Why do we say “second” and not “twoth”?

Thanks in large part to the impassioned activism of the #NeverAgain movement, the news hasn’t moved on from the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, as it has too often in recent massacres in the US. The pressure is staying on gun control, keeping the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in the hot seat.

The Second Amendment is also in this post’s etymological hot seat. I’m not debating its constitutional interpretation, though. I’m debating why we say second and not twoth.   

clock-692416_1920.jpg
The second hand is really the third hand on a clock, which has no first hand. (Pixabay

Continue reading “Why do we say “second” and not “twoth”?”

Advertisements

Metymology? Mashed Radish turns three

Oh yeah: I missed a few important milestones recently.

Mashed Radish turned three earlier this month. Politics inspired quite a few posts – Donald Trump especially – this past year. While politics may divide us, a shared love of words certainly brings us together. Like animals, which also prompted quite a lot of writing. You know, I think this blog could definitely do with more animal posts.

I’ve also reached over 10,000 followers. Wow. Gosh. Thanks, everyone, for your continued – or new – interest, readership, comments, and support.

Speaking of support, I’ve a third milestone comping up which I’ll be sure not to miss: my second wedding anniversary. I really need to thank my wife for all the support she’s given and sacrifices (yes, etymologies have their costs) she’s made for this project.

Now, how’d the first two pass me by? Well, I moved to Dublin, for one. For another, my head’s been absolutely stuffed with Shakespeare, whose complete works I’ve been reading and writing about at Shakespeare Confidential. I’ve also been regularly contributing to Slate’s Lexicon ValleyStrong Language, and Oxford Dictionaries. Etymologies open doors to the past, as I like to say. And, if three years is any measure, to the future as well.

But I can’t sign off without a word origin, can I? So, how about a quick etymology of etymology?

Etymology

We actually have evidence of the word etymology in a Latin form in Old English, though we see it Anglicized around the late 1300s, early 1400s . English gets the word in part from French (ethimologie) and in part directly from Latin (etymologia). Latin, in turn, borrowed the word from the Greek ἐτυμολογία (etymologia). If you’ll allow me to jump over some intermediary derived forms, the Greek ultimately joins ἐτεός (eteos, “true”) and λόγος (logos, “word”). Some think the Greek eteos is related to the Old English soð (“truth”), which, if you’ve been reading your Shakespeare, you might recognize in soothsayer or the mild oath For sooth! 

Historically then, we can understand etymology as the analysis of a word on the basis of its literal, or true, meaning. We should be careful not to commit the etymological fallacy, however, which posits that only the original meaning of a word is its right sense. Wrong. Words change. That’s in part why I love etymology. But we don’t want to be too, too careful, because I think we can glean insights in those ancient meanings still relevant to us today – and because I wouldn’t have a blog with a third anniversary to mark!

m ∫ r ∫

Some language, strong & “light,” on Slate’s Lexicon Valley

I am extremely happy to share that I have two posts up on Slate’s language blog, Lexicon Valley. Be advised: there is some strong language ahead.

One is a repost of a piece I did for Strong Language, “Something from nothing: A zero-fucks game.” As previously mentioned when I linked to it here, this post discusses an interesting innovation I’ve been hearing on an expression, giving zero fucks.

The other is a new piece and something of a change of pace for me. It’s a close reading of of Graham Greene’s “The End of the Party,” which I am certain is the most terrifying short story you haven’t read. Slate has titled it: “Graham Greene’s Vocabulary of Light and Dark Makes This the Most Terrifying Short Story You Haven’t Read.” 

Here’s a teaser:

For a story all about being afraid of the dark, the scariest thing in Graham Greene’s “The End of the Party” may just be his lexicon of light.

Greene may be best known for novels such as The Power and the Glory or his screenplay for The Third Man. Though a short, early, and lesser-known work, his 1929 “The End of the Party” still displays the craft that made him a giant of 20th-century English literature. Here, what is most masterful is the way Greene develops a subtle but eerie language of light to illuminate the enveloping and ineffable terror of his story’s dark. The effect is a chilling chiaroscuro in words.

Head over to Lexicon Valley to read more.

If you’re hungry for some word history while you’re there, Forrest Wickman has a timely post for today, Back to the Future Day: “Great Scott! Who was Scott? The Origin of Doc Brown’s Favorite Phrase, Explained.”

Look for a new post later this week.

m ∫ r ∫

language (for your ears)

“Headphones.” Doodle by me.

Language and linguistics used up some great bandwidth this past week. Check out these podcasts for some excellent listens for your weekend:

  • What do Huckleberry Hound, decals, and Yiddish have in common? Ben Zimmer makes the cockamamie connection on the latest episode of Slate’s Lexicon Valley:
  • Linguist Arika Okrent, whose work you may have read in Mental Floss, answers questions about questions on the newest Freakonomics podcast

m ∫ r ∫

“big goddamn” cross-post edition

"Big goddamn car." Doodle by me.
“Big goddamn car.” Doodle by me.

Be sure to keep up with Strong Language, the sweary blog about swearing. There have some incredible new posts lately on all things profane, vulgar–and linguistic. In “So many mother _uckers,” Nancy Friedman looked into sweary soundalikes in name branding while Steve Chrisomalis investigated the rise of the phrase four-letter wordto name a few.

In need of a tonic after Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall StreetI recently wrote on Robert Creeley’s artful swearing in his iconic poem, “I Know a Man.” This post, I’m excited and humbled to announce, is the inaugural cross-post of Strong Language at Slate’s excellent language blog, Lexicon Valley. Read it here at Slate.

m ∫ r ∫

lexicon valley

I want to take a break for a moment from my own content to share with you some other content that entertains, edifies, and enriches me on a regular basis: Lexicon Valley, a blog and podcast on all things language published by Slate. Perhaps you already know about the enterprise, but if you don’t, I suggest you change that pronto.

The blog features engaging writing on truly eclectic, language-based topics by some of the best language writers working right now. On the blog, recent posts include:

These are writers I follow–and look up to–on Twitter (see below), and I suggest you do the same. The writers’ special genius, and in many ways Slate’s overarching genius, is their twofold inquisitiveness: They pose questions we’ve all wondered at one point or another or pose questions you’d never think to ask in the first place.

The podcast, featuring the cool-headed descriptivist Mike Vuolo and curious curmudgeon Bob Garfield (of NPR’s On the Media), deserves your immediate binge-listening. Recently, they’ve added the illustrious linguist and lexicographer (executive producer of Vocabulary.com and Visual Thesaurus, where he writes “Word Routes”; columnist for the Wall Street Journal; and go-to language commentator for just about any media worth engaging with) on a regular segment, “LinguaFile,” which focuses on the history of particular word. In so many ways, this is the Mashed Radish’s Platonic form, its Aristotelian actualization.

Some of my favorites include:

Listen to them. Listen to them all. The podcast is available on iTunes and SoundCloud, and I’m sure you can find it in other places. Their latest LinguaFile is on…well, I let you guess it. That’s part of the fun. But, I have to say with not a little pride, I feel I ‘beat’ these word nerd heroes to it in my post from about a year ago.

For more from all of the above, follow:

  • Gretchen McCulloch @GretchenAMcC
  • Arika Okrent @arikaokrent
  • James Harbeck @sesquiotic
  • Ben Yagoda @byagoda
  • Bob Garfield @Bobosphere
  • Ben Zimmer @bgzimmer
  • Lexicon Valley @lexiconvalley

We’ve got a lot of good word origins coming your way this fall. And perhaps some new textures, if we’re lucky.

∫ r ∫