Old fogey… young fogey… fogeyish…

I used the word fogey yesterday… meaning not just an old person, but an old-fashioned, stuck in their ways, stuck in the mud sort of person… I was just checking the spelling on whether it was fogey or fogy (it can be either, although more commonly the former) and I got a little side-tracked by looking at its origin and etymology… it happens so often!

There seems to be some agreement about the origins, but a little disagreement over its derivation. Certainly by 1780 ‘foggie’ was used in Scotland and referred to an ex or former, pensioned soldier , and it may have been connected to an older word ‘fogram’ which meant very much what fogey does today…. or was it connected to ‘fog’ – not the misty stuff but moss… or was it ‘foggy’ meaning bloated and fat? The fat idea would go back to a word first noted in the early sixteenth century.


Or was all that Scottish connection a coincidence or was it incorrect and the true derivation was from a French word – fougeux which means fierce or fiery and was a nickname for a wounded soldier (there is that soldier theme running through the different ideas!) … except how can a  wounded soldier be fierce or fiery… Which sends my thoughts back to my first visit to France when I was a child and on the metro there were seats for ‘mutilés de guerrre’.

Fogey doesn’t just apply to actual old people, these days it can be anyone who has fogeyish tendencies, someone who isn’t just older than their years in their thoughts and attitudes, but maybe also in their appearance and maybe even their way of life! I hope I’m not fogeyish in any way at all… but how can you tell? I’ll have to ask my children!

Here are some other fogey-related words –


  • fogeydom
  • fogeyhood
  • fogeyish
  • fogeyism
  • young fogey
  • old fogey

… and here’s a link to an interesting article exploring aspects of fogeyism:


Toto, Tutu, tutu, Toto

It was one of those silly conversations… someone said something and then someone sang ‘There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do’ and I joined in – except I thought the line was  There’s nothing that a hungry man or more could ever do’ . At this point my husband (who has been in bands since Noah was a lad) claimed he didn’t know the song at all. Disbelieving, my daughter and I launched into it… he still didn’t know what we were singing (he has said of me that there must be an awful lot of music in me because none has ever come out!)

We tortured ‘It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you… I bless the rains down in Africaaaaaa…’ getting the lyric and the melody somewhat wrong, and eventually husband realised what we were trying to sing. We commented that there aren’t many songs with the words Kilimanjaro, Olympus or Serengeti in them…

We then deviated into talking about the band which had recorded the song in 1982 and had such a success with it, Toto. Of course the dog in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was called Toto but that’s not where the band got their name – it was from the Latin phrase in toto . From that we became a little silly and mentioned Tonto (the Lone Ranger’s trusty companion) Desmond Tutu, ballet tutus… and then we arrived home.

  • I looked up Toto and found that unsurprisingly there other totos too!
  • Toto – a tribe in West Bengal India
  • Toto – a language spoken by Toto tribe members
  • Toto – a mythological Māori chief
  • Toto an area of Nasarawa State Nigeria
  • Toto – a town in Angola
  • Toto – a small community near North Judson Indiana USA
  • The Toto Cup – an association football tournament in Israel
  • “toto” – football pools in several languages
  • Toto of Nepi (died 768) – a Roman strongman
  • Anthony Toto (1498-1554) – an Italian painter and architect
  • Totò (1898-1967) – Antonio De Curtis an Italian comedian actor writer and songwriter
  • Toto Bissainthe (1934-1994) – a Haitian actress and singer
  • Toto Cutugno (born 1943) –   an Italian pop singer-songwriter
  • Totó la Momposina (born 1948) – a Colombian singer
  • Toto Leonidas (born 1960) – a professional poker player
  • Toto Wolff (born 1972) – an Austrian investor and racing car driver
  • Toto Tamuz (born 1988) – a Nigerian-born Israeli footballer

I have to really, don’t I?

A fulsome apology… is that what you really mean?

A cabinet minister resigned… no comment on that, but I am wondering about something she said when trying to get herself out the mess she had created. She wrote to the Prime Minister “I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the government for what has happened and offer my resignation.”

Now I always understood that fulsome didn’t mean sincerest, deepest, whole-hearted but actually was a way of describing something which was insincere, overdone, exaggerated, or in bad taste . ‘Fulsome praise’ – I’m not sure I would want that!

So what do dictionaries say? Am I right? Or is the cabinet minister? To the etymonline: my favourite word website tells me that the word originated in the thirteenth century and did indeed, seven hundred years ago, mean as it suggests, abundant and plentiful; in that original sense an abundant or plentiful apology would maybe be appropriate. However, in the centuries that followed, s so often happens with English words, its meaning reversed, maybe through irony, to meaning offensive. At first this ‘offensive’ meaning was so strong that whatever was fulsome was sickening, or vomit-inducing, but later it modified to meaning in bad taste. By the early fifteenth century it meant excessively flattering… toadying springs to mind, and that is how it remained and how I understand it.

It does seem, however that in recent times it has reverted in some circles to its original meaning from seven hundred years ago, so maybe the cabinet minister was ahead of me, with the new trend.


Here’s an interesting article about this very thing:



  1. Offensive to good taste, tactless, overzealous, excessive. quotations 
  2. Excessively flattering (connoting insincerity).


