Verbing Weirds Words

Verbing Weirds Language

A friend of mine shared a link to a Merriam-Webster usage note about how the definition of “literally” includes “figuratively”, and how outraged people are about it. Another friend shared an angry emoji on the topic — lots of outrage!

And friends, I understand the frustration. I, too, am a literalist by inclination. “Literally” means “literally”, how can you possibly interpret anything figurative there?

But I do accept it, because I like how smoothly our brains stretch to accept new meanings.

Did you know that the word “bead” came from “benediction”? Christians would “count their beads” when they said the rosary. All your jewelry comes down to a religious term.

And that “glamour” is a mutated version of “grammar”, because the written word was magical to some set of illiterate English-speakers hundreds of years ago.

How about that “awful” used to have the same meaning as “awesome”? (It seems obvious once you point it out.)

Here are some of my favorite new words:

“Wat”, which means “what” but in a particularly disgusted tone of voice.

“Because X”, as in “the power went out because PG&E”, which assumes you understand all the reasons why PG&E would cause power outages, and creates camaraderie. (For more on this, I highly recommend the book Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch, which is narrated by the author in the audio edition.)

While I’m at it, I recommend the podcast Lexicon Valley hosted by John McWhorter, as well as many of his lectures on the Great Courses and his books. He talks about all kinds of weird language quirks, including why sounds change, why grammar changes, and how Black English is an entirely consistent and regular dialect of English, and not just mistakes.

And by the way, “nice” started out meaning “foolish”, so if you insist on words staying exactly the same for all time, then I think you’re nice.


I’m in love with the word housecarl.  It’s a very old word, and I stole it from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books.  I’ve been looking for a word to refer to men in a medieval noble household who aren’t in the family and aren’t knighted, but also aren’t necessarily servants.  Lois McMaster Bujold uses “armsman”.  Carey uses housecarl in her Viking-ish culture.  The other word I’ve come across is armiger, which applies to a military guy who works for a knight and is entitled to his own coat of arms, but isn’t knighted himself.  I have no idea why you would have a coat of arms without being a knight, so I was thinking of using it to mean anyone who carries weapons and isn’t knighted.

To me housecarl seems like the male version of “house maid”, except not implying “servile”.  I’m not sure I understand the nuances of relationships in a medieval household would be.  Does servile mean a slave, or also someone who works for money?  Or who works for room and board?  Would I be using it wrong to refer to male servants in the King’s Castle?  (Can I use it that way anyway, under the assumption that most people reading the book will either not already know the word, or will understand that this is my own world and I’m stealing words and repurposing* them?)

This came up because I’m looking for Germanic & Old English terms to use in LFG, as opposed to French, Latin, or Celtic.  Does it matter much, since I’m still writing the first draft?  Nope.  But looking for the right words to use helps me get into the feeling of the world.


* Firefox doesn’t think “repurposing” is a word.  Wikipedia doesn’t either, but several articles use it as a word.

Meta Blog Post

My notebook - entry from Jan 13, 2013

I’ve noticed that I like my writing voice better when I’m talking to myself, pondering to myself, stream of consciousness (though it usually is in complete sentences… cuz I’m funny like that).  Why is that?  I’m more authentic with myself.  I also don’t have to fill in as much back-story, cuz I already know the background, so it’s a faster, more immediate train of thought.  (“Wait for me!” she shouted, running after the train.)  Also, I have more random asides and quips, because I’m amusing myself.  :)  Sometimes they’re inside jokes, where you really had to be there on that one day in the 10th grade when…

And then, do I edit my train-of-thought stream-of-consciousness blurbs after I’ve reached the end?  If I edit inline, then I’m clearly too self-conscious and not really talking to myself (cuz duh, I don’t need to censor when *I’m* the audience, cuz I’ll be hearing all the extra crap whether I edit or not).  But what about afterwards?  When I realize that I looped around back to repeat something I’ve already said, and why on earth would you care about all the meanderings and thoughts I’ve been having?

Also, that means that once the moment has passed, once I don’t feel the need to tell myself the story, then I won’t be able to recapture it for you, either.  But then, if I don’t feel the need to tell myself the story, maybe that means I don’t need to tell you, either.  (And who is “you” in this sentence?  Is it me, because I’m writing to myself?  Or is it the imaginary audience out there who probably isn’t reading this post anyway?  Woah, my head is spinning.)

I want to post more.  (I hate reading blog posts from inconsistent bloggers [like myself] who post saying “I want to blog more!  But here’s my excuse why I haven’t… or here’s my plan for doing better!”, when really you could just SKIP the post saying “I’m gonna blog more” and instead just start blogging more.  Duh.)  But anyway, I do want to post more.  I also know that this is pretty low on my list of priorities.  (Given my previous parenthetical, where is this paragraph going?  I think I had a point when I started it, but I got distracted by my own aside, and now I don’t remember what the next sentence should be.  Oh right…)  It’s an effort to write up a blog post, and disappointing to reread it and realize I sound lame, or I’m not telling an interesting story after all, and so I should just scrap it as not worth* the ones and zeroes it’s printed on.  (And I’m still doing that lame thing I hate from others: sharing my lack of self-confidence.  Sigh.)  But the point is that when I’m writing to myself in my notebook, or on paper, then I like my voice just fine.  Maybe I read it differently when it’s only to myself?  Maybe I write it differently?  Nah, I’ve lost the voice, now I’m telling YOU instead of telling myself.  My self has already moved on to another subject, which is the point of my footnote… so I’ll just leave you with the footnote:


* I mistyped “worth” as another word that’s like “wrote“: wroth.  It’s the verb of “wrath”, I think.  “She was wroth with him.”  Could just say “angry at”, but “wroth” sounds cool.  And it’s just one letter off from “wrote”… which is the only thing they have in common.  :)


Have you noticed what a weird word “wrote” is?  Write becomes written pretty obviously.  And lots of words in English transform the vowel to indicate past tense instead of changing the ending.  Sing Sang Sung*.

I must use the word “wrote” pretty often… “I wrote a lot at my last writing group,” or “I wrote 5 pages last week”, or whatever.  And in that sentence it sounds fine, but … Have you looked at the word?  Wrote.  It’s sorta like rote, sorta like wrought.  But of course, it doesn’t mean either of those things, so it’s not like them at all.

And if you repeat it enough times, you’ll become convinced it’s not really a word and need to look it up to make sure you’re not crazy.  Ask me how I know.


*  Though apparently English does this to a larger degree, and with less regularity, than most other European languages.  Which *could* (maybe, or at least according to John McWhorter) be explained by a group of people with a native language that changes grammatical meanings of words by replacing vowels (e.g. the Semitic languages, including Arabic and Hebrew) having come to Northern Europe and learned Proto-German imperfectly, bringing their own grammatical structures into the language.  Which is an *awesome* theory, and even if it’s not true, I like it a lot.  Um… there’s a better summary of this theory in this review of one of McWhorter’s books: