How a “bubble” becomes a “bill”

A legislative bill ultimately comes from the Latin bulla, “bubble,” later likened to round “seals” authenticating important documents.  

After drafting it in secrecy, Republican senators released their healthcare bill to repeal Obamacare on Thursday, already being criticized for its steep cuts to Medicaidand tax cuts for the wealthy. As we debate the bill, let’s take a closer look at the origin of this most legislative of words.

henry-seal-big
Seal attached to the Royal Letters Patent of Henry VI, 1442 (King’s College, Cambridge). Wax impressions of seals were attached by cords or parchment to authenticate documents, sometimes literally sealing them like modern envelope glue, King’s College explains.

Continue reading “How a “bubble” becomes a “bill””

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?

1200
You’re a mean one,  Mr. American Health Care Act. (A.V. Club). 

Continue reading “One “mean” etymology”

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.

cloud-8075_1920.jpg
This cloud looks like…a pile of rocks. (Pixabay)

Continue reading “The origin of “cloud” is very down to earth”

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. 

justice-2060093_1920.jpg
Blind loyalty is very different from blind justice. (Pixabay)

Continue reading “Not above the law: The origin of “loyalty””

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? 

cold-front-63037_1920.jpg
Climate is all about “slopes”: temperatures up, Earth down. (Pixabay)

Continue reading “How the word “climate” has changed”

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.

reed-546250_1280.jpg
The roots, er, reeds, of “channel.” (Pixabay)

Continue reading “Channeling the roots of “channel””

Ensnared by “scandal”

Scandal ultimately comes from the Greek for a “spring trap.” 

With smoke continuing to billow from the White House over the Trump-Russia investigation, there’s something else in the air: the word scandal. What’s the etymological fire behind this word?

traps-2325040_1280.jpg
That’s a big scandal. (Pixabay)

Continue reading “Ensnared by “scandal””

Why does news “break”?

The past few weeks have bombarded us with breaking news out of Washington, dishing up scoop after scoop on President Trump’s ongoing scandals. But for as much it can feel like the White House is breaking, why do we call it breaking news?

the-gap-message-2310064_1280.jpg
These days, it can feel the news is broken. (Pixabay)

Continue reading “Why does news “break”?”

‘Ditto,’ ‘skirmish,’ ‘zany’ and other words with surprising Italian roots

The passage of the Republican bill in the House to repeal Obamacare tees up a skirmish in the Senate—oh, allow me to put aside the newsy connections today, as urgent as the issue is. I’m off to Italy for a week or so.

Italian has given English a wealth of words for music (allegro, falsetto, piano, violin), art (chiaroscuro, virtuoso), politics (totalitarianism and fascism begin in Italian), and, of course, food (pasta, pizza, spaghetti, zucchini). Many of these words, especially the likes of chiaroscuro or pizza, we may recognize, linguistically or culturally, as Italian. But there are many other everyday words we owe to Italian that are hiding in plain sight. Here are a few choice ones:

architecture-1837176_1280.jpg
Bad traffic: Blame the Italians? (Pixabay)

Continue reading “‘Ditto,’ ‘skirmish,’ ‘zany’ and other words with surprising Italian roots”