disgruntled

We witnessed yet another horrific shooting this week. This time, a “disgruntled former employee,” as many news outlets have been describing him, gunned down two journalists during a live broadcast in Virginia.

Disgruntled. To me, a disgruntled employee is a fast-food worker who spits into a burger after one too many lunch rushes – not a mass shooter.  We reach for motivations and explanations, for words, to make sense of these terrible tragedies. In the US, as has become our woeful norm, a disgruntled person seems to reach for a gun.

Here, let’s reach for the origins of disgruntled.

Disgruntled

Today, we use disgruntled as an adjective, but the word originates from its root verb, disgruntle. The Oxford English Dictionary dates this disgruntle back to 1682 and defines it as “to put into sulky dissatisfaction or ill-humor.” By the middle of 19th century, the word was settling into its contemporary usage, the participial adjective disgruntled.

Etymologically, there are two main parts to disgruntle. First, dis– is a Latin prefix (ultimately an adaptation of the Greek for “two”). Here, it means “exceedingly.” Many have joked that we never describe anyone as gruntled, though the morphologically keen have playfully back-formed it so. This is because this dis- serves to intensify, not negate.

Second, gruntle is a so-called frequentative form of grunt. In English, the suffix -le was once a productive way to show repeated action. So, we have crack and crackle or sniff and sniffleJostle shows frequent joustingswaddle swathing, illustrating some further sounds changes that occur with frequentative verbs. Gruntle, then, is ongoing grunting.

Gruntle was once an active verb: The OED cites it around 1400 and characterizing the little and low grunting of swine. By the end of the 1500s, gruntle more generally signified “to grumble,” which verb appears to have elbowed out gruntle.

So, we’re left with grunt. At root, a grunt is a grunt. It’s probably imitative in origin; the word sounds like what it is. Documented in the 700s and first said of a hog, Old English had grunnettan, itself a frequentative of grunian“to grunt.” Other Indo-European Languages show parallel words for grunt, like Latin’s grunnīre

Hogs aren’t alone in their grunting. Probable cognates to grunt, the grunion and gurnard, not to mention the plain old grunt, are all fish noted for their grumbling when taken out of the water. Grunt is also likely related to the word grudge, which originally  meant “to murmur” or “grumble” complaints.

If only we expressed our disgruntlement, our feelings of being a just  grunt, with just that: grunts, not guns. And until we reach any meaningful action on gun violence and mental healthcare, we all shouldn’t grumble about our state of affairs: We should scream.

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cotton

Last week, Donald Trump’s hot air inspired our look into bombast, where, for all of his bluster and braggadocio, we ultimately discovered the soft padding of cotton. They say all politics is local, but the etymology of cotton is global.

cotton_doodle
“Cotton candy.” Their etymologies have traveled to the Iowa State Fair from afar: Both cotton and candy have Arabic roots. Felt-tip and colored pencil on paper. Doodle by me.

Cotton

Cotton cropped up in Middle English (coton) during the late 14th century, taking the word from the French coton. The Oxford English Dictionary comments that cotton‘s “early use in Europe was for the padding of jerkins* worn under mail, and the stuffing of cushions, mattresses, etc.”

Other Romance languages show parallel forms, but it appears the French picked up the word from the Spanish coton. The Spanish, in turn, threaded the word from Arabic. Yes, you should thank Arabic quṭn (قُطُن) for the 100% cotton in your tighty-whities. But you might want to pack an extra pair, as we may be traveling all the back way to that home of the finest of thread counts, Egypt.

See, some etymologists speculate that the Arabic qutn was borrowed from an Egyptian source. Philologist Eric Partridge directs us to the Egyptian phrase “khet en shen.”

E. A. Wallis Budge's entry for
E. A. Wallis Budge’s entry for khet en shen in his Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary. Budge helped popularized Egyptology, though his scholarship and theories are not considered without problems.

Khet names a “plant,” “tree,” or “shrub,” while en means “of” and shen, “hair,” yielding “hair plant,” hence the cotton plant. Cotton is now sounding an awful lot like another feature of Trump: his combover.

