Sunday, July 31, 2011


Earthling \URTH-ling\ , noun;
1. An inhabitant of the earth; mortal
2. Worldling

This word is first attested in 1593, though there is a suspiciously similar word in Old English, yrþling, which meant "plowman." Earthling in the 1500's meant "inhabitant of the earth," but the sci-fi sense didn't come about until the 1940's. It replaced an earlier sci-fi word, earthite, which dates to the 1820's.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Abecedary \ey-bee-SEE-duh-ry\ , noun;
1. Archaic: Primer, alphabet table

This word dates to the mid-15th century from Middle Latin abecedarium ("an ABC book"), which is the neuter from of the adjective abecedarius. It comes from the first four letters of the Latin alphabet, which is not unlike the origin of alphabet.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Mullet \MUHL-it\ , noun;

Sir Paul rocks it (source)
I didn't get back to the midwest in time for the local rodeo and county fair, so I didn't get my yearly dose of mullet sightings this year. Sad. Fortunately, there is this invention called the internet which makes it really easy to find some truly epic versions of this fashion statement.

The word itself dates to the mid-15th century from Anglo-French molette, which derives from Old French mulet. Mulet comes from Middle Latin muletus, which derives from Latin mulettus from mullus ("red mullet"), a borrowing from Greek myllos. Myllos is a marine fish and the word is related to melos ("black"). All this, however, is only distantly related (maybe) to the fine hair style we all know and love. This is the etymology for mullet, meaning "edible, spiny-finned fish."

Mullet, meaning "hairstyle short on top and long in back" is not attested until 1994, though the style itself is clearly much older. It may come from mullet-head ("stupid, dull person"), but it certainly owes its popularity to the Beastie Boys, who first sang about it in their song "Mullet Head."

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Abracadabra \ab-ruh-kuh-DAB-ruh\ , noun;
1. A mystical word or expression used in incantations, on amulets, etc., as a magical means of warding off misfortune, harm, or illness
2. Any charm or incantation using nonsensical or supposedly magical words
3. Meaningless talk; gibberish; nonsense

The etymology of this word is uncertain beyond the fact that it was borrowed from Latin in the late 1600's. One theory is that the word originated in Latin or Greek as an alteration of abecedarius ("abecedary*"). Another theory is that it is connected with Late Greek Abraxas (a name for the supreme god), but this link is tenuous at best. Other theories connect it to Thracian, Sumarian, Hebrew, Aramaic, and more.
Originally abracadabra was written out in a triangle shape on a charm or amulet and worn around the neck to ward off sickness, evil, etc.

*Check back for a definition and etymology of this in a couple days

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Hoary \HAWR-ee\ , adjective;
1. Tedious from familiarity, stale
2. Gray or white with age
3. Ancient or venerable

This word dates to the 1520's as "grey or white with age" referring to hair. By the 1600's is took on the sense of "venerable, ancient." It is based on the adjective hoar, which come from Old English har which means "hoary, gray, venerable, old" in connection with having gray hair. It derives from Proto-Germanic *haira, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *kei-, which is the source of color adjectives. In German, this word became Herr, which is a title of respect.

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Commune \kuh-MYOON\ , verb;
1. To converse or talk together, usually with profound intensity, intimacy, etc.; interchange thoughts or feelings
2. To be in intimate communication or rapport
\KOM-yoon\ , noun;
1. Interchange of ideas or sentiments

The verb version of this word dates to the 1300's as "have dealings with" from Old French comuner ("to make common, share"), which derives from comun ("common, general, free, open, public"). The French words came from Latin communis ("in common, public, general"), which ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *ko-moin-i- ("held in common"), a combination of *ko- + *moi-n- ("together" + "change, exchange").
The noun version's etymology is a bit different. It is first attested in 1792 from French commune ("small territorial divisions set up after the Revolution"), which was adapted from Middle French commune ("free city, group of citizens"). That commune comes from Middle Latin communia, which was the neuter plural of  communis.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Xystus \ZIST-us\ , noun;
1. Ancient Greek and Roman architecture: A covered portico, as a promenade
2. Ancient Rome: A garden walk planted with trees in a villa

Today I noticed that I have at least one entry for each letter of the alphabet except 'x'. Consider that error fixed!

