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Etymology Excavation: Judas goat

Etymology Excavation: Judas goat

What is a ‘Judas goat’?

Originally, a Judas goat refers to a goat trained to make its way into a herd of beasts marked for slaughter, so that they will follow it into the slaughterhouse. The Judas goat itself is then spared from slaughter so it can do the same thing again. (Wikipedia)

The animal in question varies, but the reference is to the figure Judas Iscariot in the Christian Bible, who betrayed Jesus’s identity and ultimately led to his execution. The details of the story vary widely, but the use of the term ‘Judas’ for a traitor has been in use since the C15th (Etymonline.com).

Some examples of Judas goat used figuratively:

  • ‘He’s a Judas goat. He led the whole army into a trap.’
  • ‘That girl’s a Judas goat. Any stupid decision she makes, the entire squad follows.’

It can be used figuratively for a person being used to bait a trap, or for any figure leading others to disaster. All you really need, in terms of world-building, is a rumoured or actual figure who through design or stupidity, caused a disaster. It doesn’t need a lot of build-up (ancient scroll, anyone?) and can be used for local colour in a range of situations.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

Etymology Excavation: When push comes to shove

Etymology Excavation: When push comes to shove

Where does ‘when push comes to shove’ really come from?

‘When push comes to shove’ means when you get down to something, when a subject or situation is stripped down to essentials, when the point is reached at which a commitment must be made.

No one seems to be exactly certain where this phrase actually originated, although there are a lot of interesting theories flying around the Internet. A couple of my favourites:

It originates from the game of rugby, where pushing and shoving is a vital skill. (This origin appears to have the most votes.)

Terry Pratchett, in Thief of Time, hints to the phrase coming from midwifery (Nanny Ogg).

It’s also been featured in songs, notably Grateful Dead ‘When Push comes to Shove‘, and Van Halen ‘Fair Warning –  Push Come to Shove‘.

Examples of ‘when push comes to shove’:

If push comes to shove, I doubt he’s got the guts for it.

Governments may encourage gender equality, but when push comes to shove, they’ll follow the money.

I’ve heard it used reasonably often on both sides of the Atlantic. While it’s definitely a colloquialism, it’s one that’s now been around so long that it wouldn’t be out of place in a range of settings.

Could it be adapted for use in a fantasy or sci-fi scenario? I can’t imagine why not; the phrase itself evokes vivid imagery, so it could be inserted as-is into a lot of world-building without flagging itself as an anachronism. Given the (probable) sporting origins of the phrase, it could be equally easily adapted to a pastime invented as part of your world-building.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

Etymology Excavation: Raining cats and dogs

Etymology Excavation: Raining cats and dogs

‘Raining cats and dogs’ means a very hard rain, or a downpour.

Happily, I haven’t come across any mis-uses of this one – feel free to chip in if you have, my comments section is your comments section – but I hate to think what today’s creatively illiterate might come up with as alternates for it.

There’s a rather nice (but convincingly de-bunked) theory that had it that cats and dogs would shelter in thatched roofs in rainstorms, but if the rain was much more than than a shower, they’d be washed out – hence, heavy rain came to be expressed as ‘raining cats and dogs’. Sadly, as anyone familiar with thatched roofs will realise, thatch is very tight. You won’t fit anything much larger than a beetle in thatch; and while a cat might sun itself on top of a roof, it wouldn’t stay there after more than a couple of drops of rain. Also, the next time I see a dog on a roof of any make will be the first.

A more gruesome, but probably more historically accurate, theory states that due to the poor (read non-existent) drainage prevalent for much of England’s history, smaller domestic animals frequently drowned in very heavy rain, and in the aftermath, their bodies would lie in the roads, giving the appearance of it having literally rained cats and dogs.

There’s also a nice version involving Norse beliefs, cats and dogs having influence over winds and storms, and adoption of the phrase into English. Take your pick.

I’ve seen dates on this one from from the 17th Century to the 19th; I’m inclined to credit the earlier end of the spectrum as thatched roofs became increasingly less common, giving way usually to roof tiles in Britain, the closer to the modern day you get. A gentleman named Jonathan Swift seems to be universally credited with one of its earliest uses in writing, in 1738.

It also seems to be largely a phrase used in British English. I haven’t heard it used in North America, although I suspect it’s been around long enough that most people would understand the basic idea, even if it might sound rather quaintly old-fashioned. My usual favourite source for these posts, Etymonline.com, wasn’t willing to commit to much on this expression.

While this phrase might be tricky to adapt as-is to an SFF world, taking the base idea and running with it would provide some excellent world-building opportunities. Take the mythology angle, and you get the chance to develop a spectrum of creatures with influences over the elements, for example.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

E-book publishing 101: Draft 2 Digital

E-book publishing 101: Draft 2 Digital

Draft 2 Digital, or D2D

Draft 2 Digital is one of the sites that helps you go from ‘I can haz wordz!’ to ‘I’m a published author.’ D2D is one of two major content aggregators in the publishing world; the other is Smashwords.

