Teachers Write 7.26.15 Focus on Historical Fiction (and a giveaway!)

 It’s Sunday, which means reflection day at Teachers Write and a time to check in with one another on Jen’s blog. It’s also time for a Teachers Write giveaway and another one of our Focus on Historical Fiction posts. Let’s talk history first!

My Ranger in Time series is written in third person, and goes back and forth from Ranger’s dog-centered point of view to the point of view of the main character in the historical setting. Choosing the right words is always important in writing, but in historical fiction, the author has a responsibility to select not just a word that sounds good but also one that fits the point of view and makes sense in that particular time period.

When I’m writing descriptions from Ranger’s point of view, for example, I need to remember that dogs don’t see most colors but do have a highly sophisticated sense of smell. How would a dog from the 21st century describe a 19th century covered wagon or an amphitheater in ancient Rome when there was nothing quite like those things in his world? Perhaps he’d make a connection to the cars that his home family used for travel or the soccer stadium where his boy played. What frame of reference might that dog have for the smell of oxen and lions when we don’t encounter these animals regularly in our modern-day lives? I needed to remember that Ranger would have had the experiences of his modern-day family and probably would have seen animals like other dogs, cats, squirrels, birds, and horses, but probably nothing much more exotic. You can take a look at page 17 in RANGER IN TIME: RESCUE ON THE OREGON TRAIL and pages 16 and 24-25  in RANGER IN TIME: DANGER IN ANCIENT ROME to get a sense for how I chose to handle this. If you’re sharing this prompt with students, it might be fun to have them bring Ranger back in time to whatever period in history you’re studying at the time. How would a dog from our world describe the smells, sights, and sounds of Revolutionary War battle or a ship full of immigrants bound for the New World?

Language is also important when we think about the historical setting of a story and what was and wasn’t around at that time. Obviously, my pioneer kids in Rescue on the Oregon Trail won’t have iPhones or iPads. That would be an anachronism – something that appears in a time period in which it just doesn’t belong. But this can be easier for a proofreader to spot with technology than with words. The first printing of my regional historical novel Spitfire, set in 1776, had a character using the word “okay,” which didn’t enter the lexicon until the middle of the 19th century. This slipped by proofreaders and was pointed out to me by a kind reader so that we could correct it for the second printing. I’ve been even more careful with words since then.

In RANGER IN TIME: RESCUE ON THE OREGON TRAIL, one of the sections written in Sam’s point of view talks about how he’s glad that Ranger has come along:

“It was good to have furry company, especially with Lizzie being so cranky.”


When I got my manuscript back from my Scholastic editor with notes, I found a comment asking if “cranky” was really the best word. She’d checked – and it was part of the lexicon in 1850, but she thought it might sound more current and wondered if something else might be a better choice. Would I give that some thought and see what I could come up with?

I understood that while technically, the use of “cranky” was all right, it might sound modern to some people. So I brainstormed some other words I might choose instead and thought that “grumpy” sounded right and a bit less modern, too. But was it a word that would have been part of Sam’s world in 1850? Some quick internet research told me that it was not and also led me to this delightful Wordnik blog post about different ways to call a grouch a grouch, no matter what the time period.

According to “A short-tempered history of the curmudgeon,” cranky was indeed a word in 1850, but “grouchy” didn’t come around until the 1890s. According to the blog post, the Online Etymology Dictionary says college students at the time may have coined the word, possibly as a derivative of the Middle English grucchen, which meant to grumble or complain.

Sourpuss was also out of the question on the Oregon Trail, since it didn’t show up in our language until 1937. And while the word “grump” was around in the 1700s, meaning “ill-humor,” it was generally used as part of the phrase “humps and grunts,” which I love…but it isn’t relevant here. “Grump” apparently wasn’t used to describe a grouchy person until around 1900.

Curmudgeon and crab were both options, but curmudgeon sounded too old for Sam’s point of view, and crab felt too oceany to me for a story that traveled over land. (I know – that’s a weird reason to reject a word, but it’s my book, so I get to decide these things, whether they are rational or not.)

So ultimately, an hour later, I changed the word back to cranky.

This is why revising a book takes so long.  🙂

On to our giveaway now!

Last week, I was at the wonderful International Reading Association Conference in St. Louis and brought you all back some presents!

