Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Calculus \KAL-kyuh-luhs\ , noun;
1. Mathematics: A method of calculation, especially one of several highly systematic methods of treating problems by a special system of algebraic notations, as differential or integral calculus
2. Pathology: A stone, or concretion, formed in the gallbladder, kidneys, or other parts of the body
3. Dentistry: A hard, yellowish to brownish-black deposit on teeth formed largely through the mineralization of dead bacteria in dental plaques by the calcium salts in salivary secretions and subgingival transudates - also called tarter
4. Calculation; estimation or computation

This word dates to the 1660's from Latin calculus with the meaning "reckoning, account," but it originally meant "pebble used as a reckoning counter." The earlier definition makes sense when you know that calculus is a diminutive of calx, which is "limestone." Calx derives from Greek khalix ("small pebble"), which has been traced to a Proto-Indo-European root for "split, break up."

The dental and pathology meanings trace their meaning to a 1732 usage meaning "concretion occuring accidentally in the animal body." The mathematics sense is actually a shortening of differential calculus, and classes of this name have been the bane of many students' existences since the 18th century.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Septembrist \sep-TEM-brist\ , noun;
1. A person who instigated or took part in the September Massacre

What a perfect word for the last day of August, no?

This word is first attested in 1793 in reference to the massacre of political prisoners that took place in Paris from September 2nd through the 6th in 1792. At the time, the French called them septembriste or septembriseur. Later the Portuguese adopted the word for their (successful) insurrection in September 1836 and altered it to stembrista.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Quaquaversal \kwey-kwuh-VUR-suhl\ , adjective;
1. (Of a geological formation): Sloping downward from the center in all directions

This word dates to 1691 from Latin quaqua versus ("on all sides"), which is a combination of quaqua + versus ("wherever" + "towards").

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Horsemanning , noun;
1. Fake beheading for a photo-op
1920's Horsemanning (source)
These days there's a fad called planking that involves people laying face down in a strange place, taking a picture, and posting it online. The origins of this behavior are somewhat disputed, but it's safe to say that it's a relatively new activity (according to Wikipedia it was invented in either 1994 or 2000).

Horsemanning, on the other hand, is a very similar type of activity but it dates to the 1920's. According to it's 'official' website, horsemanning derives its name from the Headless Horseman character in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Hellacious \he-LEY-shuhs\ , adjective;
1. Remarkable; astonishing
2. Formidably difficult

This US slang word is first attested in 1847 and is probably modeled after the slightly older bodacious. Bodacious, despite its slang popularity in the 1980's, was actually first attested in 1845 with the definition "complete, thorough, arrant."

Friday, August 26, 2011


Proclitic \proh-KLIT-ik\ , adjective;
1. Of a word: Closely connected in pronunciation with the following word and not having an independent accent

This word is first attested in 1805 from Latin procliticus with influence from Greek procliticus. The Latin word is based on the root cliticus from encliticus ("a word that leans its accent on the preceding word"). Encliticus comes from Greek egklitikss, which is a combination of en + klinein ("on" + "to lean").

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Testimony \TES-tuh-moh-nee\ or \TES-tuh-muh-nee\ , noun;
1. Evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof
2. Law: The statement or declaration of a witness under oath or affirmation, usually in court
3. Open declaration or profesion, as of faith

I saw a "useless knowledge" factoid yesterday that said testimony came from a practice of covering one's testicles as a symbolic gesture of telling the truth. Kind of like swearing on a bible, except they're balls.

This practice may or may not have happened, but testimony and testes are linguistically connected. Dating to the 1300's, testimony comes from Latin testimonium, with the root testis meaning "witness". Testes is the plural of testis, which came directly from Latin testis ("testicle") in the early 18th century. It is considered a special application of testis ("witness") because the presence of testicles 'bears witness' to one's virility.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Collogue \kuh-LOHG\ , verb;
1. To confer secretly

This word dates to the 1590's as "to flatter, curry favor" and is of unknown origin. It may have been taken from French colloque ("conference, consultation") with influence from dialogue.

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hobson Jobson

Hobson Jobson \HOB-suhn-JOB-suhn\ , noun;
1. The alteration of a word borrowed from a foreign language to accord more closely with the linguistic patterns of the borrowing language.

This word dates to the 1690's and is a hobson jobson itself. It is supposed to be a mangled Anglicization of an Arabic cry heard by British soldiers in India. Ya Hasan! Ya Hasayn! was mourning cry for two grandsons of the Prophet who died fighting for their faith.

