What is the “feck” in “feckless”?

Heads up: strong language ahead.

Comedian Samantha Bee sparked controversy this week when she called Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt” for her political complicity. The obscene remark, which Bee has since apologized for, had some wryly observing: why is everyone up in arms over feckless?

I think feckless and cunt are due for the etymological treatment.

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This balloon has lost all its feck. (Pixabay)

Continue reading “What is the “feck” in “feckless”?”

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Rounding up some remarks on some profane presidential remarks

From the New York Times (strong language ahead):

President Trump on Thursday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

It’s remarkable, this “shithole” remark—and no, I don’t just mean the racist xenophobia lurking in President Trump’s language, not to mention its utter ignorance of international affairs and an abject dearth of humanitarianism. 

On the Strong Language blog, Merriam-Webster’s Kory Stamper explains why newspapers printing shithole, as their editorial policies have been variously averse to do, is such a boon to lexicographers:

So when the word “shithole” shows up above the fold in the news section of a newspaper, that tells me, as a lexicographer, that this word is not just the province of BuzzFeed or Twitter or pulp fiction, but might actually be (shitty, shitty) Wonder Bread.

The “Wonder Bread” here, in Stamper’s apt metaphor, is an earlier reference to a word as “boring and everywhere…remarkable only because it is wholly unremarkable[.]”

Continue reading “Rounding up some remarks on some profane presidential remarks”

More from Mashed Radish

Mashed Radish is off this week, enjoying some craic with family in town. I have been terribly remiss, though, in linking you to my other writing online.

Since the spring, I’ve been writing weekly on Slate about various language topics. Some recent pieces have included: How 80s Is the Slang in Stranger Things? and Branger. Debression. Oexit. Zumxit. Why Did Brexit Trigger a Brexplosion of Wordplay? Click here for much more.

I’ve also been writing for Mental Floss. You’ll get a big etymological fix on the likes of such pieces as The Origins of 19 ‘Skin’ Expressions. Click here for more.

If you’re new to the blog, you may not know that I’m also reading the complete works of William Shakespeare this year and writing about it. Check it out at Shakespeare Confidential.

And those who are familiar with this blog will know I contribute to Oxford Dictionaries and Strong Language, where I’ve had many pieces since I’ve last shared my writing there.

Mashed Radish will be back next week.

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“Tory”: How the conquest of Ireland named the UK Conservative Party

With Michael Gove throwing in his hat and Boris Johnson throwing in his towel, the post-Brexit scramble for Tory – or Conservative – leadership was thrown into confusion this week in the UK. This chaos is fitting, if we look to history of Tory, a word embroiled in many conflicts of its own.

Tory story 

In its conquest of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries, England massively dispossessed the Irish of their land – among other depravations. Out of need, pride, and retaliation, some Irish turned to outlawry, plundering and killing English settlers and soldiers. By 1646, in the wake of a bloody rebellion, the English mocked these ‘Catholic, marauding bog-trotters, these savage, moss-trooper highwaymen,’ with a nickname: “tories.”

Documented in the Irish State Papers nearly a century prior, the term tory meant “outlaw” or “robber.” It derives from the Irish tóraí, from tóir “to pursue.” (Older forms, depending on your transliteration, include tóruighe, a “pursuer” or “searcher,” via tóirighim, “I pursue.”) Etymologists connect these forms to older Celtic and Indo-European bases meaning “running up to” and “to turn” or “roll.”

By 1679-80, this Tory, now with a capital T, was slung at the so-called Exclusioners, who were opposed to the succession of James, Duke of York, to the Crown. James was Catholic. What better way to attack his supporters – and stop, God forbid, any restoration of Irish land – than link them with those wild Irish tories? And what better way for the Tories to hit back than with Whig, those Protestant yokels and bumpkins? The origin of whig is uncertain, but some think it originally mean “horse driver” in Scottish Gaelic.

Many of these Yorkist Tories formed a new political party in 1689: the Tories. It was born of a longer tradition of royalism – of championing the power of the Church of England – going back to the English Civil War. Tory officially named the English Conservative Party until 1830, though, despite many changes in their political platform since, the term is still used informally today (as it is in Canada). During the American Revolution, Tories were colonists loyal to the British crown. During the American Civil, Confederates called Union sympathizers in their midsts Tories.

