The versatile two-letter word up can function in English as an adverb, noun, verb, or adjective. Up plays a role in countless idioms & compound words. I hope you enjoy the few that follow.
1400 – shut up - This idiom’s original meaning was to keep from view or use. It wasn’t until 1814 that it applied to shutting one’s mouth.
1530s – grow up -- This idiom may have come from the late 1300s term grown-up, which was originally an adjective meaning mature, & added its noun meaning an adult in 1813. The directive, grow up, meaning be sensible, showed up in 1951.
1550s – start-up – This verb, meaning rise up, came from the term upstart, which appeared back in 1200. By the 1590s start-up added to its meanings, come suddenly into being.
1811 - up to snuff - This idiom appeared some 160 years after the practice of inhaling powdered tobacco into the nose became all the rage in England. Its original meaning was sharp, wide awake, not easy to deceive, & most likely reflects the somewhat caffeine-like effects of snorting powdered tobacco.
1830 – seven-up – A children’s game that added a new & carbonated meaning in 1928.
1841 – smash up – A collision.
1897 – dustup – This term means a fight. It probably grew out of the 1680s ironic idiom to dust someone’s coat, which meant to beat someone soundly.
1977 - upload – A word we hear & understand constantly these days, yet just a few decades ago it would have left us all with wrinkled brows.
Please use the comments section to tell me what’s up.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, & the OED.
This past week I had an unfortunate experience with a squirrel, which got me to thinking about the word squirrel, which led to this post.
In the early 1300s English speakers started using the word squirrel instead of the Old English word acweorna. Squirrel came from the Anglo-French word esquirel, which we can trace back through Old French, Vulgar Latin, & Latin to the Greek word skiouros, a word used to refer to – what a surprise – squirrels, though it translates literally to shadow-tailed. Interestingly, it wasn’t until 1939 that the word squirrel added to its quiver a verb form, allowing us now to squirrel things away.
The word chipmunk came to English in 1832 from the Ojibwa word ajidamoo, which means one who descends trees headlong. The lack of phonetic similarity between chipmunk & ajidamoo is probably due to the English speakers translating the “foreign” sounds of the people they were busy displacing to sounds they were accustomed to hearing.
Though some marmots live in grasslands, European marmots tend to prefer higher altitudes. The word marmot came to English in the 1600s. We can trace it back through French & Swiss to the Latin murim montis, or mountain mouse.
The vole lives primarily in fields. The word vole came to English in 1828,most likely from the Old Norse word, vollr, which means field.
We refer to a type of burrowing squirrel as a gopher, a word that arrived in American English in 1812. The Americans most likely borrowed the word from the Louisiana French speakers’ word gaufre, which meant honeycomb or waffle, a reference to the condition of the garden or field after the gopher has claimed it as its own.
Please share any of your rodential thoughts in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, & the OED
Fifty-two years ago the word flop was on the lips of sports enthusiasts all over the world. Olympian athlete, Dick Fosbury made history (& a big splash) in the 1968 Olympics by earning the gold medal with his unconventional high jump method, known ever since as the Fosbury Flop.
Flop’s earliest appearance in English occurred centuries before Dick Fosbury, about the year 1600. It meant to flap, & appears to have been derived from the word flap, which came to English two hundred years earlier.
In 1823 flop established itself as a noun, so that when something flopped, the noise involved could be labeled a flop.
The meaning to fall or drop heavily was added to flop’s arsenal of meaning in 1836.
By 1893 flop picked up the meaning a failure.
In 1858, flop’s adjective cousin, floppy was born.
By 1836 flop gave birth to the more jocular term, flopperoo.
Another meaning, complete failure, came about in 1893.
In 1900 the term flip-flop showed up, meaning a complete change in direction.
In 1902, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published, featuring the risk-taking antics of Peter & the rule-following ways of his good little siblings, Cottontail, Mopsy and Flopsy.
The word flub, derived from flop, joined us in 1920, meaning a botch or bungle.
The sound of plastic sandals was responsible for the 1970s term, flip-flop. Interestingly, the term flip-flap had been used to echo that same sound since 1520.
This week, when you need to stop reading the news for the sake of your mental health, ponder & appreciate the word flop. Consider doing so in any of these ways:
-take a stroll in plastic sandals
-watch a truly bad movie
-change your opinion
-at the end of a long day, fall or drop heavily into bed
-or leave a comment right here about all this floppishness
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, Physical Guru, & 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.