Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Wirdbalk

A Wirdbalk

This week it’s time for a birdwalk - a little wordplay – the spoonerism.

Spoonerisms are named after the Reverend William A. Spooner, who suffered from a speech disorder involving involuntary transposition of sounds in words, typically initial sounds. Though historians question the authenticity of many gaffes attributed to Reverend Spooner, lists of his gaffes typically include this bungled tribute to Queen Victoria, “Three cheers for our queer old dean!”

In tribute to Reverend Spooner, those who enjoy playing with language have mercilessly tweaked any number of perfectly fine stories, many of which can be found on Matthew Goldman’s Goonerisms Spalore, the most well known being the many versions of Indercella (in which our unhortunate feroine attends a bancy fall and slops her dripper).
For something a bit different, here’s Goldman’s take on the climax and denouement of another old fairy tale:

“May I come in, and hee your sitty prome?"

"Tho, Tho, a nousand times, Tho, " pied the crig, "Not by the chair of my hinny hin, hin!"

"Then I'll huff, and I'll duff, and I'll hoe your blouse down," growled the wolf.

And with that, the wolf chuffed up his peeks, blew the smith to housereens, and sat down to a dine finner of roast sau and pigerkraut.

If you haven’t indulged yourself in this manner before, take the hull by the borns & spoonerize the following list of random well-known names:

William Shakespeare
Judy Garland
Benjamin Franklin
Margaret Thatcher
Marie Curie
Groucho Marx
Benito Mussolini
Virginia Woolf

Thanks for putting up with this week’s wirdbalk. Please comment with any favorite spoonerized names, or a spoonerization of your own name.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,, Spoonerisms Galore, & the OED.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Flighty Goats & Fearful Hedgehogs

Flighty Goats & Fearful Hedgehogs

The other day a lurking follower laughingly commented on the capricious nature of the topics for Wordmonger posts. It would be poetic if I were to claim that upon hearing this, my hair stood on end, but I have little hair left to engage in such shenanigans, and the capricious shoe fits, so I’m perfectly happy to wear it.

Capricious is one of those wonderfully rich words of questionable heritage. More traditional sources mention the flighty, capering nature of goats, and cite the Latin word capriolus, or wild goat as the grandmother of capricious. In the late 1500s and 1600s capricious and its relatives meant prank or trick. It can be argued that the goat is a tricky critter, & that goat-like satyrs of myth were most decidedly pranksters. My two most trusted sources, Etymonline, and The Oxford English Dictionary definitely connect capricious with those flighty, tricky, pranking goats.

Less traditional sources disagree. The folks at Wordinfo, and Anu Garg’s A Word a Day (a fascinating daily glance into etymology), appear to have used a bit more scrutiny. These sources explain that the similarity of capro, or goat, to the word capricious shifted the meaning toward flighty, pranking, goatlike behavior, and away from its original meaning. These sources claim capricious was actually constructed from the word parts, capo-, head, & riccio, hedgehog. That’s right; the word in question may have initially meant hedgehog-head. In the early 1500s, capricious started out meaning afraid, or hair-standing-on-end, like the spines of the hedgehog. After years the similar term capro- rubbed off enough to shove the meaning of the word toward goatliness (or, goat allies might claim, toward perceived goatliness).

Pranking, tricky goats or hair-on-end hedgehogs? Which story carries the ring of truth? Please weigh in with your comments.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,,, & the OED.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sheds, Shacks & Hovels

Sheds, Shacks & Hovels

Inspired by the need to tear down & rebuild a garden shed, I find myself intrigued by the etymologies (or lack thereof) of shed & its various synonyms.

Shed is of questionable parentage. It appeared in English in the 1400s. It may have its roots in the word shade, but no certain evidence has jumped forth into the sunlight to prove this theory.

Similarly, the term shack has no definite parentage. It first appeared in print in 1878. Some etymologists argue that it may be a variant of shake, or possible have come from ramshackle (both of which predate it). Others claim it may have come from the Nahuatl word xacalli, wooden hut, through Mexican Spanish. Still nobody really knows from whence the shack came.

The word hovel isn’t really a synonym for shack or shed, but a hovel is a small building, & I have a fondness for the word. I lived a year in a place friends & family referred to as "hovel sweet hovel." It was one of seven tiny, decrepit buildings near San Luis Obispo Creek. I had to duck to enter, I couldn’t sit on the toilet with the bathroom door closed, & the mushrooms growing from the floor were not an interior decorating decision. Hovel showed up in English back in the 1300s, meaning a vent for smoke, & within a century had come to mean a shed for animals. It wasn’t until the 1600s that it came to mean a rude or miserable cabin. This last definition is particularly apropos. I learned afterward that the compound of seven hovels had been used in the 1940s to house the county’s Japanese residents as they waited to be delivered to internment camps. Misery indeed.

So, dear readers, please leave a comment with a tidbit of a tale regarding any shed, shack, or hovel experiences you’ve “enjoyed.”

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, & the OED.

Thursday, March 8, 2012



With Saint Patrick’s Day fast approaching, why not take a look at the etymology of leprechaun?

The word leprechaun involves the blending of Gaelic and Latin. The earliest written English record of the term occurred in 1604, spelled lubrican. This spelling - and a boatload of early alternate spellings - start with lu-. the Gaelic combining form for small. In Old Irish leprechaun was spelled luchorpan, which allows us to see a hint of the Latin part of this word, meaning body. This same combining form is used in the words corpuscle, corporation, Corpus Christi, and corporeal. So leprechaun translates simply to little body.

Irish folklore (poo-pooed by, yet titillating to etymologists), tells us that because leprechauns are sprites known for making or repairing a single shoe, the name comes from leithbragan, which marries leith, meaning half. Brag means brogue.

While one source bestows leprechauns with a little lisping, attenuated falsetto voice, another Irish tale defines the leprechaun as a pygmy sprite who always carries a purse containing a schilling.

Despite all this information, if you find yourself at a bar on Saint Patrick’s Day, and someone sits at the next stool, & begins repairing a single shoe, speaking in a lisping falsetto, &/or carrying a purse, it’s wisest to keep your assumptions to yourself. And isn’t that always true.

Good followers, what do you have to say about leprechauns, or about the wisdom of keeping one’s assumptions to oneself?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, & the OED.

Thursday, March 1, 2012



As noted in a post two weeks ago, I’ve been dipping my toes into the world of audiobook recording. My recent activities sparked an interest in the word record.

Both the noun & the verb showed up in English in the early 1300s, the noun meaning testimony committed to writing & the verb meaning to get by heart. We can see that heart in the second bit of the modern word record, as –cord. It comes to English through French, from the Latin –cordis, meaning heart (related to cardiac). We’ve hung onto that original meaning in terms like learn by heart. I like the fact that the folks who recorded records (whether vinyl, cassette, CD or MP3) all offer us a little bit of heart.

It wasn’t until 1892 that the verb record meant to put sound or pictures on disks, though the noun record meaning disk on which sounds & images have been recorded appeared as early as 1878.

I kept this post concise, as I’m hoping you’ll have time to listen to a brief audio clip I recorded of Sherry Shahan’s Random House novel, Ice Island.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, & the OED.