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 16, 2019

Want vs. need

Want vs. need

In modern America it seems awfully easy to confuse what one wants with what one needs. And so…

To want is to feel need, to crave. Want came to English in 1200 as a noun, meaning insufficiency, shortage, deficiency.

Some near-synonyms include:

To desire to long for something with intensity or ardor.

To wish for  weaker than desire, sometimes referring to an unrealizable longing. 

To crave the strong desire to gratify a physical appetite or urgent need.

To covet  —  to ardently desire.

Though all the above words involve feeling a need, the need isn’t necessarily essential. I may want, desire, wish for, crave, or covet a $3000 guitar, but when it comes down to it, my $250 guitar is doing the job just fine.

To need something is to experience an urgent requirement of something essential. Need appeared in English about the same time as want. It came from early Germanic sources originally meaning violence or force. Need broadened on its way from Old English to Middle English to mean distress, peril, hardship, necessity.

Some near-synonyms include: 

To require — to experience need of something that is indispensable to a particular end or goal.

To lack is to experience an absence or insufficiency of something essential.

I’m still unable to reply to comments on my own blog, so I apologize in advance for not replying to any comments. The people at Blogger/Blogspot  don’t seem to perceive my problem as a need — just a distant & irrelevant want.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, Webster’s 1959 New World Dictionary of the American Language, & Wordnik.

Thursday, May 9, 2019



The word kiss has been with English speakers since we were speaking Old English, except back then, it was spelled cyssan. Even back then it meant to touch with the lips. Though most etymologists are guessing kiss is a word imitative of the sound of a kiss, they haven’t landed on a common root for kiss. Still, these forms of the word exist in these languages:

kysse  — Norwegian & Danish
kyssa — Old Norse
kessa — Old Frisian
kussian — Old Saxon
cussen — Middle Dutch
kyssa — Swedish
kuwash-anzi — Hittite

Interestingly, English is a language that gives us the same word for both a kiss of mild affection & an erotic kiss, whereas in Latin, an erotic kiss was called saviari, while a kiss of affection was known as osculum (which translates to little mouth). Might the saviari variety kiss — by comparison — involve a larger mouth?

The idiom kiss & tell appeared in the 1690s.

Kiss my arse has been around since at least 1705.

Since 1825 a bit of chocolate or candy has been referred to as a kiss.

Since 1911 the acronym SWAK has meant sealed with a kiss 

To kiss something goodbye appeared in 1935, as did to kiss someone off.

Since 1937, we’ve had the term kiss-proof to refer to lipstick.

Give me some sugar (a kiss) showed up in the 1940s.

The kiss of death has been around since 1944.

And we’ve got some kiss synonyms, with buss showing up in 1560, smack (meaning a loud kiss) appearing in the 1600s, neck made its way to English as a verb meaning to kiss in 1825, & smooch arrived in 1932.

This week, in lieu of leaving a comment (since I still can’t comment back for unknown technological reasons), offer someone a kiss (your choice whether saviari or osculum).

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019



Say these words aloud (really. It’ll be fun):
bellows - belly - bilge - billow - bolster - bloat - bulge

It’s easy to imagine these words all come from an ancient root meaning to swell. But wait, there’s more.

Another branch of that same root gave us:
ball - balloon - bole - bollocks - bull - bulk - boulder - bowl

And another gave us:
full - fool - follicle - folly

At some point in history, that same root added the meaning to overflow, which gives you the opportunity to say another list aloud: 
fluid - flux - effluent - flume - confluence - influx - fluvial - influenza - mellifluous - reflux 

And it takes little imagination to reconstruct why these words all came from a root meaning to swell or overflow. Pretty swell, eh?

If you’ve got swell comments, please leave them. I apologize before-the-fact that I won’t be able to reply to your comments, as the folks at Blogger (aka Blogspot) seem to have cut off my ability to comment on my own blog. Not too swell, I’d say.

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

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Shorten it!

Shorten it!

