Michelle’s Word

May 9, 2007

Not quite word for word: A mystery solved

Filed under: Word games — Michelle Reid @ 7:37 pm

Back when I started this blog, I mentioned it was named Michelle’s Word after my Grandma’s favourite word game “Gair y Mair”. This name, which translates as Mary’s Word, has gone down in our family folklore even though it is a corruption of the proper title.

My family have been searching for the real name of the game, and thought we’d found the answer in “Gair y Ffair” or Word Exchange / Word Fair. We were close, but we’ve recently discovered that we hadn’t quite got it word for word.

We were pretty certain that the game originated in Wales, but had no idea whether it was a fairly recent invention, or more traditional. We asked a longstanding friend of the family, Meirick Davies, to help with the search. Meirick has a close association with the Welsh Language Society. He asked some of the staff of the Language Society if they had any ideas about the origins of the game, but with no luck. In addition he wrote to the BBC in the belief it might have featured in one of their programs.

Well, Meirick came up trumps. He received a reply from the BBC saying that the game we’re looking for was probably “Gair Am Air” or A Word For A Word, which went out on Welsh radio in the 1950s. I think it may have been presented by this fine gentleman (scroll down to see his British TV and radio credits!)

The mystery is solved, and it’s easy to see how Gair Am Air became Gair y Mair to our untrained ears. The Reids have a Scottish, not a Welsh, heritage (and my Grandpa had hair as red as our Scots name!) However, we don’t really have any excuse, as my Grandma taught herself Welsh when she moved to Rhyl because she felt she should have at least a basic competency in the language of her new country. She did a little better than basic competency. She learned Welsh so well that in her role as supervisor of Rhyl Citizens Advice Bureau she was able to point out an error in the Welsh part of the CAB’s new bilingual sign!

I’ll have to ask her if she ever listened to Gair Am Air on the radio, and maybe she changed the name on purpose 🙂

and diolch yn fawr Meirick!


February 6, 2007

Whose First Line is it Anyway?

Filed under: Word games — Michelle Reid @ 5:01 pm

I used to teach a seminar class at the University of Reading for first year undergraduates called “What Kind of Text is This?” (Great title). It was an introduction to the idea of genre and how we identify whether a text is a tragedy, comedy, satire…etc.

In my first seminar I would play a game with my students as an icebreaker and to get everyone thinking about what kinds of information we process when we’re reading, and how we use this to recognise different types of texts.

What Kind of Text is This?

  • Find the first lines from a range of different books, plays, poems, magazines, newspapers etc. Select some that are famous and some that are more tricky.
  • Write the first lines on different strips of paper and put them in a bag / container.
  • Going around the group, the first person picks an opening line at random, reads it out, and tries to guess where it comes from.
  • The player has to explain why they reached this answer – saying what it was in the line that gave them the clue.
  • You can award points – 1 point each for correctly identifying the author, title, and genre – but I prefer not to do this when it is a fun icebreaker.
  • If the player gets stuck, they can ask the audience to help them out.
  • Go around the group until everyone has had a turn.

This game is similar to Ex Libris which gets you to write the first lines yourself to see if you can fool other players.

Some of my favourite first lines:

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.”
Iain Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

“You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.”
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”
Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines (2001)

If you’d like help finding that perfect first line for your novel or report, I offer a full editing and proofreading service.

January 29, 2007

Mary’s Word / Gair y Mair

Filed under: Word games — Michelle Reid @ 11:46 am

I’ve named this blog “Michelle’s Word” for a number of reasons. The first is straightforward: I’m Michelle and this blog is a way for me to share some of the tricks I’ve picked up about using words.

It isn’t my definitive “word” on the subject, as language is slippery, ambiguous, and always flexible. We all continue to develop our own style of writing and have the freedom to break the rules and use whatever words work for us. There is no right way of writing, and I definitely don’t have the last word on this subject.

I chose the title “Michelle’s Word” because I believe words belong to us and we should all feel ownership of the language we use. You have the power to use your words in any way you like. I hope this blog gives you some inspiration on how to make words your own.

The other reason for calling this blog “Michelle’s Word” is as a thank you to my grandmother, Mary Reid. She inspired my love of language through the word games we played together when I was a child. She gave me the great gift of confidence to experiment with words.

Grandma’s most famous word game is “Gair y Mair” which translates from the Welsh as “Mary’s Word”. Recently, when I started investigating the title of this game for my blog, my family discovered the game is actually called “Gair y Ffair” or Word Exchange / Word Fair. We’ve been mispronouncing the name all these years, but it will forever be known as “Mary’s Word” to us because it’s one of the things we all identify with Grandma.

How to play Gair y Mair:

  • Create a word pool (this was always Grandma’s job). Find a selection of nouns from the dictionary and write each one on a small slip of paper. Fold the slips of paper up and put in a bowl / container.
  • Make some of the nouns obvious and some more tricky. The only restriction is they have to be concrete nouns (fish, elephant, omnibus) and not proper nouns (Windsor, David Beckham, Odeon).
  • The first player draws a word from the pool and looks at it. This is the target word.
  • The player has to convey this word to the rest of the players by association. They can’t mention their word directly; they can only use three related words as clues.
  • The clue words can be anything you like: Proper nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc. You are not limited to concrete nouns. The only restriction is you can’t use “rhymes with” as a clue. So if the target word was “grenade” you can’t say it sounds like “dismayed”.
  • The player gives the first clue word, and members of the audience try to guess the target word. If no-one guesses correctly, then the player gives the second clue word and the guesses begin again. If no-one manages to guess this time, the player uses their final clue word.
  • The points are given to both the player and the guesser, depending on when the word is guessed:

– Correct after 1 clue = 3 points each

– Correct after 2 clues = 2 points each

– Correct after 3 clues = 1 point each

  • Once the target word is guessed, the person who got it right takes a word from the pool and the round begins again. However, if nobody guesses correctly after the 3 clues, then the target word is revealed, no points are given, and the next person around the table takes a word from the pool.

If the target word is “scabbard”, you might give the clues: 1) sword 2) holder 3) sheath

If the target word is “gramophone” you might give the clues: 1) record 2) player 3) old

If you know the way your fellow players are likely to think, you can be more lateral and imaginative with the clues.

When we had my Uncle and cousins to stay, we’d often play a variation in pairs. In turn, one person in each pair would pick a word from the pool and then have to convey it to their partner. Then the roles would swap over, so the guesser would become the clue-giver.

It was fun to see how compatible the pairs were and how well we knew the mind of our partner.

Despite being well matched in many other ways, Mum and Dad were terrible as Gair y Mair partners, because Mum’s clues were always too oblique for Dad! And as for my Dad and his brother teaming up…that was never allowed, in order to prevent rampant competitiveness breaking out!

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