Monday, July 23, 2012

Your Etymological Guide to the Olympic Games

On Friday, July 27, 2012, the Summer Olympic Games kick off in London. I'm a sucker for the Olympics. Opening ceremonies reduce me to tears.Tiny, plucky gymnasts sticking their landings make my heart swell. High jumps and javelin throws and the fleet of foot thrill me. I just love it. In honor of the 2012 Games, I thought we'd take a look at the etymology behind some of the language we associate with this event. Because, fun!

Oh, these words aren't in alphabetical order. They're in Elizabeth-thought-of-them-in-this order.

To begin, this post has a soundtrack. I implore you to play "Bugler's Dream" as you read. I find it really adds to the festive spirit of the piece.

Olympics: We call these games the Olympics because they are a revival of the ancient Greek Olympic games, so named for their site, the Olympia plain in Elis, Greece. The original Olympics were held in honor of Zeus. I did some digging, but can't find any etymology for "Olympia" beyond the fact that it's a name. NOTE: the plain, Olympia, was not at the foot of Mount Olympus, the dwelling place of the Greek gods. The mountain is in Thessaly, more than 200 miles from the site of the plain. The first modern Olympic Games was held in Athens, Greece, in 1896.

Athlete: The term by which we call the Games' competitors comes from, of course, the ancient Greek. Stretching back as far as I can take it, we find athlos, "a contest," which begets athletes, a "contestant in the games."

Pro tip: Don't make snide
"size" remarks to the gentleman
who could hurl that heavy,
metal Frisbee at your head.
Competition: Is brought to us by the Latin, competitio, "a rivalry."

Victor: From the Latin again. This one has remained remarkably intact. Victor, meaning "conqueror." 

Game: This one is English, baby. USA! USA! Oh, wait... Old English gamen, "fun or amusement." Interestingly, we can trace this word back along its Germanic roots to the Gothic, in which the word gaman held a sense of "communion" or "people together." Games are all about being together. Awww, group hug!

Team: English again! Well, this is interesting. Originally, the Old English team referred to a set of draft animals yoked together. Oxen and whatnot. Beasts that pull. When it was first applied to humans, team indicated a group of people bringing suit. Class action lawsuits, you guys. In Old English.

Race: The short race was one of the five original Olympic games. Old Norse ras, meaning "running or rushing water." This word first was associated, in English, with a contest of speed in the 1500's.

Javelin: The javelin throw was also one of the original games. Middle French this time. Javeline, "a spear." That's pretty straightforward. Moving along...

Gymnastic: Back to Greece! Gymnasticus, meaning "fond of or skilled in bodily exercise."

Discus: Another of the original Olympic competitions. And another word that's stayed with us since the beginning. Ancient Greek diskus, "disk or platter."

Old timey man on the right, you're not even trying!!! This is a race, not a stroll
in the park. You've dishonored your ancestors and your nation. Way to go.
Wrestling: Ooo, this one's going to test my special character finding skills. Old English wr├Žstlung, which is "a sport of grappling or throwing." Sounds about right.

Jump: And finally, a fun one to round out the list of things I thought of related to the Olympics. The long jump was one of the five original games. Our modern word might be ancient onomatopoeia, y'all (related to bump.). Holy crap. How cool is that? OR, the more boring idea is that it's derived from the Gallo-Romance dialects of southwestern France. I'm sticking with onomatopoeia. Because it's more fun to say "onomatopoeia" than "Gallo-Romance dialect."

I hope you've enjoyed this etymological glossary of Olympic words! Best of luck to all the athletes who will compete in this year's summer games. I hope we can all come together in the spirit in which the Games were founded. I'll bring the sacrificial bull. See you in London!

Lots of information from

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Regency Holiday: Scotland

Dear reader, summer is really starting to kick my tootkus. So much so that we're going to leave England behind altogether for this installment of my Regency travel guide and escape to cooler climes. If you're just joining us on our holiday excursions, we've already visited Bath and Brighton. Today we traverse the Great North Road to wild, beautiful Scotland.

If you don't recall your geography lessons, for shame. Your teacher put a lot of time and effort into trying to mold your mind. Your inattention is why she went home and drank wine and cried to her cat every night. Be that as it may, here's a quick reminder of Scotland's location:

Jamie Fraser resides in the Scottish Highlands. And in my heart.
It's the orange bit on the map. Scotland occupies the northern portion of Great Britain. At the time of the Regency, Edinburgh was the most cosmopolitan city in the country. It was far less populated than London, of course, but boasted a social scene on par with the ton's, but on a smaller scale. There was a season, theater, balls, parties, and all the normal diversions. So, an urbane aristocrat who wished to flee London's heat could summer in Edinburgh and carry on much as he ever did.

Scotland's greatest attraction to uncomfortably warm Englishfolk, however, was the countryside. A fair number of English lords owned estates in Scotland. An invitation to a house party on one of these Scottish estates was quite the hot commodity come summer. Guests descended on the host's home for a stay of a week or two, sometimes upwards of a month. During this time, the company engaged in civilized activities such as after-dinner charades, musical evenings, horseback riding, and stealing kisses in the hedge maze.

