Sunday, August 26, 2012


Fabulist \FAB-yuh-list\ , noun;
1. A liar
2. A person who invents or relates fables
Surprisingly, not someone like this (source)
Fabulist dates to the 1590's from French fabuliste, which derives from Latin fabula ("story, play, fable, tale"). Fabula literally translates as "that which is told" and is related to fari ("speak, tell"), which ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *bha- ("speak"). *Bha- is also the forebear of fame via Latin fama and Old French fame.

Fabula is also responsible for fabulous. Latin fabulosus means "celebrated in fable; rich in myths" which became "mythical, legendary" in early 15th century English. Fabulous meaning "incredible" is first attested in 1600.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Sparse \spahrs\ , adjective;
1. Thinly scattered or distributed
2. Not thick or dense; thin
3. Scanty; meager

So, you may have noticed that this blog has been a bit sparse lately. That's because we moved, spent the summer in the midwest, I spent a week in California, and now we're unpacking our house. Basically, I haven't had a lot of spare time. Hopefully things will get back to normal soon and I'll be able to blog again more regularly. In the meantime, let me know if there are any words/phrases/etc. that you are curious about!

Sparse dates to 1727 from Latin sparus ("scattered"), which is the past participle of spargere ("to scatter, spread"), which ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European *(s)pregh- ("to jerk, scatter"). That PIE root also spawned such words as Sanskrit parjanya ("rain, rain god"), Old Norse freknur ("freckles"), and English spry ("nimble; agile; energetic; brisk").

Saturday, August 4, 2012

-er v. -or

A friend pointed out an interesting English quirk to me the other day: Why is a prisoner in prison but a jailer runs the jail?

The answer lies in the suffix, -er, which derives from a Proto-Germanic suffix -ărjo-z, which was added to nouns and meant "a person who has do to with [noun]." Originally the main purpose of this construction was to denote a persons job - a jailer work for a jail. In Modern English the meaning expanded to also denote something a person does that is not necessarily their profession - a runner runs, but it's probably not their day job. The definition further evolved into something like "a native or inhabitant of," which is where we get New Yorker or southerner - and prisoner.

As a side note, there is an obsolete definition of prisoner that meant "person who runs the prison."