One of English’s many underappreciated donor languages is Romani. Sadly (& historically), like their language, the Roma people have been similarly underappreciated.
In 1788 the word pal appeared in English. Pal comes from a Romani word meaning brother or comrade.
The noun cove, a word generally understood to be English slang for fellow, chap or man, arrived in English in the 1560s. Its source? A Romani word meaning that man.
Another colloquial English word for fellow, chap or man is bloke. Though some etymologists argue that bloke may have Celtic origins, many connect it to the Romani word loke, meaning a man.
The phrase “put up your dukes” is likely born of the Romani word dook, a word that refers to a hand read in palmistry.
Since the 1890s the word lush has meant drunkard. This meaning of lush most likely comes from a Romani word having to do with alcohol.
Though those of my era might assume the word nark is a shortening of narcotics, its source is Romani. The verb nark appeared in English in 1859 meaning to act as a police informer, and most likely came from the Romani word meaning nose.
The Romani - or Roma - people arrived in Europe some time around the 1100s from the region around India, and suffered incredible prejudice. Many European nations enacted laws that expelled Romani. In Medieval Denmark, England, & Switzerland Romani were simply put to death. In other parts of Europe, Romani were enslaved, & this slavery continued as late as the 1800s. And during WWII two million Romani perished in Nazi death camps.
Even after all that persecution, some twelve million Romani still walk the earth, living good lives (& give our language great words).
Big thanks to friend Aaron Keating, for suggesting this week’s topic, & thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam-Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, LiveScience, & the OED.
I’ve always been fond of the word muck. What a pleasure to discover that muck has an intriguing etymology.
The noun muck came to English in the mid-1300s, followed within a half century by its verb form. Initially, the noun meant cow dung & vegetable matter spread as fertilizer, which helps explain why the verb initially meant to dig in the ground or to move manure. Apparently all this mucking about made its way through Scandinavia after starting off as a Proto-Germanic word meaning soft.
And most sources suggest that same Proto-Germanic word meaning soft also gave us the word meek, which came to English even earlier (in the 1200s), meaning gentle, courteous, benevolent.
Interesting that a word meaning soft grew to mean both cow dung mixed with vegetable matter & those who will inherit the earth.
Pondering this unlikely association led me to have a look at the etymology of manure, which first arrived in English as a verb meaning to cultivate land or hold property (possibly a synonym for inheriting the earth?). It came through Anglo-French & Old French from the Latin word manuoperare, literally to work with the hands. It’s easy to see how one of the most humble forms of working with one’s hands is/was to spread fertilizer, or work the earth. It wasn’t until 1540 the noun manure was born, meaning exactly what it means today.
And what other words did the root of manure become? How about maneuver? Its humble roots of working with the hands morphed in time through Old French to land in English in 1758 meaning planned movement of troops or warships. All this suggests there is at least etymological truth in those epithets thrown by military grunts on the ground regarding the instructions given them from above.
Which brings us to humus, a word meaning earth or soil. Humus showed up in English in the late 1700s after a trip through Latin from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning earth. Another branch of that same word meaning earth made its humble way into Latin to become the word humility, which seems to bring us back to meekness.
Good readers, I hope you’ll have a comment on these humble, meek, manure-ish words & their histories.
Big thanks to friend Aaron Keating, for suggesting this week’s topic, & thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam-Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.
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.
Somehow I ended up with an intriguing multi-volume dictionary, each slim volume detailing words associated with one of the seven deadly sins. This 2011 series is called The Deadly Dictionaries. This week’s post features words that appear in the volume titled Pride – a Dictionary for the Vain. May you enjoy the words, but avoid manifesting the meanings.
Foofaraw is an excessive amount of decoration one heaps on oneself. The noun foofaraw was born in America in the 1930s. Etymologists haven’t nailed down its source, but some suggest it may have come from the Spanish word fanfaron, which means braggart.
A person who is contumelious is scornfully arrogant or insolently abusive. The adjective contumelious came to English in the late 1400s through Old French from Latin.
Vain boasting can be called rotomontade, a noun that arrived in English about 1600. The word is based on the character Rodomonte in Arioso’s parody, Orlando Furioso.
