Oops! It appears that you have disabled your Javascript. In order for you to see this page as it is meant to appear, we ask that you please re-enable your Javascript!
Etymology Excavation: neither heads nor tails

Etymology Excavation: neither heads nor tails

‘Neither heads nor tails of it’, or, in the UK, ‘neither head nor tail of it’ refers to confusion, a state of puzzlement akin to staring at something so strange that you can’t decipher even which end of the matter you’re looking at. My favourite etymology theory for this phrase involves Cicero and confusion, nothing to do with currency at all.

I decided to look into this phrase after a copy-editor at ROC Fantasy left me staring at ‘heads nor tales’ (a bigger team doesn’t always mean better editing, class), and it turned out to be pretty interesting. 

There’s also some required disambiguation on ‘heads or tails’, the traditional ask when flipping a coin. A few of the etymology sites hold the opinion that the two phrases have the same origin, which I’m not entirely in agreement with, although I can completely understand why that theory looks tempting. 

Confusion doesn’t equal gambling, although it can lead to it

I’m not in agreement that you can draw an equals sign between ‘neither heads nor tails of it’ and ‘heads or tails’ because it smacks of sloppy thinking to me. ‘Heads or tails’, variously ‘navia aut caput‘, ‘heads or crosses’, etc., depending on your era and location is an ‘or’ phrase, a pretty simple ‘if this, then that’ outcome. Flip a coin to decide, because there are two outcomes are so equal it’s impossible to decide between them; let’s leave it to chance.

‘Neither heads nor tails’, on the other hand, indicates confusion at encountering something hitherto unknown or impossible to understand. Although it implies that there are two options to the confusion, you might also be looking at neither head nor tail, but the third generation of conjoined offspring. While you may certainly flip a coin to attempt to decide which end of the issue you’re looking at, or even if it is an end, I put it to you that this phrase is a lot less digital than the ‘heads or tails’, above. 

Neither heads nor tails

So if I’m so smart, what is the true etymology and meaning behind ‘neither heads nor tails’? 

Well, meaning’s easy. The Cambridge Dictionary, with its usual conciseness, boils it down to an inability to understand something.

The etymology seems to have got badly tangled in the ‘heads or tails’ debate. ‘Heads or tails’, after all, has a nice, clear, contemporary explanation, and flipping a coin goes back about as far as there were coins. Simple, and therefore popularly accepted. ‘Neither heads nor tails’, on the other hand, isn’t quite as simple, and, especially in the US, is assumed to relate to gambling, or possibly to a cute UK tradition, probably to do with sheep and isolated rural areas. 

However, if you look at French, for example, there’s an expression ‘sans queue ni tete‘, which translates to ‘without a head or a tail’ and means something confusing, which is anecdotal evidence that the Cicero explanation may have some truth to it. Why? Because French is a Latinate language (mostly); English is a part-Latin, part-Germanic hybrid with a vocabulary on Viagra and a bad habit of mugging other languages for new words. 

Cicero, for those who don’t know, was a Roman orator (calm down, it means a public speaker), and allegedly he used the phrase ‘ne caput nec pedes’ (neither head nor feet) to express a state of confusion. I like this theory because to me, it explains the slight difference in use and grammar between ‘or’ and ‘neither…nor’, and because there is an equivalent phrase in both French and English with the meaning of confusion.

Use in fiction

This phrase could be adapted very nicely to a variety of fictional settings. You’ve already seen three different variants in this one post, so if you toss in fantasy or sci-fi worldbuilding, the possibilities are nearly endless. Take a hydra, for example, or Cerberus, which are two examples I can think of to support the US version of the saying with the plurals.

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: chasten, chastise

Etymology Excavation: chasten, chastise

Chasten and chastise

Well, my brain is wired a little oddly (yeah, fine, all right, ‘little’ may be contextually dubious…), so it woke me up at around 0500 this morning with the announcement “Hey!! I betcha ‘chasten’ and ‘chastise’ have something to do with religious purity standards, y’all should look that shit up!!”… so here I am at lunchtime finding out that my brain was worryingly spot on, and doing an etymology excavation.

So, chasten and chastise both mean (today) something close to punish, or reprimand. You’ll also find the related word ‘castigate’ in use. None of the three is very common in today’s English, but you’ve probably heard or seen at least one of them – e.g. ‘Chastened, the princess lowered her shining head.’ You’ve probably also heard of ‘chaste’ and ‘chastity’.

If chasten and castigate instead bring up images of leather, spikes, and a dominant with a whip, well, I’m not here to judge, although that thought brings us neatly into the actual etymology of the word.

Depending on where you look, chasten showed up in either the 13th century or the 16th, and comes from the Old French ‘chastiier’ or ‘chastier’, which meant to punish, to dominate, to instruct.

