Sunday, December 24, 2006

The WordHumper is taking a vacation until Jan 2. In the meantime, enjoy this fun assortment of random links:

  • Death by falling off a ladder
  • Sea cows need love, too
  • WordHumper needs lessons in being photogenic
  • The Words of a Feather etymology quiz
  • Scrabble on roids
  • CREEPY awesomeness
  • :: posted by David, 3:44 PM | link | 0 comments |

    Friday, December 22, 2006

    Hump This: Pussyfoot

    Hump This is a (quasi-)weekly Friday feature where you, the WordHumper reader, choose which lucky word gets humped back to the stoneage (or at least to Proto-Indo-Europa). Today's word comes from BL in New York who writes:
    I would like for you to look into the origins of the word "pussyfoot." And please don't half-ass it.
    Personally, I have a feeling BL knows EXACTLY where this word comes from being that it obviously means to move stealthily like a cat, but she (or he...I don't give away the identities of WH readers) gets off on using words that, shall we say, have multiple shades of meaning.

    I noticed that per the OED the first recorded use of pussyfoot is from 1893 in reference to "Men who were beginning to walk pussy-footed and shy at shadows." Men who "shy at shadows" strike me as being pussies (in our modern cowardly sense of the word). This is interesting because again, per the OED, it seems that the word pussy, in both the anatomical and effeminate senses, had a small usage boom in the latter half of the 19th c., which ties in nicely to the coinage of pussyfoot. Thus, it seems possible that the advent of pussyfooting may not have been solely dependent on feline gait, but rather the word contains a hint of pure, unadulturated pussiness.

    If you have a word you'd like humped please email it, along with your location, to wordhumper.


    :: posted by David, 9:06 AM | link | 0 comments |

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    The Daily Hump: Asparagus

    I like asparagus. A lot. It ranks as one of my favorite vegetables along with broccoli. And I like the idea of the Asparagus Fleet: boats kept by the Roman emporors whose sole purpose was to fetch more asparagus.

    But asparagus also has a dark side. I'm not going to go into details but let's just say be wary of men selling antique maps who keep a silver asparagus on their credenza. Anygay, asparagus, the word, has had a strange history. Although in Modern English the word is asparagus, in Middle English the word was sperage. This came from the Old English sparage, which came from the Latin asparagus, which came from the Greek asparogos. And the Greek came from the Persian asparag, meaning "sprout" or "shoot."

    I know what you're thinking. "Hey, wait a second! Why did the Modern English word revert to the Latin/Greek? Has the whole world gone mad?" Yes, actually it did. As the AHD notes
    After the rebirth of classical learning during the Renaissance, Greek and Latin achieved a lofty status among the educated. As a result, etymologists and spelling reformers of the 16th and 17th centuries tried to give English a classical look by Latinizing or Hellenizing the spelling of words that had Latin or Greek ancestry (and even some that didn't).
    Thus, circa 1600, the herbalists and horticulturalists of the day decided "asparagus" should be spelled asparagus.

    The story didn't end there though. Shortly after the forced transformation the word was given a folk-etymology: sparrow-grass. Asparagus didn't return to common parlance until the 19th century when, as the OED states, "sparrow-grass [was left] to the illiterate."

    asparagus [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    asparagus [OED]
    asparagus [Wikipedia]

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    :: posted by David, 11:25 AM | link | 0 comments |

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    The Daily Hump: Hark the Herald Angels Sing...

    ...glory to the new born Hump.

    I spent the past few weeks anxiously pouring over my beat-up copy of the OED hoping to find that one special word that best memoralizes this moment. Sweat dripped from my brow as word after word were crossed off the Hump contender list (actually, total lie, no word ever gets crossed-off the Hump contender list--you think I won't hump boob or poop deck? Just wait for what '07 brings). But finally, FINALLY, I found that one word that best captures the heart and soul of today's celebration. So, without further adoodoo, Ladies and gentlemen, I give you WordHumper's 100th post. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you reek.

