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.

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.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

More word-related etymologies

More word-related etymologies

English is rich with odd etymologies. Last week’s post considered three etymologies having to do with writing or words, & here are a few more.

Most of us recognize that our words – written & spoken – come with some level of bias. The word bias showed up in English in 1520 from Old French. It came from the surreptitious practice of nefarious bowlers who used to weight competitors’ bowling balls so they wouldn’t roll straight. The inserted weight was known as a bias.

Recently, politicians on both sides of the aisle have made news due to a very specific use of words (some would say an overuse of words), the filibuster.  Our modern understanding that a filibuster involves sanctioned legislative obstruction showed up in 1865, but previous to that, the word referred to pirates. First recorded in 1580, the flibutor was defined as a West Indian buccaneer, probably coming from the Dutch word vrijbueter, or freebooter. In the Americas, the term applied to lawless military adventurers before making its way onto the Senate floor.

A less formal but arguably important employment of words showed up in English in 1763, originally meaning to drink to each other. Hobnob was original habnab, most likely from the Old English habban nabban, to have or have not. Just as person A at the pub might raise a glass to person B, who might raise a glass back to person A, quickly followed by a repeat of the same, our modern definition of hobnob suggests the give & take of friendly socializing.

A slightly less friendly form of hobnobbing comes into play when we bandy words. The word bandy showed up in English in 1570 from the precursor of field hockey, a game called bandy, which involved players knocking a ball back and forth with crooked sticks. Bandy originally meant to strike back & forth, & in time morphed to mean exchange blows, then eventually moved into the metaphoric meaning, to exchange verbal blows.

On another note, if you’d like a free Anne R. Allen audiobook I produced, check out the link to the left.

Please share any thoughts on bias, filibuster, hobnob or bandy in the comments section. 

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Jordan Almond’s Dictionary of Word Origins, & the OED.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Word-related etymologies

Word-related etymologies

Etymologies can be pretty fascinating. This week’s post considers three etymologies having to do with writing or words, but first…

…this just in from the Shameless Self Promotion Department:

If you’d like a free audiobook written by the inimitable Anne R. Allen & narrated by the talented Claire Vogel & yours truly, click here (instead of on the image). Why Grandma Bought That Car & Other Stories & Poems is a fun & thought-provoking collection. Claire & I had a grand time recording it.

And now back to word-related idioms.

The word magazine originally had nothing to do with words. Magazine came through Middle French & Italian from the Arabic word makhzan, or storehouse. Typically, a makhzan was used by armed forces to store weapons, but the editors of Gentleman’s Magazine, first published in 1731, chose to store words & stories in their magazine. And this new interpretation of the meaning stuck.

Our modern meaning of the word clerk, business assistant, showed up in the 1550s, but it’s the clerk’s ability to read & write that earned the clerk his/her moniker. The original English word clerk meant man ordained in the ministry. It came from Latin through Old French. The shift in meaning reflects the fact that in medieval times only clerics were able to read & write. 

The 1907 book, Are You a Bromide, written by Gelette Burgess inspired the modern understanding of the word blurb. On the back of the book a young woman was portrayed, labeled Miss Belinda Blurb. Her speech bubble read, “Yes, this is a blurb.” And Miss Belinda Blurb continues to grace flap copy, graciously promoting books & authors to this day.

Please share any thoughts on blurbs, clerks, magazines, or audiobooks in the comments section. 

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Jordan Almond’s Dictionary of Word Origins, & the OED.

Thursday, June 25, 2015



In last week’s post we took a look at words meaning to raise one’s voice, so it seems only fair to look this week into the quieter end of the spectrum.

The early 1300s brought us the word mutter, meaning to mumble. It came from an imitative Proto-Indo-European word mut-, to grumble or mutter.

Murmur, an expression of discontent made by grumbling, came to English in the 1400s from the Old French word murmure, which came from the Latin word murmurare. It wasn’t until the 1600s that murmur meant softly spoken words (noun) or to speak softly (verb).

In the early 1300s the word mumble (spelled momelen) meant to eat in a slow, ineffective manner. By the end of the 1300s it picked up the meaning to speak indistinctly. Though it seems logical it might have come from the word mum, as in mum’s the word, mumble predates mum by two centuries, & nobody really knows mumble’s parentage.

The verb hush showed up in English in the 1540s, with the noun & interjection forms appearing in the 1600s.

The oft-ignored word susurration appeared in English in the 1400s from Latin, meaning a whispering or murmur.

The word whisper is an Old English word, once spelled hwisprian, meaning to murmur or speak softly. Though many modern speakers can’t even hear the difference, those of us “of a certain age” were taught to pronounce words beginning with wh- differently than those beginning with w-, & the Old English spelling hwisprian throws a little light on why the burst of air comes before the w- in words like the word whisper.

Please share any thoughts on all this in the comments section. 

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015



We English speakers have a number of words that mean to raise one’s voice.

Yell shows up in varied forms in most of the Germanic tongues: giellan, gjalla, gillen, gellan, gellen. Yell has been a part of English since Old English was first labeled as such. Yell comes from the Proto-Germanic word gel-, to yell or shout. Some of the older forms live on in a name for a bird that yells out, the nightingale.

Our word bellow has been with us since English became itself, too. It seems to have come from the Proto-Indo-European root bhel-, to sound or roar. Back when Old English was in vogue, bellow only referred to the sounds of animals, but by 1600 we humans could bellow with the best of them.

Shout entered English about 1300 from an unknown source, though some etymologists argue that it may have come from the originally Old English word shoot, as a shout is a voice thrown or shot out. Others argue it may have come from the Old Norse word skuta, to chide or scold.

The Old English word rarian, meaning roar, bellow, lament or cry, became our modern word roar. Though nobody knows for sure, roar is most likely imitative.

The word scream is of somewhat unknown origin, though variations of it are peppered through the Anglo Saxon and Germanic languages. Scream showed up in English in the 1100s & originally meant to terrify or scare.

As I have a fascination with our ongoing prejudice against Anglo Saxon & Germanic words in favor of the more “civilized” words of Latin & Greek origin, I find it humorous that the English synonyms for yell originating in Latin & Greek are vociferate, & exclaim. To my ear, an exclamation or vociferation simply doesn’t have the guts & oomph found in a good old fashioned yell, shout, roar, bellow, or scream.

Please share any thoughts on all this in the comments section. 

And for any of you intrigued by the statistics surrounding those of us fascinated with all this, please check out Grammarly's Anatomy of a Grammar Nerd. I think you'll love it.

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