Though the USA's "melting pot" narrative is in dispute, the English language's “melting pot” description is pretty darned irrefutable. One of the countless languages that have contributed to English is Sanskrit (from the region we now call northern India). Here is a tiny fraction of Sanskrit’s contributions to English.
The mynah bird got its English name in 1769 through Hindi from a Sanskrit word meaning delightful or joyful.
Some time around 1839 the Sanskrit word loptram, meaning stolen property or booty, made its way through Hindi & Anglo-Indian to become the English word loot.
It’s very likely that the Sanskrit word drona-m, meaning wooden trough, morphed its way through Hindi to become the English word dinghy. Dinghy joined English in 1810.
Our English word bandana appeared in 1752 from bodhnati, a Sanskrit verb meaning to bind. To get to English it passed through Hindi.
It’s likely the Sanskrit word kandha, or piece of cane sugar showed up in English in the late 1200s as candy. On the way to English it traveled through Persian, Arabic & Old French.
The Sanskrit word for twisted or matted hair was juta-s, which showed up in English as jute in 1746 after a trip through Bengali.
The board game Parcheesi came from the Sanskrit number twenty-five, (panca vinsati-s), which moved through Hindi to arrive in English in 1800.
The Sanskrit word sramana-s, meaning Buddhist ascetic, passed through Prakrit, Chinese, Tungus, and German to become the English word shaman. When? The 1690s.
It’s very likely the verb shampoo, which showed up in English in 1762 came from the Sanskrit verb meaning pounds or kneads. To get to English it passed through Hindi & Anglo-Indian. In English, shampoo originally meant to massage, & didn’t mean to wash the hair until 1860. And it wasn’t until 1866 that shampoo became a noun.
Since these source words were spoken a long time ago, I’ve chosen to write of Sanskrit in the past tense even though modern Sanskrit is alive and well in many parts of India.
Please click on comments below if you were surprised by any of these etymologies, or have anything else to say.
Big thanks to friend Aaron Keating, for suggesting this week’s topic, & thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, Etymonline, & Collins Dictionary, & the OED.
English is jam-packed with oddities. Here is a smattering I find entertaining. I hope you will, too.
Unmarried couples of Essex in the 1200s who had lived together for a year and a day without arguing could be awarded a flitch. Flitch showed up in English a few years beforehand & refers to a side of bacon.
In the 1700s the word chrestomathy was born. It referred to a collection of literary passages. It came through French & Latin from a Greek word meaning useful learning.
A Dutch word meaning property made its way into English in 1833 meaning crowd (because?) By 1858 it meant counterfeit money (ahem). That word is boodle, now meaning counterfeit, a bribe, a crowd, or swag. Though we don’t often hear boodle going solo these days, it plays a role in the term kit & caboodle.
A cantle is a part or portion cut from something else. It came to English in the early 1300s through Old French from a Latin word meaning corner.
The word quincunx has been around since the 1640s. Quincunx translates in Latin to five twelfths & initially referred to planet alignment. Later, it picked up a monetary meaning (5/12 of the Roman unit of currency). In time, it was applied to the arrangement of five spades, diamonds, clubs or hearts on a playing card (which would make more sense to me if someone years ago had killed the kings, leaving queens as the highest – or twelfth – card).
And don’t we all stay up at night wondering what to call the assemblage of pews in a church? A pewage, of course. Pewage can also be used to refer to the amount of money it takes to purchase the pews. Though pew came to English in the 1300s through Old French from Latin, no one is certain when pewage was born.
In 1819 the word tabagie was born through French & Spanish from tobacco, a Carribean (most likely Taino) word. A tabagie is a group of people who gather to smoke. One must wonder if a tabagie were to assemble in a pewage whether non-smokers might refer to the whole enchilada as a spewage.
And we’ll finish up thinking of those who choose to shave their chins & wear long sideburns. Such folks are sporting dundrearies. The term appeared in 1867 & comes from Lord Dundreary, the “witless, indolent” protagonist who sported such a look in Tom Taylor’s play, Our American Cousin.
Please click on comments below & let me know how many of these eight words were new to you.
Big thanks to friend Aaron Keating, for suggesting this week’s topic, & thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, Etymonline, & Collins Dictionary.
The word mondegreen was coined by Sylvia Wright in 1954, meaning a series of words that result in the mis-hearing or misinterpretation of song lyrics, popular phrases or poetry. Wright coined the word mondegreen after the imagined Lady Mondegreen, born of a line in Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl o’ Moray” which actually reads Laid him on the green, but can easily be misinterpreted as Lady Mondegreen..