    Why reek you ask? Well, let's just say WordHumper kind of stinks. I mean, I love etymologies and all, but the WH eats up a good hour of my day, everyday. And since the site has been live AdSense has made me a whopping $2.46. So, on an hourly basis we're talking just over 2¢. I'm not making a career out of this anytime soon.

    Anyway, let's hump to it. Although we know reek to generally mean "to emit a noxious stench" or "to be pervaded by something unpleasant" (e.g. this site reeks of grammatical inconsistencies and blatant half-truths) it originally referred specifically to the emission of smoke. The word can be traced back to the Old Norse reykr, meaning "smoke". And where there's reykr there's Reykjavik, whose name literally translates to "smoky bay." As well, reek's root lives on in modern Dutch's ruiken meaning "to smell."

    Tomorrow: Hump #101

    reek [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    reek [OED]

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    :: posted by David, 8:26 AM | link | 0 comments |

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    The Daily Hump: Kneed

    The knee. Dull stuff. Honestly, the only reason I chose knee for today's hump is because I thought it'd be fun to take a Nutella jar and Photoshop "Patella" onto it. In case you don't know patella is the scientific name for the knee-cap and is a diminutive of the Latin patina, meaning "plate" (because of its shape).

    Similarly, Catholics use a small plate, a paten, to hold the host during the Eucharist. The Catholics are also known for genuflecting, the act of bending the knee, usually during worship. Genuflect is from the Latin genu (knee) + flectere (to bend). The Latin genu has analagous forms in other languages: Sanskrit janu, Greek gonu, Gothic kniu and Old English cneo. From the OE it's not difficult to see where our modern spelling comes from.

    genuflect [OED]
    knee [OED]
    knee [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    genuflect [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    patella [AHD]
    paten [AHD]

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    :: posted by David, 8:19 AM | link | 1 comments |

    Monday, December 18, 2006

    The Daily Hump: From Norwegian Fjords to Portuguese Ports

    Fjords are found in Norway, Iceland, the Faroes, New Zealand, British Columbia, Alaska and Chile. Not surprisingly the word is of Old Norse origin, making its way to English via Norwegian. However, if we trace the word beyond Old Norse, past its Germanic origins, we come to the Proto-Indo-European *prtus, which comes from *por-, meaning "going, passage."

    *por- is the original root of our Modern English words port (harbor, haven) and portal (opening). Port, like the wine, is a shortened form of Oporto, which is a city in northwestern Portugal from where the wine was originally shipped, and whose name comes from O Porto, "the port." The Roman name for Oporto, Portus Cale (the port of Gaia), is the source of the name Portugal itself.

    fjord [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    port [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    Portugal [Online Etymology Dictionary]

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    :: posted by David, 7:55 AM | link | 0 comments |

    Friday, December 15, 2006

    Hump This: Fanatics

    Hump This is a (quasi-)weekly Friday feature where you, the WordHumper reader, choose which lucky word gets humped back to the stoneage (or at least to Proto-Indo-Europa). Today's word comes from MK in New York who writes:
    You are a word humping fanatic. You should hump that at some point, since fan and fanatic come from the same root but one means crazy (sometimes celebrity killing) person.
    You're right, MK. I am both a word humping fan and fanatic. Fanatic made its English language debut in the first half of the 16th c. to mean an insane person. It comes from the Latin fanum, meaning temple, and is a reference to the sometimes over-the-top orgiastic rites practiced in pagan Rome. Its sense of extreme zealousness first appeared in the mid-17th c.

    Fan is originally of American origin, late 19th c., and was used in reference to baseball. It's obviously an abbreviated form of fanatic although it's possible it was influenced by an early 19th c. term Fancy, which the Online Etymology Dictionary describes as "a collective term for followers of a certain hobby or sport (especially boxing)." Fancy or not, it's immediately apparent that since its humble baseball beginnings fan was never meant to achieve the connotative gravitas of fanatic.

