Monday, August 16, 2010

Etymology of Soccer



The United States has pretty much dug in its heels on refusing to acknowledge the sport of football by any other name than soccer. Beneath the thin film of good humor that both sides of this topic try to maintain lurks an unabashed sense of nationalism that is no doubt at the root of countless soccer riots. Excuse me, football riots. The weird thing is that nobody even remembers where the term soccer comes from. The root: soccer hooligans. I mean football hooligans.

When the sport of football was first getting organized, various football clubs joined office football associations. When they could take their lips off of their tankards of sour port in between games, football players would refer to the organization as socka, socker and, eventually, soccer as a slang abbreviation of association. Unfamiliar with the reference, Americans assumed that the soccer was the name of the sport itself.

To be honest, that's kind of an oversimplification of the etymology of soccer, but this is just a short post. We'll get back into our discussion of the shared root of money, monster and so many other barely related words later this week.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Etymology of Monster


Following yesterday's etymology of money and its curious relationship to a warning from the gods, I spent a little bit of time before work this morning looking over some other similar words that have related roots. As the second part of what might be a series of posts on this dysfunctional family of divinely rooted words, the etymology of monster gives us a good picture of what we might be getting into here. The final Latin root for monster is monstrum, meaning "an omen, supernatural being or object that is an omen or warning of the will of the gods." Monstrum, as it turns out, is derived from monere, "to warn or to advise, particularly in a divine sense," and the same root as money.

Monster entered the English language between the 12th and 14th centuries from the Old French term monstre, and it appears the monstre was used in Middle English as either an evil omen or frightening physical deformity well into modern English when it became monster. One of the earliest examples of monstre being used in the sense that it is used today appeared in 1385 in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women when discussing a minotaur that inhabits the underworld:

This Mynos hadde a monstre, a wiked best,
That was so crewel that, withoute arest,
Whan that a man was brought in his presence,
He wolde hym ete; ther helpeth no defence.

Monster came to also mean huge or enormous around 1500 and soon came to describe things that were figuratively absurd, such as a particularly disturbing thought. While the original meaning of monstrum as an omen is no longer present in the modern monster, this sense lingers on in words derived from the OF and ME monstre like premonition, demonstrate and muster, which will be the target for another related posting somewhere down the line.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Etymology of Money




Given the complicated relationship that most people have with money and the dramatic influence that money has over so many aspects of human life, it is hard to dismiss the synchronicity of the original meaning of the Latin root: warning.

The word money can be traced back to one of the earliest Roman mints, a temple devoted to Juno Regina located on top of one of the seven hills of Rome, Capitoline Hill. In Roman mythology, Juno was Jupiter's wife and considered to be the patron goddess of Rome. Like other Roman gods and godesses, Juno had a number of different epithets, which can best be understood as aspects of a divinity that represented particular roles, essences and/or locations associated with the being.

One of Juno's epithets was Juno Moneta, who was responsible with protecting Roman's financial stability. The name Moneta is derived from the Latin monēre, which mean "to warn or advise," and Juno Moneta is cited as warning Rome of impending danger on multiple occasions. Depending on which etymologist or historian you believe, the Latin moneta had already come to mean minted coin by the time that her temple became a mint or the temple was used to coin money in deference to Juno Moneta's assistance with previous financial matters.

The most likely story in my opinion is that coins from the Juno Moneta temple came to be referred to generically as moneta, which eventually became the root of the primary word for money in many languages, and the Moneta temple became shortened for anywhere money was minted. Monitor and admonish is one of the few English words that use the earliest meaning of the root as a warning or advice.

There is actually quite a bit more to this story that I will try to follow up on another post soon. Oddly enough, monera can be trace back even further, and the words money, mind, memory and more. There is also something to be said for an alternate history in which money is related to various words meaning single and unique (monarch, mono- , etc) that we might be able to tie into all of this. Rather than going down that rabbit hole just yet, let's just take the Moneta temple up through the present. Well after moneta had come to simply mean cash, it entered Old French as monnaie where it eventually entered Middle English around the 13th century as moneie and, finally, money.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Etymology of Slogan


During the latter half of the 20th century, a brand's slogan was considered to be the hallmark of a successful advertising campaign. The modern sense of the word appeared in the early 20th century when commercial industries began manufacturing desire in consumers for products that they initially neither wanted nor needed. Prior to the dawn of modern advertising, a slogan was used to denote any type of catchphrase that an organization, political party or powerful family might adopt during the 18th and 19th century. Despite the mild modern sense of the word, however, slogan first entered our language as a war cry with roots that are deeply rooted in Gaelic military history.

