Keeping the US Government open, etymology edition

After some last-minute budget negotiations on Thursday, it looks like the US Congress will avert a shutdown and fund the government—at least until they come up to the next brink. Let’s negotiate the origins of these words in a Friday etymological news roundup: 

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That’ll stop Congress. (Pixabay)

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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, after all? he’s asking. Etymologically, Trump may just have a point: The word hundred is a little trickier to reckon than you may think. 

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The etymology of hundred may have you seeing double. (Pixabay
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The “arm” bone’s connected to the…”armada” bone?

Remember that “armada” of warships Trump said was being sent towards the Korean peninsula as a warning to North Korea? It turns out it was actually headed in the opposite direction. Oops.

Outside of history class and the rhetoric of war, we don’t hear the word armada too often, but the word is related to a veritable armada, shall we say, of other everyday words. Let’s look into the etymology of armada

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These articulated artist mannequins are wondering, “Can’t we all just get along?” (Pixabay)

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The root of “jungle”: It’s a desert out there?

Today in Georgia’s 6th congressional district, a closely watched “jungle primary” is taking place to fill the seat left by Republican Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

In a jungle primary, a more colorful name for a blanket primary, all candidates seeking an office run against each other at once, as opposed to in separate primaries broken out by political party. The top two voters getters, regardless of party, then face off in a runoff election, except in some places like Georgia, where a candidate who gets a majority of votes wins outright.

While Washington state introduced blanket primaries in the 1930s, the phrase jungle primary emerges in the 1980s. The idea is that such a primary is like a cutthroat free-for-all, that “It’s a jungle out here.” But what about the word jungle itself? Where we do get this word from?

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Jungle, a fitting word for politics and etymology. (Pixabay)

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The chaos of “gas”

We’ve been sick with the word gas lately.

First, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad horrifically attacked, not for the first time, his own people with chemical weapons, likely sarin gas. Then, he “fake-newsed” the horrific act by calling it a fabrication. Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer—bizarrely, perversely—told reporters Hitler never gassed his people like Assad did before apologizing for his profoundly wrong statement.

It’s hard to make sense of this all, so—as this blog does in its own meager way—let’s try to make sense of it with the etymology of the word gas

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The many folds of “complicit”

After Ivanka Trump told CBS that “I don’t know what it means to be complicit,” Merriam-Webster helped her out with its definition: “Helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way.” The dictionary, whose lexicographical sick burns have been lighting up Twitter, observed that complicit also trended back in March, used by Saturday Night Live as the name of a perfume in parody of the president’s daughter.

In its look at complicit, Merriam-Webster noted that the word, which it first attests in 1856, is likely a back-formation of complicity, notoriously defined in the late 17th-century as “a consenting or partnership in evil.” But what are the deeper roots of complicity? Let’s unfold them.

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The “twists” and “turns” of fate? (Pixabay)

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“Showdowns” and “filibusters”: on the etymological floor of the US Senate

There is a partisan showdown in the US Senate. Democrats have the votes to filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, preventing the cloture needed to take up his vote. Will Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as he seems poised to do, use the nuclear option?

Senate politics doesn’t just brim with conflict—it’s also teeming with colorful and unusual vocabulary. Let’s take these terms to the etymological floor. 

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Goats, galloons, gas stations, and Gorsuch: The origin of “chevron”

Confirmation hearings of US Supreme Court nominees—like Neil Gorsuch’s this week in the Senate—give obscure judicial terms a rare moment in the public spotlight. Consider super precedent, who fights baddies with the power of past decisions. Or stare decisis, which sounds like a long-lost sister to Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” And then there’s Chevron deference. Clearly, that means refueling your tank at a Chevron gas station over any of its competitors, right?

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The dark and troubled past of “sleazy”

The earliest record of sleazy likens the human brain to beer left out in the sun. 

On Capitol Hill yesterday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his agency is probing Russian interference in the 2016 US election. During his hearing, Denny Heck, a Democratic representative for Washington, commented on the state of the investigation: “We’re not indicting anyone, merely laying out some of the evidence and the facts, dirty though they be, sleazy though they be.”

Heck isn’t alone in using sleazy for political effect, though: It’s been a favorite modifier of politicians and political journalists since at least the 1980s. But where does this word sleazy come from?

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Sleazy was originally “fuzzy,” like the hairs of a caterpillar. (Pixabay)

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Who knew the word “insurance” was so complicated?

Insurance ultimately comes from the Latin securus, “free from care.” 

Health insurance was front and center this week as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan debuted his contentious plan to repeal Obamacare. As Washington continues to deal with the political complexities of health insurance, let’s deal with the etymological complexities of the word insurance.

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Health insurance is about as far from carefree as it gets – unless we look to its etymology. Image from pixabay.com.

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