For many in Britain today, the etymology of Tory, that “bandit,” is mot juste, from conservatives who feel Gove stole leadership from Johnson to Remainers who feel Brexiters stole the UK from the EU. And while the meaning of our words change, our politics are as messy as ever. Perhaps we should look to that older root of Tory, “to pursue,” and apply it less to fighting and more to solutions.

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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!

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Flying, flap-eared pigs?

I wanted to point you to some other pieces I have around the web. You’re forewarned: Some strong language lies ahead.

A few weeks back, I had a post on the OxfordWords blog: Pigdoghog, and other etymologies from the farm.” As I note:

We’ve left the farm and have wandered into the woods to discover where some very basic and common animal words came from – fundamental words like dog and pig, which number among some of the first children learn to read, even say.

We just don’t really know where this group of everyday words comes from, which is nothing short of fascinating.

I also have two pieces up on Strong Language. The first is “When fucks fly.” In this post, I ask the big questions: “What exactly is a flying fuck? And why does this fuck fly?”

Today, I published a piece that grew out of my new project, Shakespeare Confidential. This piece, “Great Moments in Swearing: The Taming of the Shrew,” gives you, you flap-eared knave, some sweary tips:

So, if you’re looking for some choice words, take a page from Petruccio’s playbook: Add some color, er, choler. Just avoid this whole “taming” and “shrew” business.

Stay tuned for more etymology and, if you’re following Shakespeare Confidential, my post on The Taming of the Shrew.

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Letters, bones, & sides: etymology around the web

Waiting in long lines this Black Friday? Stuck in holiday traffic? Still recovering from a food coma? Need a little break from your family? Well, I’ve got you covered with some etymological entertainment in a few of my posts published around the web. Be advised: some strong language ahead.

Ever wonder what the A in fucking A stands for? Awesome? Asshole? As some Canadians joke, eh? Learn your sweary alphabet over at Strong Language with my piece, “What the fuck is the ‘A’ in ‘fucking A’?” Slate’s Lexicon Valley also published this piece.

The US Thanksgiving dinner offers so many delicious side dishes. So, too, the English language, with its many side words. For example, did you know that sideburns are named after an American Civil War general? Over at Oxford Dictionaries’ blog, go inside side with my post, “The many ‘sides’ of Thanksgiving…and the English language.”

Did you break a wishbone this US Thanksgiving holiday? This custom seems innocent enough, but the term may just have a naughtier past, if we look to merrythought, an earlier British term for this bone. Read more over at Strong Language (and Slate’s Lexicon Valley) in my “Merry thoughts, naughty bits: Putting the ‘bone’ in wishbones.”

Finally, if you’re new to my blog, you may enjoy my piece last year on the globe-gobbling origin of the word turkey.

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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.

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Strong language, strong numbers

Be advised: There’s some swearing ahead.

In spite of being all about zero, I think my latest post on Strong Language has it all: linguistics, mathematics, politics, sociology, media and cultural studies. I can’t even keep count. Good thing  we have the Count.

The Count gives zero fucks. Image from Quickmeme.

But you should ignore him. Give a fuck and head on over to Strong Language for my piece, “Something from nothing: A zero-fucks game.” It takes a brief look into an interesting sweary construction I’ve observed, zero-fucks-X.

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pissants & culprits

When I tell people I blog about etymology, the study of word origins, they often confuse it with entomology, the study of insects. For my latest contribution to Strong Language, this confusion can for once be forgiven: I follow the trail of pissant back to its etymological anthill. It turns out to be a bit stinky there. A little too coarse for you? Well, I class it up with some Chaucer. Just be careful where you place your hands. Head on over to the blog to read the piece, “Piss off, Aesop?” Be sure to check the latest from the blog’s other, very un-pissant writers.

Also, maybe you missed my piece on culprit on the Oxford Dictionaries blog. Oxford University Press has re-published it over at their site. Catch up and stay a while on the site; you’ll find some truly excellent writing there as well.

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