Thursday, June 30, 2011


Haw \HAW\ , verb;
1. To utter a sound representing a hesitation or pause in speech
2. To turn or make a turn to the left
1. A sound or pause of hesitation
2. The fruit of the Old World hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata, or of other species of the same genus
1. Used as a word of command to a horse or other draft animal, usually directing it to turn to the left

There are a lot of definitions and uses for haw and a number of etymologies for the different uses. The verb haw, meaning "hesitate in speech" is first attested in the 1580's and is imitative in origin. The noun of the same sense evolved by the 1600's. Haw as in "the fruit of the hawthorn" is of uncertain origins, but may be short for hægberie ("hedge-berry"). If so, it dates to around the year 1000. Using haw to direct horses is first attested in 1843, though it is probably much older, and the Oxford English Dictionary offers no etymology for it at all.

Some other definitions:
1. A hedge or encompassing fence (Old English haga < Proto-Germanic *hagon)
2. The 'third eyelid' of a dog, horse, etc. (first attested in 1523, of uncertain origin)
3. Bluish, grayish; discolored (Old English hæwi, related to hæwen meaning "blue")

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Thursday, June 30
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Alphabet \AL-fuh-bet\ or \AL-fuh-bit\ , noun;
1. The letters of a language in their customary order
2. Any system of characters or signs with which a language is written

Dating to the 1560's, the origin of alphabet is Late Latin alphabetum, which derives from Greek alphabetos. Alphabetos is a combination of alpha + beta, the first two letters in the Greek alphabet. The word replaced Old English stæfræw ("row of letters") and stæfrof ("array of letters").

Now, alphabets by Inky Fool

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Boy \boi\ , noun;
1. A male child, from birth to full growth, especially one less than 18 years of age
2. Informal: A grown man, especially when referred to familiarly
3. Military personnel, especially combat soldiers
4. Disparaging and offensive: A man considered by the speaker to be inferior in race, nationality, or occupational status

My big 20 week ultrasound was's a boy!

Boy dates to the mid-13th century as boie ("servant, commoner, knave, boy"). Where exactly it came from is uncertain, but here are a few theories:
From Old French embuie ("one fettered"), which comes from Vulgar Latin *imboiare from Latin boia ("leg iron, yoke, leather collar"), which is taken from Greek boeiai dorai ("ox hides").
Related to East Frisian boi ("young gentleman")
Related to Dutch boef ("knave") from Middle Dutch boeve, which is possibly from Middle Late German buobe. This would suggest a connection with babe.
A semantic blend of *boi ("evil spirit") and *bo (baby word for "brother")

There was a name Boia in Old English, but nothing that's obviously linked to Middle English boi. The definition "male child" does not appear until the early 15th century. Using boy as a disparaging term for young men goes back to Middle English. The definition "male negro slave or Asian personal servant of any age" is attested from the 1600's, though many Indo-European languages use their word for "boy" in this way and have for a long time.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Stress \stres\ , noun;
1. Physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension
2. Importance or significance attached to a thing; emphasis
3. Physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another; strain

Moving stresses my dog out. So does packing...and cleaning. So does being left at home, especially when any of the aforementioned activities have happened recently. So between moving, my husband packing and leaving on a trip, and me using the vacuum all afternoon, she's a wreck.
Poor Heidi* (source)
Stress dates to the 1300's from Middle French destresse and Old French estrece. Destresse is also the forebear of distress and derives from Vulgar Latin *districtia ("restraint, affliction, narrowness, distress") from Latin districtus. Estrece ("narrowness, oppression") comes from Vulgar Latin *strictia from Latin strictus ("compressed"), which ultimately comes from Proto-Indo-European *strenk- ("tight, narrow; pull tight, twist").

The original noun definition in the 14th century was "hardship, adversity, force, pressure." The verb version of this word appears around the same time as the noun with the definition "to subject (someone) to force or compulsion." To "put emphasis on" is first attested in 1896 and the psychological sense of being stressed out is attested from 1942.

*I know that's a picture of a cat, but all the dog pictures I found labeled "stress" or "stressed out" were of dogs sleeping or otherwise relaxing in ways only dogs can...

