Thursday, August 1, 2019



There are heaps of lovely English words that somehow relate to greed. Here’s a sampling.

Covet came to English in the 1200s through Old French from Latin, meaning to desire inordinately without regard for the rights of others.

Crave most likely originated in Germanic languages, & appeared in English during Old English times. It originally meant to ask, implore, or demand by right, but by 1400 it mostly meant to eagerly desire.

Grasp showed up in English in the 1400s, & meant to reach, grope, or feel around. It came through Old English & Proto-Germanic from Proto-Indo European.

Greed came to English from an old Germanic word that meant greedy.

Guzzle appeared in English in the 1570s, meaning to swallow liquid greedily. It appears to have come from a French word meaning jaws, throat or gullet.

Peculate came to English in 1749 from a Latin word meaning to embezzle. It is related to peculiar & pecuniary.

Pillage showed up in English in the late 1300s through Old French from Latin. The original Latin term meant to skin or strip of hair.

Purloin came through Anglo-French from Latin in the 1400s & originally meant to misappropriate. It took a century for the less euphemistic meaning to steal to gain favor.

Snaffle likely came from Dutch, arriving in English in the 1530s. A snaffle was originally a bit (the sort one puts in a horse’s mouth), but now snaffle also means to steal. It appears this transformation may be related to the saying “to take the bit in one’s mouth.”

Steal originally meant to clandestinely commit theft. Steal came through Germanic languages from Proto-Indo-European. 

Swindle came to English through German in 1774, originally meaning a giddy person or cheat.

I don’t think of greed as a good thing at all, but I’m quite fond of some of these words. Which ones appeal most to you?

Thursday, July 25, 2019



I just read the fabulous debut novel Cursed, by author Karol Ruth Silverstein (2019 - Charlesbridge). What better inspiration to look into the word author?

Author appeared in English in the 1300s, meaning one who makes or creates. It came from an Old French word meaning originator, creator, instigator, which came from a Latin word with a heap of shaded meanings: progenitor, founder, authority, performer, responsible person, teacher. The literal meaning of author’s Latin root (aug-) meant to cause to grow.

Silverstein’s novel manages to do all that. Her protagonist is Erica Bloom, known mostly as Ricky, a snarky ninth grader who not only has to change schools due to her parent’s divorce, but has recently been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. The frustration, pain, humiliation, & uncertainty of it all only increase her snarkiness, as illustrated by the novel’s subtitle: “Warning — chronic pain may cause irritability, sarcasm, & bouts of profanity.” 
Cursed is a valuable addition to the #OwnVoices movement, & gives the reader a glimpse into life with chronic pain, from an authority on the subject — a responsible person whose work not only introduces us to a compelling character, but teaches us, helps us grow, & entertains us along the way.

And since I can hardly help myself when it comes to etymologies, I’m forced to mention that aug-, the base Latin word for author, gave us some other lovely words: authority, authorize, augur, augment, auxiliary, inaugurate, inaugural, waist, wax, eke, & nickname (honestly, folks).

If you’re in the mood to enjoy a compelling young adult read, check out Cursed. And though our pals at Blogspot still aren’t letting me reply on my own blog, if you’re in the mood to comment, please do.

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019



Most all our word meaning confused come from verbs, but not all those verbs mean to confuse.

The words confound & confuse both come from Latin — to pour together.
confound made its way to English in the 1300s, meaning to condemn, curse, disconcert or perplex. Confused appeared in English in Middle English, but it wasn’t until the 1500s that we dropped the final -d to create the verb confuse.

Addled , addle-pated, & addle-headed made their way into English in the 1600s from an Old English verb which meant become putrid. The word was often applied to bad eggs, which are sometimes stinky (putrid) & sometimes empty, & it’s the empty meaning that moved addled toward its modern meaning of idle, confused, muddled or unsound.

Bewildered came from the verb bewilder, which came from Old English and appeared in the 1600s. Its literal meaning was to be led into the wilderness, though the figurative meaning confounded or confused almost immediately eclipsed the literal meaning.

We didn’t have the words flummox & flummoxed until 1837, & nobody’s sure where they came from.

In the 1720s the word muzzy appeared, mostly likely a form of the word mossy.

The year 1759 brought us the word muddle-headed, from an old Germanic verb that meant to destroy the clarity of. That same root also gave us mud.