Others owned a property called a "hunting box," a quaint term which could refer to a house ranging in size from a cabin to a mansion only slightly less grand than the family heap. The hunting box's prime distinction was that it was a retreat for the sporting gentleman, rather than a family home. Here, a man might pass a couple weeks with his friends, partaking in such manly pursuits as hunting, fishing, and... well, it was pretty much hunting and fishing. Maybe they wrestled bears, too. I don't know.

The moor, aka Scotland's Nebraska.
Grouse, partridges, and pheasants were all brought down with fowling guns. A "grouse moor" was a prime piece of real estate for bird hunting. One person, called the "beater," walked in front of the hunting party swatting at the ground, trying to flush birds out. When they took to the air, ka-boom! Felled birds were fetched by dogs. It was all terribly manly, you see. So very, very manly.

Land-bound game, such as hare and deer, were also defeated by the Regency huntsman. Oh, and did I mention the "cub hunt"? This was a pastime in which inexperienced riders could practice hunting baby foxes. So. Very. Manly.

Perhaps more picturesque than the grouse moors were the fishing spots. Rivers, streams, and lochs provided cool water for swimming, foot dangling, and shoving unsuspecting buddies. Fly fishing was the method by which men later boasted about how they came thisclose to bringing in an absolutely enormous trout. No, really, you guys, you should've seen this thing. It darn near pulled my arm out of the socket.

Loch Lomond, upon the bonnie, bonnie banks of which I shall never again meet my true love.
Whether it was a mixed-company house party, or a week with the boys at the hunting box, Scotland gave Regency travelers a much-needed break from the summer heat. Its natural beauty offered vacationers all the fresh air and exercise they wanted. Rusticating never felt so good.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Social media networking is a train I was late to board. Heck, I didn't even start texting until last year because, under my old cell plan, each text cost 25 cents, plus I still had the antiquated keypad laid out like the phones I grew up with--press 2 three times for a 'c', press 6 eleven times because I kept passing the letter I wanted, etc. Anywho, MySpace came and went without my ever dipping a toe. I finally joined Facebook years after everyone else (Except MBG, who is the only holdout I know, the Luddite.).

Folks piled on the Twitter-go-round when that came along, but I didn't. Facebook was enough social media for me, thankyouverymuch. That changed when my publisher, Crimson Romance, sent me a great crash-course manual on how to be a successful author these-a-days. One of the top recommendations was a Twitter feed. Heavy sigh. OK. Fine. I signed up.

If you want to follow me there, click THIS OBNOXIOUSLY LARGE LINK.

Like a kid wearing swim wings in the shallow end, I nervously paddled right over to the only people I knew how to find, a couple writer acquaintances. Fortunately, another Crimson Romance author, Irene Preston (Whose novel, Infamous, is a super fun, sexy read, by the by), found me and put me on a list with other CR authors. From there, I branched out and spread my wings and mixed some more metaphors.

Having now spent a couple weeks stumbling around the Twitter, I have some thoughts about it. These are they:

I wanted a picture with a bunch of birds so I could make a joke about
all the noise and quacking and clucking on Twitter, but then I found this.
WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? Those birds are huge. Or those people are
tiny. What the heck is that on that one guy's head? He looks like
some naked elf astronaut. And Gollum's in the background all "Wassup!"
at the bushes. This is ridiculous. It's like an illicit Thumbelina fan fic pic,
but it's from the 15th century. What is wrong with you, Mr. Bosch, sir?
I need a hug. 
* Twitter can be scary and overwhelming for someone like me who is socially awkward to begin with. Being a virtual place doesn't change the intimidation factor. In fact, it can make it worse. You can click on the popular kids and see they have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers. Even millions. Starting with zero followers, like the new kid in school, is rough. What do I have to say that anyone would want to hear?

* Twitter moves fast. Like, blink-and-it's-gone fast. And, unless you're one of the popular kids, no one's going to miss you if you don't tweet. You're forgotten. Twitter has the memory span of a goldfish. That means you have to be serious about regularly issuing your 140-character soundbites if you want to stay on anyone's mind, and you have to say something that catches attention.

* Because of the aforementioned need for output, a lot of people tweet links. Lots and lots of links. Links to blog posts. Links to articles. Links to pictures of cute kittens. Links to every dang thing. Now, I'm not above sharing a link once in a while, but my eyes glaze over when I see link dumps (my term for many link tweets in a row by the same Twitter user.). The group of people I follow is still small enough that I recognize the avatars of people who do nothing but post links. When I spot them, I don't even look at their tweets' content anymore. I'm interested in personalities, not advertising. If someone has caught my attention with a great personality, I'm more likely to click when they do post a link. It's like getting a recommendation from a friend versus being inundated with calls from telemarketers.

That golden calf of yours issues manure just like any other cow. Sorry.
* Twitter makes people you admire more accessible than ever before. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's great to get little glimpses into the minds and lives of writers, industry folks, celebrities, etc. I was thrilled to be retweeted by a well-known comedienne the other day. I preened when a couple well-published romance authors followed me back. This is what networking is all about, baby! Right? Well, maybe. At this point, I don't think I can cash in on "I follow you on Twitter and you follow me, too, so we're totally BFFs and can you introduce me to your agent?" Maybe that happens for some people. I don't know. I've heard magical tales of agents plucking new clients out of Twitter obscurity, instead of from their inbox slush piles, but not regularly enough to make me think it's a viable way to agent hunt.

