Thursday, July 12, 2012

What is "foolscap"?

According to the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, foolscap is a term used to designate stationary.

Foolscap stationary measures from 12 by 15 inches up to 13-1/2 by 17 inches. The most common size is 13 by 16 inches, which is often folded to make pages of 8 by 13 inches. Originally it was a printing paper used in England and got its name from the ancient watermark of a fool's head and cap used to identify the paper. The earliest specimens of paper using the foolscap watermark date back to before the time of Shakespeare.

So, if you want to channel Shakespeare in your writing, try to find some foolscap to write on. It might be fun to use pen and paper, for those who only use a computer.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Good Word for Historical Novels

Since my current fiction is historical mysteries set in ancient Egypt, I thought this would be a great word to share for today, barbarian, thanks to the book, Wicked Words.

Barbarian - an uncouth, uncultured, uncivilized person, especially one who is fierce and brutal. The barbarian is the quintessential outsider. The word comes from barbaros, the ancient Greek term for anyone who couldn't be understood because he didn't speak Greek. It derives ultimately from baba, an Indo-European root that imitates the incoherent speech of a baby. Originally a relatively neutral term for a foreigner, the Greek word began to acquire pejorative connotations following the Persian invasions of Greece under Darius and Xerxes in the fifth century BCE.

Those wacky Greeks; unless you were Greek, you were a barbarian.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What is a "jinx"?

I have always been curious about word origins and this one is a real hoot. According to the book, Wicked Words, jinx has had an interesting transformation.

Jinx is a person or thing believed to bring bad luck; as a verb, to change fate for the worse. However, the word is an Americanism and surprisingly new, dated so far only to 1911. It is apparently a misspelling of the word jynx, which is the name of an Old World bird, also called the wryneck (from the way it writhes its head and neck when disturbed). A member of the woodpecker family, the jynx was thought to have magical powers. Witches used its feathers in making love philtres and other potions, with the result that by the sixteenth century the bird's name was synonymous with "charm" or "spell." Thus, it seems, the jynx became a jinx.

What a great word to work into a novel, either as the bird, or a magical potion.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Favourite Word

I have always liked the word, minion, so I decided to do a little investigating. According to the book, Wicked Words, here is a little something about my favourite word.

minion. A subordinate or follower, usually contemptuous. . . . The word has enjoyed much better meanings in the past. It comes from the French mignon, dainty, which is also responsible for the filet mignon steak. A minion originally -- going back to the early sixteenth century -- was a beloved object, as a lady-love or darling. In time, the term was transferred to paramours, mistresses, obsequious attendants and dependents at court, then to hussies, jades, and other servile creatures -- with the result that the original estimable sense has been almost entirely lost.

What a fun word to use, in its original sense, in a historical novel.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Phantom Words

One reason I collect dictionaries and writing reference books is to add to my knowledge. One thing I have learned, even with those large, unabridged dictionaries, not all words make it into the dictionary. Why? It may be the word is too specialised and has fallen into disuse. And, I have just such a word for you today, deucer.

According to the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, deuce comes from both the Latin (duo) and French (deux), both meaning "two." But the word "deucer" has a number of meanings, the most common is that it can be used as another word for a two-dollar bill. In underworld slang, it is a person serving a two-year sentence in jail. Baseball jargon uses it to mean either a two-base hit or the second game of a double-header. In racing circles, it is the horse that finishes second. In circus and vaudeville, it is slang for the second spot on the bill.

So, though you may be hard pressed to find deucer in a dictionary, it is a word that can and should be used in your writing. And, with the wide array of uses listed above, I'm sure you can find some way to sneak it into a project.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Love of Dictionaries

I must admit I am an avowed "dictionariaholic." It is not a word you will find in the dictionary -- I made it up for my condition -- I collect large, oversized, multiple volume dictionaries. I find endless pleasure opening up to a random page to find a new word.

I know writers who don't have dictionaries and rely on "Spellcheck." What they don't realise is: if the word is not spelled incorrectly, Spellcheck won't flag it. And, if you use the improper word, you are the one who looks idiotic.

So, here is a little writer's helper for those of you who may be writing fiction with a medical theme.

Diagnosis: the act of deciding, on the basis of analyzing symptoms, what disease is affecting the patient. It comes, like most medical language, from Greek, specifically from dia (between) and gignoskein (to know).

Prognosis: the prediction made by a physician of the course and probable termination of the disease. It has the same root as diagnosis, of course, and the prefix pro means "before." Thus a prognosis is a "knowing before" -- or prediction.

The next time you are out at a flea market or yard sale, look for a lovely old dictionary -- you just might get hooked.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Return to Blogging

After a bit of an absence, I will be blogging again. I have had some personal, as well as professional, issues to deal with. My first novel, The Wrath of Amun, is available on Amazon (in print) and on Smashwords for download. And, I am pleased to report that I have two more novels in my Egyptian mystery series completed: The Talisman of Tehuti and The Savagery of Set. I shall keep you posted as to possible publication dates on them.

I am currently at work on the fourth novel in the series, The Magistrates of Ma'at; a large cast with multiple suspects, so the going is slow. And, I am trying my hand at a contemporary novel, tentatively titled, Second Chances. Since this is a whole new genre for me, I'm keeping the project close to the vest for the present. I need to see if I can actually do this before I post any clips.

I will post clips from my completed novels, and the one in progress for your feedback. You will also see some interesting postings on my blog. I want to share more writing reference material, like word origins and foreign words which can be sprinkled, like fine spices, in a manuscript.

Finally, in honour of George Orwell, who was born this day in 1903, I leave you with this quote:

       "No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid."