socks & cardinals

Fast Mash

  • Sock, attested as socc as far back as 725, is from the Latin, soccus, meaning “slipper,” which may come from a yet more Ancient Greek word for some type of early footwear
  • Cardinal, as in “fundamental” and numbers, comes from Latin’s cardo (hinge)
  • The adjective form of the noun, cardinalis, gave us the name for the Catholic dignitary, occupying a pivotal position in the church, and whose scarlet robes inspired the name of the bird

First off, take a minute to check out (and follow) Lexicolatry, a fun and informed project run out of Ireland by Eddie, a linguaphile reading the OED and blogging about it, one word at a time. He graciously invited me to guest-post about breakfast, which I adapted from my own. And it’s not just leftovers–it also includes fresh goetta.

Second, I want to thank all my new followers and re-tweeters of late. For the isolation we fear it can cause, social media is also so good at building community. You can’t throw a digital dictionary without hitting a word nerd online.

The leaves may not change much out here in Southern California, but the air is crisp and cool on the coast, and the World Series is on TV. Whoever you are rooting for, I can’t help but root for sock and cardinal. (Permission to groan like you would at a bad call from an ump.)


They get holes, they get stinky, they get mismatched, they get mysteriously gobbled up by the dryer. Some can’t stand to sleep in them (moi), others can’t stand to sleep without them. Socks are fussy, but, as a word, sock is hard to quibble with.

The word is attested as socc (synonym for slebescoh in Old English, or “slip shoe”) as far back as 725, when, according to the OED, it referred to a “light, low-heeled shoe.” It’s from the Latin soccus, which meant “slipper.” Germanic languages variously darned it, including German’s own Socke. Latin’s soccus may derive from Ancient Greek’s sykchos, which the Online Etymology Dictionary glosses as a “kind of footwear from Phrygian or another Asiatic language.”Think modern day Turkey. The word’s older meanings indeed point to sock’s evolution of form, function, and fashion, including the world’s ostensibly oldest known pair, made in Egypt somewhere between 250-420 AD. The divided toe was designed for sandals:

oldest known socks

At least Big Bird, Germans, and Garrison Keillor would have been right at home in them.


Latin had cardo, a multifunctional word which meant “pivot and socket,” “hinge,” “turning point,” “axis,” “pole,” or “boundary,” among other meanings. In its adjective form, cardinalis, a mechanical metaphor was already at work, signifying “principal” or “fundamental”–literally, “on which something hinges or depends,” as the OED puts it. Hence, cardinal virtues, winds, sins, numbers (so-called because, according to Percyvall in 1591, all the rest depend on them). This adjective gave its blessing to its ecclesiastical sense: a principal dignitary in the Catholic Church, next in rank to the pope and among whom the pope is chosen. It is after cardinals’ red vestures the Northern bird species was named by early colonists.  

And why do cardinals wear red? According to the College of Cardinals, the red cap cardinals don, called a biretta, is:

…red as a sign of the dignity of the office of a cardinal, signifying that you are ready to act with fortitude, even to the point of spilling your blood, for the increase of the Christian faith…

I bet many fans of the Redbirds feel the same way right now.

m ∫ r ∫

on shakespeare, surfers, & slang


Forget you, grammar scolds. It’s an utterance like “gnar-gnar”–which I heard my fiancée’s sister pull out of her ever playful idiolect for gnarly (that’s a compliment, Britt)–that makes me love language.

Because, in all its clipped and reduplicative glory, “gnar-gnar” spans an invisible bridge between Shakespeare and surfers.

And because it also gives me occasion to discuss hapax legomena.


In Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, whose colorful cast includes such characters as Elbow, Froth, and Abhorson, Isabella, sister to Claudio, pleads with the austere Angelo to spare her brother from execution:

Could great men thunder

As Jove himself does, Jove would never be quiet,

For every pelting petty officer

Would use his heaven for thunder, nothing but thunder.

Merciful heaven,

Though rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt

Split’st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak

Than the soft myrtle. But man, proud man,

Dressed in a little brief authority,

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,

His glassy essence, like an agry ape

Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven

As makes the angels weep, who, with our spleens,

Would all themselves laugh mortal. (2.2.113-126)

Besides acting as a searing sendup of the abuse of power, the passage (based on the authority of 1623’s First Folio) can claim Shakespeare’s one and only use of “gnarled.” Occurring exactly once in all of Shakespeare’s corpus, gnarled is thus a “hapax legomenon,” from the Greek for, roughly, “something said only once.”

