It’s been another busy week for politics in the US, and so today, National Puppy Day, couldn’t come at a better time. So, too, the origin of the word puppy. It’s pretty adorable.
Litmus, as in litmus test, is just one of those words that looks like it’s from Latin. For one, it ends in -us, a signature case ending in the language. For another, many of us first encounter the word in chemistry class, and science, we know, brims with Latin derivatives. So, why don’t we put the word litmus to the etymological litmus test?
My cable bills are a bit high, but switching providers? That’s too much of a hassle. Quit hassling me to get on Snapchat! I’m barely keeping up with Instagram. Hassle, as it turns out, is a perfectly modern word for all the “fuss” of our modern lives.
Back in my heyday, we’ve heard our fathers so often begin some boast of long-lost glory. The heyday of the train, the heyday of radio, the heyday of the flip-phone – each of these remembers some technological golden age of yore. Perhaps you’ve wondered: What is the hey– in heyday? As it turns out, we’re questioning the wrong part of the word.
“Some more coffee?”
“Just a skosh more, please.”
“These brownies are so delicious!”
“I add a skosh of cayenne pepper to the batter.”
Skosh is a fun and informal term for a small amount or a little, but its origins are mighty surprising.
You’re on a train or at a cafe. A juicy bit of conversation catches your ear. You pretend to mind your book or your phone. Secretly, though, you go on eavesdropping. Does our auditory snooping actually have anything to do with the eaves of our houses? In fact, it has everything to do with them, etymologically speaking.
Butter is a bread-and-butter vocabulary word, but it may have spread all the way from ancient Scythia.
Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? When we pester someone, we annoy them with repeated questions or requests. And anyone who’s driven children on a long road trip might reasonably assume pester is related to pest. But au contraire. Etymology can be such a pest.
We can use it when we’re trying to get a stranger’s attention in a friendly way. Hey, pal, though you’d want to know you left your lights on. We can also use when it we’re trying to get a stranger’s attention in a not so friendly way. Excuse me, pal, but I was in line before you. Whether chummy or charged, what’s the origin of pal?
I call dibs on the last slice of pizza! I get dibs on top bunk! When Steve moves on to his new job, I call first dibs on his cubicle! When someone calls or gets dibs on something, they are claiming a right to it before anyone else. But where does this playful expression come from?
Dibs may have originated from a children’s game called dibs, played much like jacks but using sheep knucklebones or pebbles, themselves known dibstones, shortened to dibs. (The pronged shape of modern jacks may even imitate the knobs of the bones.) The Oxford English Dictionary attest this dibs in the early 19th-century, though the game itself is ancient.
As for the dib in dibstones? It may come from a verb dib, “to tap lightly,” related to dab. The “first claim” sense of dibs emerges by the 1920-30s. The term may have been pushed along by another use of dibs, 19th-century slang for “money,” a corruption of division or divide.