Though we English speakers started dabbling in abbreviating in the1500s, we were mostly happy with full-length words until the 1900s. Since then, we’ve gone wild — way beyond our first dabblings. Now, we abbreviate in myriad ways. We initialize. We employ acronyms & backronyms — even syllable acronyms. And of course, we continue to abbreviate things in the manner started back in the 1500s, truncating.

Abbreviate means to shorten, so all the examples in the post are abbreviations. The abbreviating we typically think of is actually called truncating. Examples include admin. (administration), illustr. (illustrated), N.Z. (New Zealand), wks. (works), & Hab. (the book of Habbakuk). Traditionally, an abbreviation ends in a period. In the last decade or so, that terminal period has been evaporating. 

Many of us use the word acronym to refer to a practice officially known as initializing. FBI, CIA, UK, & POW fit in this category. Since 1957, an initialization is defined as a word formed from the first letters of other words, pronounced as those letters. From 1907 to 1957, words formed in this manner were called alphabetic abbreviations.

An acronym, on the other hand, is a word formed from the first letters of other words, pronounced as though it is a word. Examples include GIF (graphics interchange format), scuba (self contained underwater breathing apparatus), The zip in zip code (zone improvement plan), kiss (keep it simple, stupid), & hundreds more.

Some words appear to be acronyms, but were strategically constructed. The coiners of these words worked backward, starting with their goal word, & finding “source” words to add up to that goal word. Words constructed in this manner are called backronyms (or bacronyms). The computer language BASIC was created from the words Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. SOS was a speedy thing to enter in Morse code during emergencies; after the fact, it came to mean save our ship. The term USA PATRIOT Act was created by stringing together the words Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. The letters forming START were assembled from STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty. BING was manufactured from the words Because It’s Not Google. 

Then there are words we wish were backronyms/acronyms: some sailors have claimed NAVY actually stands for Never Again Volunteer Yourself, motorists claim FIAT stands for Fix It Again, Tony, & FORD stands for Found On Road Dead.

We also create syllable acronyms (also known as syllabic abbreviations) with words like FedEx (Federal Express). Some others include INTERPOL (International Police), COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), HOCO (homecoming), NABISCO (National Biscuit Company), NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), SoHo (New York Neighborhood South of Houston), & WeHo (West Hollywood).

Life seems to speed up every day, & language seems to reflect that. Compelled to comment? Please do (I apologize in advance that I won't be able to reply, as some technical glitch is blocking me from commenting on my own blog -- life's funny).

Big thanks to Sioux Thompson for inspiring this post & to this week’s sources, All Acronyms, Your Dictionary,  Etymonline, Oxford Dictionaries, & Wordnik.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

To be quiet

To be quiet

An ancient word for quiet led to a steaming heap of words — not all of them sounding all that…quiet.

Words in Old Persian,Old Church Slavonic, Avestan, & Old Norse led etymologists to construct the Proto-Indo-European word *kwyeə-, meaning to rest or be quiet. The big idea is that there must have been some unwritten mother-tongue that led these disparate groups to use similar-sounding words that all meant about the same thing.

*Kwyeə- gave us the English word quiet in about 1300. A couple centuries later it also gave us acquiesce, quiescent & quietude. It also gave us a word roughly meaning super-quiet —  the word requiem.

Apparently being free & clear gives one a sense of quiet, so those who were free & clear of debt, discharged, at liberty, or unmarried, were said in the 1200s to be quit. Hmmm. A legal form of being free & clear is to be acquitted. In time, the freeing sense of quit took over in popular usage: to release, let go or abandon. This free & clear meaning also gave birth to the word quite, (someone who is quite intelligent could also be labelled clearly intelligent).

And because truly getting some rest & quiet takes a little time, *kwyeə- also gave us the words while & awhile

Last but not least, *kwyeə- gave us the word coy. Coy’s original meaning (in the 1300s), was quiet. It only took a hundred years for its meaning to ooze from quiet through placid & gentle to shy & bashful.

All that from quiet. Any thoughts? Please let me know in the comments section.

