So when did things get funky, cool & groovy?
Cool entered English as col, some time before 1100, referring to temperatures that were neither cold nor warm as well as unperturbed or undemonstrative individuals. By 1728 English speakers began to apply cool to large sums of money, & by 1825 cool also meant calmly audacious. That meaning took another century to ooze into meaning fashionable. By the 1940s, jazz musicians got hold of cool. After a bit of time referring to a particular sort of jazz, cool simply became a general term of approval.
Similarly, groovy started out with a literal meaning. Groovy was used in the mid-1800s to mean pertaining to a groove. Like cool, groovy got into the hands of those 1930s jazz musicians, morphing from in the groove, which referred to a musician playing expertly without grandstanding, to groovy. By the 1940s it began to mean wonderful. Our friends at the OED tell us that some time during the 1980s the word groovy went “out of currency.”
Funky has a more complicated history than either cool or groovy. It may have started in several different manners. Evidence suggests that one usage stems from the French word for smoke, funkiere, which may have entered English as early as the 1620s. It also seems funky may have originated at Oxford University in the 1600s, meaning agitation, perturbation or distress, from the Flemish word fonck. Another possible origin is the Old French word funicle, meaning wild or mad. Whether all three strands somehow braided themselves together, or whether only one is the true origin, funky gained general use in English during the 1700s, meaning depressed. This meaning still exists in the phrase he’s in a funk. And, just to confuse things, more etymological evidence shows a fourth strand of funky showing up in 1784 in reference to stinky cheese, & a fifth strand from Kikongo, a language of Zaire & its environs. This word, lu-fuki referred to bad body odor. By the early 1900s, all this funkiness managed to get itself a more positive flavor, thanks to – you guessed it – jazz musicians, who applied it to music that seemed earthy, strong & deeply felt.
Think of all we owe to jazz musicians.
Has groovy truly died & gone to word heaven, or is it still alive? Will cool & funky live long lives, or are they soon to go “out of currency”? And for what else should we be thanking jazz musicians?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources The OED, English Language & Usage, & Etymonline.
Though nifty, swell & spiffy sound like words from the last century or so, it appears they've been around for a while.
Swell in its noun form came into English in the 1200s. Though it appears to have Germanic roots, no direct line can be found. Swell’s origin is a mystery. Initially, swell meant a morbid swelling. Swell showed up just in time to get lots of use during the Black Death. By the 1600s, swell also referred to a rise in the sea, and by the 1780s it picked up the meaning, an elegant, wealthy person, due to perceived “puffed up, pompous behavior” of the elegant & wealthy. A brief fifty years later the noun slid sideways into the world of adjectives & began to mean fashionably dressed. In the late 1700s, that “puffed up” flavor of swell began applying itself to writing or speaking, & came to mean an inflated style of language. By the time the century turned, swell shifted again to mean good or excellent. In 1930s America it took another sideways slide into the world of interjections, becoming understandable all by itself in a sentence as a “stand alone expression of satisfaction.”
Nifty made its way into English in 1868, with two posited, yet questionable origins. Some etymologists believe nifty came from the theater crowd, but have little evidence to support this. Most etymologists also doubt the origin story offered by Bret Harte when asked about nifty’s appearance in his writing. He claimed nifty was an abbreviation of magnificat. Still, nobody knows.
In 1853 spiffy appeared in English, also with no known origin, though it appeared about the same time as another word with no apparent source, spiff, a well-dressed gentleman. By the 1870s, the term spiffing became popular, meaning excellent. To confuse matters, there’s no apparent relationship to the noun spiff, a term used in the draper’s trade, meaning the percentage owed a salesman who sells outdated or undesirable stock. The same is said of the verb to spiflicate, which means to confound, & may just be a word we need to bring back to popular usage.
Followers, please leave a comment. In this modern age are we suffering from the confusion that anything swelled up is a good thing? On another note, why do you suppose spiffy, swell & nifty all have questionable beginnings? More importantly, are spiffy, swell & nifty still alive & thriving, or do they only spiflicate modern English listeners?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources The OED, English Language & Usage, & Etymonline.
