Saturday, December 31, 2011

Auld Lang Syne

Auld lang syne \AWLD-lang-ZAHYN\ or \AWLD-lang-SAHYN\ , noun;
1. Old times, especially times fondly remembered
2. Old or long friendship
Here's to you and yours in 2012! (source)
Auld is a Scottish English variation of old, both of which derive from Old English ald from West Germanic *althas ("grown up, adult"). *Althas was originally a past participle stem of a verb meaning "grow, nourish" that came from the Proto-Indo-European base *al- ("to grow, nourish"). Auld was considered a distinctly Scottish word by the early 15th century, though it still survives in some Northern English dialects as well.

Lang and long have both existed since Old English and derive from Proto-Germanic *langgaz, which came from Proto-Indo-European *dlonghos-.

Syne dates to the 1300's as a Scottish variant of since, which comes from Old English siððan ("then, later, after that") from sið + ðan ("after" + "that"). Sið derives from Proto-Indo-European *se- ("long, late").

As a phrase, auld lang syne dates to at least the 1500's, and it was popularized by Robert Burns' 1788 poem "Auld Lang Syne." The poem wasn't completely composed by the poet. He claimed that it came from an 'old song, of the olden times' which he took down from an old man. The first verse and chorus bear a considerable resemblance to the ballad "Auld Lang Syne" by James Watson from 1711, so it is presumed that both derive from that 'old song' and the rest of the poem was composed by Burns. At some point the poem was set to the tune of a traditional folk song and it has since become a New Years Eve staple around the world.

The lyrics, as written by Burns:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
    For auld lang syne, my dear,
    for auld lang syne,
    we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
    for auld lang syne.
And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl'd i'the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
sin auld lang syne.
And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne
For James Watson's lyrics, an English translation, and pronunciation guides, click here.

Friday, December 30, 2011


Jurisdiction \joor-is-DIK-shuhn\ , noun;
1. The right, power, or authority to administer justice by hearing and determining controversies
2. Power; authority; control
3. The extent or range of judicial, law enforcement, or other authority
4. The territory over which authority is exercised

This word dates to the early 14th century as "administration of justice" from Old French juridiccion, which comes directly from Latin iurisdictionem ("administration of justice, jurisdiction"). It's a combination of ius + dictio ("right, law" + "a saying"). Ius derives from Proto-Indo-European *yewes- ("law") and was originally a religious cult term that meant something like "sacred formula." It's also the forebear of jurist. Dictio derives from PIE *deik- ("to point out") and is also the forebear of diction and dictionary.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Froggery \FROG-uh-ree\ , noun;
1. A place in which frogs are kept for breeding or as pets; a place in which frogs live or congregate in the wild
2. Humorous: A group or continent of frogs
The coolest frog in the froggery since Kermit. (source)
This word is first attested in 1737 from frog, which is related to Old English frosc. The connection between frosc and frog is certain, but the nature of that connection is uncertain. Frosc became frog because of Old English frogga and frocga, but those conjugations are unusual and historical linguists aren't really sure how they came to be. There is a possible connection with docga, the forebear of dog, and other animal words.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Irregardless \ir-i-GAHRD-lis\ , adverb;
1. Nonstandard: Regardless

But, wait! Irregardless isn't a word!!!

I know, it's not a real word because it's a double negative. But, irregardless, people use it all the time. See what I did there?

There is an attestation of this word as far back as 1874 where it is used to mean "regardless." It is generally believed to be a blend of irrespective and regardless, which the Oxford English Dictionary calls both 'non-standard' and 'humorous.'

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Leotard \LEE-uh-tahrd\ , noun;
1. A close-fitting one-piece garment worn by acrobats and dancers; a similar fashion garment

This word dates to the late 1800's in reference to Jules Léotard, a French trapeze artist who performed in the garment. Léotard died in 1870, but this word didn't emerge as the name of the garment he made famous until years after his death. He called the skin-tight one-piece a maillot, a general French word for tight-fitting shirts.
Lady Gaga rocks the leotard look (source)

Monday, December 26, 2011


Box \boks\ , noun;
1. A container, case, or receptacle, usually rectangular, of wood, metal, cardboard, etc., and often with a lid or removable cover

It's Boxing Day today, so why not?

Box comes from Old English box ("a wooden container" or "type of shrub"), which was borrowed from Late Latin buxis. Buxis was taken from Greek pyxis ("boxwood box") from pyxos ("box tree"). Before that, the origin is uncertain. The slang meaning "vulva" dates back to the 17th century.

Box meaning "a blow" is unrelated. It dates to the 1300's and is of uncertain origin. I may be related to Dutch boke, Middle High German buc and Danish bask, all of which mean "a blow." The verb to box dates to the 1560's and boxing as a sport is first attested in 1711.
Ouch! (source)

Sunday, December 25, 2011


I was always told that Xmas was a bad form to use because it x's the Christ from Christmas. Turns out, that's wrong.

Xmas dates to 1551 from X'temmas where the X is an abbreviation for Christ based on the Greek word for "Christ," Χριστος. Note the first letter of the word. Earlier similar abbreviations with Xp- or Xr- appear as early as the 12th century, including an attestation of Xres mæssan ("Christmas") in 1123.

Here's to a very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Swaddle \SWOD-l\ , verb;
1. To bind an infant with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement
2. To wrap anything round with bandages
1. A long, narrow strip of cloth used for swaddling or bandaging
My swaddled baby, on his first night home.
Conventions in baby care change a lot over time. A generation ago, babies were supposed to sleep on their stomachs, now they're ALWAYS to sleep on their backs. Breast feeding went out of vogue and now it's back with a vengeance. The list goes on. Swaddling, however, has stood the test of time. Jesus was swaddled 2000 years ago and the practice continues in modern hospitals today.

This word goes back to the 1300's as a frequentative* form of Old English swaþian. Swaþian ("to swathe") derives from swaðu ("track, trace, band"), which comes from Proto-Germanic *swathan or *swatho. In Old English, the word for "infant's swaddling bands" was swaþum, which is the dative plural of swaðu.

*The 'frequentative form' indicates repeated action. We don't really have this in English anymore, but we used to and many forms remain in our language. Some examples: daze/dazzle, piss/piddle, flit/flitter.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Gift \gift\ , noun;
1. Something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present
Do you give 'gifts' or 'presents'? (source)
I'm feeling a bit lazy today, so I'll let this article do the work for me:
This time of year we are all making our lists and checking them twice. All this holiday shopping got us thinking: where do the words gift and present come from? Why does English use both? It’s not just so that children can ask for toys in multiple ways.
Find out the answers here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Profane \pruh-FEYN\ or \proh-FEYN\ , adjective;
1. Characterized by irreverence or contempt for God or sacred principles or things; irreligious
2. Unholy; heathen; pagan
3. Common or vulgar
1. To misuse (anything that should be held in reverence or respect); defile; debase; employ basely or unworthily

This word, as a verb, dates to the late 14th century and comes from Latin. It is a combination of pro- + fano ("before" + "temple") and means "not admitted into the temple (with the initiates)." From there it became profanus ("unholy, not consecrated") and then profanare ("to desecrate"). The adjective form is first attested in the late 15th century.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Zenith \ZEE-nith\ or \ZEN-ith\ , noun;
1. The point on the celestial sphere vertically above a given position or observer
2. A highest point or state; culmination

In yesterday's post on tine the German word Zinne came up. It means "pinnacle" so I thought that it might have something to do with zenith. Nope.

