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.


  1. I love the origination of the word "blurb". It is amazing how something becomes part of the vernacular. It reminds me of Catherine's "pay it forward". It became it's own thing separate from the book. I heard a Middle Eastern diplomat use it the other day. So cool! And, Thanks for the audio book. Also so cool!

  2. Thanks for the shameless promotion of Why Grandma Bought that Car! Great narration!

    I too had no idea of the origin of the word "blurb". Fascinating.

    The origins of "magazine" are interesting too. I figured it couldn't have always meant "slick paper newspaper-like thingy" since guns have magazines, and they're not known for their reading habits. The definition of "storage facility" makes much more sense.

  3. Hi Christine & Anne,
    I'm always pleased to be shamelessly promoting your work. And I'm pleased you both found something in this post that tickled your fancy.