Thursday, April 28, 2016

A dollar by any other name

A dollar by any other name

Ah, the ubiquitous dollar. We have many names for it. In this post we’ll cover a few of them.

In the 1550s the word dollar entered the English language. It referred to any number of coins of various values. Dollar comes from the German word thaler, an abbreviation of the word Joachimstaler, a word which referred to the coins minted in the town called Joachimstal, a village positioned in a valley, taler) & named for a chap called Joachim.

In 1836 Washington Irving first connected the two words almighty dollar, defining it as “that great object of universal devotion throughout our land.”

In 1855 some folks started calling dollars scads. Nobody’s certain about the source of the word scads, though some etymologists point toward a fish called the scad. Apparently the scaled, cold-blooded scads tend to travel in abundant schools. There is no singular form of the monetary scad, & by 1869 scads added the generalized meaning, large amounts. Connection? Nobody knows for sure.

In 1856 the word buck kicked in among American English speakers. Buck (meaning dollar) also has no verified source, though some have wondered whether bucks may have sprung from buckskins, which were used in some places as a unit of trade on the American frontier.

In 1862, Americans started calling dollars greenbacks. Before this, paper money was printed & issued by individual banks. The country’s paper money (initially known as demand notes) was printed in green ink, thus the name, greenbacks.

In 1895 the word simoleon came to mean dollar. Though nobody’s sure why simoleon came to mean dollar, & nobody has found a connection to Roman coin-names, there were Roman coins called simbella & simodius.

About 1936 the word single came to mean dollar. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how single came to mean dollar. Single has been a word in English since 1400 & came from the Old French word sengle, which meant alone, unaccompanied, unadorned.

In the 1940s, for no reason I can find, some Americans started calling dollars rutabagas.

Any thoughts about all these monetary monikers? Please say so in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Even more kids

Even more kids

Welcome to the third of three posts on synonyms for child. The first & second posts can be found here & here.

In 1725 the Scottish word tot, little child, became an English word. It appears to have come from either the word totter, OR an Old Norse term for dwarf, OR a Danish term of endearment that translates to thumb-child.

In early Renaissance Western England and the northern Midlands there was a word for ragged garment. It was related to the word for cloak. This word morphed by about 1500 to mean beggar’s child. The word? Brat.

Back in the 1300s, urchin meant hedgehog (it still does in Shropshire, Yorkshire & Cumbria). Apparently the word urchin was used pejoratively to refer to those who looked different. Etymonline tells us these unfortunates ranged “from hunchbacks to goblins to bad girls.” By the 1500s, we English speakers landed on a new meaning for urchin: raggedly clothed youngster.

Along similar lines, the word nipper appeared in 1530s to refer to a pickpocket. One can imagine how the chaos, poverty, & 16-hour work days of parents during the industrial revolution might have inspired nipper to shift its meaning to small boy (by 1859).

Friend Bruce West asked about the terms of affection sometimes applied to children, punkin & punkinhead. These spellings, considered to be “vulgar American English,” appeared in 1806 & appear to have come from the 1780s term pumpkinhead, which referred to a person whose hair was “cut short all around.” Pumpkin, as in squash, showed up in English in 1640 from Middle French.

Bambino came to English in 1761 from the Italian word for baby, the diminutive form of bambo, the Italian word for simple. Interestingly, in 1919 the word bambino gave birth to another English word that originally meant simple fellow, the word bimbo. Only one year later, bimbo picked up the additional meaning floozy.

Any thoughts about all these childish words? Please say so in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

More kids

More kids

Last week’s post on synonyms for child was just a start. Here are some more ways we might refer to young folk.

In 1793 the word toddler came to English. Its source was the English verb toddle, which showed up in 1600. Toddle may have come from totter, or from another English verb from the 1500s meaning to toy or play.

Lass came to English in 1300 from a Scandinavian source, though etymologists can’t decide which one. Some suggest the source was an Old Swedish word meaning unmarried woman, some posit lass came from a West Frisian source meaning light & thin, and some suggest a Norse source for lass – a word meaning idle & weak. Though I hold nothing against the Norse, it would be nice to hear some future word historians disprove that possibility.

Though many of us might assume the English word lad had its source in the Scottish words lad & laddie, the Scots borrowed those words from English in the 1540s, more than two centuries after ladde appeared in English. In 1300 it meant both foot solider & young male servant. Like lass, lad’s source has etymologists’ collective knickers in a twist. Some suggest lad comes from a Middle English word meaning one who is led. Other word sleuths argue for a Norwegian word meaning young man, while those aforesaid Norse provide the most unlikely & intriguing possibility. It seems there was a time when pejorative terms associated the slandered subject with shoes, socks or stockings (I’m not making this up). The Old Norse word for woolen stockings or hose was ladd, and may have been the source for our modern word lad, though if so, it came through boys being referred to as the equivalent of fools.

And of course, there are the deliciously negative terms born in 1960s, rugrat & anklebiter.

Any thoughts about all these childish words? Please say so in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.

Thursday, April 7, 2016



After last week’s look at terms referring to parents, we’ll take a couple of weeks considering some of the words we use to refer to children.

The Old English word cild had a broader meaning than our modern word child. It meant infant, newly born person, unborn person, & fetus. It came from a Proto-Germanic word whose descendants from various languages include words meaning womb, pregnant, children of the same marriage, & litter. It wasn’t until later Old English that cild/child came to mean young person before the onset of puberty. Our modern plural children (born in the 1100s) was predated by the 975 AD plural of child, cildru.

Both baby & babe, meaning infant, showed up in the 1300s from the Old English word baban, most likely a term imitating an infant’s babble. Baby also came to mean childish adult person about 1600 & about 1915 babe came to mean attractive young woman. Interestingly, the French word bébé came from the English word baby.

The Old English word geoguð meant junior warriors, the young of cattle, & young people, & morphed in time into the modern word youth. Related words include geong, which became the word young, & geongling which morphed first into youngling, & by 1580 into youngster.

The Old Norse word kið, meaning the young of a goat, gave English speakers the word kid as early as 1200. It took until the 1590s for kid to refer to the offspring of humans. Kid was not always a term of endearment, as our friends at tell us it was “applied to skillfull young thieves and pugilists since at least 1812.” The more endearing word kiddo showed up in 1893.

The word tyke probably came from Old Norse & made its English debut in the 1300s, meaning mongrel or cur. Tyke didn’t start meaning child until 1902.

I’m planning on investigating more childish words next week. Any you’d like to know about? Leave a request under comments.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.