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, April 10, 2014

Euphemistic Enhancement


Euphemistic Enhancement

As noted in last week’s post, we employ euphemisms for myriad reasons, usually to make the topic of conversation less offensive to delicate ears. Though we tend to think of euphemisms as tools of the squeamish Victorians, modern. euphemisms abound.

During the Vietnam War, reporters discussed loss of life in terms of soldiers or men. Today, the less-human term troop is in usage.

What my grandmother called rubbish, my generation called trash or garbage. Today it has become waste. We hauled that historic rubbish & trash off to the dump. Today’s waste ends up in the landfill (& in some communities, the transfer station). How very sanitary.

Yesterday’s tombstone is today’s grave marker.

Yesterday’s life jacket has become a personal flotation device.

Yesterday’s looting & stealing is now known as self-provisioning.

But euphemisms started long before the modern day, or even the Victorian era. The word cemetery (which came to English from Greek in the late 1300s) is actually a euphemism for the more honest word graveyard. Cemetery means sleeping place – a Greek term first applied to graveyards sometime in the first century.

Euphemisms can also be tools for the advancement of capitalism.

Sales of what was once called Patagonian toothfish skyrocketed when it became Chilean sea bass. The same thing happened when muttonfish was re-named snapper and when the dolphin fish took on the moniker mahi mahi. And imagine the complete surprise of fish salespeople all over the world when the newly named orange roughy sold like crazy. Whyever were sales so low with its old name, slime head?

Good readers, go forth and euphemize (and if you have anything to say about all this, please leave a comment or two).

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Etymonline, English Word Information, Ralph Keyes’ Euphemania, & Wordnik

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Drinking Euphemisms


Drinking Euphemisms

Years ago I worked with a student teacher who – upon having to use the restroom – would say, “Excuse me. I have to euphemize.” Though this post doesn’t look at all the gloriously creative euphemisms for using the restroom (this sentence contains one of the mildest ones available), it goes out to Peter Sweeny.

The word euphemism first arrived in English in 1650. The original Greek form meant to speak with fair words, or good speech. It comes from the Greeks’ understanding that speaking some words brought poor fortune. For instance, it wasn’t considered wise to mention the Furies (known for their heartless punishments of unavenged crimes) by name. Instead, they might be referred to as the Gracious Ones. In modern tales, we see this same phenomenon in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, in which the stunningly evil antagonist is spoken of as he who must not be named.

Ah, the euphemism: humanity’s tendency to

- say what we don’t mean in hopes of avoiding the possibility that we might be understood,
- communicate to an intended audience while keeping others “on the outs”, or
- avoid being offensive while saying something, well, offensive.

Some fine euphemisms for drinking include:
-to lift an elbow
-to have a snort
-to fall victim to barley fever
-to take one’s medicine
-to enjoy a wee drop
-to feed one’s kitty
-to get a snootful
-to enjoy a nip
-to eat the pudding bag

If a drinker over-imbibes & we intend to criticize, we might say s/he is:
-piffled
-schnozzled
-pie-eyed
-smashed
-tanked
-slopped
-frazzled
-het-up
-blotto
-noggy
-stewed to the gills
-under the table

Or when we’d like to be less critical, we might say s/he:
-is a little squiffy
-is impaired
-is in a difficulty
-is in a rosy glow
-is in a muddle
-is making a night of it
-is making a trip to Baltimore
-is a bit ruddy-faced
-is sotally tober

And the morning after a bit of liquid debauchery, we might say s/he:
-has flu-like symptoms
-is under the weather
-is suffering the wrath of grapes
-has a Dutch headache
-has a hair-ache
-has the brown bottle flu
-has an inexplicable headache
-has hamster mouth
-is wearing loud shoes

Do any of you have a favorite drinking euphemism to add to the pot? Please do so in the comments section.


My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Etymonline, Drunktionary, Wordnik, & Ralph Keyes’ Euphemania

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fool


Fool

As this week progresses, people in many lands will celebrate foolishness (or at least indulge in some). In honor of April 1, we’ll join them by taking a gander at the word fool.

