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, May 26, 2016

To throw

To throw

Jet (as in a jet of water) showed up in English in the 1690s. It came through French from the Latin word iacere, which meant to throw. It doesn’t take much creativity to imagine how a word meaning to throw would end up referring to:

a stream of water (1690),
a spout or nozzle for emitting fuel (1825),  
jet propulsion (1855 – no joke – at that point we were propelling things with jets of water), or
fuel-driven jet propulsion (1945).

What fascinates me are all the other words that came from iacere.

jetty – early 1400s – rocks or land thrown into the sea
jetsam – 1560s – initially the act of throwing something overboard,  soon to morph into the items thrown overboard
jettison – 1848 – to throw overboard
trajectory – 1690s – the path of something thrown
adjective – late 1300s – from ad-iacere, meaning to throw near
adjacent – late 1400s – also from ad-iacere, meaning to throw near
jut – mid 1400s – throw in the way
eject – mid 1400s – to throw out
joist – early 1300s – lumber thrown down on which a floor can be built
interjection – early 1400s – a word thrown into a conversation
conjecture – late 1300s – a possibility one throws into an argument

As you consider the next list of words, imagine how they might have something to do with the Latin root iacere, to throw, then click on comments below & offer your explanation of the connection.

deject, &

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Etymological sixth sense?

Etymological sixth sense?

Sometimes what appears to be an unexplainable preference actually has an explanation.

Last week I had the incredible good fortune to attend a writing retreat with children’s writing guru & editing luminary, Patricia Lee Gauch. Now a retired editorial director of Philomel (Penguin), Patti wrote some remarkable children’s books & is a passionate editor & teacher. A handful of the many authors whose award-winning books she edited are TA Barron, Jane Yolen, Judith St. George, Eric Carle, Patricia Polacco, Kathryn Erskine, Andrew Clements, Virginia Hamilton, & Brian Jacques.

While discussing making a scene come alive, Patti mentioned that many editors tend to ask authors for detail, but the word detail has never resonated for her. Instead, she sometimes asks for more specifics. Her default term though -- the word that really latches onto what she’s looking for in a scene that needs to come alive -- is texture.

Interesting. The modern word detail, meaning a small, subordinate piece, came to English about 1600 from a French noun that originally meant cut into pieces.

Her second choice, the noun specifics, arrived in English about that same time from Latin through French. The original Latin word meant kind or sort, & is also the parent word for the word species.

Patti's preferred word, texture, made its way into English two centuries earlier from Latin through Middle French. It’s related to the word textile & comes from a verb that meant to weave or fabricate.  

In his/her efforts to help an author craft a book, an editor is doing all s/he can to help the author weave the disparate strands of character, story, setting & tension into something whole, something complete. Nobody wants a story to be cut into pieces. Maybe it's no surprise that a gifted, longstanding editor winces at the use of the word detail, finds the word specifics acceptable, but not quite right, & relishes the word texture.  

Does Patti’s word choice when it comes to editorial advice reflect a sixth sense regarding the history of these words? Can a word’s origins follow it from language to language & culture to culture, through centuries of change?

Readers, writers, what are your thoughts on this? Please chime in by clicking on comments below.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

Last week’s post featuring some thoughts from a favorite author luminary led me to this week’s post. I’ll get back to etymologies and such next week, but for now, I hope you’ll have a good time with the ever-prolific & fascinating Ray Bradbury.

Born in 1929 & leaving this universe as we know it in 2012, author of 500 works, Ray Bradbury won the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, the National Medal of Arts, & the National Book Foundation Medal, & tons more. Known best as a science fiction novelist & short story author whose stories always valued character above technology, Bradbury also wrote TV scripts, poems, screenplays & plays. Here is a tiny sampling of his thoughts:

“We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.”

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”


“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

I’m hoping some of you might choose a quote from above & have something to say about it in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources:, SearchQuotes, BrainyQuote, & -  
photo from

Friday, May 6, 2016

Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin

There are heaps upon heaps of amazing people out there, & a lot of them say things worth pondering. This week we’ll take a look at a few quotes from Ursula K. Le Guin.

Born in 1929 & still going strong, author Ursula K. Le Guin has won the National Book Award, the PEN-Malamud, the Hugo, the Nebula, the National Book Foundation Medal, & tons more. Many readers know her as a brilliant fantasy writer, though not all her work falls in that genre. To cast a tiny light into her thinking, here are four of her quotes:

“My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.”

“To light a candle is to cast a shadow.”

“The creative adult is the child who has survived.


“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”

I’m hoping some of you might choose a quote from above & have something to say about it in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources:, SearchQuotes, BrainyQuote, &
Author photo by Marian Wood Kolisch.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A dollar by any other name

A dollar by any other name

Ah, the ubiquitous dollar. We have many names for it. In this post we’ll cover a few of them.