The word slogan is derived from the Gaelic term sluaghghairm, which can be parsed as sluagh for 'army' and ghairm for 'shout.' In the moments before Gaelic warriors faced off with a sworn enemy, a unit of soldiers would shout their particular sluaghghairm at the top of their lungs as they rushed toward the field of battle with their weapons at the ready. The two-fold purpose of a sluaghghairm was to inspire terror in the enemy while creating a bolstering, fearless sense of camaraderie in the final moments leading up to inevitable bloodshed.

Sluaghghairm entered the English language as slogan during the 15th century where it was used for the next 300 years to delineate certain military war cries. The British Empire in particular became very fond of assigning military slogans to various units or battles, such as "Don't give up the ship!" or "God save the Queen!" In North America, the Apache war cry "Geronimo!" or the American refrain of "Remember the Alamo!" during the Mexican American war are two excellent examples of more recent military slogans.

For information on military slogans and battle cries, check out 100 Decisive Battles: From Ancient Times to the Present

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Etymology of Galoshes


Galoshes. The name for those cheerful rubber boots that children have enjoyed wearing while jumping in fresh rain puddles for generations has a surprisingly ethnic origin that can be traced back to prehistoric Germanic.

Before the rubber overshoes that we are familiar with today appeared on the market, galoshes were a type of wooden shoe or sandal. The Oxford English Dictionary maintains that a galosh was originally a generic term for any type of shoe or boot. The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology holds that the term entered the English language during the 1300s as a type of footwear, with earlier variations including galoches, galleys and galegs. By the middle of the 14th century, Galocher began appearing as a surname for individuals and families that made galoshes. The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology suggests that galoshes may have entered the English language from the Old French galoche, which was derived from the Vulgar Latin *galopia and the Greek kalopodion. If this is the case, then the final root of galoshes is most likely the Indo-European *keu-.

However, the majority of the other reference materials point to a decidedly different etymology of galoshes. The prevailing opinion outside of the OED seems to be that galoshes were originally a type of wooden clog that were worn by the Gauls when the Romans invaded and conquered the area. The term Gaul itself seems to be rooted in a prehistoric Germanic word that referred to “outsider, foreigner,” and the galoshes referred to the wooden shoes of the Gauls. These shoes were a type of overshoe that allowed an owner to simply slip their feet into while they were still wearing their indoor shoes.

Galoshes did not begin being used to refer to rubber boots that are designed to be worn over regular shoes until the 19th century. While they appear to have started appearing in great numbers in England during the 20th century, I've yet to figure out exactly how the rubber version of this overshoe was named or marketed.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Etymology of Hokey Pokey




While most English speakers are familiar with the term hokey pokey as the popular children’s song and dance that first appeared during the middle of the 20th century. However, hokey pokey has been present in our lexicon for well over a century as the name of cheap type of fake ice cream. Hokey pokey itself the anglicized version of the mock Latin hocus-pocus that was used by stage performers like jugglers and magicians for some centuries.

The nonsense term hocus-pocus is derived from the Medieval Latin root of joke, jocus, meaning a jest or a verbal game. In time, jocus was developed into joke, jocular and juggler, and it was jugglers that appear to have first coined the term hocus-pocus in order to deflect the attention of the audience while they performed a sleight of hand. Although there were a few variations, the most common version of this bit of verbal stagecraft appears to have been:

Hocus-pokus, toutus talontus, vade celerita jubes.”

Hocus was shortened to hoax during the 1790s to describe any type of trick that was designed to convince something false or preposterous was real. In about 1847, vendors began selling ice cream from small displays that soon became known as hokey pokey carts. Customers referred to the ice cream as hokey pokey due to the absurdly small servings that the vendors would sell to local children. According to one account, the hokey pokey man would sell kids a few different flavors of ice cream at roughly a tablespoon per penny on small pieces of newsprint. When the Great Depression developed during the 1930s, vendors began selling a face version of the treat consisting of shaved ice flavored with syrup.

