Today is National Avocado Day. Why don’t you observe it with a little etymology?
Via Spanish, avocado comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) ahuacatl. It means “testicle.” (Try that on some toast.) The Nahuatl language also gives us the words tomato and chocolate, as I discuss in an old post.
Some recent US political events have thrust two interesting idioms in the headlines: waiting for the other shoe to drop and pass the buck. Thinking of a writing post on the expressions, I started doing some research online. Then, much to my pleasure, I remembered I had an entire book dedicated to them: Andrew Thompson’s Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town: The Curious Origins of Everyday Sayings and Fun Phrases (Ulysses Press, 2017). The publisher kindly sent me a copy for review.
Thompson traces waiting for the other shoe to drop backto urban, industrial America:
Wait for the other shop to drop began with the American manufacturing boom in the late 19th century. In large cities like New York, apartment housing became more common. These dwellings were all built with similar designs, with bedrooms typically located above one another. It was common to be awoken late at night by a neighbor removing their shoes in the apartment above. The person below would often wake when the first shoe dropped on the floor and made a loud bang. Already disturbed, the other person would then wait for the inevitable noise of the other shoe hitting the floor.
Woebegone doesn’t mean “Woe, go away!” It means “beset with woe.” The begone comes from an old, obsolete verb, bego, “to go about, surround,” among other senses. So, in Middle English, you might have heard the expression: “Me is wo begon.”
Uncouth originally meant “unknown,” from the Old English cuth (known), past participle of cunnan (to know), source of can. Its sense evolved from “unknown” to “strange” to “clumsy” to “unsophisticated.”
Mooch may ultimately derive from an old Indo-European root meaning “darkness” or “silence.”
The new White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci, drew many people to dictionaries last week for his distinctive surname. Scaramucci is indeed related to scaramouch, “cowardly braggart,” originating as a stock character in Italian comedy and familiar to most of us from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. As I discussed in an earlier post, the Italian scaramuccia gives English skirmish and scrimmage.
As if Scaramucci weren’t already colorful enough, Trump’s new Comms man also goes by the nickname the Mooch. Mooch, here, is taken from the pronunciation of his last name—although the word’s sense of “sponging” or “scrounging” are a bit ironic for a man who spent his career up to this point as a financier. So, where does this mooch come from, anyways?
Parole comes from the French for “word” or “speech.”
After nine years in prison, OJ Simpson was granted parole on Thursday, releasing him early from his 33-year sentence for armed robbery. Parole comes with a strict set of terms, conditions, and supervision, of course, but it’s grounded, essentially, in the prisoner’s word of honor that they will uphold the law upon release. Word of honor—this is precisely where the term parole comes from.
Earlier this year, I was posting short “etymologies of the day” on the blog, a practice that I’ve continued on Twitter. I figured there was no reason to deprive those who primarily follow me on here of these daily nuggets of word history. Click the hashtag, #EtymologyOfTheDay, to catch up on some older content, which I suspect I’ll post on the blog from time to time. Enjoy, and I hope I didn’t ruin your appetite.