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.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019



Most all our word meaning confused come from verbs, but not all those verbs mean to confuse.

The words confound & confuse both come from Latin — to pour together.
confound made its way to English in the 1300s, meaning to condemn, curse, disconcert or perplex. Confused appeared in English in Middle English, but it wasn’t until the 1500s that we dropped the final -d to create the verb confuse.

Addled , addle-pated, & addle-headed made their way into English in the 1600s from an Old English verb which meant become putrid. The word was often applied to bad eggs, which are sometimes stinky (putrid) & sometimes empty, & it’s the empty meaning that moved addled toward its modern meaning of idle, confused, muddled or unsound.

Bewildered came from the verb bewilder, which came from Old English and appeared in the 1600s. Its literal meaning was to be led into the wilderness, though the figurative meaning confounded or confused almost immediately eclipsed the literal meaning.

We didn’t have the words flummox & flummoxed until 1837, & nobody’s sure where they came from.

In the 1720s the word muzzy appeared, mostly likely a form of the word mossy.

The year 1759 brought us the word muddle-headed, from an old Germanic verb that meant to destroy the clarity of. That same root also gave us mud.

Baffle appears to have come from a French verb which meant to abuse or hoodwink. This word traveled through Scottish, where it meant to disgrace. By the 1540s, English speakers appear to have associated confusion with disgrace, and the words baffle, baffled, & bafflement were born.

An Old French word & an Old English word were slapped together in 1735 to come up with the verb bemuse, to stupefy, & so we have bemused.

In the early 1800s, some Americans amused themselves by making fun of Latin by creating ridiculous, Latin-sounding words. Discombobulate & confusticate came about because of this practice.

And in 1703 bamboozle showed up in English, most likely from a Scottish verb meaning to confound or perplex.

Bamboozled or inspired by any of this? Please say so in the comments (which I still can’t reply to — which not only bamboozles me, but confusticates me.)

Big thanks to ANNE LORENZEN for inspiring this post, & to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019



The word sweet has been with us since we were speaking Old English. It came through Germanic languages from Proto-Indo-European. Though for a time it meant to advise, for years it has mostly meant pleasant to the senses.

Idioms involving the word sweet are rife:

1290 — sweetheart
1300s — life is sweet
1590s — a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
1700s — sweet dreams
1723 — sweet and sour foods 
1767 — sweet sixteen
1823 — home sweet home 
1900 — sweet nothings
1914 — toot sweet (from the French tout de suite
1935 — sweet talk 
1957 — sweet smell of success 
1976 — sweet spot
1971 — sweet as tupelo honey

And here are some I can’t find origin dates for:
short & sweet
sweet young thing
sweet as pie
in one’s own sweet time

Nothing like a little sweetness. 

Big thanks to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster,Word Histories,, Stack ExchangeNew Republic, & Etymonline.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Deep & hollow

Deep & hollow

The word deep comes from an old word meaning deep & hollow. Though the people who used this ancient root never wrote it down, etymologists write it *dheub-. Like our modern word, deep, the original root also carried the figurative meanings profound, inspiring, solemn, mysterious, awful.

Of course, *dheub- was far too deep a word to give us only the word deep.

About the year 1200, it gave us dive, to descend or plunge headfirst into water. Because we’re approaching International Dive Bar Day (July 7), I’m compelled to note that the idiom dive bar was born in the 1800s. It appears to have come from the fact that many low-end drinking establishments could only be accessed by walking downstairs from street level, thus diving into the bar.

Quarrelsome as they are, etymologists are still duking it out over the etymology of typhus & typhoon. They may have come from Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, or Greek. They may have come from *dheu-, a form of *dheub that meant smoke. Or they may have come directly from *dheub-. I suppose both typhoon & typhus can be seen to embrace the concept of depth.

Python also inspires fistfights among the more pugnacious etymologists. One camp hangs its hat on the story of Apollo slaying the serpent near Delphi, which was originally called Pythein, a word meaning to rot. The alternative camp finds our ancient root *dheub- responsible for python, as monsters such as serpents were often believed to inhabit the depths.

Interestingly, the surname Donald also comes from this root. Donald showed up in English in the 1200s from Scottish (though the name in Scottish was either Dofnald or Dufenald). It entered Scottish from Proto-Celtic, where it was something more like Dubno-valos, & meant ruler of the world, valos meaning to be strong & dubno (from the root *dheub-) meaning world. And how did a word meaning deep & hollow end up meaning world? All that depth oozed into meaning bottom or foundation, & the earth or world appeared to be the foundation of things. 

So this one root has something to do with hollow, deep, storm, plunging headfirst, disease, foundation, world, even monster habitat. Yikes. Some etymologies offer those combative etymologists more grist than others, eh?

Big thanks to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster, Phrases.orgLexico, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019



It seems I can’t read the news these days without being flummoxed by how many toadies there are out in the world. So here’s a post on toady & its synonyms.

In the 1600s, the assistants of performing charlatans were sometimes forced to eat a “poisonous” toad so the charlatan could amaze the crowd by expelling the “poison”. Not surprisingly, these assistants were known as toad-eaters. In time, the term got shortened to toady & the meaning morphed to a servile parasite or fawning flatterer.

