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, August 27, 2015



Last week’s post on various words for gatherings got me thinking about what goes on at gatherings, which led me to consider the myriad words we have for talking.

The word chatter showed up in English in the 1200s, an echoic term referring to the noise of birds. In less than a century, chatter had broadened to refer to gossiping or twittering (how many modern folk might suggest that Twitter is nothing but gossip?). Today, chatter’s definition is incessant talk of trivial subjects.

A lengthy or extravagant speech intended to persuade is called a spiel. It comes from the German word spielen, to play, and showed up in English in the 1870s meaning to play circus music. By the 1890s it began to mean to make a glib speech or pitch.

Since the 1400s English speakers have used the verb blab, which came from a Middle English noun meaning one who cannot control his tongue. Our friends at the OED state “the word was exceedingly common in the 16th and 17th c.; unusual in literature since c 1750.” Today blab means to reveal secret matters or chatter indiscriminately.

The word prattle, which showed up in the 1530s came from the verb prate, which came from a Middle Dutch word meaning to chatter. Today prattle means to babble meaninglessly.

We call a long angry speech, piece of writing, or harangue a screed. This meaning of screed appeared in 1789, but back in the 1300s the word screed meant a fragment or strip of cloth. How a fragment grew to refer to something long & monotonous is a question for minds better than mine.

Any thoughts about chattering, blabbing, prattling, spiels or screeds? Please leave those thoughts in the comments section.

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

Friday, August 21, 2015



The word came to English in 1871, meaning a dance, party, or lively gathering. It appears to have come from the word shindy, a spree or merrymaking. Though nobody is certain, shindy may have come from a hockey-like Scottish game named shinty or the Old English word scinu, meaning shin.  

A party wasn’t called a bash until some time after 1901. This sense of bash grew out of an earlier slang expression meaning a drunken spree. Before that, bash made its noun debut in 1805 meaning a heavy blow after a long run as a verb meaning to strike violently, which started in the 1640s & came from Old Norse.

An informal gathering of folk musicians has been known as a hootenanny since 1940. Before that, the word hootenanny meant any sort of gadget, & before that a hootenanny was more specific -- the sort of gadget a car thief uses to break into a car.

The 1932 meaning of rally, a gathering of automobile enthusiasts, comes from an earlier military meaning of rally, a regrouping for renewed action after a repulse, which came to English in the 1650s from the French word rallier, to unite again or reassemble.

The word jamboree is a bit of a puzzle. It’s been in use in English since 1866, meaning large gathering. Some etymologists think it may have come from the French word bourree, a rustic dance. Others suggest it may have Hindu roots. Some note that the term jambone was used in the game of cribbage when a player held the highest five cards available. No definitive assemblage of documents has surfaced to solve this puzzle.

When blowout first came to English in 1825 in meant a brewhaha or outburst. Since then blowout has come to mean an abundant feast or festive social affair. Blowout is constructed from blow, which comes from an Old English term meaning to move air combined with out, another Old English word meaning out, outside or without.

The word powwow, which today means council, conference or meeting, is an Algonquian word that initially meant shaman, Indian priest or medicine man. It comes from a word that meant to use divination, to dream. In the 1660s among English speakers it began to mean magical ceremony among natives, which led to its modern meaning.

A confab is a gathering of people for discussion. This term is a shortening of confabulation, a 1400s English word meaning talking together. Its root is the Latin word confabulari.

What do youhave to say about all these various words meaning a gathering?

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

And big thanks to the two-person crowd of Anne R. Allen & Christine Ahern for suggesting the terms tilting, shock, & erasing to my growing list of archidioms.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

"Archidiom" crowdsource request

“Archidiom” crowdsource request

Generally, a Wordmonger post offers up some information. This week, though, I’m hoping to turn the tables & collect information.

Lately I’ve become interested in turns of phrase that are still very much alive, yet no longer make literal sense because technology has changed and made these terms archaic, forcing them from the sensible, literal world into the figurative universe of idioms. I can’t find reference to this phenomenon, so I’ve taken the liberty of calling such terms archidioms (archaic + idiom).

It’s the rare TV or radio today that has a switch in need of turning, but we continue to turn on the TV & radio (or for that matter, turn them off). Though no turning is involved, we’ve held onto the phrase.

We used to grab the seat belts from the floorboards, lift them to our laps and buckle up. These days most of us reach up to find the seat belt, then pull it down in order to buckle up. Hmmm.

Though it makes no sense at all, after saying good-bye on our cell phones, we hang up the phone. And even on those phones we actually can hang up, how do we enter phone numbers? We dial.

When a distracted friend’s phone starts quacking, or singing “The Hallelujah Chorus” or “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” we ask, “Is your phone ringing?”

There have to be dozens more terms that used to make perfect sense, but have been forced into Idiomland due to the inexorable march of technology.

Good readers, please sort through your wonderful brains & leave any new archidioms in the comments section.  

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Naked bullion menders?

Naked bullion menders?

I spent this last weekend with 1200 of my closest friends at the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators’ national conference in Los Angeles, where we heard dozens of industry luminaries speak. Here are a couple of quotes & related etymologies from the conference.

Mem Fox - brilliant human being & award-winning Australian picture book author - said of her work (among other things)

“I am a breaker of hearts and a mender of hearts that are broken.”

Those who’ve read her books know that when Ms Fox is breaking hearts in her books, even her youngest readers are in very good hands.  The word mend came to English from French in 1200, meaning to repair.

Meg Wollitzer, young adult & adult novelist,
writing teacher, & short story writer, said

“A novel is a bullion cube of a writer’s sensibility.”

