What’s Etymosheeple, you ask? It’s explained here.
After our last exciting round of Etymosheeple, ending on the word adolescent Rachel6 of Sesquipedalian Dreamer contacted me, noting that she’s always associated the words adolescent & nascent, so nascent will be our next stop this round (thanks, Rachel6).
Nascent arrived in English in 1620 from the Latin word nascentum, meaning immature, arising, or young. Nascentum comes from the Latin word nasci, or to be born.
What other words also come from nasci? A smoking heap of them.
Obvious ones associated with birth include:
natal (late 1300s)
Renaissance (1840s – I would’ve guessed earlier)
Not-so-obvious ones include:
cognate, meaning of common descent. Though the words springing from nasci in this list are broadly related cognates, cognates are typically more closely related (like the French nuit, German nacht & English night).
But wait, there are more...
nee, as in Jacqueline Kennedy, nee Onassis)
innate, as in innate talents
Noel, as in Christmas
native, nation & nature
And my favorite of the bunch, puny, which entered English in the 1570s, meaning inferior in rank, from the Middle French word, puisné, which came from Latin that I’ll simplify as post-nasci, meaning after being born.
Thinking Etymosheepishly, the word puny leads me to wonder about other words meaning small (teeny, tiny, teensy), & whether they owe their –y endings to nasci, (as puny does) or to the more traditional diminutive –y ending we find in puppy orbaby.
And the answer is….maybe. It turns out both teensy (1899) & teeny (1825) are alternative forms of tiny (1400), which appears to have come from the word tine, (as in the tines of a fork), and may have been formed by adding the diminutive-making –y to the word tine, but nobody knows for sure.
Thanks for joining me for this particularly directionless round of Etymosheeple.
This week in the comments section, I’d love to see words with unlikely spellings. Mention one, mention two, mention a dozen…
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik, & Etymonline.
Last week, upon joking with my wife that I was “plying her with wine,” I found myself wondering about that usage of the word ply. What I discovered was far more rich and robust than the inexpensive swill we were sharing for dinner. One might even argue that the word ply has an “intriguing bouquet, a delightful aftertaste & a remarkable finish.”
The Oxford English Dictionary devotes about a half page to the word ply, which initially meant to apply, employ, or work busily at, and entered English in the late 1300s from Middle French. Before that, it spent some time in Latin, & before that it resided in a hazily defined tongue etymologists call “Proto-Indo-European.”
The meaning I was using at the dinner table, to press one to take, appeared first in 1676, but ply also has all these meanings:
-to bend, bow, fold, or double
-to bend in will or disposition
-to adapt or accommodate
-to yield or be pliable
-to bend in reverence
-to bend, twist or writhe forcibly
-to comply or consent
-to cover with something bent or folded
-to draw out by bending or twisting
-to occupy oneself busily
-to use, handle or wield vigorously
-to practice or work at
-to solicit with importunity
-to beat against the wind
-to traverse by rowing or sailing
This modest three-letter word (or word part) plays a role in these words & more:
plywood, pliant, comply, compliance, compliant, apply, appliance, application, multiply, multiplication, reply, complex, plectrum, pliers, & (believe it or not) flax.
This week, please ply me with a question. What word have you heard or used recently that caused you to think, “Hmmm. Where’d that one come from?”
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, the OED, Wordnik & Etymonline.
Don’t you love those words that can mean exactly the opposite of what they mean? They’ve been called many names over the years, though none of those names have really stuck: contranyms, antilogies, eniantodromes, and Janus words. I’m fond of that final one, which refers to the two-faced Roman god of transitions, Janus.
A few of my favorite Janus words:
Fast: either something can hold fast, or it can move fast.
Strike: either I can strike the ball or miss the ball & strike out.
Garnish: either a garnish is something added, like parsley on one’s dinner plate, or something subtracted, as in garnished wages.
Citation: I can receive a citation of merit for some good deed, or a traffic citation for a deed of vehicular repute.
Bill: either one receives a bill for what one owes, or one can be paid in bills when one is owed.
Host: I can be helpful by hosting a website or hosting a party, or I can cross to the dark side and host a disease.
Oversight: I can be in charge of the oversight of employees, or I can ignore my responsibilities & be guilty of oversight.
Swipe: I can do what the society honors and swipe my credit card, or I can do what society abhors & swipe something off the shelf.
Dear followers, what other Janus words would you add to the list?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Fun With Words &Etymonline,
Janus image source
Awesome has not always been cool waves, stunning sunsets & killer concerts. Its root, awe, started out on the dark side.
