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happy christmastide – calling all calling birds!

happy christmastide – calling all calling birds!

what the heck IS a calling bird? aren’t all birds calling birds?

time for an etymology lesson!

turns out, the calling bird line in the 12 days of christmas song is a relatively new revelation. the line for 100+ years prior to its adoption was four COLLY birds.

the song was first published around 1780, which means it was probably a spoken poem or song long before that. and the first publications called the day four birds, colly/collie birds.

forget a calling bird – what the heck is a COLLY bird???

colly comes from old english for the cord coal – describing coal dust, the color of coal, etc. and in a 1565 translation of metamorphosis, here’s the line that described a raven:

as thou thou prating raven white by nature being bred, hadst on they fether justly late a coly colour spred.

but, where the four birds supposed to be ravens? more likely the colly bird in the song is supposed to be a blackbird.

BUT! the mystery doesn’t stop there. in the past, the line has also been four canary birds, four colored birds, and four curley birds. it’s even been a tole of birds?

good news bad news, though: in 1909, a tune was set in publication to the poem or song, and the calling birds were put in print. however, it took a while for it to catch on. it wasn’t until the mid 1900s that calling became the preferred word, and in the 1970s, it was the much more common word.

unfortunately, the calling bird is much more ambiguous than the colly bird! even the american ornithological society thinks it should be a colly bird. so let’s chalk this confusion up to frederic austin, whose musical arrangement we all now know, to not transcribing the song correctly.

and bring back the colly bird!

what’s the word?

what’s the word?

today’s word of the day: tenterhooks.

used in a sentence? “it’s safe to assume that all my readers are waiting on tenterhooks for the election results.”

so what’s the background on tenterhooks?

back in ye olde timey days, people would make their own woolen cloth. after it was woven, the cloth was still oily from the fleece (lanolin!) and dirty. it was cleaned and then it had to be dried in a certain way, or it would shrink – as those of us know who’ve accidentally thrown a wool sweater in the dryer.

but pre dryers, the cloth would be stretched out on a wooden frame called a tenter. and on the edges of the frame were hooks! hence, tenterhooks. i guess this could be a large-scale operation, with fields of wool-laden tenters oft seen by ye olde peasantry.

soon after the word became a word in the 14th century, on tenters became a phrase known for tension, unease, anxiety, or suspense. between the nervousness of keeping wool in shape and the tension of the stretched fabric, it’s an apt metaphor. also, sheep are skittish, so the whole operation was probably a lesson in patience.



i was doing a little poking around to see if there were some weird word origins for word wednesday, and i ran across “give the cold shoulder”, which we all know. like the silent treatment. passive aggressive ignoring. we’re minnesotans. we’re good at this.

but, turns out the origin also made me think of another minnesota thing: the long, minnesota goodbye. you know. ok, gotta go! but first, it was great to see you. do you want anything to take home? when will i see you next? gotta hug 40 people 3 times each. oh, maybe i can stay for another 15 minutes for some ice cream (my dad hahaha). yeah. we’re NOT good at goodbye.

the origin of giving the cold shoulder comes from medieval england when people would visit eatch other. when the host was like, hey, you gotta leave, now. s/he would give the guest a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of beef, pork, or mutton. it was actually a polite way to say “get out.”

so i can see where it’s a little similar, but also different? i would also like to know more. was the lunch meat a way of saying “hey i don’t like you that much you need to go”? or was it “ugh you offended me with this thing get out of my sight because i can’t look at you right now and i’m mad”? and did these medieval peeps give the cold cuts to their loved ones just whenever? can you imagine in the middle of a serious fight, a wife just starts flinging pieces of meat at her husband! or what if poor people just show up at houses so they can get some food?

this just opens up so many more things i want to know about this saying.

word wednesday: crapulous!

word wednesday: crapulous!

crapulous. what a great word!

not to be confused with crappy, crapulous is what your head feels like the morning after a long night of drinking. crapulous is a craptastic hangover.

of course it has roots in greek, from the work kraipale (not to be confused with crap, which has roots in german and has to do with detritus). romans took over crapulous and ran with it, using it to mean just being drunk.

and there are several variations: crapulent (a very cromulent word), crapulence, crapula (not to be confused with a cupola).

(now that’s a crappy cupola.)

this has been your word wednesday. let’s bring back crapulous!

bug out

bug out

brrr it’s been cold! i mean, what good is it when it gets this cold?


with the extended cold we had, it’s possible that those invasive insects could’ve been wiped out.

but first, a list of invasive terrestrial “animals” in minnesota:

Asian-Long horned beetle*

Brown marmorated stink bug*

Earthworms (!!!)