Our modern meaning of flunky came about in 1855 (flatterer or toady). Flunky came from a Scottish word meaning footman or servant. It’s believed the pejorative shift was influenced by the requirement that footmen run through the mud & mire alongside a noble’s carriage.

In 1846 the term bootlicker (or boot-licker) was born. It came from the 1600s term footlicker, & means a servile follower.

An adulator is one who engages in excessive or slavish admiration. This word comes through Old French from Latin, & initially meant to fawn, as a dog after its owner. The etymological jury is still out, but it is likely adulator came from words meaning to wag the tail.

An Old Norse word meaning prone gave us the word grovel, which gave us the word groveler some time in the 1500s. The meanings of groveler include one who creeps with the face on the ground, & one who abases him/herself. 

Flatterer came form the word flatter which appeared in the 1200s, meaning, to praise insincerely. It came from Proto-Germanic through Old French, & initially meant one who throws or flings him/herself to the ground. 

Though we might expect the word sycophant to be the more academic & classy of these words, its roots are crude & sexist. Sycophant came through Latin and Middle French from a Greek word that translates literally to one who shows the fig. This refers to a crass, misogynist gesture ancient Greek men used to taunt one another. From the Things Never Change Department, notes that, “…politicians in ancient Greece held aloof from such inflammatory gestures, but privately urged their followers to taunt their opponents.” Initially, sycophant meant informer or slanderer, but by the 1570s, the meaning shifted to mean, servile flatterer.

Toadies abound! 

By August I will resolve my inability to reply to comments on my own blog. Still, if you’ve got something to say about all this, please leave a comment.

Big thanks to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster, Lexico, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

To cover

To cover

It makes sense that an ancient word meaning to cover would give us words like kerchief, garment, & garnish, but it takes a bit of imagination to connect an ancient verb meaning to cover to some of its other progeny.

These days, the word garret conjures images of Paris, painters, & poets, but garret originally meant a turret or small watchtower — a place that might offer a spying soldier some cover. We also see this military sense of cover in the word garrison.

And because we can’t have cover without having uncover, we have the word apperture, meaning an uncovering or opening. And apperture gave birth to something that might uncover one’s appetite, the aperitif, & to the opening to a musical event, the overture.

And because we used to turn off the gas lights to signal the end of the night’s revelries, & doing so involved covering those flames, the word curfew was born of this same root meaning to cover.

Want to be sure you’re covered when buying something? You can rely on your warranty, (also warrantee), or guarantee (also guaranty). 

Need a cover under which you might park your car? Try a garage.

And they all come from one little Proto-Indo-European root. Linguists write it today as *wer-.

This little root also managed to populate languages other than English with words. Sanskrit, Latin, German, Old Irish, Gothic, Old Persian, Old Church Slavonic, & Lithuanian all have words having to do with covering, all from this one little root, *wer-.

I apologize — once more — for not being able to reply to comments on my own blog. Makes no sense to me, but life is funny.

Big thanks to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster, Lexico, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Wise women on loss

Wise women on loss

Many people don’t notice that quotation books & quote sites on the web are almost entirely dominated by quotes of men. This is a loss. In my continuing efforts toward inclusivity, here’s a collection of wise women’s words on loss.

Absence becomes the greatest Presence.
-May Sarton 

I still miss those I loved who are no longer with me but I find I am grateful for having loved them. The gratitude has finally conquered the loss.
-Rita Mae Brown

No emotion is the final one.
-Jeanette Winterson

Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh either.
-Golda Meir

There are some griefs so loud
They could bring down the sky,
And there are griefs so still
None knows how deep they lie.
-May Sarton

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the day-time, and falling into at night. I miss you like hell.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay

Grass grows at last above all graves.
-Julia C.R. Dorr

When you’re away i feel like
i’m only wearing one shoe.

I hope you’ve found a quote you hadn’t previously appreciated. If so, please spread it around.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

11 gl... words you may not know

11 gl... words you may not know

Take a look over these words all starting with gl…

gleed — a glowing coal — from Proto-Indo-European

gleetslimy or filthy — from Latin through Old French

glegquick in perception or action — from Old Norse through Middle English

glenoidthe socket of a joint or a hollow cavity — from Greek

glede the common red kite of Europe — from Middle Low German

glebe land belonging to a church — probably from Proto-Indo-European through Latin & French

glaucousgreen with a grayish-blue cast — from Greek through Latin

glim a light, lamp or candle — taken from the word glimmer, which came from German through Middle Dutch

glister to sparkle or gleam — from German through Middle Dutch

glomerateto wind or make into a ball — from Latin

gloriolea halo— from Latin, literally, a small glory

An odd post, I know. It was inspired by a search through the dictionary for the etymology of the word glean. Though the etymology was intriguing, I was more fascinated by discovering so many nearby words that were new to me. I’d love to hear how many of these you already knew. I apologize in advance for not being able to reply to your comments due to an unexplainable technical glitch.

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