A content aggregator takes your manuscript and creates a customised file or files, which then allow it to push your book to its affiliate sites, e.g. iTunes, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo. Think of it as a centralised distribution for your book to multiple sales channels. Both Smashwords and D2D do also distribute to Amazon if you want them to, although Amazon makes it very easy to set your manuscript up with them directly.

Content aggregators are particularly important if you live in one of those areas outside the United States, where reputable currency is deemed to be non-existent and we barter with trade items. Various booksellers, such as Barnes & Noble, cannot make payments to certain areas (Canada was my personal example).

However, both Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital can and do pay to PayPal, among other options, and do have an affiliation with multiple booksellers. This is to say that not only can you format your manuscript once and it goes to ten or more distribution outlets, but you get your reports in one place, and your payments in one place.

Disclaimer: I publish with Draft 2 Digital, among others.

Draft 2 Digital: the bare essentials

  • Working Internet browser
  • Word processing software, ditto functional
  • Your manuscript, ideally in .docx or other D2D-accepted format
    • If you have already formatted for Amazon, you can use your Amazon manuscript file for D2D and it will need at most minor tweaks
  • Your book blurb (back jacket text)
  • E-book cover art
    • And for the love of all the little wriggly deities, if you’re going to spend money on any one part of the publishing process, do it here. Get a professional cover designer and a professional cover. Don’t photograph your baby cousin’s finger-painting and use PowerPoint to paste your title in on top of it. Your cover is the thing online book buyers see. If that doesn’t interest them enough to stop and read your blurb and open your book, nothing else about your book matters because the buyer will never see it.
  • Your PayPal email (or other bank account set-up details)
  • Your local tax identification information – the interview is relatively painless, but you’ll need to tell them where you pay tax.

Start here

You’ll need to go and set up your D2D account. You’ve done this before at some point; you’ll need your name, a sacrificial email address, your publishing company name (which is your pen name if you haven’t created a registered company), and a password. It takes a couple of minutes, and you’re in.

Head over to the ‘My Account’ area; you aren’t quite done. Go into ‘Payment Options’. This is where you’ll need that tax identification information I listed up top.

Tell the nice D2D folks where you live and how you want to get paid. I use PayPal because it’s convenient for me, but fill your boots with your option of choice. You’ll also need to take the tax interview to either set up your tax payment in the United States, or if like me you live somewhere where beaver skins are the preferred payment method, then you tell them your citizenship, country of residence, country where you pay tax, and your tax ID for that country, and they will generate the appropriate documentation for you in their system.

Book set-up

…because that’s what we’re really here for, after all.

Click ‘Add new book’. (Pretty self-explanatory, right?). It’ll ask you to upload your manuscript. They ask for .docx, but they also accept anything MS Word-readable, and if you have a pre-formatted .epub file, they’ll take that as well.

Enter your book details – title, blurb, ISBN if you have one, etc. Select your BISAC categories. Don’t panic about this; you’re really just telling the system where your book would be displayed in a brick and mortar store. Would it be under Comparative Religion, or Fiction / Thriller? Once you’re done with that, pick some keywords. If you’ve done a lot of research into keywords for your book, good for you, you know what to do. If you haven’t, and are staring at this next hurdle in blind panic, take a deep breath. If you were searching for your book in the search bar, what’s the first word or phrase you would type in to find it? Great. Put that in. Do it again. Shoot for at least six or seven keywords or phrases, don’t repeat words that are already in your title or your BISAC selections.

Check all your fields, take a deep breath, and click the ‘Save and Continue’ option.

Cover and layout

Upload your cover. Your professionally-designed cover, please God, unless you’re a whole lot better at graphic design than I am and know exactly what you’re doing.

While that’s crunching through upload, check your chapter layout. Unless you made a real dogs’ breakfast of your MS formatting, you should see a list of entries you recognise, and which match your Table of Contents in the file you uploaded. (Please note, if you opted to upload an epub, you won’t have to go through this section; D2D will siply accept your epub formatting.)

Once the cover’s uploaded, and once you’re happy that the chapters displayed are right, click ‘Save and continue’.

Now you’re in the preview section, and this is where D2D really shines. Depending on your genre, and how you want your book to end up, you can select from a variety of pre-programmed layouts. For those of us who don’t have an epub formatting program, and know next to nothing about it, this is great because you have some limited formatting options and, best of all, you don’t have to upload a .docx and pray the epub comes out legible: D2D shows you a preview.