Okay…the truth is, I couldn’t bring back books for ALL of you because of airplane carry-on limits. But I brought back a couple of really special signed books so we could have a giveaway. Here they are…

photo 3 (23)

photo 2 (29)photo 1 (27)

If you’d like to enter the giveaway, you’ll need to do a little word-research work based on today’s historical fiction blog post. Choose a word that you’d like to know a little more about – maybe one from your work-in-progress, or maybe not – and look up its etymology online. (One quick way to do this is to simply google the word and “etymology.”) Where did the word come from, and how long has it been part of the English language? Come back here to share what you learned in a comment before Thursday at 9pm EST, and you’ll be entered in the drawing! I’ll pick a winner and send the books out Friday morning.

34 Replies on “Teachers Write 7.26.15 Focus on Historical Fiction (and a giveaway!)

  1. I looked up the etymology for the word “know” because it’s a word in my working title. I found out the parenthetical phrase “You know” (a phrase in my title) is from 1712. I have to admit, that makes me particularly curious about what else was happening in and around 1712….

  2. Ohmygoodness, this is so much fun and a dangerous diversion from things that need doing! It gets a little addictive once you start! I’ve been playing on etymonline.com and punching in word after word, and then I find I want to see if other sites agree, and well, you can see how time-consuming it can be!

    I see how much thoughtful time you must spend on finding the accurate words for your historical time periods, Kate. I hope you have more self control than I do. 😉 Thank you so much for pushing me to think about the inception of words into a language.

    I chose “ginormous”, remembering that it was a recent addition to our Merriam-Webster dictionaries. It was added to the MW collegiate dictionary in 2007 as popular slang combining “giant” and “enormous” and I remember controversy as to whether trending words should be added to dictionaries. I did not remember, however, this tidbit: “ginormous” actually goes back to British English military slang in WWII in 1942 or 48. I think that’s kind of fabulous!

  3. How fun! Thank you Kate for this post and permission to use it with students. My boys and I just finished up Fish in a Tree as a read aloud this summer and started the first Ranger in Time. We are only beginning chapter 2…..but I gave myself permission to jump ahead for the purpose of this prompt.

    From June 27-July 27th I am building a #write30daily doc in google docs. I keep all my notes and drafts in there. On July 27th I will put it away lovingly and switch to a different WIP. This helps me from feeling too overwhelmed by a WIP. Sometimes, it just feels like a tidal wave of impossible. The downside is that my progress is so slow it’s hard to see!

    For this WIP that I’m working on, my character is loosely based on a family member that was a teenager during the Great Depression. She always wore hats that I HATED called Tams. When I was a kid, it was common to receive a tam as a gift—either hand-knitted or store bought and I hated it. But, when I think about this person and what a gift it was for her to GIVE these….well, I should have been more grateful.

    I didn’t know the origin of the tam hat…..I looked it up and it’s below. I think I’d like to “tip my hat” so to speak to the culture of origin – Scottish in my WIP as a way of acknowledging my learning here.

    What a GREAT activity for students. Thank you for the writing lesson AND all the words you lovingly craft for kids and adults. I hope it gives you satisfaction and a good feeling because they really do mean a lot to your readers….myself included.

    Tam o’shanter: Word Origin
    a cap of Scottish origin, usually made of wool, having a round, flat topthat projects all around the head and has a pompon at its center.
    Also called tam.
    Origin of tam-o’-shanter

    1. Hi Linda, I’ve seen you mention before how you trade off WIPs monthly and I just love this idea! I tend to have ideas fighting for attention which can often leave me feeling so frustrated that I get nothing done! I believe I’ll be trying this soon. 🙂 Thank you for all of your positive and insightful comments this summer!

      I also love the info on Tams AND that you’re working on a story set during the Great Depression — that’s a current seedling I’m nudging about as well. 🙂 My grandma grew up during that time in West Virginia, but her parents were from Scotland. Small world! 🙂

  4. The word I’ve chosen to find out more about is scrumptious. Here’s what I found from the (some say history unknown) Online Etymology Dictionary: scrumptious is an adjective –
    1. 1833 probably a colloquial alteration of sumptuous.
    2. Originally stylish, splendid; sense of delicious by 1881
    So this word’s history seems to vary depending on where you look. I like the way the word sounds and the way it rolls off your tongue when read aloud. I also like the visual it brings up for me when I read it, which is describing something SUPER delicious!

