A Taste of Garden Etymology

7717687746_cb5f70b4a1_oToday, I’d like to pay a little homage to my vegetable garden. With all the rain and heat we’ve had this year, things are thriving. The tomatoes are attempting a coup and the cucumbers have made a break for the world outside the fence. Needless to say, I’ll be pickling and canning like crazy for the next few weeks.

But before I’m swept up in the harvest, I thought it would be fun to share a little garden etymology with you. So let’s dig right in! Continue reading

Getting to the Heart of Plain Language

chow_178__dracula_by_tsabo6Can you believe it’s nearly the end of July? I hope you are all having a lovely summer (or winter for those of you in the southern hemisphere). You probably don’t know this, but I’m a member of Plain Language Association International. Plain language is all about clear communication. It’s a way of writing and presenting information that makes it easy for readers to understand. Continue reading

Literary Device Resurrection

Buffy_the_Vampire_Slayer_by_uberwekknessIt’s been quite a while since we last talked about literary devices, so I thought it would be fun to tell you about a few more of the lesser-known devices. As you read their definitions and examples, you might discover a device that you use in your own writing that you never knew had a name. For me, that’s the first device we’re going to look at. Continue reading

What’s the Difference Between a Ritual and a Tradition?

Vampire family portrait (illustration)

Today marks my stepson’s final exam of his high school career. This morning, he announced his plans to treat himself to a particular type of hamburger at a particular fast food restaurant near his school once his exam was over. He explained that this was his tradition—he always goes for this burger after he finishes writing his exams.

Word nerd that I am, something about his use of tradition niggled at me. Long after he’d left for school, I found myself wondering if what he was describing was a ritual rather than a tradition. Of course, I had to look it up. So I thought I would share what I found out with all of you.


The word ritual, used as a noun, first appeared in English sometime in the 1640s. It came from the adjective of the same spelling, which, in turn, came from the Latin word ritualis, used to described things pertaining to religious rites.

Ritual can refer to a religious or solemn ceremony involving of a series of actions performed in a prescribed order. It can also refer to a series of actions or behaviours habitually and consistently followed by someone.

  • Sally’s pre-vampire hunting ritual involved eating three cloves of garlic, polishing her stakes, and spritzing herself with holy water while listening to Professor van Helsing’s audiobook.


The word tradition appeared in English in the late 1300s. It came from the Old French word tradicion, which referred to a presentation or a handing over. Tradicion, in turn, came from the Latin word traditionem, which referred to a surrender, a handing down, or a giving up. It was formed by adding the word dare, meaning to give, to the stem trans-, meaning over.

Tradition can refer to the passing down of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. It can also refer to the custom or belief that has been passed down. And it can sometimes refer to an artistic or literary style, established by a particular artist or writer, which is then followed by others.

  • No matter how hungry they were, before eating a human, the Dracula family joined hands and said words of thanks to the Dark Lord, as had been the tradition for hundreds of years.

So, let’s go back to the case of my stepson and his hamburger. If students at his school have been going to the same restaurant and ordering the same hamburger for several years, it could be considered a tradition. But, if it is something that he does on his own every semester, once his exams are finished, then it’s a ritual.


Etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.


Image credit: MabaProduct @ deviantART

V is for…


Holy moly! Can you believe it’s nearly June? Wasn’t I complaining about the snow and the cold not that long ago? Well, I’m not complaining now. My garden is in full swing and I’m off to Toronto next week to attend the annual Editors’ Association of Canada conference.

Today, I’d like to bring you the next instalment of my Vocabulary Series. I’m going to visit upon you a veritable variety of vexing and vainglorious vocabulary beginning with the letter V.

This first word is a fabulous verb that conjures visions of indecisive sea anemones. It kind of sounds like the action it describes, don’t you think?

Vacillate (verb)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1590s, meaning to sway unsteadily. Comes from the Latin word vacillatus, which is the past participle of vacillare, meaning to sway to and fro or to hesitate. Its more modern meaning to describe an inability to make up one’s mind was first documented in the 1620s.

Definition:    To waver between two different opinions, options, or actions; to be indecisive; to sway unsteadily.

Example:   Viktor vacillated; he didn’t know if he should pursue the voluptuous blonde running down the hill or her vainglorious lover, who was heading for the forest. He flipped a coin.


This next word is one of my favourite adjectives, in part because it’s so much fun to say. But it also makes a great insult!

Vacuous (adjective)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1640s, meaning empty. Comes from the Latin word vacuus, meaning empty, void, or free, which is related to the word vacare, meaning to be empty. Vacare likely comes from a translation of the Greek word kenon, which means that which is empty. Its more modern meaning to describe a person was first seen in the 1840s.

Definition:   Unintelligent or expressionless; lacking substance or content; empty.

Example:   With a disappointed sigh, Viktor cornered his dinner. The young man’s vacuous gaze meant Viktor was in for an especially bland meal.


Seeing as we’re at the letter V, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell you about the origins of the words that describes one of my favourite monsters. Careful—the bonus word this week wants to suck your blood!

Vampire (noun)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1700s, referring to a spectral being in a human body who leaves the grave at night to drink the blood of the living while they sleep. Comes from the French word vampire, or the German Vampir, which is seen in 1732 in an account regarding Hungarian vampires. The French and German words come from the Hungarian vampir, which comes from the Old Church Slavonic word opiri. Similar words can be seen in the Bulgarian vapir and Ukranian uper. Franc Miklošič, an expert on Slavic languages, believed that the origins of vampire can be traced to the Kazan Tatar word, ubyr, meaning witch. However, Max Vasmer, who was an expert in the etymology of Indo-European, Finno-Ugric, and Turkic languages, disagreed.

The meaning that describes a person who preys on others—especially emotionally or psychologically—was first recorded in 1741.

Definition:   A reanimated corpse that leaves its grave at night to drink the blood of the living by biting their necks with abnormally long and pointed canine teeth; a person who preys ruthlessly on others.

Example:   As the sun began to rise, Viktor wished he wasn’t a vampire. He really missed eating pesto and sleeping in a bed.


As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Linking up with this weekend’s moonshine
grid, over at yeah write.

Hey, if you’ve got a blog post that’s burning
a hole in your virtual pocket, you should
link up too!

Image credit: Depsycho @ deviantART