Mean originally meant “in common.” If only that actually described US healthcare. Despite previously praising the House Republican healthcare bill as a “great plan” in a public ceremony in May, Donald Trump told senators this week that the bill was “mean, mean, mean.” Where does this common little word mean come from?
A week out, Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), has only raised more questions than it answers. In the meantime, let’s put the word bureau under an etymological investigation.
Donald Trump is coming up on his first one hundred days in office, a conventional measure of the initial success of a new president going back to FDR. But with a thwarted agenda, palace intrigue, and some self-inflicted wounds, Trump is pushing back against the meaningfulness of this traditional 100-day benchmark. What’s a hundred days, … Continue reading The origin of “hundred” doesn’t exactly equal “100”
The original doom wasn’t only about last judgments. This week, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reset its Doomsday Clock, a long-running warning against humanity’s own self-destruction, to two and half minutes to metaphorical midnight. It hasn’t been this close to midnight since 1953, after the US and Russia both tested H-bombs. Oy. Nuclear weapons, climate change, … Continue reading Why do we call the end of the world “doomsday”?
The etymology of inauguration is one “for the birds.” Today marks the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. This historic moment raises lots of questions. Like Why? Why does the transfer of power take place on January 20? In 1933, Congress ratified the 20th Amendment, which moved up the … Continue reading Why is it called an “inauguration”?
The origin of blackmail has nothing to do with dark letters. This week, a sensational yet unverified dossier leaked that alleges Russia has “compromising personal and financial information” it could use to blackmail President-elect Donald Trump. While we wait to learn more about the allegations, let’s get to the bottom of another matter. Where does … Continue reading What is the “mail” in “blackmail”?
The mouth of Donald Trump excited a tremendous – er, huge – amount of etymological activity on Mashed Radish in 2016. But there’s one that easily trumped them all: the word trump itself, the winner of my first annual “Etymology of the Year.” Trump In early modern English, trump meant “to cheat” or “deceive.” This … Continue reading The 2016 “Etymology of the Year”
With some controversy, President-elect Donald Trump has been assembling his new Cabinet. But new cabinets are for kitchens, right? Why do we call these advisors, who head the executive departments of the US government, a president’s Cabinet? Cabinet members In the 16th century, there were two main meanings of cabinet. The first, and earliest, cabinet … Continue reading Why do we call it the president’s “Cabinet”?
There is growing concern about conflicts of interests between Donald Trump’s businesses and presidency. These conflicts may violate Article 1, Section 9 of the US Constitution, the anti-aristocratic and anti-bribery “Emoluments Clause”: No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, … Continue reading From grain to gain: the origin of “emolument”
There are a lot of words and yet there are no words to describe how so many are feeling after Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton for the presidency on Tuesday night. But one word, for so many reasons, recurs: shock. Shock The word shock originally referred to a military clash. The Oxford English Dictionary first … Continue reading A “shocking” etymology