The OED cites gnarled as a variant of knurled,  and, referring to a tree, means “covered with protuberances; distorted, twisted; rugged, knotted.” Knurled is a protuberance, if you will, of knar, a Middle English word for a “knot in wood.” Earlier in the 13th century, a knar was a rock or a stone. According to Weekley:

Early German [variations] and [dialectical] forms with -s- and -r- point to [an ultimate] connection with [Middle High German] ‘knüsen,’ to strike, bang, and [Anglo-Saxon] ‘cnossian,’ to dash against.

Most sources write off the origin as obscure. But this single usage persevered, and took up life in the most unexpected of places: SoCal surfers.


Out here in Laguna Beach, where there is an active surf culture–something endlessly captivating to Midwestern stock like me–gnarly has some real currency, including in my own mouth.

Because, like so much good slang, it is useful.

Among surfers, a gnarly wave is, originally, a dangerous and difficult one to ride. If a surfer rips that wave, it would be some gnarly surfing indeed–superior, excellent, very good. If a surfer is axed by that wave, it could certainly be a gnarly wipeout–gross, disgusting, very bad.

Now, gnarly is mostly used like that catch-all cool. In our efforts to express our experiences, we tend towards exaggeration, but, with frequent use of our “gnarliest” words (cf. amazing, wonderful, fascinating), we weaken their meaning and impact. Ever heard someone who never swears drop an “f-bomb”? Yep, that will silence a room of sailors.

How do we get from a gnarled oak to a gnarly barrel?

Roger Callen–a surfer quoted in the delightful compendium of surfer lingo, Rippin H2O–claims the coinage (I’ve clarified a few parts for readability):

I was the creator of the word gnarly. I was taking metal shop in junior high school at Freemont Junior High School in Anaheim [in] about 1975. There is a tool for turning…on the lathe called a gnarl tool, it makes bumpy surfaces for grips on handles. I [really] liked the pattern it made. I was also surfing with my friends [a lot] from Huntington to San Diego with my friends. I started calling choppy waves gnarly, then all my friends started saying “That was gnarly,” then the word mutated…anyways that’s where the word gnarly comes from.

True to gnarled’s origin, Ripping H20 provides “knarley”as a variant. And contributors to the Riptionary, the “Surf Lingo Lexicon” I also recommend you dive into, offer some fun derivative forms: gnar (crazy); gnarmax (gnarly to the maximum); and gnarmin, the “lamer,” minimum counterpoint to the max, as I take it.

Shakespeare, Surfers, & Slang

Gnarly is a perfect example, I think, of why slang can be at once so successful and so spited. Slang words are load-bearing words. Gnarly can mean “excellent” and “disgusting,” and this doubleness, perhaps contrary to our expectations, makes it useful in everyday discourse. Where context, culture, identity, and relationships are all swirling around. And where ambiguity, novelty, and idiosyncrasies are tolerated, if not encouraged.

But slang’s usefulness can also result in overuse, compelling out-group speakers to see a term as a lack (of education, of variety) or limitation, as opposed to the “social glue” it is, an organic example of the linguistic creativity that bonds different speakers together.

Awesome experiences the same slangy doubleness and detestation. Once meaning “inspiring awe,” we’ve now transformed it into something less awe-inspiring and more quotidian. But, in spite of all the dander it raises on the peevish heads of schoolmarms, we need words like awesome. How else are we going to express approval or excitement so efficiently?

Of course, not all coinages are made equal. Compare Shakespeare’s eyeball to cronut. What will the life of the latter be? Could we have predicted the longevity of eyeball? And not everyone is as prolific and poetic as the bard. But is Callen’s gnarly any less creative than Shakespeare’s gnarled? How would we receive gnarly were it from Shakespeare’s pen? And how did Shakespeare’s audiences hear gnarled, for that matter?