Baffle appears to have come from a French verb which meant to abuse or hoodwink. This word traveled through Scottish, where it meant to disgrace. By the 1540s, English speakers appear to have associated confusion with disgrace, and the words baffle, baffled, & bafflement were born.

An Old French word & an Old English word were slapped together in 1735 to come up with the verb bemuse, to stupefy, & so we have bemused.

In the early 1800s, some Americans amused themselves by making fun of Latin by creating ridiculous, Latin-sounding words. Discombobulate & confusticate came about because of this practice.

And in 1703 bamboozle showed up in English, most likely from a Scottish verb meaning to confound or perplex.

Bamboozled or inspired by any of this? Please say so in the comments (which I still can’t reply to — which not only bamboozles me, but confusticates me.)

Big thanks to ANNE LORENZEN for inspiring this post, & to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & Etymonline.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019



The word sweet has been with us since we were speaking Old English. It came through Germanic languages from Proto-Indo-European. Though for a time it meant to advise, for years it has mostly meant pleasant to the senses.

Idioms involving the word sweet are rife:

1290 — sweetheart
1300s — life is sweet
1590s — a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
1700s — sweet dreams
1723 — sweet and sour foods 
1767 — sweet sixteen
1823 — home sweet home 
1900 — sweet nothings
1914 — toot sweet (from the French tout de suite
1935 — sweet talk 
1957 — sweet smell of success 
1976 — sweet spot
1971 — sweet as tupelo honey

And here are some I can’t find origin dates for:
short & sweet
sweet young thing
sweet as pie
in one’s own sweet time

Nothing like a little sweetness. 

Big thanks to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster,Word Histories,, Stack ExchangeNew Republic, & Etymonline.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Deep & hollow

Deep & hollow

The word deep comes from an old word meaning deep & hollow. Though the people who used this ancient root never wrote it down, etymologists write it *dheub-. Like our modern word, deep, the original root also carried the figurative meanings profound, inspiring, solemn, mysterious, awful.

Of course, *dheub- was far too deep a word to give us only the word deep.

About the year 1200, it gave us dive, to descend or plunge headfirst into water. Because we’re approaching International Dive Bar Day (July 7), I’m compelled to note that the idiom dive bar was born in the 1800s. It appears to have come from the fact that many low-end drinking establishments could only be accessed by walking downstairs from street level, thus diving into the bar.

Quarrelsome as they are, etymologists are still duking it out over the etymology of typhus & typhoon. They may have come from Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, or Greek. They may have come from *dheu-, a form of *dheub that meant smoke. Or they may have come directly from *dheub-. I suppose both typhoon & typhus can be seen to embrace the concept of depth.

Python also inspires fistfights among the more pugnacious etymologists. One camp hangs its hat on the story of Apollo slaying the serpent near Delphi, which was originally called Pythein, a word meaning to rot. The alternative camp finds our ancient root *dheub- responsible for python, as monsters such as serpents were often believed to inhabit the depths.

Interestingly, the surname Donald also comes from this root. Donald showed up in English in the 1200s from Scottish (though the name in Scottish was either Dofnald or Dufenald). It entered Scottish from Proto-Celtic, where it was something more like Dubno-valos, & meant ruler of the world, valos meaning to be strong & dubno (from the root *dheub-) meaning world. And how did a word meaning deep & hollow end up meaning world? All that depth oozed into meaning bottom or foundation, & the earth or world appeared to be the foundation of things. 

So this one root has something to do with hollow, deep, storm, plunging headfirst, disease, foundation, world, even monster habitat. Yikes. Some etymologies offer those combative etymologists more grist than others, eh?

Big thanks to this week’s sources:  Merriam Webster, Phrases.orgLexico, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019



It seems I can’t read the news these days without being flummoxed by how many toadies there are out in the world. So here’s a post on toady & its synonyms.

In the 1600s, the assistants of performing charlatans were sometimes forced to eat a “poisonous” toad so the charlatan could amaze the crowd by expelling the “poison”. Not surprisingly, these assistants were known as toad-eaters. In time, the term got shortened to toady & the meaning morphed to a servile parasite or fawning flatterer.

Our modern meaning of flunky came about in 1855 (flatterer or toady). Flunky came from a Scottish word meaning footman or servant. It’s believed the pejorative shift was influenced by the requirement that footmen run through the mud & mire alongside a noble’s carriage.

