Saturday, April 30, 2011


Svelte \svelt\ or \sfelt\ , adjective;
1. Slender, especially gracefully slender in figure; lithe
2. Suave; blandly urbane

Dating to around 1817, the origin of svelte is French svelte ("slim, slender") from Italian svelto ("slim, slender"). The Italian word originally meant "pulled out, lengthened" from the past participle of svellere ("to pluck or root out"), which derives from Vulgar Latin *exvellere based on the Latin compound ex- + vellere ("out" + "to pluck, stretch").

One of the words in the definition comes from Old English: lithe.
The Old English spelling was liðe and it meant "soft, mild, gentle, meek." It derives from Proto-Germanic *linthijaz from the Proto-Indo-European base *lent- ("flexible"). In Middle English lithe was used to talk about the weather, and the current meaning of "easily flexible" dates to the 1400's.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Confession: I got up at 5am to watch the royal wedding. So, I had to give a nod to the Brits today.

The word Britain dates to the 1300's, and there have been a variety of spellings over time. The Oxford English Dictionary lists breonete as the first attested form of this word in English in 1225. It comes from Latin Britannia with some influence from French Bretaigne. An earlier Latin form was Brittania from Brittani ("the Britons"). Briton comes from Anglo-French Bretun, which derives from Latin Brittonem ("a member of the tribe of the Britons"). That Latin word comes from *Britt-os, which is the Celtic name for the Celtic inhabitants of Britain and southern Scotland before they were driven out in the 5th century. In Old English the country was called Brytenlond, which meant "Wales." In the 4th century, Greeks called them Prittanoi ("tattooed people").

Another possible etymology exists, which is that Britain comes from Old Welsh Priten from Celtic pryd ("countenance, image, beauty, form"). This explanation is problematic though because the change from a word-initial 'p' to 'b' is hard to justify according to normal rules of sound change in English.

Recently it has been suggested that the word comes from a word for "tin" in a Mediterranean Semitic or Hamitic language (confer Egyptian Demotic pretan). The link would have been Phoenician traders who were referring to the most important commodity they bought from Britain. This has come into question because it has also been suggested that the origin of that word for "tin" was a borrowing from the name of the British Isles or its people (taken from Priten, perhaps?).

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Credit: Lauren Manning
The origin of jump is uncertain, it seems to have appeared out of nowhere in the 1520's to replace words like leap, bound, and spring. It is possibly onomatopoeic, like bump. Another theory is that it was picked up from the Gallo-Romance dialects of southwestern France in the Hundred Years War. French words like jumba ("to rock, to balance, swing") and yumpa ("to rock") support this theory. There are other Germanic languages that have similar words with similar meanings: German gumpen means "to jump, hop;" Danish gumpe, dialectal Swedish gumpa and Swedish guppa mean "to move up and down;" and Icelandic goppa means "to skip." However, these words postdate jump by 100 years, so they are most likely unrelated.

Jump meaning "to have sex with" dates to the 1630's.
"To attack" is first attested in 1789.
"Jazz music with a strong beat" was first recorded in 1937.
To jump to a conclusion is attested from 1704 (though my favorite usage of the phrase is from 1999 in 'Office Space').  
Jumping-rope dates to 1805.
Telling someone to go jump in a lake is first attested in 1912.
Jump suit is from 1948 and originally referred to the one-piece coveralls worn by paratroopers and skydivers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Jamboree \JAM-buh-ree\ , noun;
1. A carousal; any noisy merrymaking
2. A large gathering, as of a political party or the teams of a sporting league, often including a program of speeches and entertainment
3. A large gathering of members of the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, usually nationwide or international in scope

This word dates to the 1868 in American English. It's origins are unknown, but there are a couple of theories:
It may be a blend of jam or jabber and shivaree. Shivaree is first attested in 1834 as an alteration of charivari from French charivari, which derives from Old French chalivali ("discordant noise made by pots and pans"). The French words come from Late Latin caribaria ("a severe headache") which was a borrowing from Greek karebaria ("headache").
Jamboree may also come from French bouree, which is a kind of rustic dance.
Another theory is that it is of Hindu origin.