Gnarled questions indeed.

m ∫ r ∫


Fast Mash

  • Hostage comes into English from the French in the 13th century, when it meant handing over a person to another party as a pledge to fulfill an undertaking
  • It might come from Latin’s obses (hostage, pledge, security, guarantee), literally someone “sitting before” an enemy
  • Or it might be from Latin’s hospes, a word can that could be both “host” and “guest,” as well as “stranger” 

In the past few weeks, hostage has been a busy word–or political metaphor, I should say. You may have feelings about it, one way or the other. President Obama has taken a particular liking to it in his rhetoric, but, according to analysis by the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics, Teddy Roosevelt can claim its first documented presidential use in his Second Annual Message to Congress on December 2, 1902:

The isthmian canal will greatly increase the efficiency of our Navy if the Navy is of sufficient size; but if we have an inadequate navy, then the building of the canal would merely be giving a hostage to any power of superior strength.

First off, isthmian? Way to go, Teddy. Speak softly and use obscure adjectives.

Second, giving a hostage? I thought we talk about taking hostages? It looks like we should look into this recent buzzword, hostage.


Historically, hostage held a different meaning–a subtle but important difference. As the OED defines it, a hostage denoted a:

pledge or security given to enemies or allies for the fulfilment of any undertaking by the handing over of one or more persons into their power; the standing, state, or condition of the persons thus handed over.

Let’s pretend you are Ancient Rome and I am the Celts. We are negotiating some kind of treaty after you conquered me. (Enjoy it while you last, Rome.) In drawing up a treaty, you might receive hostages from me to ensure that I do not reinitiate battle, that I hand over control over a territory, or some such. When the terms of the treaty are met, the hostage is released. Note that this was a tactic used among allies, too, though surely with different terms.

Have you ever viewed an apartment where the manager held onto your license until the tour ended? Think of that license as “in hostage.” (This is the best modern analog I could conjure up.) The Online Etymology Dictionary and Wiktionary date the modern sense of hostage–involving the criminal seizure of a person–to the 1970s.

When it comes to its origin, etymologists are negotiating two possible sources. Hostage is first attested in the late 13th century, from the Old French ostage and hostage.

On one account, the French hostage ultimately derives from the Latin obsidatus, or “hostage-ship,” itself from obses, or “hostage, guarantee, pledge, bail.” Obses joins ob– (a versatile prefix, here meaning “before”) and a form of the root sed- (meaning “to sit”). Skeat helpfully glosses obses as “one who remains behind with the enemy.”

On another account, hostage finds its root in Latin’s hospes, a productive little word that could mean “host, entertainer, guest, visitor, friend,” or “stranger.” Here, the sense of hostage rests in the idea of some kind of host receiving, guaranteeing, and lodging the hostage.

Mother of everything from hospital to hotel to a Eucharistic* or parasitic host, Latin’s hospes is, well, a conflicted word. We might even call it a contranym, a word that is its own opposite. As you might have gathered, it can mean both “host” and “guest.” It can mean “friend” and “stranger.” Related to it is hostis, which means “enemy,” but also “stranger,” and gave us words like hostility. At root is the Proto-Indo-European *ghosti-, or “strange.” Ghost is not related but guest is. It’s also at the root of the first element of the Greek xenophobia, with xenos meaning “guest, host,” or “stranger.”

Historical linguists have posited a yet more ancient reconstruction, *hosti-potis or *gʰost(i)potis. This roly-poly of a root literally meant “lord of strangers,” with *potis (or *poti-) as the Proto-Indo-European for “owner, master, husband, host,” or “powerful.” It’s also the father of words like potent and possible Potent–how little you have changed. Now that’s powerful.

Lord of Strangers 

Maybe that’s what we need in these times of shutdown, of “digging in” and “lurching along”–a lord of strangers, a host and hostel to render strange guests as friends.

Lord of strangers–it’s for me hard not to think of Chaucer’s Host. (A hospital was originally an inn, after all.) Or a feasting hall, dizzy with wine, dance, song, and the epic stories that were born before and will yet outlast our memories, told by all of our many Homers.

Whose name in Greek, Homeros, it turns out, is the same as homeroswhich, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, may have meant “blind”–and, well, “hostage,” but in this sense of “going with a companion.”

These days, I think we all could deal with less hostages and more companions.

*I can’t resist this gem I found on the origin of the Catholic Eucharistic host. From Shipley’s Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots:

The ‘host’: bread consecrated at the Eucharist, is from [Latin] ‘hostia’: a victim for sacrifice, from ‘hostis’: stranger. Strange are the turns of human thought.

