Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The anti-whine

The anti-whine

After considering synonyms of whine for the 1/28 & 2/3 posts, we’ll take a look at words of the anti-whine variety (as suggested by Christine in the comments section). It’s tough to identify antonyms of whine, in part because a whine includes noise, attitude, & negativity. Sadly the following anti-whine words fall a little short of being true antonyms.

The word approve has been with us since 1300. It came through Old French from a Latin word meaning to assent to or regard as good. The Latin word approbare was constructed of the prefix ad- meaning to & the root probare, or prove.

The verb praise appeared in English about the same time, meaning to commend or flatter. Like approve, praise came through Old French from Latin. Its Latin grandmother, preciare, meant value or worth & is related to our modern words price & prize. It wasn’t until the late 1300s the word praise became associated with God.

The French word lauder, meaning praise or extol morphed in time into the English words laud & applaud. The former appeared in the late 1300s meaning to praise or commend & the latter a century later meaning to express agreement or clap the hands.

In the 1610s the verb compliment was born. Interestingly, the noun that predated it by about thirty years was defined to mean an expression of civility usually understood to include some hypocrisy, & to mean less than it declares.
Compliment came to English through French from Italian from Vulgar Latin.

I find it fascinating that these perfectly fine words with positive meanings aren’t nearly as much fun as whine, whinge & grouse. Any thoughts on that, dear readers?

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Whine again

Whine Again

Last week we took a look at six words meaning to complain, but we English-speaking folk are not fenced in by a mere six ways of complaining. Here are a few more. 

From Old Norse we get the word carp, to complain or find fault with. In Old Norse it meant to brag. Nobody’s sure about its source before that. Etymologists believe that as carp made its way into English the Old Norse word shook hands with the Latin word carpere, to slander or revile, & became the English verb carp. All this happened in the 1200s. Though one might think the complaining carp might be related to the fishy carp, there is no relationship. The word for the fish probably came from Gothic through a Germanic language, then through Vulgar Latin & Old French to land in English in the 1300s, just in time to allow our linguistic ancestors to carp about carp.

And then there’s gripe. The to complain meaning of gripe didn’t come to English until 1932, though the verb gripe came to English about 1200. It originally meant to clutch or seize firmly & came from an Old English word meaning to grasp at or attack.

The verb grumble came to English in the 1580s meaning to complain in a low voice.  It may have come from a Middle French word meaning to mutter between the teeth or from a Middle Dutch word meaning to murmur, mutter, or grunt.

In 1885 the verb grouse showed up in English, meaning to complain. It came from British Army slang. It’s not clear where those British soldiers picked it up, but there happens to be an Old French word meaning to murmur, grumble, or complain: groucier.

That Old French word that may have been the source of grouse was definitely the source of another way to complain, grutch. Grutch showed up in the English in the 1200s.

The word snivel, to complain or whine tearfully, appeared in English in the 1600s. Its Old English source, snyflan, meant to run at the nose. Interestingly, the Middle English used the related noun snivelard to refer to one who weeps, cries or whines.

So many ways to complain! Please register your complaints or comments in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED

Thursday, January 28, 2016



English boasts some wonderful words having to do with complaints.

The word whine has been with us since English became English. In Old English it had two uses: to refer to arrows as they hissed or whistled through the air, & to refer to a dog’s whines (an imitative word). In 1520 whine added the meaning to complain in a feeble or annoying fashion.

The same Old English roots gave us the word whinge, to complain peevishly. A British dialectical term born in the 1500s, whinge has made its way across the Pond. I hope others appreciate its trans-Atlantic voyage as much as I do.

Beginning in 1888 in England a complaint could be referred to as a beef. Etymologists suggest this probably came from British soldiers’ complaints regarding the mystery meat their superiors were claiming was beef.

The term belly-ache, meaning stomach pain appeared in the 1590s. It picked up the figurative meaning to complain in 1888. Interestingly, the first recorded uses of belly-ache in America reflected the figurative meaning of the term.

In 1825 an English word meaning to gnaw came into use. Within only three years it picked up the meaning to complain. This word is nag, which appears to have come from a Scandinavian source. It seems to have no etymological relationship to the word nag meaning old horse, which came from Dutch.

The English verb kvetch, to complain, made its way to us in 1953 (the noun, meaning a chronic complainer arrived before that in 1936). The original literal Yiddish verb’s meaning was to squeeze or press.

I’m hoping you’ve got something to say about all these kvetch-worthy words. If so, please leave a note in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fall again

Fall again

Last week we considered some descendants of the Latin root cadere, to fall. This week we’ll take a look at some less likely descendants of that same word.

When the conductor’s baton falls it establishes the cadence, of the piece. Cadence showed up in English in the late 1300s, meaning flow of rhythm in verse or music.

The past participle of the Latin word cadere was casus, meaning a mishap, accident, chance or opportunity (not only can we fall on bad times, we can fall on good fortune). Casus gave birth to a number of English words, one of the first being case. Used as early as the 1200s to mean what befalls one, then in the 1300s adding its grammatical sense & the meaning an instance or example. From there it blossomed to include all the meanings of case we employ today.