In 1920 the International Rally of Boy Scouts was named Jamboree, and the word has stuck within that organization ever since.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Wednesday, April 27
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Anneal \uh-NEEL\ , verb;
1. To toughen or temper
2. To heat (glass, earthenware, metals, etc.) to remove or prevent internal stress
3. To free from internal stress by heating and gradually cooling
4. To fuse colors into (a vitreous or metallic surface) by heating

This word comes from Old English onælan ("to set on fire, kindle") from on- + ælan ("on" + "to burn, bake"). Ælan comes from Proto-Germanic *ailan ("probably"), which derives from Proto-Indo-European *ai- ("to burn").

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Tuesday, April 26
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Monday, April 25, 2011


Out \OUT\ , adverb; adjective; preposition; interjection; noun, verb;

Out is the Modern English from of Old English ut, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *ud- ("up, up away"). I didn't give the definitions because you know what they are, also listed 76 of them. But, I will give you the history of a few of them:
Out-and out meaning "thoroughly" dates to the early 14th century
Use as an adjective is attested from 1813, but the adjective out-of-the-way ("remote, secluded") dates to the late 15th century.
An out in baseball dates to 1860 as a borrowing from cricket which used out since at least 1746.
Out of sight meaning "excellent, superior" dates to 1891.
Out meaning "unconscious" is first attested in 1898 and was originally boxing terminology.
The construction It out-herods Herod came from Shakespeare and was widely imitated in the 19th century.
Out-of-towner meaning "one not from a certain place" dates to 1911.
Out of this world meaning "excellent" dates to 1938.
Out to lunch meaning "insane" is slang from the 1950's.
Out meaning "not popular or modern" is first attested in 1966.
Out meaning "to expose as a closet homosexual" was first written in 1990, but "openly avow one's homosexuality" dates to the 1970's.

Out is also very common in compound words like outcast, outcry, outlaw, outside, and many more. But, beware 'false friends'. Outrage has nothing to do with out or ut because it is a French borrowing. It comes from Old French outrage which ultimately derives from Latin ultra.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Resurrection \rez-uh-REK-shuhn\ , noun;
1. The act of rising from the dead
2. With a capital 'r': The rising of Christ after His death and burial
3. With a capital 'r': The rising of the dead on Judgement Day
4. The state of those risen from the dead
5. A rising again, as from decay, disuse, etc.; revival
6. Christian Science: A rising above mortality through the understanding of spiritual life as demonstrated by Jesus Christ

I just got back from a wonderful Easter Vigil at St. Joe's and found this word in my inbox as the Oxford English Dictionary's word of the day. Well done, OED.

Dating to the late 13th century, the origin of resurrection is Anglo-French resurrectiun from Old French resurrection. The Old French word derives from Late Latin resurrectionem ("a rising again from the dead") which comes from the past participle stem of Latin resurgere ("rise again").

Originally resurrection was reserved for the Church festival, Easter, and the generalized sense of "revival" emerged in the 1640's. In Middle English (1300's) it was also used to refer to the rising of the dead on Judgement Day.

Resurrection replaced a very old word, ærist, which was first attested in the early 9th century. It's meaning was "rising, rise from a seat or bed; sunrise" or "rising from the dead, resurrection."
From a blog

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Gregarious \gri-GAIR-eei-uhs\ , adjective;
1. Fond of the company of others; sociable
2. Living in flocks or herds, as animals
3. Botany: Growing in open clusters or colonies; not matted together
4. Pertaining to a flock or crowd

This word dates to the 1660's from Latin gregarius ("pertaining to a flock; of the herd of the common sort, common"). Gregarius comes from grex ("flock, herd"), which is a reduplication of the Proto-Indo-European base *ger- ("to gather together, assemble"). The sociable sense is first attested in 1789.

