Saturday, April 28, 2012


Vagina \vuh-JAHY-nuh\ , noun;
1. Anatomy: The passage leading from the uterus to the vulva in certain female mammals

Vagina dates to the 1680's from Latin vagina, which meant "sheath, scabbard." It derives from Proto-Indo-European *wag-ina- where *wag means "to break, split, bite."

If you have one, or even if you don't, here are a few interesting facts about the vagina that you may want to know.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


FYI: For your information

So, if you regularly read my posts (God knows if anyone does), you have noticed that I have not been as on-the-ball recently. That's because I have an almost-6-month-old. He's a handful. Anyway, just wanted to let you all know (all two of you? maybe just my dad) that I'm still trying to plug away, but I have abandoned the idea of posting daily. To be honest, I haven't been doing that in quite some time, so the real news is that I am abandoning my practice of going back and populating past days with posts so it looks like I write daily.

FYI is first attested in 1941 in the Washington Post, though they were just explaining the title of some program called, well, FYI. Since it was already the title of something before it ran in a newspaper, I would guess that the initialism was around for a little while beforehand.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Secretary \SEK-ri-ter-ee\ , noun;
1. A person employed to handle correspondence and do routine work in a business office, usually involving taking dictation, typing, filing, and the like

Today is Secretary's Day. Okay, it's actually Administrative Professional's Day, but you know what I mean. Secretary is first attested in 1387 as "person entrusted with secrets" from Middle Latin secretarius ("clerk, notary, confidential office, confidant") based on Latin secretum ("a secret"). The Latin word is actually a compound of se- + cernere. Se- means "without, apart" or "on one's own" from Proto-Indo-European *s(w)e-, which is the third person pronoun and the reflexive marker. Cernere means "separate" and comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *krei- ("to sieve, discriminate, distinguish").

I think that the transition from "secret keeper" to our modern idea of a secretary (or administrative professional, let's be p.c. about it) makes a lot of sense if you watch Mad Men.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Niggardly \NIG-erd-lee\ , adjective;
1. Reluctant to give or spend; stingy; miserly
2. Meanly or ungenerously small or scanty

I saw this word in a post on (a fantastic site that I love) and thought, "Oh my!" But, despite how this word looks, it has nothing to do with the highly-charged word nigger.

Niggardly is first attested as an adjective in 1561 and comes from the noun niggard. Niggard dates to the mid-14th century as nygart and is of uncertain origin. The suffix suggests that French was involved somewhere along the line, but the root word nig is probably related to a Old Norse hnøggr ("stingy"), which derives from Proto-Germanic *khnauwjaz. There's another possibly related word in Old English, hnewa ("stingy, niggardly") which has since disappeared.

Nigger, on the other hand, dates to 1786 as neger from French nègre, which is borrowed from Spanish negro ("black") from Latin nigrum ("black"). From the very beginning nigger was a nasty word and the 'reclaiming' effort didn't take hold until the Black Power movement of the 1960's. Negro in English pre-dates nigger by a couple centuries (it's first attested in the 1550's) and was the politically correct descriptive term for "member of a black-skinned race of Africa" until it was ousted by black in the 1960's.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Chin \chin\ , noun;

Chins are weird. For one thing, people are the only animals that have them. Think about it, other animals just have the bottom of their jaw while we have this jutting thing below that. Is it because we speak? Or does it have something to do with our unique diet? Or maybe sexual selection? The truth is, no one really knows but anthropologists love to debate it. There's an interesting overview here.

Another weird thing about chins is that we are extremely vain about them. Google image search chin and you will see tons of plastic surgeons' before and after pics, as well as plenty of devices to lift your chin or combat double-chins and the fat deposits underneath. There are also plenty of pictures like this to make you smile:
While the jury is out on the origin of our chin, the origin of the word is a little more certain. It is from Old English cin, which derives from a general Germanic word that comes from Proto-Indo-European *genu- ("chin, jawbone").

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Easter \EE-ster\ , noun;
1. An annual Christian festival in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, as calculated according to tables based in Western churches on the Gregorian calendar and in Orthodox churches on the Julian calendar.
Painted Easter eggs in Romania (Photograph: Bogdan Cristel/Reuters)
Easter comes from Old English Easterdæg, based on Eastre from Proto-Germanic *Austron. Austron is a pagan goddess representing fertility and spring whose feast was celebrated at the spring equinox. Her name ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *aus-, which means "to shine, especially at dawn." *Aus- also spawned east.

English and German are the only Indo-European languages who use this word for Easter (German Ostern). Everyone else, even other Germanic languages, use a word based on the biblical name for the holiday: pascha. Pascha is a Latin word meaning both "Passover" and "Easter" which was borrowed from Greek pascha, which comes from Aramaic pasha ("pass over"). English also has a word paschal that means "of or pertaining to Easter," but it is not attested until the early 15th century.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Bride \brahyd\ , noun;
1. A newly married woman or woman about to be married
I was a bride once.
Bride comes from Old English bryd ("bride, betrothed or newly married woman"), which derives from Proto-Germanic *bruthiz ("woman being married"). Other Indo-European words have a similar word that means "daughter-in-law" instead of "bride," but there is a good reason for that. In ancient Indo-European cultures a married woman moved into her husband's family home so the only way for a "newly wed female" to be part of the family was if she was the daughter/sister-in-law. From that it is perhaps unsurprising that this word ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *bru-, which means "to cook," which would have been a daughter-in-law's job.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Fool \fool\ , noun;
1. A silly or stupid person; a person who lacks judgment or sense
1. To trick, deceive, or impose on

Fool dates to the late 13th century as "silly or stupid person" from Old French fol. Fol had a couple meanings: "madman, insane person; idiot; jester," "blacksmith's bellows," and it also operated as an adjective meaning "mad, insane." It comes from Latin follis ("bellows, leather bag"), which ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European root *bhel- ("to blow, swell").

Think your April Fool's joke was awesome? Awesomer than these? Probably not.