This word is first attested in 1664 from Latin xystus, which was borrowed from Greek xyotos ("scraped, polished") from xyein ("to scrape polish"), which ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-Europena *kes- ("to scrape").

Side note: Lots of 'x' words are Greek

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Sin \sin\ noun;
1. Transgression of divine law
2. Any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle
3. Any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense

The origin of sin is Old English synn ("moral wrongdoing, offense against God, misdeed") from Proto-Germanic *sundjo ("true"), which derives from Proto-Indo-European *es-ont-, the preposition of the base *es- ("to be"). How exactly "true" became "misdeed" is attributed in part to the notion of "to be truly the one (who is guilty)" and in part to the phrase "it is being" in the Hittite confession formula. Some etymologist disagree with all this and think that the Proto-Germanic word was a borrowing from Latin sontis ("guilty, criminal").

The reason I wanted to talk about sin today is because I noticed that in the Catholic mass, sin is referred to as a mass noun* in one part of the mass but a count noun in (I believe) every other context. Furthering the conundrum, the phrase in which sin appears to be a mass noun is virtually identical to a phrase used later in the mass where it's a count noun:
In the Gloria hymn we sing, "...Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world..." But, during the breaking of the bread we say/sing, "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world..."¹
This seemed strange to me because generally nouns are either mass or counted, but not both. There are exceptions, of course, but different usages are confined to specific contexts. Here, the contexts appear to be exactly the same. My best guess is that in the Gloria phrase sin is being equated with evil, and in all the other contexts it is being treated as a discrete, countable "act regarded as a transgression of divine law."


*A mass noun is one that can't be counted (water, air, etc.) and count noun is one that can (shoe, peach, etc.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Erubescent \er-oo-BES-uhnt\ , adjective;
1. Becoming red or reddish; blushing

This word dates to 1736 from Latin erubescentem, the present participle of erubescere ("to blush"), which is related to rubescere ("to redden").

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

Friday, July 22, 2011


Egg \eg\ , noun;
Chicken egg (source)
Dating to the mid-14th century, the origin of egg is Old Norse egg. It replaced Middle English eye (from Old English æg) by the 16th century, but both forms were used for those 200ish years of coexistence. Both the Old English and Old Norse words derive from Proto-Germanic *ajja(m), which is probably from Proto-Indo-European *awi- ("egg").

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Ozymandian \ah-zee-man-dee-uhn\ or \aw-zuh-man-dee-uhn\ , adjective;
1. Immense, colossal; staggering, awe-inspiring

This word is first attested in 1960 and is based on the name Ozymanidas, which was the name of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley published in 1818:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: 'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lib, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal those words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

The poem is supposed to be about the inevitable decline of all leaders and their empires, but it appears to point to Egypt more specifically because Ozymandias is another name for the Pharaoh Ramesses the Great. It's a transliteration of Ramesses' throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re, into Greek.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Dearth \DURTH\ , noun;
1. An inadequate supply; scarcity; lack

This word dates to the mid-13th century and comes from Old English derthe ("scarcity"), which is an abstract noun formed from deore + -th ("precious, costly" + suffix changing a verb into a noun). Originally derthe was used to talk about famines, where food was expensive because of its scarcity. But, but the early 14th century its usage had been expanded to include other situations where things were scarce.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Zugzwang \TSOOK-tsvahng\ , noun;
1. A situation in which a player is limited to moves that have a damaging effect

At first glance this work definitely looks Asian in origin. But...surprise! It's German.

It's a chess term that is first attested in 1904. It's a combination of zug + zwang ("move" + "compulsion, obligation").