Zenith dates to the late 14th century from Old French cenith, which came from Middle Latin cenit. Cenit is a mangled transliteration of Arabic samt ("road, path"), which is an abbreviation of samt ar-ras (literally "the way over the head"). There is a classical Latin word semita ("sidetrack, side path") that may have influenced the form in Middle Latin.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Tine \tahyn\ , noun;
1. A sharp, projecting point or prong, as of a fork
These tines were made for walkin' (source)
This word comes from Old English tind, which derives from Proto-Germanic *tindja ("tine") of unknown origin. This Germanic word is also the forebear of zinc and German Zinne ("pinnacle").

Monday, December 19, 2011


Car \kahr\ , noun;
1. An automobile
2. A vehicle running on rails, as a streetcar or railroad car
3. The part of an elevator, balloon, modern airship, etc. that carries the passengers, freight, etc.
4. British: Any wheeled vehicle, as a farm cart or wagon
5. Literary: A chariot, as war or triumph
6. Archaic: Cart; carriage

Car dates to the 1300's as "wheeled vehicle" from Old Northern French carre, which derives from Latin carrum. The Latin was a borrowing from Gaulish karros, which derived from Proto-Indo-European *krsos, based on *kers- ("to run"). So it went from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) to Germanic to Romance and back to Germanic. Gotta love the wheels of language!

Need a refresher on PIE? Check out my post on eke.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Tankini \tang-KEE-nee\ , noun;
1. A two-piece bathing suit having a top styled like a tank top
This word is first attested in 1985 and is a combination of tank top + bikini. Wikipedia says that it was invented in the late 1990's, but based on the attestation in 1985, that claim is false. It was invented by Anne Cole

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Occupy \OK-yuh-pahy\ , verb;
1. To take or fill up space, time, etc.
2. To engage or employ the mind, energy, or attention of
3. To be a resident or tenant of; dwell in;
4. To take possession and control of a place

On the heels of yesterday's humblebrag post, I thought it would be good to talk about the likely winner of this year's "Word of the Year" honors: occupy.
It dates to the mid-14th century as "to take possession of" and "to take up space or time" from Old French occuper, which derives from Latin occupare ("take over, seize, possess, occupy"). The Latin word is a combination of ob + capere ("over" + "to grasp, seize"), the second element can be traced to Proto-Indo-European *kap-, meaning "to grasp."
This year occupy took the spotlight because of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It started small on September 17th in Zuccotti Park in New York City, but by October 9th it had spread to 95 cities in 82 countries and over 600 US communities. As of December 10th there were nearly 3,000 Occupy communities around the world. As a result, the word occupy is everywhere. It's used by people who dislike almost anything (e.g. Occupy Flash), as internet memes, and of course by movements in every city imaginable. The definition of 2011's occupy is flexible, but it is usually some combination of the traditional dictionary definitions, given above.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Humblebrag \HUHM-buhl-BRAG\ , noun;
1. Bragging that masks the brag in a faux-humble guise

December is that time of year where everyone compiles "___ of the year" lists. Word people are no different.
Ben Zimmer, of former NYTimes 'On Language,' went on NPR this morning to talk about some words that are possible American Dialect Society words of the year for 2011. One of his personal favorites is humblebrag, a brand new word that was coined this year. It was born from Twitter, and is often used to poke fun of celebrities, who are some of the worst humblebraggers out there.

Some examples of #humblebrag:
"Having the #1 video on YouTube is more hassle (i.e. dumbass comments & 1,500 emails in 24 hours) than it's worth (which is nothing)"
"For the 3rd time in 3 yrs I've been asked to speak at Harvard, but I've yet to speak at my alma mater, What's a girl gotta do @MarquetteU ?"
"No makeup on, hair's not done, toothpaste stains down the front of my shirt, pretty sure I'm not wearing deodorant. Still get hit on. *sigh*"

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Patsy \PAT-see\ , noun;
1. A person who is easily swindled, deceived or coerced, persuaded, etc.
2. A person upon whom the blame for something falls; scapegoat; fall guy
3. A person who is the object of a joke, ridicule, or the like

This word was first attested in 1889 and its origin is uncertain. As a colloquialism, it's older than its first attestation, as evidenced by the quote itself:
A party of minstrels in Boston, about twenty years ago, had a performance...When the pedagogue asked in a rage, 'Who did that?', the boys would answer, 'Patsy Bolivar!'...The phrase...spread beyond the limits of the minstrel performance, and when a scapegoat was alluded to, it was in the name of 'Patsy Bolivar'...the one who is always blamed for everything. ~H.F. Reddall, Fact, Fancy & Fable
One theory is that patsy was a diminutive of Patrick that was influenced by Italian pazzo ("crazy") or southern dialectal Italian paccio ("fool").

Perhaps the most famous patsy in American culture:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Owie \OU-ee\ , noun;
1. A pain; a minor injury; a small bruise, burn, etc.

This word is a United States colloquialism, specifically considered children's slang. It is based on ow which was first attested in 1834. I would guess that this word, or something similar, goes back much, much farther. Perhaps to the beginning of mankind.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Burgher \BUR-ger\ , noun;
1. An inhabitant of a town, especially a member of the middle class; citizen

This word dates to the 1560's as "freeman of a burgh" from Middle Dutch burgher, which derives from Middle High German burger. Burger comes from Old High German burgari ("inhabitant of a fortress"), which is based on burg ("fortress"). Burg comes from Proto-Germanic *burgs ("hill fort, fortress") which is also the forebear of borough.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Mouseburger \mous.BUR-ger\ , noun;
1. A young woman of unexceptional appearance and talents, regarded as timid, dowdy, or mousy

Originally mouseburger referred to a mousy young woman who, despite her unexceptional appearance and talents, achieves professional and personal success through determination. It is first attested in 1971 and is a play on mouse ("a timid or retiring person"). This is the first attestation of the slang suffix -burger, which took root in the early 1980's. It is used to "form nouns denoting persons characterized by the initial element" and is a play on the practice of changing to first element of hamburger to denote what kind of type of burger it is (e.g. cheeseburger, veggie burger, etc.).

