We are ramping up toward a big event -- October 23 -- mole day. The creators of mole day had a very particular mole in mind, but I’m not one for mole restraint, so here are the etymologies of a healthy variety of moles.
The mole being celebrated on October 23 was born of the word molecule, & was coined by German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald in 1900. This particular mole establishes a unit of measurement helpful to chemists. It reflects Avogadro’s Number (6.02×10^23), the number of molecules or particles in one mole.
A mole can also be a structure of stones, earth, or concrete creating a breakwater or pier. This mole comes through Middle French & Latin from a Greek word meaning effort, & appeared in English in the 1500s.
A mole can also be the small, burrowing mammal, Talpa, europea. This mole came to English in the 1300s, most likely from the word moldwarp, which translates to earth-thrower. In the last century, this sort of mole can also be a large machine that tunnels through rock. From this same shade of meaning came the sort of mole that is a spy that operates secretly within an organization (another sort of burrowing altogether).
And coming to us during the long, darkish time of Old English, another mole meant spot, mark, or blemish. This mole originally applied to spots & blemishes on fabric, & comes from a Proto-Indo-European verb meaning to stain, soil, or defile.
And let’s not forget the amazingly tasty chocolate/chile condiment, molé. Molé appears to have made its way into English in 1900s. For decades, historians have been engaged in academic knock-down-dragouts regarding the birth of the sauce itself, but at least linguists are sure about its etymology. Molé comes from a Spanish root meaning sauce. It’s the same root that added to the Nahuatl word for avocado, gives us the word guacamole.
Thanks for coming by & celebrating all things mole (& molé) with me. Please leave any comments, whether for mole or for mole, in the comments section.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, vexels.com, Mexonline, National Day Calendar, Merriam-Webster.com, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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