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breakfast, lunch, & dinner

Fast Mash

  • Appearing in the 15th-century, beakfast joins break and fast, with the latter indeed related to its adjective form
  • Lunch is less clear; lunch is shortened from luncheon, which may be an extension of lunch, possibly from lump (compare bump and bunch); luncheon may have been formed on analogy to words like truncheon
  • In the 16th-century, a lunch was a “thick piece” or “hunk”; Spanish has lonja, meaning “slice”
  • Dinner is from French, dîner, earlier disner, which possibly goes back to Latin disjejunare, meaning to “break one’s fast”; Latin has jejunus, meaning “fasting,” giving English jejune and the anatomical jejunum 

There’s a small piece of my heart that is black and rotten–black and rotten because I am a mere monoglot. I hold a quiet grudge against the United States’ prevailing language-learning paradigm of monolingualism–at least for the dominant culture. Instead, I have to pop into another language like I’m visiting a 24-hour diner, ordering up a plate of huevos rancheros at some ungodly hour. And sure, I know my way around a couple of diners, and I know how diners work as such, but there’s no Norma serving me coffee and pie as soon as I walk into the R & R.

At least, like a diner, a language is always open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Speaking of which–what about those words, breakfastlunch, and dinner?


I’m going to argue that nearly every native English speaker has had this experience. First is the recognition that breakfast is a compound of break and fastSecond is the question issued to a family member or teacher: What is this “fast” one is breaking with a bowl of Cheerios? Third is disappointment with English vowels. The way we say break and fast on their own is nothing like the way they sound in breakfast. Some of us go onto a fourth stage, though later: a fascination with the way that spelling can gives us clues about the stories words have to tell.

The OED first attests breakfast in 1463, around the time when the word booted out Old English’s equally hearty compound, morgenmete, or “morning food.” (Yes, you are looking at a precursor of meat.)

Why did the word enter into English at this time? Perhaps there was a religious influence, with the monastic habit of first eating only after morning mass. This certainly jives with the religious notes of fast, the term ultimately related to its meaning of “firm” or “steadfast,” which also gave rise to its speedier sense.   


Lunch‘s etymology is no quick lunch. It is a shortened form of luncheon, which itself may be an extension of lunch and modeled on words like truncheon and puncheon. (The -eon ending is not a meaningful suffix in its own right.)

Lunch could be from lump, in the way that hump and hunch and bump and bunch are related.

What could be lumpy about lunch? Your sandwich?

At one time, in the late 16th-century, a lunch was a thick slice or piece–a lunch of cheese, ham, or bread. Indeed, around the same time there was the Spanish lonja, which means slice” or “loin.” A hunk of bread or cheese? There is historical evidence for such a lunch, but more so at breakfast time.

Lunch could be influenced by the archaic though still regionally extant nuncheon.  It denoted a “light midday meal” or “slight refreshment” in the 14th-century, joining noon and scench (draught, cup). Johnson defines it “as much food as one’s hand can hold,” thus erroneously rooting it in clutch or clunch, a dialectical word for lump. Seems that meals-on-the-go aren’t so new a phenomenon. This is oddly reassuring. Somehow, though, I don’t think peasants took 15-minutes to shove food in their face while trolling Facebook.


Do you call it supper? Or, in some places in England, Ireland, and New Zealand, tea? Or, if it’s a little early in certain parts of the US, lunch? In my household growing up it was often din-din. Which apparently is attested in 1905. E.M. Forester gets the quotation in the OED. (Check out the Harvard Dialect Survey for the supper-dinner distinction in the US. And enjoy this discussion of the words for mealtimes in English-speaking parts of the world.)

The word dinner illustrates how culture shapes not just what we eat but when. According to Heather Arndt Anderson in Breakfast: A History: “Until relatively recently, lunch was the first meal of the day, but it was called dinner” (p. 5).

Dinner is related to dine, which comes into English in the 13th-century from the Old French dîner, previously disner (eat, have a meal). This is believed to be from the late and vulgar Latin disjejunare, joining dis- (an undoing prefix) and jejunare (to fast). Also the source of French’s déjeuner and English’s archaic disjune . 

Latin has jejunus, meaning “fasting,” “hungry,” and “thin.” English has the now obsolete jejune, signifying the same, though extended to terrestrial and spiritual barrenness or meagerness. Wiktionary traces jejunus farther back, with cognates including Sanskrit’s yájati (he worships, sacrifices) and Ancient Greek’s hágios (sacred, holy). As in, Hagia SophiaNow, jejune is childish, probably because of confusion with juvenis, Latin for “youth,” and French’s subsequent jeune. 