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Rainbow \REYN-boh\ , noun;
This word comes from Old English renboga, which is a compound of ren + boga ("rain" + "bow"). Translations of this compound are common in Germanic languages and appear in Old Norse, Dutch, German, and more.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Anchor Baby

Anchor Baby \ANG-ker-BEY-bee\ , noun;
1. A child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially such a child born to parents seeking to secure eventual citizenship for themselves and often other members of their family.

According to a New York Times article published yesterday, this was the original definition to the newly added anchor baby entry in the American Heritage Dictionary. It was one of 10,000 new words added to the dictionary's 5th edition, published in November. Shortly after releasing the latest edition, the executive director read this definition during a radio interview. Then, all hell broke loose. Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, posted an angry article on the center's blog that said the definition glossed over the derogatory nature of the term. The post quickly spread all over the internet. Wisely, the American Heritage Dictionary people responded to the outrage by re-defining the term as offensive. The updated definition, released Monday, is:
1. Offensive: Used as a disparaging term for a child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially when the child's birthplace is thought to have been chosen in order to improve the mother's or other relatives' chances of securing eventual citizenship.

For the record, the term anchor baby goes back to at least the 1980's and during that time period referred to Vietnamese immigrants. Now it is technically used for immigrants from any country, though it usually refers Mexicans and Latin Americans.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Bough \bou\ , noun;
1. A branch of a tree, especially one of the larger or main branches

Deck the halls with boughs of holly...
...When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall...
I don't know about you, but if it weren't for these two songs I would probably have no idea what a bough was. But, its existence in these two old songs suggests the word's age. The origin of bough is Old English bog ("shoulder, arm," later "twig, branch") from Proto-Germanic *bogaz, which derived from Proto-Indo-European *bhagus ("elbow, forearm").

There are related words in other Proto-Indo-European language, including Sanskrit, Armenian, and Greek, but English is the only language where the definition has anything to do with trees.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Mizzle \MIZ-uhl\ , verb;
1. To rain in fine drops; drizzle; mist
1. Mist or drizzle
Snoop Dizzle did not make up this word (source)
It is unclear which came first: the verb or the noun. The verb is attested earlier in 1439, but attestations are not absolutes. The noun was first attested in 1490 and if it doesn't come from the verb, it probably comes from Middle Dutch misel ("drizzling rain"), which derives from the same source word as early Modern Dutch mieselen. That source word may also be the forebear of the verb form.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Ale \eyl\ , noun;
1. A malt beverage, darker, heavier and more bitter than beer, containing about 6% alcohol by volume
2. British: Beer

So, after talking about beer, it's only natural to move on to ale.
Ale comes from Old English ealu ("ale, beer") from Proto-Germanic *aluth-, which came from one of two Proto-Indo-European roots. Either a word for "bitter" that became Latin alumen ("alum") or *alu-t ("ale"), which came from *alu-, a word that carried a sense of sorcery, magic, possession, and intoxication. The above distinction between ale and beer arose after hops began being grown in England in the early 15th century. Prior to that the two words were synonyms.

A perhaps surprising word to derive from ale: bridal.
Bridal came from Old English brydealo ("marriage feast"), a compounding of bryd ealu which is literally "bride ale."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Weald \weeld\ , noun;
1. Wooded or uncultivated country
2. A region in southeast England in Kent, Surrey, and Essex counties: once a forest area; now an agricultural region
Spanish moss at Fort Frederica, Georgia
The origin of weald is Old English and West Saxon weald ("forest, woodland"). It's a variation on Anglian wald, which derives from Proto-Germanic *walthuz.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Mawashi \muh-WAH-shee\ , noun;
1. A type of loincloth worn by sumo wrestlers
You're welcome... (source)
This word is first attested in English in 1940 from Japanese mawashi (廻し), which is the nominalized stem of mawasu ("to put round"), the transitive form of mawaru ("to go round"). It's related to maru ("circle").
Not that I really need TWO sumo pictures, but this is pretty cool... (source)

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Beer \beer\ , noun;
1. An alcoholic beverage made by brewing and fermenting cereals, usually malted barley, and flavored with hops and the like for a slightly bitter taste
2. Any of various beverages, alcoholic or not, made from roots, molasses or sugar, yeast, etc. (e.g. root beer)
3. An individual serving of beer; a glass, can or bottle of beer

The origin of beer is Old English beor ("strong drink, beer, mead"), which is of uncertain and highly-disputed origin. It may have been borrowed into the Germanic branch of Proto-Indo-European at some point because there is a native Germanic word for the drink that evolved into ale. If so, it was probably taken from Vulgar Latin biber into West Germanic in the 6th century. Another theory is that it evolved organically from Proto-Germanic *beuwoz-, from *beuwo- ("barley").

One thing that is certain is that beer has been around for a long, long, long time. It has even been suggested that it was the reason for the advent of agriculture.*
Bottoms up!

*A few articles on the subject: The Independent, Miller-McCune, LiveScience

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Rookie \ROOK-ee\ , noun;
1. An athlete playing his or her first season as a member of a professional sports team
2. A raw recruit, as in the army or on a police force
3. A novice; tyro

Rookie is first attested in 1868 and it's origin is uncertain, though of course there are some theories. It may be a shortening of recruit with the -y suffix added. However, the change from -e- to -oo- (/ə/ to /ʊ/, if you know IPA) is hard to explain without some outside influence. In this case, rook ("to cheat, swindle") or the first part of rookery (Military Slang "the part of the barracks occupied by subalterns") may have provided that influence. It could also be that recruit has nothing to do with it and rookie comes directly from either rook given above (plus -y).

The -y suffix is used to form pet names and diminutives

So, I've never heard of tyro before, but it turns out it is basically rookie's predecessor in English. It dates to 1611 from Latin tiro and means "a beginner or learner in anything; a novice."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hot Dog

Hot dog \hot.dawg\ , noun;
Despite being an Illinoisan, I like mustard-only hot dogs.
Hot dog as "sausage on a split roll" goes back to the 1890's as college slang and supposedly reflects a 19th century (sometimes true) suspicion that sausages contain dog meat. The slang meaning of "someone particularly skilled or excellent" dates to 1896 and may or may not be related to the food item. Hot dog! as an exclamation of approval had appeared by 1906.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Minarchy \MIN-urk-ee\ , noun;
1. Minimal government, specifically a (hypothetical) form of government that does not interfere with individual rights and civil liberties, and that has itself no right to levy taxes upon legitimately acquired property

This theory was posited in 1974 by Robert Nozick, an American philosopher, but he didn't actually use the word minarchy. The word was first attested in 1984 in S. Newman's 'Liberalism at Wit's End.'

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


S'more \smawr\ or \smohr\ , noun;
Yum! (source)
This word is first attested in 1934 and comes from the rapid pronunciation of some more, as in they're so good you want some more!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Tetchy \TECH-ee\ , adjective;
1. Irritable; touchy

This word is first attested in 1592 as teachie by Shakespeare in 'Romeo and Juliet' and before that its origins are unknown. It's probably a slang word, or at least dialectal, and it may have come from Middle English tatch ("a mark, quality") from Vulgar Latin *tecca via Old French. *Tecca was borrowed from a Germanic source related to Old English tacen, which is the forebear of token.

