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, March 13, 2014



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


  1. As a dental assistant, I'd say all of them ;)

  2. Makes me want to run to my dentist and share all this cool stuff!

  3. Howdy Alexis & Rachel6,
    I have an appointment to see my dentist next month. I'll have to remember to take a copy of this. Thanks for visiting & for having something to say.

  4. Well, being that I am always drawn what gives me a giggle I was intrigued by mastodon. I giggled. Indentured was very interesting. I wondered how servant was going to relate to teeth. Pretty fascinating!

  5. You always come up with stuff I didn't know. The derivation of "indentured" is so odd, yet makes sense. Oh yes, do take this to the dentist!

  6. Ahoy Christine & Anne,
    Good to "see" you both. I, too, was surprised by mastodon & indentured. I find the latter one particularly fascinating.