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Interesting Etymologies 18: Venice

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

"Hello again Word Lovers!" In this episode we are going to explore the etymological treasures of a rather special city, the city of Venice.

Arsenal : The shipyards of the city of Venice, from the Arabic Darassina, which is a factory. It came to mean a site to store munitions in English and is now more widely known as the name of the second best football team in North London. The best team is of course Tottenham Hotspur, which causes all sorts of pronunciation problems for foreigners. That name has a far more domestic heritage and is believed to have come from the name of a farmer, Tota, who had a hamlet in the area as registered in the Doomsday book of William the Conqueror. Tota's Hamlet - Tottenham (pronounced tot·nuhm) The Hotspur part of the name comes from late Middle English: literally ‘a person whose spur is hot from rash or constant riding’. It was used to describe someone who was rash, bold and flamboyant and was the nickname for Sir Henry Percy given to him by the Scots as a tribute to his speed in advance and readiness to attack. His desire to attack was to cost him his life in a rebellion against his king, but, that, as they say, is another story.

Ballot: A voting paper in English. The Balota (small ball) was what you put into the voting box to cast your vote in Venice, it could be a white ball or a black ball for yes or no. This seems to be the source of the phrase 'to blackball someone' which means to reject someone's application. (The etymology of ball was explored in this episode)

Ghetto: The first use of this word is registered in 1516 when the Jews in Venice were forced to live in the old iron foundry complex. Charly explores four alternative etymologies for this word, check out the pod or Youtube link and see which you think is most likely.

Sequin: A small shiny disc sewn on to clothing for decoration. Zequin is a gold coin in Venetian and zecca was the mint. From the Arabic sikkah.

Lido: An outdoor swimming pool, often on the coast. From the Latin "litera" which means shore.

Marionette, Embroil, Gazette and Pants are then covered and the etymological theories regarding Gazette and Pants are well worth a listen and Charly even demonstrates that the adjective Zany also heralds from the city state of Venice.

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

SkipDeLirio's Worst Ever Gig : A novel by Charly Taylor

Caesar’s army has returned from the long campaign in Gaul and the enemy has been all but defeated. Some of Pompey’s army, however, remains in Africa. Together with straggling Roman rebels and the local king Juba, they are gathering forces to prepare one last attack on what is now Caesar’s Rome. But there is one problem – a descendant of Scipio Africanus is fighting on the side of the Africans. And without a Scipio of their own, the superstitious Romans refuse to go to Africa to fight.

So Caesar sends out soldiers to find himself a Scipio. Luckily, there is a man of such name right there in Rome – a local drunkard and tavern entertainer distantly descended from the legendary warrior. Kidnapped solely on account of his ‘heritage’, the lowly clown is forced to lead out the troops in the battle of Thapsus. There, ‘history’ tells us, Scipio ‘disappears from the historical record’.

Until now.

This is the story of how ‘Nobody’ Skip DeLirio, with the cards finally all dealt in his favour, still managed to fuck it up. History will only take you so far. The rest is make-believe.

Order your copy here


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