And the jejunum? The second part of the small intestine? The Online Etymology Dictionary explains it best: “So called because it typically is found empty during dissections, perhaps because it would tend to drain in a body laid on its back.”

I think I just lost my lunch. Er, dinner. Er, breakfast.

Supper, often used interchangeably with dinner, particularly in the United States, is from sup, “to eat the evening meal.” The verb is French in origin, super, and is related to soup. Think: bread soaked in broth, which the Online Etymology Dictionary notes was a traditional French laborer’s last meal of the day. Post-classical Latin called this suppa. English has a word for thissop. Supper, sop, soup–all related to sup, a Germanic base (sip, swallow) that may be rooted in the Proto-Indo-European *seue– (to take liquid), with some generous helpings of cognates we will save for leftovers.

Breakfast for Dinner

So, what’s up with the shifting words and times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Class, custom, work, technology. Those kinds of things. You know, culture.

Here’s a taste. If you’re a farmer who wants to make most use of daylight, you’re at your work early and hungry for a big meal in the middle of the day, which would sustain you until your work is done at last light. But consider the impact of the Industrial Revolution–now you’re working long hours in a factory, thus necessitating some kind of lunch in the middle of your shift. You’d probably want some fuel before going in, too, thus making breakfast a smart idea. And electricity would make it possible to eat later in the day, which became fashionable and was emulated by the working classes.

But this is just a small slice–or should I say lunch–of the changing customs of mealtimes. The BBC has done some great work on the subject, if you’re not yet full. And if you really want to dig into it, this food timeline dishes it out.

Who eats what for when gets confusing, so let’s just smash them together. Like  brunch, which originates as English university slang. For this, the OED cites Punch magazine on August 1, 1896:

An excellent portmanteau word…indicating a combined breakfast and lunch. At Oxford, however, two years ago, an important distinction was drawn. The combination meal, when nearer the usual hour, it is ‘brunch,’ and when nearer luncheon, it is ‘blunch.’

I, for one, will pass on that cronut for blunch. But, since hipsters killed brunch, I suppose we might have a need for blunch after all.


Fast Mash

  • Plumb derives from Latin, plumbum, which meant “lead,” possibly from an ancient Iberian language, reflecting the source of lead for Romans and Greeks
  • In construction, a plumb is a string fixed with a weight, often made out of lead, and was used as a reference for vertical lines; thus, out of plumb, among other expressions
  • Nautically, a similar technology measured the depth of water; thus, plumbing the depths 
  •  plumber was originally a worker in lead and later referred to those who work with plumbing pipes, originally made out of lead 
  • Plunge and plummet are related

My mind’s been in the gutter. In the plumbing, more accurately. Well, technically, it’s my friend’s mine that’s gone cloacal. But I guess I started it. Prompted by my recent nautical-metrical streak, he requested plumb, adding: “I shudder to think of the implications that etymology may have for toilet repair professionals.” You asked for it, Shane. It’s actually pretty interesting.


Plumb has many pipes. Today, perhaps we know it best as plumbing the depths, both figuratively and literally. And there’s a good reason we say that. On the sea, a plumb–also called a plummet–comprises a rope with a weight fixed to one end. It, well, plumbs the depths of the water. In fathoms, I suspect.

On land, a plumb–or a plumb line or plumb-bob–similarly comprised some string with a weight. It is a tool used in the building crafts as a vertical reference. Just as a level establishes a horizontal plane, so a plumb establishes the vertical or the perpendicular. The technology, apparently, dates back to ancient Egypt.

Here’s a basic demonstration of how the technology works from Denys Stocks’ Experiments in Egyptian ArchaeologyIt also doubles a good refresher in gravity:

early plumb-bob

If you ever tinkered around in your grandfather’s garage or got stuck in an antique mall with your grandmother, you might recognize the plumb-bob in its more recent, pointed form:

so THAT’s what those thing are, epiphany courtesy of

So, when something’s out of plumbIt’s not exactly vertical. When something’s plumb in the middle? It’s there, downright and square. When a person shows a lot of aplomb, they are assured, steadfast. That comes from the French à plomb, “to the plumb line” or “according to the plummet”: poised, straight, and balanced.

