Thursday, September 29, 2011

Save the Endangered Submission!

Save the Endangered Submission

We writers often hear the advice, “You’ll never see your work in print if you’re not submitting.” It’s true. If we don’t send our manuscripts in for consideration, they stand no chance of publication. But really, what’s the deal with submitting? It takes very little imagination to associate this necessary writerly act with sleazy alleyways, whips, chains, and things that throb in the night. But then again, why imagine? Just send your precious work off to one of the Big Six and you’ll get the picture.  

The word submit was originally Latin (submittere), meaning "to yield, lower, let down, put under, or reduce,” from sub, meaning "under," plus mittere, to “let go or send.”  It showed up in the English language during the 1300s.

The noun form, submission, came about in that same century through Old French, meaning “a lowering, sinking, or yielding.” Soon afterward, it gained the meaning, "act of referring to a third party for judgment or decision." Aha! That is what we writers are supposed to be doing all the time, though the modern definition, “to accept or yield to a superior force,” maintains the flavor of the aforementioned whips and chains experience pretty well.

What with the e-revolution going on in the publishing world, it’s possible that the term submission is headed for the proverbial round file. As seedy as submit and its various forms sound, I worry that in this world of e-books and e-mail we might end up replacing submission with something even worse -- the clearly questionable term e-mission.

Thanks to this week’s sources: the OED,, &

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Starting with Gossip

Starting with Gossip

I have hopes of taking the proverbial high road with this blog. I’ll be writing about
quotes, intriguing etymologies, remarkable usage, downright strange words, and other topics that might tickle the fancy of fellow wordmongers.

In my attempt to avoid gossip, I’ve decided to start with gossip.

The word gossip comes from the Old English godsibb, a combination of god and sibb, the first part meaning, well, God, and the latter meaning relative, sibling, or sponsor. So in the 1300s a gossip was something akin to a godparent. Once the 1400s rolled around, the meaning referred mostly to the women who gathered together to attend a birth. Either birthing wasn’t the only thing going on among such women, or some cranky spouse who didn’t care for his wife’s friends threw some misogyny into the mix, as by the 1500s the word referred to anyone involved in “idle talk.” It wasn’t until the 1600s that the noun became verbified to refer to the talk itself more than the speakers. The meaning got uglier still in the1800s, when the definition began to include “groundless rumor.”

Over a hundred years after that, Truman Capote, target of gossip and downright literate guy, wrote, “…all literature is gossip.”

So there, I’ve got all the gossip out of my system.

Thanks to this week’s sources: the OED,, wordreference,com, &