    Interestingly, fanatic's Latin root fanum is also related to the Latin festus which gives us our words feast and festival.

    If you have a word you'd like humped please email it, along with your location, to wordhumper.

    Fan and Fanatic [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    Fanatic [AHD]
    Fanatic [OED]
    Fan [OED]

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    :: posted by David, 8:53 AM | link | 0 comments |

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    The Daily Hump: Ramparts

    Are you happy? I'm finally humping ramparts!

    Seriously, I love ramparts and I look forward to this humptastic challenge. But first, before we start, I went to check out the complete lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" which is the only song I can think of that ever used the word ramparts. So, I go to Wikipedia and here's what I find:

    (I've taken a screenshot in case some killjoy has gone ahead and changed the entry. You've got to love Wiki technology.)

    Anyway, rampart is from the Old French verb remparer meaning "to fortify". English had a similar verb, now considered archaic, rampire, meaning "to strengthen". Thus, one could conceivably rampire the vampire with ramparts. Incidentally, vampire has nothing to do with rampire. Vampire is said to be from the Kazan Tartar word ubyr, "witch."

    But I digress: remparer is from re + emparer, re obviously meaning "again" and emparer meaning "to fortify or take possession of". This verb, in turn, can be traced back through Old Provençal to the Vulgar Latin anteparare meaning "to make preparations beforehand" (ante + parare). The Latin parare is where we get our verb prepare, obvi.

    rampart [OED]
    rampire [OED]
    rampart [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    mutton recipes [About]
    vampire [Online Etymology Dictionary]

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    :: posted by David, 8:15 AM | link | 1 comments |

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    The Daily Hump: All Things Gawk is a blog dedicated to "...daily Manhattan media news and gossip." It used to be a great site. And up until a few weeks ago it was still a pretty damn funny site. Yet rather recently it's become as intriguing as the banana-flavored donut they recommended in their daily Todo column. But I'm way off tangent; today we're looking at gawker itself (well, gawk, actually).

    The OED offers two possible etymologies for the verb gawk. Either a) it's from the noun gawk, meaning "An awkward, loutish person; an oaf" or b) it's an alteration of the obsolete verb gaw which meant "to stare" and comes via the Old Norse , meaning "to heed".

    The adjective form, gawky (meaning "awkward, ungainly") is where the story gets fun. Apparently, the word gawk can mean "left" (in the directional sense) and there was once a dialectal term in north England "gawk-handed". The Online Etymology Dictionary theorizes that this sense is the root of gawky, which may be "...a contraction of gaulick, a derogatory slang that could have originated during some period of strained Anglo-[French] relations." The OED, however, offers no evidence to suggest that gawk, in the sense of "left", has anything to do with the oafish gawk. That being said, humanity has a general prejudice against the left best exemplified by our word sinister, coming from the Latin word for "left." Perhaps the awkward qualities of a gawk continue this prejudice towards all things left-handed.

    gawk [OED]

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    :: posted by David, 9:14 AM | link | 1 comments |

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    The Daily Hump: Supercilious and the Father of Word Humping

    GEORGE: Dad! I heard you were in the city the other day!
    FRANK: Your mother has to tell you every move I make!?
    GEORGE: No.. Jerry and Elaine saw you.
    FRANK: They didn't say hello?
    GEORGE: Well, they were in a rush.
    FRANK: They couldn't just say hello?! .. Oh, to hell with them.
    GEORGE: They, uh.. said you were with some guy who was wearing a cape, ha ha.
    FRANK: Elaine, I can see, not sayin' hello. She's very--what's the word--supercilious.