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Tuesday, July 19
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Monday, July 18, 2011


Canonical \kuh-NON-i-kuhl\ , adjective;
1. Authorized; recognized; accepted
2. Included in the canon of the Bible
3. Mathematics: In simplest or standard form (of an equation, coordinate, etc.)

This word dates to the early 15th century from Middle Latin canonicalis, which comes from Late Latin canonicus ("clergyman living under a rule"), which is based on the Latin adjective canonicus ("according to rule" or "pertaining to the (Biblical) canon"). All Latin forms ultimately derive from Greek kanon  ("any straight rod or bar; rule; standard of excellence").
An earlier form, canonial, is first attested in the early 13th century.

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

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Dumbledore \DUHM-bl-dohr\ , noun;
1. A humble-bee or bumble-bee
2. A cockchafer

Let me start this off by saying I know little to nothing about Harry Potter. BUT, I'm pretty sure this is a character in the book.

The word is first attested in 1787 as a dialect word in parts of the UK meaning "bumble bee." It comes from the combination form dumble-, which varies with bumble-, drumble-, and humble-. All the forms have the same meaning as dummel, which is a dialectal word meaning "stupid, dull, slow."

Which dumbledore do you prefer?

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Sex \seks\ , noun;
1. Either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated with reference to the reproductive functions
2. Coitus
3. Genitalia
1. To ascertain the sex of

The noun sex meaning "males or females collectively" dates to the late 14th century from Latin sexus ("state of being either male or female, gender"). There is possibly a link between sexus and secare, which means "to divide or cut," as in 'half' the human race. The definition "quality of being male or female" is first attested in the 1520's while the related verb ("to determine the sex of") doesn't appear until the 1880's.

Surprisingly (to me, anyway), coitus-related usage didn't appear until the 20th century. At least it didn't appear in print until then, you never really know with words like this. Sex meaning "sexual intercourse" is first attested in 1929 in the writings of D.H. Lawrence, but related phrases predate that written record: sex object (1901), sex appeal (1904), sex drive (1918). The meaning "genitalia" is attested from 1938 and sex (something) up is first recorded in 1942. Sex symbol is attested to 1871 in anthropology, but it's modern sense didn't arrive until Marilyn Monroe hit Hollywood in the 1950's.

Related factoid: sexy originally meant "engrossed in sex" (1905), the sense of "sexually attractive" wasn't attested until 1923, replacing the earlier sexful (1898).

Friday, July 15, 2011


Apodictic \ap-uh-DIK-tik\ , adjective;
1. Necessarily true or logically certain
2. Incontestable because of having been demonstrated or proved to be demonstrable

This word dates to the 1650's as "clearly demonstrated" from Latin apodicticus. The Latin word is taken from Greek apodeiktikos, which derives from apodeiktos, the verbal adjective of apodeiknyai. Apodeiknyai means "to show off, demonstrate," but it literally means "to point away from" from apo + deikynai ("off, away" + "to show"). Deikynai derives from Proto-Indo-European *deik- ("to point out"), which is also the forebear of diction.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Owl \oul\ , noun;

Great Horned Owl (source)
The origin of owl is Old English ule from Proto-Germanic *uwwalon, which is a diminutive of the root *uwwa. *Uwwa is imitative of an owl's hoot (like ululation).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Gumption \GUHMP-shuhn\ , noun;
1. Initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness
2. Courage; spunk; guts

This word is first attested in 1719 from Scottish English "common sense, shrewdness" and "drive, initiative." It may be connected to Middle English gome ("attention, heed") from Old Norse gaumr ("heed, attention").

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Sextuple \seks-TOO-pul\ or \seks-TYOO-puhl\ or \seks-TUHP-uhl\ or \SEKS-too-puhl\ or \SEKS-tyoo-puhl\ , adjective;
1. Consisting of six parts; sexpartite
2. Six times as great or as many
3. Music: Characterized by six beats or pulses to the measure
1. To make or become six times as great

Sextuple is first attested in the 1560's from post-classical Latin sextuplus from Latin sextus + -plus ("sixth" + "double").