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Busk \buhsk\ , verb;
1. Chiefly British: To entertain by dancing, singing, or reciting on the street or in a public place
2. Canadian: To make a showy or noisy appeal

Busk dates to 1851 as "to offer goods for sale only in bars and taprooms" and perhaps derives from a figurative use of busk ("to cruise as a pirate") in the mid-1800's in reference to people living shifless and peripatetic lives. As a nautical term meaning "to tack, to beat windward," busk dates to the 1660's from French busquer ("to shift, filch, prowl"). Busquer is perhaps derived from bosco ("wood"), which was a hunting word carrying the notion of "beating wood" to flush out game.
Busking is also first attested in 1851 as a slang word that was used in three main ways: Selling articles or obscene ballads in public houses, playing music on the streets, or performing as a sort of informal stand-up comedy act in pubs. This slang is probably also linked to the pirate-related definition of busk.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Library \LAHY-brer-ee\ or \LAHY-bruh-ree\ or \LAHY-bree\ , noun;
1. A place set apart to contain books, periodicals, and other material for reading, viewing, listening, study, or reference, as a room, set of rooms, or building where books may be read or borrowed
2. A public body organizing and maintaining such an establishment
3. A collection of manuscripts, publications, and other reference materials for reading, viewing, listening, study, or reference
4. Biology: A collection or standard materials or formulations by which specimens are identified
5. Computers: A collection of software or data usually reflecting a specific theme or application
My local library, no big deal... (source)
Unlike most Indo-European language, English uses library for this concept instead of something like biblioteca. I thought maybe that meant it was a Germanic word but, nope, it derives from Latin too.

Library dates to the late 14th century from Anglo-French librarie, which derives from Old French librairie ("collection of books"). Librairie was the noun usage of the adjective librarius ("concerning books") which comes from Latin librarium ("chest for books") based on liber ("book, paper, parchment," originally "the inner bark of trees"). Liber is probably derived from Proto-Indo-European *leub(h)- ("to strip, to peel").

Library replaced the Old English word bochord, which was literally "book hord."

Friday, June 24, 2011


Sabbatical \suh-BAT-i-kuhl\ , noun;
1. Any extended period of leave from one's customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.
1. Of or pertaining to or appropriate to the Sabbath
2. Bringing a period of rest

This word dates to the 1640's with the meaning "of or suitable for the Sabbath" from Latin sabbaticus, which is borrowed from Greek sabbatikos ("of the Sabbath"). Greek sabbaton ("Sabbath") comes from Hebrew shabbath ("day of rest") from shabath ("he rested"). The Babylonians considered the seventh day unlucky and avoided certain activities then, so it's likely that the Jewish custom was based on a similar custom. Obviously the Christian idea of the Sabbath comes from Judaism.

I have only heard this word being used by academics when they take a semester or a year off from their normal position to do research somewhere else. That type of sabbatical dates to the 1880's and it was originally something university professors would do for one year out of every seven in their career. The usage was invented by Harvard based on sabbatical year in Mosaic law, which states that every seventh year land is to be left unworked and debtors and slaves are released.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Friday, June 24
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Jujitsu \joo-JIT-soo\ , noun;
1. The ability to accomplish a task with no apparent effort or resistance
2. Method developed in Japan of defending oneself without the use of weapons by using the strength and weight of an adversary to disable him

This word dates to 1875 from Japanese jujutsu, which is a combination of ju + jutsu ("softness, gentleness" + "art, science"). Ju derives from Chinese jou ("soft, gentle") and jutsu comes from Chinese shu, shut.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Thursday, June 23
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Flesh \flesh\ , noun;
1. The soft substance of a human or other animal body, consisting of muscle and fat
2. The body, especially as distinguished from the spirit or soul
3. A person's family or relatives
4. Botany: The soft, pulpy portion of a fruit, vegetable, etc. as distinguished from the core, skin, shell, etc.
1. To plunge (a weapon) into the flesh
2. Hunting: To feed (a hawk or hound) with flesh in order to make it more eager for the chase
3. To inflame the ardor or passions
4. Archaic: To satiate with flesh or fleshly enjoyments; surfeit; glut

The origin of flesh is Old English flæsc ("flesh, meat" and "near kindred") from a common Western and Northern Germanic word, flesk. The origin of flesk is uncertain, but it may have come from Proto-Germanic *flaiskoz-. Flesh took on its figurative sense of "animal or physical nature of man" early on (1200's) in the Bible. The verb flesh with the hunting definition is first attested in the 1520's and other verb definitions developed in the late 1600's.

Fun fact: In Old English there was a poetry word for body, which was flæsc-hama, literally "flesh-home".

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Mozz \moz\ , noun;
1. A hoodoo; hex
2. "Put the mozz on": To jinx

This word is Australian slang and short for mozzle, which comes from Hebrew mazzal ("luck").

Monday, June 20, 2011


Yarely \YAIR-lee\ , adverb;
1. With quickness or agility

If you haven't noticed, I love good old English words Germanic origins. This word comes from Old English gearolíce, which derives from Old High German garalîhho.

