An etymological tricolor: red, white, and blue

Today, Americans celebrate their brave declaration of independence from British rule on July 4th, 1776 with plenty of red, white, and blue, the colors of its star-spangled banner.

As a nickname for the flag of the United States, the red, white, and blue is found by 1853. But what about those individuals words red, white, and blue? Let’s have a look at their origins, whose ancients roots make the US’s 242 years as a nation this year look ever so young.

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Its flag may be red, white, and blue, but the US is properly a land of many colors. (Pixabay)

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Pulling apart “separation”

This week, US President Donald Trump’s policy of separating families seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border, well, separated our hearts. We’ve seen the cruel ironies of etymology on this blog before. The word separate, alas, is no exception.

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Families, not fences. (Pixabay)

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The etymological routes of “trade”

At the G7 summit in Canada this week, Donald Trump’s recent tariffs are sparking unprecedented trade disputes with some of the US’s closest allies.

We considered the origins of tariff not long back on the blog (and embargo well before it). But how about the word trade itself?

It takes a path into English you might not have guessed.

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Don’t trade on me? (Pixabay)

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Lava: the watery roots of a fiery word

On Hawaii’s Big Island, the Kilauea volcano has been erupting for weeks, its lava consuming whole cars, roads, and homes as it generates deadly vog and laze and heaves lava bombs. More alarms were raised this week as the lava’s molten march risked explosions at a geothermal power station.

But for such a fiery phenomenon, the origin of the word lava is, perhaps ironically, in the wash.

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Laundry day? (Pixabay)

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The long, etymological trek of “caravan”

A so-called caravan has arrived at the US border after trekking thousands of miles across Mexico from Central America. Now numbering in the hundreds, the people, including many women and children, are seeking asylum in the US from violence back home.

Caravan came to prominence earlier in April after Donald Trump tweeted an ominous reference to the group as it made its way to the border. The term has since spread in the media reporting on the migration news.

The asylum seekers have, indeed, come a long way in their efforts to find some safety—and so, too, has the word caravan travelled from afar.

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A modern desert caravan (Pixabay)

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Because there’s always a reason to talk about pets…and etymology

I could have written about Zuckerberg today, with the Facebook CEO in the congressional hot seat. His surname literally means “sugar mountain” in German—and I don’t think that’ll be the next Farmville or Candy Crush any time soon.

I thought to write about raid, which the FBI did to Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen on Monday. Raid originates as a Scottish variant on road.

Instead, I settled on pet. April 11th is, apparently, National Pet Day, “celebrating pets and encouraging adoption” since 2005, according to the organizer’s website. The day, as quirky and numerous as these random unofficial holidays are in our social media feeds, also invites some welcome etymological escapism.

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My pet, Hugo.

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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.   

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

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Etymology, with an “eagle” eye

Maybe in some parallel universe it wasn’t the Philadelphia Eagles who won Super Bowl LII. No, not the New England Patriots but the Philadelphia Ernes. For erne was the usual word for “eagle” in Old English, and in my hypothetical Twilight Zone, French and Latin didn’t sack Anglo-Saxon like so many blitzing linebackers.

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Etymologically, the Philadelphia Eagles main team color isn’t midnight green. It’s “dark brown” or “black.” (Pixabay)

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The riveting origins of “rivet”

In 1942, Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller created one of the iconic images of World War II, of feminism, of America itself.

On a bright yellow background with bold white letters proclaiming “We Can Do It!”, his poster boasts a woman flexing her bicep in a blue uniform and red polka-bot bandana. She was inspired by a 1942 photograph of Naomi Parker Fraley working at the US Naval Air Station in Alameda, California, as Seton Hall University professor James Kimble painstakingly determined.

Parker Fraley passed away at age 96 last Saturday, but she will always be remembered as Rosie the Riveter. But she wasn’t the firstRosie the Riveter, however.

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Originally called “We Can Do It!”, now commonly known as the Rosie the Riveter poster (Wikimedia Commons)

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An etymological stroke of “genius”

Over the weekend, President Trump took to Twitter to defend his sanity and intelligence:

Meeting with alarm and mockery alike, his unusual phrase “very stable genius” went viral. This sense of genius—an exceptionally intelligent or talented person—dates back to the 18th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Drawing on the earlier work of Francis Galton, American psychologist Lewis Terman classified a score above 140 as near genius or genius on his 1916 Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, historical basis of modern IQ scales. These now use language like very superior or extremely high for scores at or above 130, as genius is tricky to define scientifically. Etymologically, however, it’s a different story.

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