That verb in turn appears to have a Latin root, coming from castigare, ‘castigate’ or castus, ‘morally pure, chaste’.

So, from ‘castus’, we find ourselves in need of a way to enforce a state of castus, and end up with ‘castigare’, which is a form of punishment, frequently physical.

This concept of physical or other punishment to enforce moral standards is a popular enough concept to survive down the centuries to show up today in the form of chasten and castigate. The Inquisition is a particularly well-known historical example of the abstract.

Frankly I think the BDSM take is mentally healthier, but there you are, gentlebeings: chastise and chasten, excavated.

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).

Twitter basics for authors – what is Twitter?

Twitter basics for authors – what is Twitter?

What is Twitter?

First seen / guest blog on Ryder Author Resources

Twitter bills itself as a micro-blogging service. If you’re looking at that and thinking ‘that’s just great, I’ve already got a website, an actual blog, and an Amazon page – I need more things to keep updated like a hole in my head’, keep reading.

Don’t think of Twitter as ‘oh dear god, not another one’ and start thinking of it as an authors’ coffee bar. Or Irish Pub. Or drum circle. Wherever you go to talk shop and meet like-minded people.

What Twitter probably won’t do for you is get you a ton of eager new readers. I’ll be absolutely up-front about that. My following on Twitter is over 9,000, and I sincerely doubt I’ve sold more than a couple of books there. It’s not a place to set a series of ‘hey, my book’s awesome, buy it here!!!’ posts and forget about it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.

What Twitter has done for me is find me my cover designer, my logo designer, various reviewers, and a lot of fellow authors with excellent tips and experience to share. It’s where I met the author group I mostly work with for joint promotions and blog hops.

Getting started on Twitter

Start small, grasshopper. Get an account, if you haven’t already.

Head over to https://twitter.com/ and sign up. If you’re creating this account primarily for author-related stuff, do yourself a favour and pick a ‘handle’ (the part that comes after the @) that has something to do with your author name. Don’t use a book or series title, unless you plan to start and keep up a new account for each book or series you launch.

Now set up your profile. You’ll need a short bio, an author photo, or at least something that you’re willing to be represented by (a lot of people won’t follow back blank profiles), and a header image. If you head on over to my profile, https://twitter.com/steel_jo, you’ll see I’ve used a book banner for my header, but you don’t have to. They’re easy to change.

Don’t put your website link in your bio – that takes up valuable real estate and you get a separate spot for it in set-up. On the other hand, if you have a link other than your website that you want permanent pride of place for, get it a shortlink (see bitly.com, for example) and stick it in.

Do use hashtags in your bio – not enough to overwhelm it, but two or three are fine and make you easier to find. Write horror? Try something like ‘writing #horror, living da dream’. Like marathons? Hashtag it. The hashtags make you searchable. Rumours keep running around Twitter that the hashtags are no longer necessary, but I’ve been there 8 years and I haven’t seen any actual footprints of that particular change, so for a whole extra character, I’d hang onto them.

Hashtags are also the basis for Twitter chats, where you can tweet with people real-time. Learn more about that here.

Is this thing on? Nothing’s happening

Yes, it is, and now you’ve got, or possibly tweaked, your account, let’s get stuck in.

Twitter is all about how many people you follow, and how many people follow you. It’s not like Facebook, where ‘friending’ someone you don’t know and have never met makes you a stalker.

So, if you just started your account, let’s head out to find you some people to chat with. Two options: up at the top right, you’ll see a ‘search’ option. If you know some people, type them in there and follow them. If you don’t, then type ‘#amwriting’ in there. You’ll see a page come up with ‘top’, ‘latest’, ‘people’, etc. Head on over to ‘People’ and follow some of the people whose bios make you grin. Once you run out of those, try another search – I write #scifi, so I’d type that into search and repeat the exercise.

Don’t get upset if not everyone follows you back – some of them will, and that’ll get you started, and it’ll give Twitter something to work with for that section on the right-hand side of your profile headed ‘People to follow’.

As a regular exercise for Twitter, I recommend taking twenty minutes each weekend, and finding 50 or so new people to follow. The following weekend, unfollow all the folks who haven’t followed you back, rinse, and repeat.

Get Tweeting

Following people is all very well, but if you never add any content, followers evaporate fast, so start Tweeting. Top right on your profile, right by the search option, you’ll find the ‘Tweet’ button.

Tweets can contain text (obviously), photos, .gifs, and polls. The character limit is currently 280. Let’s start simply and give you a tweet to ‘pin’ on your profile.

