Inspired by my little recording/writing space out in the veggie garden (known as the shedio), I find myself intrigued by the etymologies (or lack thereof) of shed & its various synonyms.
Shed is of questionable parentage. It appeared in English in the 1400s. It may have its roots in the word shade, but no certain evidence has jumped forth into the sunlight to prove this theory.
Similarly, the term shack has no definite parentage. It first appeared in print in 1878. Some etymologists argue that it may be a variant of shake, or may have come from ramshackle (both of which predate it). Others claim it might have come from the Nahuatl word xacalli, wooden hut, through Mexican Spanish. Still nobody really knows from whence the word shack came.
The word hovel isn’t really a synonym for shack or shed, but a hovel is a small building, & I have a fondness for the word. I lived a year in a place friends & family referred to as "hovel sweet hovel." It was one of seven tiny, decrepit buildings near San Luis Obispo Creek. I had to duck to enter, it wasn't possible to close the bathroom door if one was sitting on the toilet, & the mushrooms growing from the floor were not an interior decorating decision. Hovel showed up in English back in the 1300s, meaning a vent for smoke, & within a century had come to mean a shed for animals. It wasn’t until the 1600s that it came to mean a rude or miserable cabin. This last definition is particularly apropos for my hovel. I learned afterward that the compound of seven hovels had been used in the 1940s to house the county’s Japanese residents as they waited to be delivered to internment camps. Misery indeed.
So, dear readers, please leave a comment with a tidbit of a tale regarding any shed, shack, or hovel experiences you’ve “enjoyed.”
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, merriam-webster.com, & the OED.
The other day a lurking follower laughingly commented on the capricious nature of the topics for Wordmonger posts. It would be poetic if I were to claim that upon hearing this, my hair stood on end, but I have little hair left to engage in such shenanigans, and the capricious shoe fits, so I’m perfectly happy to wear it.
Capricious is one of those wonderfully rich words of questionable heritage. More traditional sources mention the flighty, capering nature of goats, and cite the Latin word capriolus, or wild goat as the grandmother of capricious. In the late 1500s and 1600s capricious and its relatives meant prank or trick. It can be argued that the goat is a tricky critter, & that goat-like satyrs of myth were most decidedly pranksters. My two most trusted sources, Etymonline, and The Oxford English Dictionary definitely connect capricious with those flighty, tricky, pranking goats.
Less traditional sources disagree. The folks at Wordinfo, and Anu Garg’s A Word a Day (a fascinating daily glance into etymology), appear to have used a bit more scrutiny. These sources explain that the similarity of capro, or goat, to the word capricious shifted the meaning toward flighty, pranking, goatlike behavior, and away from its original meaning. These sources claim capricious was actually constructed from the word parts, capo-, head, & riccio, hedgehog. That’s right; the word in question may have initially meant hedgehog-head. In the early 1500s, capricious started out meaning afraid, or hair-standing-on-end, like the spines of the hedgehog. After years, the similar term capro- rubbed off enough to shove the meaning of the word toward goatliness (or, goat allies might claim, toward perceived goatliness).
Pranking, tricky goats or hair-on-end hedgehogs? Which story carries the ring of truth? Please weigh in with your comments.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, wordinfo.info, wordsmith.org, & the OED.
Last week’s entry took a look at the words learn & study. This week we’ll take an etymological look at a topic that (in my humble opinion) gets an inordinate amount of focus – the purported measurement of learning.
The word test came to English in the 1300s through Old French from Latin, originally meaning an earthen pot used in assaying precious metals. It took until 1590 for it to generalize to mean trial or examination to determine correctness.
In the last few decades, the educational community has become fond of the word assessment, which showed up in English in the 1540s, and, like test, came through Old French from Latin. It originally referred to a value of property for tax purposes. Assess comes from the Latin word assidere, to sit by (referring to the fact that the judge or assessor was usually seated while proclaiming property’s value). By the 1640s assessment also meant an estimation. Assessment didn’t discover its application to education until the 1950s.
