Words of California
In the world of words we tend to think in terms of languages, regions, & dialects. This week we’ll turn those tables & consider words born in a chunk of the map identified with no thought at all to language & dialect: the state of California.
In a case of etymology reflecting the uglier side of history, the abalone got its English name in 1850. The word abalone was stolen from the Spanish (abulon). And the Spanish stole it from the native Costanoan speakers of California who called the shellfish aluan.
In 1855 the word shenanigan became a way of defining wild behavior on the streets of San Francisco. It’s unclear where the word came from, but most linguists seem to lean toward the Spanish word chanada, a word meaning trick or deceit.
In 1856 Californians borrowed the Chinese pidgin word chow-chow, cut it in half and had chow, a new word for food. Interestingly, the pidgin word chow-chow was a reduplication of the Chinese word tsa or cha, meaning mixed.
Speaking of mixed, the word for the mixed drink, martini (born in 1886) may or may not have been born in California. Though some etymologists argue that martini comes from a popular manufacturer of vermouth, Martini & Rossi, others insist the drink was first mixed in Martinez, California, & was named after the town.
The word boysenberry was born in California. Named after its botanist father, Rudolf Boysen, both the word boysenberry & the berry itself (a blackberry/raspberry hybrid) showed up in 1935.
In 1964 the Californian word skateboard appeared. The practice of attaching roller-skate wheels to a piece of wood started in Southern California in 1963. By the summer of 1964 skateboarding was popular all over the country.
If you have anything to say about these pesky Californians messing with our language, please leave a comment.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam Webster, & the OED.
Most of us do it every day, but do we think about the word? Here's a gander at the verb chew.
Not surprisingly, our modern word chew started out meaning to bite, gnaw or chew when it made its way from one of the Germanic languages into Old English, where it was spelled ceowan.
Both chow (1500s) & chaw (1520) are variants of the word chew. It’s also very likely that jaw (1300s), jowl (1570) and cheek (825) were born of that Old English word ceowan.
In other chew-related news, the Proto-Indo-European word mendh- which became the Latin word mandele, meaning to chew, gave birth to mandible, munch, mastic, masticate, mustache, paper maché & mange (a tiny bit of mildly disturbing imagination will help connect those dots).
Ruminate entered English in the 1530s, from Latin, meaning to chew the cud or turn over in the mind.
Champ, which came to English in 1905, meaning to chew noisily, is probably onomatopoeic in origin.
English is rife with chew-inspired idioms, including:
Chew someone out
Chew the fat
Chew something over
Chew something up
Bite off more than one can chew
Chew away at something
Chew one’s cud
Chew one’s tobacco
Mad enough to chew nails (in my neighborhood, we spat nails in lieu of chewing them)
I hope this post has given you something on which to chew. If so, please let me know what you’re thinking in the comment section.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Free Dictionary, Collins Dictionary, Merriam Webster, & Etymonline,
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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