* A jerkin was a tight-fitting sleeveless jacket, often made of leather. An acton was such a padded one worn under armor. The word derives from the Spanish algodón, ultimately deriving from the Arabic al (“the”) and quṭn. (“cotton”). 

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pissants & culprits

When I tell people I blog about etymology, the study of word origins, they often confuse it with entomology, the study of insects. For my latest contribution to Strong Language, this confusion can for once be forgiven: I follow the trail of pissant back to its etymological anthill. It turns out to be a bit stinky there. A little too coarse for you? Well, I class it up with some Chaucer. Just be careful where you place your hands. Head on over to the blog to read the piece, “Piss off, Aesop?” Be sure to check the latest from the blog’s other, very un-pissant writers.

Also, maybe you missed my piece on culprit on the Oxford Dictionaries blog. Oxford University Press has re-published it over at their site. Catch up and stay a while on the site; you’ll find some truly excellent writing there as well.

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bombast

Donald Trump continues to divide poles and conquer polls. His supporters hear his rhetoric as “straight talk” while his opponents hear it as bluster and bombast. Both can agree there is little softness to his style – except, ironically enough, for the origin of the very word bombast.

Cotton_Ink on paper_doodle
“Bombast.” Ink on paper. Doodle by @andrescalo.

Bombast

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites bombast as “high-sounding language on a trivial or commonplace subject” as early as the 1580s. In today’s usage of the word, I would argue that bombastic politicians may not be ranting on necessarily trivial matters, and nor necessarily in a highfalutin way, but their language is nonetheless “inflated” or “turgid,” as the OED additionally defines it. 

Turgid? That might sound a bit bombastic to 2015 ears. Let’s try “puffed out,” which points us to the earlier meaning of bombast. See, at least since the 1560s, bombast was once “the soft down of the cotton-plant.” The word is a variant of bombace, which appears earlier in the 1550s, and which, for one reason or another, got padded with a t at its end. By the 1570s, bombast was “padding or stuffing for clothes” and any “padding” or “stuffing” more generally. We can pad or stuff our language, too, making something petty sound quite grand. Hence, bombast. 

Bombace comes to English from the Old French bombace, in turn from the late Latin bombax. Both terms referred to “cotton.” But Latin’s bombax originated from something yet softer: “silk.” Etymologists think bombax got confused with bombyx (“silk”), taken from the Greek βόμβυξ (bombyx), also “silk” as well as the “silkworm.” This “silk” may direct us to yet more eastern climes, for the Greeks may have borrowed bombyx from a language there; scholars point to words like the Persian pamba as potential sources.

As the OED also notes, another early figurative use for bombast was a “stopping of the ears,” as you can imagine. It seems bombast is one way to deal with all the bombast. Bombax!, as the Ancient Romans may have interjected. Indeed, this delightful homonym was a way to cry, as I think this etymology so evokes, “Strange! Indeed!”

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meteor (re-post)

Somehow, the link to the original post on meteor burned up like, well, a meteor in Earth’s atmosphere. Or should I say it had a meteoric rise — and fall? After some fruitless troubleshooting,  I’ve re-posted in the hopes this link, like a meteorite, makes impact.

This week, we’ve had quite the show. No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump: I’m talking about the Perseid meteor shower. It’s fitting a stargazer can behold so many shooting stars during these annual Perseids, because the origin of meteor is in many ways all about plurals.

OK,
OK, “that which is hung up” in Ancient Greece referred to swords, not shirts. Doodle by me.

Meteor

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first cites meteor in the late 15th-century in a plural form (metheours), naming “a treatise on atmospheric phenomenon.” English owes this usage to the French meteores, in turn from the Latin meteora. These are largely indebted to one treatise in particular: Aristotle’s Meterologica, which was sometimes recorded as Meteora in Latin.

In Meterologica, Aristotle discusses various topics, such as evaporation, earthquakes, weather, and the atmosphere, as well as other geographic and geologic phenomena. Aristotle: philosopher, scientist, weatherman.

Meteorologists, of course, study weather and the atmosphere, not meteors. So how is a shooting star connected to partly cloudy?