Now, these plumbs were frequently made out of lead, whose Latin word was plumbum. Thus the element’s chemical symbol, Pb. (Speaking of Roman lead, some ancient wines were even made by boiling grapes in lead pots, which added a sweetness to the vintage. Indeed, “sugar of lead” is another name for lead acetate.)

Latin’s plumbum could also refer to “rulers” for drawing vertical lines and the pencils used to draw them. And it could refer to pipes. Yes, plumbing pipes.


Did you catch this in the New York Times last Friday? It was a correction, originally appearing on Friday, September 27 in section A2:

An obituary on Sept. 20 about Hiroshi Yamauchi, the longtime president of Nintendo, included a quotation from a 1988 New York Times article that inaccurately described the Nintendo video game Super Mario Bros. 2. The brothers Mario and Luigi, who appear in this and other Nintendo games, are plumbers, not janitors.

Sorry, Mario.

But why are plumbers called so, anyways?

The Latin plumbum could refer to pipes because the Romans did use the malleable and durable metal in many of its water pipes. (The effects of lead poisoning in ancient Roman, from what I can tell, have been overstated, however.) Many of these pipes are famous for their inscriptions, bearing the names of the manufacturer, owner, and sometimes even the emperor himself, designed to prevent theft:

Governor Agricola’s pipe, courtesy of the Roman Britain Organisation

Originally, then, a plumber was a lead worker and plumbing was leadwork. The OED first attests the word in a compound, plumber house, in 1385, in the form of Plomberhous. Not too much later, a plumber came to signify “a person who fits or repairs the pipes (originally made of lead), fittings, and other apparatus relating to the water supply, sanitation, heating, etc., for a building” (OED).

But just in case you ever thought the OED was too starchy, it does have an entry for “plumber’s butt” and “plumber’s crack” (as well as Britain’s related “builder’s bum”). Yes, somebody had to–or got to, depending on how you want to look at it–define “plumber’s crack” as:

…the top of the buttocks and the cleft between them, as revealed when a person bends over or crouches down, or by low-cut or ill-fitting trousers

And the definitive record of the English language attests “plumber’s butt” in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1990.

Warp Zone

Indeed, plumb enjoys a colorful life: In jazz slang, plumbing once referred to trumpets and trombones. In political jargon, plumbing refers to plugging up government leaks, thanks especially to Watergate, although the metaphor is much older. More jocularly, one’s plumbing can refer to what why we, well, need plumbing. And plumbum oscillans? It’s mock Latin, according to Partridge’s Slangfor “lead-swinging,” US naval officers’ playful term for “malingering” or “blatantly idling.” That’s my kind of slang: nerdy and Latinate.

And we have plunging neckline (attested, 1949) and take the plunge (1835). Or plummeting stock markets. (The sense of “falling rapidly” appears in the 1930s, probably from aviators). These, too, ultimately drain to plumbum.

So, can we plumb Latin’s plumb any deeper?

There is no certain origin for Latin’s plumbum. It might come from an ancient Iberian language; the OED notes that “lead came to the Greeks and Romans from Spain.” Shipley adds that “lead was mined in Spain as early as 2000 B.C.” And it’s probably related to Ancient Greek’s word for “lead,” μόλυβδος, or molybdos. Word-wise, that’s about as deep as this one sinks, far as I can tell.

But the metaphor of the plumb seems nearly as old as the technology itself. The Book of Amos in the Old Testament, which scholars believe was composed some time between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, features some rather dire consequences for being out of plumb with God. According to the “Vision of the Plummet,” Amos relates:

Then the Lord God showed me this: he was standing by a wall, plummet in hand. The Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” And when I answered, “A plummet,” the Lord said:

“See, I will lay the plummet in the midst of my people Israel; I will forgive them no longer. The high places of Isaac shall be laid waste, and the sanctuaries of Israel made desolate; I will attack the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

Um, ancient Israelites, I suppose the least of your worries is about how dense this plumb metaphor actually is.

Anyways, I speak often of etymology as “going down the rabbit hole.” But for those who grew up in the ’80s, perhaps we could swap out Lewis Carroll for Super Mario Bros. Sometimes a good word origin is like a “warp zone,” taking us to different worlds, one improbable pipe at a time.

duh-duh-duh duh-duh, courtesy of

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