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, February 25, 2016

Edible idioms & edible euphemisms


Edible idioms & edible euphemisms

I had enough fun with last week’s post to go a second week with food-related terms. Here’s hoping you’re having a good time with them, too.

The word giblets appears to have been constructed as a euphemism so people eating giblets wouldn’t be reminded they were eating the organs of a game bird, also known as offal (though we never see offal on the menu, do we?). Giblets comes from a French term that meant game stew, a word that has its roots in falcon-hunting.

And continuing in the world of euphemisms, who would sit down at an expensive restaurant and order swollen goose liver? There’s a reason restaurateurs embraced the French term pâté de foie gras.

Another food euphemism is sweetbread. This euphemism showed up in the 1560s. Isn’t it amazing diners are more likely to savor sweetbreads than the literal alternative – calf or lamb pancreas?

When something is sentimental or sappy, we might call it corny. This idiom made its debut in American English in 1932. It was preceded by the short-lived idiom corn-fed, which appears to have been – in part – a way for cityfolk to slander those who lived in the country.

In Britain in 1858 the word cheesy came to mean fine & showy, but forty years later in America the cheap or inferior meaning of cheesy was born. At the time, American university students were using the word cheese to label an ignorant person. Etymologists are pretty sure the American idiom cheesy was born of this put-down.

When someone’s goose is cooked, his/her hopes are gone; he is finished. This idiom entered English in 1845. The story appears to be that any farmer scrabbling for a living would likely have a number of chickens, but only one goose. As times got harder & harder, the farmer might eat his chickens one by one. But it was a sure sign all hope was lost when he cooked his goose.

Any chance any of you want to add a food idiom or euphemism to the heap? If so, please do so in the comments section.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Edible idioms


Edible idioms

Here’s a brief collection of English idioms based on foods.

You don’t know beans!
This idiom seems to have shown up in the 1850s. Linguists pose two differing arguments for its source. One school suggests that because beans are both small & a basic food source, to not know beans is to not understand the simple basics of life. The second school cites a rural American riddle: How many blue beans does it take to make seven white beans? The answer is, (for those of you who don’t know beans) seven. To make blue beans white you simply peel off the skin. Apparently this was seen as common knowledge. Anyone who couldn’t answer the riddle didn’t know beans.

Hard-boiled
This is a tricky one because though it appears to a food-based-idiom, it isn’t.
It comes from the steamy kitchens of the American frontier. Those who did the laundry typically used lye soap (which wasn’t as effective as it might have been). When the clothes got too dingy, launderers of the day boiled them for an extended time with starch. Pieces of clothing that had received this treatment tended to be uncomfortably stiff, & were referred to as hard-boiled. At some point the term morphed to describe a person who was likely wearing over-starched clothing & shared that clothing’s characteristics of being unyielding and emotionless.

Fishing for information
This idiom was introduced by none other than Geoffrey Chaucer in Canterbury Tales. Historians tell us Chaucer was quite the fisherman (in the literal sense). The intimate nature of Canterbury Tales shows us he was apparently also gifted at fishing for information.

Cheesecake
In 1934, Time magazine appears to have coined this idiom, & defined it to mean, “leg-pictures of sporty females.” Like many idioms, this one reflects its times. The “sporty females” photographed in Time magazine all had skin the color of cheesecake. Modern cheesecake shots do not discriminate in terms of skin color & generally involve exposure of more than the legs.

Ham
If it takes a little digging to see racist attitudes or flat-out racism reflected in the birth of the idiom cheesecake, seeing racism in the origins of the idiom ham takes no digging at all. The minstrel shows of the 1800s that often featured white actors in “black face” are responsible. Often, the makeup was removed by use of ham fat. It seems the use of ham fat in concert with the horrible acting associated with many of these thespians gave birth to the idiom.

Nothing like a food-based idiom, eh? I’m hoping you’ll have something to say about it all in the comments section.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

The anti-whine


The anti-whine

After considering synonyms of whine for the 1/28 & 2/3 posts, we’ll take a look at words of the anti-whine variety (as suggested by Christine in the comments section). It’s tough to identify antonyms of whine, in part because a whine includes noise, attitude, & negativity. Sadly the following anti-whine words fall a little short of being true antonyms.

The word approve has been with us since 1300. It came through Old French from a Latin word meaning to assent to or regard as good. The Latin word approbare was constructed of the prefix ad- meaning to & the root probare, or prove.

The verb praise appeared in English about the same time, meaning to commend or flatter. Like approve, praise came through Old French from Latin. Its Latin grandmother, preciare, meant value or worth & is related to our modern words price & prize. It wasn’t until the late 1300s the word praise became associated with God.

The French word lauder, meaning praise or extol morphed in time into the English words laud & applaud. The former appeared in the late 1300s meaning to praise or commend & the latter a century later meaning to express agreement or clap the hands.

In the 1610s the verb compliment was born. Interestingly, the noun that predated it by about thirty years was defined to mean an expression of civility usually understood to include some hypocrisy, & to mean less than it declares.
Compliment came to English through French from Italian from Vulgar Latin.

I find it fascinating that these perfectly fine words with positive meanings aren’t nearly as much fun as whine, whinge & grouse. Any thoughts on that, dear readers?



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

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Whine again


Whine Again

Last week we took a look at six words meaning to complain, but we English-speaking folk are not fenced in by a mere six ways of complaining. Here are a few more. 

From Old Norse we get the word carp, to complain or find fault with. In Old Norse it meant to brag. Nobody’s sure about its source before that. Etymologists believe that as carp made its way into English the Old Norse word shook hands with the Latin word carpere, to slander or revile, & became the English verb carp. All this happened in the 1200s. Though one might think the complaining carp might be related to the fishy carp, there is no relationship. The word for the fish probably came from Gothic through a Germanic language, then through Vulgar Latin & Old French to land in English in the 1300s, just in time to allow our linguistic ancestors to carp about carp.

And then there’s gripe. The to complain meaning of gripe didn’t come to English until 1932, though the verb gripe came to English about 1200. It originally meant to clutch or seize firmly & came from an Old English word meaning to grasp at or attack.

The verb grumble came to English in the 1580s meaning to complain in a low voice.  It may have come from a Middle French word meaning to mutter between the teeth or from a Middle Dutch word meaning to murmur, mutter, or grunt.

In 1885 the verb grouse showed up in English, meaning to complain. It came from British Army slang. It’s not clear where those British soldiers picked it up, but there happens to be an Old French word meaning to murmur, grumble, or complain: groucier.

That Old French word that may have been the source of grouse was definitely the source of another way to complain, grutch. Grutch showed up in the English in the 1200s.

The word snivel, to complain or whine tearfully, appeared in English in the 1600s. Its Old English source, snyflan, meant to run at the nose. Interestingly, the Middle English used the related noun snivelard to refer to one who weeps, cries or whines.

So many ways to complain! Please register your complaints or comments in the comments section.


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