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Interesting Etymologies 56 : Interesting Etymologies

"Hello again Word Lovers!"

For the last time in this first series we explore some interesting etymologies, and for our last brief journey until series two Charly is going to look at some etymologies he finds interesting. So a mixed bag, some might say or a hotchpotch, a mishmash of words from different fields:

hocher - to shake + pot - pot (Dutch or German origin)

mish-mash - duplication of mash, PIE root meik - to mix.

First up a possible example of a false etymology. Why do we say "knotts" when measuring nautical miles? Charly always assumed it had a relationship with Naut but it is related to how speed was measured at sea. A rope, known as a log line would be trailed behind a ship. The rope had knots tied into it and the speed was measured by how many knots were unfurled in a set period of time.

In Greek mythology, (IE49.3 Greek - mythology / IE37 Mythical Beasts) the story of Theseus entering the labyrinth to kill the Minotaur contains a significant detail. Theseus used a ball of string to find his way back out of the labyrinth. This is referred to as a clue to help him solve a problem, until the 1500's we called this a clew.

Fiesty: From American dialect feist - a small dog. Middle English fysting curre = stinking cur, from fysten - break wind, Old English fisting - stink. Cur was an old term for a dog, so despite fiesty being recognised as an American word that means a full of courage, actually comes from an English term meaning a smelly street dog. We will explore the word Cur in more detail in a forthcoming Language Lounge Episode on Collective Nouns.

Glamour and Grammar probably share the same root. Grammar comes via Latin and Greek to mean the art of the letter. It has been proposed that Glamour comes from Scotland (IE 53: Scottish) via a folk legend. A midwife had an ointment called Glamour smeared on her eyes so when she entered a fairy house it seemed like a palace.

A little dive into back formations like that explored regarding the word Orange (IE7.2 Arabic / IE41 Persian / IE14.2 More Colours ) the Nordic invaders (IE47.1 Old Norse / IE47.2 Old Norse 2 / IE47.3 Old Norse 3 ) of Britain simplified the use of language by adding an S to words to pluralize them. This had the unfortunate side effect of words ending in S losing their S as we assumed they were plurals. Peas became a plural and Pea a singular in this way. The same happened to Cherry.

Sly - It is believed the word for cunning behaviour, or a cunning person emerges from slaughter. From sla to strike in Old Norse, connected to sloegr - this becomes someone capable of slaughter, to slay, forming sly, to be cunning.

Tawdry - Meaning shabby. Supposedly emerges from Etheldrida, a Northumbrian Queen who became known as Saint Audrey. People would buy small mementos of Saint Audrey's lace from St. Audrey's fayre and the word emerged from this.

A couple of animals to conclude: The Canary was named after the Canary Islands where they come from. The name does not mean land of birds but actually land of dogs, Canis - latin. Can is still used as a "high register" word for dogs in modern Spanish, so the Canary Islands are actually better understood as the Isles of Dogs. (The Isle of Dogs in London has an interesting disputed etymology ranging from Isle of Dykes, Isle of Ducks but most understand it to be related to Henry VIII hunting there with his dogs.)

Halcyon - from Greek, an association with hals ‘sea’ and kuōn ‘conceiving’. The Kingfisher, bird that nests, conceives on the sea surface, when it is calm enough. Modern use of this wonderful word is characterized by happiness, great success, and prosperity : golden. often used to describe an idyllic time in the past that is remembered as better than today, remembering the days when the sea was still.

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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