Etymology Excavation: Toe the line

Etymology Excavation: Toe the line

‘Toe the line’ means to follow orders, to do as you’re told, conform to a set standard, or to not rock the boat. An alternative phrase that means exactly the same thing is ‘toe the mark’.

It’s often misspelt as ‘tow the line’, since the nautical term to tow something (drag something behind a boat via a line) sounds very similar, and also involves lines (usually, a rope).

Common theories on the origins of the expression include sporting events, where athletes line up with their toes literally on a line; the armed forces; and English public schools, where students would line up for roll-call. Wikipedia offers some entertaining alternatives, including lines separating armed politicians by a minimum distance to restore decorum during heated debates.

Examples of ‘toe the line’:

If you want to keep your job, you’d better toe the line.

She toed the party line when it came to immigration.

This phrase is very common in UK and US English, as is, unfortunately, the misspelling I noted earlier. Sources are notably unclear on when exactly it came into use, but the practice of scratching a line in the dirt to serve as a starting point for races, duels, or even ‘cross this and I’ll turn you into jam’ has been around for at least a couple of centuries – most likely, much longer.

It’s a nice colour phrase that usually adds a slightly ominous shading to the context, and could be used in most contemporary fiction. In sci-fi or fantasy genres, it could be adapted to match a culture from your world, and shouldn’t be used verbatim. In historical fiction, you run the risk of anachronism without doing a lot more careful checking on exactly when the phrase started to be used.

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).

Lissa Dobbs, Galaxy of Authors

Lissa Dobbs, Galaxy of Authors

Lissa Dobbs

‘Shadow Walkers: We walk in darkness so others may see only light.’

Buy the books!

In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing?

I had to do a project in the fourth grade. We had to write the story, illustrate it, and make a book. I was hooked. As I got older and became more interested in mythology and folklore, writing gave me a chance to live in a world where magic was real.

Are there any authors or artists who influence(d) you?

I’m a big fan of Raymond E. Feist. His fantasy world of Midkemia was one of the first ones I visited, and I loved it there.

Tell me about one of your books.

Sometimes, what you need to find is yourself.

As a child, Gwennyth dreamed of taking a ship across the void and seeing the lands of Grevared. As an adult, she’s content to stay at home and spend her days researching magic. But all this ends when her mother Ravyn transposes forms at nearly 900 years old. Though she has been trained her entire life, Gwennyth is sure she isn’t up to the task of leading her people, and when their magic begins to fail, Gwennyth knows she can’t do it.

But there isn’t anyone else. Her siblings have moved on from Crowrest, and Gwennyth is all that is left. With only her best friend Vonner in tow, Gwennyth sets out into the world of Grevared in search of the goddess Aradia. Her only clue to the goddess’s whereabouts is ‘look not in the places of the gods’. But finding the goddess isn’t her only task. Gwennyth must also find herself.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Two that I’ve made decent progress on. I think there are a few more than only have a few paragraphs.

What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?

I don’t think books should be banned. Sure, there are some whose topics aren’t appropriate for younger readers, but those who don’t like a book always have the option of not reading it. There’s no need to ban them.

Tell me about a principal character in your book(s). What makes them memorable?

Gwennyth, from Aradia’s Secret, is a book nerd who’d rather read than anything. She’s super-intelligent and knows how to do almost anything, but her confidence is so low that she believes she’s incapable. The sad part is that most of Crowrest thinks she’s incapable, too. She’s actually a bit whiny, and I found myself wanting to tell her to just suck it up and deal, but I think she may find her way out of all that. There’s only one book now, but I have plans for others.

Indie, or traditionally published – and why?

I went with Indie publishing just because I wanted to be in charge of all aspects of the book. It gives me a chance to learn new skills, or at least try to.

It’s said that to write well, you need to read a lot. What do you think?

Definitely. I wouldn’t know what it was like not to have a book in my hand.

Tell me what you feel the worst, and the best, aspects of being an author are, and why.

There are times that it’s lonely, especially when there’s no one around to talk book plots with. On the other hand, there are plenty of characters to spend time with and plenty of worlds to create.

Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?

