Money for old rope – literally

February 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

The phrase ‘money for old rope’ stems from the days of public hangings, according to a game I was playing at the weekend. Actually I know that story’s up for debate but I like it so I’m going to believe it.

Legend goes that ghoulish spectators wanted to buy pieces of the rope used for the hanging as a sort of souvenir and it was regarded as a perk of the job for the hangman to sell it.

Another explanation has it that workers in the workhouse were given used and damaged rope to pick apart to salvage the good stuff to be spun into new rope. Possible but not nearly as interesting a story so I’m afraid I’m going to dismiss it in favour of the ‘hanging’ version. Any thoughts?

Do you know about Bowler Hat?

February 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

Actually I don’t mean do you know about Bowler Hat Media, the agency, but do you know about bowler hat, the hat? I confess I didn’t until just now when I was looking though a new book I bought the other day, Bloomers, Biros & Wellington Boots – How the Names Became the Words.

It talks about the famous one we all know, for example – Hoover – which is a word many of us tend to use for a vacuum cleaner but was in fact handed down by Henry Hoover who invented a contraption to suck up dirt so should really only be applied to that specific brand.

Bloomers, biros and wellington boots are similarly named after their inventors and, I was surprised, to see, so is the bowler hat. Well, sort of – I’m not sure how convinced I am about this one. I thought the hat got its name from being bowl-shaped but the book maintains that bowler is a derivative of Beaulieu, the surname of feltmakers Thomas and William who were involved in its production.

This book by Andrew Sholl is full of gems and some others I liked  were:

  • mentor – in Greek mythology Mentor was an old friend of Odysseus who acted as an adviser to his son;
  • plimsolls – English politician Samuel Plimsoll (late 19th century) campaigned against unsafe conditions at sea. He became known as the sailor’s friend and gave his name to new rubber-soled footwear introduced on boats;
  • mesmerise – Austrian physician Frank Mesmer used hypnosis as a therapy back in the 18th century and gave his name to the word;
  • galvanise – Luigi Galvani, a professor of anatomy in Italy discovered that frogs’ legs would move and twitch when they came into contact with metal during a thunderstorm;
  • biro – it was Lazlo Biro, a Hungarian journalist, who hit upon the idea of a pen with a steel ball to control the ink flow and he registered his first patent in 1943;
  • bloomers – womens rights campaigner Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-94) saw the baggy knickers as good, comfy wear for women;
  • wellington boots – it was the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) who made them popular and gave them his name.

It got me thinking, what legacy have I left that should be named after me in years to come? But, you see, there’s a major flaw in that thought, nobody can pronounce the name, Lefebve and that includes some of my own family…..

10 things I don’t like to see in print

February 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

Being a wordsmith it’s hard to read anything – and I mean ANYTHING, including a personal text message – without editing/proofing and trying to perfect it. I wonder if accountants add up stuff when they’re not ‘on duty’ – if you know what I mean? Anyway, here are 10 howlers I don’t like to see in print and always edit:

  1. The word ‘thing’. There’s always a better one – ‘thing’ is lazy and it’s the sort of word a six-year-old would use because they know no better. Adults should. (’10 howlers I don’t want to see in print’ – before you mention the headline, I did it on purpose.)
  2. Exclamation marks. They’re so over-used and look like excited full-stops. Perhaps it’s the overuse of them I really object to.
  3. Smiley faces and other emoticons. Just why? They look like something out of a comic.
  4. Text speak – even in texts it looks ridiculous. It takes hardly any longer to write the message properly and a message written properly carries a million times more weight and style.
  5. Apostrophes wrongly forced into plurals: 1960’s; fair do’s; loo’s. People seem to go loopy, particularly if a word ends in a vowel or a 0.
  6. Americanisms in British copy – gettoutahere. I don’t want to receive emails that start ‘Hey Julie’.
  7. The misuse of ie. and eg. Much of the stuff on this list is a matter of my taste. This one is hard fact, though, because ie. means: that is or in other words and eg. means: for example. They are simply not interchangeable.
  8. SENTENCES WRITTEN IN CAPS BECAUSE THE WRITER THINKS THE CONTENT IS SO VERY VERY IMPORTANT. Actually I tend not to read huge blocks of capped-up text so the writer’s ploy backfires on me. It looks as if the reader is being shouted at.
  9. Posh talk – laboured copy that isn’t written in a natural language but says ‘achieve’ when it means ‘get’ and ‘do not’ when it means ‘don’t’, for example. I write by the rule that if we don’t say it that way, we shouldn’t write it that way.
  10. Over and less. ‘Over’ is a position (over the hill/over the knee). When you’re talking plurals, it’s more than £5/more than five people. ‘Less’ is a quantifier for singular nouns (less time/less speed). Go plural and you need to use fewer than five items.

I could go on but the headline says 10 and it would drive me mad if the writer couldn’t be consistent with the number she’d set herself in the text, so I’m going to have to stop here.

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