Apparently there's a related archaic English word yare which means "ready, prepare." It comes from Old English gearu from Old High German garo ("ready, prepared, complete").

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Monday, June 20
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Gentle \JEN-tl\ , adjective;
1. Kind, amiable
2. Moderate, gradual
3. Characteristic of good birth or family
4. Soft, low
5. Archaic: Noble, chivalrous
1. To tame
2. To calm, pacify
3. To ennoble, dignify

Gentle dates to the early 13th century with the meaning "well-born" from Old French gentil ("high-born, noble, of good family"). The Old French word derives from Latin gentilis ("of the same family or clan") from gens ("race, clan"), which comes from the root of gignere ("beget"). The word ultimately derives from the Proto-Indo-European base *gen- ("produce").

I guess that people who were "well-born" were assumed to have a certain nature, so that's where the modern definitions came from? What do you think?

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Nineteen \nahyn-teen\ , noun;
1. A cardinal number: ten plus nine (19)

The -teen that forms nineteen, as well as fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen comes from Old English -tene, which means "ten more than" based on ten. The suffix goes back to Proto-Germanic *tekhuniz, which is an inflected form of the root of *tekhan ("ten") from Proto-Indo-European *dekm ("ten")

Friday, June 17, 2011


Hikikomori \hai-kee-kuh-more-ri\ , noun;
1. Abnormal avoidance of social contact; acute social withdrawl
2. A person, typically an adolescent male, engaging in this; a recluse, shut-in

This word is first attested in 1998 from Japanese hikikomori ("staying indoors, social withdrawl, a recluse"), which is a combination of hiki- + komoru ("to pull, draw, repeat" + "to shut oneself up, stay inside"). It is documented in Portuguese as fiqicomori ("to withdraw oneself, or be shut in").

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Brindled \BRIN-did\ , adjective;

1. Gray or tawny with darker streaks or spots

This word dates to the 1670's from Middle English brended from the noun bren ("brown color"), which was a back-formation of the past participle brennen. Brennen meant "burn," but it could have also meant "marked as though by branding or burning."

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Crotchet \KROCH-it\ , noun;
1. An odd fancy or whimsical notion
2. A small hook
3. In British musical nomenclature, a quarter note
4. A curved surgical instrument with a sharp hook

This word dates to the late 14th century with the meaning "crocket," and later "small hook." It comes from Old French crochet, the diminutive of croc ("hook"). Croc comes from Old Norse krokr ("hook"), which is also the forebear of crook. The etymology before that is obscure, but it's possibly related to a big group of Germanic words that start with kr- and mean "bent, hooked".

I don't know about you, but my eyes were playing tricks on me with this one. At first I thought it was crochet, as in the yarn craft similar to knitting, so the 'whimsy' definition seemed very strange. Turns out, these two words are close relatives since crochet also comes from Old French crochet. Another related word is a favorite of mine, crotchety, which comes from the 'whimsy' definition and is first attested in 1825. It means "given to odd notions, whims, grouchiness, etc.".

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Wednesday, June 15
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Orison \AWR-uh-zuhn\ , noun;
1. A prayer

This word dates to the late 12th century from Anglo-French oreison, which is related to Old French oraison ("oration"). The French words derive from Latin orationem ("speech, oration"), but the modern meaning is provided by the Church Latin definition of orationem: "prayer, appeal to God". Both Latin words are forms of orare, which derives from the Proto-Indo-European base *or- ("to pronounce a ritual formula"). Oration has the same etymology as orison, but it isn't attested until the mid-1400's.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Tuesday, June 14
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or 

Monday, June 13, 2011


Noon \NOON\ , noun;
1. Midday
2. Twelve o'clock in the daytime
3. The highest, brightest, or finest point or part

The origin of noon is ultimately Latin nona hora, which meant "ninth hour," meaning the ninth hour of daylight, or 3pm. The Old English form, non, kept the meaning of "3 o'clock p.m." During the 12th century the meaning began to shift either because the time for Church prayers shifted from the ninth hour to the sixth hour, or because the time people ate their midday meal changed, or both. The shift was completed by the 14th century and the meaning has stayed the same ever since.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Fart \FAHRT\ noun;
1. A flatus expelled through the anus
2. An irritating or foolish person
1. To expel a flatus through the anus; break wind
verb phrase;
1. 'Fart around': To spend time foolishly or aimlessly
The origin of fart is Old English feortan, which ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *perd- which is supposed to be imitative.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Curfew \KUR-fyoo\ , noun;
1. An order establishing a specific time in the evening after which certain regulations apply, especially that no civilians or other specified group of unauthorized persons may be outdoors or that places of public assembly must be closed.
2. A regulation requiring a person to be home at a certain prescribed time, as imposed by a parent on a child
3. The time at which curfew starts and/or the period in which it is in effect