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

Monday, August 22, 2011



Dating to the 1550's, the origin of job is the phrase jobbe of worke, which meant "piece of work," as opposed to continuous labor. The etymology is uncertain, but it may be a variant of gobbe ("mass, lump"). The modern sense of "work done for pay" is first attested in the 1650's.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Widower \WID-oh-er\ , noun;
1. A man who has lost his wife by death and has not remarried

Even though English does not use grammatical gender, there are plenty of words that have two versions to denote male or female: waiter/waitress, actor/actress, etc. This is usually done by adding a suffix to the masculine version to indicate female. According to there is just one instance where the reverse happens: widow/widower.

Widower dates to the mid-14th century as an extension of widow. Previously, the Old English masculine form of widow was widewa and the feminine was widewe. Both derive from Proto-Germanic *widewo from Proto-Indo-European *widhewo, which comes from the base *weidh- ("to separate").

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Conglobate \KON-gloh-beyt\ , verb;
1. To form into a ball

I like this word because it sounds like something somebody made up. Almost as if they'd heard conglomerate before and thought conglobate should be a real thing. Turns out, this word actually derives from Latin.

Conglobate is first attested in 1635 from the participle stem of Latin conglobare ("to gather into a globe or ball")

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

Friday, August 19, 2011


Runic \ROO-nik\ , adjective;
1. Having some secret or mysterious meaning
2. Consisting of or set down in runes
3. Referring to an interlaced form seen on ancient monuments, metalwork, etc., of the northern European peoples

This word dates to the 1660's from Modern Latin runicus, which was taken from Old Norse run. Old Norse run is related to Old Engish run ("secret, mystery, dark mysterious statement" and "runic letter"), which derives from Proto-Germanic *runo. *Runo, along with most technical terms of magic in Germanic and Celtic, derives from Proto-Indo-European *run-no-

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

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Pie \pai\ , noun;
Yum! (source)
Pie meaning "pastry" dates to the 1300's from Middle Latin pie ("meat or fish enclosed in pastry"), which might be related to Middle Latin pia ("pie, pastry"). It could also be related to pica ("magpie") because of the bird's habit of collecting random objects.

Fun fact: Pie has no related words outside of English except Gaelic pighe, which was borrowed from English.
Another fun fact: Fruit pies didn't start to appear until the 1600's.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Jointure \JOIN-cher\ , noun;
1. Property given to a woman upon marriage, to be owned by her after her husband's death

This word dates to the late 14th century from French jointure, which derives from Latin junctura ("a joining, uniting, a joint") from junctus, the past participle of jungere ("to join"). Jungere comes from Proto-Indo-European *yeug- ("to join") and is the forebear of jugular and juncture.

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Lag \lag\ , verb;
1. To fail to maintain a desired pace or to keep up; fall or stay behind
2. To move or develop slowly, as toward a goal or objective, or in relation to an associated factor
3. To hang back; linger; delay

Sheesh, I am having all kinds of trouble keeping up with this blog these days. Hopefully I'll quit lagging and get caught up promises, though.

This word as a verb dates to the 1520's from an earlier adjective that meant "last," which dates to the 1510's. It is probably from a Scandinavian language

Monday, August 15, 2011


Polemic \puh-LEM-ik\ , noun;
1. A controversial argument, as one against some opinion, doctrine, etc.
2. A person who argues in opposition to another; controversialist

This word dates to the 1630's as "controversial argument or discussion" from Greek polemikos ("warlike, belligerent"), which derives from polemos ("war"). The meaning "one who writes in opposition to another" is attested from the 1670's.

Most people have their language pet peeves, and one of mine just so happens to come up in this post: belligerent. It's not the word's fault here, it's the way people mis-use it. Particularly in college, I would hear people talking about how belligerent someone was the night before, meaning that they were very drunk. While it's true that highly intoxicated individuals can easily become belligerent, which means "warlike" or "aggressively hostile," it is in no way a synonym for drunk. Get it straight, college folks.

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

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Sallyport , noun;
1. An opening in a fortified place from which troops may make a sally

This word is first attested in 1651 and is a combination of sally + port. A sally is "an issuing forth," which was first attested in 1560 from French saillie ("issuing forth"), which derives from Old French sailir ("to dance"). Port is "a gate, gateway" and goes back to Old English from classical Latin porta ("gate, opening, outlet").

Nowadays, a sallyport is a secure, controlled entryway, particularly at a prison or fortification.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Holus-bolus \HOH-luhs-BOH-luhs\ , adverb;
1. All at once; altogether

Dating to the mid-1800's, this dialectal word is probably a mock-latinization of the phrase 'whole bolus.' It could also be from holus bholus ("whole lump"). Bolus ultimately derives from Greek bholus ("clod, lump of earth") and means "pill."

