I have to write a blog today to celebrate it being 1.1.11!
As I’ve said before, it’s always a good idea to check your words against a big dictionary for their dates. We have to be careful when using words such as ‘electric’, and avoid any recipes involving tomatoes or maize prior to the discovery of South America. It’s a minefield and we have to be very careful where we tread.
‘Hallucination’ for example is 17th century in origin. Does that mean they never had hallucinations before that? No, it just means they called it something else, probably ‘phantasms’. Words give a powerful insight into how people saw the world. Hallucinations are the product of a disordered mind; phantasms are apparitions of something or someone usually out of view.
I was browsing the dictionary today and with great delight happened upon the word cooee. To my surprise, this is not the call of a neighbour wearing a pinny and with a headscarf knotted round her head, come to borrow a cup of sugar (stereotypical image of postwar Britain in the 40s and 50s). No, it was a signal of the Australian aborigines, copied by 18th century settlers. How  tragic if sweet little calls of cooee! in the bush contributed to near extinction of an entire culture. I’m surprised Monty Python missed that one.
Happy New Year everyone. Any interesting resolutions?

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. The twisty history of words is so fascinating. Apparently, it was William Gilbert who first used the word “electric” at the beginning of the 17th century in his work on magnetism. It comes from the Greek word for amber, which apparently can easily take on a static-electric charge. (Just tested that with a large amber bead I keep at my desk – I rubbed it on my wool sweater, after which it did, indeed, weakly attract some of the wooly fibers.)
    My critique group once jumped on me for using the word “electrum” for a gold-silver alloy prized by the Celts in classical times. While the use of the term was entirely correct (people evidently thought the alloy resembled amber in color; it had nothing to do with electricity), one also has to be careful with correct terminology if it’s going to throw the reader out of the time period.

    1. One of my rules of thumb is ‘never do anything which will make another scream’ no matter how correct you are. So ‘electrum’ should be treated like split infinitives: never use them even though you can.
      I hope your woolly fibres (forgive UK spelling) have calmed down by now. You must have given your sweater quite a fright. Since David and I have taken to wearing Crocs we’ve got used to having our hair stand on end when we touch metal.

      1. Good rule of thumb.
        It was a very weak charge – I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t been looking for it. Hope you Croc-wearers don’t have cats! When I lived in a house with lots of synthetic rugs, I had to keep a humidifier going all winter, or the poor creatures got shocked every time I touched them.

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