Fool has been around in English for a long time. The noun form of fool showed up in the 1200s & the verb form appeared about a century later. It came from fol, an Old French term for idiot, rogue, jester, or madman. The French got it from the Latin term follis, literally meaning leather bag or bellows & figuratively meaning empty-headed person or windbag. Though one might imagine the antics of court jesters inspired the word, centuries of jesters gave their collective all before the English term fool was applied to their ilk in the late 1300s.

In 1680 the term April fool was born. On All Fool’s Day people were sent on “false errands” (did those Brits have a crazy sense of humor or what?). Interestingly, the Norse had a similar celebration known as April Gowk (gowk meant cuckoo in Norse)

Some fool-related words include:

follicle,
fun
fond,
bold (no fooling)

Though most of the following words have multiple meanings, they are all also synonyms for fool:

gorm,
berk,
schmoe,
schmuck
schlemiel,
simpleton,
fop,
muggins,
patch,
putz
moppet,
dodo,
sot,
nincompoop,
gawp,
gowk,
ninny,
coot, &
naïf

What have you to say about all this etymological tomfoolery?



My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Etymonline, & Wordnik

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cow Slang


Cow Slang

The Old English word cow came through Proto-Germanic tongues from Proto-Indo-European. Etymologists aren’t sure, but mostly assume it is an onomatopoeic term mimicking the lowing of cattle.

Cow-related slang abounds:

Cow-feed is a British Armed services term meaning salad or raw vegetables.

Since 1955 the term cowie has referred to a western film.

British and American cyclists refer to handlebars as cow-horns.

Cow-pat, cow-pattie & cow pie arrived in the language in the 1950s, meaning a single dropping from a cow, calf, or bull.

Cowyard-confetti is an Australian term born in 1920, meaning nonsense. Not surprisingly, ten years later cow-confetti was born – another Australian term, a kinder, gentler term for the crasser, tangentially cow-related term bullshit.

In cricket, the terms cow-corner & cow-shot refer to an oft-ignored segment of the field, & a shot into or through that area. This was born of the thought that cows could graze there unmolested during a game.

Though cowboy is most likely derived from caballero, it looks as though it's a cow-related term. Cowboy has many meanings: a bow-legged man, a minor criminal given to violence, a know-it all, a young, inexperienced driver, & someone unqualified or irresponsible. Since 1920, members of the Royal British Navy have referred to baked beans as cowboys (synonyms include prairie rash & yippee beans).

In Canada, a farmer’s straw hat can be referred to as a cow’s breakfast.

Which of these cow-related terms are new to you? Any other thoughts regarding the use or abuse of the word cow?



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tooth


Tooth

This week we’ll bark up the tooth tree. Big thanks again to dear friend and fellow blogger, River, who inspired last week’s eyetooth post in the first place.

Tooth gave birth to all sorts of great words & idioms.

Sweet-tooth showed up as early as the 1300s.

Bucktoothed  showed up in the 1540s.

Snaggle-toothed appeared in the 1580s.

To be long in the tooth appeared in 1841.

The fabric we called houndstooth showed up in the early 1900s.

The word toothache has been in use since Old English, toothpick showed up in the 1400s, & toothbrush found its way into the language in the 1600s.

Tooth has been with us since Old English, It was born of the Proto-Indo-European word dent-. Yes, both dental & tooth have the same root, but along the way different languages & cultures heard the sounds differently & morphed them differently, ending up with words that don’t sound vaguely related. Given tooth’s “roots” (sorry about that), it should be no surprise that the following words are related to tooth:

trident (1400s) three teeth
indent (1400s) to give something a jagged or toothed appearance
dandelion (1400s) literally tooth of the lion
indenture (1400s) of the raggedy edge – when the practice of indentured servitude began, the contract between “employer” & “employee” would be ripped in half in a toothed or jagged fashion, each piece going to one of the parties. Years later, the two pieces were compared as proof of identity so that the contract’s agreement could be fulfilled.
dentist (1700s) tooth person
periodontal (1800s) around the teeth
orthodontia (1800s) straight & proper teeth
denture (1800s) set of teeth
mastodon (1800s) Okay, so we usually dig up bones & teeth of old critters, right? Apparently each mastodon molar was equipped with a central bump, & apparently our intrepid paleontologists were a bit isolated, lonely, & worked up, so voila! breast-teeth.
rodent (1800s) you don’t want to know the details, but they have to do with scraping, red & teeth
al dente (1900s) to the tooth

Tusk appears to have made its way to Old English through Old Frisian, also from the Proto-Indo-European root dent-.