Side note: My dog jumped on the keyboard, she would like to add the following to this post: AQM6 ,8

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

Friday, August 12, 2011


Mundify \MUHN-duh-fahy\ , verb;
1. To purge or purify
2. To cleanse

This word dates to the early 1400's from Middle French mondefier, which comes from Late Latin mundificare. Mundificare derives from Latin mundus ("clean"). Originally this word had a medical sense, which it inherited from the Middle French word. Later is was used reflexively to mean something like "to spruce oneself up."

Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Friday, August 12
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Yacht \yot\ , noun;
1. A vessel used for private cruising, racing, or other noncommercial purposes
1. To sail, voyage, or race in a yacht

This word dates to the 1550's from yeaghe ("a light, fast-sailing ship"), which is probably derived from Norwegian yaghtYaght is from Middle Late German jacht, which is a shortened form of jachtschip (literally "ship for chasing," actually meant "fast pirate ship"). The jacht in jachtschip means "chase" and comes from Old High German jagon, from Proto-Germanic *jagojanan.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Putative \PYOO-tuh-tiv\ , adjective;
1. Commonly regarded as such; reputed; supposed

This word dates to the mid-15th century from Middle French putatif, which derives from Latin putativus ("supposed"). The Latin word dates back to the 200's from putatus, the past participle of putare wich originally meant " to prune", but more recently meant "think, suppose, count, reckon."
This word made its entry into the English language as putative marriage, which was a union that was legally invalid, but contracted in good faith by at least one party.

Random fact: putative is a long-lost cousin of pave, as in "to cover with pavement".
Both words ultimately derive from Proto-Indo-European *pau-, which means "to cut, strike, stamp." The former became putare in Latin, while the latter became pavire ("to beat, ram, tread down").

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Ghetto \GET-oh\ , noun;
1. A section of a city, especially a thickly populated slum area, inhabited predominantly by members of an ethnic or other minority group, often as a result of social or economic restrictions, pressures, or hardships
2. (Formerly, in most European countries) a section of a city in which all Jews were required to live
3. A section predominantly inhabited by Jews
4. Any mode of living, working, etc. that results from stereotyping or biased treatment.

Ghetto, in English, dates to the 1610's and meant "part of a city to which Jews are restricted, particularly in Italy." It comes from Italian ghetto, but before that the origins are uncertain.

A few theories:
Yiddish get, "deed of separation"
special use of Venetian getto, "foundry"
a clipped word from Egitto ("Egypt") from Latin Aegyptus (presumably in reference to the exile)
Italian borghetto ("small section of a town"), a diminutive of borgo, a Germanic word that became borough in English.

The extension of its usage from a Jewish enclave to a crowded urban are of other minority groups happened a little before the turn of the 20th century.

About 400 years before ghetto entered the language, there was another word for the same sort of thing: jewry. That word came from Anglo-French Juerie, which derived from Old French Juierie, which became Modern French Juiverie in the 13th century. In the early 14th century jewry meant "Jews collectively," and by the mid-14th century it meant "the land of the Jews, Judea".

Monday, August 8, 2011


Campus \KAM-puhs\ , noun;
1. The grounds, often including the buildings, of a college, university, or school
2. A college or university
3. A division of a university that has its own grounds, buildings, and faculty but is administratively joined to the rest of the university
4. The world of higher education
5. A large, usually suburban, landscaped business or industrial site

Campus was first attested in 1774 in reference to Princeton University, the first college to use the word. It comes from Latin campus, which means "a field" or "a surrounded expanse". The Latin word derives from Proto-Indo-European *kampos ("a corner, cove") from the base *kamp- ("to bend"). The Oxford English Dictionary lists an additional transitive verb definition: "To confine to the campus". This usage is considered US colloquial and is first attested in 1928. So, you can be campused to the campus.

In terms of word spawning, Latin campus is quite prolific. It is a forebear of scamper, champion, campaign, camp, Camember (the cheese and the village in France), kulturkampf¹, and possibly some others.

1. Kulturkampf is a word with a highly specialized usage. It is first attested in 1879 and means "struggle between the German government and the Catholic Church over control of educational and ecclesiastical appointments from 1872-1886". It comes from German (duh) and is literally "struggle for culture" from Kulter + Kampf where kampf ("combat, fight, struggle") is derived from Latin campus ("field, battlefield")

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Flotsam and Jetsam

Flotsam and Jetsam \FLOT-suhm\ and \JET-suhm\ , noun;
1. Useless or unimportant items; odds and ends
2. A vagrant, penniless population

Flotsam dates to the 1600's from Anglo-French floteson, which derives from Old French flotaison ("a floating"). It is a combination of floter (a Germanic word meaning "to float") + -aison (from Latin -ation(em)). It was spelled flotsen until the mid-19th century, when it was probably changed due to the influence of many English words that end in -some.
Jetsam made its entry into the language in the 1560's as an alteration of Middle English jetteson ("act of throwing goods overboard to lighten a ship").  Jetteson comes from Anglo-French getteson, but its current spelling is mostly likely influenced by flotsam, as the pair have combined to mean "odds and ends" since around 1861.

