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, August 21, 2015



The word came to English in 1871, meaning a dance, party, or lively gathering. It appears to have come from the word shindy, a spree or merrymaking. Though nobody is certain, shindy may have come from a hockey-like Scottish game named shinty or the Old English word scinu, meaning shin.  

A party wasn’t called a bash until some time after 1901. This sense of bash grew out of an earlier slang expression meaning a drunken spree. Before that, bash made its noun debut in 1805 meaning a heavy blow after a long run as a verb meaning to strike violently, which started in the 1640s & came from Old Norse.

An informal gathering of folk musicians has been known as a hootenanny since 1940. Before that, the word hootenanny meant any sort of gadget, & before that a hootenanny was more specific -- the sort of gadget a car thief uses to break into a car.

The 1932 meaning of rally, a gathering of automobile enthusiasts, comes from an earlier military meaning of rally, a regrouping for renewed action after a repulse, which came to English in the 1650s from the French word rallier, to unite again or reassemble.

The word jamboree is a bit of a puzzle. It’s been in use in English since 1866, meaning large gathering. Some etymologists think it may have come from the French word bourree, a rustic dance. Others suggest it may have Hindu roots. Some note that the term jambone was used in the game of cribbage when a player held the highest five cards available. No definitive assemblage of documents has surfaced to solve this puzzle.

When blowout first came to English in 1825 in meant a brewhaha or outburst. Since then blowout has come to mean an abundant feast or festive social affair. Blowout is constructed from blow, which comes from an Old English term meaning to move air combined with out, another Old English word meaning out, outside or without.

The word powwow, which today means council, conference or meeting, is an Algonquian word that initially meant shaman, Indian priest or medicine man. It comes from a word that meant to use divination, to dream. In the 1660s among English speakers it began to mean magical ceremony among natives, which led to its modern meaning.

A confab is a gathering of people for discussion. This term is a shortening of confabulation, a 1400s English word meaning talking together. Its root is the Latin word confabulari.

What do youhave to say about all these various words meaning a gathering?

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

And big thanks to the two-person crowd of Anne R. Allen & Christine Ahern for suggesting the terms tilting, shock, & erasing to my growing list of archidioms.



  1. I'd buy the theory that shindig/shindy comes from the Scots, since it's popular with US "rednecks" who are generally Scots-Irish. And I'd buy the French origins of Jamboree, since it seems to be popular in Louisiana. (I wonder if anybody's looked into West African roots?)

    I always thought hootenanny had to come from some Scots Gaelic term like that weird "stereotypical" Scots expression I've never heard from an actual Scot: "hoots mon".

  2. Hey Anne - I love the idea that "jamboree" might have come from some African language. At present, though, we'll have to let the mystery be. Thanks for coming by.

  3. I love the word, hootenanny. Wasn't that a TV show in the 1960s? I think it's become part of my speaking vocabulary. I remember using it at a staff meeting once at Hancock and all the younger guys looked at me and laughed. Thought it was the funniest word they'd ever heard. Maybe it was. :) Great post, Charlie. Hugs your way.

  4. Hootenanny, from a gadget used to break into a car to an informal gathering of musicians...that's one crazy transition! Fun and fascinating as usual!

  5. Ahoy Paul & Christine - I don't remember a TV show named Hootenanny, but apparently it ran from '63 to '64 & was hosted by Linkletter. Ha! Now there's a folk singer for you. Makes you wonder whether he ever used a gadget to break into a car.