Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Link \lingk\ , noun;
1. One of the rings or separate pieces of which a chain is composed
2. Anything serving to connect one part or thing with another; a bond or tie
3. Computer: An object, as text or graphics, linked through hypertext to a document, another object, etc.

So I obviously didn't blog every day for the flats cloth diaper challenge, but I did complete it. If anyone is interested, here's a link roundup of other mommas who blogged about the challenge (scroll to the bottom of the post):
Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7

Link dates to the early 15th century as "one of a series of rings or loops which form a chain" and probably derives from a Scandinavian source, likely Old Norse *hlenkr. *Hlenkr comes from Proto-Germanic *klink- from Proto-Indo-European *kleng- ("to bend, turn").

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Eat \eet\ , verb;
1. To take into the mouth and swallow for nourishment; chew and swallow

Today is day 3 of the flat diaper challenge. We're still going strong, though we always hand wash and air dry our flats, so this challenge is pretty easy.

One of babies' favorite things to do is eat. Okay, one of everybody's favorite things to do is eat. And diapers would not be terribly useful if there was no eating involved to create the waste they're catching.
My little guy eating. There's a flat diaper under that adorable owl cover. The fuzz ball is my dog.
Eat comes from Old English etan from Proto-Germanic *etanan, which derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *ed- ("to eat"). *-Ed is also the forebear of edible. In Old English eat was a 'strong verb,' which means it was conjugated as an ablaut. Ablaut conjugation means that the root of the word changes to indicate tense, rather than an affix. Consider the difference between sing/sang/sung and walk/walked/walked. Though there are plenty of holdovers from this system in Modern English, we don't really categorize our verbs this way. Old English had seven major classes of strong verb that each followed their own pattern. It was complicated, but there was a system. In Modern English we just lump them all into one category, the name of which strikes fear into the hearts of foreign language learners everywhere: irregular verbs.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Poop \poop\ , noun;
1. Excrement
Ice cream treat at Modern Toilet in Shenzhen, China...
Every parent who chooses to cloth diaper does it for a reason. Some do it to save money, some do it to save the planet, and some do it because cloth diapers are just so darned cute. Most probably do it for a combination of the three. One thing we do not choose cloth for is the poop. Oh, the poop. Cleaning new-to-solids baby waste out of a cloth diaper is no one's favorite activity, but those other reasons are so compelling that we do it anyway. So, for day two of our cloth diapering challenge, I present poop:

There are several poops in English, but the one we are concerned with here is first attested in 1689 as nursery slang for "to fart," which evolved to mean "to defecate" by 1882. The slang term derives from poop meaning "to produce a short blast of sound, as with a horn," which is first attested by Chaucer in 1390. The word is considered imitative, much like Middle Low German pupen ("to break wind) and Dutch poepen ("to defecate" or "to copulate").

Nautical poop is unrelated.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Diaper \DAHY-per\ or \DAHY-uh-per\ , noun;
1. A piece of cloth or other absorbent material folded and worn as underpants by a baby not yet toilet-trained
1. To put a diaper on

This week is the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge, put on by DirtyDiaperLaundry.com. As a participant and non-mommy-topic blogger, I am going to spend this week talking about diaper-related words. But first, a brief word on the challenge:
Last year a few articles came out that talked about how some families with no money for diapers were blow-drying used ones and reusing them. This is horribly unsanitary and dangerous. I believe a baby even died from an infection stemming from this practice. Cloth diaper advocates believe that there needs to be more education about the usefulness and frugality of cloth diapering for low-income families, there is even a petition to get them WIC-approved. I agree and have signed the petition.

Now, on to what you're probably here for:
Diaper dates to the mid-14th century as "fabric with a repeated pattern of figures" from Old French diaspre ("ornamental cloth; flowered, patterned silk cloth"), which ultimately derives from Medieval Greek diaspros ("thoroughly white") via Middle Latin diasprum. The Greek word is a compound of dia- + aspros ("thoroughly, entirely" + "white"). Diapers meaning "baby poop holders" has been in continuous use since 1837, though there are hints of its usage as far back as the late 16th century.

How exactly "ornamental cloth" evolved into "baby underpants" is not illustrated by the Oxford English Dictionary, but I would assume it is based on the type of cloth used for diapering a few centuries ago. From my experiences hand washing white cloth diapers, it is difficult (impossible?) to keep them white, so using colorful cloth seems like a much nicer alternative.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012



Homer Simpson may have made this grunt famous, but it is actually first attested in 1945 in a BBC radio script for a program called It's That Man Again. A similar interjection was used by character actor James Finlayson in Laurel and Hardy films, which was the inspiration for Dan Castellaneta's interpretation of "annoyed grunt" in The Simpsons scripts.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Obtest \ob-TEST\ , verb;
1. To supplicate earnestly; beseech
2. To invoke as witness
3. To protest
4. To make supplication; beseech

I've written several times about folk (a.k.a. false) etymologies. Sometimes they are just silly (like fuck being an acronym of "for unlawful carnal knowledge") and others are honest mistakes (like believing male and female are related words). Obtest is not exactly a common word, but it does show us just how easy it is to make erroneous assumptions.

At first glance this word looks like a superlative: obt-est, the most ob(t). So what does obt or ob mean? I don't know, but there are a few hundred thousand English words.

Turns out, obtest is a verb taken from Latin obtestari ("to beseech, implore, to call to witness, to affirm solemnly, to protest"), which is based on testari ("testate, bear witness, testify") with ob- being a prefix meaning "toward, in the direction of."

By the way, there is a word ob in English that is not a shortening of some other word. It means "a wizard or magician; a sorcerer" and was borrowed from Hebrew in the mid-17th century.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Whore \hawr\ or \hohr\ or \hoor\ , noun;
1. A woman who engages in promiscuous sexual intercourse, usually for money; prostitute; harlot; strumpet

Whore come from Old English hore ("prostitute, harlot"), which derives from Proto-Germanic *khoraz ("one who desires"). *Khoraz ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *qar-, which is the forebear for most Indo-European words for "lover," including Sanskrit kamah. Look familiar? Kamah means "love, desire" and is the basis for the name of the Hindu love god, Kama, and the first element in Kama Sutra.

Since Germanic languages seem to be the only ones that turned *qar- into a pejorative term, some theorize that it was a euphemism for a word that hasn't survived into modern languages.

Personally, I think that strumpet is a hilarious word. It's so similar to crumpets, but having 'tea and crumpets' is very, very different than having 'tea and strumpets'.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Moonshine \MOON-shahyn\ , noun;
1. Smuggled or illicitly distilled liquor, especially corn liquor as illicitly distilled chiefly in rural areas of the southern U.S.

Moonshine is a combination of moon + shine, which is a common compound in Germanic languages. Most Americans probably associate moonshine with illicit alcohol, prohibition, and  illegal corn whiskey. That meaning is first attested in 1782, though the word is a few centuries older. The original meaning of moonshine was "moonlight," which dates to 1425. It can also mean "radiant sweetness," "pleasant distraction," "foolish or fanciful talk," and "a sweet, light pudding."

Some other words for illicit alcohol:
Poteen: 1812 from Irish poitin ("little pot")
Mountain dew: 1839
Pine-top: 1858
Bootleg: 1630's
White lightning: 1921

Another word for moonshine is poteen, which dates to 1812 as "illicit whiskey" from Irish poitin. Poitin means "little pot," so the idea is that it was liquor distilled in small quantities. It's based on English pot ("vessel").