In 1846 the term bootlicker (or boot-licker) was born. It came from the 1600s term footlicker, & means a servile follower.

An adulator is one who engages in excessive or slavish admiration. This word comes through Old French from Latin, & initially meant to fawn, as a dog after its owner. The etymological jury is still out, but it is likely adulator came from words meaning to wag the tail.

An Old Norse word meaning prone gave us the word grovel, which gave us the word groveler some time in the 1500s. The meanings of groveler include one who creeps with the face on the ground, & one who abases him/herself. 

Flatterer came form the word flatter which appeared in the 1200s, meaning, to praise insincerely. It came from Proto-Germanic through Old French, & initially meant one who throws or flings him/herself to the ground. 

Though we might expect the word sycophant to be the more academic & classy of these words, its roots are crude & sexist. Sycophant came through Latin and Middle French from a Greek word that translates literally to one who shows the fig. This refers to a crass, misogynist gesture ancient Greek men used to taunt one another. From the Things Never Change Department, notes that, “…politicians in ancient Greece held aloof from such inflammatory gestures, but privately urged their followers to taunt their opponents.” Initially, sycophant meant informer or slanderer, but by the 1570s, the meaning shifted to mean, servile flatterer.

Toadies abound! 

By August I will resolve my inability to reply to comments on my own blog. Still, if you’ve got something to say about all this, please leave a comment.

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

To cover

To cover

It makes sense that an ancient word meaning to cover would give us words like kerchief, garment, & garnish, but it takes a bit of imagination to connect an ancient verb meaning to cover to some of its other progeny.

These days, the word garret conjures images of Paris, painters, & poets, but garret originally meant a turret or small watchtower — a place that might offer a spying soldier some cover. We also see this military sense of cover in the word garrison.

And because we can’t have cover without having uncover, we have the word apperture, meaning an uncovering or opening. And apperture gave birth to something that might uncover one’s appetite, the aperitif, & to the opening to a musical event, the overture.

And because we used to turn off the gas lights to signal the end of the night’s revelries, & doing so involved covering those flames, the word curfew was born of this same root meaning to cover.

Want to be sure you’re covered when buying something? You can rely on your warranty, (also warrantee), or guarantee (also guaranty). 

Need a cover under which you might park your car? Try a garage.

And they all come from one little Proto-Indo-European root. Linguists write it today as *wer-.

This little root also managed to populate languages other than English with words. Sanskrit, Latin, German, Old Irish, Gothic, Old Persian, Old Church Slavonic, & Lithuanian all have words having to do with covering, all from this one little root, *wer-.

I apologize — once more — for not being able to reply to comments on my own blog. Makes no sense to me, but life is funny.

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Wise women on loss

Wise women on loss

Many people don’t notice that quotation books & quote sites on the web are almost entirely dominated by quotes of men. This is a loss. In my continuing efforts toward inclusivity, here’s a collection of wise women’s words on loss.

Absence becomes the greatest Presence.
-May Sarton 

I still miss those I loved who are no longer with me but I find I am grateful for having loved them. The gratitude has finally conquered the loss.
-Rita Mae Brown

No emotion is the final one.
-Jeanette Winterson

Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh either.
-Golda Meir

There are some griefs so loud
They could bring down the sky,
And there are griefs so still
None knows how deep they lie.
-May Sarton

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the day-time, and falling into at night. I miss you like hell.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay

Grass grows at last above all graves.
-Julia C.R. Dorr

When you’re away i feel like
i’m only wearing one shoe.

I hope you’ve found a quote you hadn’t previously appreciated. If so, please spread it around.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

11 gl... words you may not know

11 gl... words you may not know

Take a look over these words all starting with gl…

gleed — a glowing coal — from Proto-Indo-European

gleetslimy or filthy — from Latin through Old French

glegquick in perception or action — from Old Norse through Middle English

glenoidthe socket of a joint or a hollow cavity — from Greek

glede the common red kite of Europe — from Middle Low German

glebe land belonging to a church — probably from Proto-Indo-European through Latin & French

glaucousgreen with a grayish-blue cast — from Greek through Latin

glim a light, lamp or candle — taken from the word glimmer, which came from German through Middle Dutch

glister to sparkle or gleam — from German through Middle Dutch

glomerateto wind or make into a ball — from Latin

gloriolea halo— from Latin, literally, a small glory

An odd post, I know. It was inspired by a search through the dictionary for the etymology of the word glean. Though the etymology was intriguing, I was more fascinated by discovering so many nearby words that were new to me. I’d love to hear how many of these you already knew. I apologize in advance for not being able to reply to your comments due to an unexplainable technical glitch.