Emerald ash borer

Eurasian swine*

European Starling

Gypsy moth

Japanese beetle

Jumping worm

Mute swan*

Sirex wood wasp*

Walnut twig beetle*

first, let’s talk about the emerald ash borer, since it seems to be one of the big bad bugs i keep hearing about. it’s the reason you can’t bring firewood with you to campgrounds and have to pay $5 for 3 logs.

temps need to get to -20º to begin to kill the borer, and at that point, about 50% of them die. around -30º is when 90% of them will die. i think we can safely say sayanora to at least 50% of the EAB larvae in the state, more like 90%.

another bug that i would probably run away from, the gypsy moth, would suffer from some cold. temps of -20º that lasts 48-72 hours kills exposed eggs, and alternate freezing and thawing in springtime can prevent hatching. i think we may have hit that -20 (or close to it).

in other entomological news, the beetle epidemic that was sweeping the black hills is over!

and while the bugs won’t be gone forever – they will eventually migrate back – this summer will give the people who manage invasive species time to implement a containment plan and basically start with a clean slate.

and since we’re talking entomology, let’s end with some etymology.

the word bug was formed in the early 1600s from the word bugge (beetle) which grew from two words: bugge/bugja/bogge and budde/budda/buddo.

bugge was a word for a hogoblin, bugja meant swolen up, and bogge meant snot. budde was beetle, budda was a dung beetle, and buddo means a louse/grub. sounds like they just took a bunch of gross things and smashed them into one word.

we say speak of the devil quite a bit – it’s become a part of everyday lexicon when you’re talking about someone and that person shows up.

but the phrase goes back to 1600s or even earlier. and it wasn’t meant lightheartedly, either, like we mean today. the full phrase is:

“speak of the devil and he will appear.”

it originated in england and it was pretty serious stuff. there was a superstitious belief that it was dangerous to mention the devil by name. at that time, it was like speaking the name of god. this is how all the devil’s nicknames came to be: prince of darkness, the horned one, etc. it seems like the clergy was a little more adamant about the situation than the general populace. no one actually thought the devil would appear, but it was considered unlucky.

that’s changed, though, and when we say speak of the devil, it’s usually a pretty ok thing to say and no one’s expecting the devil to show up.

though i’d be pretty stoked if the devil duck showed up.

word wednesday: palimpsest

word wednesday: palimpsest

i was rereading a book (codex) a couple weeks ago and ran across this word with very little context, and i knew i’d run across it before (not in the initial read), so i looked it up.

“a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.”

i’d read it in ” a discovery of witches!” (which, i might add, i own a signed first copy of ….thanks liz! lol)

it’s greek in origin from the word palin for again and psestos for rubbed smooth.

i’m sure you could call other things palimpsets, but it made sense in pre-gutenburg times when paper was scarce and books were rare.

what are some modern day palimpsets? could old VHS tapes that you recorded TV shows on over and over work? there wasn’t much trace of the old shows, but it was again rubbed smooth.

maybe double-exposure photography would count. chalk or whiteboards definitely – when you can still make out words that have been erased. old hard drives that you think you’ve reformatted but someone steals and is able to pull all your old data from?

word wednesday

word wednesday

so i just learned this the other day whilst browsing reddit.

the word bear actually is derived from old english bera, meaning the brown one – this is common throughout norse, dutch, german, etc. it’s derived from greek and latin, which have the root for bear, but why do these languages call a bear just by its color?

well, olde timey hunters in the northern parts pretty much replaced the names of wild animals because of a taboo on names of wild animals. other names for bear were the good calf, honey pic, the licker, honey eater. there are also variations of calling it the wild.

bears were so stinking scary to hunters that they couldn’t even call it by its name.

i did some very brief research on native american words for bears and tried to look up some etymology on those. the closest thing i could find that was sort of similar was the ojibwe word mukwa for bear, which actually means great. so sort of the same thing – replacing it with a descriptor. although, isn’t that a lot of words we have, especially onomatopoeia words?

word wednesday: nostalgia

word wednesday: nostalgia

we all feel nostalgic from time to time, remembering events past or traditions or things that happened when we were younger. the halcyon days. days we remember fondly and look at through our rose colored glasses.
the word itself has greek origins (surprise surprise). it comes from the greek nostos, meaning homecoming, and algia, or pain. it was coined in the late 1600s from a translation of the german word heimweh for homesickness by johannes hofer. he was describing the depression he witnessed in swiss mercenaries who were longing to get home after service abroad. so there was always some pain involved in nostalgia.
which, when you think about, is probably true in the modern definition. it might not be as acute as the swiss were feeling, but there is always a sense of sadness when we think about the good old days. nostalgia really is a two-edged sword, combining the happy days and the knowledge that they’re in the past and not coming back.

word wednesday: sycophant

word wednesday: sycophant

today’s word of the day probably needs a definition for some people as well.
sycophant: a person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain advantage.
aka, a brown-noser. 
we have another greek background word today (like clew’s greek myth background).
it comes from the greek word sykophantes, which is a false accuser or slanderer, but is literally translated as someone who shows the fig.
showing a fig was probably akin to doing the ol’ 👉👌 emoji combination (or in real-life combination, as i remember witnessing for the first time on the dance floor at first street station on 18+ night in 1998. someone was trying to get lucky.) (yes, liz, that emoji combination is inappropriate. 🙄 ) showing a fig was sticking your thumb between two fingers (think “got your nose”), which resembles a fig. a fig in those days was symbolic of the female nether regions (for help, sykon also meant vulva).
of course the politicians of the day were too good for such gestures (if only DT held himself to such standards) but lustily urged their followers to taunt their opponents with them (well, that’s something DT would obviously do). so in modern day french and greek, it means just slanderer, but in english it means an insincere flatterer. this shift happened over time, mostly because it’s portrayed as a kind of parasite, speaking untrue things or accusing for the gain of the approval of another. 

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