The verb quiz, showed up in English in 1847 from the Latin qui es?, who are you? (the first thing one must answer on a quiz). By 1867, quiz made its way into the world of nouns, however, at that point quiz meant an odd or eccentric person. Quiz’s next life as a noun started in 1807, when a quiz was a hoax, a practical joke, or piece of humbug. By 1891 the noun quiz began its long association with the classroom & began to mean the act of questioning, specifically of a class or student by a teacher.
So, dear blogophiles, what irony, humor, or intrigue do you find in these word histories?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com MerriamWebster.com, & the OED.
Modern American society appears to be ambivalent about learning. We all claim it’s of paramount importance, but oddly, those who excel at it are seldom considered heroes. After looking into the etymologies of these two words, I find myself wondering whether the concept so many of us really admire and aspire to is that of studying more than learning.
To my surprise, the word learn covers only 2/3 of a page of the OED. To be truthful, the entry isn’t fascinating reading. Learn has roots in all the Germanic languages (except for Dutch, for some unknown reason). Ever since it entered English about 900 AD, learn has meant to acquire knowledge. About the most intriguing story learn has to tell us is that back in the 1400s, “I learned him his lesson,” was considered proper English.
The word study, on the other hand, is worthy of some study. It covers nearly three pages of the OED. It’s related to studio, student, & etude. Study comes from Latin through French, and originally referred to zealousness, affection, seeking help, & applying oneself. It made its way into English writings when Chaucer employed it in 1374, and has countless shades of meaning. The verb alone includes, but is not limited to these varied nuances:
-devotion to another’s welfare
-the action of committing to memory
-an employment, occupation or pursuit
-careful observation or examination
-a state of mental perplexity
-a state of reverie or abstraction
-application of mind to the acquisition of learning
-desire, inclination, pleasure or interest in something
What a world it would be if we all immersed ourselves in study in all its various meanings. Even that state of mental perplexity can be a great thing. When I’m perplexed about something, it often leads me to, well, further study.
Dear followers, what connections do you make with the various meanings of study, or what theories do you have regarding society’s apparent ambivalence regarding this topic?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com MerriamWebster.com, & the OED.
One would think that boggle, bogus, & bogey would all be closely related. They may be. Or not. It seems the queens & kings of etymology can’t always dig up enough dirt to prove anything, so instead, we have speculation, but fascinating speculation it is. Here are some bits & pieces of it:
Bogey, bogie or bogy, may be derived from bug, meaning scarecrow, bugbear or terror, OR bogy meaning the devil, OR from bogle, meaning goblin
Over the years, this derogatory term has been used to mean:
-one who spoils the game or interferes with the pitch
-a tax collector
-a dissatisfied customer
-a lump of mucus or slime
(& there’s a verb to go bogy, which means to become prophetic or develop a second sight)
Bogus may have originated as a term for a machine which printed counterfeit money, OR may have come from tantrabogus, a term used in Vermont to refer to ill-looking objects, OR from near Devonshire, where bogus was used to refer to the devil.
Over the years, bogus has been used to mean:
-something unpleasant, dull, or silly
Boggle is somewhat straightforward in its etymology. Most agree boggle came from the French word bogle, a spectre.
Over the years the verb boggle has meant:
-to start with fright
-to take alarm
-to shy, as a startled horse
-to play fast or loose
-to make a mess of
The noun form of boggle has meant:
-an enjoyable word game from Milton Bradley
It’s all pretty boggling. Any thoughts on all this, stalwart followers?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com Partridge’s Concise Dictionary of Slang & Unconventional English, Hugh Rawson’s Devious Derivations, & the OED.
English is rife with colorful terms referring to irrelevant, useless, or empty words. As we ramp up to ramping up to elections, let’s celebrate a few of them.
