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, October 27, 2016

Eight possibly presidential words

Eight possibly presidential words

Countless groups have published lists of words most used by our presidential candidates. Here’s a look at a sampling of those words whose etymologies I find most intriguing.

The word huge has gotten a lot of attention. Huge appeared in English in the 1100s from the Old French word, ahoge, which meant extremely large, enormous, or powerful. Nobody knows the source that preceded Old French.

Though a segment of the voting population is embracing the word nasty, etymologists haven’t quite come to terms with it. One school of thought gives nasty’s origin as the Dutch word nestig, meaning dirty, (it literally translates to like a bird’s nest). An opposing school of thought suggests nasty came through Old French from the Latin word villenastre, meaning infamous or bad. A third group says we simply don’t know where it came from. At least we can all agree nasty appeared in English about 1400.

An oft-used word that hasn’t received so much press is constant. Appearing in the 1300s through Old French from Latin, constant originally meant steadfast & resolute. It was constructed of the Latin parts com- & -stare, to stand together.

The opposite of constant would be inconstant, which happens to be one of the meanings of another oft-used word this electoral season: inequality. Coming from the Latin word inequalitas, which meant unequal, different in size, changeable or inconstant, the word inequality appeared in the early 1400s meaning difference of rank or dignity.

The words racism & racist have played quite a role in speeches and debates. The earliest forms, racialism & racialist came from South Africa in the 1870s. These early forms were eclipsed in the 1930s by the forms we know today. The root for these words, race, came to English in the 1500s through Old French & possibly Italian & had many meanings:
- wines with a characteristic flavor,
- a group of people with a common occupation,
- a generation, &
- a tribe, nation, or group of people of common stock.

Quagmire showed up in English in the 1570s meaning bog or marsh. By 1766 quagmire picked up the figurative meaning, inescapable, bad situation.

The word classy (now meaning stylish) comes from a meaning of class that appeared in 1772, a division of society according to status. However, the word class first showed up in English from French in the 1600s meaning a group of students, which interestingly came from a Latin word originally meaning the people of Rome under arms.

Please leave any huge or nasty thoughts on all these constant, classy, yet quagmire-like election-induced words in the comments section.


  1. Well, I'm voting for the Dutch nestig. I think the "birds-nest" dirty mess sounds right for nasty. Very interesting that wines used to have a race. And that huge has an unknown origin. Fascinating as always, Mr. Monger!

    1. Greetings Anne - & big thanks for popping by once more. I'm with you on nestig -- just seems to possible to not be true.