Thursday, July 26, 2018



Fiction is rife with minions.

The word minion showed up in English about 1500 from a Middle French word meaning darling or favorite. Somehow on its way across the pond, a less favorable meaning emerged, so that minion in English originally meant one who pleases rather than benefits. Today it mostly means a fawning servant.

Sometimes, we might refer to a minion as a sidekick, a word that showed up in American English in 1901 meaning a companion or close associate. Some earlier version from the late 1800s led to sidekick. These include side-kicker, side-pal, & side-partner.

In the late 1700s, foot servants walked beside the noble’s coaches, on the coaches’ flanks. From flanks came flankers & flankies, and from flankies came the now-inglorious word flunkies. Born in Scotland, the word flunkies had no negative connotation until the mid-1800s (in writing, anyway), though the modern meaning flatterer or toady may have been associated with this word much earlier in common speech.

Those flankers, flankies or flunkies who walked or ran abreast of the nobles’ coaches could also be called lackeys. Etymologists aren’t certain where lackey came from, but some possibilities include:
-an Old Provencal word meaning covetous
-an Old French word meaning the judge
-an Old Spanish word meaning runner
Today, lackey means a servile follower.

The word toady appears to have come from the earlier form, toad-eater some time in the early 1800s. Two centuries earlier, a toad-eater was the unfortunate assistant of a charlatan, who was forced to eat a toad so his/her charlatan could access magical powers. Once the word was shortened to toady, the meaning generalized to fawning flatterer or servile parasite

In the 1600s the term footlicker was used to refer to a servile flatterer. By 1846, it grew into the term bootlicker.

Which of the words above really resonate for you for a fawning servant? Please let me know in the comments section

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018



Since diplomacy & negotiations are getting a lot of air play these days, why not look into these two words?

The words diplomacy & diplomatic made their way into English in the early to mid-1700s through French from Medieval Latin (followed by diplomat in the early 1800s). The original root meant paper folded double, or fold over, & soon came to be associated with official certificates, charts & licenses. This same root gave us the word diploma.

It wasn’t until 1787 that diplomacy began to mean international relations. By 1826 the word diplomatic came to mean tactful & adroit.

The noun negotiation showed up in English in the early 1400s (through Old French from Latin), meaning business or trade. It is constructed of the word parts neg- (no) & -otium (leisure), & actually translates to a lack of leisure — suggesting that those involved in negotiations are clearly involved in business as opposed to recreation. In the 1800s, fox hunters (certainly not suffering from a lack of leisure) began using the term negotiate to mean to clear on horseback a fence or other obstacle. Over the years, this meaning generalized to the point that negotiate gained the meaning to tackle successfully.

So of late the news has been filled with tactful, adroit, non-leisurely folding over. Interesting.

Any thoughts on all this? Please leave them in the comment section.

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018



There’s a magic to twilight — that time between day & night. I hope you’ll see a little magic in twilight’s roots.

The word twilight appeared in English in the 1300s, a combination of the prefix twi- & the word light. Twi- meant two times (we see its cousin in the word twice). It would be reasonable to assume that, because twilight can refer not only to the time between day & night, but also the time between night & day, that twilight translates to twice-light, but research suggests that twilight originally meant something closer to half-light. Twilight’s Sanskrit relative is defined to mean a junction or holding together — as though this half-light time somehow cements together moments that might otherwise fly apart, which might explain the old belief that twilight offers an opening between this world & the next.

In the 1500s, the word crepusculine appeared, later to become our modern word, crepuscular. No one is certain which of crepuscular’s meanings came first: dusk, or obscure. Interestingly, the word’s Italian root is of uncertain origin — how perfect — a word meaning obscure has an obscure origin.

An Old English word meaning the absence of light gave us the word dusk sometime around the year 1200. Originally, dusk was more of a color word than a-time-of-day word, but by the 1600s it began to refer that time we call twilight.

About that same time dusk was born, the noun dawn was born, meaning first appearance of daylight in the morning. This noun came from the much older verb dauen (to become day), which, oddly, seems to have come from an even older noun, dauing (the period between darkness & sunrise)

And the now-poetic term the gloaming, meaning twilight, was at one point just your basic Old English word referring to a time of day. Its root is the word glow & its ending appears to have been modeled after the word evening.

May your twilights glow sweetly.

Anything to say about all this? Let me know in the comments section.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Our basic dream

Our basic dream

Typically, here at Wordmonger, I ask you to peer into the history of a word, idioms based on it, its various meanings, or maybe the crevices between it and another word. This week, I hope you’ll consider the power of words artfully & meaningfully strung together. 

Following, you’ll find an excerpt of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Let America Be America Again”. Please humor me. Sit up straight. Take a big, calming breath, then read these two stanzas aloud. They deserve that. 

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

Interested in the rest of the poem? Check it out here.