In my world as an audiobook narrator, I occasionally find myself researching dialects, -- a rich source of words that are just plain fun.
Throwing an intriguing light on JK Rowling’s enigmatic headmaster, the word dumbledore became a part of the language in 1787, from a dialect spoken in the Cornwall region. It means bumblebee.
A Scottish dialect gave us spree, a frolic or drinking bout, which came to English in 1804 (though drinking bouts had been around for centuries).
A Kentucky dialect gave us splurge. Meaning ostentatious display, it came to English in 1828, possibly from a mashup of the words splash & surge.
From a dialect spoken near Norfolk, dumpling came to be officially a part of English in 1600. It may have come from a German word meaning lump.
In 1738 we gained the word kasbah (or casbah), which came to us through French from a dialect of north African Arabic. The original word meant fortress.
The Cockney dialect gave us ain’t. Well, sort of. In the early 1700s ain’t was considered a proper English contraction for am not. A century later, people started using ain’t to mean are not & is not, causing ain’t to lose favor among grammarians, oozing its way into the category of Cockney slang.
A northern British dialect gave us keister, or buttocks. This meaning arrived in 1914, extrapolated from earlier meanings of keister – safe or strongbox, & burglar’s toolkit.
And the Scots have keisters, too. From a dialect of Scotland we have the word fud, meaning buttocks. It’s a mystery where fud came from, but it is most likely from a Scandinavian source. Fud entered English in 1785.
And though I’d planned on ending with keister & fud, I can’t resist yen, which came from a Beijing dialect. Yen originally meant smoke, then grew to mean intense desire for opium. Today yen means a dreamy desire or hunger. It arrived in English in 1906 after making earlier attempts in the forms of yen-yen & yin.
Any thoughts on keisters, fuds, splurges, dumplings, casbahs, sprees, dumbledores or aunt's?
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Word Detective, Wordnik, Etymonline, & 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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