Dog idioms -- the English language is rife with ‘em. Reading any list of idioms simply makes me laugh. I hope this list gives you a giggle.
dog & pony show
shaggy dog story
as sick as a dog
like a dog with a bone
call off the dogs
dog eats dog
every dog has its day
raining cats & dogs
go to see a man about a dog
a dog’s life
let sleeping dogs lie
meaner than a junkyard dog
put on the dog
tail wagging the dog
hair of the dog that bit you
life in the old dog yet
you can’t teach an old dog new tricks
in the dog house
I had a bit of a milquetoast upbringing & had always heard one of the above terms, yet really hadn’t constructed much meaning for it. Then, in my twenties I had a character of a roommate named Mick. He kept me laughing with his Irish accent, colorful terms & his drinking ways. Nearly every Saturday morning I’d get up to see Mick sitting on our lumpy, brown floral sofa, his eyes at halfmast & a beer in his hand. “Hair o’ the dog what bit ya,” he’d say, wincing between swigs.
Followers, please add something in the comments section:
1. What dog idioms did I leave out?
2. Tell your tale about one of the idioms above.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources The OED & Etymonline. The Free Dictionary, Cesar’s Way
We use all sorts of words to describe writing. Here’s a look at some:
The synonyms wordy & verbose both come from the Proto-Indo-European word were- that meant, not surprisingly, word. Were-made its way through Latin (verbum) to become the English word verbose, while another branch of the were- family tree made its way through Germanic languages (Old Saxon, Frisian, Dutch and Old High German) to become word. Wordy. At some point the Scots generously donated that final –y to wordy, as they did to many English words.
A writer who is wordy might be referred to as prolix, which showed up in English in the 1400s, through Old French, originally from Latin, prolixus, where it meant extended, with a literal translation of flow forth or flowing liquid, a metaphor that works just fine for any of us who’ve spent time on the listening end of a prolix speech or lecture.
In the 1580s, concise came to the language from the Latin word concisus, meaning cut off or brief. Concise is constructed of two bits, con- or com-, meaning with, & -cise or -cide, to cut. This means the word concise translates to something like with cutting, & cutting is exactly what we have to do when our language needs to be more concise.
A synonym of concise is succinct. It’s modern meaning, brief or concise showed up in the 1500s, but its initial meaning in English was “having one’s belt fastened tightly,” & that’s exactly what those of us who tend toward wordiness feel when we’re told we need to be more succinct. The word was born of a Middle French word, which came from the Latin succinctus, which originated in a word meaning to gird from below, arguably referring to an early “support garment” – one that likely felt a bit constricting -- which at least offers imaginative evidence that it was our wordier ancestors who moved succinct into its present meaning.
Fellow writers & readers, what do you have to say about verbosity or succinctness? When writing, do you naturally tend toward one or the other? When speaking?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Etymonline. & Wordnik
They say it's not easy to find a good mentor, but my experience suggests otherwise. In my writing life alone, I've run into bunches of superb mentors. They include Alexis O’Neill, Kathi Appelt, Andrew Karre, Kathleen Duey, Anne R. Allen, Nick Thomas, the inimitable Patti Gauch & heaps more.
Mentor is defined as a wise & trusted teacher. These folks certainly fit that bill.
The Greek name, Mentor first appeared in Homer’s Odyssey, Mentor was the name of a friend and advisor who just happened to be the goddess Athena in disguise. There’s nothing like advice from a deity. It’s likely that Homer based his character’s name on the Greek word mentos, which meant intent, purpose, spirit or passion. Mentos traces its roots back to Proto-Indo-European & Sanskrit, & was used to mean one who thinks & one who admonishes.
Thoughtfulness, intent, purpose, spirit, & passion (& admonishment when necessary) still figure highly in the role of a mentor. Even the goddess/god connection fits at times. Writerly friends, jump on any chance you have to work with any of the folks listed above.
