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, June 23, 2016

Chill, dude!

Chill, dude!

Over the course of the years there’s been a lot of chilling going on.

The word chill came from the Old English word ciele, which meant cold, coolness, frost, or to freeze. Ciele’s source was the Proto-Indo-European word gel-, which gave birth to heaps of modern English words.

Given what liquids do when they cool down, it’s not much of a stretch to see how a word meaning to freeze could be the parent of gel, gelatin & Jello. Gelatin, meaning a clear, jelly-like substance, appeared in 1713 after spending a couple of centuries in France as gélatine. Gel, an abbreviated form of gelatin showed up in English in 1899, meaning a semi-solid substance. Jelly’s parent-word also spent some time in France (as gelee) before moving across the channel to, well, jell into the word we know. And in 1900 the Genesee Pure Food Company started selling a product called Jello.

A Latin step-child of gel- also made its way into France, then to England in 1650 as glacial. And by 1744 the noun glacier was born.

And what happened to gel- on its way through German and Old English? tIt became both cool & cold.

Because water expands upon freezing, gel- is the parent-word for gelb-, to swell, & because a cow swells prior to giving birth, gelb- is the parent-word of calf. If you, like me, consider yourself a junior etymologist, here’s some 180-degree irony. The term calving of a glacier came from the above word-child meaning to swell, while that sense of the word came from the previous one meaning cold.

As much of the nation is swept up in a heat wave, I’m hoping most of you are getting the occasional chance to chill. I also hope you’ll find a minute to comment on all this chilling in the comments section.

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


  1. I love it that glaciers have calves. I'd heard the term but never thought before how odd it is. Yup, it's time to chillax, dude. :-)

  2. Hi Anne -- Chilling news today with the UK leaving the EU. Thanks for popping by.