Weird wordification. Old skool.

Dear reader,

Welcome to another post in Weird wordification. This time I want to talk about something real that’s really not so real as it might look.

old skool

Probably everyone has heard the expression Old Skool. A reference to days gone by where walkmans (MP3-players with cassettes) ruled the street view. When there only were dumb phones with smart users (which doesn’t mean that smart phones nowadays have dumb users – have you ever tried to use one of those? Smart phones, I mean, not their users).

I am from that era. Actually I am from before that era, so one might call me ancient skool. Were it not… that I object to both these expressions. And why do I, you wonder?

In old and certainly ancient schools people learnt how to spell correctly. Old skool would have been properly named Old School back then.

Of course, my objections are overruled by the rest of the world, and I understand that. Old Skool is a modern expression, it bears no relation to the spelling taught in old schools. Is this something that casts shadows over ‘our’ language? It seems to happen.

A while ago I had an interesting discussion with someone from America who claimed that ‘b4’ is exactly the same thing as ‘before’. I tried to convince him that this is not an absolute truth, because I (being Dutch) first interpret this ‘b4’ as ‘bay veer’. French people may interpret it as “bay kah-tr”. Trust me: “bay veer” and “bay kah-tr” in either language has nothing to do with ‘before’. It’s all fine for everyone whose native language is English. Or people who’ve been subjected to this kind of acronym or shorthand long enough…

Weird wordification – Ranch Dressing.

Dear reader,

You may know my habit of doing odd things with words. Today I had an encounter with an expression that probably every American citizen has encountered (and many more people around the world as well).


Ranch dressing.

These words appeared with someone holding a bowl. Immediately I wondered if that one bowl would be large enough to contain enough fabric to dress an entire ranch in it!

I delight in little things like that. My mind makes strange turns and finds the strangest paths behind words, thus finding hidden meanings behind them.

The next thing I thought of was: how would one go about to dress as a ranch? Unfortunately the interwebz did not have an answer for that, so I just assume it will involve a lot of wood that one fashions into a portable version of a ranch. That, sandpaper and a good lick of paint on the inside to prevent splinters. And suspenders. One needs suspenders to move about while dressed as a ranch.

Anyway… or thereabouts

Dear Reader,

I saw something horrible. Even to this moment I’m not certain how I found out what it actually means. Let me show you:


Can you see, at first glance, what’s meant here? If so, you are better at deciphering mutilated language than I am.

Who needs it an-y-way.

This clearly is an attempt to be popular in using as few letters as possible, like people who substitute ‘you’ by a mere ‘u’, and ‘are’ by a simple ‘r’. In this case however, the attempt fails entirely. Not only becomes the text highly illegible, it’s also longer than writing anyway. Only one character (a space) longer, but it’s longer.

Why do people want to make things so confusing?

I write like…

Dear reader,

There is an fun website out there which tries to compare a person’s writing to that of famous writers. I gave it a shot with an excerpt from the latest part of Hilda 10 that I had written, and this came out of its analysis:

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Then I put the site to the test (or was that myself I tested?) and I let it analyse the last paragraphs of the latest Lily Marin short story. And that told me

I write like
J. K. Rowling

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Now isn’t that interesting. I think I write like Paul Kater…

The Slang Dictionary from 1874

Dear Reader,

As you may know by now I am fond of language and languages. On Ebook-Friendly I have discovered this little gem I really want to share with you:

The Slang Dictionary from 1874 is hilarious (and you can download it for free)

Do you know what “pin” is according to slang dictionary from 1874? Used in an expression “to put in the pin,” it means “to refrain from drinking.”

Written 140 years ago by John Camden Hotten, The Slang Dictionary: Etymological, Historical and Anecdotal, is a tremendous catalog of mostly forgotten slang words and phrases, that are cool enough to bring them back to our technology, hashtag-driven world. Interestingly, some of these words, like “twitter”, “button”, “poll”, or the above-mentioned “pin”, are being used widely, but their meaning from the past is rarely decoded.

The book was first issued in 1859, and republished by London’s Chatto & Windus in 1874 and later in 1913. It was digitized by Google Books and has just been added to Project Gutenberg online ebook catalog. It’s available for free in many ebook formats, including epub (for Nook, iBooks, and Kobo) and mobi (Kindle).

