Thursday, February 22, 2018

7 words for stinky

7 words for stinky

Since last week’s post covered words related to caca, why not move onto synonyms for stinky?

Though the word stinky didn’t come to English until 1888, its root word stink came from an Old English word stincan, a verb that meant to emit a smell of any kind. Its cousin, stench was also in the Old English lexicon. Both came from a Proto-Germanic word meaning bad smell. So originally, stench & stink had a similar noun/verb relationship to our modern words drench & drink.

One of the two original meanings of the Old English word foul was rotten, unclean, vile or offensive to the senses. Its second meaning was ugly. This second branch of meaning is the source for foul play, which likely led to the term foul ball.

Malodorous  is an English construction that occurred in 1832, combining the Medieval Latin word for having a smell (-odorus) with the French word for bad (mal-).

The modern word rank came from the Old English adjective ranc, which meant overbearing & showy. During Middle English, it evolved to mean large & coarse, then excessive & unpleasant, then foul. Some etymologists suggest this last shift was influenced by the English acquisition of the French word rance, which meant rancid.

In the late 1300s the word fusty arrived in English, meaning stale-smelling. It came from a French wine-related word meaning tasting of the cask, which came from a Latin word meaning sticks of wood.

And frowsty showed up in 1865, meaning having an unpleasant smell. It may have come from a French word meaning ruinous. Though hard-working etymologists haven’t nailed down the connection, they have identified a connection to the word frowsy, which means both musty/stale & slovenly/uncared for.

Nothing like a few stinky words, eh? Please consider commenting on which of these words’ histories most surprised you.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the Merriam Webster, OED, Wordnik, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Thursday, February 15, 2018



Since wallowing in the wonder of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I’ve loved the onomatopoeic words cacophony & cacophonous - wonderfully honest words that sound like what they mean. At the time I was probably a nine- or ten-year-old boy with all the disgusting proclivities of that tribe. How the younger me would’ve loved to have known the etymology of cacophony.

The last part isn’t all that titillating: -phony comes from the Greek word for sound. The first part, though, comes from the Proto-Indo-European word *kakka-, which meant defecation. And yes, this same root traveled through Spanish to give us caca.

It also gave us these cacophonous cousins:

Cachexia, meaning a generally bad state of health appeared in English in the mid-1500s.

Poorly chosen or incorrect taxonomic names of organisms are known as caconyms, a term that’s been around since 1888.

Poppycock, which appeared in 1865 through Dutch, meaning nonsense.

And since the 1500s, bad handwriting or spelling has been known as cacography.

Kakistocracy, coined in 1829 by Thomas Peacock, meaning government by the worst element of a society.

So readers, did you know about these caca-related words? 

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the Merriam Webster, OED, Wordnik, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Thursday, February 8, 2018



These days novels and films are filled with quirky characters. What exactly is quirky, & what words come close to meaning the same thing?

The word quirky was born in 1806, when it meant shifty. It came from the 1500s word quirk, which meant evasion. It wasn’t until 1960 that quirky meant idiosyncratic.

Coined by Hunter S. Thompson, the word gonzo came to English in 1971, meaning weird, bizarre, idiosyncratic. Though we’re not 100% certain, & Thompson’s gonzo leanings have kept him tight-lipped on the matter, gonzo may have been inspired by an Italian word meaning rude & sottish, or a Germanic word for goose.

In the 1400s, nutty meant nut-like. By the 1820s, it meant in love, & by 1898 it came to mean unbalanced or idiosyncratic.

Someone who is aberrant is wandering from the usual course. We’ve had this word since 1798. Its initial usage applied generally to the animal and plant kingdoms.

Since 1938 we’ve had the word off-beat (or offbeat). It was born in the world of music, & was almost immediately applied to idiosyncratic humans.

The Old English word utlendisc referred to the customs or people of a foreign country. In time, xenophobia & discomfort with “other” took their toll on this word’s meaning. The word it has become, outlandish, now means odd or bizarre.

In 1866 the word screwball referred to an unexpected sort of pitch in the game of cricket. By 1928, baseball welcomed screwball into its lexical arms to refer to an erratic pitch. By 1938, Carol Lombard’s comedy got labeled screwball comedy, & ever since, the word screwball can be used to identify a person who is unbalanced or idiosyncratic.

In the comments section, I’m hoping you’ll nominate a character from fiction or the silver screen who might be defined with one of the above words.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the Merriam Webster, OED, Collins Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

To fit together

To fit together

This week, we celebrate the tiny Proto-Indo-European word, *ar-. a word that meant to fit together. 

Its progeny are legion.

*ar- gave us words that acknowledge the fitting together necessary for military action:
& the fitting together it takes to cease military action:

*ar- gave us words that acknowledge the fitting together that is art:

It gave us the names of critters that fit together:

And words that recognize other ways things might fit together:

Even words that suggest fitting together is simply the way of things:

And a word that may just be where all this fitting together started:

Did any of these fitting together words surprise you? If so, please say so in the comments section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the Merriam Webster, OED, Collins Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.