Segregate, aggregate, egregious, congregate, and category are all relatives of gregarious through either grex or *ger-.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Homunculus \huh-MUHNG-kyuh-luhs\ , noun;
1. An artificially made miniature person or creature, supposedly produced in a flask by an alchemist
2. A fully formed, miniature human body believed, according to some medical theories of the 16th and 17th centuries, to be contained in the spermatozoon
3. A diminutive human being
4. The human fetus

This word dates to the 1650's and comes from Latin homunculus, which is literally "little person."

Around 1700 a scientist named Nicolas Hartsoeker discovered 'animalcules' in semen, which led to a theory that sperm was a "little man" (a homunculus) that was placed inside a woman and grew into a baby. This explanation satisfied most people since conception was such a mystery. Later someone pointed out that if each sperm contained a homunculus that was identical to an adult but smaller, than each homunculus contained sperm of its own. How meta. This objection didn't present much of a problem, however, because it explained how Adam's original sin transferred to the rest of us: All of humanity was already present in his testes. A more problematic question was: Why do children resemble both parents if the father is the only contributor? Some people believed that this could be explained by assimilated maternal characteristics from spending time in the womb.

This theory has since been disproved.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Friday, April 22
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mumbo Jumbo

Mumbo jumbo \MUHM-bo JUHM-bo\ , noun;
1. Senseless or pretentious language, usually designed to obscure an issue, confuse a listener, or the like
2. Meaningless incantation or ritual
3. An object of superstitious awe or reverence

Dating to 1738, the origin of mumbo jumbo is an idol supposedly worshiped by certain tribes in Africa. It is said to be a corruption of words in Mandingo, possibly Mama Dyumbo, but no one can find a likely link in Niger region languages, which is where the story originates. The meaning of "big, empty talk" is first attested in 1896.

Jumbo is not connected to mumbo jumbo, except that they both have unknown etymologies based on some African language. Jumbo, meaning "very large," is first attested in 1897 as American English in reference to Jumbo the elephant, who was sold from London Zoo to P.T. Barnum in 1882. The elephant's name may have come from a slang word jumbo, meaning "clumsy, unweilding fellow," which dates to around 1823. That word is possibly from a West African word for "elephant" (confer: Kongo nzamba).

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Thursday, April 21
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Jovial \JOH-vee-uhl\ , adjective;
1. Endowed with or characterized by hearty, joyous humor or a spirit of good-fellowship
2. With a capital 'j': Of or pertaining to the god Jove, or Jupiter

Jovial dates to the 1580's from a French word that was taken from Italian joviale (literally "pertaining to Jupiter"). Joviale comes from Latin Jovialis ("of Jupiter") from Jovius, the word for "Jupiter," the Roman god of the sky. Classical Latin Juppiter replaced Old Latin Jovis as the god's name.

The modern meaning comes from the astrological belief that people born under the planet Jupiter had good-humored or merry dispositions.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Idiom \ID-ee-uhm\ , noun;
1. An expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements or from the general grammatical rules of a language and that is not a constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics
2. A language, dialect, or style of speaking peculiar to a people
3. A construction or expression from one language whose parts correspond to elements in another language but whose total structure or meaning is not matched in the same way in the second language
4. The peculiar character or genius of a language
5. A distinct style or character, in music, art, etc.

Dating to the 1850's, the origin of idiom is Middle French idiome from Late Latin idioma ("a peculiarity in language"). The Latin word comes from Greek idioma ("peculiarity, peculiar phraseology") which derives from idioumai ("I make my own") from idios ("personal, private," literally "particular to oneself"). The Proto-Indo-European forebear is *swed-yo-, which is based on the third person reflexive pronoun *s(w)e-. Confused? "Third person reflexive pronoun" equals "ourselves."

The reason I wanted to talk about idiom today is because of an NPR article yesterday. It gives a brief history of the King James Bible and talks about the poetic nature of the text. The part I found most interesting was the number of idiomatic phrases that are found in the Bible that we still use today. Some are obviously biblical ("forbidden fruit,"fire and brimstone," etc.), but others are more surprising. "Put words in her mouth," "fall by the wayside,""by the skin of your teeth," and "there's nothing new under the sun" are a few I was surprised to see.