A number of words in English are first attested by Shakespeare, but unlike C.S. Lewis, he probably didn't invent them. I've written about this before, so if you are interested check out my post on slugabed.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Schmuck \shmuhk\ , noun;
1. Slang: An obnoxious or contemptible person

This word is first attested in 1892 from Yiddish shmok ("penis"), a highly taboo word which probably derived from Old Polish smok ("gras snake, dragon"). There is a word in German, schmuck, that means "jewelry, adornments" which is probably not related, though the similarity to English slang family jewels is hard to overlook.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Bier \beer\ , noun;
1. A frame or stand on which a corpse or the coffin containing it is laid before burial
2. Such a stand together with the corpse or coffin

If you're like me, you only see this word on beer bottles containing German brews. Turns out, it's an obscure English word as well!

Bier comes from Old Englis bær and ber ("handbarrow, litter, bed") from West Germanic *bero, which derives from Proto-Indo-European *bher-. It's related to Old English beran ("to bear") and originally could refer to anything used for carrying, with the specific funerary sense evolving later. French bière ("beer") influenced the word's spelling, which changed around the 17th century.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Boycott \BOI-kot\ , verb;
1. To abstain from buying or using
1. The act of boycotting

Boycott was first attested in 1880, and it comes from the ostracism of Captain Charles C. Boycott, a land agent in County Mayo, Ireland who refused to lower rents for his tenant farmers. Farmers at the time were advised to stop using force to retaliate against landlords. Instead, a man named Charles Stuart Parnell suggested a system of organized ostracisation against unfair and overbearing landowners. Captain Boycott was very unpopular with his tenants, so in September 1880 they joined forces to isolate and alienate him. People quit working their regular jobs and local tradesmen refused to do business with him. Even the postmaster stopped delivering his mail! He tried to fight back with military force, but he treated the servicemen so poorly they eventually joined the tenants' side. At some point Boycott abandoned his lands and was never seen again.
Captain Boycott (source)

Friday, November 25, 2011


Quean \kween\ , noun;
1. An overly forward, impudent woman; shrew; hussy
2. A prostitute
3. British: A girl or young woman, especially a robust one
4. Australian slang: Effeminate homosexual

Quean meaning "young, robust woman" comes from Old English cewne, meaning "woman" or "female surf, hussy, prostitute." The Old English word derives from Proto-Germanic *kwenon from Proto-Indo-European *gwen- ("woman, wife"). Quean is related to queen, which is unique in Indo-European languages because it is not a feminine derivative of the word for king

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Turkey \TUR-kee\ , noun;
Ah, the turkey. The noble, native American bird we so adore for Thanksgiving feasts. So how did it come to be named after Turkey?
It was simply a case of mistaken identity. When Europeans landed in the Americas they mistook this previously unknown bird for the Guineafowl, which is native to Africa (formerly meleagris). At the time, that bird was called a turkey-cock or turkey-hen (depending on gender) because it came to Europeans through Turkish dominions. Eventually the mistake was sorted out, but in the meantime both turkey and meleagris stuck as names for the American fowl.
A Guineafowl (source)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Dice \dahys\ , noun;
This word dates to the early 14th century and it's singular, die, dates to the late 14th century, both from Old French de ("dice, die"), which is of uncertain origin. It's a common word in Romance languages, so it may come from Latin datum, which means "given" but has a secondary sense of "to play" as in "to play a game piece."

Dice have been around since before recorded history and the oldest known dice are part of a 5000-year-old backgammon set found in an archeological site in Iran.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Knavery \NEY-vuh-ree\ , noun;
1. Unprincipled, untrustworthy, or dishonest dealing; trickery
2. Action or practice characteristic of a knave
3. A knavish act or practice

Knavery dates to the 1520's from knave + -ery. Knave comes from Old English cnafa ("boy, male servant"), which is a common Germanic word that appears in similar forms in German, Dutch, and more. Where came from before that is unknown and it is believed that the original meaning might have been "stick, piece of wood." The meaning "rogue, rascal" is first recorded in the 13th century.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Ointer \OINT-er\ , noun;
1. A dealer in grease, lard, tallow, etc.

Ointer first appears in English as a surname and is attested from 1263. It is derived from oint ("to smear with oil, ointment, etc.; to anoint"), which came from Anglo-Norman and Middle French oint, the past participle of oindre, which derived from Latin unguere ("to anoint").

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Caduceus \kuh-DOO-see-uhs\ or \kuh-DOO-syoos\ or \kuh-DOO-shuhs\ or \kuh-DYOO-shus\ , noun;

Alright, I was definitely more interested in the name of this thing than the etymology. But, if you were wondering, it is first attested in 1591 from Latin caduceus, which derives from Greek kapykeion. Though it's probably most recognizable as a medical symbol, originally it was the wand carried by an ancient Greek or Roman herald, specifically the one carried by Hermes or Mercury as the messenger of the gods. Click the pictures source link to read more about the caduceus and its history.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Saturdaying , noun;
1. Soviet Union: The practice of working on a Saturday without pay for the benefit of the collective

When I first saw this word I thought of that Will Ferrell line from 'Old School': "Well, um, actually [we have] a pretty nice little Saturday [planned], we're going to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath & Beyond. I don't know. I don't know if we'll have enough time." I would have guessed that Saturdaying meant spending your Saturday doing weekend going antiquing or something. Turns out, I was pretty wrong.

Saturdaying is first attested in 1920 and is a translation of Russian subbotnik, based on Subbota ("Saturday"). In Cyrillic it's суббота.
"YOU. Volunteer for Saturdaying." (source)

Friday, November 18, 2011


Maieutic \mey-YOO-tik\ , adjective;
1. Of or pertaining to the method used by Socrates of eliciting knowledge in the mind of a person by interrogation and insistence on close and logical reasoning

This word dates to the mid-1600's from Greek maieutikos ("of or pertaining to midwifery"), based on maieu ("to serve as a midwife").

Maieutics is based on the idea that the truth exists in the mind of every person, but it has to be 'given birth' (hence, the midwifery link) by answering intelligent questions.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Rent \rent\ , noun;
1. Payment for use of property

This word dates to the mid-12th century from Old French rente, which derives from Vulgar Latin *rendita, the proper feminine past participle of rendere ("to render").

