Word Hunters :: The Lost Hunters :: Nick Earls :: Terry Whidborne

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Words come and go from languages, but how do we know which words? And what if we lost some of the words we use the most? What if it’s not as simple as words staying alive if we all keep using them? What if they just disappeared, and it was as if they’d never existed?

That’s where word hunters come in. Every so often a word is at risk, and it’s up to word hunters to track down every step of its past to keep it alive in the present. From the Battle of Hastings, to ancient cities they’ve never heard of, to encounters with great inventors, word hunters might find themselves anywhere any time dealing with anything.

For 1500 years, led by an ancient dictionary created by the mysterious Caractacus*, they’ve protected English from falling apart, one word hunter at a time. But now there are two – Lexi and Al Hunter, twelve-year-old twins from Fig Tree Pocket. They find the book in their school library during renovations, or perhaps it finds them. From that moment, their life can’t be the same again. Suddenly it’s 1877, then 1835, then 1100, then 925 as they chase down the possible history of the word ‘hello’ so that we can all keep saying it now.

But that’s only one word and the dictionary, as we all know, is full of them. And the past isn’t always a friendly place to drop in on ...

*perhaps not his real name.

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It turns out there are lots of family names related to the making and shooting of bows and arrows – some of them very common names, and some more obviously associated with bows and arrows than others.

For a start, you have to make your bow, and Bowman fits well there. By the time family names came along two different kinds of bowmen were making two kinds of bows – the bows that fire arrows, and instruments called bows used in the wool industry to untangle wool. The name comes from both sources.

The name Bowe arose in several different ways. In some cases, it’s an occupational name and comes from a maker of bows. In some others, it’s a place-related name, meaning someone who lived near a bridge. It turns out those are related. The old Saxon word ‘boga’, meaning ‘bow’, ended up also being used for bridges, since the arch shape of the bridge was thought to look like a drawn bow.

Just as a farmer is someone who farms and a baker is someone who bakes, the ‘er’ style ending was added to ‘bow’ to produce ‘bowyere’ – someone who makes bows. Over time that became the names Boyer, Bowyer, and Boayer. It’s also one source of the name Bower.

Sometimes these names were also given to people who sold bows, rather than made them.

And Stringer? Yes, that’s the guy who made the string for the bow. It was sometimes also used for makers of other kinds of string or rope, but the string for a longbow was the work of a specialist, and that’s often the source of the name.

So who makes the arrows? Technically the Arrowsmith is the metalworker (smith) who specialises in making metal arrowheads and the Fletcher makes the tailpieces, or fletchings. In practice, both of these names ended up being used to refer to people made arrows, and sometimes people who sold them. So why are there so many more Fletchers around today than Arrowsmiths? There are two probable reasons. First, while fletcher comes from the Old French word ‘fleche’ meaning arrow, and therefore means a maker of arrows, the Normans also introduced the occupation of ‘fulcher’ to England. Fulcher comes from words meaning ‘people’s army’, and the fulcher was responsible for supplying the army.  While Fulcher is also still around as a family name, many fulchers (as in the job) became known as fletchers, either because of variations in dialect or creative spelling. On top of that, fletchings were sometimes made of animal hide rather than feathers, so sometimes the people who worked with the animal hides ended up being called fletchers.

So who uses the bow and arrow? Bowman gets another run here – it described either makers or users of bows. Archer doesn’t need much explanation, though as a name it was applied to someone who did the job as a professional, not just anyone who picked up a bow.

The same is true of Shooter – a name given to a professional bowman or marksman. Like all these names, it predates formalised spelling, so it’s possible that anyone called Chuter, Chewter, Chooter, Schewter, Shuter or Shotter might be descended from a shooter.

Which brings us to Butt, along with Butts and their offspring Butson and Butting (both meaning ‘son of But’). So, who or what was But? The butt was the archer’s target at practice, and Butt came to be either an alternative name for the archer, who aimed at the butt and then had to pull his arrows out of it, or the name of someone who lived near the targets on an archery range (which doesn’t sound like a great place to live).

But surely this name should be Targett instead of Butt? Targett is certainly a family name, but it would only be related to a target if it was very recent. The word target comes from the Old English ‘targe’, meaning shield, so a person called Targett or Targetter was probably a maker of shields. The first recorded use of ‘target’ as something to be aimed at when shooting did apply to archery, but it didn’t occur until 1757, by which time family names were well established.

Can you think of any other family names related to bows, arrows and archery? If you can, please let us know so that we can include them here.


Links

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Want to find out more about where words come from? The word you’re looking for is ‘etymology’ – that’s the study of the origins and development of words.

Some words have fascinating stories, some don’t. Some of the stories told about the origins of words may not be true, however great they sound. Sometimes we simply don’t know, but some guesses are likely to be closer than others.

There are lots of interesting etymology websites. If you want to know when a particular word was first used and where it came from, one great choice is the Online Etymology Dictionary:

www.etymonline.com

Don’t expect the whole story there though ...

Golden Pegs

The Golden Pegs

Caractacus needed a way to lock the words into place in history. He devised a mechanical peg with arms and a key.

They operate quite simply but the workings behind are a bit of a mystery. So far we have worked out that the peg needs to be placed into the portal and locked. Al and Lexi work out that first the arms need to be swung down to ground level and then, with a turn of the key, locked into place.

An early version of the peg (probably a prototype by Caractacus) shows some cogs at the tip of the peg (see image top right). These, we think, gripped the portal so the peg would not get dislodged.

Only one peg is in existence today and will be in the Word Hunter Museum at a future date. See image bottom right.

Click to see larger image of pegsclick to see the actual peg

Free Stuff

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Teachers Notes

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Written by a practicing teacher librarian in context with the Australian curriculum.

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These notes may be reproduced free of charge for use and study within schools but they may not be reproduced (either in whole or in part) and offered for commercial sale.

 

 

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Family Names

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The Books

Word Hunters Book Cover

Book Two

Words come and go from languages, but how do we know which words? What if we lost some of the words we use the most? What if it’s not as simple as words staying alive if we all keep using them? What if they just disappeared, and it was as if they’d never existed?

That’s where word hunters come in. Every so often a word is at risk, and it’s up to word hunters to track down every step of its past to keep it alive in the present. From the Battle of Hastings, to ancient cities they’ve never heard of, to encounters with great inventors, word hunters might find themselves anywhere, any time, dealing with anything.

For 1500 years, led by an ancient dictionary created by the mysterious Caractacus, each word hunter has protected English from falling apart. But now there are two – Lexi and Al Hunter, twelve-year-old twins. They find the book in their school library during renovations – or perhaps it finds them. From that moment, their life will never be the same again. Suddenly it’s 1877, then 1835, then 1100, then 925 as they chase down the history of the word ‘hello’ so that we can all keep saying it now.

But that’s only one word and the dictionary, as we all know, is full of them. And the past isn’t always a friendly place to drop in on ...

In their previous adventure The Curious Dictionary, Lexi and Al thought they had seen it all – time travel, epic battles, ancient cities on the point of collapse and … vomiting rats. But nothing has prepared them for the realisation that their missing grandfather is a word hunter too, and has been lost in the past. Only Lexi and Al can save him. But how do you find someone in 3000 years of history?

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