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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, June 6, 2014

A word you never suspected had something to do with poets

Here in Canada we have an annual poetry award, the Griffin Prize. The prize for 2014 was announced last night, so in honour of poetry we are going to look at a word you never suspected had something to do with poets: scold.

Scold comes from skald, a Viking word for an ancient Scandinavian poet. Goodness knows what Viking poets were like, because the word subsequently came to mean "a person of ribald speech". From there it was but a step to "a verbally abusive person". By about 1400 the noun had morphed into a verb meaning "to use violent or unseemly language in vituperation" (gotta love those Oxford English Dictionary definitions!)

I think it highly unlikely that 500 years from now, English speakers will be saying something like "My mother really poeted me after I stayed out all night"!

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.