Resolutions Break.

In case you didn’t know, it’s a new year, a new beginning. In fact, January gets its name from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions.

broken_chainIt is common at this time to celebrate with new beginnings of our own. Resolutions. Things about which to be resolute or resolved. Interestingly, the word resolve (from which resolution is derived) means to loosen or the break apart into smaller bits.

Perhaps that’s why my resolutions always end in failure. I’m loose on my commitment within weeks of making it, eventually I break off little bits of my decision until I’m back to the way things were before I made them.

That’s more or less what happened to my writing goals from the last year. So what do I do about this year? Should I not make goals since I’m already in a defeatist mindset?

Well, maybe. But I think goals are still good things to have. At the least, they help us aspire to do new things. I just need to be realistic about my expectations. After all, why make a resolution about doing something brand new when I don’t know what kind of commitment it will take? I’m better off working to improve the things that I already understand.

That’s why this year, my goal isn’t to be more organized (sorry wife and employer), or to tackle some new writing project (I’ve got plenty of old ones that need finishing before I start something new anyway). My goal this year is to be more intentional about experiencing life.

What does that mean?

Take reading for example. I read a lot of books, but I couldn’t tell you how many or which ones I ready last year. This year, I’m going to make a list to see what I’ve accomplished. I’m going to be intentional about experiencing books.

In the same way, I’d like to approach my other daily tasks and responsibilities with an attitude of awareness, not simply doing, but watching myself do. It’s what Terry Pratchett would call Second Thoughts. Most people live with First Vision, but rarely take time to reflect on what they see. Second Thoughts reflect. But since I have a terrible memory, I’ll have to rely on external methods like blogging, pictures, and journals record these reflections.

What are your thoughts on resolutions this year?

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On the Origin of Dwindle

sunset

Dwindle is a great word and appropriate for the final post of the year, but it isn’t a word you would hear everyday. So for those of you who may not know it already, it means to become less, to decrease, to diminish. It speaks to a supply of something that is coming to its end.

See why it’s a good word for the end of the year? But where does it come from?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, dwindle is a “diminutive form of Middle English dwinen “waste away, fade, vanish,” from Old English dwinan, derived from dheu, which means “to die”. A bit morbid, eh?

But I like the fact that it is a diminutive form for death, because death in its full power is a frightening thing. Words like dwindle help us deal with death in bite-sized pieces. It is the dimming of the lights rather than being cast into sudden darkness.

Let’s use today to put this past year to bed. Share with someone the best and worst parts of the past year and then put those things away. After all, a new year is coming.

On the Origin of Stockings

stockingThere’s a couple of ways to go with this: the Christmas tradition and the origin of the word itself. I’ll do both.

The tradition of hanging stockings at Christmas has a few origin stories. The most popular one actually involves the historical Saint Nicholas, so we’ll go over that one first.

The story goes that Saint Nicholas happened upon a poor man with three beautiful daughters. The old man was concerned about his daughters’ welfare after he died since he was poor and couldn’t afford to marry any of them off to proper gentleman. If they couldn’t get married, they might become prostitutes. Saint Nicholas knew that the old man was too proud to accept charity, so in the cover of night, he threw three bags of gold into an open window of the poor man’s house. One of the bags of gold fell into a stocking set by the fire. In the morning, the poor man found the gold and his daughters were all able to get married.

In other regions, the stocking tradition is said to stem from Odin and the food that would be left for his 8-legged horse, Sleipnir, in the shoes of home’s occupants. Odin would take the carrots and hay and whatever and leave presents and candy in their place. But I don’t think I’d want to eat candy from a shoe that was just emptied of horse food.

So I’m going to believe that the stocking tradition came from St. Nick himself and his efforts to prevent pretty girls from becoming prostitutes, even though I’m a fan of Odin too. I’m just a sucker for a story that ends well.

But what about the origin of the word “stocking”? Where did that come from?

As it happens, we have trees to thank for stockings. The root of stocking is “stock”, which is an Old English word (stocu) for sleeve that is related to a very similar Old English word (stocc) for log or trunk. This is probably because legs look a bit like tree trunks. More so if you are an Ent from Lord of the Rings or Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. As root words go, “stock” also went on to be used in stockades, which as almost nothing to do with stockings, but now you know the connection.

So as we get closer to Christmas day, don’t forget to hang up your leg-sleeve so you can avoid a life of prostitution! Maybe you could even throw a carrot in there for good luck. If Odin’s 8-legged horse doesn’t want it, maybe Santa’s reindeer will.

Merry Christmas!

New Word I Just Learned: Donnybrook

hockey_equipment_on_the_ice

I was listening to the best radio station in the world (88.1 WYCE) when I heard Chuck Brodsky’s “Hockey Fight Song“. It’s a catchy tune and pretty much sums up what 90% of the people who attend hockey games are thinking.

Going down to the Garden with a couple of my buds.
Gonna sit up in the cheap seats. I wanna see a little blood.
I wanna get my money’s worth. Eat some dogs, drink some beers.
I’m gonna yell all night at the referee, “Come on, you bum! Get outta here!”
I wanna see a hockey fight, a little donnybrook, a little brou ha ha.
If our team should score tonight, we all can yell “hurrah, hurrah.”

Well, that’s the first verse, anyway. I encourage you to watch the video for it. It’s a great tune.

But while I was listening, I heard a word that I’d never heard before. I figured it out by context, but until I heard this song, I’d never heard the term “donnybrook” before. And since I’m a fan of learning new things, I thought I’d share this one with you too.