    First, an apology: In yesterday's hump I said that today we would hump ramparts (that's ramparts, not ram_parts). Alas, I received a Priority Code Alpha-1 Special Request to instead take a stab at supercilious, whose definition is best exemplified by the above Seinfeld exchange. To cut to the chase a supercilium is an eyebrow. It came to mean "feeling or showing haughty disdain" from the cartoonish practice of raising the eyebrow to express condescending pride.

    Pretty boring stuff.

    However, the second element, -cilium, is a bit more interesting. In Latin a cilium was an eyelid or eyelash. The plural is cilia, which you may remember from high school biology as being those small hairs that line the insides of your intestines (or nose) and mix the ingested food with your digestive secretions. The word is also related to the Latin celare, meaning "to cover, hide" and the Proto-Indo-European base *kel-, meaning "to conceal". From this root we get our word cell, which comes from Latin and refers to a small room, and cellar, which is the first element in the compound cellar door, of which Tolkien said:
    Supposing you say some quite ordinary words to me - 'cellar door', say. From that, I might think of a name, 'Cellardoor', and from that a character, a situation begins to grow.
    And in 1955 Tolkien wrote:
    Most English-speaking people...will admit that cellar door is 'beautiful', especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful. Well then, in Welsh for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent, and moving to the higher dimension, the words in which there is pleasure in the contemplation of the association of form and sense are abundant.
    This "contemplation of the association of form and sense" is word humping at its purest state and, thus, Tolkien is the father of the modern-day hump.

    Supercilious [AHD]
    Supercilious [OED]
    Supercilious [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    Cell [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    Cellar Door [Wikipedia]

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    :: posted by David, 8:07 AM | link | 0 comments |

    Monday, December 11, 2006

    The Daily Hump: Boulevard

    When people think of boulevards they generally think of those broad streets that crisscross Paris. We Americans, perhaps in a feeble attempt to romanticize our nascent suburbs, stole the name in the late 1920's to refer to any sort of wide, multi-laned thoroughfares. I grew up on one of these American boulevards.

    The French most likely didn't invent the word boulevard on purpose. Just as there are hundreds of French words we English-speakers regularly mangle beyond comprehension, the French aren't always so great at enunciating foreign words either. Boulevard is a prime example; it's likely the result of the Old French's garbled attempt to adopt the Middle Dutch bolwerc (literally: plank + work), which successfully survived the transformation into English as bulwark. In Modern English a bulwark is the wall of a fortification, but the Old French bollevart likely referred to the flat promenade which ran along the top of a demolished city wall.

    Tomorrow: Were ramparts really constructed from parts of rams?
    Hint: No.

    Boulevard [OED]
    Bulwark [AHD]
    Boulevard [Online Etymology Dictionary]

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    :: posted by David, 8:33 AM | link | 0 comments |

    Friday, December 08, 2006

    Hump This: Governor/Gubernatorial

    Hump This is a (quasi-)weekly Friday feature where you, the WordHumper reader, choose which lucky word gets humped back to the stoneage (or at least to Proto-Indo-Europa). Today's word comes from RM in California who asks:
    I would like you to explore governor/gubernatorial. I see how the words are related.. sort of. B's and V's are related and vowels have drifted but why? What happened?
    In order to understand the differences in spelling let's start by looking at govern.

    Govern enters the English language at the end of the 13th c. via Old French. The French, in turn, had gotten the word from the Latin gubernare, which originally had the meaning "to steer (a ship)". The Latin word comes from the Greek kybernan, also meaning "to steer or pilot", and which, incidentally happens to be the root of our word cybernetics. Now you understand why cyborgs run the government.

    Gubernatorial is a chiefly American word that first appeared in 1734 in reference to "The [New Jersey] Governor in his gubernatorial Capacity". Apparently the colonial Americans assumed the Latin verb gubernare must have had an associated adjective construction, gubernatorius, despite lacking evidence of this form.

    So, gubernatorial was contrived directly from the Latin versus governor which found its form via the normal transformations common to centuries of usage.