I actually do both. I start out with an outline then let the story decide where it’s going from there. I think both approaches are valid.

Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.

I love to make things. I crochet and make dollhouse miniatures. I also enjoy making dolls, though it’s been a while since I’ve done much of any of it.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m working on a trilogy, the first story that came to me in the world of Grevared. I’ve been working on it for a few years now, but it’s about time it became a priority.

What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?

There are poor quality and poorly edited books in both camps. I’ve read some traditionally published ones recently that made me wonder if an editor did more than flip through them, and I’ve read some Indie books that were wonderful. I think both need to take the time to produce a good book instead of being in a hurry to get them on the market.

What is your favourite genre to write, and why?

I write primarily fantasy because I enjoy creating worlds. I also do a bit of horror and paranormal when the mood strikes.

If you could, would you live in the world you’ve created? Why / why not?

Oh, yeah. I’d go there in a heartbeat. I’d love to roam the forests of E’ma Thalas or use one of the mechanical bugs of the Xaggarene Empire. And just think about sitting down to a meal in the Kingdom of Emerell with the dwarfs or visiting the Shadow Walker guild hall in Corleon. I’m not sure I really want to visit the demon towns of Moirena, but Harrowwind, where the Blood Mages live, might be interesting. Well, there’s also Land’s End in southern Moirena. I’d love to see the Thunderfish River fall off the edge of the world.

If you could go back to the start of your writing career, what is the one piece of advice you’d give yourself?

Make it a bigger priority than it was until the last few years. Quit worrying about what everyone else says about it and just do it.

Tell me three unique things about you.

  1. I love crafting.
  2. I’m a mythology and folklore junkie.
  3. If I can’t put cheese on it, I don’t want to eat it.

Lissa, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!

Etymology Excavation: Quixotic

Etymology Excavation: Quixotic

Seems as if once you start a good thing, the ideas just keep rolling. Today’s excavation concerns the word ‘quixotic’.

It’s a fun dig. Let’s start off with the dictionary definition as used today, courtesy of the Cambridge English Dictionary: ‘having or showing ideas that are different and unusual but not practical or likely to succeed’.

The origin of the term dates back to 1605, and the work of fiction written by Don Miguel de Cervantes, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha. It’s more commonly known in English as Don Quixote. It’s a pretty lengthy story, but the basic idea concerns a nobleman (you guessed it, Don Quixote) whose brain has slipped a few vital gears and who thinks he’s a knight in the chivalric tradition. Amongst his antics are included tilting at windmills, which he mistook for giants.

As a point of general trivia, he names his long-suffering horse ‘Rocinante’, also the name given to the Mars ship used by James Holden and his crew in the TV series ‘The Expanse’.

Quixotic, and quixotically, are words which I feel deserve more use than they get. They also have a wide range of definitions; I used the Cambridge one as it sums it up well, but the word can be applied for anything from ‘odd’ to ‘quirky’ to ‘flaky’ (in the sense of someone not to be relied on).

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).

Character Interview: Irin Seviki

Character Interview: Irin Seviki

Interview with Irin Seviki

West stable block, Seviki Equines and Exotics – a ranch master and an author meet

Irin Seviki: …Ilan?

J C Steel: Not exactly. She said she was going to visit your horses.

IS: You’re Ilan’s mysterious friend?

JCS: Something like that. Nice to finally meet you in person. How did you meet Ilan?

IS: You aren’t going to tell me why Ilan set up this meeting, or who you are, are you?

JCS: No.

IS: Fine. In actual fact it was Ilan’s horse I wanted to meet. I didn’t realise until I’d already got myself into the situation that a Cortiian horse must have a Cortiian rider, somewhere. Happily, she decided not to shoot me.

JCS: I understand that most of the Federated Planets Alliance thinks Cortiians are dangerous. What do you think?

IS: …you have met Ilan? I know she’s dangerous. I also know she isn’t the sociopathic murderer that FPA propaganda tries to depict. She’s risked her life to save my family and my business. I count her a friend.

JCS: How would you describe her?

