Sunday, November 4, 2012

Calling All Grammar Geeks

Call me a geek, but I can spend hours talking with friends about words and grammar. I love our language, and its many fascinating quirks.

Lately, I've been interested in etymology. I am constantly double-checking words and phrases for use in "Death of a Dowager," the second book in The Jane Eyre Chronicles. I don't want to use anything that wasn't in vogue before 1820, the time frame for my series.

Today I explored:

* "Shilly-shallying around"  It's an irregular reduplication of "Shall I." ("Shall I?" or "Shall I not?") Circa 1700.

* "Good to go"  A military phrase. Circa 1960s. (A "no go" in this book, obviously.)

* "hurt like the dickens" Where "dickens" is a nice way of saying "devil," so it's "hurt like the devil." Circa 1600.

Recently I looked up "gainsay." Turns out that I was totally confused regarding its meaning. I thought it was to acquire something. Such as "I gainsayed the information." But no, it means "to declare something is untrue or to deny it." Circa 1400. (Must practice this one before I trot it out. I gainsay the opportunity to look foolish.)

Our language is always changing and growing. New words and phrases are constantly being added. In this election year, we're constantly hearing such terms as "truthiness" and "path to election." These are addition to other newbies like "binders of women" and "Obamacare."

Of course, new terms don't only come from the political area. Hurricane Sandy was downgraded to "non-tropical storm" Sandy. Who knew?

I also look for words that I hope to use:

* "shambolic" -- a British term from the 1970s meaning "obviously disorganized and confused"

* "fricative" -- a consonant made by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators together. Examples include "ship" and "vision" (We're focusing on the "sh" sound, I presume, which is a sort of a whistle through your teeth and tongue.) Author Mo Hayder used "fricative" to describe the sound of a dog's toenails catching on carpeting.

And here's one last word for you to think of this week: "Vote." By my definition, it's the "duty of every American citizen, a hard won privilege we can't afford to ignore."


Linda O. Johnston said...

I'm with you, Joanna. I love grammar! It sometimes drives me nuts to have to modify things in my writing because word use and grammar morph over time, and my present-day characters need to stay current. Thanks for introducing me to some new words and phrases!

Ellen said...

My favorite word is actually a family:

bogus (we all know that one).

bogosity (the property of being bogus, its intensity is measured with a bogometer)

bogon (the hypothetical elementary carrier of bogosity)

The concept of the bogon is an obvious play upon other elementary particles such as the photon or meson. It can also refer to the Vogon, a race of aliens in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Further information available at .

Anonymous said...

I used to teach English, and one of my favorite units to teach was etymology and the history of English. We have a wonderful language with a rich history.