Curfew dates to the early 14th century as "evening signal, ringing of a bell at a fixed hour" from Anglo-French coeverfu, which derives from Old French cuevrefeu. Cuevrefeu is literally "cover fire" from couvrir + feu ("to cover" + "fire"). In Medieval times towns would have a rule about what time you had to put out your hearth and go to bed, the goal being to prevent fires. At the appointed time a bell would ring and everyone was supposed to cover the fire. The modern sense of "periodic restricted movement" evolved by the 1800's.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Umbra \UHM-bruh\ , noun;
1. The invariable or characteristic accompaniment or companion of a person or thing
2. Shade; shadow
3. Astronomy: The complete shadow of an opaque body, as a planet, where the direct light from the source of illumination is completely cut off
4. A phantom or shadowy apparition, as of someone or something not physically present; ghost; spectral image.

Based on the last definition, this is a probably a good word to file away in the memory for crossword puzzles...

This word, with the definition "phantom, ghost," dates to the 1590's from Latin umbra ("shade, shadow") which derives from Proto-Indo-European *andho- ("blind, dark"). The astronomy usage is first attested in the 1670's and the definition "an uninvited guest accompanying an invited one" dates tot he 1690's.

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Friday, June 10
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or 

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Geek \GEEK\ , noun;
1. A computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders
2. A peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual
3. A carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken

I had no idea this word fell into the 'freak' category until I saw it in a book I'm reading that's set at the end of the US Civil War. In the book the character was talking about it in terms of a geek in a carnival. Turns out, that while this word is old enough to be appropriate for the time period, that definition is not.

Geek is first attested in 1876 with the definition "a fool; an uncultivated person; a dupe." It's probably a variation of geck ("a fool, simpleton") which dates to the mid-1500's and comes from Low German geck. Geck is derived from an imitative verb in North Sea Germanic and Scandinavian that meant "to croak, cackle" and "to mock, cheat." Geek in American slang dates to about 1919 and referred to performers who did particularly gross acts (think Ozzy Osbourne and that dove). In the 1980's geek took on its current meaning as a slang term for a socially awkward person who is obsessed with and/or particularly talented at new technology and computers.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Pack \PAK\ , verb;
1. To make into a group or bundle
2. To pack goods in compact form for transportation or storage

We're moving soon and the boxes arrived today, so it's time to pack. Today is also the hottest day of the summer so far and we don't have air conditioning. Tomorrow is supposed to be hotter. Awesome.
This pretty much sums it up (source)
Anyway, the verb pack came from the noun pack around 1300. The latter dates to the early 13th century from a Low German word which either came from a term used by wool traders in Flanders or Old Norse pakki, both are of unknown origin. The former was possibly influenced by Anglo-French empaker and Middle Latin paccare ("pack").

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Curb \kurb\ , noun;
1. A rim forming the edge of a sidewalk
2. An enclosing framework or border
3. A bit used with a bridoon for controlling a horse
1. To control; restrain; check
2. To cause to keep near the curb, as in 'curb your dog'
3. To furnish with or protect by a curb
4. To put on a curb

Curb, with the definition "strap passing under the jaw of a horse," dates to the late 15th century from Old French courbe ("curb on a horse"), which derives from Latin curvus from curvare ("to bend"). Ultimately the word derives from Proto-Indo-European *(s)ker- ("to turn, bend"). The meaning "enclosed framework" came about a century later in the 1510's, probably in keeping with the original notion of "curved." Curb as in "margin of stone between a sidewalk and road" is first attested in 1791 and is sometimes spelled kurb.

Now for the real reason I'm talking about curb today:
(Thanks Dad)

Monday, June 6, 2011


Pecksniffian \pek-SNIF-ee-uhn\ , adjective;
1. Hypocritically and smugly affecting benevolence or high moral principles

Like frabjous, lilliputian, and more, the origin of this word is an author's creativity. This one we can attribute to the great Charles Dickens. From January 1843 to July 1844 he wrote a monthly serial called 'The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit' which included a greasy hypocrite named Mr. Pecksniff. Thus pecksniffian was born. It is first attested in 1851.

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

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Merkin \MUR-kuhn\ , noun;
1. False hair for the female pudenda (aka: crotch wig)

I was listening to public radio today when I heard them talk about the Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Center. I almost fell out of my chair because in my (apparently uncultured) mind merkin means only one thing. Maybe I should stop listening to Bob and Tom and start going to philharmonic concerts. Maybe not.