In the 1550s the word dollar entered the English language. It referred to any number of coins of various values. Dollar comes from the German word thaler, an abbreviation of the word Joachimstaler, a word which referred to the coins minted in the town called Joachimstal, a village positioned in a valley, taler) & named for a chap called Joachim.

In 1836 Washington Irving first connected the two words almighty dollar, defining it as “that great object of universal devotion throughout our land.”

In 1855 some folks started calling dollars scads. Nobody’s certain about the source of the word scads, though some etymologists point toward a fish called the scad. Apparently the scaled, cold-blooded scads tend to travel in abundant schools. There is no singular form of the monetary scad, & by 1869 scads added the generalized meaning, large amounts. Connection? Nobody knows for sure.

In 1856 the word buck kicked in among American English speakers. Buck (meaning dollar) also has no verified source, though some have wondered whether bucks may have sprung from buckskins, which were used in some places as a unit of trade on the American frontier.

In 1862, Americans started calling dollars greenbacks. Before this, paper money was printed & issued by individual banks. The country’s paper money (initially known as demand notes) was printed in green ink, thus the name, greenbacks.

In 1895 the word simoleon came to mean dollar. Though nobody’s sure why simoleon came to mean dollar, & nobody has found a connection to Roman coin-names, there were Roman coins called simbella & simodius.

About 1936 the word single came to mean dollar. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how single came to mean dollar. Single has been a word in English since 1400 & came from the Old French word sengle, which meant alone, unaccompanied, unadorned.

In the 1940s, for no reason I can find, some Americans started calling dollars rutabagas.

Any thoughts about all these monetary monikers? Please say so in the comments section.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Even more kids

Even more kids

Welcome to the third of three posts on synonyms for child. The first & second posts can be found here & here.

In 1725 the Scottish word tot, little child, became an English word. It appears to have come from either the word totter, OR an Old Norse term for dwarf, OR a Danish term of endearment that translates to thumb-child.

In early Renaissance Western England and the northern Midlands there was a word for ragged garment. It was related to the word for cloak. This word morphed by about 1500 to mean beggar’s child. The word? Brat.

Back in the 1300s, urchin meant hedgehog (it still does in Shropshire, Yorkshire & Cumbria). Apparently the word urchin was used pejoratively to refer to those who looked different. Etymonline tells us these unfortunates ranged “from hunchbacks to goblins to bad girls.” By the 1500s, we English speakers landed on a new meaning for urchin: raggedly clothed youngster.

Along similar lines, the word nipper appeared in 1530s to refer to a pickpocket. One can imagine how the chaos, poverty, & 16-hour work days of parents during the industrial revolution might have inspired nipper to shift its meaning to small boy (by 1859).

Friend Bruce West asked about the terms of affection sometimes applied to children, punkin & punkinhead. These spellings, considered to be “vulgar American English,” appeared in 1806 & appear to have come from the 1780s term pumpkinhead, which referred to a person whose hair was “cut short all around.” Pumpkin, as in squash, showed up in English in 1640 from Middle French.

Bambino came to English in 1761 from the Italian word for baby, the diminutive form of bambo, the Italian word for simple. Interestingly, in 1919 the word bambino gave birth to another English word that originally meant simple fellow, the word bimbo. Only one year later, bimbo picked up the additional meaning floozy.

Any thoughts about all these childish words? Please say so in the comments section.

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

Thursday, April 14, 2016

More kids

More kids

Last week’s post on synonyms for child was just a start. Here are some more ways we might refer to young folk.

In 1793 the word toddler came to English. Its source was the English verb toddle, which showed up in 1600. Toddle may have come from totter, or from another English verb from the 1500s meaning to toy or play.

Lass came to English in 1300 from a Scandinavian source, though etymologists can’t decide which one. Some suggest the source was an Old Swedish word meaning unmarried woman, some posit lass came from a West Frisian source meaning light & thin, and some suggest a Norse source for lass – a word meaning idle & weak. Though I hold nothing against the Norse, it would be nice to hear some future word historians disprove that possibility.

Though many of us might assume the English word lad had its source in the Scottish words lad & laddie, the Scots borrowed those words from English in the 1540s, more than two centuries after ladde appeared in English. In 1300 it meant both foot solider & young male servant. Like lass, lad’s source has etymologists’ collective knickers in a twist. Some suggest lad comes from a Middle English word meaning one who is led. Other word sleuths argue for a Norwegian word meaning young man, while those aforesaid Norse provide the most unlikely & intriguing possibility. It seems there was a time when pejorative terms associated the slandered subject with shoes, socks or stockings (I’m not making this up). The Old Norse word for woolen stockings or hose was ladd, and may have been the source for our modern word lad, though if so, it came through boys being referred to as the equivalent of fools.

And of course, there are the deliciously negative terms born in 1960s, rugrat & anklebiter.

Any thoughts about all these childish words? Please say so in the comments section.

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