In a review of the dictionary H.T. Buckle said: “Many of these words and phrases are but serving their apprenticeship, and will eventually become the active strength of our language.” Indeed, the slang from the past can be a great refreshment to how the contemporary language is being shaped by social media or user-generated word catalogs like the Urban Dictionary.

The words from the past might not always carry the original meaning, but they may be recreated to describe what’s new in our life. Let’s take the word “e-fink”. In 1874 it meant “a knife”. The word, however, might be a great description for high-resolution e-ink display (that is still to come). And this is just a drop in the sea of possibilities!

Once again, one the most tremendous benefits of ebooks speaks very loudly. We wouldn’t be able to access many great publications from the past, if they weren’t digitized and became available online on sites like Project Gutenberg or Internet Archive.

Project Gutenberg

The Slang Dictionary (1874) – selected words & phrases

article derisive term for a weak or insignificant specimen of humanity

cool to look

devil’s books a pack of playing-cards; a phrase of Presbyterian origin

pin “to put in the pin,” to refrain from drinking. From the ancient peg tankard, which was furnished with a row of pins, or pegs, to regulate the amount which each person was to drink. Drunken people are often requested to “put in the pin,” from some remote connexion between their unsteadiness and that of a carriage wheel which has lost its linch-pin. The popular cry, “put in the pin,” can have no connexion with the drinking pin or peg now, whatever it may originally have had. A merry pin, a roysterer

elephant’s trunk drunk

shif fish

gentleman of three ins –that is, in debt, in danger, and in poverty

poll a female of unsteady character; “polled up,” means living with a woman in a state of unmarried impropriety. Also, if a costermonger sees one of his friends walking with a strange woman, he will say to him on the earliest opportunity, “I saw yer when yer was polled up”

zeb best

tattoo a pony

button a decoy, sham purchaser, &c. At any mock or sham auction seedy specimens may be seen. Probably from the connexion of buttons with Brummagem, which is often used as a synonym for a sham

four-eyes a man or woman who habitually wears spectacles

commission [mish], a shirt

school a knot of men or boys; generally a body of idlers or street gamblers. Also, two or more “patterers” working together in the streets

St. Martin’s-le-Grand the hand

twitter ”all in a twitter”, in a fright or fidgety state

Thank you, Ebook-Friendly!

15 most unbelievable words

Dear reader,

Do you sometimes wonder about words? Yes? Welcome to the club. No? Prepare to enter the club. once prepared a list with 15 unbelievable words in English. Here is the list:

(n.) A lack of the signs of old ages; a youthful old age
“The agerasia of that fellow is amazing; look at him darting around on those skates!”

(n.) A person armed with the self-confidence of ignorance
“Only a bayard would walk past that bull.”

(n.) An unfaithful spouse
“Phil refused to believe his wife was a bed-swerver.”

(v.) To paint the face with cosmetics, so as to hide blemishes
“My wife’s tendency to fard in the bathroom for an hour made us late.”

(n.) One who believes anything, no matter how absurd
“That guy is a gobemouche–I told him that bull would not chase him, and he believed me.”

(v.) To show that a person has previously espoused opinions differing from the ones he or she now holds
“Tom hansardized Phil by showing us a letter Phil had written to him.”

(n.) One who persistently fails to take notice of things
“I am an inadvertist when it comes to driving. I run over about 3 things a month.”

(n.) A brat who never ceases to be hungry, and was popularly thought to be a fairy that was substituted for the child
“Once upon a time, wicked faeries kidnapped a child and replaced it with an evil killcrop.”

(n.) Excessive or undue affection on the part of a wife for her husband
“Marge’s maritality was driving Burt insane, so he went out with his buddies.”

(adj.) Buttock-shaped
“The children giggled when they saw the natiform pumpkin.”

(n.) The state or condition of obstinately or willfully refusing to speak
“The sullen boy glared at his mother in obmutescence.”

(n.) A statement or account of dubious correctness or accuracy, such as some found in the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder
“Saying that the moon is made of cheese is pure plinyism.”

(adj.) Said of a meal, having the qualities of food served during Lent; austere, skimpy
“We only had a few pieces of chicken, and after our quaresimal meal, we were still hungry.”

