Monday, September 28, 2009

Word Origins You Never Knew

It's pandemonium in bedlam!

Adam’s apple -– a bit of the “forbidden apple” that stuck in Adam’s throat; there’s no mythological explanation why Eve doesn’t also share this “piece of the fruit”.
Bedlam – in 1402, St. Mary of Bethlehem in London became a lockup for the insane; cockneys corrupted Bethlehem into “bedlam”, which came to mean any madhouse or “scene of utter confusion”. Tom and/or Bess O’Bedlam are wandering lunatics.
Berserk – named for an 8th century Norse hero, who wore bearskins (berserk) that he wore into battle, which he supposedly fought with reckless fury; his sons were known as Berserkers, a name later used for a class or warriors, and much later, a science fiction series from the 1960’s. Means “to go into a frenzy or rage.”
Bevinism – a mixed or confused metaphor; from Ernest Bevin, British cabinet minister after the war, who said “If you open Pandora’s Box, you’ll find it full of Trojan horses.” Led to Golwynism after movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn said “an oral contract is not worth the paper its printed on”.
Booze – a Col. E.G. Booze sold whiskey in log cabin shaped bottles; became popular during Tyler’s presidential campaign; has become a name for cheap hard liquor.
Boycott – named for Capt. Charles Boycott, a land agent in Ireland who refused to lower rents after a disastrous harvest and attempted to evict tenants. His servants departed and no one would sell him food; he gave up and returned to England and his name means “to abstain in dealings with, in an effort to coerce or intimidate”.
Chauvinism – for Nicholas Chauvin, soldier of the 1st Rep. of France; famous for patriotism and adoration of Napolean; his name was used in a popular play and became a byword, but for bigotry and prejudice.
Comic / comical (and coma) – from Comus, Roman god of “festive mirth”. The god was often found in a “drunken stupor”, giving us also the word coma.
Criss-cross – short for "Christ on the cross" - when you made "your mark", it wasn't an X, but a criss-cross, or you were "swearing to Christ" that this was your mark.
Curfew – from the French covre-feu, or “cover fire”, the time when lights were to be put out, after ringing of the evening bell. Brought to England after the Norman conquest.
Denim – named because it was imported from de Nimes in France, a manufacturing center before the French Revolution. “Fiddle-de-dee” – from Italian Fedidio, Fe di Dio, “by the faith of God”; has come to mean “nonsense”, a dismissal of what the other person has to say.
Dollar – a coin minted from a rich silver mine near Prague was called a Joachimsthaler, then a Thaler, which became “dollar” in English; means “from the valley”.
Expedite – from Saint Expeditus, advocate of urgent causes; supposedly a Roman soldier martyred in Armenia in the 4th century
Fantasy – Roman god of sleep Somnus (also called Hypnos) had an assistant was called Phantasus, who tricked people into sleep with hallucinatons or fantasies.
Ferris wheel – a giant wheel with passengers built for the Chicago Exposition of 1893 by a “tinkerer” from Galesburg, Illinois named G.W. Gale Ferris.
Frank – now means candor; from the Franks, named for their weapon, frankon or “spear”; originally nobles meant “free men”, hence frank became synonymous with free noblemen.
Gaga – “mentally unbalanced”; from paintings of Paul Gauguin, who some saw as evidence of an unbalanced mind! In French it means “foolish old man”.
Gerrymander – is to unfairly redivide a district to give someone an unfair advantage in an election. From Eldridge Gerry, when governor of Massachusetts redivided the state’s districts; an opponent said “it looked like a salamander”, and anti-Gerry news editor Benjamin Russell said, “make it a Gerrymander!” and the name stuck.
G.I. -– US military soldiers; first called Government Issue Joes, then G.I. Joes, then finally just “G.I.’s”.
Goodbye – originally a contraction of “God be with ye”
Googol (now commonly spelled “Google”) – this was actually invented in 1940 by a 9 yr old nephew of a mathmatics professor (Dr. Kasner) to describe a huge number, 10 to the hundredth power. First thought to have come from sounds, “goo” being a messy substance enjoyed by kids; later thought to have come from the comic character Barney Google.
Gossamer – from the British, goose summer, the time in fall to eat the fatted goose; a.k.a. “Indian summer”. Spider webs during this time are said to “glisten with dew”, so it now applies to thin or translucent material.
Gun – originally for cannon, later small arms. Both gunn and hilda mean “war” in Norwegian; likely from female name Gunnhilda; in 1431, a war inventory list for Windsor Castle lists a “missile thrower named Lady Gunnhilda”.
Hocus-pocus – from the Latin chant “hoc est corpus Domini”, from communion Mass; it now means “nonsense” and is a takeoff on the religious phrase. A playground variation is “hocus pocus dominocus”. From these come hoax (ruse or practical joke) and hokum (fakery), and hokey-pokey (a kid’s song and dance, "that's what it's all about").
Hoodlum – likely a Cockneyed “back-spelling” of Muldoon (“noodlum” became “hoodlum”); this was a common Cockney practice: police became ecilop, then slop.
January – Saturn ruled Italy with Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings, looking both forward and backward. Also led to janitor.
Lush – (as related to drinking) a reference to the drinking club “The City of Lushington”, formed in 1750, for hard drinkers. Also Irish slang for “to eat and drink”.
Mafia – this is a reversal, a capitalized word from a common noun, the Arabic mahyah for “boasting”; came to mean “lawlessness” in Sicilian, later used by the underground terrorist organization, now a worldwide crime cartel.
Maverick – usually means “unbranded animal, particularly a calf”; from Samuel Maverick, a 19th century Texas banker who had to take a herd of cattle as payment, but had no land; he leased an island in the Nuecces River, but in winter or at low water, the unbranded cattle would wander onto neighboring ranchland, causing the remark “there goes another Maverick”.
Money – from Juno Moneta, the Roman goddess Juno when presiding over the Roman temple where coins were minted; Moneta became the name for the coinage, then a synonym for “money”; Moneta’s Temple became mint.
Monkey wrench – type of wrench invented in 1856 by a Yankee named Monk, employed by Bemis and Call in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Nightmare – Mara was a Scandanavian demon that inspired fear, horror, and distress.
Opportune -– Portunus was the Roman god that protected harbors (portus). Ob means “before”, and opportune means “seasonable or timely”. Opportunity is a “time or place favorable for a purpose.”
Pandemonium – in Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, it’s the capital of Hell and site of Satan’s palace; from Greek pan (“all”) and daimon (“demon”). Now means “wild uproar, infernal noise, or wildly lawless or riotous place”.
Panic – is from the God Pan, god of nature and wilderness, also god of pastures and animals; the name means “everywhere”. (a god being ‘everywhere’ sends men into a panic…)
Pell-mell - meaning “reckless confusion or headlong”. Named for Pall Mall, the London center of clubs in the 16th century; the game was similar to croquet, but the players all rushed heedlessly to strike the ball, leading to the expression.
Podunk – the name of a small Algonquin tribe on the Podunk river in Connecticut; now means “small town.”
Posh – originally P.O.S.H., a steamer ticket abbreviation meaning “Port out, starboard home”, for the English passengers on ships to India who wished to be opposite the sun in each direction during the trip
Romance – means “made in the Roman manner”, or romanesque. Rome also gave its name to Romaine lettuce, and the French romier (pilgrim to Rome) led to roam. In slang, Rome means anything large or great.
Sandwich – named for the corrupt 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu (1718-1792); two or more slices of bread enclosing a thin layer of meat or cheese; John consumed these while gambling without having to stop playing; he copied the habit from the Romans.
Silhouette – for Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), Controller General of France, taxed people so heavily he had to resign; his hobby became cutting portrait profiles out of black paper; taken as symbols of his stinginess, they were given his name.
Sophomore / sophisticated – the Sophists (5th cen. B.C.) derived their name from the Greek for “skilled” or “clever”; first to offer systematic education, later disparaged for oversubtle, self-serving reasoning. Sophomore means “wise fool”, and Sophie means “wise woman”.
Sorcerer – Sors was the Greek god of change; French was sorcier, which became sorcerer in English, meaning “magician or wizard”. Sort also came from Sors.
Teddy bear – plush child’s toy in the shape of a bear, named for President Teddy Roosevelt, likely for his penchant for hunting. Said to have been named just after he refused to shoot a baby bear
Tontine – a form of annuity, in which shares from each deceased “member” are added to the groups until the last survivor “inherits them all”; devised by a Neapolitan banker named Lorenzo Tonti.
Ukulele – Hawaiin for “little flea”, the nickname of its inventor, Edward Putvis, a British officer who played the instrument rapidly, like “little fleas dancing” on the strings.
Upside down – a “state of disorder”, formerly “upsedown”, also “topsy-turvy”. From the time of Queen Elizabeth, no one knows the origins.
Valentine – supposedly from Saint Valentine (there are three on record – sometimes ‘your name gets you in’!); legend has it he made secret gifts to the poor (not to ‘fantasy loves’). It’s likely just coincidence that the saint’s day falls in early spring as well as the ‘lover’s festival’.