There is another definition of rent, "torn place," which dates to the 1530's from the noun use of Middle English renten ("to tear, rend"), which is a variant of renden. Renden is the forebear of rend and comes from West Germanic *randijanan, which is related to rind. Rend or variations thereof are not found in other Germanic languages.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Silhouette \sill-oo-ET\ , noun;
1. A dark image outlined against a lighter background
2. The outline or general shape of something
This word dates to 1798 from French silhouette after Étienne de Silhouette, the French minister of finance in 1759. It just so happened that France was going through a credit crisis at the time, so he was forced impose some economic restrictions that irritated people, especially the wealthy ones. Because of the restrictions his name became associated with things that are done or made cheaply, like those black silhouette profile pictures.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Wedgie \WEJ-ee\ , noun;
1. The condition of having one's underpants or other clothing uncomfortably stuck between the buttocks

What a modern word. Wedgie is first attested in 1977 and it's a combination of wedge + -y. There's another wedgie, which is attested from 1940 and it means "wedge-heeled shoe."

Monday, November 14, 2011


Know \noh\ , verb;
1. To perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty
2. To be cognizant or aware of
3. To understand from experience or attainment

The origin of know is Old English cnawan ("to know, perceive; acknowledge, declare") from Proto-Germanic *knew-, which derived from Proto-Indo-European *gno- ("to know"). English know covers a few concepts that other languages use at least two verbs to convey. Take, for example, French connaître and savoir. Connaître means "to know a person" or "to be familiar with someone or something." Savoir means "to know a fact," "to know by heart," or "to know how to do something." English know covers all of these meanings. German has four words for know: wissen ("to know"), kennen ("to be familiar with"), erkennen ("to recognize"), and können ("to know how to do something").

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Baby \BEY-bee\

Welcome to the word Rolf! My baby was born Monday, weighing 8lbs and 21.5 inches long. We're all very excited (and a little tired) around here!
Baby dates to the late 14th century from babi, a diminutive form of baban ("babe"). Baban dates to the early 13th century and is probably imitative of baby talk, though in some languages the cognate means "old woman." Curiously, that's the end of the line, etymologically speaking. Presumably we've had a word for baby as long as we've had language, but the Oxford English Dictionary and other sources just stop at 1393 with babe. If you have any further insight, please share!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


-esque , adjectival suffix;
1. Characteristic of; resembling or suggesting the style of

This is perhaps my favorite suffix. Why? I don't know. I'm a word person, we have things like a "favorite suffix." Don't judge.

Anyway, -esque comes from French -esque, which was borrowed from Italian -esco. The Italian word is related to Medieval Latin -iscus, which was adopted from a Germanic source. It is related to Old High German -isc, which is the forebear of -ish. -Ish and -esque are used in very similar ways, but -esque tends to stick to words that came to English from Italian via French.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Coupon \KOO-pon\ or \KYOO-pon\ , noun;
1. A portion of a certificate, ticket, label, advertisement, or the like, set off from the main body by dotted lines or the like to emphasize its separability, entitling the holder to something, as a gift or discount, or for use as an order blank, a contest entry form, etc.
2. A separate certificate, ticket, etc. for the same purpose as above
3. One of a number of small detachable certificates calling for periodic interest payments on a bearer bond
4. Metallurgy: A sample or metalwork submitted to a customer or testing agency for approval

Coupon as "certificate of interest due on a bond" is first attested in 1822 from French coupon, which is literally "piece cut off" from couper ("to cut"). The original coupons were a set of certificates that were attached to a bond paper. The bonds ran for a term of years, so over time the certificates were to be cut off and used to get interest payments.

Our modern sense of coupon, as in those slips of paper you cut out of newspaper inserts, is first attested in 1906. Coupon-clipper pre-dates that and originally referred to someone who held a lot of coupon bonds.

Now we have this disaster on TLC:
Show website

Friday, November 4, 2011


Novel \NOV-uhl\ , noun;
1. A fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes

Novel dates to the 1560's from Italian novella ("short story"). Originally novella meant "new story" from Latin novella ("new things"), which is the neuter plural or feminine form of novellus. Novellus is the forebear of the adjective novel (via French novel, "new, fresh, recent"), which predates the noun by about 50 years. The Latin terms ultimately derive from Proto-Indo-European *newos, from which we also get English new via Proto-Germanic *newjaz and Old English neowe and niwe.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Sandwich \SAND-wich\ or \SAN-wich\ , noun;
1. Two or more slices of bread or the like with a layer of meat, fish, cheese, etc. between each pair
2. Something resembling or suggesting a sandwich, as something in horizontal layers
1. To put into a sandwich
2. To insert between two other things

Apparently, today is National Sandwich Day. So, in honor of this glorious holiday let me give you the etymology of sandwich (you know the story, it dates to 1762 and is attributed to the Fourth Earl of Sandwich who couldn't be bothered to pause his card game for a snack) AND the supposed history of a few of our favorite varieties:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Billow \BIL-oh\ , verb;
1. To rise or roll in or like a great wave; surge
2. To swell out, puff up, etc. as by the action of wind
3. To make rise, surge, swell
1. A great wave or surge of the sea
2. Any surging mass

Billow dates to the 1550's, though it may be older in dialectal use. It comes from Old Norse bylgja ("a wave") from Proto-Germanic *bulgjan, which derives from Proto-Indo-European *bhelgh- ("to swell"). Does the PIE word look familiar? It should, it's also the forebear of belly.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Aioli \ahy-OH-lee\ , noun;
1. A sauce made of oil and eggs, usually flavored with garlic, from the Provence region of France

I watch a lot of Food Network. A lot. So I immediately recognized this word*, though I don't think I've ever had it before. Basically, it's flavored mayonnaise. If you've never done it before, I recommend breaking out the food processor and making your own mayo (or aioli). It's really much better than the store bought stuff.

The word is first attested in English in 1914 and is borrowed from French aïoli, which dates to the mid-1700's. It is a combination of ai + oli, which is the old version of ail ("garlic") and huile ("oil").

*It is's word of the day today

Monday, October 31, 2011


Bromide \BROH-mayd\ , noun;
1. A platitude or trite saying
2. A person who is platitudinous and boring

Bromide is first attested in 1836 from bromine, which comes from French brome, which derives from Greek bromos ("stench"). Bromine compounds were used as sedatives in the 19th and early 20th centuries, so if your personality has the same effect on people, you're bromide.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Quisby \KWIZ-bee\ , noun;
1. Obsolete slang: A wretch; an idle person

This silly sounding word dates to 1789 and its origin is uncertain, though it may be related to quiz.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Economize \ih-KON-uh-mahyz\ , verb;
1. To practice economy; avoid waste or extravagance
2. To manage economically; use sparingly or frugally

This word dates to the 1640's as "to govern a household" from economy + -ize. Economy, meaning "household management," dates to the 1530's from Latin oeconomia, which was borrowed from Greek oikonomia ("household management, thrift"). Oikonomia evolved from oikonomos ("manager, steward"), which is a compound of oikos + nomos ("house" + "managing"). Economy as in political economy ("wealth and resources of a country") dates to the 1650's.