At the end of the article they linked to another NPR article about a book by David Crystal, Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. In it he talks about how a lot of expressions in Modern English (and pop culture) have roots in the King James Bible. I haven't read the book yet, but it's on my reading list!

Monday, April 18, 2011


Corybantic \kawr-uh-BAN-tik\ , adjective;
1. Frenzied; agitated; unrestrained

Corybant is first attested in 1374 by Chaucer. It's "A priest of Phrygian worship of Cybele, which was performed with noisy and extravagant dances." Corybantic was one of the first derivations of this word (first attested in 1642) and it means "of, pertaining to, or resembling the Corybantes or their rites." The English version of the word is taken from French Corybante, which comes from Latin Corybant-em, which derived from Greek Κορύβᾱς.

I really know nothing about mythology, Greek or otherwise. But, here's the Wikipedia article about the Korybantes if you're interested.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Monday, April 18
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Scurrilous \SKUR-uh-luhs\ , adjective;
1. Grossly or obscenely abusive
2. Characterized by or using low buffoonery

The origin of scurrilous is French scurrile ("coarsly joking") and it was first attested in the 1570's. Scurrile comes from Latin scurrilis ("buffoonlike") from scurra ("fashionable city idler," later "buffoon").

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Sunday, April 17
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Map \map\ , noun, verb;
Dating to the 1520's, map is a shortening Middle English mapemounde ("map of the world") which dates to the late 14th century and comes from Middle Latin mappa mundi ("map of the world"). Mappa, meaning "napkin, cloth," is Punic in origin. Mundi, meaning "the world," comes from mundus (figuratively "universe, world," literally "clean, elegant").

Mappa is attested from the late 4th century as a term used by land surveyors, but how exactly it was used is unclear because a surveyor's map in Latin at that time was forma. The transition from "napkin, cloth" to its current meaning is probably related to the fact that maps are sometimes drawn on cloth. The Modern English verb form of map dates to the 1580's and to put something on the map ("bring something to wide attention") is first attested in 1913.

The name MapQuest dates to 1996 and the verb to mapquest dates to 1997.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Beyond Proto-Indo-European

There's an article in the New York Times today that suggests researchers might be able to prove what they already suspect: human language originated in southern Africa.

Scientists can trace human migration over time by looking at genetic diversity in various populations. The longer people have been in a region, the more chances their DNA has had for change and mutation. In Africa, the cradle of mankind, genetics and DNA are highly variable. Conversely, aboriginal Australians and native Hawaiians have very little variation from one person's DNA to the next. The shades of difference between those extremes tell a lot about how long people have inhabited different parts of the world and our migratory patterns.

Turns out, language may follow a similar pattern.

It has long been believed that you can't trace languages back very far. The Proto-Indo-European language family is more intensively studied than any other, but even it only goes back about 9,000 years. A blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. Today's article talks about a recent study that points to a potential "language DNA" that can be traced: Phonemes. Phonemes are the simplest element of language: Consonants, vowels, and tones. Dr. Quentin D. Atkinson of the University of Auckland noticed that languages in Africa (particularly southern Africa) have over 100 phonemes, while Hawaiian only has 13. Variations between those extremes mimic human migratory patterns, which is meaningful because that should be the case. The brilliance of this discovery, at least in my opinion, lies in its simplicity. It makes sense that if we can trace language to its ancient history, the traceable parts would be the most basic.

How did linguists make such a discovery after years of overlooking such a simple theory? The didn't, Dr. Atkinson is a biologist.

Dr. Atkinson's findings are promising, but not conclusive. I suggest you read the article if you can (it's Tip: If you don't want to pay for you can still read 20 articles per month for free. If you've reached your quota for the month, bookmark this one and read it later. It's a good one!

