Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: When the usual four-letter words just aren't good enough


Sometimes a little cursing (or a lot) is in order, and the usual four-letter words (with an occasional five- or seven-letter word) just don't cut it. Well, don't despair, because this week's slang-o-rama is here to help you get creative with your swearing and insults!

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To my mind, Shakespeare wears the crown as the king of insult. Peruse his plays, and you'll see what I mean. Next time some politician gets your goat, try snarling "There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune." (Henry IV Part 1, Act 3, Scene 3) or "Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows." (Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 1) and see if you don't feel better!

There are also many random Shakespearean (or Elizabethian) insult generators.

Like the sound of  "Thou venomed guts-griping popinjay!"? Then I invite you to check out the Shakespearean Insulter.

How about "Thou are an ordinary maltworm!" For similar invectives, head over to Shakespeare's Insult Generator.

If you need multiple insults to choose from (or maybe just a whole bunch of folks you'd like to unload on), then there's the Elizabethan Curse Generator, where you can ask for any number of curses at one time... 10, 100, 1000... go for it! (I am particularly fond of "Thou craven plume-plucked jolthead!")

Have kids around, so want to "watch your language?" Then you might want to try something like the Fantasy Swear Word Generator, which throws out such marvels as "Shoodlepoppers!" "Friscuit!" and "Feeble pheasant!" 

This is all well and good, but what about my favorite timeframe, the 19th century West? Well, there are some dandy expressions that might come in handy, courtesy of this "Buddies in the Saddle" blog post, including "Go to Halifax!" (which apparently Scarlett said to Rhett in Gone with the Wind).

You can find some lovely expressions in the High Country News post "Rants from the Hill: How to Cuss in Western" (Note to self: find a place in latest book to accuse someone of being a "no count flannel mouth chiseling chuckleheaded gadabout coffee boiler.")

However, for a jaw-dropping horrific you'll-never-come-back-from-this-one curse, I think the The Great Monition of Cursing by Gavin Dunbar, the Archbishop of Glasgow on the border reivers of 1525 wins, hands down. You can read the entire curse (in the Scottish vernacular with "approximate" current-day English translation) here, starting on page 5. I'll have to say, it's a pretty comprehensive curse, putting all our puny, uncreative four-letter-word efforts to shame.


"Them's fightin' words, you gorbellied crook-pated clotpole!"
(Fedor Solntsev, Fist Fight, 1836)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Living the life of Riley


Okay, who is this Riley guy and why is he (and his life) so special?? And where did this phrase come from, anyway? I'm determined to find out.

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According to The Phrase Finder, "the life of Riley" means:
an easy and pleasant life
Well, I want some of that! 

Luckily for me, The Phrase Finder has a long and fascinating article on this saying and its etymology. I'd love to simply repeat everything they say here, but that wouldn't be kosher. So, I will instead pull out some tidbits for your edification.

Here's the first interesting bit:
... The phrase came into common usage around the time of WWI. The first printed citation of 'the life of Riley' (with the easy/carefree meaning of the phrase) that I have found is from the Connecticut newspaper The Hartford Courant, December 1911 - in a piece headed 'Bullet Ends Life of Famous Wild Cow':
The famous wild cow of Cromwell is no more. After "living the life of Riley" for over a year, successfully evading the pitchforks and the bullets of the farmers, whose fields she ravaged in all four seasons.
The quotation marks that the writer added around the phrase are often an indication that the phrase in question isn't familiar to the readership, which is an indication of it being quite recently coined.
The phrase was much used in the military, especially in WWI. The first known citation in that context is in a letter from a Sergeant Leonard A. Monzert of the American Expeditionary Forces 'somewhere in France', an extract of which was published in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on 26th May 1918. In the letter Monzert wrote that he and his pals were 'living the life of Reilly'.
Here's the second bit, which is of special interest to me, given that it references a song from 1883. (The historical mystery book I'm working on is set in 1882 San Francisco.)
... There had been various Victorian music hall songs that had referred to a Reilly who had a comfortable and prosperous life; for example, there's the 1883 song, popularised by the Irish/American singer Pat Rooney - Is That Mr. Reilly? It included in the chorus "Is that Mr. Reilly, of whom they speak so highly?"
And finally, an answer (sort of) to the question: Was Riley "a real person?"
... A scan of a copy of the newspaper the Dublin Weekly Nation, Saturday 14 October 1899 shows that the Riley (and as it turns out it is Reilly, not Riley) was the hero of a popular folk ballad, living exactly the life that would lead to the coining of the phrase we have been seeking.
It's a fascinating article, so I encourage you to check it out, if you are so inclined.

A strong cup of coffee would be a start....




Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Dansy


Too much news input these days is making me feel a little "dansy."

Dansy.... any guesses as to what that might mean?
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This turns out to be an oldie in more ways than one. According to Americanisms, Old and New by John Stephen Farmer (1889):
Dansy—A Pennsylvanian Dutch term used in describing those whose faculties are failing them through old age. Similar in meaning and application to the English "dotty."