Today, hokey pokey is a specific flavor of ice cream that is primarily confined to New Zealand and Scotland. Modern hokey pokey ice cream consists of vanilla ice cream that has been flavored with chunks of solid or sponge toffee. The Hokey Pokey (or Hokey Cokey) song appears to have originated in the 1940s as a 20th century spin on traditional Scottish participative dances. Although the modern version of the song does not directly refer to its roots, the song was allegedly inspired by a hokey pokey man who sang to customers in a sing-song voice:

"Hokey pokey penny a lump. Have a lick make you jump."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Etymology of Sandwich

In a dimly lit parlor room during the middle of the 18th century, a popular aristocrat by the name of John Montague sat a gaming table surrounded by other landed gentlemen patiently waiting for the table odds to merit a sizable bet. Known amongst his fellow gamblers as "Jemmy Twitcher," Montague had gained a reputation for being one of the most well-liked and tenacious gamblers in the region, as well as a very well respected military commander.

On this particular occasion, Montague had been gambling for over 24-hours straight with only very brief breaks, not unlike the leading professional poker players of our time. In order to continue playing without being interrupted by meals, Montague ordered a servant to bring him some cold meat and bread. His fellow players evidently thought that the meal sounded like a pretty good idea and began ordering for themselves under Montague's named title, the Earl of Sandwich. The name stuck, and historian Edward Gibbon noted in his diary in 1762 that the "best men in the kingdom" had begun gathering in public areas to sit at small tables and enjoy meals of meat and bread that were universally called sandwiches.

For more information on the history of the sandwich, place an order a copy of the upcoming book Sandwich: A Global History (Reaktion Books - Edible)

Etymology of Orgasm




Contrary to popular belief, the true etymology of orgasm is unrelated to the origin of the terms organ, organism or orgy. The etymology of orgasm reaches far back into our shared linguistic history in the Protoo-Indo-European base of *wrog and the Indo-European root *uerg-, both of which meant "to swell with strength, to burgeon." This root was then adopted in Sanskrit as ūrja, meaning "sap and vigor," especially in a sexual sense. Ūrja was then developed into the Greek terms orgé, meaning "impulse, anger" and orgasmos, meaning "swelling, excitement."

The term appears to have first been used in its modern meaning in French during the late 17th century as orgasme. Orgasm then entered the English language in the early 18th century to refer to female sexual climax. By the 20th century, orgasm was used to refer to both male and female sexual climaxes. The verb usage of the term did not appear until about 1973 shortly after the peak of the sexual revolution.

For more information about the history behind common and uncommon sexual terminology, be sure to check out The Lover's Tongue: A Merry Romp Through the Language of Love and Sex

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Etymology of Conniption Fit




For a word that has such an official ring to it, there is surprisingly little information on where the terms conniption or conniption fit originated from. The word did not appear until the 19th century and is virtual unused in the United Kingdom, leading most scholars to conclude that the etymology of conniption fit lies in the United States. According to the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris, the word conniption is most likely the creation of an imaginative American who coined the term in an attempt to sound educated with a bit of pseudo-Latin. The folks over at Podictionary did a pretty cool podcast about the etymology of the word conniption last year that suggested that the word was first used to describe a woman by the name of Aunt Keziah who lost her cool in the 1800s. She and the rest of her neighbors in a small town of New England were waiting for a scheduled visit by President Andrew Jackson that was canceled with very little notice, at which said conniption fit did ensue.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Etymology of Calendar

Etymology of Calendar

When reading a news story this morning about a dispute between Iran and the United Kingdom over an ancient artifact known as the Cyrus Cylinder (a stone document that appears to represent the first recorded human rights charter), I happened to notice how closely the words "calendar" and "cylinder" resembled one another. Given that the Cyrus Cylinder was engraved in an actual cylinder, I got to wondering whether this was just a coincidence or what. As it turns out, it depends on whose story you decide to take.

The history of the word in Origins, an etymological dictionary of English from Eric Partridge, seems to give credence to the notion that the two terms are very closely related. According to this particular etymology, "calendar" indeed shares its origins with the term "cylinder," both of which can be traced back the Greek kulinros/kulindein, "to roll," on back to the Sanskrit kundam, meaning a round container or a round whole, stemming from the IndoEuropean kel- "to curve or bend." However, there is no indication here as to just what was so cylindrical about calendars to explain what is going on here.

