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?

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

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Not above the law: The origin of “loyalty”

Being loyal isn’t always legalexcept when it comes to etymology. 

In written testimony to the Senate, fired FBI director James Comey described an encounter with President Trump in January that Trump needed and expected “loyalty” from Comey. This word loyalty, though, isn’t just at the center of an incredible legal and political drama: It’s at the heart of an etymological one, too. 

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Blind loyalty is very different from blind justice. (Pixabay)

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Review: Barnhart’s Never-finished Political Dictionary of the 21st Century

As my regular readers know well, I tend to focus on the origins of everyday words that are timely, seasonal, or buzzing in the news. My selections, more often than not, come from politics—and, these days, it seems they’re almost exclusively from or about Trump. Not that I’m alone.

Take Barnhart’s Never-finished Political Dictionary of the 21st Century (Lexik House, 2016), lexicographer David K. Barnhart’s second collection of such political terms and which he kindly sent me a copy for review. Barnhart may be a familiar name to my readers: His brother, Robert Barnhart, created The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, one of my go-to resources. (You wouldn’t want to play Scrabble at their house. Their father, Clarence, was an accomplished lexicographer, too, best known for editing the Thorndike-Barnhart graded dictionaries.)

In his Election-day Edition of his Never-finished Political Dictionary, Barnhart enters over 50 terms based on Trump alone: Trumpanzee (“a supporter of Donald J. Trump”), the Trump effect (“the influence of Donald J. Trump on a political race”), Trumpertantrum (think temper tantrum), Trumpian, Trumpism, Trumpista (“a person who enthusiastically supports the policies of Donald J. Trump”), Trump-tastic (“wonderful in a way that reflects Trumpian splendor”), and the list goes on. Clinton only reaches half that number, and Bernie-related terms don’t even crack a dozen. Politically—and linguistically—we are in the Trump era.

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How the word “climate” has changed

Rooted in a Greek verb meaning “to slope,” climate originally referred to seven latitudinal zones spanning the Earth.  

On Thursday, President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement, a 2015 landmark effort to combat climate change joined by nearly 200 countries—minus Syria, Nicaragua, and, now, the US. Where does the word climate come from it, and how has it changed over the years? 

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Climate is all about “slopes”: temperatures up, Earth down. (Pixabay)

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Channeling the roots of “channel”

The word channel may have a secret back channel to a Semitic or Arabic root. 

When it comes to Russia, Trump just can’t change the channel. The Washington Post reported last Friday that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, talked about setting up a secret back channel of communications with Russia this past December. As Washington adds this latest scandal to its Trump-Russia investigations, let’s channel the etymology of channel.

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The roots, er, reeds, of “channel.” (Pixabay)

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