Knock on Wood

A while ago I was thinking about the origins of the phrase ‘touch wood’ or ‘knock on wood’, and I also found ‘knock on/tap/touch wood and whistle.’ There is no one answer to the origin of the phrase, and since wood has been so universally used since the earliest days of humans, then there are likely to be many, many different and correct origins of the phrase…

Here are some:

  • “pagans” believed malevolent spirits inhabited wood, so touching  or knocking stopped them hearing a wish
  • touching the wood of the cross
  • from the early middle ages, summoners and pardoners sold relics as parts of the true cross
  • some religions believe natural objects are inhabited by spirits so touching a tree brought blessings and warded off wrath.
  • children’s games
  •  a sexual innuendo
  • the phrase said while grabbing a man’s nether regions
  • in 18th century auctions,  when the auctioneer touched wood – i.e. when wooden gavel hit the wooden block, the lot was won
  • sailors in the days of sail hoped to conjure up a wind when becalmed
  • touch wood and an acorn won’t fall – meaning nothing calamitous would happen
  • lumberjacks would hug a tree for a safe felling
  • sailors would tap their foot on the deck of the ship
  • coal miners would knock wooden roof supports as they passed it, to test it was sound

For me, ‘knock on wood‘ will always be associated with Eddie Floyd; Edward Lee Floyd was born in 1937 and is an American soul and rhythm and blues singer and songwriter. He’s most famous for being a Stax singer in the 1960’s – 1970’s. He had a number 1 song… “Knock on Wood”!  Just two months ago, on 1 September 2017, at the age eighty, Eddie performed live at the Royal Albert Hall BBC Proms with Jools Holland  in a tribute concert to fifty years of Stax Records.

Touch wood

Many people who are not superstitious actually say things which are superstitious when wishing people well – ‘cross fingers’, ‘best of luck/good luck’ and ‘touch wood’. Cross fingers i guess comes from a religious origin – but is touching wood or knocking on wood a left-over from touching relics, or having religious relics such as a splinter from the cross, or a fragment of a ‘holy’ person’s coffin? Some people argue that it is much older than the Christian religion and goes back to pagan times when some trees were considered sacred, so touching them, or having a bit of wood with you as an amulet would keep you safe. Other people argue that the tree thing is just something made up nineteenth century romantics – and touching wood comes from reaching and touching the door into a place of safety.

There are hundreds of different explanations, from lumberjacks to cattle auctions, coal miners to sailors… here is a link to a selection:


.. and here is something from the Danny Kaye film, ‘Knock on Wood’




Luke-warm… just how warm is it?

I was writing to someone, and mentioned that a mutual friend was ‘luke-warm’ in his response to something. After I had sent my message, I wondered if maybe it was lukewarm… and certainly the spellcheck thinks it is!

I got to wondering about the origin… maybe something to do with St Luke in the Bible? According to tradition he was a painter, so nothing to do with temperature. I can’t imagine that any other person would have given his name to something which is not that hot and not that cold, in fact a bit on the tepid side. I have discovered that there are places named Luke, but none of them would have influenced the English language, as many of them were named after St Luke, and some of them are from other non-English speaking countries.

I think I actually had already guessed it came from Old English, and is related to other northern European languages:

  • Dutch lauw
  • German lauwarm
  • Faroese lýggjur
  • Swedish ljum
  • Danish and Norwegian lunken

When I used lukewarm in my message, I wasn’t referring to how hot or cold our friend actually was, but I meant that he wasn’t that keen – his response was not enthusiastic, but not negative, somewhere in between but with maybe a lean towards the unenthusiastic end of the response spectrum..

So how warm is lukewarm? A facetious question maybe, but according to an interesting site which I think is aimed at children, it is between 98° F and 105° F….. or it may be between 80° F to 90° F…

See what you think:


Thrutch and galligaskins

I’m fascinated by odd names and weird words… I always have been. One of my earliest memories, probably when I was about seven, I would sit on the humpty (a pouffe) in a little gap between an armchair and the radio, reading a dictionary, looking for strange and unknown words… not naughty words, I don’t mean! At the back of the dictionary was a list of names and their meanings and I used to be fascinated by them.

Maybe it was because I have an unusual name that I was so interested; I wasn’t the only one with an uncommon name at school, there was a girl called Zebretta, another called Roseanne (common now, but very unusual then) a boy called Barto, in among all the Angelas and Patricias, Lindas and Jennifers, the Johns and Richards and Davids and Philips.

I was looking up something else today and came across a site which had a collection of ‘weird and wonderful words’ – well, I was totally lost for quite a while, finding all sort of unusual nouns and verbs. I was surprised in the list that there were quite a few I knew… such as:

  • bawbee – Scottish a coin of low value
  • claggy – dialect sticky or able to form sticky lumps
  • hoggin – a mixture of sand and gravel, used especially in road-building
  • martlet – heraldry a small, swallow-like bird with tufts of feathers in place of legs and feet (the Elsden coat of arms has three martlets!)
  • moonraker – a native of the county of Wiltshire
  • mudlark – a person who scavenges in riverside mud at low tide for anything of value
  • nesh – dialect weak, delicate, or feeble
  • ortanique – a cross between an orange and a tangerine
  • pettitoes – pig’s trotters, especially as food
  • selkie – Scottish a mythical sea creature like a seal in water but human on land
  • shippon dialect a cattle shed
  • subfusc – the dark formal clothing worn for examinations and ceremonial or formal occasions at some universities.
  • turbary – the legal right to cut turf or peat for fuel on common ground or on another person’s ground

As for thrutch and galligaskins…  one is a narrow gorge or ravine, the other is a type of loose breeches worn in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries!