Thursday, February 28, 2013


Fellow word nerds will understand the following introduction. I apologize to those who can’t possibly imagine using one’s time & effort in such a manner.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve “known” that the wonderful word fastidious had to be closely related to the word tidy.


To my complete astonishment, these two words aren’t even kissing cousins.

Fastidious came into English in the 1500s from the Latin word, fastidiosus, which meant disdainful, squeamish & exacting. This appears to have come from the Latin term, fastu-taidiom, which is constructed of fastus, contempt or arrogance, and taedium, aversion or disgust. By the 1600s, the squeamish part of the word’s meaning took over & the word shifted to mean squeamish, overly nice, & difficult to please when it comes to matters of taste. From there, it morphed to its modern meaning, concerned about matters of cleanliness, accuracy & detail. Who knew?

Tidy, on the other hand, is constructed of tide + y. It entered English in the 1300s, meaning timely, opportune, in-season, or excellent (& isn’t the tide exactly those things?). By the 1700s tidy’s meaning had become more focused, meaning neat & in order. By the early 1800s, tidy earned a sibling verb, to titivate, which we modern speakers supplant with terms like tidy up.

Other tidy-like words include natty, which entered English in 1785, meaning neat, smart & tidy, from the Middle English word, net, meaning pure, fine or elegant. Then there’s neatnik, which showed up around 1959, based on the word neat, which came to English in the 1540s, meaning clean or free from dirt, & came through French from the Latin word, nitidus, meaning well-favored, elegant, trim, & gleaming.

Are you a neatnik, a tidy person, or possibly fastidious (in its modern sense, of course)? Or are you a complete non-neatnik? And how many of you word nerds out there also mistakenly assumed a relationship between tidy & fastidious? Come on, I’ve ‘fessed up. You can, too.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013


How is it that getting socked can be such a bad thing, but getting socks can be pretty great (as long as Aunt Tildy didn’t pick them out).

The verb of the violent nature showed up in English in 1700, meaning to beat or hit. Nobody seems to know its source, but 1700s documents are rife with the word. By 1877 the term sock it to someone had caught on, which appears to be the beginnings of the 1970s phrase, sock it to me.

The socks we wear on our feet entered Old English from Latin through Germanic languages. In Old English a socc was a light slipper. Though medieval royalty wore woven silk socks, it wasn’t until the 1400s when William Lee invented the knitting machine that knitted socks worn inside of shoes became popular for the less-than-royal.

Socks figure highly in any number of idioms & terms:

Bless his/her cotton socks (1800s)
To knock the socks off someone (1845)
To stuff a sock in it / put a sock in it (1919) (though not proven, some believe this idiom came about because there were no volume controls on early Victrolas)
The windsock (1929)
To be socked in (1940s)
To sock money away (1942)
The sock hop (1950)

Also, in 1830 some unrecognized American combined sock with the essence of finality suggested by a doxology, creating the word sockdology, a decisive & final blow. Ironically, the word sockdolagising, from Tom Taylor’s play, Our American Cousin may have been one of the last words heard by Abraham Lincoln. Just as the line was spoken, Booth’s shot rang out. A decisive & final blow indeed.

Dear followers, are there any of these idioms you hadn’t previously heard? Any thoughts about socks, whether Aunt Tildy chose them out or not?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Phrase Finder, The Lonely Sock, Sima Lixia, & Etymonline

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Grandmother Smarati

Grandmother Smarati

The Sanskrit word smarati, or remember, is the grandmother of many words. Here are a few.

The word memory came to English in the 1300s, from the French word memoire, which came from the Latin word memoria, all meaning pretty much the same thing. And memoria came about after the Sanskrit word, smarati made its convoluted way across a continent, through Proto-Indo-European, losing its last two syllables, shifting a vowel from a to e, to become smer, then losing its initial consonant to become mer.

It’s pretty easy to see the resemblance between memory, memoir & remember, but smarati also managed to be the impetus for the word mourn, which came from the Proto-Germanic murnan or mearn, to remember sorrowfully, which came from smer, which started out, of course, as smarati. 

Though not all etymologists agree, it’s very likely smarati is the unlikely root for tirade. It seems tirade, which appeared in English in the early 1800s, from French, initially meant a volley of words, which comes from the Old French, martirer, to endure martyrdom. Isn’t it delicious that putting up with a verbal tirade is etymologically equated with being burned at the stake?

Of course, the word martyr also originated with the Sanskrit smarati, as did the even more unlikely word, retire. It seems reasonable that retire would have something to do with being tired, however, there appears to be no etymological support for that. Instead, retire entered English in the 1530s as a military term, to withdraw to some place for the sake of seclusion, which came from the Old French tirer, which has its roots in that wonderful grandmother of a Sanskrit word, smarati, who, let’s hope – after all that good work – has finally withdrawn somewhere for the sake of seclusion.

Followers – have any of you felt martyred to someone’s tirade? Do any of you take heart that the root of mourn is more fundamentally about remembering than it is about sadness? Any other thoughts about smarati & its offspring?

Also, my audiobook narration of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first published short story is up on audible! Check it out here.

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dorothy Parker Tribute

Dorothy Parker Tribute
I’ve always had a somewhat twisted fondness for author, poet & critic, Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). Generally, I try to see the silver lining, take the high road, and all that. When it comes to searingly mean wit of Dorothy Parker, though I throw silver linings & half-full glasses to the winds & revel in her wickedness. Below are some of my favorite Dorothy Parkerisms.

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

 “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

“Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”

“She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”

 “By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing.
And he vows his passion is,
Infinite, undying.
Lady make note of this --
One of you is lying.”

 “That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can't say 'No' in any of them.”

“If all the girls attending [the Yale prom] were laid end to end, I wouldn't be at all surprised.”

“That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.”

She’s the best (or would that be the worst?) I hope you’ll leave a comment or three.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources Women’s History, GoodReads &