The more popular etymology of calendar pretty much shot my theory to bits. I don't have access to a proper Oxford dictionary today, but the general notes in my home dictionary and the basic etymology sites online all tell a very different story about the history of the term "calendar." In a nut shell, the consensus is that the word calendar derived from the protoindoeuropeansuarusrex kele- meaning to shout out. When debts were due at the beginning of every month, lender and accountants would call off the debts from their calendarium, or account book, which this history holds was named after the calling of debts to be reckoned. The first day of the month in the Roman calendar was called Kalendae, and it is generally assumed that the word "calendar" was eventually derived from the most important day that the calendar was used for: paying the bills.

However, I'm not entirely convinced that the etymology in Origins is wrong. For one thing, there is a very similar word "calender" that is used to name a machine that rolls smooth bounds of cloth or paper through the use of, you guessed it, cylinders. Next, all of the ancient calendars that I have been able to find information on where round in shape, from the Mayan calendar to the rocks on Stone Henge. This is pure conjecture, but it seems more likely that day Kalendae would refer to when the monthly cycle was renewed than the other way around. If this is the case, Kalendae would seem to fit right in with the etymology of cylinder discussed above. If this is true, I think that it would be safe to say that the generally accepted etymology about solemn announcement of monthly debts.

I'm tempted to keep belaboring this point because, well, I'm right, damn it. Instead, though, I'll just say that this is an excellent example of how open ended etymology really. Many of the word origins indicated in general reference texts are based as much on folk wisdom than scholarly research. The words we used today may have been passed down to us through the centuries, but their histories have almost been obscured along the way. As a result, nearly every word in our language carries a hidden and half forgotten story of who we were and where we've come from

and scene.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Etymology of Punk and Spunk




The term "spunk" originated in the early 1600's in the British Isles meaning "a spark," having been adopted from the Gaelic spong for "tinder," which in turn comes from the Latin spongia. The Latin appears to be derived from how closely the popular kindling touchwood resembles natural sponges. "Spunk" became a colloquial term for courage and pluck in the late 18th century, assumably with the sense that the person showed some spark of life. The vulgar use of the term appeared about a century ago and is rarely used in this sense outside of the United Kingdom.

As it turns out, it appears likely that "spunk" shares a similar etymology with "punk," although the former had a decidedly less positive sense until recently. The term "punk" fist appears in the United States just before the turn of the 19th century to mean "inferior, bad or worthless," having been used formerly to denote low quality wood that was not good for anything other than kindling. Shortly into the 20th century, young adults and children were described as "punk kids" who became hoodlums and were of essentially worthless in the eyes of productive society.

It's also interesting to note that both the terms "punk" and "fagot" were originally used to describe low quality would meant for kindling...

Notes: There's actually a couple other etymologies out there for "punk" out there, but this is the only one I could find shows a clear evolution of the terms over recent history. Also, I seem to recall that they used to pack fireworks with a slow burning stick called a "punk" that was used to light fuses, but I haven't taken the time to double check on that one.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Etymology of Hag


From witches to old maids, the modern hag is The term "hag" shares its etymology with the adjective "haggard," meaning an appearance that is both wild and distraught as well as worn and exhausted, or gaunt. These terms are rooted in the Old French faulcon hagard, meaning wild falcon. If you can imagine the wild look in the eyes of newly captured falcon, you can get a good sense of the original meaning of the term. Some time later, it appears that this sense of the word was influenced for the Lower Germanic term "hager," meaning gaunt. The world weary sense of the modern haggard hag did not appear until around 1690's, and both terms have sense been influenced by contemporary culture to denote a peculiar type of haunted expression that comes only with a lifetime of loneliness.

It appears that the origin of hag is very closely associated with hedge, haw and hay and is related to the borders of the wilderness, where wild falcons and other birds would feed on the hagberries and hawthorns. In Old English there are a variety of terms like haegtesse, hegge and hagge that are used to describe female demons, with clear senses of described a wild woman of the woods. It is unclear exactly why the term lost its sense of wildness when used to denote an unmarried woman, but this appears to have occurred around the 17th century and would be an interesting topic to do a little cultural analysis on.