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.
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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