In the 16th century, early meteorologists classified meteors into four types, according to the OED:

Atmospheric phenomena were formerly often classed as aerial meteor or airy meteors (winds), aqueous meteor or watery meteors (rain, snow, hail, dew, etc.), luminous meteors (the aurora, rainbow, sun halo, etc…), and igneous meteor or  fiery meteors (lightning, shooting stars, etc.).

Today, of course, we inherited a more narrow understanding of meteor, of course, but the further etymology of the word shows what all the phenomena have in common.

Like its direct Latin descendant meteora, the Ancient Greek μετέωρα (meteora) was a plural noun: “celestial phenomenon.” Literally, though, it means “things lifted up off the ground.” You  know, like rain, rainbows, shooting stars, or the other atmospheric matters happening over our heads? Meteor joins two elements: 1) μετα- (meta), a versatile prefix suffix denoting, among other things, “over” and “beyond,” and 2) a form of the verb ἀείρειν (aeirein)“to raise” or “lift up.”

Meta- survives today not only in technical words like metaphysics and metathesis, but also as a term in its own right, used especially for self-referential cultural production. For example, a TV show about a TV show may be called “very meta.” While it may look quite foreign, ἀείρειν (aeirein) lives on in all of our postmodern hearts: It produced aorta. In Greek, ἀορτή (aorte) literally means “that which is hung.” Hippocrates used the term for bronchial tubes, while Aristotle, adding anatomist to his résumé, applied the term to the main artery to the heart. If you look at the body’s aorta, the name is quite apt.

Artery also derives from aeirein. Perhaps all this body talk makes you queasy? You might want to go out and get some air. Er—that, too, might derive from aeireinBut while you’re out there, don’t forget to look up.

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meteor

This week, we’ve had quite the show. No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump: I’m talking about the Perseid meteor shower. It’s fitting a stargazer can behold so many shooting stars during these annual Perseids, because the origin of meteor is in many ways all about plurals.

OK, "hangers" in Ancient Greece held up swords, not shirts.
OK, “that which is hung up” in Ancient Greece referred to swords, not shirts. Doodle by me.

Meteor

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first cites meteor in the late 15th-century in a plural form (metheours), naming “a treatise on atmospheric phenomenon.” English owes this usage to the French meteores, in turn from the Latin meteora. These are largely indebted to one treatise in particular: Aristotle’s Meterologica, which was sometimes recorded as Meteora in Latin.

In Meterologica, Aristotle discusses various topics, such as evaporation, earthquakes, weather, and the atmosphere, as well as other geographic and geologic phenomena. Aristotle: philosopher, scientist, weatherman.

Meteorologists, of course, study weather and the atmosphere, not meteors. So how is a shooting star connected to partly cloudy?

In the 16th century, early meteorologists classified meteors into four types, according to the OED:

Atmospheric phenomena were formerly often classed as aerial meteor or airy meteors (winds), aqueous meteor or watery meteors (rain, snow, hail, dew, etc.), luminous meteors (the aurora, rainbow, sun halo, etc…), and igneous meteor or  fiery meteors (lightning, shooting stars, etc.).

Today, of course, we inherited a more narrow understanding of meteor, of course, but the further etymology of the word shows what all the phenomena have in common.

Like its direct Latin descendant meteora, the Ancient Greek μετέωρα (meteora) was a plural noun: “celestial phenomenon.” Literally, though, it means “things lifted up off the ground.” You  know, like rain, rainbows, shooting stars, or the other atmospheric matters happening over our heads? Meteor joins two elements: 1) μετα- (meta), a versatile prefix suffix denoting, among other things, “over” and “beyond,” and 2) a form of the verb ἀείρειν (aeirein)“to raise” or “lift up.”

Meta- survives today not only in technical words like metaphysics and metathesis, but also as a term in its own right, used especially for self-referential cultural production. For example, a TV show about a TV show may be called “very meta.” While it may look quite foreign, ἀείρειν (aeirein) lives on in all of our postmodern hearts: It produced aorta. In Greek, ἀορτή (aorte) literally means “that which is hung.” Hippocrates used the term for bronchial tubes, while Aristotle, adding anatomist to his résumé, applied the term to the main artery to the heart. If you look at the body’s aorta, the name is quite apt.

