Saturday, December 31, 2011

Auld Lang Syne

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 30, 2011


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

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

Thursday, December 29, 2011


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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


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

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

Monday, December 26, 2011


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

It's Boxing Day today, so why not?

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

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

Sunday, December 25, 2011


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

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

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011


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

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

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

Friday, December 23, 2011


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

Thursday, December 22, 2011


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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


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

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

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


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

Monday, December 19, 2011


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

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

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

Sunday, December 18, 2011


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

Saturday, December 17, 2011


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

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

Friday, December 16, 2011


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

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

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011


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

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

Perhaps the most famous patsy in American culture:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


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

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

Monday, December 12, 2011


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

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

Sunday, December 11, 2011


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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Anchor Baby

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

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

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

Friday, December 9, 2011


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

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

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

Thursday, December 8, 2011


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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


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

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

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


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

Monday, December 5, 2011


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

Sunday, December 4, 2011


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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011


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

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

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

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

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hot Dog

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

Thursday, December 1, 2011


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

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