Thursday, August 1, 2019



There are heaps of lovely English words that somehow relate to greed. Here’s a sampling.

Covet came to English in the 1200s through Old French from Latin, meaning to desire inordinately without regard for the rights of others.

Crave most likely originated in Germanic languages, & appeared in English during Old English times. It originally meant to ask, implore, or demand by right, but by 1400 it mostly meant to eagerly desire.

Grasp showed up in English in the 1400s, & meant to reach, grope, or feel around. It came through Old English & Proto-Germanic from Proto-Indo European.

Greed came to English from an old Germanic word that meant greedy.

Guzzle appeared in English in the 1570s, meaning to swallow liquid greedily. It appears to have come from a French word meaning jaws, throat or gullet.

Peculate came to English in 1749 from a Latin word meaning to embezzle. It is related to peculiar & pecuniary.

Pillage showed up in English in the late 1300s through Old French from Latin. The original Latin term meant to skin or strip of hair.

Purloin came through Anglo-French from Latin in the 1400s & originally meant to misappropriate. It took a century for the less euphemistic meaning to steal to gain favor.

Snaffle likely came from Dutch, arriving in English in the 1530s. A snaffle was originally a bit (the sort one puts in a horse’s mouth), but now snaffle also means to steal. It appears this transformation may be related to the saying “to take the bit in one’s mouth.”

Steal originally meant to clandestinely commit theft. Steal came through Germanic languages from Proto-Indo-European. 

Swindle came to English through German in 1774, originally meaning a giddy person or cheat.

I don’t think of greed as a good thing at all, but I’m quite fond of some of these words. Which ones appeal most to you?

Thursday, July 25, 2019



I just read the fabulous debut novel Cursed, by author Karol Ruth Silverstein (2019 - Charlesbridge). What better inspiration to look into the word author?

Author appeared in English in the 1300s, meaning one who makes or creates. It came from an Old French word meaning originator, creator, instigator, which came from a Latin word with a heap of shaded meanings: progenitor, founder, authority, performer, responsible person, teacher. The literal meaning of author’s Latin root (aug-) meant to cause to grow.

Silverstein’s novel manages to do all that. Her protagonist is Erica Bloom, known mostly as Ricky, a snarky ninth grader who not only has to change schools due to her parent’s divorce, but has recently been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. The frustration, pain, humiliation, & uncertainty of it all only increase her snarkiness, as illustrated by the novel’s subtitle: “Warning — chronic pain may cause irritability, sarcasm, & bouts of profanity.” 
Cursed is a valuable addition to the #OwnVoices movement, & gives the reader a glimpse into life with chronic pain, from an authority on the subject — a responsible person whose work not only introduces us to a compelling character, but teaches us, helps us grow, & entertains us along the way.

And since I can hardly help myself when it comes to etymologies, I’m forced to mention that aug-, the base Latin word for author, gave us some other lovely words: authority, authorize, augur, augment, auxiliary, inaugurate, inaugural, waist, wax, eke, & nickname (honestly, folks).

If you’re in the mood to enjoy a compelling young adult read, check out Cursed. And though our pals at Blogspot still aren’t letting me reply on my own blog, if you’re in the mood to comment, please do.

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019



Most all our word meaning confused come from verbs, but not all those verbs mean to confuse.

The words confound & confuse both come from Latin — to pour together.
confound made its way to English in the 1300s, meaning to condemn, curse, disconcert or perplex. Confused appeared in English in Middle English, but it wasn’t until the 1500s that we dropped the final -d to create the verb confuse.

Addled , addle-pated, & addle-headed made their way into English in the 1600s from an Old English verb which meant become putrid. The word was often applied to bad eggs, which are sometimes stinky (putrid) & sometimes empty, & it’s the empty meaning that moved addled toward its modern meaning of idle, confused, muddled or unsound.

Bewildered came from the verb bewilder, which came from Old English and appeared in the 1600s. Its literal meaning was to be led into the wilderness, though the figurative meaning confounded or confused almost immediately eclipsed the literal meaning.

We didn’t have the words flummox & flummoxed until 1837, & nobody’s sure where they came from.

In the 1720s the word muzzy appeared, mostly likely a form of the word mossy.

The year 1759 brought us the word muddle-headed, from an old Germanic verb that meant to destroy the clarity of. That same root also gave us mud.

Baffle appears to have come from a French verb which meant to abuse or hoodwink. This word traveled through Scottish, where it meant to disgrace. By the 1540s, English speakers appear to have associated confusion with disgrace, and the words baffle, baffled, & bafflement were born.

An Old French word & an Old English word were slapped together in 1735 to come up with the verb bemuse, to stupefy, & so we have bemused.

In the early 1800s, some Americans amused themselves by making fun of Latin by creating ridiculous, Latin-sounding words. Discombobulate & confusticate came about because of this practice.

And in 1703 bamboozle showed up in English, most likely from a Scottish verb meaning to confound or perplex.

Bamboozled or inspired by any of this? Please say so in the comments (which I still can’t reply to — which not only bamboozles me, but confusticates me.)

Big thanks to ANNE LORENZEN for inspiring this post, & to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019



The word sweet has been with us since we were speaking Old English. It came through Germanic languages from Proto-Indo-European. Though for a time it meant to advise, for years it has mostly meant pleasant to the senses.

Idioms involving the word sweet are rife:

1290 — sweetheart
1300s — life is sweet
1590s — a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
1700s — sweet dreams
1723 — sweet and sour foods 
1767 — sweet sixteen
1823 — home sweet home 
1900 — sweet nothings
1914 — toot sweet (from the French tout de suite
1935 — sweet talk 
1957 — sweet smell of success 
1976 — sweet spot
1971 — sweet as tupelo honey

And here are some I can’t find origin dates for:
short & sweet
sweet young thing
sweet as pie
in one’s own sweet time

Nothing like a little sweetness. 