  5. I looked up cattywampus and found this at dictionary.com


    also catawampous, cattywampus, catiwampus, etc. (see \”Dictionary of American Slang\” for more), American colloquial. First element perhaps from obsolete cater \”to set or move diagonally\” (see catty-cornered ); second element perhaps related to Scottish wampish \”to wriggle, twist, or swerve about.\” Or perhaps simply the sort of jocular pseudo-classical formation popular in the slang of those times, with the first element suggesting Greek kata-.

    Earliest use seems to be in adverbial form, catawampusly (1834), expressing no certain meaning but adding intensity to the action: \”utterly, completely; with avidity, fiercely, eagerly.\” It appears as a noun from 1843, as a name for an imaginary hobgoblin or fright, perhaps from influence of catamount. The adjective is attested from the 1840s as an intensive, but this is only in British lampoons of American speech and might not be authentic. It was used in the U.S. by 1864 in a sense of \”askew, awry, wrong\” and by 1873 (noted as a peculiarity of North Carolina speech) as \”in a diagonal position, on a bias, crooked.\”

  6. Hi Kate, I read and loved both of your Ranger books. I loved traveling back in time to learn about these two time periods and as a dog lover adored Ranger.

    My word choice from my story The Day I Turned into a Worm is wooz·y
    late 19th century: of unknown origin.

    Since my story is about me it would be a fine word choice for my story which took place in 1970.

    I love Teachers Write and am excited to be a writing student so that I can be a better writing teacher.

    I just ordered two more of your books for my class. Tomorrow my fiancé and I are going in to my classroom to build five new bookshelves for my class. I’m so excited to return to school with a room full of sweet faces.

  7. Revision does take time. I am in a revision with my WIP that I started 3 years ago in TW. Will it ever be done? Like Linda, I want to thank you for your support of us as writers and as teachers. I always learn so much from my summer at TW. I also keep close Real Revision and 59 Reasons.
    I am writing a place-based novel. While I am not Cajun and do not use much Cajun language in my book, there is one word that I just love and have used.

    “I hope it’s not a snake.” Ms. Fullilove wiggles like she’s got the frissons.

    I looked up frissons first to get the spelling right. It’s pronounced “freeze-ons” with a soft French n. It means “an emotional thrill.” But it’s used when in Cajun English when something gives you the creeps, like the heeby-jeebies.
    I like the sound of the word. Isn’t it perfect for goosebumps?

    Thanks for the exercise and the book drawing. If I win, I’ll certainly get the frissons!

  8. My word is prissy, which I wanted to use to describe a pain-in-the-neck, overly mannerly, show off of a woman, as described by the 12 yr old protagonist. My novel takes place in the South in 1912. Prissy was coined in the the late 1800s, as a combination of prim and sissy. It is of Southern origin, according to etymonline.com, and first appeared in print in 1895. Here’s the line as quoted on that site:
    “It’s nothing but a girl’s word,” remarked Mrs. Meadows by way of explanation. “It means that somebody’s trying hard to show off.”
    So…my word choice gets the etymology dictionary approval!
    Thanks Kate for your continuing mentoring in writing – I’m so grateful.

  9. Kate,
    Thank you for this opportunity to dig deeper into my wip. I’ve already had to look up a few words as I’ve done mini-revisions. One of them was the term “okay,” and even though it will work with my 1918 ms, I’ve chosen to stay with “alright,” as a more appropriate term for my character.

    The work I looked up for this exercise is “Mick,” which one of my characters uses to disparage my American-Irish protagonist. I was confident the term would have been used in the era of my ms, but now I’m sure.

    According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word, “mick,” a noun, is used as a derogatory term for “Irishman.” It was first used in 1856 as a nickname for Michael, a common Irish name.

    I have many more words to research. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of word choice in our historical novels.

  10. This is an awesome post, Kate! I have ordered your first Ranger in Time book. So I googled the word “okay” and this is what I found: “A more likely explanation is that the term originated as an abbreviation of orl korrekt , a jokey misspelling of ‘all correct’ which was current in the US in the 1830s.” And in the presidential election of 1840, Martin Van Buren , who’s nickname was Old Kinderhook, had a support club called the OK club. Anyway, my novel takes place in North Korea and China, in our current times, and it’s in English, but still, having the mc say “OK,” seems a little weird, even though it’s modern. I’ll have to think about this. Thanks so much!

  11. Thanks for the engaging activity Kate! I teach fourth grade and I\’m excited to share \”The Ranger in Time\” series with my students. I think today\’s activity would be a great activity for word study with my students.

    The word I have chosen to do research on is \”cumbersome\”, from a memoir I am currently reading. According to the sites I visited, cumbersome is an adjective from the late 14th Century Middle English language, meaning \”unwieldly, hard to carry, or troublesome\”. I found an interesting site that gives the derivations of as far back as a work can be traced. For example, they stated that the word \”cumber\” is derived from the English word \”encumber\”. This word was derived from the Old French word \”encombrer\”. The list goes on; showing the word was derived from Greek, Latin and Old French.

  12. This has made me look at not only word choice in my WIP, but also at words in some of the books my students will be reading this year. The word I chose from my WIP is “calloused”. It originated around the 1400s late Middle English. It means “hardened,” in the physical sense from the latin callosus, “thick skinned or callum, “hard skin”
    The figurative meaning came about in the 1670s meaning unfeeling.

  13. Hi, Kate,

    What an interesting post! I choose the word “knucklehead” because it is in my WIP, and I was curious. Here is what I found on the Online Etymology Dictionary site:

    “stupid person,” 1890, American English, from knuckle (n.) + head (n.).
    “That infernal knuckle-head at the camp ought to have reported before now,” he thought to himself, as he smoked. [Charles H. Shinn, “The Quicksands of Toro,” in “Belford’s Magazine,” vol. V, June-November 1890, New York]

    From 1869 as the name of a part in a type of mechanical coupling device. Popularized in the “stupid person” sense from 1942, from character R.F. Knucklehead, star of “Don’t” posters hung up at U.S. Army Air Force training fields.

    Everything Knucklehead does is wrong and ends in disaster. He endures one spectacular crash after another so that the students at the Gulf Coast Air Force Training Center may profit by his mistakes, and it looks now as if there will be no let-up in his agony. [“Life,” May 25, 1942]

    The current meaning: a stupid, bumbling, inept person.

    I am thinking that “knucklehead” might be too harsh to use.

    Originally, I researched “bully” but for some reason it wouldn’t let me post because of inappropriate content. I could not find the inappropriate content, but I began thinking that maybe the word “bully” and the current meaning were inappropriate.

    I did find this to be a very interesting. After reading http://www.promoteprevent.org/blog/old-school-sweetheart-modern-day-menace-history-word-bully, it seems as though the meaning changed in the mid-1800s. But the most interesting thing that I found was that there were nearly as many mentions of the word “bully” in around 1910 as there were in 2010 (a little more).

    Wow, Kate! After a 9-hour day in the sun at a very busy pool, I had no idea that I would be spending fifty minutes researching the word “bully” and “knucklehead” (and having fun). Thanks again.

  14. This is a great giveaway challenge! I love this idea even for the classroom! Thanks Kate, I’ll be thinking of some words to research this week…

  15. I looked up the word “random” since my children use it so much! It is actually of German origin and meant “to run with great speed”, or the French which meant “gallop”… Interesting that it now means to happen without regularity (because the running was “haphazard”)

  16. Thanks, Kate, for sharing insights into the painstaking research and revision that pertains to diction in historical fiction. (Hmm. Appears my rhyming setting got stuck this morning.)