Using economy as an adjective meaning "cheaper" didn't come about until the early 1800's and was originally an advertising term. By the 1950's the meaning had evolved into "bigger and thus cheaper per unit or amount." The first Costco didn't open until 1983.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Roast Beef

Roast Beef \rohst.beef\ , noun;
Roast beef  is first attested in 1564 and for a long time was seen as a symbol of Englishness, as in roast beef of old England, in reference to a song from 1731.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Umami \oo-MAH-mee\ , noun;
1. A strong meaty taste imparted by glutamate and certain other amino acids, often considered to be one of the basic taste sensations along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty

I have needed this word for the last eight and a half months, and I just happened upon it yesterday. My whole pregnancy I've been asked about weird cravings, but really I haven't had any...except umami, but I lacked a good, concise way of saying it. Now I know, with only a couple weeks (at most) to use it. Sigh. I'll have to remember for next time.

This word is first attested in 1979 from Japanese umami, which dates to at least 1721 from uma- + -mi ("delicious" + suffix to form abstract nouns from adjectives). Sometimes umami is used to mean monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG.

Since we're on the topic of MSG, I have a story for you. A couple years ago I spent a year teaching English in China (here's my blog on the experience). I don't really speak Chinese very well and my character reading is really awful, which occasionally got me into trouble (though not as often as one might think). Anyway, at one point I was coming down with something and had a really, really sore throat. Not wanting to take a crack at the pharmaceuticals quite yet, I decided to gargle some hot salt water to try and clear it up. I went to the store and there were about 8 packages that LOOKED like salt, but from the characters they were clearly different from each other. I hemmed and hawed for a while and finally picked one. I took it home and gargled with it and it tasted really weird. Kind of like chicken stock or something similar. I figured Chinese long-grain salt was weird. Fast forward a few days, I finally get around to looking up the characters on the bag. Lo and behold, I had been gargling MSG the whole time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Republic \ri-PUHB-lik\ , noun;
1. A state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them
2. Any body of persons viewed as a commonwealth
3. A state in which the head of government is not a monarch or other hereditary head of state
4. Capitalized: Any of the five periods of republican government in France
5. Capitalized: A philosophical dialogue by Plato in the 4th century b.c. dealing with the composition and structure of the ideal state

This word dates to around 1600 as "state which supreme power rests in the people" from French république, which derived from Latin respublica, literally res publica ("public interstes, the state") from res + publica ("affair, matter, thing" + "public").

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Bully \bool-ee\ noun;
1. A blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people

This word dates to the 1530's from Dutch boel ("lover, brother") and originally meant "sweetheart." The Dutch word is probably a diminutive of Middle High German buole ("brother"), which is of uncertain origin. By the 17th century, the meaning had evolved from "fine fellow" to "blusterer" to "harasser of the weak." How exactly the drastic change in meaning happened is up for debate, but it may have been influenced by bull ("male bovine"). Perhaps the missing link is a definition of bully that existed around 1700: "protector of a prostitute."

Around the time of the Civil War there was a U.S. slang phrase bully to you!, which reflected an earlier positive sense of the word ("worthy, jolly, admirable") dating to the 1680's.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Punkah \PUHNG-kuh\ , noun;
1. India: A fan, especially a large, swinging, screen-like fan hung from the ceiling and moved by a servant or by machinery
1. Of, pertaining to, used on, or working a punkah

This word dates to 1625 from Hindi pankha ("fan"), which derives from Sanskrit paksa ("wing").
Must be nice... (source)

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Kef \keyf\ , noun;
1. A state of drowsy contentment
2. Also keef, a substance, especially a smoking preparation of hemp leaves, used to produce this state

This word is first attested in 1808 from Arabic kaif, which means "well-being, good-humor," specifically in regards to the state of dreamy intoxication resulting from smoking cannabis.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Gnostic \NOS-tik\ , adjective;
1. Pertaining to knowledge
2. Possessing knowledge, especially esoteric knowledge of spiritual matters
3. Capitalized: Pertaining to or characteristic of the Gnostics
1. Capitalized: A member of any certain sects among the early Christians who claimed to have superior knowledge of spiritual matters, and explained the world as created by powers or agencies arising as emanations from the Godhead

The adjective gnostic dates to the 1650's from Greek gnostikos ("knowing, able to discern"), which derives from gnostos ("known, perceived, understood") from gignoskein ("to learn, to come to know").

The noun Gnostic dates to the 1580's as "believer in a mystical religious doctrine of spiritual knowledge." This version ultimately comes from the same Greek words as the later adjective, but it was actually borrowed from Late Latin Gnosticus. It applied to various early Christian sects that claimed direct personal knowledge beyond the Gospel or Church hierarchy. Agnostic, as "one who professes that the existence of a First Cause and the essential nature of things are not and cannot be known" was coined in 1870 by the author T.H. Huxley.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Cognate \KOG-neyt\ , adjective;
1. Related by birth; of the same parentage, descent, etc.
2. Linguistics: Descended from the same language or form
3. Allied or similar in nature or quality
1. A person or thing cognate with another
2. A cognate word

Cognate is very common in historical linguistics, perhaps for obvious reasons. The word itself dates to the 1640's from Latin cognatus ("of common descent"), which is a combination of com- + gnatus ("toether" + "to be born"). Gnatus is the past participle of gnasci, which is the older form of nasci from Proto-Indo-European *gen-/*gon-/*gn- ("produce, beget, be born"). The noun version is first attested in 1754.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Toxic \TOK-sik\ , adjective;
1. Of, pertaining to, affected with, or caused by a toxin or poison
2. Pertaining to or noting debt that will probably not be repaid
1. A toxic chemical or other substance

I am currently obsessed with the cable channel H2. It's an offshoot of the History Channel and I consistently fill the DVR with programs from it, whether my husband likes it or not...

Anyway, I watched a pretty cool program the other day about Hercules. As a word nerd I, of course, noticed when they mentioned an etymological link between a very common modern word (toxic) and the legend of Hercules.

The modern form of the word is first attested in the 1660's from French toxique, which evolved from Late Latin toxicus ("poisoned"). The earlier Latin form was toxicum ("poison"), which was borrowed from Greek toxikon ("poison for use on arrows"). Toxikon is the neuter of toxicos ("pertaining to arrows or archery"), which is also related to toxon ("bow"). Ultimately the word probably comes from a Scythain word that also entered Latin as taxus ("yew").

So what does this have to do with Hercules? Well, the short version of his story is that he was the illegitimate son of Jupiter and a mortal woman. Jupiter's wife, Juno, was pretty irked by this and held a grudge against everyone involved, including Hercules. At some point in his adult life she sent him into a blind frenzy, during which he killed his own wife and kids. When he came to his senses and realized what he'd done he went to the Oracle at Delphi in the hopes of making amends. She sent him off to a king who set him on a series of tasks called the Labors of Hercules. For each labor he had to kill, capture, or destroy something (except for the one task where he had to clean something - stables, to be exact.)