Awe came from the Proto-Indo-European word agh-es, which grew into the Gothic word agis, fear or anguish, & its German cousin agiso, fright or terror. Awe entered Old English as ege, simply meaning fear. By the 1300s it had become aghe. Three centuries later, the gents who pulled together the King James Bible used awe to mean fear mixed with veneration, & it is those gents we can thank for awesome’s positive makeover.
Kevin Lawver, founder of Day of Awesmoness, tells us “People are awesome every day, but they frequently don't realize it, and their feats of awesomeness are rarely recognized.”
Join in on the fun. Go out into the world & be awesome.
But before you engage in your own brand of awesomnosity, please visit the comment section, & indulge me by explaining one positive action you’ll take this week to increase the general level of awesomeness in the world.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Wordnik,, Etymonline, & Day of Awesomeness
I’ve always had a somewhat twisted fondness for author, poet & critic, Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). Generally, I try to see the silver lining, take the high road, and all that. However, when it comes to searingly mean wit of Dorothy Parker, I throw silver linings & half-full glasses to the winds & revel in her wickedness. Below are some of my favorite Dorothy Parkerisms.
“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”
“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
“Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”
“She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”
“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”
“By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing.
And he vows his passion is,
Lady make note of this --
One of you is lying.”
“That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can't say 'No' in any of them.”
“If all the girls attending [the Yale prom] were laid end to end, I wouldn't be at all surprised.”
“That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.”
She’s the best (or would that be the worst?) I hope you’ll leave a comment or three.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources Women’s History, GoodReads & DorothyParker.com
The Sanskrit word smarati, or remember, is the grandmother of many words. Here are a few.
The word memory came to English in the 1300s, from the French word memoire, which came from the Latin word memoria, all meaning pretty much the same thing. And memoria came about after the Sanskrit word, smarati made its convoluted way across a continent, through Proto-Indo-European, losing its last two syllables, shifting a vowel from a to e, to become smer, then losing its initial consonant to become mer.
It’s pretty easy to see the resemblance between memory, memoir & remember, but smarati also managed to be the impetus for the word mourn, which - through early Germanic languages - meant to remember sorrowfully.
Though not all etymologists agree, it’s very likely smarati is the unlikely root for tirade. It seems tirade, which appeared in English in the early 1800s, from French, initially meant a volley of words, which comes from the Old French, martirer, to endure martyrdom. Isn’t it delicious that putting up with a verbal tirade is etymologically equated with being burned at the stake?
Of course, the word martyr also originated with the Sanskrit smarati, as did the even more unlikely word, retire. It seems reasonable that retire would have something to do with being tired, however, there appears to be no etymological support for that. Instead, retire entered English in the 1530s as a military term, to withdraw to some place for the sake of seclusion, which came from the Old French tirer, which has its roots in that wonderful grandmother of a Sanskrit word, smarati, who, let’s hope – after all that good work – has finally withdrawn somewhere for the sake of seclusion.
Followers – have any of you felt martyred to someone’s tirade? Do any of you take heart that the root of mourn is more fundamentally about remembering than it is about sadness? Any other thoughts about smarati & its offspring?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources Merriam Webster, the OED & Etymonline
How is it that getting socked can be such a bad thing, but getting socks can be pretty great (as long as Aunt Tildy didn’t pick them out).
The verb of the violent nature showed up in English in 1700, meaning to beat or hit. Nobody seems to know its source, but 1700s documents are rife with the word. By 1877 the term sock it to someone had caught on, which appears to be the beginnings of the 1970s phrase, sock it to me.
The socks we wear on our feet entered Old English from Latin through Germanic languages. In Old English a socc was a light slipper. Though medieval royalty wore woven silk socks, it wasn’t until the 1400s when William Lee invented the knitting machine that knitted socks worn inside of shoes became popular for the less-than-royal.
Socks figure highly in any number of idioms & terms:
Bless his/her cotton socks (1800s)
To knock the socks off someone (1845)
To stuff a sock in it / put a sock in it (1919) (though not proven, some believe this idiom came about because there were no volume controls on early Victrolas)
The windsock (1929)
To be socked in (1940s)
To sock money away (1942)
The sock hop (1950)
Also, in 1830 some unrecognized American combined sock with the essence of finality suggested by a doxology, creating the word sockdology, a decisive & final blow. Ironically, the word sockdolagising, from Tom Taylor’s play, Our American Cousin may have been one of the last words heard by Abraham Lincoln. Just as the line was spoken, Booth’s shot rang out. A decisive & final blow indeed.
Dear followers, are there any of these idioms you hadn’t previously heard? Any thoughts about socks, whether Aunt Tildy chose them out or not?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Phrase Finder, The Lonely Sock, Sima Lixia, & Etymonline
Fellow word nerds will understand the following introduction. I apologize to those who can’t possibly imagine using one’s time & effort in such a manner.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve “known” that the wonderful word fastidious had to be closely related to the word tidy.
