Monday, March 18, 2013

Sticklers, Sideburns & Bikinis: Graeme Donald

This book is a compendium of words or phrases in everyday usage which have a military origin. The author,  Graeme Donald, "has been researching the origins of words, nursery rhymes, superstitions and popular misconceptions for years", per his publisher, Osprey Publishing.

I love to read about words and their derivations, and this book threw in some history too.

Some of the words are fairly obvious, such as "blitz" or "barrack," although even with the obvious terms, background information is supplied that is interesting and enlightening. Others are not so obvious, such as "thug." This word was brought back to England by soldiers who had served in India and had exposure to ritualistic killers in the Thuggee cult.

These are some that were of particular interest to me:
AL-QAEDA
Umbrella name for disparate terror groups.
As with so many other Arabic terms, such as "algebra," "alcohol," and "alcove," the definite article "al" is incorporated into the word in Western Usage, and Al-Qaeda means "The Base." Whether that means a military base or something more abstract such as a principle or an ethos is unclear. It is also uncertain whether the term was first used by terror groups of themselves and subsequently picked up by Western intelligence, or whether it was a Western coinage.
Of course, most people have heard of Al-Qaeda. I was never quite certain of what exactly it referred to. Now I know why.
BRAILLE
Writing system for the blind.
In 1819, a young French artillery officer called Captain Charles Barbier de la Sierra became frustrated by the difficulty and dangers of trying to read orders at night without lighting a lantern and attracting enemy fire. He devised a code of embossed night-writing, which failed to attract any interest in military circles. However, Louis Braille (1809-52), a teacher at the French National Institute for Blind Children, saw the potential for Barbier's system of dot-clusters to revolutionize texts for the blind, which until then had been presented as rather clumsy raised letters.
I have also read another reference book by this author: Loose Cannons: 101 Myths, Mishaps and Misadventurers of Military History. That one had lots of facts about World War II history that were very interesting to me. Both of the books are small format and not too long. They are entertaining books that also educate.

My son discovered these books by Graeme Donald. He has also read The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Lincoln: and 44 other forgotten figures in history by this author.

12 comments:

  1. Thnks TracyK - this sounds highly amusing - and I love the title of his other book you mention, 'The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Lincoln'!

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    1. Sergio, it is a humorous and informative read. Sounds like a great way to make a living, investigating and writing about words and history.

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  2. Tracy - What an interesting book!! As someone with a background in linguistics, this really fascinates me. Thanks for sharing this one. Oh, and make mine another vote for that Lincoln title...

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    1. Margot, a lot of the entries talked about roots of words, which was interesting, but sometimes went over my head.

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  3. Tracy I saw this kindle book for free today and thought of you. Set in World War II didn't know what kind of ereader you have but just in case here it is...http://www.amazon.com/Mrs-Tuesdays-Departure-Historical-ebook/dp/B0045JLR5Y/

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    1. Peggy Ann, thank you so much. I went and checked it out and downloaded it immediately. Sounds good.

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  4. TracyK: I think about words all day long as a lawyer. It took reading a book on the history of wills to find out that we use the phrase last will and testament in the opening to wills because over 600 years ago wills and testaments were separate documents.

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    1. Bill, that is very interesting. Thanks for that tidbit of information. I assume punctuation is also very important to lawyers. I am reading EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES by Lynn Truss right now.

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  5. Looks like the kind of geeky book I would enjoy.

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    1. Carol, I am sure you would enjoy it. I like combining learning about word derivations and history.

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  6. This sounds like an interesting book Tracy. More one to borrow from the library than buy I think but I'll look out for it. Thanks.

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    1. I was lucky to be able to borrow it from my son. And he often re-reads this type of book every few years. He can rip through books, takes me much longer to read any genre.

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