If it weren’t for trade, there’d be no “tariff”

The word tariff goes all the way back to Arabic.

Economists, businesspersons, and politicians of all stripes are pushing back against Donald Trump’s plan to impose stiff, new aluminum and steel tariffs, or “taxes imposed on imported goods,” in an effort to lower the trade deficit. They are concerned the shortsighted policy will increase costs on US consumers and hurt the economies of close trading parts, like Canada and Germany, triggering a trade war.

If it weren’t for trade, however, we’d have a massive deficit in our vocabularyincluding tariff. Let’s have a look at the etymology of this economic word of the moment.

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In the 16th century, a tariff could refer to mathematical tables not unlike those we once had to use to calculate logarithms. (Pixabay)

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Reams of “ream”

Sexual assault scandals, mass shootings, military coups, tax cuts for the rich, trophy elephants, the impending devastation of climate change, the looming threat of nuclear war—there are reams and reams of heavy news right now.

So, I think we could use something that brings us all together. Sorry, I don’t have any puppy videos, but I do have the next best thing: etymology. Let’s allow ourselves a nice, distracting break from the news with the globe-trotting roots of ream.

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A ream of paper. Count ’em out, all 500 sheets. (Pixabay)

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Make Puerto Rico “Rich” Again

On the blog, I normally zoom in on words that are hogging our headlines. This post, though, I’m stuck on a word—two actually, and a proper noun at that—that have been far too much neglected. I’m talking about Puerto Rico, where millions of Americans are struggling to survive the devastating blow of Hurricane Maria.

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Speaking of flags… (Pixabay)

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Etymology of the day: avocado

Today is National Avocado Day. Why don’t you observe it with a little etymology?

Via Spanish, avocado comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) ahuacatl. It means “testicle.” (Try that on some toast.) The Nahuatl language also gives us the words tomato and chocolate, as I discuss in an old post.

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(Pixabay)

m ∫ r ∫

Let the prisoner “talk”: the origin of “parole”

Parole comes from the French for “word” or “speech.” 

After nine years in prison, OJ Simpson was granted parole on Thursday, releasing him early from his 33-year sentence for armed robbery. Parole comes with a strict set of terms, conditions, and supervision, of course, but it’s grounded, essentially, in the prisoner’s word of honor that they will uphold the law upon release. Word of honor—this is precisely where the term parole comes from.

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Parole, etymologically, is like a fable and, historically, dealt with prisoners of war. Walter Crane’s 1887 illustration of Aesop’s The Trumpeter Taken Prisoner. (Wikimedia Commons)

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What is the “peach” in “impeachment”?

The word impeach begins—and can end up—in “shackles.”

The political nature of Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey, coupled with Comey’s memo that Trump asked him to “let go” of the investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, are prompting a lot of talk about the I-wordimpeachmentover concerns that Trump may have obstructed justice. Time, along with FBI evidence and witnesses in congressional investigations, will tell whether impeachment is called for. In the meantime, let’s have a look at why it’s called impeach.

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An etymological impeachment . (Pixabay)

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Taking a hit of etymology for 4/20

It’s April 20, or as many marijuana enthusiasts know it well, 4/20. Today, especially when the clocks strike 4:20pm, many people will light a joint or smoke a bowl in celebration of the herb. Contrary to all the myths about police codes, the number 420 is variously used to refer to marijuana thanks to a group of Bay Area high-schoolers who would meet at a campus statue after school at 4:20pm to get high and hunt for a secret patch where marijuana plants were growing. The time later went on to become a codeword for marijuana or getting high itself.

That’s the origin of 420. But what about the origins of the day’s honoree, marijuana, and some of its many related terms? I think this calls for a hit of etymology.

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In the etymological weeds? (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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“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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A country, a hat, a palindrome – “Panama”!

What do rum and capybaras have in common? Why, the origin of Panama.

A huge thanks to the many people who filled out the Mashed Radish reader survey. I received some incredibly instructive feedback. And as you may have noticed, I’ve already been acting on some of it with my short “Etymologies of the Day” I’m posting during the workweek in addition to my feature posts. Let me know what you think of these at my email, on Twitter, or in the comments section below.

I’ve also randomly selected a survey respondent, who got to choose the etymology for today’s post. Her name’s Maïra – who runs a lovely blog featuring art, Arabic song and poetry, and other cultural reflections. She was curious about the origin of Panama.

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A panama hat, which actually comes from Ecuador. Image from pixabay.com.

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