaner, but my curiosity has been sated for now.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: The cat's pajamas (and a hurrah for MORTAL MUSIC)

I was looking up lists of cat- and dog-related sayings and slang when I bumped into the cat's pajamas. Cats... and pajamas? What a strange pairing. When, how, and why did it come about?

So, off I went, a-searching for more.

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(Randi Platt's Slang-o-Matic would certainly come in handy for this!)

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Merriam-Webster defines this phrase as "a highly admired or exceptionally excellent person or thing," and dates it to 1922. Wiktionary notes that the cat's pajamas became popular at the same time that phrases such as the bee's knees, cat's whiskers, and so on gained prominence. Wiktionary also referenced a New York Time's article from November 6, 1922, titled "Pajama Girl and Cats Out" in which a young woman in silk pajamas was spotted strolling along Fifth Avenue, leading four similarly-clad cats on leashes. I'd love to do a screen capture of that short article and put it here, but unsure about copyright issues, I'll just offer the link to the article and hope you can view it yourself.

The Phrase Finder also has a nice post on the cat's pajamas, adding an earlier sighting of the sentence "Wouldn't that beat the cat's pajamas?" in a February 1918 edition of The Pageland Journal, a South Carolina newspaper. Phase Finder also notes that cat was flapper slang for fashionable young woman, and that the phrase the cat's pajamas was so fashionable in the 1920s, it was attached to "a dance, a stage show, a song, a film, even the name of a style of furry underwear." (Oh my!)

By Paramount Pictures - Motion Picture News
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57788679


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Extra! Extra! MORTAL MUSIC Wins Silver

I'm excited to announce that MORTAL MUSIC received the "Silver" (second place) Will Rogers Medallion Award in the Maverick category! I was unable to attend the ceremony, but it was recorded. You can view it on YouTube and hear/see what they say about the book at the 36:25 mark. My favorite quote from the one-minute segment: "Inez Stannert is one of the most memorable characters to grace the pages of a western novel." 

Now isn't THAT the cat's pajamas! :-)

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.... Late-breaking bonus! I found a piano rendition of the 1920s tune "The Cat's Pajamas" on YouTube. So, if your day could use a little toe-tapping music, click below and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Slang-o-Matic Extravaganza by Guest Author Randall Platt

Please welcome honored guest author and serious slang aficionado, Randall Platt (aka "that Platt woman").  So just who is this Randall Platt?
Taking the words right from her mouth: She writes fiction for adults and young adults and people who don’t own up to being either. A three-time winner of the WILLA Literary award for young adult fiction, she has been a finalist for the Washington State Book Award three times, in addition to winning several other state and national awards. Check out her three latest novels, all dripping with slang! 
Her books are available at bookstores everywhere and online outlets galore, but, as Randi points out, it sure is good to support your local indie bookstore. She adds, "I am on Facebook, but only as a real person, not a writer—not that a writer can’t be a real person, too. I guess." www.plattbooks.com

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Thanks for the guest spot, Ann! 

When folks learn about my passion for slang and the resulting interactive database I created, which I call Slang-O-Matic, the first thing they ask is, ‘How did this monstrosity all come about?’ Honestly? It all came about with a book review. The reviewer had questioned some terms I used in my first novel, The Four Arrows Fe-As-Ko (1992) about four mentally and physically challenged adults running the largest cattle ranch in Eastern Oregon. I did my due diligence and researched the heck out of the language of the day, the situation, and the people. From that point on, I decided I would create a database of the terms I used, especially since that novel was the first book in a three-book series. I was able to keep the language and the slanguage consistent from book to book. Handy, huh?
Gosh, I sure like Slang-O-Matic. I can’t wait to say THAT to Mom!

Well, as with many things in a writer’s life, my database took on much larger proportions and grew with each subsequent novel involving other eras and situations. I finally trademarked my tag line:
Slang-O-Matic—for the color of our speech.
Because we don’t speak,
nor should we write,
in black and white. 