Kvel (or kvell) came to English through Yiddish from a Middle High German word meaning to gush or swell. Those who kvel these days boast in an overly proud manner.
One who is fastuous is haughty, arrogant, or ostentatious. Fastuous appeared in English in the 1600s from Latin.
In the 1580s the noun saucebox was born, meaning one who is addicted to making saucy remarks.
And we’ll finish up with some idioms meaning to boast:
-to swing the lamp
-to be puffed up
-to shoot a line
-to draw the long bow
-to toot one’s own horn
-to think no small beer of oneself
-to fly the bunk
-to have cornstarchy airs
I’m hoping you have something to say about all this foofaraw. If so, please leave a note in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, Pride – A Dictionary for the Vain (Adams 2011), & the OED.
This week I discovered something about words that refer to immeasurable amounts. Most are of questionable origin.
The noun heap came to Old English from the West Germanic word haupaz, meaning a great multitude or pile. Its earlier source is not clear. One school of etymologists argues that heap may have come from a Latin word meaning lie down, while another argues it may be related to another Old English word meaning high.
The noun lump came to English in the 1300s as a surname (a shame Mr. Dickens never made use of it). Though etymologists quibble over lump’s origins, no definitive source has been found.
The noun jumble, meaning a confused mixture, showed up in the 1660s. Its source was the verb jumble, which appeared forty years earlier, meaning to move confusedly. Though its origin is uncertain, it seems jumble may have been modeled on the sounds of the words stumble & tumble.
The noun wad originally meant a fibrous mass. Wad appeared in the 1400s. Though nobody’s sure about wad’s origin, it may have come from Medieval Latin (wadda), Dutch (watten), French (ouate), Italian, (ovate) or Medieval English (wadmal).
In the early 1300s bunch came to English, meaning a protuberance on the body. Though some etymologists posit that bunch may have been born through combining the word bump with the word punch, nobody’s really sure about the source of bunch.
Meaning a thick block, chunk came to English in the 1690s. Again, we’re not sure of its source, though it may be a nasalized version of the cut of meat called a chuck.
And finally we reach the noun slew. It showed up in 1839 meaning large number. Unlike its brethren, slew has an identified source. It came through Irish (sluagh) from a Celtic & Balto-Slavic word spelled sloug, meaning help or service.
I’m hoping you have some reaction to this heap, bunch, wad, jumble, chunk, lump, or slew of words. If so, please enter your thoughts in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
Consider the tiny the word pill.
Meaning a small ball or round mass of medicine, the word pill showed up in English about 1400 after a tour through Middle Dutch, Middle Low German & Middle French from its humble beginnings in Latin, where its literal translation was little ball, yet even back then it was primarily used to refer to a small ball of medicine. Looking further back on the language tree, many etymologists believe pilula, that Latin word meaning little ball, came from the word pilus, which meant hair. These same etymologists are pretty sure words for hair and ball were so closely intertwined because of the inglorious hairball, which is apparently not just a modern problem.
Though we’re not entirely sure, it’s believed Latin hairballs may have also been the source of the word pearl, appearing in English in the 1200s after making its way through Vulgar Latin, Medieval Latin & Old French.
In the 1300s, the word pellet appeared after a bit of time in Vulgar Latin & Old French, also likely born of the hairball.
Some possible, yet faux siblings include pillar, pillory, & pile. These all come from another Latin root pila, meaning stone barrier or heap. The name Pilar came from these, as Pilar is a reference to a pillar carved with the image of the Virgin Mary. Another faux sibling of pill is the word pilaf, which comes through Turkish from Persian & refers to a delicious rice dish completely devoid of hairballs.
And for our last grandchild of the inglorious hairball, we come to the verb pillage, which appeared in English in the 1300s, meaning the act of plundering. Pillage came through Old French from Latin & most likely came from the idea of stripping someone of his/her skin or hair, an unseemly act providing another inglorious image. Please accept my apologies.
Anything to say about hairballs? If so, just click on the word “comments” below & enter your comment.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Think Baby Names, 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.