To my complete astonishment, these two words aren’t even kissing cousins.
Fastidious came into English in the 1500s from the Latin word, fastidiosus, which meant disdainful, squeamish & exacting. This appears to have come from the Latin term, fastu-taidiom,which is constructed of fastus, contempt or arrogance, and taedium, aversion or disgust. By the 1600s, the squeamish part of the word’s meaning took over & the word shifted to mean squeamish, overly nice, & difficult to please when it comes to matters of taste. From there, it morphed to its modern meaning, concerned about matters of cleanliness, accuracy & detail. Who knew?
Tidy, on the other hand, is constructed of tide + y. It entered English in the 1300s, meaning timely, opportune, in-season, or excellent (we see its relatives in the term yuletide). By the 1700s tidy’s meaning had become more focused, meaning neat & in order. By the early 1800s, tidy earned a sibling verb, to titivate, which we modern speakers supplant with terms like tidy up.
Other tidy-like words include natty, which entered English in 1785, meaning neat, smart & tidy, from the Middle English word, net, meaning pure, fine or elegant. Then there’s neatnik, which showed up around 1959, based on the word neat, which came to English in the 1540s, meaning clean or free from dirt. Neat came through French from the Latin word, nitidus, meaning well-favored, elegant, trim, & gleaming.
Are you a neatnik, a tidy person, or possibly fastidious (in its modern sense, of course)? Or are you a complete non-neatnik? And how many of you word nerds out there also mistakenly assumed a relationship between tidy & fastidious? Come on, I’ve ‘fessed up. You can, too.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Wordnik, & Etymonline.
Lois Lowry’s The Giver is a fantastic teen/middle grade read, & has been since it showed up in 1994. In 2013, the final book in The Giver Quartet appeared, titled Son. This fourth book offers an intriguing look into the wonders & challenges of love.
For this week’s post, we’ll take a look at the etymologies of the words Lowry used for her titles in The Giver Quartet books: The Giver, Gathering Blue, The Messenger, & Son.
The word give came to Old English as giefan, to give, bestow, allot, grant, commit, devote or entrust. It has close relatives in Old Frisian, Dutch, German & Gothic, & all those find their roots in the Proto-Indo-European word ghabh-, to take hold, have, or give. That same root spawned the word habit.
The word gathering entered English in the 1100s, as gaderung & meant meeting. It came from the Old English verb, gaedrian, to unite, agree, gather, collect, or store up. It’s related to German, Dutch, Old Frisian & Gothic words with these meanings: unite, husband, spouse, fellow, & join.
Messenger came to English as messager from Old French about 1200, meaning envoy, ambassador or messenger. Linguists call the n that showed up two centuries later parasitic, as it showed up “for no apparent reason except that people liked to say it that way.” Interestingly, the noun message was derived from the verb messager, appearing in the 1300s, meaning communication transferred via a messenger. Messenger is related through its French grandmother & Latin great grandmother to transmit, mission, emissary, & submit.
Had Lowry’s fourth book, Son, been published in Old English, it would have been titled Sunu, meaning – what a surprise – son. Other Germanic language brothers of son include sonr, zoon, sone, sunuz, sohn & sunus. All of these words herald from the Sanskrit verb su, to give birth.
Fellow writers, what can you pull out of these etymologies that you would hope for your own work? Fellow readers, what do you find in these etymologies that you look for in your Next Great Read? Please let us all know in the comments section.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources The OED, Merriam-Webster, & Etymonline.
These days there's a steaming heap of reasons to be pondering the word justice, so here's a justice-related comment to ponder from Dr. King.
“Power at its best is love implementing
the demands of justice,
and justice at its best is power correcting
that stands against love.”
In my humble opinion, a measure of the elegance of that thought is the focus on assessing the best of both attributes, but I digress.
The word justice appeared in English in the 1100s. It came through Old French, from the Latin noun iustitia, meaning, righteousness or equity. Most early English uses of the word applied to a person playing the role of judge, much as we might use the term today to refer to members of the Supreme Court. It wasn’t until the late 1300s that the meaning equity became popular.
The word justice has relations in Old French, Latin & English in the words juste, iustus & just. Some of their shades of meaning include:
righteous in the eyes of God,
Ponder justice a tad, then please leave a thought in the comments section. Comment on the quote, or mention some injustice that needs addressing in this world of ours, or better yet, explain some actions you are involved in which promote justice.
My thanks go out to Sharif Ezzat for the image of Dr. King & to this week’s sources The OED, Write Spirit & 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.