Anyone else love Tim Gunn as much as I do? Make it work!

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Moxie \MOK-see\ , noun;
1. Vigor; verve; pep
2. Courage and aggressiveness
3. Skill; know-how

Moxie was originally the name of an American soft drink. It was first manufactured in 1884 and its formula comes from a patent medicine that was advertised to "build up your nerve." It was among the first mass-produced soft drinks in the United States and it is still sold in some areas (mostly New England). Its flavor is described as a 'delicious blend of bitter and sweet.'  The use of moxie as a noun is first attested in 1908.

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

Friday, August 5, 2011


Peeps \peeps\ , noun;
1. Slang: People

This word is probably most recognizable from phrases like "hangin' with my peeps," it is actually attested from as early as 1847. It's always meant "people," but originally it was used in writing to represent the speech of non-native English speakers. Specifically, the accented English of French speakers. By the 1950's it had made its way into teenage slang, and now it is stronly linked with rappers and other entertainment industry peeps.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Snob \snob\ , noun;
1. A person who imitates, cultivates, or slavishly admires social superiors and is condescending or overbearing to others
2. A person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field.

Where exactly snob came from is unknown, but its evolution through English is more than interesting enough to make up for that. It is first attested in 1781 as "a shoemaker, a shoemaker's apprentice," but by 1796 it was already Cambridge University slang for "townsman, local merchant." In 1831 the sense "person of the ordinary or lower classes" was attested, and by 1843 the meaning "person who vulgarly apes his social superiors" had taken hold. Eventually the meaning was broadened to include "one who insists on his or her gentility" in addition to "one who aspires to gentility," and by 1911 the modern sense was in place.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Jeremiad \jer-uh-MAHY-uhd\ or \jer-uh-MAHY-ad\ , noun;
1. A prolonged lamentation or mournful complaint

This word dates to 1780 and comes from French jérémiade in allusion to 'Lamentations of Jeremiah' in the Old Testament. The masculine proper name Jeremiah is from Hebrew Yarimyah, which is literally "may Jehovah exalt". The Latinized version is Jeremias and the English vernacular form is Jeremy.

Jeremiad is a long literary work, usually in prose and sometimes in poetry, in which the author bitterly laments the state of society and its morals and always contains a prophecy of imminent ruin. Some religious groups really like this method of information dissemination, notably the Puritans. It was also used by Frederick Douglass to lament the moral corruption slavery wrought on America. In modern usage jeremiad tends to be a pejorative term, hinting that the writer or speaker is being excessively pessimistic and overwrought.

The 'Lamentations of Jeremiah' are actually called the 'Book of Lamentations' and are attributed to the prophet Jeremiah as the author. The book is a series of poems that mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple in the 6th century BCE. In Judaism the Lamentations (or Eikhah, "how", as the are called in the Hebrew canon) are recited on Tisha B'Av, which is a fast day to mourn the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem.

So basically jeremiads are a formalized form of what those crazy guys with the big signs scream at you on university quads....

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Defenestrate \dee-FEN-uh-strait\ , verb;
1. To throw out of a window

Defenestration is a coined word that was invented in 1620 for a specific incident: the 'Defenestration of Prague.'
May 21, 1618 two Catholic deputies to the Bohemian national assembly and a secretary were thrown from a window and into the moat of the castle of Hradshin by Protestant radicals. This act marked the beginning of the Thirty Years War, which was highly destructive to Europe and seriously affected the power of the Holy Roman Empire.
There was a different 'Defenestration of Prague' in 1419 when seven members of the city council were killed by a group of radical Czech Hussites. This defenestration was integral in setting off the Hussite Wars, which lasted for 15 years. The word, however, was not coined for another 200 years and usually refers to the 1618 event, rather than the 1620 one.

Defenestration was taken from Latin fenestra meaning "window." Fenestra is possibly linked to the Greek phainein ("to show"), but it may be an Etruscan borrowing instead. Defenestration and defenestrated stem from the 1620 coinage, while defenestrate is a back-formation that wasn't used until around 1915.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Prandicle , noun;
1. A light meal; a snack

So I found this great website called 'Save the Words' which not only has a fabulous layout, but a great concept as well. It lists all kinds of obscure and archaic English words and you pick one and 'adopt' it. When you adopt a word you are basically saying you are going to use this word as much as possible in everyday speech. Basically you are doing your part to revive the dying word. The word I chose is prandicle, so it seemed only natural to share it with you here.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary this word comes from classical Latin prandiculum ("light meal") which is a combination of prandium ("lunch") and -culum which is a diminutive suffix.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Save the Words