These days we're all doing our best to talk through masks, so this week ;et's consider the myriad words we have for talking.
The word chatter showed up in English in the 1200s, an echoic term referring to the noise of birds. In less than a century, chatter had broadened to refer to gossiping or twittering (how many modern folk might suggest that Twitter is nothing but gossip?). Today, chatter’s definition is incessant talk of trivial subjects.
A lengthy or extravagant speech intended to persuade is called a spiel. It comes from the German word spielen, to play, and showed up in English in the 1870s meaning to play circus music. By the 1890s it began to mean to make a glib speech or pitch.
Since the 1400s English speakers have used the verb blab, which came from a Middle English noun meaning one who cannot control his tongue. Our friends at the OED state “the word was exceedingly common in the 16th and 17th c.; unusual in literature since c 1750.” Today blab means to reveal secret matters or chatter indiscriminately.
The word prattle, which showed up in the 1530s came from the verb prate, which came from a Middle Dutch word meaning to chatter. Today prattle means to babble meaninglessly.
We call a long angry speech, piece of writing, or harangue a screed. This meaning of screed appeared in 1789, but back in the 1300s the word screed meant a fragment or strip of cloth. How a fragment grew to refer to something long & monotonous is a question for minds better than mine.
Any thoughts about chattering, blabbing, prattling, spiels or screeds? Please leave those thoughts in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, Cards by Cathrina & 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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