Monday, July 11, 2011


Trig \TRIG\ , adjective;
1. Neat, trim, smart
2. In good physical condition; sound; well
1. To make neat or trim
1. A wedge or block used to prevent a wheel, cask, or the like from rolling

This word dates to the 1200's as "smart, trim" from Old Norse tryggr ("firm, trusty, true"), which ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *dru- ("tree"). *Dru- is also the forebear of true.

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

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Skylark \SKAHY-lahrk\ , verb;
1. To frolic; sport
1. A brown-speckled European lark, Alauda arvensis, famed for its melodious song
A skylark (source)
The original meaning of this word was the bird name, which is first attested in 1686 from sky + lark. Sky dates to the early 13th century as "a cloud" from Old Norse sky ("cloud"). The Old Norse word derives from Proto-Germanic *skeujam ("cloud, cloud cover") from Proto-Indo-European *(s)keu- ("to cover, conceal"). Lark as a noun dates to the early 14th century as "songbird" from an earlier version, lauerche, which comes from Old English lawerce. Lawerce derives from Proto-Germanic *laiw(a)rikon, which is of unknown origin. The verb lark isn't attested until 1811 and is most likely a back-formation from skylark rather than an extension of the noun.

Later skylark became nautical slang for "wanton play about the rigging and tops," which lead to the verb definition by at least 1809.

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

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Sundae \SUHN-dey\ or \SUHN-dee\ , noun;
1. Ice cream served with syrup poured over it, and often other toppings, as whipped cream, chopped nuts, or fruit

This American English word dates to 1897 and is thought to be a play on Sunday. The spelling change is probably because of the religious nature of Sunday, though why the ice cream treat is linked to that day name is uncertain. It has been posited that sundaes were "ice cream left over from Sunday and on sale later."

There's a commercial on these days that says something like, "It's like they took all the good things and saved them for Sunday." Maybe that's the link...

Friday, July 8, 2011


Organic \awr-GAN-ik\ , adjective;
1. Of, relating to, or affecting organs or an organ of the body
2. Of designating carbon compounds
3. Of, relating to, or derived from living organisms
4. Using or produced with fertilizers of animal or vegetable matter, using no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides
5. Free from chemical injections or additives, such as antibiotics or hormones

When exactly this word was first attested is a bit fuzzy. It definitely dates to at least the 1510's, but it may have been as early as the 1300's. Ultimately the word comes from Latin organicus, which is taken from Greek organikos ("of or pertaining to an organ"). Organikos comes from organon  ("instrument") which derives from Proto-Indo-European *werg-ano-, from the base *werg- ("to do").

If those earlier attestations are to be trusted, organic may have actually entered English via Middle French organique or Old French organice, both of which were the name of the jugular vein.

The definition "from organized living beings" is first attested in 1778 and the agricultural sense of "free from pesticides and fertilizers" dates to 1942.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Dirt derives from a reordering of the sounds in Middle English drit/drytt ("mud, dirt, dung") in the 15th century. Drit/drytt comes from Old Norse drit, though Old English dritan ("to void excrement") is a close relative. Both words derive from Proto-Germanic *dritanan. Calling someone dirt as an insult dates from the 1300's.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Gospel \GOS-puhl\ , noun;
1. The story of Christ's life and teachings, especially as contained in the first four books of the new testament, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
2. Any of these four books
3. Something regarded as true and implicitly believed
4. Gospel music
1. Of, pertaining to, or proclaiming the gospel or its teachings
2. Of or pertaining to gospel music
3. In accordance with the gospel

The origin of gospel is Old English godspel ("gospel, glad tidings announced by Jesus; one of the four gospels"), which is a combination of god + spel ("good" + "story, message"). The Old English word came as a translation of Latin bona adnuntiatio, which was translated from Greek euangelion ("reward for bringing good news").

