“Armageddon,” “catastrophe,” and other “apocalyptic” word origins

The end of the world loves ancient Greek and the Bible.

Threats between North Korea and President Trump this week made many of us fear were approaching the brink of a nuclear catastrophe—among other, stronger and more colorful terms like armageddon. Well, not even the prospect of the end of the world can shake the etymological curiosity of this blogger. Why not go out with a little word nerdery and find out where our English’s apocalyptic vocabulary comes from?

Mushroom cloud from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki (Wikimedia Commons)

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From textiles to testimonies: the origin of “panel”

A panel of jurors was originally a piece of paper on which the names of jurors were listed. 

Last night, we learned Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury—which allows prosecutors to subpoena documents and ensures witnesses testify under oath—in his investigation into potential ties between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

In the wake of the news, legal and political experts have been fielding the questions: “What does this panel mean for Mueller’s investigation? What does it mean for Trump?” Word nerds like me, meanwhile, are addressing a different query: “What, exactly, is impanel, and where does the word panel come from?”   

Panel: Before it was wood, it was cloth. (Pixabay)

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How we got “sacked”

Yes, getting sacked does originally involve bags. 

Just ten days into his new role as White House Communications Director, Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci was sacked, as a number of British headlines having been putting his firing while General John Kelly takes over as Trump’s Chief of Staff.

Where does this expression, getting sacked, come from?

You’re fired! (Pixabay)

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It’s time for another Friday etymological news roundup

We had a lot of interesting words in the news this week (some more polite than others). Here’s a news review with—what else?—an etymological twist. 

Anthony Scaramucci spewed quite the obscenities this week…including the word sycophant? (Pixabay)

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The sneaky, slinking roots of “mooch”

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?

Under the cover of…mooch? (Pixabay)

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Laughingstock, gaping-stocking, scoffing-stock, and other -stock compounds

“I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point,” Walter Shaub told the New York Times after he resigned as the head of the Office of Government Ethics earlier this month. Shaub felt the Trump administration’s conflicts of interest, inter alia, are severely undermining his office’s credibility and efficacy, and compelled him to seek toothier watchdog work elsewhere.

It’s powerful choice of words, but what, exactly, is the stock in laughingstock?

A cracking-stock? (Pixabay)

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Digging up “dirt”

Donald Trump Jr. stepped in some, er, dirt this week when the New York Times revealed he knowingly met with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s effort to help Trump.

Where does the word dirt come from, and when did it start referring to “compromising information”? As it turns out, we really don’t want to get our hands dirty with etymological dirt.

Etymologically, dog dirt is no euphemism. (Pixabay)

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Your Friday etymological news roundup

Today, rather than zoom in on the origin of any one noteworthy word, let’s round up the etymologies of some of the top words buzzing in this week’s news:

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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?

You’re a mean one,  Mr. American Health Care Act. (A.V. Club). 

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The origin of “cloud” is very down to earth

Last week, fired FBI director James Comey testified that President Trump asked him to “lift the cloud” cast by the ongoing investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. This cloud, though, isn’t blowing over—something also true of the surprising origin of the word cloud.

This cloud looks like…a pile of rocks. (Pixabay)

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