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Griddle \GRID-l\
Dating to the early 13th century, the origin of griddle is Anglo-French gridil, which comes from Old Northern French gredil, an alteration of Old French graille. Somehow graille derives from Latin craticula ("gridiron, small griddle"), the diminutive of cratis ("wickerwork") which is possibly derived from Proto-Indo-European *kert- ("to turn, entwine").

Gridiron comes up in this etymology, which is interesting to me because I have never heard that word used except in reference to a U.S. football field. Turns out it's a metal grate with parallel bars used for grilling food. It dates to the late 13th century as gridire (later griderne) from the same Anglo-French word as above, gridil. In medieval times the word was also used for an instrument of torture, and the football usage came about in the late 1800's because of the lines on the field.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Praxis \PRAK-sis\ , noun;
1. Practice, as distinguished from theory; application or use, as of knowledge or skills
2. Convention, habit, or custom
3. A set of examples for practice

This word dates to the 1580's from Middle Latin praxis ("practice, action"), which derives from Greek praxis ("practice, action, doing") from the stem of prassein ("to do, act").

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Wednesday, April 13
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Maneuver \muh-NOO-ver\ , noun;
1. A planned and regulated movement or evolution of troops, warships, etc.
2. Maneuvers, a series of tactical exercises usually carried out in the field by large bodies of troops in simulating the conditions of war
3. An act or instance of changing the direction of a moving ship, vehicle, etc. as required
4. An adroit move, skillful proceeding, etc., especially as characterized by craftiness; ploy
1. To change the position of (troops, ships, etc.) by a maneuver
2. To bring, put, drive, or make by maneuvers
3. To manipulate or manage with skill or adroitness
4. To steer in various directions as required
5. To perform a maneuver or maneuvers
6. To scheme; intrigue
British English: manoeuver

Dating to the late 1600's, the origin of maneuver is Middle French manœuvre ("manipulation, maneuver") from Old French manuevre ("manual labor"). The Old French word derives from Middle Latin manopera/manuopera from manuoperare ("work with the hands"), which comes from Latin manu operari. Manu is the ablative of manus ("hand"), which derives from Proto-Indo-European *men- ("hand, to take one's hand") and is the forebear of manual. Operari ("work, labor," later "to have effect, be active, cause") derives from opera ("work, effort"), which is related to opus ("a work"). The definition shift in Middle French comes from when maneuver was used to refer to "action of adjusting a ship's rigging," possibly with negative connotations.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Balderdash \BAWL-der-dash\ , noun;
1. Senseless, stupid, or exaggerated talk or writing; nonsense
2. Archaic: A muddled mixture of liquors

The origin of balderdash is unknown, but it dates to around 1590 with the archaic definition given above. The meaning "senseless jumble of words" dates to the 1670's.

If you split the word into it's formative parts, balder + dash, you could guess at the origins.
Balder could be a cognate with Danish balder ("noise, clatter"), which is related to boulder.
Dash dates to the 1300's and also comes from a Scandinavian source word. It's meaning has always implied a sense of moving quickly, including a definition of "to write hurriedly" in the early 1700's.

So thinking of the original definition, "a muddled mixture of liquors" and a guessed compound of "noise, clatter" + "move quickly," it could make sense if you consider that state of a party when muddled mixtures of liquor flow freely. It could be kind of a stretch though.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Monday, April 11
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Peckish \PEK-ish\ , adjective;
1. Somewhat hungry
2. Rather irritable

Peckish, meaning "disposed to peck, somewhat hungry," dates to 1785 from the verb peck (as in, 'The hen pecked the ground'). It dates to the 1300's and is either a variation of picken ("to peck", the forebear of pick) or comes from Middle Late German pekken ("to peck with the beak").

