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.
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
Mid-embrace, a friend recently said, "I used to not be a hugger. Now I am. " So, in honor of that friend, here are some thoughts on the word hug.
The verb hug first showed up in written English in 1560 – four years before Shakespeare’s birth – as hugge. Etymologists aren’t 100% certain where it came from, but some possibilities include:
Old Norse – hugga – to comfort (from hugr which interestingly meant courage)
German – hegen – to foster or cherish (from a term meaning to enclose with a hedge)
Proto-Germanic – hugjan – to think or consider
Gothic – hugs (adj) – of the mind, soul, or thought
Hug didn’t venture into its identity as a noun until 1610, when it applied to a hold in the sport of wrestling. By 1650, wrestlers shared it with the rest of the English-speaking world & hug came to mean an affectionate embrace.
Translations of the word hug are also somewhat intriguing. The English word embrace is evident in the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, & Romanian words for hug: abrazo, abraccio, abraço & îmbrăţişare. In French the word is étreinte, in Finnish, hali, & in German, umarmung. In Samoan the word is opoopo. In Swedish & Danish, it’s kram.
Here's your chance to spread around some heartfelt umarmungs, opoopos and krams. Mid-hug, focus on comforting, considering, & cherishing. Afterward, keep that consideration in your mind, soul, & thought.
Any comments about hugs, hug's grandmother words or the distant cousins from other languages? Please comment (the comment link is at the top of the post).
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, askdefine.com, the OED, & GB Milner’s Samoan Dictionary, published jointly but the governments of Western & American Samoa, 1966.
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.
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.