That just about sums it up for me! What about you??

By Free Clip Art [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons



Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Pleased as Punch


As sometimes happens, I used a phrase just the other day in conversation, and then began to wonder how it came about and how long it's been around.

Well, turns out, if you are "pleased as punch"...

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... you'd better capitalize the "P." 


Here's why (from The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer ... Link supplied by me):

This term alludes to the character Punch in Punch and Judy shows, who is always very happy when his evil deeds succeed. [mid-1800s]

By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons



Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Hissy fit


If you get in a tizzy, don’t throw a hissy fit.

I looked at the phrase in a tizzy last week, so let’s wrap it up by checking out hissy fit. (Thank you, Linda Harris, for mentioning hissy fit in a Facebook comment.)

This phrase sounds like it dates back a ways, don’t you think? Maybe late 19th century?

Well once again…

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... It ain't necessarily so.

This is what the Phrase Thesaurus has to say about it.
Hissy fit: A temperamental outburst; a tantrum.
And here’s their take on the origin:
The allusion in this expression may be to the hissing and spluttering of such an outburst, or it may simply be a contraction of 'hysterical'. The term originated in the USA in the mid 20th century and is first recorded in a 1934 edition of American Speech: "Hissy is probably provincial slang. I have heard it for eight or ten years. He threw a hissy or He had a hissy means that a person in question was very disturbed and very angry." 'Hissy fit' was little used outside of the USA until the late 20th century. 

According to Ngram, it starts appearing with some regularity around 1970.

The earliest usage I could find (searching Google Books) is… in all places!... in Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, 1954. In 1956, it appears again in The Numbers of Our Days: A Novel by Francis Irby Gwaltney. 

So, once again, I've been snookered by a phrase that sounds at least a century old, but isn't.


Don't call this a hissy fit...
Cartoon caricature of
Christina Rossetti by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1862, showing her having a tantrum after reading The Times review of her poetry. By Dante Gabriel Rossetti - The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 392836, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48516342

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

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


Whoa... sometimes (especially when I go overboard on coffee), I get in a tizzy and can't even think straight.

In a tizzy.

Now, where did that come from? It sounds very 19th century.... but is it?

Time to look around and find out!

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The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer directs me to check out "in a dither." So, I do.

in a dither. Also, all of a dither; in a flutter or tizzy. In a state of tremulous agitation. The noun dither dates from the early 1800s and goes back to the Middle English verb didderen, "to tremble"; in a flutter dates from the mid-1700s; in a tizzy dates from about 1930 and is of uncertain origin.

So, if I want any of my Silver Rush characters to be "in a state of tremulous agitation," I guess they had better be in a dither or in a flutter... forget the tizzy!

Too. Much. Caffeine... puts me in a tizzy. (Edvard Munch, 1893, The Scream, oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard, 91 x 73 cm, National Gallery of Norway)


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama (with an update!): Paint the town red


Hey hey! Get ready to have some fun, because we're gonna paint the town red! (Why? See my update at the bottom of this post.)

But... why red? Why not a nice shade of blue? And the whole town? Really?

Time to dig into this expression and see if we can identify what's going on behind the words...

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The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer has been mighty handy lately. Here's what it says for this bit of slang:
paint the town red. Go on a spree... The precise allusion of this term is disputed. Some believe it refers to setting something on fire; others point to a vague association of the color red with violence. [late 1800s]
A disputed allusion? Late 1800s? (Yikes! Have I used that phrase in my books? And if I did, was I being anachronistic?) Well, let's dig a little more...

The Online Etymological Dictionary has a brief notation under the "paint" entry as follows:
To paint the town (red) "go on a spree" first recorded 1884
Uh oh. 
1884? 
Am I in trouble here? 
I turned to Ngram next (if you haven't come across Ngram before, it's a wonderful way to track the frequency of words and phrases in print over time). 

Eureka!... I found the following reference for "paint the town red" in a July 1882 publication: Historic Magazine and Notes and Queries for Teachers, Pupils, and Practical and Professional Men (N.B. Webster, editor).



What a relief! Finding this reference reassures me that this expression was in use before 1882—and in the West, at that. I am in the clear, and Inez is free to paint the town red, should she so desire!

...Where are they hiding the paintbrushes?
[Zogbaum, R. F. (illus).
New York. Harper's Weekly. 10-16- 1886.]
------------------UPDATE--------------------------------------------------

I'm leaving this post up for an extra week, because I definitely have reason to "paint the town red!"

Specifically, A DYING NOTE won two EVVY awards from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association:
  • First place (gold) award in the Mystery/Crime/Detective Fiction category
  • Second place (silver) award in the Historical Fiction category.
Mystery and history. Gold and silver. Definitely worth celebrating!


To view all the CIPA EVVY award winners, go here and scroll.