One of the creatures he had to kill was the Lernaean Hydra, which is a serpent/reptile/water beast with many heads, and if one of those heads were cut off, two more would grow in its place. This made it pretty hard to kill, but of course Hercules did it, and after it was dead he dipped his arrows in the Hydra's poisonous blood. So his poison arrows became linked with toxon ("bow"), and the etymology continues from there, as outlined above.

Okay, this story is a bit shaky, I'll admit...but it's kind of cool, no?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Vibe \vahyb\ , noun;
1. Informal: Vibration

Vibe dates to 1940 as a shortening of vibraphone, which is one of these:
Vibe as an abbreviation of vibration is first attested in 1967, though its slang sense of "instinctive feelings" is attributed to the whole decade of the 1960's.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Idea \ahy-DEE-uh\ , noun;
1. Any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity
2. A thought, conception, or notion
3. An impression
4. An opinion, view, or belief
5. A plan of action; an intention

Idea dates to the late 14th century as "archetype of a thing in the mind of God" from Latin idea ("idea"). In Platonic philosophy it means "archetype" from Greek idea ("ideal prototype," literally "the look of a thing (as opposed to the reality); form; kind, sort, nature"). Greek idea derives from idein, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *wid-es-ya-, a suffixed form of *weid- ("to see"). *Weid- is also the forebear of vision. The definition "result of thinking" is first attested in the 1640's.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Tawdry \TAW-dree\ , adjective;
1. Gaudy, showy and cheap
2. Low or mean; base: tawdry motives
1. Cheap, gaudy apparel

Right before Mr. B and I moved to New York City, an ex-teacher of his was having a retirement party that we attended. This over-the-top, flamboyant theater teacher's reaction to our move was hilarious. He told us that New York was a wonderful place, an adult's playground! And then, lowered his voice and added with a wink, "But nothing tawdry..."

The adjectival usage of this word dates to the 1670's from the noun, which dates to the 1610's as "silk necktie for women." It's a shortening of tawdry lace (dating to the 1540's), which was an alteration of St. Audrey's lace. This piece of jewelry was a necktie or ribbon that was sold at the annual fair at Ely on October 17th to commemorate St. Audrey, the queen of Northumbria who died in 679. As the story goes, she was particularly fond of cheap necklaces, so when she supposedly died of a throat tumor, it was God's punishment for her youthful fondness for said showy necklaces.

For more on the life of St. Audrey (also called St. Ethelreda), check out Catholic Online here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Lummox \LUHM-uhks\ , noun;
1. A clumsy, stupid person

This word dates to 1825 as East Anglian slang. As a slang term, it's origins are uncertain, but it's probably either taken from dumb ox with influence from lumbering, or it's a dialectal form of lummock ("move heavily or clumsily").

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Sunday, October 16
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Sabermetrics \say-ber-MET-riks\ , noun;
1. The application of statistical analysis to baseball records, especially in order to evaluate and compare the performance of individual players

This word is first attested in 1982 from sabre + -metric. Sabre here is taken from the acronym SABR, or Society for American Baseball Research.

Moneyball, anyone?

Friday, October 14, 2011


Belly \BEL-ee\ , noun;
1. The front or under part of a vertebrate body from the breastbone to the pelvis, containing the abdominal viscera; the abdomen
2. Appetite or capacity for food; gluttony
3. The womb
4. The interior or inside of anything
Love it!
In looking up midriff yesterday, I noticed (with help from my German-speaking husband) that both Old English hrif and Old High German href ("womb, belly, abdomen") have been replaced by something that sounds more like belly (bauch in German).

Sooooo, belly comes from Old English belg ("leather bag, purse, bellows"), which derived from Proto-Germanic *balgiz ("bag") from Proto-Indo-European *bhel- ("to blow, swell"). The meaning of "body" didn't arise until the late 13th century, and by the mid-14th century it had shifted to mean "abdomen" specifically.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Midriff \MID-irf\ , noun;
1. The middle part of the body, between the chest and the waist

Since we were on the topic of muffin tops yesterday, it's only natural to move on to midriffs today. Right?

I was sort of surprised to see that midriff is actually a pretty old word in English. It comes from Old English midhrif, which is a compound word from mid + hirf ("mid" + "belly"). Hrif derives from Proto-Germanic *hrefiz-, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *kwrep- ("bodfy, form, appearance"). Notice the similarity between that PIE word and corporeal, corpse, etc? Good eye, they also derive from *kwrep-.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Muffin Top

Muffin Top \MUHF-in-TOP\ , noun;
1. A crisp, flat muffin that resembles the top portion of a typical muffin
2. Slang: A roll of excess fat that hangs out over a person's waist when wearing a garment with a tight waistband
Never a good look... (source)
The word muffin dates to 1703 and originally was spelled moofin. It is possibly derived from Low German muffen, the plural of muffe ("small cake"). It may also be connected with Old French moufflet, which was an adjective for bread that meant "soft."
Muffin top, specifically, is first attested in 1914 in reference to the top of an actual muffin. The slang term, depicted above, is not recorded until 2003. Perhaps it is no accident that back in 2003 low-waisted jeans and midriff-baring shirts were, unfortunately, in style at the same time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Popinjay \POP-in-jey\ , noun;
1. A person given to vain, pretentious displays and empty chatter; coxcomb; fop
2. British: A woodpecker, especially the green woodpecker
3. Archaic: The figure of a parrot usually fixed on a pole and used as a target in archery and gun shooting; a parrot

This word dates to the late 13th century as "a parrot" from Old French papegai, which was borrowed from Spanish papagayo. The Spanish word was borrowed from Arabic babagha', which was possibly formed in an African or other non-Indo-European language as an imitation of a parrot's cry. For a while it was used as a compliment in allusion to the beauty and rarity of parrots, but by the 1520's it could also mean "vain, talkative person."

Monday, October 10, 2011


Hoon , noun;
1. A hooligan

I love random Australian/New Zealand slang words. This one is first attested in 1938 and is unknown origins.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Camera \KAM-er-uh\ or \KAM-ruh\ , noun;
1. A boxlike device for holding a film or plate sensitive to light, having an aperture controlled by a shutter that, when opened, admits light enabling an object to be focused, usually by means of a lens, on the film or plate, thereby producing a photographic image
2. The device in which the picture to be televised is formed before it is changed into electric impulses
3. A judge's private office
Camera originally entered the English language as "the papal treasury" in the mid-16th century from Latin camera ("vaulted room"), which derives from Proto-Indo-Europen *kam- ("to arch"). Thus, the meaning "vaulted building" which arose in the early 1700's. In the early 18the century, camera was used as a short form for camera obscura ("dark chamber"), which was a black box with a lens that could project images of external objects. This usage became the word for "picture-taking device" when modern photography began in the mid-1800's and extended to the television filming device in 1928.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Plush \pluhsh\ , noun;
1. A fabric, as of silk, cotton, or wool, whose pile is more than  1/8 inches (.3 cm) high
1. Expensively or showily luxurious
2. Abundantly rich; lush; luxuriant

The self-designated last name of this goofster:
Nyjer Morgan, aka Tony Plush (source)
It's October, so that means baseball is on every night in this house. As a Cubs fan, I obviously have to jump on some other bandwagon in the post season, so it's convenient that my husband just so happens to be a Brewers fan and they have been doing well so far. This guy, Nyjer Morgan, is hilarious. Yeah, he's a little silly and his antics can be a bit distracting, which is why baseball purists like to bitch about him. But, you can't deny that he's entertaining. So, even if you aren't much of a baseball fan, I recommend looking him up on YouTube.