IS: If you see her on a horse, you realise your boots are dusty, you’re sitting like a sack of grain, and your horse probably trusts her more than you. I doubt she ever tells me more than half of what she’s actually thinking, and either half can give me nightmares, when she isn’t talking in circles for the pleasure of it.

JCS: Would you tell me a little about your business?

IS: I can give you a data packet.

JCS: …probably not compatible with my system.

IS: So I can assume you’re from somewhere Ilan wasn’t supposed to be. Interesting. All right. Seviki Equines and Exotics breeds and trains pets, mostly for the citizens of the Central Worlds. Our galaxy’s oldest and richest humanoids like to maintain a presence on ancestral soil, and space, as you can imagine, is at a premium. They also like to flaunt their wealth. I specialise in horses, with a sideline in smaller creatures. A Central Worlds citizen can be sure to attract attention if they have the space to maintain a horse for their pleasure.

JCS: Living status symbols.

IS: If you like. Do you ride?

JCS: Yes. Not, of course, as well as Ilan. What do you enjoy most about the business?

IS: I like animals. I enjoy the open spaces, and seeing the results when a new breed turns out exactly as I hoped. Do you know what percentage of FPA citizens have ever seen a horse in real life?

JCS: I’m sure your figures are more current. How do you come into contact with your clients?

IS: Less than point zero zero five of a percent, since I notice you didn’t ask. You’re quite a rarity, friend of Ilan. Actually, you’re unique. Everyone else she’s introduced me to has been a Cortiian, and you’re about a head shorter than any Cortiian I’ve met.

JCS: Mmm. Do you have to travel a lot for your business?

IS: Now I believe you two know each other; neither one of you will answer questions unless it suits you. I don’t travel unless I have no other choice, artificial gravity and my system don’t get on. I do have a couple of people who travel for me, when there’s no alternative to an in-person meeting. Most of my clients are through word of mouth, by this point, or have found our virtual presence.

JCS: How long has your family lived on this planet?

IS: We’ve been in business for three generations now, but my family colonised the planet. My mother’s father founded the stables. These days, I run it with as many of my cousins and siblings as are interested.

JCS: Thank you, Citizen. I appreciate your time.

IS: I’m not going to find out who you are, am I?

JCS: Ask Ilan.

IS: Or my horse…it might be more informative.

Who’d become a vampire hunter?

Who’d become a vampire hunter?

The ones who don’t stand by and do nothing

The crew of the Artemis are an eclectic bunch, but they have exactly one thing in common; they fight to save your ass from something you don’t even believe in.

Most people think that vampires are a European danger, bred in the slums of the Old World. It’s not a word commonly associated with the Caribbean. But near the Equator, day and night are predictable; darkness comes fast, and people come out after dark to enjoy the cooler air. It’s a vampire’s paradise – and before the land around the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico was divided by modern borders, it was better known as the Spanish Main.

Francis Hardy is Bahamian. Son and grandson of Islands fishermen, he’s lived on and near the water all his life, and he’s the public face of the Artemis when she’s ferrying rich tourists to see the beauties of the Bahamas.

Francis isn’t much given to talking about his past, or how he ended up leading a team of vampire hunters. If pressed, he’ll admit to having worked as the strongman in a floating circus when he was younger, but now he’s an old man in a profession that doesn’t generally lead to a pension.

  • Age: 48
  • Born: Commonwealth of the Bahamas
  • Height: 1.80 metres
  • Weight: 115 kg
  • Languages: English
  • Favourite food: Lamb curry
  • Never drinks: American beer
  • Music: Latin pop – Manu Chao is a top pick but then again so is Shakira
  • Quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself
  • Most often grumbles about: People who think the earth is flat
  • Personal quirk: Likes to know what’s in whatever he’s eating

Kim Marruci mixes a great cocktail, and she’s the favourite when the charterers want to learn to surf. She keeps a note in the log of how many bad pick up lines each charter group lays on her, and Francis calculates the ‘extras’ bill accordingly.

She was on an exchange year in California when she got news of of her brother’s death, and if he hadn’t left a package to be delivered to her in the event of his death, she would never have known how he died.