The origin of merkin is unknown, but it may be a variation of malkin ("a slattern, woman of the lower class," later "mop"). Merkin is first attested in the 1530's with the meaning "female pudenda" from the "mop" sense of malkin. In the early 1600's the meaning changed to meaning "artificial vagina" or "counterfeit hair for a woman's privy parts." Use of that 'counterfeit hair' by prostitutes dates to the mid-15th century. Ladies of the night would use the fake hair to cover the fact that their hair was lacking due to venereal disease or shaved to get ride of body lice.

In modern times the merkin is still in regular use, though not necessarily by prostitutes. They are common in Hollywood to avoid accidental 'full-frontal' nudity and to add hair if it's needed for historical accuracy. Decorative pieces are used, often in conjunction with nipple tassels or pasties, as part of a burlesque costume or applied to fake vaginas.

Apparently merkin is also common internet slang for American, which comes from a European slang term that dates to the 1960's. We can thank certain accents, particularly that of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and their pronunciation of American for that one.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Defalcation \dee-fal-KEY-shuhn\ or \dee-fawl-KEY-shuhn\ , noun;
1. Misappropriation of money or funds held by an official, trustee, or other fiduciary
2. The sum misappropriated

This word dates to the late 15th century from Middle Latin defalcationem from the past participle stem of defalcare, which is a combination of de + falx/falcem ("sickle, scythe, pruning hook").

This term is specifically used in the United States Bankruptcy Code to describe certain bad acts connected to a debt that make that debt stand, even if bankruptcy is declared. Those 'bad acts' usually involve behaving recklessly with other peoples' money (while acting in a fiduciary capacity). Defalcation is also used in some legal proceedings to mean "embezzlement," particularly in the context of title insurance.
This guy's not involved (source)

Friday, June 3, 2011


Zyzzyva \ZIZ-uh-vuh\ , noun;
1. Any of various South American weevils of the genus Zyzzyva, often destructive to plants
A zyzzyva weevil (source)
This word is not in the Oxford English Dictionary so I can't account for an etymology, but its form is so crazy I had to put it here. It's the last word in most English dictionaries and would be a very impressive Scrabble word if you had a couple of blanks to account for the extra z's.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Tooth \TOOTH\

The origin of tooth is Old English toð (plural: teð) from Proto-Germanic *tanth/*tunth, which derived from Proto-Indo-European *dont-/*dent- which meant "tooth."

Tooth/teeth is one of those irregular English quirks that gives second-language learners headaches. It is the result of a type of sound change called 'i-mutation.' In phonetics, vowels are laid out in a map that corresponds to how the sound is made in the mouth.
Vowel Map (source)
 'Front' vowels are made closer to the lips and 'back' vowels are made towards to throat. To illustrate, consider the difference between the 'i' in feet and the 'u' in fudge. Alternate saying both sounds aloud and feel the way your mouth and tongue move for each sound. 'Close' and 'open' vowels have to do with how much space is between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. Alternate saying the vowel sound in feet and fat to feel the difference. I-mutation either moves back vowels to the front or makes front vowels more closed (moves them up), in some cases it does both. The vowel in tooth corresponds to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol [u] while the vowel in teeth corresponds to [i]. From the chart above you can see that the i-mutation involved in tooth/teeth is fronting a back vowel.

So why does i-mutation happen? Vowel changes usually happen to make word easier to pronounce. At some point in Old English toð was pluralized with the suffix -iz. Over time people started 'fronting' the 'o' sound in toðiz more like the 'i' in the suffix because it's easier to pronounce. Seem strange? Say the word doing aloud. Now say How you doing? as you would if you were talking to a friend. Notice how doing sounds a lot like diwin? That is i-mutation. We do it all the time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Harissa \hah-REE-suh\ or \huh-REE-suh\ , noun;
1. A pungent paste or sauce made with chilies, garlic, cumin, caraway, coriander, paprika, and olive oil, used as a condiment and flavoring in North African and Middle Eastern cookery
From eCurry - there's a recipe too!
This word is first attested in 1910 and it comes from Arabic harisa, which derives from harasa ("to crush, pound, tenderize by beating"). The extra 's' is probably influenced by French harissa, which is a condiment made from puréed or powdered chilies. Presumably French harissa comes from the same Arabic source.
Although the word harissa didn't make it to English until the last century, harisa has been around since at least medieval times. Originally it was a porridge-like dish made of ground wheat and tenderized meat pounded together. It was eaten by many Arabic-speaking peoples including those in Muslim Spain. It was also eaten as a Sabbath dish by Jews in Spain in the 13th century.