The dark underbelly of being "closer" to your idols is that you realize they're just people. And people sometimes let you down. They can be offensive or voice support for something you detest, and then you might like them a little less. Their work might be tainted for you. That's kind of sad.

* One perk of Twitter is that you can meet some great people. I connected with author Synithia Williams. We're both signed with Crimson Romance, and discovered we live fairly close to one another. We met for coffee--only to realize we'd met before. Once upon a dream In person, no less. Still, Twitter let us bump into each other again. We had a great chat about our books, the writing life, brainstorming publicity, and our favorite British hotties.

So, that's what I think about Twitter so far. I'll keep plugging away at it. Meanwhile, every time I log in, the birdie logo makes me think about Bob Marley. I can't be the only one.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Regency Holiday: Brighton

Summer marches on, and we we continue our tour of Regency holiday hot-spots in Brighton.

Located on the southern coast of Great Britain, Brighton began its days as a humble fishing village. This all changed when George, Prince of Wales (later to become Regent) came to call in 1783. Brighton became his favorite getaway, thanks to the relaxed atmosphere. Here, he and his friends could do as they pleased without the prince's rigidly moral parents looking over his shoulder. The Prince loved the town, and the town loved him right back. Under the Prince's patronage, Brighton grew and grew, quickly transforming from a podunk backwater to the nation's premier resort.

The Prince of Wales' Brighton residence underwent a metamorphosis even more spectacular than that of the town itself. The Marine Pavilion was a gracious Georgian mansion. Take a peek:

There is nothing wrong with this house.

By the time George became Regent, he'd been visiting Brighton for more than 25 years. He felt his abode was due a bit of pizzazz. To that end, the Prince Regent indulged his favorite pastime--begging money off Parliament--and did a little renovating.

Just a bit.

The exterior of the newly-styled Royal Pavilion was clearly informed by Eastern design. The interior was a Chinese fantasy land, replete with dragons, bamboo, lacquered cabinetry, Chinese wallpapers and lanterns, pagodas, and vivid colors. The Regent, who never traveled abroad, had a lifelong fascination with China. He imagined it to be a realm full of contented people, a dream of harmonious beauty and grace. In London, the Regent did constant battle with Parliament and his own ministers. He was ridiculed by a populace that found his passion for architecture, art, and music to be foolish. His marriage was a disaster of epic proportions. Even the weather was against him; the cold and damp aggravated his rheumatism and other complaints. The Royal Pavilion in Brighton was his escape. It--and by extension, the town--was a magical kingdom by the sea where the prince was free to indulge his every whim without fear of repercussion. In Brighton, George was respected and admired like he never was in London.

I have not forgotten all the other tourists, I promise. I wanted to give you some information about the Prince's involvement with Brighton, because he was the entire reason it became a tourist destination. When the Prince of Wales came to town, people followed. Initially, they were the Prince's entourage of friends--rich aristocrats, stylish ladies, and the trendsetters of the day--whom he lavishly entertained at the Pavilion. Eventually, visitors who were not part of the Prince's personal retinue came to Brighton to see what the fuss was all about.

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, 1826
Summer in Brighton was a time of great seaside fun. Each year, a festival was held to mark the Regent's August 12 birthday. The whole town was invited to the party. There were mock naval battles and military reviews. A ball was held at Castle Inn, while roasted ox and ale were served to all.

The town boasted entertainments to suit every taste, high and low. Sea bathing was popular, as were the vapor baths (saunas). Plays and concerts provided theatrical amusement, while sport fans could take part in horse racing, bull baiting, and cockfighting. Middle class tourists who would never see the inside of the place enjoyed gawking at the opulent Royal Pavilion.

For the upper crust, the Steine was to Brighton what Hyde Park was to London. It was a green area first used by fishermen as a place to dry their nets. When the ton came to town, working folk were shoved aside and the Steine became the site of the afternoon fashionable hour, the place to stroll and mingle, to see and be seen. High-end merchants followed their wealthy clientele to Brighton and set up temporary shops which closed again when the moneyed horde left. After rounds of calls and shopping, the usual society balls and card parties filled evenings not spent at the Pavilion with the Regent.

Brighton was also notable for its tourist real estate properties. Houses were built special for the purpose of renting them to visitors for brief durations of time. New houses erected along the Steine were let for a week or two at a time. In this way, Brighton was truly innovative in encouraging tourism, making the town easily accessible to those early vacationers.

In the two centuries since the Regency, Brighton has continued on the path set by the Prince. It remains a popular tourist destination, hosting arts and music festivals, museums, and the ever popular beach fun. Brighton's nightlife has retained the freewheeling edge favored by the Prince Regent. The much-maligned Royal Pavilion still stands, and has become Brighton's most celebrated landmark. It is now open to the public and houses a museum to the Regency.

Next stop: the Taj Ma--no, wait, still Brighton.