Pricing and distribution

Basically, D2D lets you set up shop on their site for free. They make their money (as do you) when you sell a book. They take a small amount from your book price based on some alchemy around storing and transferring your book file to the reader. All the rest is yours. Not a bad deal, compared to the pittance a traditional publisher will give you when they sell a copy of your book.

Pick your book price. Oddly enough, cheaper isn’t always better. (Yes, I am going to stand this up with some sources – patience, grasshopper.) For an average novel length (75K – 150k words, let’s say), the recommended price point for sales versus being taken seriously tends to be about $2.99 – $3.99 USD for most genres.

Who died and made me God? Here’s some articles on book pricing you can check out.

Now…hit ‘Save and Publish’.

Congratulations, you’re a published author. Go and check out your masterpiece under ‘My Books’, admire the cover design, make sure it’s going out to all the right distribution channels, and spend a moment patting yourself on the back and enjoying the moment.

Extra – read all about it!

One other thing that D2D offers that Smashwords and Amazon don’t make quite so streamlined, if they offer it at all; audio books. D2D has a partnership with Findaway Voices, whereby you get a special offer on audiobook set-up (no fees until you actually settle on a narrator).

D2D will provide you with the set-up interview, where you give Findaway a bit of additional information on your book and select the ideal characteristics for your narrator, and then you hit ‘go’ and wait for them to send you the follow-up with potential narrators to your email.

While I was spoilt in terms of audiobooks as a child by the BBC version of The Hobbit, with a full cast of voices and full sound FX, and therefore almost never bother to pick up single-voice book narrations (because I’d rather read it to myself and get the full cinematic immersion in my head), a lot of folks do like narrated books, either because of vision difficulties, lifestyle, or whatever else.

I’m trialling the system with Death is for the Living, just to see if it’s feasible.

Don’t write what you know

Don’t write what you know

Don’t ‘write what you know’, it’s boring. Be a little daring, my children.

‘Write what you know.’ always makes me grin, but then again I mostly write about an interstellar mercenary cult. If I were writing what I knew, I’d be dead. Of course, according to any sane standards (or at least a jury of my friends and peers, who may or not qualify as sane), I should be dead several times over anyway. And have the good sense not to laugh about it (I digress).

It’s something authors and wannabe authors hear a lot. ‘Write what you know.’ That little oft-cited piece of wisdom may well be the white fluffy pillow applied to the mouth and nose of many a promising fiction career. One of the problems with writing what you know is that a lot of other people probably know it too.

“Writers should not be in the business of propping up stereotypes.” ~ Douglas Adams

I’d prefer to tell new authors to step out of their comfort zones. Write something that’s going to diagonally-park someone’s brain in their humdrum existence of parallel lines. Write something that’s going to make them run away to join the Space Marines and leave their resignation nailed to their office door with their lunchbox.

I’d advise taking what you know, spreading it out flat, cutting it into interesting shapes, reciting the names of a few demons over it, shaking it vigorously in stardrive lubricant, and then give writing about it a shot. If nothing else, the fumes from the stardrive lube should have woken your Muse up.

Of course, enough research to be clear on the fact that there is no black hole between Earth and Mars is a good idea (true story). Research never hurts. Well, unless you’re one of my friends, who mislaid their bag with one of their notebooks in it, and got picked up and questioned by the police because part of their plot was notes on how to dispose of an unwanted ex. (Seriously, you can’t make this shi*t up.) Or…I digress again.

Instead of ‘write what you know’ coming in on every channel, let’s try a little ‘write something new and different’, or  ‘write whatever you can’t stop writing.’

Etymology Excavation: At full tilt

Etymology Excavation: At full tilt

“At full tilt” means flat out, at top speed, as fast as possible. Its origins don’t have anything to do with being unsteady, at an angle, or, indeed poker.

The term derives from the sport of jousting, or tilting (ever heard of ’tilting at windmills’?), and ‘at full tilt’ is believed to have first come into use as an expression in the mid-1600s. Common theories (check out etymonline.com for even more good stuff) are that it comes from either the practice of leaning in to meet the attack when jousting, or, conversely, from tilt or tent, referring to the flimsy barrier that separates the two riders when they joust.

Examples of ‘at full tilt’

I ran down the hill at full tilt.

We’re going to need to work at full tilt to get this done in time.

Is it still in common use? Depends who you ask. I’m a Millennial, and I use it; my parents’ generation certainly did. On the whole, it’s probably more likely to be used in British English than American English.

It’s one of those phrases you can use to hint at a character’s background in contemporary work such as a thriller – maybe your anti-hero is British and gives himself away with it, for example.

If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, you can also adapt this type of expression. If (random example, honest) your invented culture includes people swinging on big metal balls hung from cranes, you’d use ‘at full swing’. (Oddly enough, ‘in full swing’ is another weird English idiom that I probably will be covering on another day.)

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

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