Friday, July 27, 2012



I am positively wallowing in the wonder of summer. During the school year, my middle-schoolers make me laugh, but to be honest, they’ve got nothing on summer. So this week I’m indulging in a modicum of etymology & a few celebratory quotes about summer.

Summer comes to English from Sanskrit. It appeared in English in 825, meaning exactly what it does today & spelled sumur. Interestingly, summer is etymologically related to the word gossamer, which came to English in the early 1300s, from a marriage of the words goose & summer, & meant spider threads spun in fields of stubble in late fall. Etymologists theorize that the spider silk looked a bit like goose feathers. Hmm. Within a century, gossamer found its present meaning, of light, flimsy, or delicate.

Here are some authors’ thoughts about summer.

“Summer's lease hath all too short a date.”

   -Celia Thaxter

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

“Come with me,' Mom says.
To the library.
Books and summertime
go together.”

“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.”

"Summertime and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ as high as the sky
Your mama’s rich and your daddy’s good-looking
So hush little baby, don’t you cry"
   -DuBose Heyward, music by George Gershwin

So, good followers, what thoughts do you have regarding summer or on these thoughts of summer?

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

Friday, July 20, 2012

Brilliant, Informative & Patient

Brilliant, Informative & Patient

Last weekend I had the good fortune to attend The Digital Age Authors’ Seminar. It featured – among others – Anne R. Allen & Catherine Ryan Hyde, celebrating the launch of their new book, How to be a Writer in the E-Age and Keep Your E-Sanity.

Given their expertise, it was no surprise that the presenters were informative. Similarly, the etymology of informative holds little surprise. Inform first showed up in English in the early 1300s, coming through French from the Latin informare, which literally meant to shape or form, & figuratively meant to train, instruct or educate.

Both Anne & Catherine have been labeled brilliant by greater folk than me, & I must agree. Their suggestions and observations definitely cast a brilliant light on the breakneck changes going on in the publishing world. Brilliant made its way into the language in the late 1600s, and meant sparkling or shining. It came from Latin, through Italian, through French. Most etymologists agree its roots are in the precious stone beryllium. This word came through Dravidian from Sanskrit. Apparently the first glasses may have been made from beryllium, hinting at the origin of the German, Old French and modern French words for spectacle, brille, bericles, & besicles.

All the presenters showed great patience explaining the techno ins & outs necessary to thrive in today’s publishing world. I appreciated this patience during the presentations, but I truly appreciated it when I looked into the etymology of the word. Patience, to suffer or endure, came to English from Old French in the early 1200s. Its roots are in the word passion. Many writers would claim writing is all about suffering & enduring, but I’d argue that none of us would suffer writing’s slings & arrows if it weren’t for our passion. Over the years, passion has referred to: suffering, misery, woe, scorn, enduring, enthusiasm or predilection, strong liking, strong emotional desire, & even sexual love.

I hope before you leave my page to take a look at How to be a Writer in the E-Age and Keep Your E-Sanity, you’ll leave a comment about informative, brilliance, or passion.

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

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Boss, put a kibosh on that smart alec!

Boss, put a kibosh
on that smart alec!

Some etymologies are milquetoast while others are just plain weird.

Boss entered English in the 1640s in America. Though its Dutch source word baas, meant master, it’s believed that boss may have come into use in an attempt to make a distinction between master of a slave & master of a hired worker.  The Dutch term appears to have come from the Old High German terms, baes, uncle, & basa, aunt. The slang term of the 1950s & ‘60s, meaning excellent, was actually the rebirth of a slang use of boss in the 1880s.

Etymologists argue over the origins of the term kibosh. Dickens (at the tender age of 24) introduced the term to English readers in 1836 as kye-bosk. Though most etymologists agree that it sounds as though it should have Yiddish roots, the most likely origin appears to be the Gaelic term, cie bash, pronounced ky-bosh. This term refers to the black skullcap worn by judges &/or executioners when pronouncing or performing the death penalty, thus the term, to put the kibosh on.

Unlike boss & kibosh, smart alec (or aleck) has a wonderfully clear origin. Alec Hoag was a con man, misogynist, &/or pimp who – when his wife, Melinda, was “distracting” a client --  would sneak through a specially designed secret panel in the room to pilfer her client’s wallet, watch, & other valuables. Apparently he used some of these valuables to buy off local law enforcement for some time, making a good deal of money & earning the nickname Smart Alec. I find a certain poetic justice in the fact that smart alecs tend to perceive themselves as smart, while the rest of us find them downright offensive.

Good followers, please leave a comment with your thoughts regarding smart alecs, bosses & kibosh.

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

Thursday, July 5, 2012



What with Independence Day, Americans have no doubt seen a good number of flags this week. Flag is one of those delicious words etymologists aren’t 100% sure of. The noun form showed up in English in the late 1400s.

Some argue that flag may have come from Old Norse, flaga, a word related to flake, and referring to split stone. We see this meaning in the English word flagstone. The theory is that flagstones are flat & rectangular, a flag is flat & rectangular, voila! Sounds like a bit of a stretch to me.

Another possibility is that flag comes from the Danish flaeg or Dutch flag. Both these words refer to a yellow iris &/or freshwater reed, things that flap about in the breeze, not unlike flags. Hmm.

The most likely connection (in my humble opinion) is to the verb flag, which predates the noun by a full century, & comes from Old Norse, flakka, to flicker, flap, or flutter. In the Old Norse term we can hear the onomatopoeia of fabric in a stiff wind. Etymologists in the flag-comes-from-flakka school of thought argue that the verb for flap or flutter naturally morphed into the noun for the item that flapped or fluttered.

Some other flag tidbits:

The verb to flag changed meaning in the early 1600s, from meaning flap, flicker flutter to meaning to go limp or droop. Perhaps a lack of winds inspired this change?

In the 1800s the verb, to flag collected another meaning, to stop or slow something. This grew out of the use of flags to slow or stop trains. Much later, in the 1980s, this term was applied to drinkers who’d had a bit too much & would no longer be served more booze.

In the 1870s, the term flagship was born, referring to a ship flying the flag of an admiral. Its figurative meaning arrived in the early 1900s.

The Arizona city, Flagstaff, was so named on July 4, 1876, when a very large flag was flown from a very tall tree.

In the 1500s, the verb fag was born of the verb flag, & like its source, meant to droop, decline, or tire.

So, does the verb-to-noun argument resonate best for you, or do you side with the flagstoners or iris-reeders? Or do you have something else to say about all this?

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