18th Century and Earlier, 19th Century and Onwards, Books, Places

Weather, history and the origins of words

Note: This post originally appeared on Wordscience, a now defunct writing-focused blog of mine, on September 2, 2009. I was recently flipping through that blog’s archives and came across this post, which I thought would be neat to share here too.


Two things I like (after writing) are history and the weather. So it would come as no surprise that a book called Blame it on the Rain: How the Weather Has Changed History would be a lot of fun for me. Thank you, discount book store in St. Jacobs, Ontario!

Anyway, I’m awful at book reviews, so this isn’t one. Instead, I’m going to talk about some things I learned in this book that happen to not actually be weather-related: the origin of certain words. I didn’t expect to learn about that while reading this, but I did and I thought it was interesting. So, here:

  • Cheap: From the Old English word ceap, which used to mean “market,” hence the name of Cheapside in London.
  • Deadline: A line, painted between two markers, used outside war camps during the American Civil War. If anyone crossed this line, they would be shot dead.
  • Hooker: Named for Joseph Hooker, who was an American general during the same Civil War. Apparently his troops frequented prostitutes enough for his name to become a synonym.
  • Libel: From the French word libelle. Libelles were pamphlets circulated to spread rumours about the French royals before the Revolution.
  • Normandy: From the word “Norsemen.” Vikings conquered the area and the Normans were descended from them.
  • Sideburns: Named after General Ambrose Everett Burnside, who fought in the American Civil War and was apparently was known for his sideburns before they were called that.
  • Welsh: The Angles’ word for “foreigner” was wealas. They didn’t like the Celts much.

There you go. Wasn’t that fun and educational? Okay, well I thought it was!

18th Century and Earlier, Places

Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, York

In 2010 I visited York, England. I’d always wanted to go there, primarily because I was excited about all the historical sights in the town. My site’s header comes from that trip – it’s a small bit of what remains of St Mary’s Abbey, a Benedictine abbey established in 1088. As a Canadian, finding a structure that old and still standing was amazing. And it was made no less amazing by the fact that it was a short stroll from my B&B, and in the middle of the Yorkshire Museum Gardens, completely open to the public.

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The abbey walls were built in the 13th century. Even though a small portion remains, you can see how it once was the richest abbey in all of the north of England.

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The plaque reads “Apse of Norman Church.”

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St Mary’s Abbey was destroyed after our old friend Henry VIII disbanded the monasteries. There are foundations still present on-site, as well as other structures including the abbott’s house (built in the 14th century) and the Hospitium, which was used to entertain guests – and is now a wedding venue.

You can find more about life in the abbey at History of York’s website.

I don’t remember what caused me to remember this particular portion of my 2010 trip, but now I’m itching to plan another trip to York! I’ve been sharing some historical memories from York on my brand-spanking new Instagram account, if you’re curious.

Books, Places, TV and Movies

The history of fictional worlds

I was about 13 years old the first time I read the Lord of the Rings books. I was captivated by the story, but more than that, I was captivated by the fictional world it occupied. And when I discovered the Silmarillion – packed with the world’s history and lore – I was hopelessly hooked.

I’ve written before about the finality of history, how it can be comforting to study something you cannot influence at all. But I also find the history and lore of fictional worlds just as comforting – maybe even more so, as our own world is well out of it, not affected. Almost like a video game, it’s an immersive experience that’s almost consequence-free.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying YouTube videos created by people analyzing book and video game histories, answering questions and searching the source material for answers. Here are some examples.

VaatiVidya sharing some beautifully-presented Bloodborne video game lore:
Rawrist exploring Game of Thrones history (*Spoilers*):
Game of Thrones again; this time Preston Jacobs using history to examine book theories. (*Spoilers*):

I’m a writer, but I’m not a world-building sort of writer. Maybe I’m fascinated by fictional histories for this reason. Maybe I’m drawn to the sort of concentration and focus that’s necessary to be a world-builder. I know I don’t feel like I have those skills in abundance most of the time.

Also, there’s this idea that the manmade is somehow inferior to the organic, too perfect, too considered. But one thing I love about the history and lore of fictional worlds is that it’s often imperfect. In these videos, sometimes there are unanswered questions or loose ends, theories that may only lead to other theories. I like that too. It’s somehow satisfying to know that a history created by people potentially with charts and lists and beta readers at their disposal can be as messy and open to chance as real history.

19th Century and Onwards, Places

Old Oakville post office and Thomas House

I just wanted to write a quick post to share two more Old Oakville buildings – this time, a couple of places that are slightly outside my usual circuit when I visit the area.

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The first is the old Oakville post office, a wooden building built in 1835. In the 1950s, it was moved from its original location to Lakeside Park, overlooking Lake Ontario, and restored. It’s a museum now, but according to Canada’s Historic Places, it also served as a “blacksmith shop and stable, as well as a welding business and tannery storehouse.”

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Just next door is Thomas House, built for the family of Merrick Thomas. It was also moved to Lakeside Park in the ’50s. Thomas was the brother-in-law of Oakville’s founder, and a developer of the early village of Oakville. Today, the house is also a museum.

I hope to visit them both this summer!