A “donnybrook”, as you’ve probably figured out too, is another name for a brawl or a fight. It specifically connotes a large free-for-all type of fight, the kind you may see in an old western film when the bad guy walks into the saloon and bottles and tables and people alike start flying around the room. But why does it mean that?

Donnybrook Fair 1835

Donnybrook Fair 1835

As all good drunken fighting words should, “donnybrook” has Irish roots. From the 13th century until the middle of the 19th century, Donnybrook Fair was held in Dublin’s suburb of Donnybrook. And though it started as a proper fair in the beginning, 600 years can change an event. Near the end, it was well-known for its drunken revelry and a committee was created to shut it down. Though, in order to put an end to it, the committee had to buy the ancestral rights to the event, which is kind of interesting.

Since it’s cancellation, the term “donnybrook” has lived on as it is used in Chuck Brodsky’s song. Although, it has lived on in other interesting ways as well. Donnybrook Fair is also the name of an upscale grocery chain whose flagship store is in the original site of Donnybrook.

And now that the learning is done, let’s all go to a hockey game! Maybe see a hockey fight, a little donnybrook, a little brou ha ha.

On the Origins of Eleven & Twelve

1172271_94041011A while back, I explored the origins of first, second, and third place due to the fact that they are so different from one, two, and three (unlike fourth place and the number four which are pretty obviously connected). At the end of that post, I teased that we were soon going to delve into the mysterious origins of the numbers eleven and twelve.

Well, better late than never!

So, why do we say eleven instead of one-teen, or twelve instead of twelve-teen? Where did eleven and twelve even come from in the first place?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “eleven” is from 12th-century Old English “enleofan” which translates literally to “one left over”. Likewise, “twelve” translates to “two left over”. And that makes sense, given that ten is the number that most people can count to using their fingers. If you get all the way up to ten and you still have one thing left, then you have eleven. Two left? Twelve.

Simple as that.

Then why don’t we continue with “threlve” for thirteen? Maybe there were never three things left over. Who knows? But I kind of like the word “threlve” so I’m going to start using it anyway. After all, that’s the real way that words come into being. Just by using them, regardless of whether they make sense or not.

On the Origin of Tenterhooks

I’m waiting for a response from a publisher regarding a piece of flash fiction. I sent it in last Friday and I STILL haven’t received an answer. Can you believe it?

Okay, I can believe it too. These things take time. Like, a lot of time. It could be weeks, months, or never before I hear from a publisher regarding a submission.

The truth is that I hate waiting. Patience has never been my strong suit. And as I sit here clicking refresh on my email browser window, I’m reminded of the phrase, being “on tenterhooks”.

A lot of people say it wrong as “on tenderhooks”, but that isn’t a thing. So let’s look at the origin of the tenterhook.

Stretching a wet kersey on the tenter. Illustration by Harold Blackburn in 'Colne Valley Cloth' by Phyllis Bentley, published in 1947 by The Hudderfield and District Woollen Export Group

Stretching a wet kersey on the tenter. Illustration by Harold Blackburn in ‘Colne Valley Cloth’ by Phyllis Bentley, published in 1947 by The Hudderfield and District Woollen Export Group

Back in the day when clothes were made down the street instead of on the other side of the Earth, words like “tenter” and “tenterhooks” were commonplace. If you’ve ever washed a new sweater in hot water and dried it on high heat (I owe my wife probably four sweaters because I’ve done this to her stuff), then you know that some clothes shrink.

Tenterhooks were the hooks that stretched cloth over “tenters”, or frames designed for drying cloth. In fact, the word “tenter” comes from the Latin tendere, meaning “to stretch”. So to be “on tenterhooks” means to be stretched uncomfortably as you wait to dry.

Now you know. It doesn’t make the waiting any easier or more comfortable, but learning new things helps distract me from the fact that the publisher still hasn’t emailed me, even though it took me all that time to research and write this up. I guess I need more time in sun to dry out.

Where I did my research:

On the Origins of First, Second, and Third

1st_2nd_3rd

Have you ever wondered where the words for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd come from? I have. I mean, four through ten make sense by just adding a “th” on the end of the numeral. So why are first, second, and third places so special?

Well, according to the Word Detective, we first need to understand the difference between ordinal numbers and cardinal numbers.

Ordinal number describe a thing’s place in a series, like first, second, third, fourth, and so on. You probably could have guessed that ordinal would be related to something’s order, right?

Cardinal numbers describe the amount of birds there are in a tree. Just kidding, but they could. Really, cardinal numbers just refer to normal, everyday, math problem type numbers, like one, two, three, four, etc.

Most of the time, the ordinals match up with the cardinals. Well, except when they don’t (first, second, third), which is why we are here in the first place. As to why they don’t always match up, no one really knows why we don’t use oneth, twoth, or threeth, aside from perhaps because we would sound like we have lithpth. Sorry, lisps. Someone must have decided to change things up one day and other people went along with it.

As to where the words actually come from, “first” is a descendant of “fyrst”, which was anglicized from the German “furist”, which also spawned the word “fore” as in “foremost”. So first is really a derivation of foremost, which makes a lot of sense.

The word “second” is a loan word from the French, which is a descendant of “secundus”, which means to follow in order. Before English speakers adopted “second”, apparently everyone just used “other”. That would have been really confusing, so it is probably a good thing that we started using it.

Third, we come to “third”, which is so close to three that you may not have even noticed that the “r” is in the wrong spot. In fact, this is precisely where the word “third” came from, as letters used to be a lot more fluid than they are now, and one day’s “thrid” became another day’s “third”. Simple as that.

So why didn’t we keep going and invent other words for 4 through 10? Maybe we just decided that enough was enough and that we should start to make sense.

Tune in next time when we go over two other crazy numbers, 11 and 12!