Artery also derives from aeirein. Perhaps all this body talk makes you queasy? You might want to go out and get some air. Er—that, too, might derive from aeireinBut while you’re out there, don’t forget to look up.

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hormone

As I’m sure you know by now, Donald Trump has come under fire for his sexist “blood” remarks he made in reference to Fox News Host Megyn Kelly, who helped moderate last Thursday’s GOP presidential debate. Conservative blogger and radio host Eric Erickson, who has since disinvited Trump from his upcoming RedState Gathering, commented on Trump’s remarks: “I just don’t want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady and his first inclination is to imply it was hormonal. It just was wrong.” An unapologetic Trump has objected to this characterization of hormonal, claiming instead he felt “viciously attacked” by Kelly – ironically enough if we look to the etymology of hormone.

Attack of the anemones? "Sea anemone." Ink, ballpoint, and highlighter on paper. Doodle by @andrescalo.
Attack of the anemones? “Sea anemone.” Ink, ballpoint, and highlighter on paper. Doodle by @andrescalo.

Hormone

Hormones are often described as the body’s chemical messengers sent through the bloodstream to regulate various functions in organs and tissue. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, British physiologist Ernest Henry Starling coined the term hormone for these substances as a result of his research on secretin in 1902. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records Starling’s usage of the word in 1905: “These chemical messengers, however, of ‘hormones,’…as we might call them.”

These hormones are “attacks,” as we might etymologically call them.

Starling formed the word directly on the Greek ὁρμῶν (hormon), a present participle of the verb ὁρμᾶν, (horman), “to set into motion.”  In English, a present participle is the -ing form of a verb: I am etymologizing. So, hormone is “setting into motion.”

The verb ὁρμᾶν (horman) is formed on a noun, ὁρμή (horme). According to Liddell and Scott’s Greek lexicon, the Greek ὁρμή has two main meanings. First, it signifies a “violent movement onwards, assault, attack, onset” – a “vicious attack,” Donald Trump might say. From this sense, it secondarily signified “the first stir or start in [an effort], an impulse.” They note the Latin equivalent (and English borrowing impetus) to gloss both senses.  Physiologically, then, hormones “are named for their stimulating effect,” as philologist Jordan Shipley concisely puts it.

The Ancient Greeks personified – and worshipped – Ὁρμή (Horme) as a goddess of effort, energy, and action. Carl Jung later used horme to refer to unconscious psychological energy driving human behavior. Perhaps Trump should brush up on his Jung.

In the body, a hormone is produced by glands. According to American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (AHD), the Greek ὁρμή was produced by the Proto-Indo-European *or-sma, an extended form of *er-, “to move, to set in motion.” This root was sent down the linguistic bloodstream, so to speak, eventually forming English’s riseraiserear, orient, origin, earnest, and Starling’s own first name, Ernest. The root, the AHD also explains, generated a very important little verb, are. Maybe if Hamlet had conjugated to be he would have been a little less hesitant.

Sexist suffix? 

Starling’s secretin inspired hormone, but some different substances have influenced what the ending of hormone was assimilated into: the chemical suffix -one. In 1832, German polymath Carl Reichenbach extracted oil from tar, naming it Eupion. French chemist Antoine Bussy adopted the word into French, eupione, and “noted the usefulness of the element –one as a productive suffix (likened to the Greek –ωνη female descendant),” the OED explains. Bussy rendered such chemicals as acetone. The suffix has since become productive in English.

A female patronymic or matronymic, to be more concise and less patriarchal, –ωνη (-one) could be suffixed to words to indicate “daughter of,” and is featured in English’s anemone, literally “daughter of the wind.” (The Greek anemos means “wind.”) Originally, the chemical -one designated organic compounds derived from other compounds. In its entry on hormone, the Online Etymology Dictionary notes that, “in chemical use, [-one denotes] a ‘weaker’ derivative”; chemists will refer to certain compounds, say, acids or bases, as “weak,” depending on their properties

Calling a woman hormonal is a sexist attack, but a female patronymic likened to a “weak” derivative? It appears part of the etymology of hormonal may be sexist, too.