Put together something you’d like people to see as soon as they land on your profile (don’t repeat your bio), something like an intro to your work. ‘Hey, nice to meet you, I’m exploring what happened in #Oz after the Tin Man found his #heart – come and meet the cast!’ plus a website link, for example.

Once you click ‘Tweet’ it’ll show up on your profile. Usually, things you write, or retweet, show up in reverse chronological order, so your older Tweets vanish pretty quickly. To keep a Tweet at the top of your profile, click the little downwards-pointing arrow at the top right corner of the Tweet. You’ll see ‘share’, ‘copy’, ’embed’, and ‘pin’ options. Click ‘pin to your profile’.

It’s considered polite to retweet pinned posts if you’re visiting someone’s profile – it gives their tweet a boost, and lets them know you’re alive, while putting content in your feed. Win-win. Change out your pinned post fairly regularly – at least once a month. Your followers should get a notification when it changes, which gets it a bit more traction than your run-of-the-mill ‘Whoops, there goes my #coffee’ posts.

Pro tip – Twitter lists

So you’ve found Jensen Ackles’s profile, and followed him, and you’re watching Twitter with baited breath for the moment he follows you back. Sorry, ain’t never going to happen. Doesn’t mean you can’t follow him, but you don’t actually have to follow him or have him follow you to see what he’s posting on Twitter.

Enter lists, my favourite thing on Twitter after the .gif wars.

You’ll notice, in your Twitter profile or the ‘Home’ view, you’ve got the search box, a little round photo of you, and the ‘Tweet’ button in a row up the top right? Click once on that round photo, and you’ll get a drop-down menu. Second on that menu is the ‘Lists’ option.

Lists are collections of people whose content you want to see. You don’t have to follow people you add to a list, and they don’t have to be following you.

Lists are important, because once you pass about 200 people you’re following, your Twitter ‘Home’ feed updates so frequently you’ll never catch up on everything that happened while you were at work.

However, if you add people whose posts (Tweets) you really want to keep up with on to a list, you can browse whatever they had to say once you’re at home with your feet up.

I keep a list of people who post useful marketing tips, a list of my close friends, a list of people I publicise with – you get the idea.

Be a real person

Even if your Twitter account is primarily for your writing, don’t just blast your books there. Be a person. Tweet about the asshat who barged in line and kept you from your vital coffee and how you went mutant zombie killer on her ass before you woke up with your cheek stuck to the Starbucks table. Tweet about your pets, or your travel plans, or what you’re reading, or how much editing sucks.

Retweet other people’s posts. It gets you good cess, and inclines them to help you out by doing the same (that pinned post is really helpful for busy people – it give them something of yours to retweet without having to skim down twenty retweets in your feed).

Join a few chats, if you can. If you see an interesting news article, use the Twitter share option – or if there isn’t one, you can usually copy and paste the link into a Tweet.

The golden rule is something like 5% blasting your stuff and 95% everything else. You can play with that a little – if you blog, for example, I recommend retweeting older posts that are still relevant once in a while – it gives your feed content and boosts engagement with your website, but make sure it’s not a constant stream of ‘my books are awesome, buy my books!’.

Oh, and do check your Tweets *before* you post. There’s nothing like typos in a post designed to showcase what a great writer you are to make people wonder, and there’s no ‘edit’ function in Twitter – you wear it or you delete it, and even deleting can’t make it unseen by anyone who’s already viewed it. It’s worth taking a few seconds to proofread.

Have fun!

Ryder Author Resources

RAR is the author’s secret weapon in all things branding, marketing, and book review-related. Check out their site for who they are and what they do! www.ryderauthorresources.com

Scene it here?

Scene it here?

Making a Scene

So, yeah, right, a scene. Loosely defined as the smallest unit of book building, built of many of the sub-units of book building known as mugs of coffee.

Essentially, I see a scene is the smallest piece of your book that can be self-contained. It can be a paragraph or even a sentence, but if you lift it out of context and hang it on your wall, it can be read as a piece. Most of my scenes are a few paragraphs to a few pages.

They’re also something I tend to focus on when I’m editing, because they’re, in a word, achievable. If I look at 100,000 words and tell myself that all that has to be coherent, de-adjectived, copy-edited, proof-read and thrilling in a few months’ time, well, that way leads to ‘Author Not At Work’ syndrome, not to mention ‘Drunk Author Tweeting’. A few paragraphs to a few pages, though? Easy. Get ‘er done before dinner. Do that for a couple of months, and *BAM* edit done.

Right, but why focus on scenes again, aside from my motivation issues?