    If you have a word you'd like humped please email it, along with your location, to wordhumper.

    Gubernatorial [OED]
    Govern [OED]
    Gubernatorial [Online Etymology Dictionary]

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    :: posted by David, 7:51 AM | link | 1 comments |

    Thursday, December 07, 2006

    The Daily Hump: Pond

    Duck pond = serene, idyllic, pleasant
    Dog pound = sad, tragic, pathetic

    Despite the major differences in connotation pond is actually an alteration of pound. Both words are from the Old English pund meaning "enclosure". Pund is also the first element in the Old English compound pundfald (fald being the root for our Modern English fold, as for sheep), which gives us our Modern English pinfold (aka penfold). And, interestingly, even though pinfold/penfold is an enclosure for animals pen (in the enclosure sense) comes from a completely different Old English root.

    Beyond Old English the origins of pound (in the above sense) are unknown; there are apparently no cognates in other languages. Check out WWW for more on pound's exciting history.

    pond [OED]
    pond [AHD]
    pond [Online Etymology Dictionary]

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    :: posted by David, 9:43 AM | link | 0 comments |

    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    The Daily Hump: Yard

    The yard. It's a good word to hump. Say it with me. Yaaaaard. Repeat it a few times. Yard yard yard. But where is the yard from? And does my backyard have anything to do with a yardstick or the seminal 60's rock band The Yardbirds (launch pad for Clapton, Beck and Page--and the answer is no).

    Let's start with the yard in the sense of a unit of measurement. Per Wikipedia:
    The yard derives its name from the word for a straight branch or rod, although the precise origin of the measure is not definitely known. Some believe it derived from the double cubit, or that it originated from cubic measure, others from its near equivalents, like the length of a stride or pace. One postulate was that the yard was derived from the girth of a person's waist, while another claim held that the measure was invented by Henry I of England as being the distance between the tip of his nose and the end of his thumb. These are believed to be more likely standardising events than inventing of the measure.
    Yard can likely be humped all the way back to the Proto-Indo-European root *gherdh- meaning staff or pole. In Old English the yard measured about 5 meters, a length later called a rod (rather unoriginal given the Wikipedia etymology). The yard as we know it was first attested to from 1377. And for you loyal WordHumper readers yard is likely related to the Old Teutonic *gazdaz, which gave us the Old Norse word gad. You may remember gad from our gallivant hump. It's related to our the root of our modern verb gather.

    Now, how does this all connect to my backyard? Funny thing--there is no connection. It seems to be purely coincidental that one can measure their backyard with a yardstick. Let's look at the Old English roots:

    Yard (in the backyard sense) --> Old English geard
    Yard (in the measuring sense) --> Old English gerd

    In the backyard sense yard comes from the same Germanic root that gave us garden, orchard and the people-inhabitated portion of the world in Norse mythology, Midgard. Yard also shares a Germanic root with the verb gird, meaning to surround or encircle the waist (think girdle and girth*). It's this concept of surrounding and enclosure which really captures the sense of yard's Proto-Indo-European root ghort-, which also gave us cohort, court and the Latin word for "garden" hortus, which of couse gave us horticulture (orchard actually comes from hortus + yard).

    *The Wikipedia entry gives a possible etymology for yard (in the measuring sense) as "derived from the girth of a person's waist". Given that the root for girth is connected to yard in the enclosure sense, this theory may be assuming an etymological relationship between the two senses of yard which we have shown does not exist.

    Yard [AHD]
    Yard [Online Etymology Dictionary]
    Yard [OED]

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    :: posted by David, 8:17 AM | link | 1 comments |

    Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    Banal Cavities

    If you enjoy etymologies you're probably subscribed to a number of "word of the day" newsletters. I'm subscribed to a few including, Merriam-Webster and AskOxford.

    AskOxford prides itself on the obscurity of its choices (hellerwork, aspergillum, bottomry). M-W chooses words that I wouldn't classify as totally commonplace, but they're pretty lame (symposium, adulate, gourmand). And WordSmith falls somewhere inbetween (cakewalk, flummery, delate). During its brief existence WordHumper has experimented with positions along the usage spectrum--but really, other than ship-insurers who cares about bottomry? And symposium? Humping symposium is as interesting as sitting through a symposium on bottomry. No thank you.

    No, from this point forth WordHumper will be charting a new course. We'll be looking at the everyday-words you've likely taken for granted. For the loyal readers that means more cat, goat and Welsh. And, sure, occassionally we may still hump a gormagon, but that will be the exception. I'm not sure how to pithily encapsulate WordHumper's new mission, but with apologies to MGM, we do not subscribe to the maxim Hump gratia Humptis.

    The Daily Hump returns tomorrow.
    :: posted by David, 8:16 AM | link | 1 comments |

    Monday, December 04, 2006

    The Daily Hump: Pumpernickel

    I have a lot of work to do this morning, so please enjoy this chunk of blockquote from Wikipedia.
    Debate flourishes about the origin of the word. Philologist Johann Christoph Adelung states about the Germanic origin of the word, in the vernacular, Pumpen was a New High German synonym for being flatulent, a word similar in meaning to the English "fart", and "Nickel" was a form of the name Nicholas, an appellation commonly associated with a goblin or devil (e.g., "Old Nick", a familiar name for Satan). Hence, pumpernickel is described as the "devil's fart", a definition accepted by the Stopes International Language Database [1], the publisher Random House [2], and by some English language dictionaries, including Webster's Dictionary [3]. The American Heritage Dictionary adds "so named from being hard to digest."

    The OED, however, does not commit to any particular etymology for the word. It suggests it may mean a lout or booby, but also says, "origin uncertain". Its first recorded use in English is from 1756.

    Another theory comes from a 17th-century anecdote, according to which a French horseman, stopping at a Westphalian inn, is offered a piece of black bread. Surveying the food with suspicion, he declares: "C'est bon pour Nicole" - Nicole being his horse [4].


    :: posted by David, 8:12 AM | link | 0 comments |

    Friday, December 01, 2006

    Hump This: Pimp My Etymology

    Hump This is a (quasi-)weekly Friday feature where you, the WordHumper reader, choose which lucky word gets humped back to the stoneage (or at least to Proto-Indo-Europa). Today's word comes from RM in California who asks:
    Where does the word "pimp" come from?
    The American Heritage Dictionary sometimes disappoints me. Effort counts for something in life and sometimes the AHD just doesn't try very hard. Case in point, its entry for the word pimp: "Origin Unknown". Now, the OED also says pimp's origin is unknown however it lists a myriad of possibilities then strikes them down one-by-one. I appreciate this. Let's take a look at what the OED has to say:

    1) It's been suggested that pimp has a connection with the German Pimpf meaning "small boy" but the German word appears much later than the English pimp (c. 1600) and thus any causal relationship seems unlikely. Plus, there are apparently a number of semantic differences.

    2) The second suggestion, which is what I would have guessed, is that pimp is short for pimpernel, scarlet-colored or otherwise. But again, the OED claims there are semantic irregularities.

    3) There are a number of possible French roots including pimpant (seductive in appearance), pimper (to adorn) and pimpernol, which is a small eel (and is surprisingly not etymologically related to pimpernel at all). The OED dismisses any connections to these words as merely coincidental.

    However, the Online Etymology Dictionary, citing a mysterious source "Weekley", offers this li'l nugget of linguistic gold:
    Weekley suggests [Middle French] pimpreneau, defined in Cotgrave [?] (1611) as "a knave, rascall, varlet, scoundrell."
    So, there you go. Now where's my money, bitch?

    If you have a word you'd like humped please email it, along with your location, to wordhumper.

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    :: posted by David, 8:01 AM | link | 1 comments |