Big thanks to Sioux Thompson for inspiring this post & to this week’s sources, Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary Etymonline, Oxford Dictionaries, & Wordnik.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

12 ways to say stream

12 ways to say stream

The word stream, a course of water, came to Old English from Germanic languages. Its Proto-Indo-European root meant to flow. Another Proto-Indo-European root meaning to flow gave us the word runnel, a small stream. 

But wait…there are more!

The word creek most likely came from an Old Norse word meaning corner or nook. Etymologists believe the word is related to the word crook, originally meaning full of bends & turns. By the 1500s, creek (also pronounced crick) came to mean a small stream or brook.

An Old Norse word meaning stream gave Middle English speakers the word beck. Interestingly, these days we use beck to refer to streams that flow ruggedly over gravel and stones — as many northern European streams do. 

Most modern English speakers would label a contest of speed with the word race. This meaning kicked in about 1510. Previous to that, race  meant the act of running. Race came from an Old Norse word meaning a rush of water, & that meaning has hung around all these years, which is why in some regions, a stream or creek is referred to as a race.

The word brook, a stream or creek, came to Middle English from an Old English word meaning to use or enjoy. 

A stream can also be called a rindle, which came into Old English from Germanic sources used to refer to a brook, stream, runner, or messenger

About 1300 the word branch  appeared in English, meaning division of a stem of a tree or bush. Branch’s meaning almost immediately broadened to mean division or contributing member of anything, including a river or stream. So as long as it merges downstream with another creek or river we can call a creek a branch

Some English speakers refer to a stream as a burn. This words comes from an Anglo-Saxon word that meant brook or stream, & is the reason many towns or cities near streams end in something like burn, for instance Melbourne, Gisborne, & Blackburn.

A rill is a small brook or stream. This word came to English in the 1530s from one of the Germanic languages, likely coming from a Proto-Indo European word meaning to run or flow.

And last but not least, Northeastern Americans got the word kill (meaning stream), from a Dutch word meaning riverbed or channel, which is why so many streams and creeks in Pennsylvania, New York, & New Jersey are referred to as kills.

I’d love to know which of these surprised you. Comment away.

Big thanks to Sioux Thompson for inspiring this post & to this week’s sources, Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary Etymonline Say Why Do I?, Oxford Dictionaries, & Wordnik.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

More from Algonquian

More from Algonquian

Last week’s post looks into some Algonquian words that made their way into English. Here are a few more.

An Algonquian word meaning powder, dust, or ashes came to English in 1896 meaning worthless. That word is punk.

Though the West Indian island Jamaica got its name from the Taino-speaking folks who lived there, the Jamaica of Jamaica Plains in New York is Algonquian. It comes from the Delaware branch of Algonquian & meant beaver pond.

In 1937, United States Rubber Products Inc. trademarked the name Naugahyde, a word that patched together the Old English word hide with Naugatuk, the name of the Connecticut town in which the product was made. Naugatuk is an Algonquian word which meant one tree.

An Algonquian village near a Connecticut river was situated in a boggy place, so the natives called it Potunck (which meant something like to sink in). In 1846, the word Podunk was born — the name of a mythical & “typical” town featured in a recurring column in the Buffalo Daily National Pilot newspaper. Years later, the meaning oozed toward meaning an insignificant, isolated place.

Since 1763, English speakers have used the word caucus — a private meeting of leaders or voters. Though the research isn’t definitive, caucus’s source is most likely an Algonquian word meaning counselor, elder, or advisor.

Some Algonquian speakers were impressed by the size of the canoes of another native group (the Chiwere), & called them people of the big canoes. Their name for this group turned into the word Missouri.

Though etymologists are still arguing about the origin of the word tuxedo, one of the likely sources is Algonquian. They called a Delaware town P’tuck-sepo, after its crooked river. That town name got applied to Tuxedo Park, New York, which became a “rural resort for wealthy New Yorkers,” & the attire worn by the visiting gentlemen likely picked up the name, tuxedo.

Modern English speakers have a richer language thanks to hundreds of contributing languages, including all the various branches of Algonquian. Though English has benefitted from them, not all those languages have survived. It seems to me we should be appreciating them all the more.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary Etymonline & Wordnik.