Well, basically, because we’ve all read ‘those’ books. They can be great books (I’m going to cite the Wheel of Time series here), but you find yourself at about page 423 thinking ‘Why the hell didn’t an editor come through here with a flamethrower?’ or ‘These eight books could have been a trilogy’. Sure, those 423 pages may have been full of well-structured, well-developed stuff. But was it all actually stuff necessary to the story, or did the author, in the process of writing, bolt a jacuzzi, a sunbed, and a whole ten-room mansion on the top of the Ferrari?

Please note, I’m not knocking jacuzzis. Or ten-bedroom mansions, come to that. They’re great. But are they what the Ferrari needs to be, well, as Ferrari-like as possible?

Scenes are good to look at because you can read them easily as a piece, and ask yourself some basic questions to determine if they’re vital, fascinating, or a jacuzzi.

Question #1 – does that scene need to be there?

If not, can I put a big red line through it without leaving a plothole, a continuity hole, or missing a vital bit of character development? Is it, in fact, the kitchen sink on the Ferrari of my storyline?

Question #2 – does that scene, if it’s really bothering me but does appear to be vital, need to be where it is in the story?

Would it stop sending me Code Yellow alerts at the other end of the book? Sometimes you write something, and it is actually great and a vital bit, but your subconscious had a hiccup and spewed it up on a page about fifty pages too early. Or too late.

Alternatively, would that scene make more sense if I (yes, sometimes, really) add some set-up so it makes sense? Because sometimes, when I’m writing, something that’s absolutely crystal clear to me, the author, is absolutely not crystal clear to a reader. Why is that damn planet so important that they’d send an entire fleet there? …well, it’s rich, it’s central, it’s famous… did you tell your reader that?

If you’re looking at your scene, and it’s not, technically, vital storyline advancement, you can’t think of anywhere better to put it, but you still feel it’s doing something useful, you’re on to the last item on the checklist:

Question #3 – is the scene serving as character development (or general society / atmosphere development)?

Because while dumping 400 pages of nothing but backstory, society dev and character dev on your reader is likely going to get your book used as a doorstop, yes, you do need some of that good stuff in there. Otherwise, why is the reader going to give a damn if your protagonist saved the unicorns / galaxy / right to personal freedom?

In short, if you’re staring at a scene in your book and you can’t make an argument for its survival under any of these three reasons…most likely you can pull the plug on it. ‘I thought it was hilarious’ is not, necessarily, a good reason to include it.

Look on the bright side. If you delete it, you don’t have to edit it. And your readers will thank you for it.

Twitter chats and how to find them

Twitter chats and how to find them

WTF are Twitter chats, anyway?

Twitter chats are based on hashtags. If you’ve spent more than five minutes on Twitter, you’ve noticed that Tweets fly past with #amwriting, or #IDGAF embedded in them or stuck on the end.

Sometimes, a hashtag is just that – a way to find related content across the whole wide Twitterverse. Need inspiration? Search for #quoteoftheday and you’ll find as many Tree of Life moments as you can stomach. Want to find out what #Jlo’s been up to? There you go. Feeling like a walk on the dark side of life? #INTJ.

A Twitter chat is when a group of Twitter users schedule a time to discuss something together under a specific hashtag. They tag all their Tweets with that hashtag, and people online and looking at that hashtag can see what they’ve said and respond.

Why should I take part in Twitter chats?

It’s a great way to meet like-minded fellow-travellers and learn new things. As an indie author, I haven’t met a lot of readers on Twitter, but I’ve met many writers, marketers, artists, and subject matter experts – quite often, via a chat or a hashtag. If you participate in chats, you may make friends and gain followers, both directly through the chat and if someone retweets your nugget of wisdom.

Basically, exposure, exposure, exposure.

What are some good Twitter chats for writers?

Excellent question. Another good question is ‘How do you define good?’. Personally I like chats with plenty of participation that aren’t so rigid that I feel awkward chiming in, so here are a few to drop by and try.

  • Sundays, 6 PM – 7 pm GMT: #happywritingchat does pretty much what it says on the tin – writers having fun and writing irresponsibly.
  • Mondays, 9 PM – 10 PM GMT: #sparklybadgersunite is a chat for writers of all stripes to meet up and discuss what they’re working on, what they’re reading, and what they’re watching. It’s informal, fun, and occasionally degenerates into epic .gif wars.
  • Wednesdays, 2 AM – 3 AM GMT: #bookmarketingchat is a chat focussed on (you guessed it) book marketing.
  • Wednesdays, 1 AM – 2 AM GMT: #authorconfessionchat – it’s good to experiment with new writing ideas, and to confess your results. #authorconfessionchat also runs daily author challenges; check out the schedule for each month on the moderators’ profiles and have fun!

If you search for five minutes on Google, you’ll find a lot more, but these are active as of early 2019 and well worth an hour. You’ll meet new people and have a chance to try some writing challenges.

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).

Pin It on Pinterest