This past week or so has been a period of enormous upheaval. I know I’m listed here as being of No Fixed Abode, but this is now literal as well as literary. I have moved house, something I’ve done many times in the past, but for the first time I have no permanent new home to go to. It provokes a curious feeling of detachment — almost of weightlessness.
I can’t quite decide if it’s rather freeing or scares me half to death.
The only constant is work. The written word. At the moment I have rewrites on an existing book that really ought to be completed before Christmas, and the planning of a new book to keep my mind occupied. I’ve also been talking about writing — no substitute, I know, but the closest I’ve got to the Real Thing recently.
First up was at the 60th anniversary event for the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) at Foyle’s bookstore in London. Here the results of the public vote for the Best Ever Novel (Agatha Christie’s THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD) Best Ever Author (Dame Agatha again) and the Best Ever Crime Series (Sherlock Holmes) were announced. I was honoured to be invited to discuss this with Barry Forshaw, Belinda Bauer and David Stuart Davies.
|l to r: CWA Chair Alison Joseph, Barry Forshaw, Belinda Bauer, David Stuart Davies, ZS|
pic courtesy of Ali Karim
The second was an Open Mic session for the Elementary Writers at the Avalon Hotel in Whitley Bay, hosted by Victoria Watson. Both were very entertaining evenings. I particularly enjoyed hearing the creepy offerings of Vic’s group.
But now I find myself in a short lull between dashing from London to the northeast and going to Iceland Noir in Reykjavik later this month. In fact, when my next Murder is Everywhere post is due, that’s where I’ll be.
I’m hoping by then my brain will be operating on slightly more than just the lower levels — tree pretty, fire bad, etc. Meanwhile, here are some silly pix and some notes about the thing that brings us all together — words.
It comes to no surprise to those who know me that I love playing with words. My dictionary is falling apart and decorated with Post-It notes of words that would make great titles, names, or just ones I love the sound or shape of. Looking up anything always takes me longer than I expect because I get very easily side-tracked. I collect weird meanings and derivations of unusual words and phrases.
But it’s not just unusual words that fascinate me. I love common words with unusual meanings, or slight misspellings that change everything. (Not so long ago I was sent an email imploring me to sign a partition.) When I started making a note of some words that caught my eye for this post, I quickly filled pages of notes, and then had to force myself to stop. Here are just a few of my favourites, in no particular order.
While androgynous means having both male and female characteristics, androgenous means having only male offspring.
Everyone knows what angry means, but angary is a legal term meaning a belligerent’s right to seize and use neutral or other property, subject to compensation.
Pursue means to harass or persecute — or, in Scots law, to prosecute — and Spenser spelt it pursew with the same meaning. But written persue, it is not only another alternative spelling, but also means a track of blood. (Spenser again) from the act of piercing.
Consent might be to agree or comply, but concent is a harmony of sounds or voices.
The meaning of blanket is familiar, but blanquet is a variety of pear, blanquette is a ragout of chicken or veal made with a white sauce, and bloncket means grey. (That bloke Spenser gets everywhere.)
A lake is not only a body of water, but also a small stream or channel, or a reddish pigment made from combining a dye with metallic hydroxide to give the colour carmine. Spell it laik and it becomes a Northern English term meaning to sport or play or be unemployed, and lakh means the number 100,000 in India and Pakistan, especially when referring to rupees, or an infinitely vast number.
While a block is a mass of stone or wood, a bloc is a combination of parties, nations or other units to achieve a common purpose.
One that always used to confuse me as a kid was the difference between demure, meaning chaste or modest, and demur meaning to object or hesitate.
And I know for a fact I’ve accidentally mixed up defuse, to take the fuse out of a bomb or, according to Shakespeare (and what did he know?) to disorder, with diffuse, meaning widely spread or wordy, or also to pour out all round; to scatter.
A clue might be anything that points to the solution to a mystery, but it’s derived from clew, being the ball of threat that guides through the labyrinth, as well as being the lower corner of a sail or one of the cords by which a hammock is suspended.
And this is before we get to the words with one spelling but lots of different meanings:
Pernicious means both destructive and highly injurious, but also (according to Milton) swift, ready and prompt.
A tent could be a portable canvas shelter, an embroidery or tapestry frame, a plug or roll of soft material for dilating a wound, or the Scots word for taking heed or notice of.
A rabble could be a disorderly mob, but also a device for stirring molten iron etc in a furnace.
To cleave is both to split apart and to join together.
A race is the descendants of a common ancestor, a fixed course or track over which anything runs, the white streak down an animal’s face, a rootstock of ginger (Shakespeare) to raze or erase, or to tear away or snatch. (Both Spenser. He just made them up as he felt like it, didn’t he?)
Anyway, there are LOTS of others, so what are your favourites, folks? And what’s the best accidental misuse of a word you’ve ever come across?
No Word of the Week this week. I think I’ve used quite enough, don’t you?
And finally, apropos of completely nothing, this just tickled me …