    Anyway, here’s the eytmological rabbit hole I entered… I took inspiration from the original post and explored the history of the word ‘anachronism.’ (I also like this word because it makes for a nice study of roots and affixes: ana+chronos+ism.) Wordnik traces the word through French and Latin origins. The Online Etymology Dictionary (OED!) pinpoints 1640 as the initial usage, when the word typically identified literal miscalculations of time or date. Today’s meaning of ‘out of place in time’ first occurred in 1816. That led me to try thinking of pre-1816 anachronisms that couldn’t have been called anachronisms, and the idea of George Washington’s wooden teeth unexpectedly popped into my head. Internet magic then brought me to a history site (americanrevolution.org) where a docent enlightened me about Washington’s lousy dental health and the true history of his dentures, which weren’t actually wooden, but largely ivory. That made me wonder when the term ‘dentures’ was first coined; several sites said the 1870’s. So, it’d be an anachronism to refer to Washington’s falsies as dentures! (By the way, OED says first usage of ‘falsies’ was 1943, naming a “padded brassiere.”) I guess more research is needed to uncover a timely name for our first president’s pseudo-teeth…

  17. Recently, I read an ARC copy of a historical fiction YA novel. Set in the 1930’s in East Texas, the author dealt with a horrible explosion in a school which killed many of the students. Paired with the examination of race relations and tensions, this was a story which needed telling. However, the appearance of “broccoli” on the family’s supper table threw me for a loop. I knew that, as a girl growing up in 1960’s Texas, we didn’t have broccoli on OUR table until the late 1970’s. I wanted to know if that was unique to our family, or was that the experience of others? What I found, after googling the “history of broccoli in the USA”, was that broccoli came to the U.S. during the 1880’s but was not widely known until the 1920’s. After looking a bit more, it seemed as if it was mainly known in CA. My gut feeling is that green beans or collard greens would have been on this particular family’s supper plate rather than broccoli. It is hard to know for certain, though.

    This exercise helped me as I continue to write my YA historical fiction novel set also in Texas in the 1930’s but in west, rather than east, Texas. I want to fact-check as I write to ensure no reader is “thrown off” by a word or an item wrong for that historical place and time. Thank you, Kate, for this great detour!

  18. Hi Kate!

    I am excited to join back in with Teacher’s Write. I have been on vacation and then in a wedding. I have been itching to get back into writing- and what a perfect post to join back up with!

    Everything you have written here is exactly what I want my teachers to think about during writing instruction as well as the students. We have a unit of study dedicated to the role of setting and the research involved in composing a story taking place during a specific time and place. May I share this post with my teachers?

    I am off to pick up my two boys at camp but will get back to researching a word this evening for the give away.

    Thanks again!!

  19. I loved this post and the research. I investigated the origins of the word quibble, which (in noun form) means a slight objection or criticism, and, in verb form means to make such an objection. An archaic definition is a play on words or pun. Quibble comes from the Latin qui, who, what, which or the Latin quib (an evasion). Quibble came into usage meaning a play on words in the early 17th century, though that meaning has fallen out of use. Now it is more likely to be used in the verb form.

  20. Kate, this was such a valuable exercise. I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s responses. Thank you for sharing a snapshot of your etymology research with us. I looked up the word “dementia” since my WIP is about a young girl coming to grips with her grandmother’s decline into Alzheimer’s. In the story, she travels back in time to the 1950s and befriends her grandmother. While back in time, she learns that her great-great grandmother is institutionalized for dementia. I wanted to see what terms would have been used to describe the great-great grandmother’s condition as I knew “Alzheimer’s” was not used widely until the 1970s. I came across an interesting blog that discusses the use of the word “dementia” today and how the American Psychiatric Association’s plans to drop the word “dementia” because of stigmas related to the use of the word. Here’s the post if you want to read more. It was really interesting:

    I did find that the word “dementia” is from Latin and means “madness, insanity,” literally “a being out of one’s mind,” from dement-, stem of demens “mad, raving” (see dement) + abstract noun suffix -ia. It existed earlier in an anglicized form, demency (1520s), from French démence. Dementia praecox is a Modern Latin form recorded from 1899 in English, 1891 in German, from French démence précoce(1857).

    However, I had trouble finding what term would have been used broadly in the 1950s. I am wondering if it wasn’t talked about much at all. From my research, it seems medical professionals used the word dementia. The blog post I linked to is especially interesting as it addresses the issue that dementia patients have been historically and even presently treated with psychiatric drugs that aggravate the disease. In the 1950s it would have been commonplace for those with dementia to be treated to control their behaviors.

  21. Kate – I loved your post regarding the use of “time” appropriate words! I plan to add this to my classroom lessons when the students are writing biographies of historical people.

