Monday, February 4, 2013

Word of the Week - Ragtag

Peasants Brawling by Abraham Diepraam
(A ragtag collection, to be sure) ;-)
I had the pleasure of going over edits on Whispers from the Shadows last week, and my editor and I got to laugh about some of the not-in-use-yet words that slipped through. =) A few were difficult...I still don't know what I'm going to replace them with! But this was kinda funny.

I had my British character sneering at the very thought of a ragtag collection of farmers defeating the British (again, ahem) with their pitchforks and shovels. Only, as Kim pointed out, "ragtag" was still a decade away from use. Le sigh. Apparently this phrase in reverse, "tag-rag and bobtail" has been in use since 1650, but not switched around. That didn't make its appearance (and again, paired with "bobtail") until 1820. 

I would have been left scratching my head over that "bobtail" part, gotta say, if the etymology dictionary didn't specify that bobtail meant "cur." Apparently tag and rag was also a popular phrase in the 16-17th centuries.

When we first went over these edits, I had no handy substitution for ragtag. But later that afternoon, if you heard me randomly shout out, "Motley!" that would be why. ;-) When next I spoke with my editor, I happily told her my epiphany, and she made the substitution. And motley has been around since the 14th century, with even its newest meaning of "fool" from 1600.

But in looking up motley to check it, I saw another "rag" entry! Apparently at the same time that ragtag was coming into use, rag-bag made its debut too--though apparently literally, at first. It took on the figurative meaning, however, by 1864.

And now I get to shift my thinking up to that very time period. =) All set, I am, for the world of 1865. Where ragtag is acceptable, if I have an occasion to use it, LOL.

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