Bunk appeared in American English about 1900 as a shortened form of bunkum, meaning nonsense. By most accounts the term was born in the US House of Representatives when North Carolina Representative Felix Walker threw in his two cents regarding Missouri’s statehood in relation to the Mason-Dixon Line. He needed to say something that would appear in the papers back home in Buncombe, so he unabashedly made a "long, dull, irrelevant speech." In time, Buncombe shifted to bunkum, which got shortened to bunk.
Blatherskite was born during the American Revolution, & refers to both the words spoken by a talkative, nonsensical person & the person him/herself. It comes of blather, meaning to babble. Blather is a Scottish term derived from an Old Norse word meaning to wag the tongue; added to skite, meaning a contemptible individual. We see a related ending in the word cheapskate, & a related beginning in the term blithering idiot. Skite also originated in Old Norse, from a word meaning to shoot, which apparently is what the Old Norse thought should be done with blatherers.
Bosh came to English in the 1830s from Turkish. Its literal Turkish meaning of empty applies in English only to meaningless speech or writing.
Claptrap appeared in the 1730s & meant a stage trick to catch applause. Since then we’ve lost the applause-inducing element of the term & it simply means cheap, nonsensical or pretentious language.
There are so many great synonyms for bunk, blatherskite, bosh & claptrap. Followers, what empty-word words would you add to the list?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, Hugh Rawson’s Wicked Words & the OED.
This week’s etymology is pleasingly contentious.
Hazard came into English about 1300 from the Old French word, hasard or hasart, a game of chance played with dice. Most etymologists agree that the French word stems from the Spanish word, azar, an unfortunate card or throw at dice.
From there, some etymologists see no source. One school argues for the Arabic term yasara, he played at dice, while another argues for azahr or al-zahr, meaning, the die.
By the mid-1500s the English word hazard shed its specific connection to games of chance & became generalized to refer to any chance of loss, harm, or risk.
What I find fascinating is that by most accounts, the word entered English due to the Crusades. Soldiers don’t spend all their time lopping off heads; they have a little down time to learn the local customs & play the local games. Throwing dice was one of the games Crusaders learned during their travels. Isn’t it wickedly ironic that games of chance, & eventually a word referring to risk & chance of loss was born of the recreational time of Christian soldiers heading to the Holy Land with violent intent? That’s not just irony, that’s exponential irony.
Good followers, what might you have to say about irony, Crusaders, the Holy Land, and risk?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, Interesting English Borrowed Words & the OED.
My affinity for old dictionaries should be no surprise to Wordmonger followers. This appreciation has been fueled by experience with watered-down newer dictionaries, or – sadder still – “student dictionaries” that may as well have had the marrow sucked out of their bones.
I can find no Old Dictionary Appreciation Day, Week, or Month, so I’ve decided to celebrate old dictionaries whenever the spirit moves me. This week is one such week.
It doesn’t take dusty, leather-bound dictionaries to stoke my fires. Dictionaries published as recently as the 1960s simply make me smile. I find what I need in them. They include the features I expect.
One such element is the “synonym” feature which closes the occasional entry. This feature takes similar words or terms & parses out the shades of meaning. Here are two synonym entries from my 1959 Webster’s New World Dictionary:
“Intelligent implies the ability to learn or understand from experience or to respond successfully to a new experience; clever implies quickness in learning or understanding, but sometimes connotes a lack of thoroughness or depth; alert emphasizes quickness in sizing up a situation; bright and smart are somewhat informal, less precise equivalents for any of the preceding; brilliant implies an unusually high degree of intelligence; intellectual suggests keen intelligence coupled with interest and ability in the more advanced fields of knowledge.
Beautiful is applied to that which gives the highest degree of pleasure to the senses or to the mind and suggests that the object of delight approximates one’s conception of an ideal; lovely applies to that which delights by inspiring affection or warm admiration; handsome implies attractiveness by reason of pleasing proportions, symmetry, elegance, etc., and carries connotations of masculinity, dignity, or impressiveness; pretty implies a dainty, delicate or graceful quality in that which pleases and carries connotations of femininity or diminutiveness; comely applies to persons only and suggests a wholesome attractiveness of form and features rather than a high degree of beauty; fair suggests beauty that is fresh, bright or flawless; good-looking is closely equivalent to handsome or pretty, suggesting a pleasing appearance, but not expressing the fine distinctions of either word; beauteous in poetry and lofty prose is now often used in humorously disparaging references to beauty.