There is another form that dates to the late 13th century. It's a noun meaning "dry measure of one-quarter bushel" and it's origins are unknown, but it may be connected to Old French pek or picot. The origins of the French words are also unknown.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Suppose \suh-POHZ\ (or \SPOHZ\ if you're from where I'm from) , verb;
1. To assume (something, as for the sake of argument or as part of a proposition or theory
2. To consider something as a possibility suggested or an idea or plan proposed
3. To believe or assume as true; take for granted
4. To think or hold as an opinion
5. To require logically; imply; presuppose
6. Used in the passive: To expect or design; require or permit (followed by an infinite verb)
7. Used without object: To assume something; presume; think

The origin of suppose is Old French supposer ("to assume") and it is first attested in the early 14th century. The Old French word was probably a replacement for *suppondre, which was influenced by poser ("put, place") and derives from Latin supponere ("put or place under"). Supponere is a combination of sub + ponere ("under" + "put, place") and is also the forebear of suppository and supposition.

Suppose originally meant "to assume as the basis of argument" and the meaning "to admit as possible, to believe to be true" dates to the 1520's.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Piltdown \PILT-doun\ , noun;
1. (a) Related to an alleged fossil skull which was alleged to be found at Piltdown in Sussex, England in 1912
1. (b) The supposed primitive hominid to which the remains were ascribed; as Piltdown hoax, Piltdown jaw, Piltdown skull
1. (c) Piltdown man: The primitive hominid thought to be represented by the Piltdown skull, named Eoanthropus dawsoni and regarded by some as the missing link
2. Figurative and extended use: Suggestive of Piltdown man or the Piltdown hoax; primitive, outdated

I can't find the origin of Piltdown, but the story of the Piltdown man is probably more interesting anyway. Basically, in 1912 fragments of a skull and jawbone were collected from a gravel pit at Piltdown in East Sussex England. They were reconstructed and given a Latin name Eoanthropus dawsoni, the second portion given in honor of the man who discovered them, Charles Dawson. Many heralded them as the missing link between humans and the apes. 16 years later they unveiled a memorial to mark the site of the groundbreaking discovery, which still stands today.

Fast forward to 1953 when Time Magazine published evidence gathered by three scientists that the Piltdown man's skull was actually composed of three distinct species: A medieval age human skull, a 500-year-old Sarawak orangutan jaw, and chimpanzee fossil teeth. Plus, it had been artificially aged with an iron solution and chromic acid, and someone filed the teeth to give them a shape that was more in line with a human diet.

So why did it work? Well, apparently it played right into the assumptions of the day. Scientists then believed that a large modern brain preceded the modern omnivore diet, and the Piltdown skull proved exactly that. Plus, Europeans liked the idea that the earliest humans were in Eurasia so they didn't exactly take a critical eye to the discovery.

Who exactly forged the skull is unknown and, as one would expect, the details of its discovery are not well documented. Its acceptance set early research on human evolution back decades and was a waste of time (and paper) for the people who worked on the estimated 250+ papers written on the topic. Today the hoax serves as a reminder to the scientific community of the importance of being thorough and critical of any new discovery, and to keep prejudices out of the scientific forum.

A couple resources: TalkOrigins, Wikipedia

Thursday, April 7, 2011


If you somehow don't already know this (and if you don't, bookmark this site), OMG means "Oh my God" in textspeak (or 'txtspk', if you're cool enough...I'm not)

OMG is a recent addition to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and it's definitions are listed as follows:
Colloquial (frequently in the language of electronic communications)
A. interjection or noun
Expressing astonishment, excitement, embarrassment, etc. 
B. adjective
Causing or characterized by a reaction of astonishment, excitement, etc.; that might cause one to exclaim 'oh my God!'

Most of the examples given in the OED are from the 1990's and 2000's, but the adjective form is actually attested in 1982 in reference to some (apparently) really good tangerines.

But the really interesting citation dates to...drum roll please...1917!

Memories, a book written by Baron John Arbuthnot Fisher Fisher and published in 1919 contains the first known usage of O.M.G. in print. He wrote:
"I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis - O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) - shower it on the Admiralty!"

Now, I don't think anyone is alleging that modern users (and over-users) of OMG were in any way influenced by a man who died in 1920...but it is safe to say that we didn't think of it first.

