Thursday, November 29, 2018



We hear a lot about avatars these days, mostly related to avatar’s most modern meaning, a digital representation or handle of a person. Truth is, this word & its forebears have been around quite some time. The first English application of avatar came about in 1784, & meant descent of a Hindu god in an incarnate form, which came from a Sanskrit word meaning the same thing. Linguists cite the source of the Sanskrit word as the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word *tere-, to overcome, pass through or cross over.

*Tere- is the source of many English words.

Through & thorough appeared in English in the 1300s. Initially, both meant from end to end & side to side. It wasn’t until the 1500s that through took on the meaning in one side & out the other & thorough began to mean exhaustively complete.

And because air passes through the holes in the nose, we have the word nostril, which came through Old English from a PIE root meaning nose combined with the PIE root *tere-, to pass through. Another word that came from that same Old English word initially meant to pierce or penetrate. By the 1590s this word picked up the meaning a shivering exciting feeling, & became our modern world thrill.

Because the Greek gods gained their immortality from drinking the nectar of the gods, the word nectar translates to overcoming death. In this word, *tere- became -tar, added to the PIE root *nek- (death), which also gave us necromancy & many of its kin. And nectar gave birth to the word nectarine.

*Tere- also made its way through Latin to become the combining form trans-, which gave us transparent, transcontinental, treason, transition, transcend, transcribe, transect, transient, transaction, transgender, & many more.

All this adds up to the fact that the root *tere- is responsible for 75% of the words in the sentence Her avatar’s nostrils thrilled as the treasonous necromancer thoroughly transfixed the nectarine.

Life is funny

Please let me know which words or transformations in this post surprised you most.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018



This week, which here in America involves many different sorts of mixing, let’s celebrate mix — more specifically, *meik-, the Proto-Indo-European root of the word mix.

This root word’s progeny have landed all over the world & appear in:

Sanskrit — misrahmixed
Welsh — mysgu — to mix
Old Church Slavonic — meso to mix
Russian — meshatmix
Lithuanian — maiĊĦauto mix or mingle 
Greek — misgein - to mix or mingle

And, of course, *meik- is responsible for heaps of English words:

mash soft mixture from Old English
meddleto interfere —  from Old French
medleyassortment or mixture (originally, hand to hand combat) from Old French
melangecollection of various things — from Old French
miscellaneouscollection of difficult-to-classify things — from Latin
mestizo/mestizaperson of mixed parentage — from Spanish
mustanghalf wild horse of American prairie — from Mexican Spanish
pell-mell — confusedly — from  Old French
promiscuous — having or involving many sexual partners, but initially a disorderly mix — from Latin
melee — confused fight or brawl — from Old French
promiscuoushaving many sexual partners, though it originally meant an indiscriminate, disorderly mix — from Latin

May this season find you mixing it up when it comes to food, to the folks with which you spend time, & possibly even the ways you think. Thoughts or comments? You know what to do.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Snuggle, cuddle, hug

Snuggle, cuddle, hug

Great sounding words, eh? I’ve no idea what it is about that short U sound in snuggle, cuddle, & hug that somehow speaks of coziness & comfort, but it does. Where did we get these comfy words, anyway?

Back in the 1560s when hug made its way into English it was spelled hugge. As it does today, it meant embrace. Though we’re not sure what its original source was, here are the two primary contenders:

-the German word hegen, to foster or cherish
-the Old Norse word hugga, to comfort.

Snuggle appeared in English in the 1680s. It came from the word snug.  Like hug, snug has a questionable background. Some contenders for snug’s roots include:

-the Old Norse word snoggr, short-haired
-the Old Danish word, snog, neat & tidy
-the Old Swedish word, snygg, trim & dapper

When snug appeared on the scene in the 1590s, it was used primarily to refer to a ship, & meant trim or compact. In time, snug added the meanings in a state of ease or comfort, & fit closely. It seems snuggle was born of these two meanings.

Cuddle is another word of questionable origin. The Oxford English Dictionary refers to cuddle as “a dialectical or nursery word” & some etymologists suggest it may have come from a now-defunct English word meaning embrace. That word was cull (which is the root of the word collar). Meaning to lie close or snug in a warm embrace, cuddle appeared first in English in the 1520s.

May late November find you engaged in just the right quantity & quality of snuggles, cuddles & hugs.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

When hippos fly

When hippos fly

Most all of us have heard that the word hippopotamus means river horse, & it does. What most of us don’t know is that -potamus (the part that means river) comes from a word meaning rushing water which came from a root word meaning to rush or fly

From the meaning to rush or fly feather was born, as was pinnate (feather-shaped), pinion (wing joint), & pterodactyl (wing-finger). Stretch your imagination a bit further (imagine someone swaggering with a fancy feather on his/her hat), & the word panache makes sense. Imagine the pointy part of a feather pen, & you see why pin & pen share a root This meaning also gave us pinnacle (pointed peak),& pinniped (fin or pin-footed sea mammal).

Some of this root’s to fly-related progeny include ornithopter & helicopter.

But along with meaning to fly, this root meant to rush, which morphed into words meaning to rush in, to grasp, to desire. From these we get the words: petition, appetite, centripetal, compete, perpetual, impetus & impetuous.

Because what goes up must come down, & this root is all about flying, it also gave us the words symptom, & ptomaine.

Who knew?

Please be kind enough to use the comments section to let me know what was most surprising in all this.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.

Thursday, November 1, 2018



It’s time to vote. Why not ponder some voting-related words?

The word election came to English in the late 1200s, from the French word elecion, meaning choice, election or selection. This term came from the Latin word electionem, which has its roots in the Latin word legere, which meant to choose, or read.

Vote entered English in the mid-1400s, & comes from the Latin word votum, a vow, wish, promise or dedication. This suggests a much more active role than most modern Americans appear to understand. Imagine the difference in mindset if we all envisioned each vote as a promise or vow. Imagine the difference in the outcome if we all actually turned out to vote (in 2016 only 55% of eligible Americans chose to vote).

The term suffrage which has always intrigued me. Suffrage came to English in the 1300s and meant prayers or pleas on behalf of another. It comes from the Latin word suffragium, which refers to the right to vote or to lend support. Again, prayers, pleas, & support seem to reflect a different understanding of voting, an understanding closer to the idea of a promise or vow. Interestingly, suffrage also suggests the elections of the past weren’t entirely sweet & light, as the word parts that add up to suffragium are sub- & -frangere, which respectively mean under & shouting.

The word ballot comes from Italian word pallotte, or small ball, due to the Venetian practice of voting by casting a particular colored ball into a bowl or basket. From this we have the term to blackball. I’m forced to wonder whether casting small balls into a basket might be less hackable than our present practices.

Dear followers, please have something to say this voting season. Here on Wordmonger, you can feel safe, free from shouting & blackballing.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline, The OED , CNN, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & The Ottawa Citizen. This post is an updated version of a 2012 Wordmonger post.