Old English god meaning "good" and god meaning "God" are actually unrelated, despite outward appearances. God ("good") had a long 'o' and derives from Proto-Germanic *gothaz from Proto-Indo-European *ghedh- ("to unite, be associated, suitable"). God ("God") probably sounded like the modern pronunciation and it derives from Proto-Germanic *guthan from Proto-Indo-European *ghut- ("that which is invoked") from either *gheu(e) ("to call, invoke") or *ghu-to- ("poured").

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Turd \TURD\ , noun;
1. A piece of excrement
2. A mean, contemptible person

Today is my birthday, so just to keep things interesting I'm going to post about my least favorite English word: turd. It's just such a horrible sounding word, and then you add the actual definition and it gets worse. Turd. Ew.

The origin of turd is Old English tord from Proto-Germanic *turdam, which derives from Proto-Indo-European *drtom. *Drtom is the past participle of the base *d(e)r-, which means "flay, tear," so "that which is separated (or torn off) from the body" or "excrement" makes sense. Similarly, shit derives from a Proto-Indo-European word, *skheid, meaning "split, divide".

Turd meaning something worthless and vile is attested from the mid-13th century, while the meaning "despicable person" is first recorded in the mid-15th century.

Monday, July 4, 2011


Suffrage \SUHF-rij\ , noun;
1. The right to vote, especially in a political election
2. A vote given in favor of a proposed measure, candidate, or the like
3. In Christian practice, a prayer, especially a short intercessory prayer or petition

This word dates to the late 14th century as "prayers or pleas on behalf of another" from Old French suffrage, which derives from Middle Latin suffargium from Latin suffragium ("support, vote, right of voting"). Suffragium comes from suffragari ("lend support, vote for someone"), which is a combination of sub + fragor ("under" + "crash, din, shouts of approval"). Fragor is related to frangere ("to break"), which is the forebear of fraction. The meaning "right to vote" was first used used by the founding fathers in the US Constitution in 1787.

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

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Chow \CHOU\ , noun;
1. Food, especially hearty dishes or a meal
verb phrase;
1. Chow down: To eat; eat a meal, especially the main meal of the day

This American English word is first attested in 1856 from a Chinese pidgin English word, chow-chow, that originated in California around 1795. Chow-chow meant "food" and was a reduplication of Chinese cha ("mixed"). The dog breed chow dates to 1886 and is of unknown origin, though folk etymologies suggest it has something to do with Chinese practice of eating dog meat.

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

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Bedlam \BED-luhm\ , noun;
1. A scene or state of wild uproar and confusion

Bedlam is first attested in the 1660's and comes from a colloquial pronunciation of 'Bethlehem' in 'Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem.' The London hospital was founded in 1247 as a priory, turned into a hospital around 1330 and was a lunatic hospital by 1402. In 1547 it was converted to a state lunatic asylum after the dissolution of the associated monasteries.

A priory is a house for women or men under religious vows that's run by a prior or prioress. Prior is a Latin word meaning "former, superior," which derives from Old Latin pri ("before") from Proto-Indo-European *per ("beyond") and *pro- ("before"). Prioress derives from Middle Latin prioressa, which evolved in the mid-12th century.

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

Friday, July 1, 2011


Spur \spur\ , noun;
1. A u-shaped device that slips over and straps to the heel of a boot and has a blunt, pointed, or roweled projection at the back for use by a mounted rider to urge a horse forward
2. Anything that goads, impels, or urges, as to action, speed or achievement
3. Something that projects and resembles or suggests a gaff; sharp projection

The origin of spur is Old English spura/spora, which derives from Proto-Germanic *spuron from Proto-Indo-European *spere- ("ankle"). Spura/spora is related to Old English spurnan, ("to kick away, reject, scorn, despise") which also ultimately derives from *spere-. The verb version of spur evolved in the 1200's. The generalize sense of "anything that urges on, stimulus" dates to the late 14th century. A now archaic phrase on the spur is first attested in the 1520's and meant "in great haste." This phrase survives in Modern English as spur of the moment.