In the late 1300s the word occasion came to English. It traveled through Old French from casus, & throws light on an occasion (or falling) being referred to with the idiom “what’s going down”.

Another form of casus/cadere is cidere. It brought us the word incident (meaning event) in the early 1400s. It also brought us recidivist, to fall back again, a word used to refer to one who falls back into sin in the 1400s & adding the meaning a relapsed criminal in the 1800s. Also born of cidere is the word coincide, meaning to fall together. Coincide showed up in the 1700s. And though a fallen apple might get turned into cider, there is no etymological relationship between cider & cidere.

When cadere made its way into Vulgar Latin, it was used to refer to the fall of the dice, then made its way through French to show up in the 1300s as the English word chance. In French law when land went to the state due to the lack of heirs, the Latin word excadere, to fall away became in French escheat, which made its way into English in the 1400s as cheat.

All from a little old word meaning to fall. I’m hoping, dear reader, you’ll post a comment. I’m particularly interested in which of these descendants of cadere surprised or intrigued you most.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A fall

A fall

The words cadaver, decay, accident, decadent, cascade & deciduous all share a source: the Latin verb cadere, meaning to fall.

I’m hoping your eyes just glanced back over that list of words, causing your brain to experience a satisfying little jolt. Given the opportunity, we can “see” the fall in each of those words.

Cadaver appeared in English in 1500, meaning dead body.

Decay, meaning to decrease, made it into English a few years earlier after a tour through Old French & Anglo-French.

Accident appeared in English in the 1300s, meaning an occurrence or incident. Its Latin root was accidentem, to happen, fall out or fall upon.

Decadent, meaning in a state of decline or decay, showed up in 1837, a back-formation of decadence.

Cascade, a synonym for waterfall, came to English in the 1640s through Italian, then French.

Deciduous, meaning that which falls off, showed up in English in the 1680s straight from Latin.

Next week we’ll take a look at some not-so-obvious descendants of this same root. In the meantime I’m hoping you’ll use the comments section to let me know whether your brain experienced that satisfying little jolt mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A decent doxology

A decent doxology

Last week my loving wife asked about the source of the word doxology. Before getting to my trusty dictionary, the in-brain-search yielded possible connections to paradox & heterodox. But the in-brain-search would never have come up with a connection to the word decent. And that’s one of the things I find intriguing about etymologies. So often, a good word history includes a surprise.

Doxology showed up in English in the 1640s, meaning a hymn of praise. The first bit of the word came from the Greek word doxa, meaning glory, praise, or opinion. Doxa is a later form of the Greek word dokein, meaning to appear, seem, or think. It’s plausible that the think element of dokein grew to mean opinion. I’d love to know the circumstances that caused an association between opinion & praise or glory.

A heterodox is something not in accordance with established doctrine, which makes perfect sense, since its two word parts add up to mean the other opinion. Heterodox came to English in the 1630s.

The word paradox arrived in English in the 1530s. In this case, para- meant contrary, so a paradox is something contrary to what one might expect.

A word that should have popped up in my in-brain-search is orthodox, which came from the Greek word orthodoxos, which originally meant, having the right opinion. Since ortho- means right, true, or straight, this original meaning shouldn’t surprise us. Today, the word orthodox is most often used to mean traditional.

All the doxa-related words above came through Greek from the Proto-Indo-European root dek, meaning to greet or be suitable. But when the Latin-speakers got hold of dek, it became decere, to be fitting or suitable. This Latin word gave birth in the 1530s to the English word decent, which initially meant proper to one’s rank or station, then went on to add these meanings:
By 1600, good taste; 
By 1712, satisfying;
About that same time, tolerable;
By 1902, kind or pleasant; &
By 1949 the backstage question “Are you decent?” came to mean “Are you dressed?”

And from the “what is the world coming to?” department, the Oxford English Dictionary recognizes the 1814 birth of the word decentish. Who knew?

If you’ve got any comments regarding decency or doxa, please do so in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED

Thursday, December 31, 2015



As we start a new year, we typically hope it will be a good one. In my humble opinion, one way to make it a good year is to focus on our own expressions of genuine kindness.

Kindness is a big word. Its synonyms provide a little insight into the vast nature of kindness.

One who is compassionate expresses a propensity for sympathy & mercy.

Benevolence implies altruism, a charitable nature, the tendency to be looking out for others more than oneself, & a stalwart commitment to doing good.

One who is benign is gentle & mild.

A gracious person exudes a kind warmth, a courteous elegance, & shows a propensity for tact, charm, & good taste.

Someone who is thoughtful is contemplative & encourages the well-being & happiness of others.

Those who have an innately kind disposition or character are said to be kindhearted or kindly.

One who is courteous shows gracious consideration toward others & displays good manners & etiquette.

One who is sympathetic shows a susceptibility to the feelings of others & sometimes an altruism inspired by that susceptibility.

One who is empathetic has the capacity to understand others’ points of view & can strongly identify with another’s situation & emotions.

Here’s to a new year filled with all the many facets of kindness.

Big thanks to this week’s sources, The 1959 Webster’s New World Dictionary, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED