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 14, 2019



I find the word grammar & its siblings to be somewhat beguiling.

Grammar appeared in English in the late 1300s, meaning the rules of Latin. It came from an Old French word meaning Latin learning. And that Old French word came through Latin from a Greek word meaning the art of letters & learning

Because the art of letters & learning involved pulling meaning from little marks on paper, & this act was something done only by a small percentage of the population, such pursuits were sometimes seen by the masses as both more-than-human & less-than-wholesome, so the word grammar also meant, magic, spells, & mumbo-jumbo.

By the 1500s, the Latin learning meaning generalized to mean rules of a language to which speakers must conform.

The mumbo-jumbo meaning made its way to become the word gramary, meaning magic, necromancy, or occult learning. When the Scots got hold of this word, it became the word glamour, initially meaning a magical spell or charm, & then morphing in time to mean charming or beautiful, sometimes dependent on artifice.

And in 1849 English adopted the French word grimoire (from that magic, spells, & mumbo-jumbo meaning). A grimoire is a manual for invoking demons & spirits of the dead.

And because all things grammar have to do with writing, the suffix -gram also comes from grammar, giving us telegram, anagram, hologram, mammogram, & a host of others. 

Who would’ve thought? 

My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary Etymonline & Wordnik.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Wariness pays off

Wariness pays off

This collection of words that share a centuries-old root. What do you suppose the root meant?
aware, beware, wary, & guard (the verb)

As you probably guessed, the root word has something to do with wariness — these words all came from the Proto-Indo-European word *wer-, which meant to watch out for or perceive.

*Wer- also gave us some words that define some of the things people might be wary of losing:

wares, warehouse, & reward

And some words that involve storing or protecting those wares:

wardrobe, steward, reverend, warden, & guard (the noun)

It even gave us the word lord, which in the lower case refers to he who guards the loaves & in the upper case can refer to a British noble, or in Christianity, God.

Then there are *wer-’s offspring that help label how we might look up to those who watch over things for us:

regard, revere, & reverence 

And what would we do without outliers? These unlikely words also grew out of this same fruitful root:

hardware, panorama, avant garde, & software

To confuse matters even more, this is only one of the four Proto-Indo-European *wer-s linguists have identified. The other three meant to cover, to bend, & to lift. 

Ah, Language. Nothing like it, eh?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary Etymonline & Wordnik.