Tag Archives: book research

How To Pronounce Aut Agere Aut Mori: Crazy Things I Learned Researching Books

In the Company of the Dead Book 1 of The Sundered Oath

Aut agere aut moriLux Standart

OK, I stuffed up.

So the kingdom of Ahlleyn in my upcoming release, In the Company of the Dead, is loosely inspired by Gaelic and Scottish culture. I say ‘loosely’ because I’ve essentially used those elements that appealed to me and ignored everything else with no attempt at authenticity. It is more ‘Scottish-flavoured’ than anything else.

So I’ve just finished the book, and one of the last things I had to do was build a glossary. Now, I have no idea how to pronounce the Gaelic words I’d used (that’s GALL-ICK in the Scottish form, not GAY-LICK as in the Irish form) so I had to spend some time looking up pronunciations. It took a few hours intensive study, but I got them all.

Except ‘aut agere aut mori’.

I spent another hour or more trying to track own the Scots pronunciation of this phrase before I finally figured it out.

Not the pronunciation, I mean. Rather, wWhy I couldn’t find it.

Aut agree aut mori is a clan motto, and loosely translates as ‘Do or die’.

It was while I was reflecting on that, and wondering why I couldn’t find the pronunciation for something so ostensibly important, that it hit me.

I’m an idiot. Clan mottos are in Latin.

Funnily enough, you simply can’t find the Scots Gaelic pronunciation of a series of Latin words. Needless to say, it was much easier to find once I started searching for the Latin pronunciation of that phrase.

So how do you pronounce it? I’m not very good at phonetically representing words, but loosely it would work like this:

OWT AH-gair-ah OWT MOH-ree

Chinese Snow: Crazy Things I Learned Researching Books

chinse bombsports74.ru

Apparently humanity discovered explosives a lot earlier than I thought. Whether this is a testament to our ingenuity, or our seeming desire to find a better way to rapidly self-destruct, I’m unsure….

In any case, some of the earliest records of explosives are among the Chinese. While we don’t know everything, we do know they made something explode in 142 A.D., and by the 4th century there is a record of the chemical reaction that occurs when saltpetre, pine resin and carbon are heated together. By the 8th and 9th centuries it is clear that the Chinese had fireworks for use in celebrations.

By contrast, the earliest record of gunpowder outside China is in 1240 A.D.. Apparently saltpetre had been known in the Middle East as “Chinese Snow” since the 8th or 9th centuries. Wait – snow? I always thought saltpetre was black! No, apparently it is white… Gunpowder is black, which is a mixture of saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal. Presumably the charcoal is what makes “blackpowder” black.

By 1126 A.D., Chinese explosives were so advanced they were able to throw soft-cased gunpowder filled grenades by catapult. The grenades used either layer paper or mud casings. In less than 100 years, they advanced further to iron casings. They also used smoke bombs, which might have as few as 20-30 layers of paper in the casing to up to one hundred, sometimes with poisonous substances layered between. As per usual, our destructive creativity knows no bounds.


The Chinese names for the various bombs translates quite evocatively into English. Here are some examples and their functions:

I can see there is plenty of fodder here for future books….

Reference: Leong Kit Meng http://www.grandhistorian.com/chinesesiegewarfare/siegeweapons-earlygrenades.html

Wintergreen Oil – Minty Poisonous Freshness: Crazy Things I Learned Researching Books

Wintergreen oil

wintergreen oilОкраска стен

So while revising In the Company of the Dead I discovered I’d described a poison as tasting of mint. Now why did I do that? Did I research a poison that tasted of mint? Do any poisons taste of mint?

Well I don’t know. Better go find out.

Enter wintergreen oil. Which does taste minty – not that I recommend sampling it. At least not in copious quantities. And by ‘copious’ I mean a teaspoon of the stuff.

The proper name for wintergreen oil is ‘methyl salicylate’, and it’s produced by ‘wintergreen’ or ‘evergreen’ plants, possibly as a defence mechanism given its toxicity. In pure form, wintergreen oil is toxic, with one teaspoon containing 7 grams of salicylate, or the equivalent of more than twenty-three 300mg aspirin tablets. This is documented to be enough to kill an adult up to 70kg in body weight.

That said, there’s a good chance you have consumed wintergreen oil – it’s used in very low concentrates to provide the mint flavour in some chewing gums!

Apparently if you crush Lifesavers flavoured using wintergreen oil in a dark room, you can potentially witness triboluminescence – which is light generated by breaking chemical bonds in a material when it is pulled apart, ripped, scratched, crushed, or rubbed. If you try this out, please send me pictures!


How To Carry A Claymore: Crazy Things I Learned Researching Books


So in last week’s post I talked about the basket-hilted Scottish broadsword. I noted that this sword became popular after armour was obsolete, which meant it was more likely my hero would carry a weapon he could use effectively against an armoured foe.http://dekor-okno.ru

So Lyram now carries a basket-hilted broadsword as a clan relic and a claymore for battle.

This all led to another question – how do you carry a claymore? The things are huge. Taller than me, even. OK, I’m not that tall, but I’m not that short either.

Presumably it needed to be carried on the back, but I didn’t know the answer, so I looked it up.

And I learned a few things.

It is exceedingly difficult to draw a claymore from a back sheath without removing or severely damaging one’s own head. Uh, maybe not a good idea.

It is arguably even more difficult to put it back in the sheath without being able to see what one was doing.

This meant claymores were carried one of two ways. Either in a back sheath where the shoulder harness could be easily dropped off to allow the sword to be drawn without decapitating oneself, or more simply in the hand.

But wait, it gets more complicated.

Apparently it wasn’t unknown for the sheath to ‘grip’ these swords. I haven’t found a good reason why, but I suspect this was a problem common to many swords. It presented a particular difficulty with the claymore because the thing was so damn big that holding the sheath in one hand and levering the blade clear with the other wasn’t easy.

So many swordsmen who carried these beasts of war also had a man filling a squire-type function, who would carry the claymore for the warrior, and/or assist him to unsheathe it as needed.

So what I thought was a relatively simple question turned out to be quite complex.

And the moral of the story: don’t cut your own head off drawing your sword.