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hooch

As others kept their eyes peeled for wildlife, I kept mine peeled for – what else – a good etymology. On the Alaska cruise my wife, some close family, and I recently enjoyed, this effort entailed not staring down binoculars, but bottles. Yes, I’m talking about hooch.

Had to buy the beverage package, didn't I? "Hooch." Ink ballpoint, and orange highlighter on paper. Doodle by @andrescalo.
Had to buy the beverage package, didn’t I? “Hooch.” Ink, ballpoint, and orange highlighter on paper. Doodle by @andrescalo.

Hooch

Among other things, of course, many of Alaska’s historic towns are famous for their old saloons, where grizzly pioneers once guzzled hooch.

This term for alcohol, particularly liquor such as whiskey made cheaply and often illegally, is first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 1897, right in the gullet of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Hooch, the OED explains, is shortened from hoochinoo, taken from Hoochinoo, the name of a small native tribe who distilled it. The tribe dwelled on Admiralty Island right by Juneau. Alaskan hooch had quite the notorious reputation – the OED‘s earliest citation, M.H.E. Hayne’s Pioneer of Klondyke, describes it as “weirdly horrible” – and which reputation was often grossly transferred or contributed to Alaskan natives themselves. Apparently, soldiers, and later gold miners, picked up the term after the Alaska Purchase and it became especially popular during Prohibition.

Hoochinoo itself could be made from berries, flour, or sourdough starter with the aid of yeast and molasses. The name Hoochinoo, however, is made from the Tlingit, Hutsnuwu (Xootsnoowú), “grizzly bear fort.” Tlingit – whose initial Tl– is pronounced much like the final sound in the Nahuatl origin of tomato, tomatl, as we’ve seen – is the language of the selfsame people native to southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

“Grizzly bear fort” is apt, as on Admiralty Island today, brown bears (over 1600) far outnumber natives (over 600). The bears also outnumber the speakers of Tlingit, estimated at around 500. I think I need some hooch.

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debate

Today, in spite of ourselves, all of our eyes will be on Donald Trump in the first Republican debate of the 2016 presidential season. As his personality makes clear, Trump is not one for actual debating. But he is, we might say, quite given to the etymology of debate. Let’s have a quick look at the etymology of this word.

battery
“Battery.” Doodle by me.

Debate

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first cites debate in the Middle English noun form of debat in 1340, signifying “strife,” “contention,” and “quarreling.” By the end of the century, the record shows the word shading towards “contention in argument,” and by the start of the 16th century, “a controversy or discussion,” specifically a formal treatment of a question of public interest (OED).

If you’re a regular reader of the Mashed Radish, you may have already – and correctly – guessed that the word has passed into English from French. Here, the source is the Old French debat, from the verb debatre, “to fight.” Indeed, the earliest verb form of debate in English is “to fight.” The French debat and debatre evolved from the Latin debattere, also meaning “to fight.”

Once again, if you’re a regular reader of the blog, you may have already – and correctly – separated debattere into its components, de- and battere. This de– denotes an action of “completely.” Originally, the prefix indicated “down,” as in “down to the very bottom,” hence “completely.” However, in the historical forms of debate, there is record of the prefix as des-, in which case the source could be dis-, “apart.”

In battere, you might recognize the derivatives of batter (including the culinary sense), battery, and battle. It is also featured in combat (literally, “to fight with each other”); abate (“to beat down”); and rebate (“to beat back”). Abate directly comes from a French verb which also supplies abattoir, a “slaughterhouse.” Battere has earlier forms of battuere and battuāre.

Some propose battere is from the Proto-Indo-European *bhau-, “to strike,” making it cognate to words like beat, buttock, and halibut, as well as the base of refute.  

Duracell and Energizer batteries will certainly debate that their batteries last the longest. Yes, these batteries are indeed related to debate. Battery first named the action of beating, which was transferred to instruments that can do so, such as artillery. Artillery discharges were later likened to the electrical discharges of batteries, apparently, and so the word was applied to the technology themselves. The first attestation, appropriately enough and according to the OED, goes to Benjamin Franklin –  a statesman, scientist, and Founding Father, among other items on his impressive résumé, who, I think we can say without debate, is quite unlike the Donald.

battery_scribbles

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