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!

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

Turku Castle/Turun Linna

Last month, my husband and I spent a couple of weeks visiting family in Finland and Germany. The historical site we were both most excited to see was Turku Castle, in southwest Finland.

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Turku was the capital of Finland until 1812, when Alexander I, thinking Turku was a little too close to Sweden and too far from Russia, gave Helsinki capital city status instead.

However, the castle itself is much older than all that – construction began in the 1280s, when Finland was under Swedish rule.

In its time, the castle went through many renovations. It started its shift from military stronghold to residential palace in the 16th century, when King Gustav I of Sweden/Gustav Vasa took the throne. According to the castle guidebook:

The windows were filled with panes of parchment, the fireplaces were worn out and the rooms were gloomy.

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Turku Castle underwent a period of major renovation, including updates like replacing drawbridges and gangways with staircase towers, and salons for the Duke and Duchess. Unfortunately, the castle didn’t have a great life after that. A 1614 fire nearly destroyed the wooden structures of the main building, and the castle was hit by a bomb on the first day of the Continuation War in 1941. In between all that, the castle was used as a prison, a garrison, and – the ultimate in boring – a storehouse. Poor Turku Castle.

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Thankfully, plans to restore the castle had been in the works for some time, and another major period of renovation kicked off – one that lasted for 47 years!

It’s a big building, almost maze-like with its alcoves, narrow hallways, and staircases.

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Including this one, built in a spiral formation so that any right-handed would-be assailant coming up couldn’t draw his sword. Crafty.

There were many large and airy rooms (some too big to feel like a mere “room”), and some that were more modest.

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One of my favourite rooms was the Ladies’ Parlour, featuring this labyrinth carved into the wall. The labyrinth was believed to trap evil spirits and keep them from getting into the room.

I think, though, my absolute favourite room was the Scriptorium, the workroom used by the castle’s scribe. Important visitors’ names were recorded on the walls.

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Here I am gazing lovingly at the wall. I was like that for quite a while! I didn’t even notice my husband moving on after he took this photo.

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And a photo from my perspective. I’ve recently taken up calligraphy, so I enjoyed seeing the work and figuring out how certain letters were formed.

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The Nun’s Chapel featured this incredible crucifix from Hammarland church. From the fact sheet in the room:

The carving … is from the late 14th century, when the mystery of the blood became stronger because of the unsettled times and the epidemics of plague.

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The Castle Church is still alive and kicking, and many couples get married here.

The King’s Hall and Queen’s Chamber can also be rented out for events, and the walls are lined with beautiful tapestries that are very difficult to resist touching!

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So, to sum up, Turku Castle gets two very enthusiastic thumbs up from me. As someone of Finnish descent who has lived her whole life in Canada, it was invigorating for me to get so close to a sizeable slice of Finnish history. I enjoyed Turku a lot anyway, but the castle was a definite top three highlight for me. Check it out if you’re ever in that part of the world and can’t say no to a good castle!