The word bullion came to English from Anglo-French in the early 1400s, meaning uncoined gold or silver. Its source may have been the Old French word for boiling or melting, boillier, or another Old French word bille, meaning stick or block of wood.

Poet, athlete, novelist & powerful speaker Kwame Alexander advised authors

"Be naked. Be open. Be unafraid. Be real. Be authentic. Be incredible."

The word naked came from the Old English word nacod, meaning bare, empty, not fully clothed. Some of its cognates include: Frisian, nakad; German, nackt; Sanskrit, nagna, & Old Swedish, nakuþer.

Whether you are a writer or non-writer, may you mend hearts, may your sensibilities be concentrated in whatever work you do, & may you have the bravery to embrace your literal or metaphorical nakedness.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, & the OED.
Images come from,, &

Friday, July 31, 2015



The word slang entered the language in 1756, meaning special vocabulary of tramps or thieves. By 1801 it had generalized to mean jargon of a given profession, & these days it mostly means casual, informal, or playful speech. Etymologists seem to agree that slang’s origin is unknown, though two probable sounding (& interesting) theories have been disproved. The first is that the word slang has a relationship to the word language, in particular the French word langue. As logical as that seems, linguistic forensics don’t’ support it. Another disproved theoretical origin is the Norse term slengja kljeften. Its literal translation is to sling with the jaw & its meaning is to abuse with words. It warms my heart to know that as I type, hardworking etymologists are chipping away in the word mines trying to get to the bottom of this mystery.

A near-synonym of slang is jargon. It came to English in the 1300s meaning unintelligible talk or gibberish. It came from Old French, in which jargon meant chattering, especially of birds, which came from the Latin word garrire, which also meant chatter.

In the 1650s the word lingo came to English. Lingo was probably a corruption of the Latin term lingua franca, a medium of communication between two peoples.

The word patois, which carries a somewhat positive connotation in modern English, started out just the opposite. It came to English meaning a provincial dialect, & carried all the cultural baggage associated with living far from the assumed center of culture. Its most likely source is the Old French word patoier, or to paw or handle clumsily.

A somewhat less judgmental term was the word vernacular, which simply meant native to a country, & showed up in the 1600s from the Latin word vernaculus, or native, local, indigenous.

Ah, nothing like a little slang, eh? Please leave any comments in the comments section.

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

New words

New words

In June of 2015 our friends at the Oxford English Dictionary updated the OED. “New” words can appear to come out of left field. They can also be remarkable because they don’t seem to be new at all, or for myriad other reasons. Though many words on the “new” list are worthy of comment, the following words caught my eye.

There are two different types of backronyms. The first sort is a word which is not an acronym, but is believed to be one. The story has been told that the word cop stands for constable on patrol, but this is not the word’s origin. The second type of backronym is a purposefully constructed acronym. The condition of sneezing upon seeing a sudden bright light has been creatively labeled autosomal dominant compelling helio-opthalmic outburst, or ACHOO.

The word cisgender (in opposition to transgender) refers to a person who identifies or experiences the same gender that society associates with that person.

To declutter is to remove clutter.

 A decorated thermal insulation jacket for cans or bottles is called a koozie.

The word meh is an interjection used to communicate a lack of enthusiasm.

SCOTUS is an acronym referring to the Supreme Court of the United States. What I find most intriguing about this addition is the lack of its sibling acronyms POTUS, President of the United States & FLOTUS First Lady of the United States.

A stagette party is the party held for the bride.

A yaar is a friend, buddy, or pal.

Good readers, which of these seem worthy of comment to you?

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, The Public OED, About Education, & the OED.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Even more word-related etymologies

Even more word-related etymologies

The July 9 & July 16 posts took a look at word histories of words that somehow deal with words. This week’s post is the third in the series.

When someone (in particular a politician) can’t seem to make up his/her mind on an important topic, s/he is said to be a waffler. Though it’s reasonable to assume this has something to do with a waffle having two sides, the can’t—make-up-one’s-mind sort of waffle & the tasty-with-butter-&-syrup waffle have completely different origins. The latter showed up in English in 1744 from German through Dutch, with its grandmother Proto-Germanic word wabila meaning web or honeycomb. It’s related to the word weave. Political waffling, though, is probably imitative of a dog’s bark & showed up in English in the 1600s, meaning to yelp or bark like a puppy. In time, the term grew to mean to speak foolishly, & in 1803 landed on today’s meaning, to vacillate or equivocate.

Books, plays, movies & speeches are all constructed of words, & on those sad occasions when they don’t do well, such things are said to have laid an egg. Etymologists are presently duking it out over two posited sources for this one. Theory one: in cricket or other games, when a team scores nothing, the zero resembles an egg, thus, the team that falls flat has laid an egg. Theory two: when a hen lays an egg, she makes a big fuss, clucking with pride at her accomplishment, but none of her compadres are impressed. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on the battle & will report immediately with breaking news on this front.

The news is delivered in words. An incorrect, though clever, folk etymology suggests that the word news is an acronym standing for all the information from the north, east, south & west. Actually, the word news came through French from the Latin word nova, new, arriving in English in the 1300s & meaning new things.

A person who is compelled to share his/her opinions is a kibitzer. This word showed up in English in 1927 & came from German through Yiddish. The Yiddish word, kibitsen, meant to offer gratuitous advice as an outsider, while the German word meant to look on at cards. The German meaning was inspired by folktales involving a small shorebird, the kiebitz, whose fictional habit involved interfering in card games by sitting on a card player’s shoulder & muttering unwanted instructions. The word kiebitz appears to be an imitation of the call of the kiebitz, or lapwing.

I’m hoping some of you might be willing to share some kibitzing regarding all this. If so, please do so in the comments below.