If you're an author & haven't yet discovered the book, How to be a Writer in the E-Age and Keep Your E-Sanity, by Anne R. Allen & Catherine Ryan Hyde, it's time to do so. There's no question the authors are brilliant, informative, & patient.
Given their experience in the publishing world, it's no surprise that Anne & Catherine are informative. Similarly, the etymology of informative holds little surprise. Inform first showed up in English in the early 1300s, coming through French from the Latin informare, which literally meant to shape or form, & figuratively meant to train, instruct or educate.
Both Anne & Catherine have been labeled brilliant by greater folk than me, & I must agree. Their suggestions and observations definitely cast a brilliant light on the breakneck changes going on in the publishing world. Brilliant made its way into the language in the late 1600s, and meant sparkling or shining. It came from Latin, through Italian, through French. Most etymologists agree its roots are in the precious stone beryllium. This word came through Dravidian from Sanskrit. Apparently the first eyeglasses may have been made from beryllium, hinting at the origin of the German, Old French and modern French words for spectacle, brille, bericles, & besicles.
Throughout the book, the authors show patience explaining the techno & personal-care ins & outs necessary to thrive in today’s publishing world. I appreciate this patience, right along with the etymology of the word. Patience, to suffer or endure, came to English from Old French in the early 1200s. Its roots are in the word passion. Many writers would claim writing is all about suffering & enduring, but I’d argue that none of us would suffer writing’s slings & arrows if it weren’t for our passion. Over the years, passion has referred to: suffering, misery, woe, scorn, enduring, enthusiasm or predilection, strong liking, strong emotional desire, & even sexual love.
I hope before you leave my page to take a look at How to be a Writer in the E-Age and Keep Your E-Sanity, you’ll leave a comment about informative, brilliance, or patience (or passion).
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, Ewonago & the OED.
Here's a quote that tickles the fancy of a word nerd. It comes from a 1912 article in The Nation.
“[T]here is an alarmingly wide chasm, I might almost say a vacuum, between the high-brow, who considers reading either as a trade or as a form of intellectual wrestling, and the low-brow, who is merely seeking for gross thrills. It is to be hoped that culture will soon be democratized through some less conventional system of education, giving rise to a new type that might be called the middle-brow, who will consider books as a source of intellectual enjoyment.”
The quote sparked not only a good laugh, but an interest in the origins of the word brow. It seems the Old English braew initially meant blinker or twinkle, and was used to refer to the eyelid or eyelashes. Its early relatives can be found in brus (proto-Germanic), bhrus (Sanskrit), ophris (Greek), bruvis(Lithuanian), & the Old Irish word bru.
To refer to what today is called the eyebrow, the Anglo-Saxons combined bru with a prefix meaning over, to create the term ofer-bru, but somewhere in the 1200s the prefix evaporated and the prefixless bru or brouw came to mean eyebrow. It wasn’t until the 1500s that the word brow came to be used to refer to the forehead (&/or the superciliary arch).
The term browbeat showed up in the late 1500s, though it appears that 16th century browbeating had more to do with frowning, or lowering one’s brows than with any sort of attack.
The terms low-brow & high-brow didn’t come about until 1902, a mere decade before the coinage of that beautiful term labeling those of us who consider books “a source of intellectual enjoyment,” middle-brow.
So, fellow book-lovers, will any of you join me in proudly wearing the label, middle-brow? Please let me know. We‘ll start a movement!
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, The Nation, & the OED.
I wanted to call this post, “What’s good for the goose is good for the barnacle.” The title was simply too long for the blog’s title format. Such is life.
Any birders out there will know that there is a bird species that goes by the name barnacle goose. What I find linguistically fascinating about the barnacle goose is that its name is redundant. The word barnacle first appeared in English in the early 1200s, meaning a species of wild goose. It wasn’t until the 1580s that barnacle applied to a type of shellfish. Though nobody’s certain, many etymologists believe this has to do with a combination of two things: 1) the barnacle goose was never seen raising its young by Europeans, as it indulged in this process in the European-free Arctic, thus causing those curious Europeans to come up with unlikely folktales, & 2) the barnacle of the shellfish variety catches its food with feathery, downy tendrils. So obviously, those funny-looking shellfish HAD to be the eggs of the barnacle goose!
While we’re considering our friend, the goose, here are some other goosely language thoughts:
1540s – goose begins to mean a simpleton or foolish person
1845 – the idiom, to cook one’s goose is born
1866 – goose egg comes to mean the number zero
1880s – goose picks up another idiomatic meaning, a jab in the derriere
The term gander appears to have originated with the Lithuanian word, gandras, or stork, which morphed to mean single men (much like “he’s going stag”). It was probably the similar initial sound (& possibly a dearth of storks) that led gander to mean male goose. By 1886 the idiom to take a gander was born, based off the gooselike (or possibly single guy) craning of one’s neck while taking a gander.
So followers, please consider yourself goosed. What have you to say about all these gooseworthy thoughts?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com & the OED.
We have countless authors to thank for coining some of the more colorful words in our language. This week, let’s celebrate a few.
Jonathon Swift brought us the word yahoo with the publication of Gulliver’s Travels in 1726. Yahoo referred to a race of backward, brutish people with hair on the backs of their hands. Yahoo’s subsequent metamorphosis appears to be a bit of a mystery.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan coined the term malaprop in his play, The Rivals (1775). One of his characters was inclined to abuse her metaphors, coming up with such gems as, “He’s the very pineapple of success!” Her name was, of course, Mrs. Malaprop.
Oddly enough, James Joyce brought us the word quark in Finnegan’s Wake back in 1939. Joyce gave it no particular meaning, beyond the possible meaning of cheer, in the line “…three quarks for Muster Mark,” but the sound of the word appealed to physicist & linguist Murray Gell-Mann, who applied quark to fractionally charged subatomic particles in 1964.
Dr. Seuss’s 1950 picture book If I Ran the Zoo brought us the word nerd, an odd creature one might want to put under lock and key. Here’s another word that has grown & changed since its birth. The changes don’t appear to have been tracked carefully. I guess some of us word nerds must have been snoozing.
Good followers, any thoughts about quarks, yahoo, malaprops& nerds?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, Mental Floss, Flavorwire & the OED.
The last post covered idioms featuring the word fish. Now we're on to skin. The English language employs a good number of idioms that include the word skin. Being a bit of a word nerd, I can hardly keep from laughing when simply reading a page in an idioms dictionary. I hope this “page” I’ve compiled spreads a bit of mirth:
-be comfortable in one’s own skin
-by the skin of the teeth
-get under one’s skin
-give one some skin
-jump out of one’s skin
-makes one’s skin crawl
-more than one way to skin a cat
-no skin off one’s nose
-play out of one’s skin
-save one’s skin
-skin & bones
-skin someone alive
-soaked to the skin
-won’t pull the skin off a rice pudding
Okay valiant followers who recognized every last skin idiom in the list, let me know. On the other hand, let me know if one or two caused you to think, “What the heck does that mean?”
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Barron’s Handbook of Commonly Used American Idioms, Idiom Connection, Using English & the OED.
This week it’s time for idioms based around the word fish, a word that takes up nearly three full pages of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Big fish in a small pond is an idiom started in America in the early 1880s. Many people prefer being the big fish in a small pond, although escaping into the larger sea can have its advantages.
Though Chaucer included the term “a fish that is waterless” in Canterbury Tales in the late 1300s, the first time the term a fish out of water appeared in print seems to be three centuries later. You might say it’s the rare bird who enjoys feeling like a fish out of water, though I have appreciated that situation many times – a year in American Samoa as one of the few palagi on the island, a couple of years as the only Anglo in the Cal State Northridge Pan African Studies Gospel Choir, the list goes on…
There is, of course, the possibility that the fish in the water think of the fish out of water as queer fish, a British idiom that appeared in 1919, applied to anyone who might appear odd or eccentric.
Etymologists argue about the origins of fine kettle of fish (& its sibling, pretty kettle of fish). Some etymologists are moderately certain the idiom was born of a Scottish term kettle of fish, which referred to a picnic of sorts, in which the local landholder invited his minions to enjoy a day off work. This event called for the minions to light a fire on the riverbank, suspend a giant kettle over it, catch fresh fish, cook them in the kettle, and serve them to the visiting nobles. No one is certain how the theoretically positive experience could have collected a negative connotation, but I do wonder about those “lucky” minions who were invited to do all the work. Other etymologists suggest a pretty kettle of fish may have originated as a pretty kiddle of fish. Kiddle was a word used to refer to nets thrown across a river to catch the fish. Perhaps when the catch was particularly successful (or pretty), hauling in a bunch of flapping, unhappy fish made a bit of a mess? The jury is out & sparring etymologists continue to duke it out.
In 1660, John Evelyn first penned the idiom bigger fish to fry, which may be the sort of thing that leads a big fish in a small pond to venture into the larger sea, where he may feel like a queer fish, or a fish out of water, or might discover that life out of his little pond is a pretty kettle of fish.
What other fish idioms can you add to the list? Please leave a comment suggesting an idiom or two.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Etymonline. Barron’s Handbook of Commonly Used American Idioms, Literary Exchange, Phrases.org, Wordvia.com, The Hindu.com, Wise Geek, Phrases.org, & Wordnik
As summer leaves us, why not indulge in a bit of etymology & a few celebratory quotes about summer?