Another example might be mis-hearing Jimi Hendrix’s line from "Purple Haze", Excuse me while I kiss the sky, to be, Accuse me while I kiss the guy.
Below are some mondegreens. Read each one with the intent of discovering the original phrase or lyrics that led to this misunderstanding.
A. I led the pigeons to the flag
B. The ants are my friends, blowing in the wind
C. America, America, God is Chef Boyardee
D. There’s a bathroom on the right
E. The bright blessed day & the dog said goodnight
F. The girl with colitis goes by
G. She’s got a chicken to ride OR she’s got a tic in her eye
H. Rocket Man, burning all the trees off every lawn
Now check the comments section to see how you did & to make any comments you might be inspired to make.
Big thanks to friend Aaron Keating, for suggesting this week’s topic, & thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, About Education, University of Houston, & Merriam-Webster.
Though we spell it meat, in Old English it was spelled mete & meant simply, food. It came from a Proto-Indo-European mad-, meaning moist or wet. This same root turned into an Irish word meaning pig, a German word meaning sausage, two Sanskrit words (a noun meaning fat, & a verb meaning bubbling), plus a Latin adjective meaning drunk.
It wasn’t until 1300 that meat (or mete as it was spelled at the time) moved from meaning food to the more specialized meaning, edible flesh. In the next century or so, vegetables could be referred to in English as grene-mete.
It appears those prudish Victorians coined the euphemisms white meat and dark meat, so that while discussing their meal, diners wouldn’t have to use racy terms like breast, leg or thigh.
Some of meat’s etymological moments include:
meatloaf – (main course of ground meat, breadcrumbs & seasonings) 1876
meat market – (a place one looks for sex partners) 1896
meat – (the essential part) 1910
meat-hooks – (fingers, hands or arms) 1919
meat wagon – (ambulance) 1920
like a blind dog in a meat market – (out of control) 1928
dead meat – (someone with no hope of surviving) 1948
meat grinder – (mill for grinding meat) 1951
Please leave any meaty thoughts in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
A photo by friend & fellow blogger, Kevin Keelan inspired this post. Kevin’s essays, poems, photographs & the occasional rant can be found at KPKWorld – The Last Creative Iconoclast.
The photo inspires a lot of thoughts. The thought tree up which I’ll bark for this post, though is the word garbage.
Garbage entered English in the 1580s meaning waste parts of an animal used for human consumption – a definition that admittedly argues with itself. Somehow over time we’ve lost the related Middle English verb garbelage, meaning to remove waste. When the trash must be taken out, I know many parents of teens who would take great joy in looking their teens in the eye and saying simply, “Garbelage.” Though the roots of garbage are officially unknown. Some etymologists argue it may have come from an Old French word (garbe or jarbe) meaning a bundle of wheat. Other etymologists suggest garbage may have come from Anglo-French and may somehow have been influenced by the word garble.
The word waste is related to the word vast. Waste came to English through Anglo-French from Latin about 1200, meaning desolate regions. About 1400, waste picked up the meaning excess material. Waste paper was born in the 1580s and waste basket in the 1850s.
Litter showed up in the 1300s from Anglo-French, meaning a bed-like vehicle carried on the shoulders. By the early 1400s the word was being applied to mattresses & the straw used to fill them. By the late 1400s the noun litter was applied to the straw in which an animal might give birth, & soon after came to refer to the new offspring of such an animal. By the 1800s, litter also referred to the straw & the waste in it after it had served as animal bedding, & by the 1700s litter grew to mean disorderly debris.
The noun refuse came from Old French meaning a rejected thing. It was born of the verb refuse, as one might reject, disregard or avoid a rejected thing as though it were refuse.
Rubbish also came from Anglo-French, meaning worthless material. It showed up in English in 1400 & is most likely related to the word rubble.
The noun trash came to English in the 1400s, meaning thing(s) of little use. It appears to have come from a Scandinavian source. By 1604 trash’s figurative life was born & folks started using the word to disparage groups of people. The term trashcan showed up in 1914, the verb trash, to destroy or vandalize, appeared in 1970, & the term trash-talk was born in 1989.
If you’d like to see more of Kevin’s work, please spend some time at KPKWorld or read his thoughts about Ireland (& litter). If you’ve got something to say about all this etymological rubbish I’ve just thrown at you, please leave a note in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: KPKWorld, Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster,& 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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