Is that poetry, or what?
Good followers, what bits of old dictionaries do you fancy?
My thanks go out to this week’s source, Webster’s 1959 New World Dictionary of the American Language
Some etymologies are milquetoast while others are just plain weird.
Boss entered English in the 1640s in America. Though its Dutch source word baas, meant master, it’s believed that boss may have come into use in an attempt to make a distinction between master of a slave & master of a hired worker. The Dutch term appears to have come from the Old High German terms, baes, uncle, & basa, aunt. The slang term of the 1950s & ‘60s, meaning excellent, was actually the rebirth of a slang use of boss in the 1880s.
Etymologists argue over the origins of the term kibosh. Dickens (at the tender age of 24) introduced the term to English readers in 1836 as kye-bosk. Though most etymologists agree that it sounds as though it should have Yiddish roots, the most likely origin appears to be the Gaelic term, cie bash, pronounced ky-bosh. This term refers to the black skullcap worn by judges &/or executioners when pronouncing or performing the death penalty, thus the term, to put the kibosh on.
Unlike boss & kibosh, smart alec (or aleck) has a wonderfully clear origin. Alec Hoag was a con man, misogynist, &/or pimp who – when his wife, Melinda, was “distracting” a client -- would sneak through a specially designed secret panel in the room to pilfer her client’s wallet, watch, & other valuables. Apparently he used some of these valuables to buy off local law enforcement for some time, making a good deal of money & earning the nickname Smart Alec. I find a certain poetic justice in the fact that smart alecs tend to perceive themselves as smart, while the rest of us find them downright offensive. Sadly, Melinda Hoag has disappeared in the annals of history.
Good followers, please leave a comment with your thoughts regarding smart alecs, bosses & kibosh.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, Cracked.com & the OED.
I have neighbor who seems to think his shredded, tattered American flag is a sign of his patriotism. Heavy sigh. At least he's inspired this post. Flag is one of those delicious words etymologists aren’t 100% sure of. The noun form showed up in English in the late 1400s.
Some argue that flag may have come from Old Norse, flaga, a word related to flake, and referring to split stone. We see this meaning in the English word flagstone. The theory is that flagstones are flat & rectangular, a flag is flat & rectangular, voila! Sounds like a bit of a stretch to me.
Another possibility is that flag comes from the Danish flaeg or Dutch flag. Both these words refer to a yellow iris &/or freshwater reed, things that flap about in the breeze, not unlike flags. Hmm.
The most likely connection (in my humble opinion) is to the verb flag, which predates the noun by a full century, & comes from Old Norse, flakka, to flicker, flap, or flutter. In the Old Norse term we can hear the onomatopoeia of fabric in a stiff wind. Etymologists in the flag-comes-from-flakka school of thought argue that the verb for flap or flutter naturally morphed into the noun for the item that flapped or fluttered.
Some other flag tidbits:
The verb to flag changed meaning in the early 1600s, from meaning flap, flicker flutter to meaning to go limp or droop.Perhaps a lack of winds inspired this change?
In the 1800s the verb, to flag collected another meaning, to stop or slow something. This grew out of the use of flags to slow or stop trains. Much later, in the 1980s, this term was applied to drinkers who’d had a bit too much & would no longer be served more booze.
In the 1870s, the term flagship was born, referring to a ship flying the flag of an admiral. Its figurative meaning arrived in the early 1900s.
The Arizona city, Flagstaff, was so named on July 4, 1876, when a very large flag was flown from a very tall tree.
So, does the verb-to-noun argument resonate best for you, or do you side with the flagstoners or iris-reeders? Or do you have something else to say about all this?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, Wordnik & 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.