Thursday, February 28, 2019

Made in Korea

Made in Korea

It’s no surprise that English has appropriated some of its words from Korean. Other English words didn’t come from Korea at all, but managed to come through Korea. Here are a few.

Tae kwon do came to English in 1967. It’s made up of three words from the Korean language: tae =kick + kwon = fist + do = art, way or method.

Kimchi, a spicy, pickled, vegetable mixture, appeared in English in 1898 from Korean.

Skosh is a Japanese word meaning few, little, or some. American forces introduced skosh to English during & after serving in the Korean War. 

American forces during the Korean War also gave us the precipitous retreat meaning of the word bug — let’s bug outta here!

Though the word chopper (one who chops) has been a part of the English language since 1550, it was members of the American military during the Korean War who began using chopper to refer to a helicopter.

In Chinese, xi nao means attempt to alter the thoughts of another through psychological techniques. American military members during the Korean War directly translated this Chinese figure of speech to English, giving us the word brainwash.

Though  it would be reasonable to assume the Korean word mani (a large number of people or things) might be the root of the English word many (a large number of people or things), these words developed separately from one another & have no etymological relationship at all.

Funny how these things never quite get into the news feed regarding Korea, eh?

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

Thursday, February 21, 2019

To lean

To lean

Most of us can imagine the logic that would lead an ancient verb meaning to lean to give birth to these words:


Though it’s a bit of a logical stretch, most of us can also invent a path for this ancient word meaning to lean to have given us the word climax. 

Some less likely siblings of lean’s precursor, though, need a bit of explanation.

When the word climate appeared in English in the 1300s, it came from this same ancient root because climate referred to horizontal zones on the earth’s surface, measured against the slope (or lean) of the globe’s surface. Within a century, scientists began to focus more on the weather in those zones than on the land itself, & climate began its ooze into its modern usage.

Also in the 1300s, English borrowed a word from Anglo-French to mean one who lives under the patronage of another (one who leans on his/her patron) — client. This Anglo-French word also came from that ancient word meaning lean, & within a century assumed the meaning a lawyer’s customer. Two centuries later, client’s meaning broadened to mean any businessperson’s customer.

Because a person tends to lean before completely taking to bed, in the early 1600s a related word began to mean a bedridden person. Soon, the word began to refer to a medical facility housing bedridden people, & so today we have the word clinic.

For those who are wondering, the lean that means thin, spare, with little flesh or fat came from an entirely different source & has nothing to do with all this.

I’d love to hear whether any of these leaning words surprised you.

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

Thursday, February 14, 2019



I find the word grammar & its siblings to be somewhat beguiling.

Grammar appeared in English in the late 1300s, meaning the rules of Latin. It came from an Old French word meaning Latin learning. And that Old French word came through Latin from a Greek word meaning the art of letters & learning

Because the art of letters & learning involved pulling meaning from little marks on paper, & this act was something done only by a small percentage of the population, such pursuits were sometimes seen by the masses as both more-than-human & less-than-wholesome, so the word grammar also meant, magic, spells, & mumbo-jumbo.

By the 1500s, the Latin learning meaning generalized to mean rules of a language to which speakers must conform.

The mumbo-jumbo meaning made its way to become the word gramary, meaning magic, necromancy, or occult learning. When the Scots got hold of this word, it became the word glamour, initially meaning a magical spell or charm, & then morphing in time to mean charming or beautiful, sometimes dependent on artifice.

And in 1849 English adopted the French word grimoire (from that magic, spells, & mumbo-jumbo meaning). A grimoire is a manual for invoking demons & spirits of the dead.

And because all things grammar have to do with writing, the suffix -gram also comes from grammar, giving us telegram, anagram, hologram, mammogram, & a host of others. 

Who would’ve thought? 

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

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Wariness pays off

Wariness pays off

This collection of words that share a centuries-old root. What do you suppose the root meant?
aware, beware, wary, & guard (the verb)

As you probably guessed, the root word has something to do with wariness — these words all came from the Proto-Indo-European word *wer-, which meant to watch out for or perceive.

*Wer- also gave us some words that define some of the things people might be wary of losing:

wares, warehouse, & reward

And some words that involve storing or protecting those wares:

wardrobe, steward, reverend, warden, & guard (the noun)

It even gave us the word lord, which in the lower case refers to he who guards the loaves & in the upper case can refer to a British noble, or in Christianity, God.

Then there are *wer-’s offspring that help label how we might look up to those who watch over things for us:

regard, revere, & reverence 

And what would we do without outliers? These unlikely words also grew out of this same fruitful root:

hardware, panorama, avant garde, & software

To confuse matters even more, this is only one of the four Proto-Indo-European *wer-s linguists have identified. The other three meant to cover, to bend, & to lift. 

Ah, Language. Nothing like it, eh?

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