Saturday, February 1, 2014

Word of the Day

Every morning, one of my writer friends (Hi, Debbie!) posts a word of the day on her facebook page. She selects unusual words that I would never think to illuminate. But they work for her. Take for instance today's post that I read bright and early this morning:

The word for the day is outre. Life is so much more interesting when you show your kooky, quirky and wacky side.

See what I mean? Such a classy word, but when have I used it lately?

So borrowing from her, today my blog post shall be a Word of the Day that will showcase my kooky, quirky and wacky side, well at least outre enough to go along with an online tool I just discovered, Google Ngram Viewer. (Hi Joyce, thanks for the link to this!)  This new tool will be a great resource for me as a writer of period pieces to make sure my word selections match the era.

My selection shall be piccolo. Sounds familiar, a flute-like musical instrument, right? This word came up last week during an interview about my current project when the person I was talking with said she put money in the piccolo at the skating rink. We're talking early 1940's. Coin operated. I must have made a squishy face because she felt the need to explain it to me. It was a jukebox, the original brand name for jukebox, as in "Here's a nickel, put another song on the Piccolo."

Source:  Musikbox Treff Arietta Jukebox

So off I go to play (authors play with words, remember) on the internet. I check google, I check wikipedia, I check ngram. That's my newest toy, oops, tool, ngram, the frequency words appear in text in the last two hundred years, not only that, but actual samples of usage that demonstrate how word meanings change over the years. According to ngram, word usage for outre peaked in 1970, but is at its lowest usage now. I can also read samples of it in literature throughout those time periods. What a toy, er, tool!

Piccolo, sure enough, was on the charts from the beginning of their research target, 1800, but aha, peaking in 1937. (Takes a couple years to get to the backwoods of the Carolinas, so 1941 of my manuscript would fit the time frame.) Jukebox beginning in 1937, peaking in 2002. Interesting. I searched but didn't spend time to find when the two intersected. Instead I turned to another tool, my favorite because of its homepage picture of the day, Bing, and there it was, Piccolo, a jukebox. Bingo.

Word usage changes and authors must keep on their toes. I found that to be true often during my Pilot Mountain project as words that were commonly used in the forties and fifties had no connection to today. Anybody played with a mollypop lately? A taw?

Today I was going to post about a term writers use, pantsing, as in "Which writing technique works best for you, plotting or pantsing, outlining or writing by the seat of your pants?" But when I used ngram and checked the many usages of pantsing, I decided I would find a much tamer word. You are welcome to explore that one on your own.

Catch of the day,



  1. I've just discovered nGram and am enjoying using it. I had never heard Piccolo as the name of a jukebox. It's always fun to find new words. Thanks for that one.

  2. Hi Rosi, isn't ngram fun! Only a fellow logophile would appreciate that sentiment. I love playing with words. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. My father always referred to a jukebox as a piccolo. He was in Craven Co., NC, and time would have been during World War II (he was born in 1924). It had me stumped for many years, until I found out about the company, which I seem to recall was Piccolo Brothers.

    1. Thanks for the bit of history connection, Michael. How interesting, Piccolo Brothers! But it makes sense.