One “mean” etymology

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? Advertisements

The origin of “hundred” doesn’t exactly equal “100”

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”

Why do we call the end of the world “doomsday”?

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”?

Why is it called an “inauguration”?

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”?

What is the “mail” in “blackmail”?

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 2016 “Etymology of the Year”

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”

Why do we call it the president’s “Cabinet”?

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”?

From grain to gain: the origin of “emolument”

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”