What’s interesting to me as I explore the ‘history’ of a term, is how the internet and social media and of course, television and film, changed how a term can come into being and spread in an instant. Slang from the 19th Century and earlier took about ten years to ‘make the rounds.’ Today, a word can come in and out of favor within days. And of course, we writers need to be aware of that and make sure our readers of tomorrow will understand the slang of today. Conversely, readers of today might not understand the slang of yesterday. Proceed with caution. Everything needs to be in context.
Wow, according to Slang-O-Matic, there are over 174 references to coke
and not one of them referring to what’s in my hand.
Take for instance the common word ‘bug.’ According to Slang-O-Matic, there are 135 slang entries that contain ‘bug.’ It can mean anything from a bribe, to annoy, a crazy person, a cheating device, a jockey’s weight allowance, a tie pin, a bad student, a germ, to a strong desire to cheap tobacco. 

It seems the more taboo a subject is, the more slang surrounds it—take for instance the lower portions of one’s body. I count 221 terms which might be medical slang or street slang or child-speak for such areas and their functions. I will never want for a great slang term for one’s behind or procreation apparatus.

Why call a cab when you can call a ramble, a trip, a coffee grinder, a cracker box, a flapdoodle, a jarvey, or a jar box? Why call a drunk a drunk when you can choose from alki stiff, belch-guts, blossom-nose, boozington, bottle baby, croak, dipso, gin head, glow worm, light-house (big glowing red nose), soak, swillpot, malt-worm, drain pipe, or my personal favorite, a lush merchant? 

Folks usually wonder how I use my database for my own work. Since I have eight fields of information for each of my 43,000 (and counting) entries, I can easily manipulate the database for my needs. For instance, I am current working on book which takes place in the 1930s and my characters are from the fortune telling trades, the banking trades, the radio trades, and the con artistry trades. I have broken terms down to hundreds of categories - so, for this book, I call up slang and cant from the banking, carnival, con artist, and radio industries. Then I sort the terms by the date and my database returns a list of the terms used from 1920 to 1940, to cover the approximate timeline of my novel. So, if my conservative banking character needs to delicately refer to a woman as a whore, I can chose from my list of over 375 terms for ‘whore’: 
  • pro skirt 
  • QT cutie 
  • trick babe 
  • charity girl 
  • soft lady 
  • two-by-four (rhymes with ‘whore’) 
  • soft lady 
  • B-girl 
  • behavior problem 
  • boulevard woman 
  • clever girl 
 Now, my con artist character, being much more worldly and of the streets herself, might refer to that same whore in much less charitable terms, such as 
  • artichoke 
  • blisterine 
  • blowser 
  • brass nail 
  • hat rack 
  • jump 
  • mudkicker 
  • notch girl 
  • round heel 
  • scupper 
See the difference? Fun, huh?
 
So what began as someone questioning some terms I used decades ago as anachronistic, has evolved into those editors, writers, and book reviewers coming to me with their questions. I am certainly not the world’s foremost expert on slang, but I sure as heck know a thing or two by now. I always welcome questions regarding this along with any idea as to how to exploit all this work. 

Help! Before I slang again! 
Oh, dear. Billy’s been reading Slang-O-Matic again!


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Scaredy cat

 Halloween  comes a-creepin' on little cat feet (apologies to Carl Sandberg and his poem Fog), so delving into the phrase scaredy cat seems very appropriate.

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Scaredy cat was a common childhood taunt when I was growing up. However, I suspect this term, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as "an unduly fearful person," is much older than mid-20th century. Sure enough, M-W dates it to 1904. The Online Etymological Dictionary punts it forward a couple of years to 1906. Idiom Origins says this "children's slang" first appeared in 1930. Whaaaat?? Time to consult Google Ngram, methinks. 

From there, the earliest I could find was 1906, in the children's book Billy Bounce, by Dudley A. Bragdon, in the following passage.

WordSense credits Dorothy Parker with coining the phrase in 1933, in her short piece,"The Waltz." However, Billy Bounce in 1906 clearly beats her to it.

In any case, scaredy cat is not as "old" as I'd like it to be (here's hoping I haven't used it in one of my Silver Rush books somewhere!), but still far older than I am.

Wishing you a peaceful Halloween, and keep your pets safe! No scaredy cats or scaredy dogs, please. 

Image by YuliaSlept from Pixabay






Image by YuliaSlept from Pixabay