    My WIP is in multiple pieces and parts but after thinking about my family and words that we use, I began to wonder how I could incorporate them into my piece. My Grandmother referred to a low storage cabinet as the “credenza” and I never questioned why but looking up the etymology of the word, I now understand.

    The term Credenza originally meant belief in Italian. In the 16th century, it was the act of tasting food for an important person to check for poison. The name then passed to the furniture from which the food was served. The word became trendy in the US during the mid to late 19th century.

    With a little further searching, I also found a description that I will be working into my writing. Some characteristics: glass display cabinet, polished wood, contains ornate decorative details, and possible a marble top for a heat resistant surface.

    Again, thank you for your wonderful explanation and your challenge. I think this will also be interesting for students to incorporate into their writing.

  22. Hi there!
    I’ve been doing lots of hanging around with the 92-year-old grandmother that raised me. Our time together made me want to learn more about where “elderly” comes from. Here’s what I found:

    Elderly – from the online etymology dictionary: “bordering on old age, somewhat old,” 1610s, from elder + -ly (1). Now, generally, “old.” Old English ealdorlic meant “chief, princely, excellent, authentic.” Old English also had related eldernliche “of old time,” literally “forefatherly.”

    I love that the old English meaning includes the word “authentic”. My gram is very much her authentic self!

    Thanks for the fun opportunity and reinforcing the idea that words are specific to time-periods.

  23. I looked up anachronism to find out that it is Greek and from mid 1600s. Historical writers really need to be careful about words, clothing, etc. So much work is involved, yet it doesn’t stifle your creativity!

  24. A feel I get from this wonderful workshop!
    happy (adj.) Look up happy at Dictionary.comlate 14c., “lucky, favored by fortune, being in advantageous circumstances, prosperous;” of events, “turning out well,” from hap (n.) “chance, fortune” + -y (2). Sense of “very glad” first recorded late 14c. Meaning “greatly pleased and content” is from 1520s. Old English had eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. Old English bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.”

  25. What a fun and helpful exercise! My story takes place in the late 1960’s in Singapore. My tween character has moved, reluctantly, from her old life in the U.S. My word is expat – I was wonderin g if her parents would use the term. Expat comes from the Latin ex (out of) and patria (country, fatherland). Expat is an abbreviated version of expatriate. As a verb expatriate means to expel a person from his or her own country; as a noun it originally meant exile but now is used of a person who lives by choice in a foreign country. This meaning fits in perfectly with my main character’s profile While the word expatriate has been in usage since 1768, the shortened form expat, according to one source, was only introduced sometime in 1962. Other sources site artists, writers and musicians being referred to as expats in the 1920s. This research has led me to believe I need to do more research – perhaps interviews with expats who lived in Singapore at this time to determine the usage of expat. This word’s complex meanings are keys to my main character’s struggles.

  26. I definitely fell into the rabbit hole with this exercise! The first word I looked up was ‘panoply,’ which is a lyric in one of my favourite songs by The Decemberists called “June Hymn.” The song celebrates that coming of the summer and just makes me feel happy. I’ve always loved the vocabulary used in it, words like reverie and panoply. I love that it originally meant complete suit of armour. The lyric in the song refers to a panoply of song. I like the idea of protective layer of song 🙂

    panoply (n.)
    1570s, from Greek panoplia “complete suit of armor,” from pan- “all” (see pan-) + hopla (plural), “arms” of a hoplites (“heavily armed soldier”); see hoplite. Originally in English figurative, of “spiritual armor,” etc. (a reference to Eph. vi); non-armorial sense of “any splendid array” first recorded 1829.

  27. The word I was curious about was “sangfroid”. I am reading a mystery novel with a Cornish setting. Sangfroid was used to describe a character…it means coolness of mind,calmness; composure. Its’ origin dates back to 1740-50 and is French. It means literally cold blood. This was an intriguing exercise and I plan to do this with my third graders and the Ranger Series I recently purchased. I also plan to use the 59 Reasons to Write. My students will love this! thank you so much for sharing so many amazing tips.

  28. I have been mulling over what word to pursue when I was listening to an audio book. The book was set in the 1800s and a character in the book who was longing for a girl questioned what kind of an idiot he was. The word idiot jumped out at me, different from any dialogue so far, so I looked it’s etymology up and found it goes back to early 14th century and has been utilized since. I also enjoyed a quote from Mark Twain from the time period of the book I was listening to-“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Anyway, I am more informed than the idiot I once was. Thanks Kate and now I will be more aware when I write-another detail I can hone in on!