Good followers, what qualities do you look for in a mentor? What mentors have helped you along your path & what qualities do you most appreciate in them?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, dictionary.com, & the OED.
At first, the etymology of the word fiction doesn’t seem to hold any surprises. The word showed up in English in the 1300s meaning something invented. It came from the French word ficcion, which meant ruse, invention or dissimulation. Ficcion came from the Latin word fictio, a fashioning or feigning.
Nothing particularly unexpected there.
But wait. The Latin word fictio’s source is the Latin verb, fingere, to devise, form or shape, It comes from a Proto-Indo-European verb meaning to knead, to build, to form;
all the things one might do with dough.
In fact, through a long series of side-by-side mutations, the word fiction and the word dough come from the same root (as do the words lady & paradise).
It’s the rare writer who’s rolling in the dough (that meaning kicked in about 1851), but the literal side of the breadmaking connection offers some intriguing ways to think about writing fiction:
Bread baking involves simple, everyday ingredients, mixed into something new.
Without leavening, it’s not bread.
It needs to be proofed.
It needs a bunch of manhandling.
It has to rest between stages.
It’s best when shared with others.
Dear followers, what connections have I missed?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, take our word, & the OED.
Last week’s post dealt with the etymology of the word lady. But if lady originally referred to the gal who made the bread, when and how did lady get a promotion to become the gal who watched the servant bake the bread while the lady nibbled bonbons?
In terms of written English, I can’t find evidence of lady referring to a woman who was likely to get her hands mussed in such things as dough. In the year 1000, the word was used to mean both a mistress in charge of servants or slaves & a woman who rules over subjects, to whom feudal homage is due. However (as noted in the previous post), lady was constructed of parts that meant one who kneads bread. Interestingly, lord literally translates to he who guards the loaves. These two etymologies together suggest that bread may have metaphorically represented home (being the staff of life & all).
The word lady takes up nearly three pages of the print version of The Oxford English Dictionary, offering eighteen shades of meaning for the noun & two for the verb (to make a lady of, & to render lady-like or feminine). Some notable first sightings of various meanings of lady include:
900 – Lady in reference to the Virgin Mary
1205 – lady recognized as a more courteous term than woman
1206 – lady as a synonym for wife or consort (though “yeah, she’s my old lady,” didn’t kick in until the late 60s)
1489 – lady as the queen in chess
1611 – lady as a kind of butterfly (later to become the painted lady)
1704 – lady as the calcerous structure in the stomach of a lobster (I don’t make this stuff up)
& the list goes on.
Trusty followers, what thoughts have you regarding lady, its checkered history & various permutations?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, OxfordDictionaries.com, The Chicago Tribune & the OED.
Who would imagine the words dough, lady, & paradise would have a common root?
The connection hearkens back some 6000 years to the Proto-Indo-European word dheigh, dough. In a mere sixty centuries, dheigh morphed into the following words in the following ways:
Lady – At some level, the word lady is redundant. It certainly is breadworthy, It was constructed of the Old English term for one who kneads dough, dage, plus the Old English word for loaf, hlaf. A hlafdage was originally one who made loaves of bread. Over time, the pronunciation and spelling morphed to lady.
Paradise – Half this word started as the Greek combining form peri-, meaning around. We modern English speakers know this bit of Greek from the words perimeter, periscope, period, & periphery. The second part of paradise is our old Proto-Indo-European friend, dheigh, which may have started out meaning dough, but in time added the meaning to form or to build. History suggests the word paradise (form or build around) refers to a wall formed around such a garden or treasured place.
A bonus thought – in another branch of this twisted linguistic tree, the term dheigh or dough, also came to be spelled dey & referred to the servant who made the dough. We still see vestiges of dey in the modern name Doubleday, servant of the twin.