Big thanks to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster,Word Histories,, Stack ExchangeNew Republic, & Etymonline.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Deep & hollow

Deep & hollow

The word deep comes from an old word meaning deep & hollow. Though the people who used this ancient root never wrote it down, etymologists write it *dheub-. Like our modern word, deep, the original root also carried the figurative meanings profound, inspiring, solemn, mysterious, awful.

Of course, *dheub- was far too deep a word to give us only the word deep.

About the year 1200, it gave us dive, to descend or plunge headfirst into water. Because we’re approaching International Dive Bar Day (July 7), I’m compelled to note that the idiom dive bar was born in the 1800s. It appears to have come from the fact that many low-end drinking establishments could only be accessed by walking downstairs from street level, thus diving into the bar.

Quarrelsome as they are, etymologists are still duking it out over the etymology of typhus & typhoon. They may have come from Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, or Greek. They may have come from *dheu-, a form of *dheub that meant smoke. Or they may have come directly from *dheub-. I suppose both typhoon & typhus can be seen to embrace the concept of depth.

Python also inspires fistfights among the more pugnacious etymologists. One camp hangs its hat on the story of Apollo slaying the serpent near Delphi, which was originally called Pythein, a word meaning to rot. The alternative camp finds our ancient root *dheub- responsible for python, as monsters such as serpents were often believed to inhabit the depths.

Interestingly, the surname Donald also comes from this root. Donald showed up in English in the 1200s from Scottish (though the name in Scottish was either Dofnald or Dufenald). It entered Scottish from Proto-Celtic, where it was something more like Dubno-valos, & meant ruler of the world, valos meaning to be strong & dubno (from the root *dheub-) meaning world. And how did a word meaning deep & hollow end up meaning world? All that depth oozed into meaning bottom or foundation, & the earth or world appeared to be the foundation of things. 

So this one root has something to do with hollow, deep, storm, plunging headfirst, disease, foundation, world, even monster habitat. Yikes. Some etymologies offer those combative etymologists more grist than others, eh?

Big thanks to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster, Phrases.orgLexico, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019



It seems I can’t read the news these days without being flummoxed by how many toadies there are out in the world. So here’s a post on toady & its synonyms.

In the 1600s, the assistants of performing charlatans were sometimes forced to eat a “poisonous” toad so the charlatan could amaze the crowd by expelling the “poison”. Not surprisingly, these assistants were known as toad-eaters. In time, the term got shortened to toady & the meaning morphed to a servile parasite or fawning flatterer.

Our modern meaning of flunky came about in 1855 (flatterer or toady). Flunky came from a Scottish word meaning footman or servant. It’s believed the pejorative shift was influenced by the requirement that footmen run through the mud & mire alongside a noble’s carriage.

In 1846 the term bootlicker (or boot-licker) was born. It came from the 1600s term footlicker, & means a servile follower.

An adulator is one who engages in excessive or slavish admiration. This word comes through Old French from Latin, & initially meant to fawn, as a dog after its owner. The etymological jury is still out, but it is likely adulator came from words meaning to wag the tail.

An Old Norse word meaning prone gave us the word grovel, which gave us the word groveler some time in the 1500s. The meanings of groveler include one who creeps with the face on the ground, & one who abases him/herself. 

Flatterer came form the word flatter which appeared in the 1200s, meaning, to praise insincerely. It came from Proto-Germanic through Old French, & initially meant one who throws or flings him/herself to the ground. 

Though we might expect the word sycophant to be the more academic & classy of these words, its roots are crude & sexist. Sycophant came through Latin and Middle French from a Greek word that translates literally to one who shows the fig. This refers to a crass, misogynist gesture ancient Greek men used to taunt one another. From the Things Never Change Department, notes that, “…politicians in ancient Greece held aloof from such inflammatory gestures, but privately urged their followers to taunt their opponents.” Initially, sycophant meant informer or slanderer, but by the 1570s, the meaning shifted to mean, servile flatterer.

Toadies abound! 

By August I will resolve my inability to reply to comments on my own blog. Still, if you’ve got something to say about all this, please leave a comment.

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

To cover

To cover

It makes sense that an ancient word meaning to cover would give us words like kerchief, garment, & garnish, but it takes a bit of imagination to connect an ancient verb meaning to cover to some of its other progeny.

These days, the word garret conjures images of Paris, painters, & poets, but garret originally meant a turret or small watchtower — a place that might offer a spying soldier some cover. We also see this military sense of cover in the word garrison.

And because we can’t have cover without having uncover, we have the word apperture, meaning an uncovering or opening. And apperture gave birth to something that might uncover one’s appetite, the aperitif, & to the opening to a musical event, the overture.

And because we used to turn off the gas lights to signal the end of the night’s revelries, & doing so involved covering those flames, the word curfew was born of this same root meaning to cover.

Want to be sure you’re covered when buying something? You can rely on your warranty, (also warrantee), or guarantee (also guaranty). 

Need a cover under which you might park your car? Try a garage.

And they all come from one little Proto-Indo-European root. Linguists write it today as *wer-.

This little root also managed to populate languages other than English with words. Sanskrit, Latin, German, Old Irish, Gothic, Old Persian, Old Church Slavonic, & Lithuanian all have words having to do with covering, all from this one little root, *wer-.

I apologize — once more — for not being able to reply to comments on my own blog. Makes no sense to me, but life is funny.

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