Shout out to The Virtual Linguist for mentioning this a few days ago.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Borough \BUR-oh\ or \BUHR-oh\ , noun;
United States:
1. An incorporated municipality smaller than a city
2. One of the five administrative divisions of New York City
3. (In Alaska) an administrative division similar to a county in other states
1. An urban community incorporated by royal charter, similar to an incorporated city or municipality in the U.S.
2. A town, area, or constituency represented by a Member of Parliament
3. (formerly) A fortified town organized as and having some of the powers of an independent country

The origin of borough is Old English burg or burh ("a dwelling or dwellings within a fortified enclosure") which comes from Proto-Germanic *burgs ("hill fort, fortress"). Both ultimately derive from Proto-Indo-European *bhrgh, which meant "high" with derivatives referring to hills, hill forts and fortified elevations.

As Proto-Germanic split into German, English and others, the meaning of *burgs also split. In German and Old Norse it kept it's original sense, meaning "fortress, castle." In Gothic and English it became "town," which evolved into "incorporated town" in colonial America.

Pop Quiz: What does all this have to do with Canterbury, UK?
Answer: The place name ending -bury comes from byrig, which is the dative singular form of the Old English form of this word.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Irascible \ih-RASS-uh-buhl\ , adjective;
1. Prone to anger; easily provoked to anger; hot-tempered

This word dates to the late 14th century from French irascible, which came from Late Latin irascibilis in the 12th century. The Late Latin word derives from Latin irasci ("grow angry") from ira ("anger"), which comes from the Proto-Indo-European base *eis-, which forms with different words to denote "passion." *Eis- and ira are also the forebears of ire.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Tuesday, April 5
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Monday, April 4, 2011


Dapple \DAP-uhl\ , noun;
1. A small contrasting spot or blotch
2. A mottled appearance, especially of the coat of an animal (as a horse)
transitive verb;
1. To mark with patches of a color or shade; to spot
intransitive verb;
1. To become dappled
1. Marked with contrasting patches or spots; dappled

This word dates to the 1400's as a past participle adjective dappled. It is probably a back formation from dapple-gray ("apple-gray"), either because of the resemblance to markings on an apples or because the blotches resemble apples themselves. The verb versions date to the 1590's.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Monday, April 4
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Abstemious \ab-STEE-mee-uhs\ , adjective;
1. Sparing in eating and drinking; temperate; abstinent
2. Sparing in use or consumed; used with temperance or moderation
3. Marked by or spent in abstinence.

This word dates to the 1600's from Latin abstemius ("sober, temperate"). It's a combination of ab- + temetum ("from" + "strong drink"). Temetum is related to temulentus ("drunken"). Technically the definition relates to liquor, but it's extended to general temperance in living in Latin. 

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Sunday, April 3
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Unctuous \UNGK-choo-us\ , adjective;
1. Of the nature or quality of an unguent or ointment; fatty; oily; greasy
2. Having a smooth, greasy feel, as certain minerals
3. Insincerely or excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech; marked by a false or smug earnestness or agreeableness

This word dates to the late 14th century from Old French unctueus, which derives from Middle Latin unctuosus ("greasy"). The Middle Latin word is based on Latin unctus ("act of annointing") from the past participle stem of unguere ("to annoint"), which comes from the Proto-Indo-European base *ongw- ("to salve, anoint"). For some reason, the incarnation of that Proto-Indo-European base in various Indo-European languages seems to be either "anoint" or "butter."

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Saturday, April 2
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Friday, April 1, 2011


Gravitas \GRAV-uh-tahs\ , noun;
1. High seriousness (as in a person's bearing or in the treatment of a subject)

This word dates to 1924 from Latin gravitas, which is literally "weight, heaviness" but figuratively "dignity, presence, influence" in regards to people.

Latin gravitas is also the forebear of gravity, which entered the language much earlier. Gravity dates to the 1500's ("weight, dignity, seriousness") from Middle French gravité ("seriousness, thoughtfulness") which comes directly from Latin gravitatem, the nominative of gravis, which derives from gravis ("heavy").

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Friday, April 1
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or