Of course, Proto-Indo-European was never written down. It’s a language reconstructed by linguists, “believed to have been spoken well before 4000 B.C. in a region somewhere to the north or south of the Black Sea” (OxfordDictionaries.com). Though hard-working forensic linguists would disagree, the very existence of Proto-Indo-European as a language adds up to well-researched conjecture…
My fellow junior etymologists, what comments do you have regarding bread-making servants, or redundant ladies, or the wall around paradise? Offer up some well-researched (or completely non-researched) conjecture.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, OxfordDictionaries.com, take our word, & the OED.
It occurred to me the other day that based on their word parts, substance & understand could almost be synonyms, or might at least work in concert to tell an interesting story. Doesn’t sub-mean under? Don’t stand & stance mean pretty much the same thing?
The word understand takes up a page and a half in the Oxford English Dictionary with its fourteen shades of meaning. Understand comes from the Old English word, understandan. Stand means exactly what one might expect, to stand, but under - in Old English - meant something other than the under we Modern English speakers know today. Instead, it meant in the midst of. So to understand something is to stand in its midst.
Substance takes about two full pages in the Oxford English Dictionary. Like understand, it has fourteen shades of meaning. Substance comes from the Latin substare, literally, to stand firm. Its primary meaning now is essential nature or essence.
Understand & substance aren’t synonyms at all, but together, they inspire some pondering.
To understand something’s substance, one must stand in the midst of its essence. When we really want to grasp something, isn’t that exactly what we do? Don’t we surround ourselves as much as possible with whatever it is, then stand there, & breathe it all in?
Some of the substance I’m working on understanding this year includes (but isn’t limited to):
-baking a loaf of bread with those nifty, sourdough-ish
holes in it,
-stepping up my guitar-playing skills, &
-improving my methods of novel revision.
Followers, what substance are you throwing yourself into the midst of? What essence has got your attention?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, OxfordDictionaries.com, & the OED.
Like a good teaching friend of mine, I find myself cringing when someone addresses women or a mixed group of people as, guys or dudes. Language changes & grows, & I find its growth fascinating. Still, I cringe. So why not dive into guys & dudes.
This particular change seems to have started on this side of the pond. The American-based Merriam-Webster's entry on guy lists guy's first meaning as man or fellow, & its second as person, while England-based Collins Dictionary waits until the third definition to note that Americans sometimes address a group of people, whether male or female, as guys.
Dude first appeared in print in New York in 1883, meaning a fastidious man & member of “an aesthetic craze” that was popular at the time. By 1921, dude had lost any hint of luster, and was being used in the country in a derogatory fashion to label city slickers ignorant of country ways. Dudes showed up to work the cattle, their faces shaved, hair oiled, in comically exaggerated hats and chaps. By the 1940s, dude was given a positive shine by zoot suiters acknowledging one another’s trendiness. In the 1960s dude became cool on three fronts: the African American scene, the jazz scene, & the surfing scene. Since then, dude has grown from a mere noun to both noun & interjection meaning nearly anything the speaker intends. Part of this recent change is dude's loss of gender specificity. Dude! Look at Travis & Edna run. Those dudes are fast.
Guy hit the printed page much earlier in 1350, meaning guide or leader. It’s related to the English word guide & the Italian name, Guido. Guy established its nautical meaning by 1603, a rope used to guide a load being raised or lowered. Another meaning of guy was inspired by the infamous Guy Fawkes, instigator of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot (a plan to explode not only the King, but the entire Parliament). This meaning referred to the burning effigies of Guy Fawkes paraded through the streets of London once the plot was revealed. Guy reached the New World in 1836, meaning a grotesquely or poorly dressed man, believed to have been born of all those shabbily constructed effigies. It wasn’t until 1898 that guy simply meant a man or fellow. Today, there are those who argue it maintains that meaning, yet modern American usage has removed any sense of gender. Hey guys, check out that shabby, flaming effigy. Dude!
So followers, what are your thoughts on whether guy has maintained its original gender association, or whether dude is mostly complimentary? Or if you’d like to open up a true can of worms, what do you have to say about guys & dudes?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, urbandictionary.com, OxfordDictionaries.com, & 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.