(v.) To inconvenience or discomfort a person by pressing against him or her or by standing too close
“I was standing in the elevator when six other people got in, and one in particular scrouged me into a corner.”

(n.) The amount that can be held in two hands cupped together also, the two cupped hands themselves
“The pond was nearly dry; barely more than a yepsen of water was left.”

Do you now feel ready to join the club?

What is remarkable about this sentence?

I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly, perplexing, handwriting nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intelectuality counterbalancing indecipherability transcendentalizes intercommunication’s incomprehensibleness.”

What is it about this twenty-word sentence that marks it out from the ordinary?

No, there’s something other than the fact that it makes some sort of sense and the original writer had a remarkable vocabulary and a tendency to verbosity.

Continue reading “What is remarkable about this sentence?”

One book, two languages

Dear reader,

I am venturing into an experiment. Through a series of events I had an idea for a new story. (Reminder to events: kindly  stop eventing for a while, my box with story-ideas is still overflowing. Thank you.) One of the events is co-writing a story with a friend. As she is Dutch and much better at Dutch than English, we decided to give this story a try in Dutch. A first for me, as I had never written in Dutch before

story = verhaal

The new story I am working on is also in Dutch. But – it’s in English as well. I decided to write it in two languages at the same time, every few paragraphs I add to one version are then rewritten into the language of the other one. I have no rule or pattern, I just add to either of them and then add that same bit to the other one.

After about 700 words I sent the Dutch text to a friend for evaluation. Dutch and English are different languages with different rules, grammar, style etcetera. I wanted to know if this Dutch version was anything worth continuing. My friend said it was really great to read and immediately asked questions about a few things I had written, like “What is that book you mentioned in that story?” So I’m on the right track with this. It’s intriguing to write the same story twice, to see how certain word-twists go left or right, depending on the language.

As I write this post, the stories have progressed to chapter 3, both are up to almost 5,000 words. The main character, Sebastian (Sebastiaan in Dutch) has had many a problem and unnerving encounter already, and the show is now about to begin.



Word of warning from Sebastian:

“If you want to stay sane, don’t get a room at 17 Market Street.”


Mind your words

Dear reader,

Have you ever noticed how much some words can sound alike and have a different meaning? It is surprising to me how many people have problems distinguishing between certain words.

For instance affect and effect. Quite often I encounter bits of text (even in edited books) where these two words are mixed up.

It didn’t effect me at all.

This of course is not correct. Something can not affect you, or not have an effect on you. Affect is a verb, effect is a noun. If something can effect you, then don’t be surprised when tomorrow someone will attempt to table you!

The same thing happens quite frequently with then and than.

Joe is bigger then Mike.

Poor Mike, you may think, but then is the word you use when you are talking about things happening over time. Than is the word for comparisons, so Joe may be bigger, but he’s bigger than Mike. But Mike may grow to be very big at some point in time, and then he may be bigger than Joe. I wonder how that will affect Joe…

Languages like English

Dear reader, I love languages. They fascinate me.

Languages are the carriages with which we move our thoughts, ideas and emotions into the world, to other people, and it is incredible that there is such a plenitude of language on our Earth. English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Turkish, Arabic, and many more.

A while ago I was pondering the English language and something popped up in these thoughts. What is English? Originally it was the language spoken in England. Given how both words start with the same part that is somewhat of a give-away. Like German is to Germany, Italian to Italy and Dutch to the Netherlands. Oh. Well, you can’t win them all, I suppose.

But what about American English? It is derived from English but it has taken its own course and development through the centuries. Many facets of the language are still identical to its origin, but lots of things also changed. Which got me to think about the name American English. I somehow don’t think that this name does the language justice. In the Netherlands people speak Dutch, in the north of Belgium they do as well, but like the American form of English, that version of Dutch evolved differently than it did in the Netherlands, and now that language is called Belgian, not Belgian Dutch. (This is not entirely true, sometimes it is also called Flemish, but that is not the point I want to lead you to.)

Why not call the language that is common in America American? The people there are American, they live the American way, they buy American, so would they not speak American? I think it should be seen as a language on its own, free from (British) English. Because French fries are as close to chips as ‘n petatteke is to een frietje. And in case you don’t know what those last to are: they’re the Belgian and Dutch words for French fries. Or chips. It’s all the same potato.