Due to generations of countless variables, I am a member of a group identified as suburban Americans. Most members of our loosely defined group occasionally look around ourselves & realize we are surrounded by more belongings than we need. The next couple of posts are dedicated to words we use to define our stuff.
The Old French word estoffe referred to quilted material, furniture or provisions. It made its way into English as stuff in the 1300s, meaning quilted material worn under chain mail. In the 1400s stuff also began to mean material for working with in various trades. This meaning broadened by the 1500s to the modern meaning, matter of an unspecified nature. Also in the 1500s, the closely related word stuffing gained two meanings: material for filling cushions, & seasoned mixture used to stuff fowls before cooking.
The literal sense of the Old French word junc referred to rushes or reeds, while the figurative sense meant of little value. English sailors of the 1300s re-spelled the word junke & used it to label both old cable or rope, & worthless stuff. The word maintained its nautical connection in the 1800s & referred to old refuse from boats & ships, which soon broadened to mean old, discarded items of any kind. The term junk mail was born in 1954, junk art showed up in 1966, & 1971 brought us the term junk food. The word junkie, meaning drug addict, came to us in 1923. The Chinese sailing ship type of junk comes from an entirely different root, the Malay word jong (Iarge ship), which made its way to English through Portuguese.
Claptrap is a theater term from the 1730s. Made up of clap & trap, it initially defined any gimmick or trick inserted for the sole purpose of catching applause. By 1819 claptrap morphed into meaning cheap or showy language, which led to its modern meanings, either pretentious, insincere language, or rubbish or unnecessary belongings.
In the 1570s the word knick-knack was born, a reduplication of the word knack, which came to English in the 1300s meaning a deception, trick or device. By the 1700s, knick-knack picked up the meaning toy, and from there it morphed into our modern meaning, a cheap ornament or unnecessary decorative item.
I find it intriguingly honest that the words knick-knack & claptrap both began as some sort of deception, but now refer to the unnecessary things with which we surround ourselves. How many of us deceive ourselves into believing we need these things?
We derived the word tchotchke (or chachkie) from a Yiddish word meaning trinket. It came to English in 1964. As much as I enjoy The Urban Dictionary, I typically don’t cite crowdsourced sources. In this case, though, the Urban Dictionary’s definition of tchotchke is too good to pass up: “…just look around your house or someone else's and whatever you see that a burgler (sic) wouldn't steal is probably Tchotchke.”
Good readers, I’m hoping some etymological tchotchke above inspires you to make a comment.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, The Urban Dictionary, & the OED.
The term reduplication fascinates me. Wouldn’t the term duplication do the job? I love the fact that a redundant-sounding word is used to signify redundancy. According to Merriam Webster, reduplication is an act or instance of doubling or reiterating. Last week’s post covered a few reduplications & this week’s post will cover a few more.
Though etymologists aren’t certain, it’s likely that frou-frou is a reduplication of the rustling sound of a dress. It came to English in 1870 from French. Froufrou’s meaning today is fussy details, though in my corner of the world the word froufrou is used to refer to knick-knacks or frilly decorations.
Which brings us to knick-knack, a varied reduplication of knack, as in, “he’s got a knack for machines.” Knick-knack’s primary meaning is a pretty trick or subterfuge, which came to English in 1618. By 1682, knick-knack had picked up the secondary meaning, a curious or pleasing trifle more ornamental than useful.
A related reduplication is the term chichi or chi-chi, which arrived from France in 1908, carrying two meanings: sophisticated, & pretentious fussiness.
Bye-bye is also a reduplication. It started in 1630 as a sound used to lull a child to sleep. By 1709 its similarity to good-bye rubbed off on its meaning.
Jibber-jabber is a varied reduplication of jabber, & showed up in 1728 meaning to talk gibberish.
Pee-wee is most likely a varied reduplication of wee, meaning little. It came to English in 1848 to describe a small marble, & by 1877 became a bit more generalized, meaning small or tiny children.
Etymologists are pretty sure humdrum is a varied reduplication of hum, the sound one might make upon experiencing tedium, which explains why humdrum means tedious or monotonous. Humdrum entered the language in the 1550s.
Hip hop is a varied reduplication most of us might guess came to English recently. Surprisingly, Hip hop was in use to mean a successive hopping motion as early as the 1670s. To denote the popular music style, hip hop was first used in 1982.
Boogie-woogie is another music-related varied reduplication. Its earliest ancestor appears to have shown up in 1912 as boogie-boo. By 1917 a rent party was referred to as a boogie, & by 1928 that blues style & the term to describe it, boogie-woogie was born.
To finish up our look at reduplication, we’ll consider so so (or so-so), which came to English in 1520, meaning in an indifferent, mediocre, or passable manner or degree. And to make so-so even more so, in 1835 someone unveiled so-soish (I kid you not), meaning somewhat so-so, or rather indifferent. Apparently, so-so wasn’t indecisive enough as it stood, so it needed an indecisive ending.
In this week’s comments, I’d love to see sentences including as many of the bold words above as possible.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik, 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.