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

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The democracy of reading

The democracy of reading

We book-centric people tend to put a lot of our focus on authors. They’re the ones who bring us the stories & information we love, right? We often forget that we readers brings a unique perspective to each thing we read, making the act of reading a more complex alchemy than one might think.

One of my literary heroes is Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, & heaps of other tasty stories. He has some significant things to say about the role of a reader.

“…there are different things we as readers bring to a text—our different expectations, our varying intellectual limitations or gifts, our experiences of previous texts, our predictions about this one. These are necessary things; without them we wouldn’t begin to make sense of any text at all; and they’re also inevitable; we can’t look at any text in a state of nature, as it were, and pretend we know nothing, and come to it as complete virgins. We have to bring something to the text, and put something into it, in order to get anything out. This is the great democracy of reading and writing—it makes the reader a true partner in the making of meaning.”

His term “democracy of reading and writing” manages to celebrate our differences at the same time it celebrates the connective tissue of our humanity.

I say bravo to the democracy of reading.

The quote above comes from a 2017 collection of Pullman’s essays and lectures, Daemon Voices: On Stories & Storytelling

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Where's my R?

Where’s my R?

We English speakers aren’t very good at keeping track of our Rs. 

Sometimes we lose our Rs through regional dialects. Though Bostonians are famous for dropping their Rs, R-dropping (known in linguistic circles as non-rhoticity) happens in various dialectical ways throughout Britain, the American northeast, the American South, India, Australia, & New Zealand. 

And - over time - we lose our Rs in standard English.

Curse showed up in Old English meaning to wish evil. By the 1300s it picked up the meaning to swear profanely or blasphemously. By the 1800s, that tricky R faded away in what was considered a “vulgar” pronunciation of curse, & voila! The word cuss was born.

Also appearing in Old English was the word burst, to shatter suddenly as a result of pressure from within. Then somehow in 1806 we lost track of that R & found ourselves using the word bust to mean exactly what the word burst means.

The Old English word meaning the tail end of an animal, was arse. In time, this word broadened to mean the tail end of anything/anyone. When it ran up against ass, the entirely unrelated word initially meaning donkey, a bit of a smash-up occurred, & they somehow became synonyms, giving us what appears to be one more lost R.

The word parcel came to English in the 1400s from Latin through French, meaning a small portion of something. Soon, it picked up the meaning a  piece of real estate, or a lot. It appears there may have been some confusion with that meaning a lot, as soon afterward, parcel began to not only mean a small portion, but also a large number. Then after a century or two parcel lost its R, giving us the word passel (a bunch) in 1835.

Thanks for coming by, & thanks to those of you who comment. I still can’t comment on my own blog, but please know I’m in the apparently long, drawn out process of addressing the issue.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Want vs. need

Want vs. need

In modern America it seems awfully easy to confuse what one wants with what one needs. And so…

To want is to feel need, to crave. Want came to English in 1200 as a noun, meaning insufficiency, shortage, deficiency.

Some near-synonyms include:

To desire to long for something with intensity or ardor.

To wish for  weaker than desire, sometimes referring to an unrealizable longing. 

To crave the strong desire to gratify a physical appetite or urgent need.

To covet  —  to ardently desire.

Though all the above words involve feeling a need, the need isn’t necessarily essential. I may want, desire, wish for, crave, or covet a $3000 guitar, but when it comes down to it, my $250 guitar is doing the job just fine.

To need something is to experience an urgent requirement of something essential. Need appeared in English about the same time as want. It came from early Germanic sources originally meaning violence or force. Need broadened on its way from Old English to Middle English to mean distress, peril, hardship, necessity.

Some near-synonyms include: 

To require — to experience need of something that is indispensable to a particular end or goal.

To lack is to experience an absence or insufficiency of something essential.

I’m still unable to reply to comments on my own blog, so I apologize in advance for not replying to any comments. The people at Blogger/Blogspot  don’t seem to perceive my problem as a need — just a distant & irrelevant want.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, Webster’s 1959 New World Dictionary of the American Language, & Wordnik.