Thursday, July 22, 2010

What's in a Word?

I recently completed a short story for the next MAMMOTH BOOK OF PARANORMAL ROMANCE-2. Trisha Telep of Mystery One Bookstore in London is the editor on this project and has been great to work with. There was one slight problem, and one I honestly never even considered when I was writing this story.

It takes place on an out of the way Native American reservation in South Dakota and my protagonist is less than happy about being assigned to write a story featuring this place. In fact she refers to it as a "jerkwater" reservation, which generated a very nice email from Trisha asking if this shouldn't be capitalized. Because I hadn't been clear, she thought that was the actual name of the reservation. This is also being published in Great Brittan, and when I wrote that particular sentence, it didn't even occur to me that everyone might not be familiar with that word. That's how comfortable I am with using American slang. (For those of you who enjoy obscure information-the term "jerkwater" originated from the so called jerking (i.e., drawing) of water to fill buckets for supplying a steam locomotive and came to mean "off the main line".)

This experience started me thinking about just how much slang I use and questioning just exactly where these words originated, so I looked a few of them up. They are as follows and courtesy of

Boonies-or "boondocks" 1910s, from Tagalog bundok "mountain." Adopted by occupying American soldiers in the Philippines for "remote and wild place." Reinforced or re-adopted during World War II.

Podunk-Its popularity as the name of a typical (if mythical) U.S. small town dates from a series of witty "Letters from Podunk" which ran in the "Buffalo Daily National Pilot" newspaper beginning Jan. 5, 1846.

Bonkers-"crazy," 1957, British slang, perhaps from earlier naval slang meaning "slightly drunk" (1948), from notion of a thump ("bonk") on the head.

Boo-boo-"mistake," 1954, apparently a reduplication of boob, which had acquired a secondary sense of "foolish mistake" (1934).

Dicey-"risky, uncertain" (as the roll of dice), 1940s, aviators' jargon.

Klutz-1965 from Yiddish klots "clumsy person, blockhead,"

Snow job-This slangy expression, originating in the military during World War II, presumably alludes to the idiom "snow under".

Goofer Feathers-this is a term my family always used to describe any dust hiding under the bed and it's so obscure that it's not even in a dictionary! But after some research, I've discovered it was a phrase made famous by a comedy team back in the '20's and they used it referring to the fuzz off a peach. (Interesting side note-goofer dust refers to the powder used in Hoodoo spell casting, and can be synonymous with dirt from a graveyard. Now if there's a connection between the two, it will take someone smarter than me to figure it out!!!)

That's it for this week!

Oh, btw, a little promo here-THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF PARANORMAL ROMANCE-2 is now available for pre-order. Check out this cover!!!


Casey said...

Goofer Feathers? We call that dust moozies. I'm pretty sure I made it up.

Sharon S. said...

cool cover! I've always used the popular dust bunnies. What name did you write your short story under? Will this be our first look at Jess M. (can't remember how to spell the last name )

Shirley Damsgaard said...

Honestly, Casey, until I was an adult, I thought everyone called dust under the bed "goofer feathers"! And I'd dearly love to know how my family came to call it that. Is it a connection to the old comedy routine or something else. (My both sides of my mom's family did have Southern origins way back.) Unfortunately, everyone who might have answered this question for me is gone now, so it'll remain a family mystery!!

And Sharon, my short story is under Shirley Damsgaard and the way it is looking right now, the first appearance of Jess McConkey will be when DIE STANDING comes out next May.

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