Thursday, March 30, 2017



In written Old English the word dream meant one thing and one thing only: make a joyful noise. Other written records suggest our modern meaning of dream may have been spoken by Old English speakers, but by the time Middle English ruled, the modern meaning of dream took a several-century snooze.

Along the way, the word dream & its cognates picked up and then lost some intriguing meanings which include but aren’t limited to:

-joy, pleasure, gladness, mirth, rejoicing
-a cherished desire
-deception, illusion, phantasm
-a train of thoughts, images or fancies passing through the mind during sleep
-a fancy voluntarily indulged in while awake
-a state of abstraction or trance
-a wild fancy or hope
-a reverie

And those are only the nouns. Dream’s verb forms deserve an entry of their own.

So, which of the above meaning(s) would you like to infiltrate your dreams?

Thanks to this week’s sources,, the OED, & &

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Steep & stoop

Steep & stoop

It seems reasonable that these words might come from the same root:

steep slope
steep the tea 
stoop down
hang out on the stoop

However, only three of them share a root.

The verb steep (to soak in liquid) made its way into English in the early 1300s. Though nobody is certain of its source, it may have come from a Norse word meaning to pour. 

The noun stoop (raised platform at the front or back of a house or apartment), appeared in English in 1755 from a Dutch word meaning a flight of steps.

The three words that share a source are the verb stoop, the adjective steep, & the noun steeple. They all come from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning to push or knock. A version of this root made its way into northern European languages meaning to bow or bend, & then into Old English as the verb stoop. Another form of this root came to mean high & lofty (possibly due to the idea that a mountain is pushed up from the surrounding soil). This form of the root found itself becoming both the adjective steep & the noun steeple

It nearly causes one to want to stoop to steep one’s tea on one’s stoop, then climb up to enjoy the tea atop a steep steeple, eh?

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017



All it takes is a brief glance through the newspaper to confirm that fiascos happen. So this week we’ll explore fiasco & some of its synonyms.

Fiasco appeared in English in 1855. It was theater talk for turkey, dismal flop, or failure. It comes through French from Italian word for bottle. Many theories exist to explain why we might call a flop on stage a bottle, but none of the theories can be proven. Today fiasco refers to any sort of failure, whether on-stage or off.

Some fiascos in the news take the form of mayhem, a word that showed up in English in the 1400s through Anglo-French from an Old French legal term meaning to maim an opponent enough that he can no longer defend himself. And yes, this same Old French word also gave us the verb maim.

We call a noisy commotion or uproar a hullabaloo. This word came through northern England &/or Scotland to land in English in the late 1700s. Though nobody’s certain, most etymologists believe hullabaloo may be a tweaking of the greeting, hello. 

A bustle, tumult or fuss can be referred to as a fracas, a word that showed up in English in 1727. It came through Italian from a Latin verb meaning to shake.

In 1890 the word brouhaha (meaning an uproar or fuss) made its way into English from French. Though the connection is lost on me, most etymologists believe it may have come from the Hebrew phrase, “barukh habba,” which means blessed be the one who comes.

From Scottish through Canadian English we have the word kerfuffle, meaning a commotion, or disturbance. Kerfuffle first appeared on the scene in the 1930s.

And we have rumpus (1764) & ruckus (1890), both meaning an uproar or disturbance. Though nobody’s sure where either of these words originated, it appears ruckus grew out of rumpus.

Which of these words best fits to news you read or saw today? Chime in by clicking on “comments” below.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017



Though most of us haven’t heard the word pleonasm, we hear, read, & use pleonasms every day. 

Check over this list. I bet you can define pleonasm on your own.

frozen tundra 
foreign imports
mass exodus
kneel down
hot water heater
ATM machine
break & enter
empty space
advance warning
mental telepathy
temper tantrum
lag behind
aid & abet
fellow countrymen
cameo appearance
advance reservations
past history
nape of the neck
serious crisis
alternative choice
future plans
sum total

So to finish up in pleonastic style, I’d like to thank each & every one of you for joining me here at Wordmonger this week. 

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, 200 Common Redundancies & a Thought Company article regarding George Carlin’s commentary, “Count the Superfluous Redundant Pleonastic Tautologies”

Thursday, March 2, 2017

We got the beat

We got the beat

Though the musical sense of the word beat didn’t appear until the 1840s, beat first showed up in Old English as a verb meaning to thrash or inflict blows on. It came from the Proto-Indo-European word meaning to strike or thrust. Linguists represent this word as *bhau-.

*Bhau- is the source of a heap of modern English words. Here are a few:

The verb butt appeared in English in about 1200, meaning to strike with the head.

*Bhau- also gave us the noun bat, meaning a stick or club (obviously used to beat something). Bat has been with us since Old English. For the purpose of making sense of the next few etymologies, it’s important to note that the part of the bat one grips is typically narrow, while the business end of a bat is comparably thick.

When butt first transitioned to a noun in English (1200-1300) it meant both thick end and flat fish (possibly - but not definitively - due to the need to tenderize the fish by beating it with a bat). We still see the meaning flatfish in the word halibut  which appeared in the 1400s.The meaning human posterior (another thick end) also showed up in the 1400s, and by the 1600s the noun butt  also meant the target of a joke. By the mid-1800s butt also meant the remaining end of a smoked cigarette. Both butt in & buttinski showed up about 1900.

The word buttress  (an element of a building that thrusts out from the primary structure) appeared in English in the 1300s.

Since the 1300s we’ve been thrusting buttons through button-holes.

And in argumentation, both the words rebut (1300s) & refute (1500s) mean to strike back & were born of the word *bhau-.

Inspired to butt in with a comment? Please do.

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