Rather than assuming he was doing drugs, or trying to sell it to a tabloid magazine, Kim walked into a hunter safehouse in Sint Maarten a week later and has never looked back.

  • Age: 24
  • Born: Italian Republic
  • Height: 1.69 metres
  • Weight: 64 kg
  • Languages: Italian, English
  • Favourite food: Sushi
  • Never drinks: Vodka
  • Music: Nordic heavy metal – Skalmold and Clickhaze are somewhere in all her playlists
  • Quote: “My eyes are up here.”
  • Most often grumbles about: Charterers
  • Personal quirk: Likes anything that smells of patchouli or sandalwood

Sean Kosinsky handles the barbecues on the beach and makes sure that the beer doesn’t stop flowing. Artemis is the first boat he’s ever dealt with smaller than a cruise liner, and learning to sail isn’t coming easily to him.

He was kidnapped out of his North Carolina college frat house when a clan master was looking for a new plaything, and only a very timely hunter raid on the shelter where he was being kept saved him from slavery or being Changed.

  • Age: 22
  • Born: United States of America
  • Height: 1.86 metres
  • Weight: 86 kg
  • Languages: US English
  • Favourite food: Poached eggs
  • Never drinks: Absinthe
  • Music: Anything from Mozart to Rachmaninoff
  • Quote: “Assuming direct control
  • Most often grumbles about: Boats
  • Personal quirk: Corrects everyone else’s log entries to US spelling

Mary Cox works as chef and tour administrator for Artemis‘s charter tours – and team medic the rest of the time.

She was studying medicine at Edinburgh University when she and a friend were attacked by a fledgling vampire on the way home one night. The hunters saved her life, but were too late for her friend. She and Francis have worked as a hunter team for over five years, which makes them the senior team in the area.

  • Age: 37
  • Born: Scotland, United Kingdom
  • Height: 1.58 metres
  • Weight: 57 kg
  • Languages: English
  • Favourite food: Hawaiian pizza
  • Never drinks: Whiskey
  • Music: Country and blues – Fats Domino is up often on her playlists
  • Quote: “When Robert Burns said ‘A man’s a man for a’that’, he’d never had to deal with charterers
  • Most often grumbles about: People grabbing plants and corals without checking if they’re poisonous
  • Personal quirk: Hates having to wear sunscreen

Jean Vignaud can handle Artemis under sail as well as Francis can, substitutes for Mary in the galley, and climbs the rigging the way most people climb the stairs to bed. Because he’s not a people person, he tends to work as a deckhand on cruises.

Because he rarely discusses anything more personal than the slogan on his T-shirt, the fact that he became a vampire during the reign of Charles IX of France isn’t commonly known. Why and how he chose to renounce being vampire is something even his partner doesn’t know, but his record on killing vampires is exceeded only by Francis’s.

  • Age: 463
  • Born: Kingdom of France
  • Height: 1.73 metres
  • Weight: 78 kg
  • Languages: Latin, French, Provencal, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, English
  • Favourite food: Ginger beef on Shanghai noodles
  • Never drinks: Smirnoff Ice
  • Music: Anything by Dire Straits
  • Quote: “Money for nothing is good.”
  • Most often grumbles about: Powerboats
  • Personal quirk: Rolls his own cigarettes but never usually smokes any of them

Cristina Perez-Batista can sail the Artemis, lead snorkelling tours, or teach charterers to surf behind a dinghy. She doesn’t like having to deal with people but fakes it well enough when she has to.

She jumped ship aged fourteen when her father decided to sail back to Europe, and lied about her age successfully enough to get jobs as crew for a few months before she was picked up ashore by enforcers under the aegis of a sub-clan of Changar. She managed to engineer her own escape and get far enough from where she was being held that Jean came across her before the enforcers did.

  • Age: Nearly 19
  • Born: Kingdom of Spain
  • Height: 1.66 metres
  • Weight: 65 kg
  • Languages: Spanish, English
  • Favourite food: Anything with seafood
  • Never drinks: Beer
  • Music: Anything but classical
  • Quote: “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”
  • Most often grumbles about: People on boats who know nothing about boats
  • Personal quirk: Hates wearing shoes
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