Etymology of the day: wilderness

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Etymology of the day: hot dog

A quick note

Earlier this year, I was posting short “etymologies of the day” on the blog, a practice that I’ve continued on Twitter. I figured there was no reason to deprive those who primarily follow me on here of these daily nuggets of word history. Click the hashtag, #EtymologyOfTheDay, to catch up on some older content, which I suspect I’ll post on the blog from time to time. Enjoy, and I hope I didn’t ruin your appetite.

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Laughingstock, gaping-stocking, scoffing-stock, and other -stock compounds

“I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point,” Walter Shaub told the New York Times after he resigned as the head of the Office of Government Ethics earlier this month. Shaub felt the Trump administration’s conflicts of interest, inter alia, are severely undermining his office’s credibility and efficacy, and compelled him to seek toothier watchdog work elsewhere.

It’s powerful choice of words, but what, exactly, is the stock in laughingstock?

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A cracking-stock? (Pixabay)

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Storming the etymological “bastille”

Today, the 14th of July, marks Bastille Day in France. The holiday commemorates the same date in 1789 when citizens stormed the Bastille—a state prison, armory, and symbol of royal authority in Paris—sparking the French Revolution. But what is a bastille, and where does this word come from?

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Threading together the roots of bastille. (Pixabay)

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Digging up “dirt”

Donald Trump Jr. stepped in some, er, dirt this week when the New York Times revealed he knowingly met with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s effort to help Trump.

Where does the word dirt come from, and when did it start referring to “compromising information”? As it turns out, we really don’t want to get our hands dirty with etymological dirt.

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Etymologically, dog dirt is no euphemism. (Pixabay)

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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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Mammoth cheese, one nation, and shagging: Thomas Jefferson in the OED

To count to ten when angry, doll-baby, Irish-Americanleaf lettuce, Megalonyx, N.Y., Riesling, sanction? The man who gave us “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has also left us an incredible record of words in the English language.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In this one passage, this single sentence, of the Declaration of Independence—whose adoption on July 4, 1776 Americans commemorate today—Thomas Jefferson gives a new nation, a new democracy, its immortal, founding words.

But Jefferson’s words have left many other marks. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) attributes to Jefferson over 100 quotations that provide the first evidence of a word in English and nearly 400 quotations that provide the earliest record of a particular meaning. His breadth is truly impressive, ranging from architecture (rooflet, 1825; remodeling, 1785) and botany (leaf lettuce, 1795; rubber tree, 1826) to wines (Médoc, 1793; Riesling, 1788) and extinct giant sloths (Megalonyx, 1796; megatherium, 1797).

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“Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776,” Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1863-1930. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Your Friday etymological news roundup

Today, rather than zoom in on the origin of any one noteworthy word, let’s round up the etymologies of some of the top words buzzing in this week’s news:

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The origin of “meddle”: It’s all in the “mix”

Recent reports are revealing that Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was more extensive than initially understood. As investigators continue probing the interference, let’s meddle with the etymology of meddle.

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Meddling in elections is truly nuts. (Pixabay)

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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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