Since 1854 we’ve been able to apply the word vegetable to humans we feel are dull & inactive. However, as both etymologists & vegetarians/vegans might argue, this shade of meaning flies in the face of the original vegetable & its countless cousins.
Vegetable came from the Proto-Indo-European root *weg-, which meant to be strong & lively. This same root gave us heaps of other strong & lively words.
Vigor showed up in 1300 through Old French from *weg-.
Vigil appeared in the 1200s through Anglo-French & Latin, from a word meaning watchfulness.
*Weg- gave us the words watch, awake, & wake through Old English about 1200, meaning a state of vigilant wakefulness.
In the 1500s, waft showed up through Middle Dutch and German, meaning to move through the air (like the breath that keeps us strong & lively).
This watchfulness shade of meaning made its way through French to English in 1802, to give us the word surveillance.
Vigilante came to us in 1856 through Spanish.
In the early 1400s, *weg- made its way through Latin to become velocity, meaning swiftness or speed.
By 1702 we began referring to a band of soldiers who remained watchful, dressed & armed through the night as a bivouac. This word came to English through Swiss-Alsation.
In the 1200s the word wait was born — originally to watch with hostile intent.
Though etymologists haven’t quite nailed it down, the words witch & wiccan may very well have come through Germanic languages from *weg-.
Nothing like a watchful, vigilant, wafting & witchy veggie, eh?
Big thanks to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, & Collins Dictionary.
This week’s post considers three etymologies having to do with writing.
The word magazine originally had nothing to do with words. Magazine came through Middle French & Italian from the Arabic word makhzan, or storehouse. Typically, a makhzan was used by armed forces to store weapons, but the editors of Gentleman’s Magazine, first published in 1731, chose to store words & stories in their magazine. And this new interpretation of the meaning stuck.
Our modern meaning of the word clerk, business assistant, showed up in the 1550s, but it’s the clerk’s ability to read & write that earned the clerk his/her moniker. The original English word clerk meant man ordained in the ministry. It came from Latin through Old French. The shift in meaning reflects the fact that in medieval times only clerics were able to read & write.
The 1907 book, Are You a Bromide, written by Gelette Burgess inspired the modern understanding of the word blurb. On the back of the book a young woman was portrayed, labeled Miss Belinda Blurb. Her speech bubble read, “Yes, this is a blurb.” And Miss Belinda Blurb continues to grace flap copy, graciously promoting books & authors to this day.
Please share any thoughts on blurbs, clerks, magazines in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Jordan Almond’s Dictionary of Word Origins, & the OED.
The wealthy ones
We have some intriguing ways of referring to those in our world who hold more wealth than the rest of us.
Elite came to English in 1823 from French, meaning a choice or select body, the best part. Its French source came from a Latin word meaning choose.
Swank came to the language in 1913, meaning classy or stylish. It appears to have come from the Proto-Germanic word meaning to swing, turn or toss. Linguists suggest that those with means may have been perceived to swagger, an act that might involve a bit of swinging, turning, or tossing.
Nobody knows for certain where posh came from, but it showed up in 1914. Folk etymologies tell the tale of wealthy travelers who insisted on the very best cabins ships sailing from England to India had to offer, creating the acronym posh: port outward, starboard home, as such cabins would keep the travelers out of the sun on both stretches of the voyage. Though it’s a fine & plausible tale, etymologists can find no evidence to support the claim. A more possible source is the now-lost Romany word, posh, which meant half & was used by London street folk in the early 1800s to refer to a half penny. Posh was apparently also used to refer to passersby perceived as dandies. The etymological posh jury is still out.
In 1872 the term well-heeled appeared in America, meaning both having much money & being well-armed. In the mid-1800s in cock-fighting, a well-heeled bird had sharp spurs, allowing it to inflict maximum damage on its unfortunate opponents. Further back, 1817 a well-heeled Brit was one of the lucky folks who owned shoes.
Though it might appear that the Old French word riche, meaning wealthy & sumptuous, is the source of our modern word rich, it was actually the Old English term rice, meaning strong, powerful, of high rank, that gave birth to rich. The Old French word riche influenced how people used the word, but rich really started out as a word of power & strength, not wealth. Intriguing, eh?
So good readers, was any of this surprising, unlikely, or worthy of remark?
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, 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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