Anyway, back to the word at hand: plush. It's first attested in 1594 as "soft fabric" from Middle French pluche ("shag, plush"). Pluche is a contraction of peluche ("hairy fabric"), which derives from Old French peluchier ("to pull, to tug, to pluck" - as in, the final process in weaving plush). All this ultimately comes from Vulgar Latin *piluccare ("remove hair"), which evolved from Latin pilare ("pull out hair") based on pilus ("hair").
The adjectival definition meaning "swank" dates to 1927.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Foo Fighter

Foo Fighter \FOO-FAHY-ter\ , noun;
1. Any unidentified flying object described as a ball of fire or light

So, that band didn't come up with this one on their own?
Foo fighter is first attested in 1945, though it's likely a bit older since it's US military slang. It comes from a nonsense word created by American cartoonist Bill Holman in his strip 'Smokey Stover.'

Here's a comic from the 1930's which includes the word foo:

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Druthers \DRUTH-erz\ , noun;
1. One's own way, choice, or preference

I love this word! If I had my druthers, I'd figure out a way of sticking this into my speech every day...

It's first attested in 1895, though a word like this is likely much older in spoken language. It's a jocular formation based on I'd ruther, which is an American English dialectal form of I'd rather.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Tbursday, October 6
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Posset \POS-it\ , noun;
1. A drink made of hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or the like, often sweetened or spiced

I don't know about you, but this sounds disgusting. The word dates to the mid-15th century and is of unknown origin. Posca has been suggested as a related word, but the Oxford English dictionary dismisses it on both semantic and formal grounds. Connections with Middle French possette and Irish posoid have also been suggested, but it seems that those words were probably borrowed from English, not the other way around.

After some Googling, it appears that posset is now a kind of dessert, sort of like a pudding. I also see that eggnog is considered a related item, so maybe calling it 'disgusting' was preemptive. Then again, there's no curdled milk in eggnog...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Apple \AP-uhl\ , noun;
1. The usually round, red or yellow, edible fruit of a small tree, Malus sylvestrius, of the rose family
2. The tree that produces such fruit
The origin of apple is Old English æppel ("apple, any kind of fruit; fruit in general") from Proto-Germanic *ap(a)laz, which derives from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ab(e)l ("apple").

There are two words in Indo-European languages that originated as generic words for fruit. One is PIE *ab(e)l and the other is Greek melon (based on PIE mahla-, meaning "grapevine, branch"). Both of which contribute to the modern belief that the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve ate in Eden was an apple. This is highly unlikely, though, because apples did not exist in the area where Eden is believed to have been during biblical times.

Fun fact: Calling women's breasts melons goes all the way back to ancient Greek.

Monday, October 3, 2011


This word dates to the 1600's from Italian zero, which derives from Middle Latin zephirum. Zephirum was a borrowing from Arabic sifr ("cipher"), translated from Sanskrit sunya-m ("empty place, desert, naught")

My favorite website,, offers up a history of zero here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Lego \LE-go\ , noun;
Lego is first attested in 1957 from Danish Lego, which is a respelling of leg godt ("play well"), based on lege ("to play"). The attestation may be a bit late, as the company website says the Lego Group was founded in 1932 and the word is their coinage. The discrepancy is probably because the company was originally a small carpenter's workshop, and the iconic colorful bricks didn't come along until 1958 - which coincides with the Oxford English Dictionary's first recorded attestation.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Wordmonger \WURD-muhng-ger\ or \WURD-mong-ger\ , noun;
1. A writer or speaker who uses words pretentiously or with careless disregard for meaning
2. A person skilled in the use of words

Well, this is interesting. The online dictionaries seem to agree on the first definition, while the Oxford English Dictionary claims that as the original definition, but now it can also mean the second. Is it just me, or are they opposites? What do you think of when you hear wordmonger?

The word is a combination of word + monger, which dates to 1590. Monger comes from Old English mangere, from Proto-Germanic mangojan, which derives from Latin mango ("dealer, trader"). The Latin word is a noun derivative of Greek manganon ("contrivance, means of enchantment"), which derives from the Proto-Indo-European base *mang- ("to embellish, dress, trim"). Using it in combination form in English (like wordmonger, fishmonger, whoremonger, etc.) dates to at least the 12th century, though the negative connotation of that type of compound didn't happen until the 16th century. There was a verb form of monger in Old English, but it was lost and regained from the noun version in the early 1900's.

Friday, September 30, 2011


Votary \VOH-tuh-ree\ , noun;
1. One who is devoted, given, or addicted to some particular pursuit, subject, study, or way of life
2. A devoted admirer
3. A devoted adherent of a religion or cult
4. A dedicated believer or advocate

This word dates to the 1540's as "one consecrated by a vow" from Latin votum, which derives from the Proto-Indo-European base *ewegwh- ("to speak solemnly, vow"). Originally it referred to a monk or a nun, but by the 1590's it had taken on a more general sense of "ardent devotee of some aim or pursuit." Shakespeare used it in reference to love.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


 OK \oh-kay\
 OK is yet another word, born from slang, that is incredibly popular and widespread, yet where exactly it came from is up for debate. The generally accepted story is that it dates to 1839 and comes from the initial letters of oll korrect ("all correct"). It's a remnant of a New England slang fad where deliberate, jocular misspellings of common phrases were abbreviated. Another example of this is KG for "no go," spelled "know go." From there it was popularized by the O.K. Club, a New York booster group for President Martin Van Buren's 1840 re-election bid in allusion to his nickname Old Kinderhook. The initials stuck as a way to write approval on documents.
Some believe (including President Woodrow Wilson, who spelled it okeh) that OK comes from an alleged Choctaw word oke, meaning "it is." Others have posited that it comes from French au quai, Scottish English och aye, or some word in Wolof brought over during slavery. All of these theories lack credible documentation to back them up.

Interested in how OK spread throughout the US and the world? There's actually a book* about it.

*I have no affiliation with this book, in fact I haven't even read it (yet). But I saw it on Amazon and wanted to share.