Welcome to the Wordlady blog!

This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#Canadianism of the day: go (or drive someone) snaky

#Canadianism of the day: go (or drive someone) snaky = lose (or cause someone to lose) self-control.

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If you find the English language fascinating, you should check out my entertaining history of the English language courses. More info here

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Canadianism of the day: jeezly

 Canadianism of the day: jeezly used as an intensifier

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If you find the English language fascinating, you should check out my entertaining history of the English language courses. More info here

Monday, August 25, 2014

#Canadianism of the day: saw off

#Canadianism of the day: saw off = compromise by trading concessions:

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If you find the English language fascinating, you should check out my entertaining history of the English language courses. More info here.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

#Canadianism of the day: rhyme off

#Canadianism of the day: rhyme off = recite rapidly and spontaneously (a list of items). 

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

#Canadianism of the day: rag the puck

#Canadianism of the day: rag the puck = waste time intentionally.

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If you find the English language fascinating, you should check out my entertaining history of the English language courses. More info here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

#Canadianism of the day: kick at the can (or cat)

#Canadianism of the day: kick at the can (or cat) = an opportunity to achieve something.

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If you find the English language fascinating, you should check out my entertaining history of the English language courses. More info here.

Easy as pie

http://www.gentileproduce.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/peachpie.jpg 

What better time than August, with its abundance of fresh fruit, to talk about the word "pie".

In Latin the word pica was the name for the bird we call a magpie. The French did their usual drop-a-consonant squishing job on this word and turned it into pie (still the French word for this bird). But after we borrowed it from French, we got creative.


First of all, we added the nickname “Mag”, short form for “Margaret”, to the word for the bird, so that now we call it a “magpie”.

Then, in the 1300s, we started to use "pie" for a pastry-enclosed dish of meat or fish and other ingredients. Although the etymology of our edible pies is uncertain, it could be related to the bird, in reference to either its spotted appearance or its tendency to collect different articles, pies being made of assorted ingredients. 

A couple of centuries later, we got the bright idea of putting fruit in pies, and by the 1800s pie was so popular that eating it had become the quintessence of something easy to do, hence "easy as pie", and one's reward in heaven was referred to as "pie in the sky".

To return to the Middle Ages, though, another development of the word "pie" will be of particular interest to indexers. 

A third type of "pie" was a book of directions for church services, listing how saints' feast days could be moved if they coincided with a big feast day such as Pentecost or Easter. Why was this book called a "pie"? Possibly because the pages had a very black-and-white blotchy appearance from unevenly spaced blocks of text. Other similar types of reference books also came to be known as pies or pie books, especially alphabetical indexes to records. There was even a verb in the 17th century, to “pie” meaning to make an alphabetical index.
 
(Incidentally, pica the typeface is possibly related to this, perhaps having been used in one of these liturgical indexes, called “pica” in Latin.)

There are more unsuspected links between indexing and magpies, however. 

A "gazetteer" is a geographical index, for a map or atlas. This word was first used in 1693. This comes from the word "gazette" from Italian gazzetta.  The gazzetta was a type of newspaper first published in Venice about the middle of the 16th century; similar news sheets appeared a bit later in England. They seem to have been the tabloids of the time; the OED says "the untrustworthy nature of their reports is often alluded to by writers of that period; thus Florio [an early-17th-century Italian-English lexicographer] explains gazzette as ‘running reports, daily newes, idle intelligences, or flim flam tales that are daily written from Italie, namely from Rome and Venice’."


The Venetian gazzetta could be had for the price of a coin also called a gazzetta. But there is a possible  connection to gazza (magpie), as the publication was a gallimaufry [there, I've always wanted to use that word!] of trivial items like those gathered by the notoriously thieving bird.

When I revealed these hitherto undisclosed links between their profession and magpies to the Indexing Society of Canada and pointed out that a magpie was in fact a good symbol of what indexers do, flitting over a book and removing attention-grabbing items to their "nest" at the back of the book, the indexers were so tickled by it that they have adopted the magpie as their mascot and created this very handsome pin:

Magpie Pins for Sale (continued)




P.S. If you liked this post, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! Sign up here.

If you find the English language fascinating, you should check out my entertaining history of the English language courses. More info here

Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady