Going “ballistic”

The same Greek root of ballistic gives us such words as ballet, devil, parliament, and symbol.

On July 4th, North Korea successfully tested its first ICBM, or intercontinental ballistic missile. As intercontinental leaders figure how what to do next, let’s go ballistic—etymologically, that is.

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A reconstructed ancient ballista, Latin source of the word ballistic. (Image from the Alexis Project, photo by Nick Watts).

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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.

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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.

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What’s at “stake” in “attack”

A doublet of the word attach, attack ultimately comes from a Germanic root meaning “stake.” 

London has again faced another terrorist attack, this time from a Welsh man who plowed his van into a group of Muslim people near a mosque in Finsbury Park. As the word attack has become, alas, an all-too familiar one—excepting its application to white extremists—let’s see what me might learn from its etymology.

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The high and low “stakes” of “attack” (Pixabay).

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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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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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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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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?

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These days, it can feel the news is broken. (Pixabay)

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Etymology of the Day: Thousand

In the previous post, we learned hundred literally means “count of 100.” How about the next multiple of ten up the scale, thousand?

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The etymology of “thousand” gives new meaning to a “wad of cash.” (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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