  29. Hi Kate,
    I connected with your post and appreciated you sharing your revision tales.

    I looked up the word “skunk”. According to the google entymology, the original word was “skuunck” in the 17th century, American Indian, Massachusett. The word slowly became more common, reaching a peak in 1940s, but today’s usage is close in numbers. Information from the http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/116755/what-is-the-origin-of-the-word-skunk-as-a-verb website:

    Origin (Online Etymology Dictionary):

    1630s, squunck, from a southern New England Algonquian language (probably Abenaki) seganku, from Proto-Algonquian */šeka:kwa/, from */šek-/ “to urinate” + */-a:kw/ “fox.” As an insult, attested from 1841. Skunk cabbage is attested from 1751.

    I just happened on this website while clicking around and thought it might be useful…
    The “English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It’s 100% free, no registration required.”

    I can see a mini-lesson evolving here. Thanks for suggesting this task 🙂

  30. For our recent poetry writing assignment, I used the word “galoshes.” So much better than “boots,” right?! It was first used in the 14th century, most likely from the Old French word “galoche,” meaning “overshoe.” Interesting!

  31. Oh my, what a fabulous exercise, Kate! 🙂 All of my information was found at etymonline.com.

    My current WIP has a hefty focus on dreams (ooh, but now I want to look up hefty…) so I did some digging on DREAM and love what I came up with. While the word as we use it originally showed up in the mid-13th century, there is some confusion as to how we started using dream to mean a “sequence of sensations passing through a sleeping person’s mind” as the Old English word dream originally meant joy and merriment. It doesn’t appear that “dream” was the root for our modern understanding of the word.

    However! As I’ve been world building, I’ve been tinkering with the thought of bringing in some old viking/Norse mythology, and it does seem that our word dream is very closely related to Old Norse “draumr” or even Old Norse “draugr” which meant ghost or apparition.

    One word for “sleeping vision” in Old English was swefn, which originally simply meant “sleep” … this seems to come from the Latin somnium, or somnus, which is literally: “sleep personified; the god of sleep in Roman mythology,” equivalent of Greek Hypnos, son of Night and brother of Death, 1590s.

    ALL very fun butterfly chasing fun for me, as I expect my WIP will be swirling about in the world of gods and dream walking and ancient worlds. I had been trying to find more information on the viking beliefs on dreams, but eesh, never considered etymology as a source of info. Now I’m off and running!

    WOOHOO! Thanks again for this helpful idea, Kate — off to search more words. 🙂

  32. I love this idea! My WIP concerns the Girl Guides (the British version of Girl Scouts) during World War II, but unrelated (or so I thought) to that is the word I’ve been curious about: “organic.” It’s such a hot topic, as more and more foods in the grocery store are labeled as such. But where did that word come from?

    Apparently it comes from the Latin “organicus,” meaning “serving as an organ or instrument,” and from the Greek “organikos,” meaning “of or pertaining to an organ, serving as instruments or engines. The modern meaning, “free from pesticides and fertilizers” first came about in 1942. (from etymology.com)

    But what’s interesting is that the modern notion of organic foods began in the 1940s and really took off in the 1950s in some areas. From the book The Organic Farmer: Farming Without Chemicals, volume 3 (1951), much is discussed about organic gardeners and how healthy eating organic can be. (from the English Language and Usage page of http://english.stackexchange.com/)

    So a word that I originally thought was so distanced from my topic really is more related than I imagined, with the modern definition becoming more popular during the time period I am focusing on. Imagine that!

  33. Well, the word “shindig” popped into my head, possibly since my mother used it this summer while I was visiting. My research says that in 1871 it was defined as a dance, party, or lively gathering. Even earlier, in 1821, it was defined as a spree (what an awesome word that one is!), or merrymaking. Finally, go back another 50 years and it means a kind of game like hockey. Go figure. Now, before school starts, I’m going to plan me a shindig! Thanks so much, Kate, for this incredible chock a block of blog posts and inspiration. (P.S. Met your friend, Marjorie, at a Writer’s Retreat, BTW)