What toothsome etymology do you find most worth of biting into? Please leave a comment.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Etymonline, & Wordnik

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Eyeteeth


Eyeteeth

My dear friend and fellow blogger, River, asked the other day about the idiom I’d give my eyeteeth for… To my surprise, information about its origins are scarce, but there sure is a heap of information about related words.

It seems the idiom to give one’s eyeteeth… has been around since 1836 or earlier. Eyeteeth are generally referred to as canines, those pointy ones directly beneath the eyes. Some etymologists submit that the extraction of the eyeteeth is more painful than the extraction of other front teeth (due to very long roots), suggesting the meaning I’d take some pain for… Others connect it with some earlier eyeteeth idioms: to cut one’s eyeteeth, which refers to a person growing up from babyhood to childhood, to draw the eyeteeth out of someone, which means to pull the conceit out of someone, & to have one’s eyeteeth, which means to be fully conscious. If the idiom in question grew out of any of these, it could mean I’d give up my youth for…, I’d become humble for…, or I’d give up my consciousness for… Do any of these resonate for you? Why? Please weigh in on this in the comments section.

Figuring highly in the eye teeth idioms is the word eye, which takes up four full pages of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and is followed by another four pages of eye-related words. A few of these related words are eyeable, eyeleteer, eyebree, eyethurl & eyey (no kidding). Please ponder possible meanings before reading on…

Eyeable appeared in English in 1839 and has two meanings: that which can be seen with the naked eye or an item that can be looked upon with pleasure.

An eyeleteer is a stabbing implement one uses for making eyelets – something like an awl. This word came to the language in 1874.

Eyebree entered the language as early as 1000. It means eyelid & is the grandmother of our modern word, eyebrow.

Many modern homes are equipped with an eyethurl, which came to English in 890. An eyethurl is that tiny eye-sized window in some front doors.

In 1884 the word eyey was born. It means full of eyes. One must wonder what context required the invention of the word. Critters approaching a fire at night? Bats in the belfry? Very old potatoes?

What proposed eyeteeth idioms resonate best for you? What brilliant possible meanings did you image for the related eye words? Please leave a comment.


My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Etymonline, & Wordnik

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tidbits


Tidbits

Imagine my surprise when earlier this week I got a phone call from Carpinteria, a town about two hours south. The caller had been given a copy of Central Coast Family Magazine, which included a Wordmonger column. She asked whether I’d consider writing a column on words like tidbit & morsel. Darn tootin!

Tidbit showed up in English in the 1630s, made up of tid, meaning fond, solicitous or tender, and bit, which appeared in English in the 1200s, meaning a piece bitten off.  

The English got morsel from the French word morceau, meaning small bite, portion or helping, some time around 1200. Interestingly, the word mordant, meaning caustic (a figurative sense of biting), shares the same roots.

Smidgen came from smitch, a Scottish word meaning a very small amount, or an insignificant person. Smidgen entered English in the 1800s.

Dollop  made its way into English in the 1570s, from the East Anglian word, dallop, meaning a tuft or clump of grass. It wasn’t until 1812 that the meaning morphed to a lump, serving or blob.

Both jot & iota came to English in the 1630s from Greek. Iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet, & (in Greek) also denotes anything small. An alternate spelling was jota, thus the word jot. The Greeks got the root word from a Semitic language we’re not entirely sure of, but the original root was probably something like the modern Hebrew word yodh.

In the early 1950s, Korean War veterans brought home to America the word skosh, their version of the Japanese word sukoshi, meaning few, little, or some.

In 1877, a small child might have been referred to as a tad. Etymologists are moderately sure tad was a shortened form of tadpole, which was born of the word tadde, an alternate form of toad. Toad came to English in the 1300s from nobody-knows-where, & was added to the Middle German word poll, meaning head. It wasn’t until 1915 that tad began to mean a small bit.

Which of these morsels intrigues you most? Please leave a comment.



My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Etymonline, & Wordnik