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, March 16, 2017

Fiasco!

Fiasco!

All it takes is a brief glance through the newspaper to confirm that fiascos happen. So this week we’ll explore fiasco & some of its synonyms.

Fiasco appeared in English in 1855. It was theater talk for turkey, dismal flop, or failure. It comes through French from Italian word for bottle. Many theories exist to explain why we might call a flop on stage a bottle, but none of the theories can be proven. Today fiasco refers to any sort of failure, whether on-stage or off.

Some fiascos in the news take the form of mayhem, a word that showed up in English in the 1400s through Anglo-French from an Old French legal term meaning to maim an opponent enough that he can no longer defend himself. And yes, this same Old French word also gave us the verb maim.

We call a noisy commotion or uproar a hullabaloo. This word came through northern England &/or Scotland to land in English in the late 1700s. Though nobody’s certain, most etymologists believe hullabaloo may be a tweaking of the greeting, hello. 

A bustle, tumult or fuss can be referred to as a fracas, a word that showed up in English in 1727. It came through Italian from a Latin verb meaning to shake.

In 1890 the word brouhaha (meaning an uproar or fuss) made its way into English from French. Though the connection is lost on me, most etymologists believe it may have come from the Hebrew phrase, “barukh habba,” which means blessed be the one who comes.

From Scottish through Canadian English we have the word kerfuffle, meaning a commotion, or disturbance. Kerfuffle first appeared on the scene in the 1930s.

And we have rumpus (1764) & ruckus (1890), both meaning an uproar or disturbance. Though nobody’s sure where either of these words originated, it appears ruckus grew out of rumpus.

Which of these words best fits to news you read or saw today? Chime in by clicking on “comments” below.



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

6 comments:

  1. These are some of my favorite words. So it's fascinating to know that many of them came to English via some murky paths. Fiasco makes some sense. If everybody brought a flask of a strong beverage to the theater, I suppose it might be a fiasco. But brouhaha--that's a stretch, etymologists! Nothing very blessed about today's brouhahas. Kerfuffle is fun. I can believe the Scots thought it up. But hullabaloo comes from "hello"? There has to be a better origin story. Maybe we'll have to think of one.

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  2. Hey Anne - maybe in your next book, Camilla and Plant can run into Hester Hullabaloo, who has as a story to tell.

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  3. I am amused by the number of wurds which have "u" in them; I am easily amused.

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    1. It is good to be easily amused. Perhaps you should compile your u-word research & send a note off to the Scrabble manufacturer to re-think the number of u tiles in the game.

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  4. Great fun, frolicking words. Reading them made my thoughts bounce. I could see you greeting people with a great big Hullabaloo! Can't you?

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    1. I suppose a hullabaloo-ish greeting would involve the smashing of pots & pans & a whoopee cushion or two.

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