Thursday, February 23, 2012

Guys & Dudes

Guys & Dudes

Having moved the last two weeks toward deep, philosophical waters, I’ve decided it’s time for something light & breezy, hence, guys & dudes

Dude first appeared in print in New York in 1883, meaning a fastidious man & member of “an aesthetic craze” that was popular at the time. By 1921, dude had lost any hint of luster, and was being used in a derogatory fashion to label city slickers ignorant of country ways. Dudes showed up to work the cattle, faces shaved, hair oiled, in comically exaggerated hats and chaps. By the 1940s, dude was given a positive shine by zoot suiters acknowledging one another’s trendiness. In the 1960s dude became cool on two fronts: the African American scene & the surfing scene. Since then, dude has grown from a mere noun to both noun & interjection meaning nearly anything the speaker intends. Dude! Is that a trendy, surfing cow chasing us?

Guy, on the other hand, hit print in 1350, meaning guide or leader. It’s related to the English word guide & the Italian name, Guido. Guy established its nautical meaning by 1603, a rope used to guide a load being raised or lowered. Another meaning of guy was inspired by the infamous Guy Fawkes, instigator of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot (a plan to explode not only the King, but the entire Parliament). This meaning referred to the burning effigies of Guy Fawkes paraded through the streets of London once the plot was revealed. Guy reached the New World in 1836, meaning a grotesquely or poorly dressed person, believed to have been born of all those shabbily constructed effigies. It wasn’t until 1898 that guy simply meant a man or fellow. Today, there are those who argue it maintains that meaning, yet modern American usage has removed any sense of gender. Hey guys, check out that shabby, flaming effigy. Dude!

So followers, what are your thoughts on whether guy has maintained its original gender association, or whether dude is mostly complimentary? Or if you’d like to open up a true can of worms, what do you have to say about guys & dudes?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, & the OED.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Understanding Substance

Understanding Substance

It occurred to me the other day that based on their word parts, substance & understand could almost be synonyms, or might at least work in concert to tell an interesting story. Doesn’t sub- mean under? Don’t stand & stance mean pretty much the same thing?

Understand comes from the Old English word, understandan. Stand means exactly what one might expect, to stand, but under in Old English meant something other than the under we Modern English speakers know today. Instead, it meant in the midst of. So to understand something is to stand in its midst. Understand takes up a page and a half in the Oxford English Dictionary with its fourteen shades of meaning.

Substance, on the other hand, comes from the Latin substare, literally, to stand firm. Interestingly, its primary meaning now is essential nature or essence. Substance takes about two full pages in the Oxford English Dictionary, Coincidentally, it also has fourteen shades of meaning.

Understand & substance aren’t synonyms at all, but together, they certainly inspire some pondering.

To understand something’s substance, one must stand in the midst of its essence. When we really want to grasp something, isn’t that exactly what we do? Don’t we surround ourselves as much as possible with whatever it is, then stand there, & breathe it all in?

Some of the substance I’m working on understanding this year includes (but isn’t limited to):

            -baking a loaf of bread with those nifty, sourdough-ish 
                holes in it,
            -audiobook narration & the fascinating & non-intuitive 
                software involved
            -improved methods of novel revision
            -career revision

Followers, what substance are you throwing yourself into the midst of? What essence has got your attention?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, & the OED.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Return of the Ladies

Return of the Ladies

Last week’s post sparked a comment regarding the etymology of the word lady. If lady originally referred to the gal who made the bread, when and how did lady get a promotion to become the gal who watched the servant bake the bread while nibbling bonbons?

In terms of written English, I can’t find evidence of lady referring to a woman who was likely to get her hands mussed in such things as dough. In the year 1000, the word was used to mean both a mistress in charge of servants or slaves & a woman who rules over subjects, to whom feudal homage is due. However, lady was constructed of parts that meant one who kneads bread. Interestingly, lord literally translates to he who guards the loaves. These two etymologies together suggest that bread may have metaphorically represented home (being the staff of life & all).

The word lady takes up nearly three pages of the print version of The Oxford English Dictionary, offering eighteen shades of meaning for the noun & two for the verb (to make a lady of & to render lady-like or feminine). Some notable first sightings of various meanings of lady include:

900 – Lady in reference to the Virgin Mary
1205 – lady recognized as a more courteous term than woman
1206 – lady as a synonym for wife or consort (though “yeah, she’s my old lady,” didn’t kick in until the late 60s)
1489lady as the queen in chess
1611lady as a kind of butterfly (later to become the painted lady)
1704 – lady as the calcerous structure in the stomach of a lobster (I don’t make this stuff up)

& the list goes on.

Trusty followers, what thoughts have you regarding lady, its checkered history & various permutations?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, The Chicago Tribune & the OED.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Redundant Ladies & Paradise

Redundant Ladies & Paradise

In last week’s comments section, the inimitable & oft-quoted Anne R. Allen proclaimed her interest in the connection between the words dough, lady & paradise.

Who am I to turn down a request from The Manners Doctor herself?

The connection hearkens back some 6000 years to the Proto-Indo-European word dheigh, dough. In a mere sixty centuries, dheigh morphed into the following words in the following ways:

lady At some level, the word lady is redundant. It certainly is breadworthy, It was constructed of the Old English term for one who kneads dough, dage, plus the Old English word for loaf, hlaf. A hlafdage was originally one who made loaves of bread. Over time, the pronunciation and spelling morphed to lady.

paradise – Half this word started as the Greek combining form peri-, meaning around. We modern English speakers know this bit of Greek from the words perimeter, periscope, period, & periphery. The second part of paradise is our old Proto-Indo-European friend, dheigh, in its later meaning of to form or to build. The great grandmother of all paradises, is, of course, the Garden of Eden, a protected, perfect place. The word paradise suggests that a wall was formed around such a perfect spot.

A bonus thought – in another branch of this twisted linguistic tree, the term dheigh or dough, also came to be spelled dey & referred to the servant who made the dough. We still see vestiges of dey in the modern name Doubleday, servant of the twin.

Of course, Proto-Indo-European was never written down. It’s a language reconstructed by linguists, “believed to have been spoken well before 4000 B.C. in a region somewhere to the north or south of the Black Sea” ( Though hard-working forensic linguists would disagree, the very existence of Proto-Indo-European as a language adds up to well-researched conjecture…

…& doesn’t the label, “well-researched conjecture” take us back to where we started last week? Ah, the word fiction.

My fellow writers, what comments do you have regarding bread-making servants, or redundant ladies, or the wall around the Garden of Eden? Offer up some well-researched (or completely non-researched) conjecture.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, take our word, & the OED.