English boasts some wonderful words having to do with complaints.
The word whine has been with us since English became English. In Old English it had two uses: to refer to arrows as they hissed or whistled through the air, & to refer to a dog’s whines (an imitative word). In 1520 whine added the meaning to complain in a feeble or annoying fashion.
The same Old English roots gave us the word whinge, to complain peevishly. A British dialectical term born in the 1500s, whinge has made its way across the Pond. I hope others appreciate its trans-Atlantic voyage as much as I do.
Beginning in 1888 in England a complaint could be referred to as a beef. Etymologists suggest this probably came from British soldiers’ complaints regarding the mystery meat their superiors were claiming was beef.
The term belly-ache, meaning stomach pain, appeared in the 1590s. It picked up the figurative meaning to complain in 1888. Interestingly, the first recorded uses of belly-ache in America reflected the figurative meaning of the term.
In 1825 an English word meaning to gnaw came into use. Within only three years it picked up the meaning to complain. This word is nag, which appears to have come from a Scandinavian source. It seems to have no etymological relationship to the word nag meaning old horse, which came from Dutch.
The English verb kvetch, to complain, made its way to us in 1953 (the noun, meaning a chronic complainer arrived before that in 1936). The original literal Yiddish verb’s meaning was to squeeze or press.
I’m hoping you’ve got something to say about all these kvetch-worthy words. If so, please leave a note in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED
Words of Georgia
Nothing like an etymological tour of arbitrary states of the USA. Earlier in the month we covered California & Pennsylvania. This week we’re off to Georgia.
The word jarhead, meaning US Marine, showed up first in print in 1985 in a biographical book about WWII. Interestingly, the word jarhead was in use much earlier. In the 1920s in the state of Georgia, jarhead meant mule.
Though other sources have been proposed, the most likely source of the word lulu heralds from the state of Georgia. 15-year-old Georgian vaudeville performer, Lulu Hurst, became a sensation in 1883. She could cause canes, umbrellas, or chairs held firmly by resolute audience members to move and shake (or so it seemed). Once her methods were discovered, she quit show business, even cancelling a vaudeville tour of Europe. Ever since, though, something amazing or remarkable can be referred to as a lulu.
Snake oil took America by storm in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Linguists aren’t certain where the term was first uttered, but it certainly made its way to Georgia. There appears to be little correlation with the remedy’s ingredients & its name, though records show many charlatans and barkers claimed it was made of rattlesnake oil. In Georgia, snake oil was said to cure rheumatism & gout, in Pennsylvania it was said to cure deafness, & in the states in between, it was said to cure pretty much everything in between.
From relative obscurity in an Atlanta, Georgia strip club in 2005, the word twerk became a national sensation. It could be argued that countless earlier dancers danced in a manner meant to simulate copulation, but the honor of introducing greater America to the term goes to The Ying Yang Twins. Before their big hit in 2005, the term was popular in southern hip-hop circles for at least ten years.
Much earlier in Atlanta (1886), Dr. John S. Pemberton invented Coca-Cola. The inspiration for the name came because the original ingredients were derived from cola nuts and coca leaves. Pemberton marketed his fizzy drink as a “brain tonic” and “intellectual soda fountain beverage”. An interesting non-Georgia related historic tidbit is that in 1950, the wine growers & communists of France joined together to attempt a ban on Coca-Cola, which was seen as both a threat to the French wine industry & an ugly example of American capitalism.
How about all these Georgia words? I hope you’ll leave a comment or two.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam Webster, & the OED.
Tamora Pierce is a writer of middle grade & teen fantasy. Her books introduce readers to fascinating, intelligent, strong, female protagonists. Her books made a splash in 1983 & she's still going strong. We’ll celebrate by enjoying a few quotes from Ms. Pierce & her characters.
From her novel Lady Knight
Threats are the last resort of a man with no vocabulary.
From her novel Page
If arrogance were shoes, he'd never go barefoot.
From her novel Squire
Haven’t you ever noticed that people who win say it’s because the gods know they are in the right, but if they lose, it wasn’t the gods who declared them wrong? Their opponent cheated, or their equipment was bad.
From her novel The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
Men don't think any differently from women - they just make more noise about being able to.
From various interviews:
I distrust any advice that contains the words 'ought' or 'should'.
Girls are 50% of the population. We deserve to represent 50% of the heroes.
You look as scary as a buttered muffin.
And from her story collection Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales
Without reading, we are all without light in the dark, without fire in the cold.
If you haven’t wallowed around in the fantasy worlds of Tamora Pierce, I highly suggest you put her on your reading list.
Big thanks to this week’s sources Dare to Be Stupid, The Atlantic, Goodreads
Lately, it's been far too easy to focus on "what those people are doing." I'm thinking we can improve the next year by focusing instead on what we ourselves are doing.. For instance, giving.
Give is a word that has been with English speakers for a very long time – actually, even before we had a language called English. Give takes up a whopping seven and a half pages of the OED & has seventy-two meanings, both transitive & intransitive. Wow.
Give came from the Proto-Indo-European word ghabh-, which interestingly meant to have, to hold, to give & to receive. Talk about ann all-purpose word.
Some intriguing bits of trivia:
-The reason we can give someone a cold is the thankfully forgotten belief that by infecting others we can heal ourselves (give someone a cold while taking that person’s health).
-In Old English give started with a y & was spelled yiven (mostly). Nobody knows why, but it looks as though give’s Old Norse cousin gefa (give) influenced it enough to change that initial letter.
-The idiom I don’t give a ____ has been around since the 1300s. Early words that filled in the blank were a straw, a grass & a mite.
-The idiom what gives? was born in the 1940s.
-The related word gift showed up in the 1300s. In Swedish, gift means poison.
-One of the earliest English meanings of gift was natural talent, inspiration.
-Idioms that employ the word give include:
-give the finger
-give someone a break
-give the shirt off one’s back
-give someone the shaft
-give someone the nod
-give someone the evil eye
-give someone five
-give someone the creeps
-give someone a shot
-give someone the third degree
-give someone the low down
-give someone the green light
-give someone a hard time
-give someone a hand
-give someone some skin
-don’t give up our day jobs
In the coming year, may we all be able to focus on our own actions more than the actions of others, and may we all find many ways to give..
Big thanks to this week’s sources Learn American English Online, Wordnik, Etymonline,& the OED
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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