Thursday, March 27, 2014



As this week progresses, people in many lands will celebrate foolishness (or at least indulge in some). In honor of April 1, we’ll join them by taking a gander at the word fool.

Fool has been around in English for a long time. The noun form of fool showed up in the 1200s & the verb form appeared about a century later. It came from fol, an Old French term for idiot, rogue, jester, or madman. The French got it from the Latin term follis, literally meaning leather bag or bellows & figuratively meaning empty-headed person or windbag. Though one might imagine the antics of court jesters inspired the word, centuries of jesters gave their collective all before the English term fool was applied to their ilk in the late 1300s.

In 1680 the term April fool was born. On All Fool’s Day people were sent on “false errands” (did those Brits have a crazy sense of humor or what?). Interestingly, the Norse had a similar celebration known as April Gowk (gowk meant cuckoo in Norse)

Some fool-related words include:

bold (no fooling)

Though most of the following words have multiple meanings, they are all also synonyms for fool:

coot, &

What have you to say about all this etymological tomfoolery?

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cow Slang

Cow Slang

The Old English word cow came through Proto-Germanic tongues from Proto-Indo-European. Etymologists aren’t sure, but mostly assume it is an onomatopoeic term mimicking the lowing of cattle.

Cow-related slang abounds:

Cow-feed is a British Armed services term meaning salad or raw vegetables.

Since 1955 the term cowie has referred to a western film.

British and American cyclists refer to handlebars as cow-horns.

Cow-pat, cow-pattie & cow pie arrived in the language in the 1950s, meaning a single dropping from a cow, calf, or bull.

Cowyard-confetti is an Australian term born in 1920, meaning nonsense. Not surprisingly, ten years later cow-confetti was born – another Australian term, a kinder, gentler term for the crasser, tangentially cow-related term bullshit.

In cricket, the terms cow-corner & cow-shot refer to an oft-ignored segment of the field, & a shot into or through that area. This was born of the thought that cows could graze there unmolested during a game.

Though cowboy is most likely derived from caballero, it looks as though it's a cow-related term. Cowboy has many meanings: a bow-legged man, a minor criminal given to violence, a know-it all, a young, inexperienced driver, & someone unqualified or irresponsible. Since 1920, members of the Royal British Navy have referred to baked beans as cowboys (synonyms include prairie rash & yippee beans).

In Canada, a farmer’s straw hat can be referred to as a cow’s breakfast.

Which of these cow-related terms are new to you? Any other thoughts regarding the use or abuse of the word cow?

Thursday, March 13, 2014



This week we’ll bark up the tooth tree. Big thanks again to dear friend and fellow blogger, River, who inspired last week’s eyetooth post in the first place.

Tooth gave birth to all sorts of great words & idioms.

Sweet-tooth showed up as early as the 1300s.

Bucktoothed  showed up in the 1540s.

Snaggle-toothed appeared in the 1580s.

To be long in the tooth appeared in 1841.

The fabric we called houndstooth showed up in the early 1900s.

The word toothache has been in use since Old English, toothpick showed up in the 1400s, & toothbrush found its way into the language in the 1600s.

Tooth has been with us since Old English, It was born of the Proto-Indo-European word dent-. Yes, both dental & tooth have the same root, but along the way different languages & cultures heard the sounds differently & morphed them differently, ending up with words that don’t sound vaguely related. Given tooth’s “roots” (sorry about that), it should be no surprise that the following words are related to tooth:

trident (1400s) three teeth
indent (1400s) to give something a jagged or toothed appearance
dandelion (1400s) literally tooth of the lion
indenture (1400s) of the raggedy edge – when the practice of indentured servitude began, the contract between “employer” & “employee” would be ripped in half in a toothed or jagged fashion, each piece going to one of the parties. Years later, the two pieces were compared as proof of identity so that the contract’s agreement could be fulfilled.
dentist (1700s) tooth person
periodontal (1800s) around the teeth
orthodontia (1800s) straight & proper teeth
denture (1800s) set of teeth
mastodon (1800s) Okay, so we usually dig up bones & teeth of old critters, right? Apparently each mastodon molar was equipped with a central bump, & apparently our intrepid paleontologists were a bit isolated, lonely, & worked up, so voila! breast-teeth.
rodent (1800s) you don’t want to know the details, but they have to do with scraping, red & teeth
al dente (1900s) to the tooth

Tusk appears to have made its way to Old English through Old Frisian, also from the Proto-Indo-European root dent-.

What toothsome etymology do you find most worth of biting into? Please leave a comment.

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014



My dear friend and fellow blogger, River, asked the other day about the idiom I’d give my eyeteeth for… To my surprise, information about its origins are scarce, but there sure is a heap of information about related words.

It seems the idiom to give one’s eyeteeth… has been around since 1836 or earlier. Eyeteeth are generally referred to as canines, those pointy ones directly beneath the eyes. Some etymologists submit that the extraction of the eyeteeth is more painful than the extraction of other front teeth (due to very long roots), suggesting the meaning I’d take some pain for… Others connect it with some earlier eyeteeth idioms: to cut one’s eyeteeth, which refers to a person growing up from babyhood to childhood, to draw the eyeteeth out of someone, which means to pull the conceit out of someone, & to have one’s eyeteeth, which means to be fully conscious. If the idiom in question grew out of any of these, it could mean I’d give up my youth for…, I’d become humble for…, or I’d give up my consciousness for… Do any of these resonate for you? Why? Please weigh in on this in the comments section.

Figuring highly in the eye teeth idioms is the word eye, which takes up four full pages of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and is followed by another four pages of eye-related words. A few of these related words are eyeable, eyeleteer, eyebree, eyethurl & eyey (no kidding). Please ponder possible meanings before reading on…

Eyeable appeared in English in 1839 and has two meanings: that which can be seen with the naked eye or an item that can be looked upon with pleasure.

An eyeleteer is a stabbing implement one uses for making eyelets – something like an awl. This word came to the language in 1874.

Eyebree entered the language as early as 1000. It means eyelid & is the grandmother of our modern word, eyebrow.

Many modern homes are equipped with an eyethurl, which came to English in 890. An eyethurl is that tiny eye-sized window in some front doors.

In 1884 the word eyey was born. It means full of eyes. One must wonder what context required the invention of the word. Critters approaching a fire at night? Bats in the belfry? Very old potatoes?

What proposed eyeteeth idioms resonate best for you? What brilliant possible meanings did you image for the related eye words? Please leave a comment.

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