Summer comes to English from Sanskrit. It appeared in English in 825, meaning exactly what it does today & spelled sumur. Interestingly, summer is etymologically related to the word gossamer, which came to English in the early 1300s, from a marriage of the words goose & summer, & meant spider threads spun in fields of stubble in late fall. Etymologists theorize that the spider silk looked a bit like goose feathers. Hmm. Within a century, gossamer found its present meaning, of light, flimsy, or delicate.
Here are some authors’ thoughts about summer.
“Summer's lease hath all too short a date.”
”There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart."
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Come with me,' Mom says.
To the library.
Books and summertime
“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.”
-Henry David Thoreau
"Summertime and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high,
Your mama’s rich and your daddy’s good-looking
So hush little baby, don’t you cry"
-DuBose Heyward, music by George Gershwin
So, good followers, what say you about summer?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, Goodreads & the OED.
Back in 897, the English word that applied to any kind of dog was hundas, which soon changed to hund, & later to hound. Hound reined supreme as the overall word for canines, until it was usurped by an unlikely candidate, a word with no known origin, a word which in 1050 referred to a powerful, unspecified, large breed of dog. This mysterious usurper was dog. In a mere three centuries, hound had been relegated to mean only dogs used for hunting, while dog took its place as the generic term for canines. Though the word dog takes up a full three pages in the OED, nobody is sure of its origin.
And wouldn’t you think the Latin synonym would pre-date most of the others? Not so. Canine came to English in the 1500s from Latin, through French, but acted for over three hundred years exclusively as an adjective meaning doglike. It wasn’t until 1869 that canine made its way into the world of English nouns.
Mutt offers more mystery. Though mutt first entered American English in 1901 meaning stupid or foolish person, it gained the meaning of mongrel dog by 1904. Etymologists can’t find a connection between them, but it’s assumed the first meaning may have come from the contemptuous word muttonhead, which made a brief appearance in the early 1800s referring to a dim person. This usage has sadly disappeared, though it’s such a lovely word, I’d be pleased to see it re-appear on the linguistic scene.
Oddly, the English word pooch & the Spanish word perro, are also of unknown origin. Thank heavens for cur & puppy, whose origins are clear. Puppy came to English meaning a woman’s small pet dog. It came from the Middle French word poupée, meaning doll. Though the word cur now clearly eschews the nobility of the dog in question, cur originally was attached to no such prejudice. Cur first arrived in English in the 1300s & is onomatopoeic, mirroring the growl of a dog.
Followers, what have you to say about all these dog-related mysteries? Also, are you with me in my hopes of reviving the word muttonhead?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources Merriam Webster Online, The OED & Etymonline.
For a change of pace, I’d like to celebrate a writer, generally fascinating chap & certifiable mensch.
Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote, “When I was a little boy, they called me a liar, but now that I am grown up, they call me a writer.”
He wrote countless short stories & any number of novels, some arguably memoir. Many of his stories featured holocaust survivors &/or the struggles & joys of the lives of Jews & searchers. Miraculously, Singer spent all those years pondering sadness, disappointment, torture, inequity & cruelty, yet managed to hold onto hope. He won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Literature, two National Book Awards, countless other awards, & the love of many readers.
A smattering of Singer wit & wisdom follows:
“If you keep on saying things are going to be bad, you have a good chance of being a prophet.”
“The waste basket is the writer's best friend.”
“There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is.”
“For those who are willing to make an effort, great miracles and wonderful treasures are in store.”
“Kindness, I've discovered, is everything in life.”
On that last note, followers, please chime in with one kind thing someone has done for you lately.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, The Library of America & Goodreads
I must admit, I find humor in the fact that last week’s post covered demons & devils, & this week’s post moves to politics.
The word Election came to English in the late 1200s, from the French word elecion, meaning choice, election or selection. This term came from the Latin word electionem, whose root meant to choose, or read. I’m inclined to think that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get a truly good read on candidates.
Vote entered English in the mid-1400s, & comes from the Latin word votum, a vow, wish, promise or dedication. Imagine the difference in mindset if we all envisioned each vote as a promise or vow.
The term suffrage, has always intrigued me. Suffrage came to English in the 1300s and meant prayers or pleas on behalf of another. It comes from the Latin word suffragium, which refers to the right to vote or to lend support. Prayers, pleas, & support seem to reflect a different understanding of voting, again, an understanding closer to the idea of a promise or vow. Interestingly, suffrage also suggests the elections of the past weren’t entirely sweet & light, as the word parts that add up to suffragium are sub- & -frangere, which respectively mean under & shouting.
Then there's the word ballot, which comes from the Italian word pallotte, or small ball, due to the Venetian practice of voting by casting a particular colored ball into a bowl or basket. From this we have the term to blackball.
Dear followers, please have something to say about all these election-related words. Here on Wordmonger, you can feel safe, free from shouting & blackballing.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, The OED & The Ottawa Citizen.
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.