austin fitness trainers said...

I have one for you - Cunctator one who cunctates. Be careful of the promounciation. It has a historical origin.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jose, Do you remember me? We knew each other in Athens probably around 73 or 74 before you took off for the west coast. Wrote you a letter but it didn't connect. I'm still waiting for that painting you promised! Oh, well, 35 years and 4 kids later, I had the notion to google you, and there you were. In case you wonder why this blog, I'm a linguist teaching at the English Language Institute at George Mason Univ. It seemed most appropriate. If you like word play, you might also like the SpecGram journal in which linguists prove why linguistics doesn't attract a lot of interest as a major. Anyway, it's great to see you're around and doing well. Regards, Virginia Hunter

Jose Sinclair said...

Hi Virginia!
Yep, sure do remember you! I'm back in GA obviously, after 26 yrs on the left coast - I miss the salt on my lips!
great to hear from you, wasn't checking the laptop eMail, I made the change to send these comments to my desktop.
my eMail should be on the sites as well, easy to find!
I know - google, that's funny - I had never done it and when I did it was me 5-6 times then some real estate guy in NJ! too funny - those are the guys that brought the country down, right? Jacking up real estate prices, etc...

Where is George Mason, heard of it, but don't know - near DC?

Great to hear from ya..
check out my new site for photos:

and my film site is getting lots of traffic from the world - well, not huge numbers but people from all over, esp India..

google 'bible metaphysics' and my site (was) coming up 9th - Bible Decoded - out of 1.1m matches!

later - stay in touch!

boozoob said...

this page is... mesmerizing.
(hmmm... wonder where that word came from)

EDUARDO said...

Very good blog! Congratulations!