Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Daily Hump: Caterpillar

I've always been a firm believer in never airing one's fears out in public. Perhaps it's unwarranted paranoia but putting this information out there opens one up to mental torture on a colossal scale. But a few years ago my grandmother, after surprising me by suddenly speaking German, told me that one should always know the language of one's enemy. By extension, I've come to realize we should also understand the language we use to identify our enemy, which is what brings me to today's hump, one of the banes of my existence, the caterpillar.

It's not so much I have a fear of caterpillars as much as they simply give me the willies. And I'm an animal person--I don't mind snakes, I like mice and rats, even most insects don't bother me. No, caterpillars (and millipedes and centipedes) hold a special place in my gut. I'm so acutely aware of caterpillars that I'm convinced I can smell their presence; I know this from the series of unscientific experiments I ran while mowing the lawn. I'd get a whiff of larva and shawnuff on a nearby plant would be a thick nasty green tomato caterpillar. Or above my head a colony of tent caterpillars would be weaving their hellish web of arboreal misery. And there, on the driveway, was a woolly bear caterpillar, least offensive of the lot simply because it had the misfortune of being run over by the car. My keen sense of smell protects me from these monsters.

Caterpillar ultimately comes to us from the Old French chatepelose, which literally translates to "hairy cat." You may remember cat from a previous hump but the second element is from the Latin pilosus, meaning "hair." The Italian surname Pelosi comes from this same Latin root. Has the House of Representatives been taken over by a caterpillar masquerading as a San Francisco liberal? Given the facts it seems plausible.

Judge caterpillars for yourself, but remember this;
Our word caterpillar is first recorded in English in 1440 in the form catyrpel. Catyr, the first part of catyrpel, may indicate the existence of an English word *cater, meaning "tomcat," otherwise attested only in caterwaul. Cater would be cognate with Middle High German kater and Dutch kater. The latter part of catyrpel seems to have become associated with the word piller, "plunderer"...[from AHD: emphasis mine]
See? Even our modern day spelling hints to the caterpillar's intrinsic malevolence. Madame Speaker (if that is your real name), I rest my case.

caterpillar [AHD]
caterpillar [Online Etymology Dictionary]
caterpillar [OED]
caterpillar [Wikipedia]
Italian surnames [Italy World Club]

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:: posted by David, 8:59 AM | link | 1 comments |

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Daily Hump: Sibyl Disobedience

Before I get on the humpbus this morning I want to rave about the amazing Peter, Bjorn & John concert last night at Mercury Lounge. PB&J played an extra-long set with tons of energy and were totally channeling The Kinks. I definitely recommend checking them out while they're not yet completely huge.

My name is Humpty, pronounced with a Umpty.
Yo ladies, oh how I like to hump thee.

A Sibyl (note the capital S) is a member of a group of women who the Greeks and Romans regarded as having powers of divination and prophecy. In common noun form the word has come to mean a witch or, as used in the quote below from Network, a fortune-teller. Our word sibyl comes to us from the Greek Sibulla by way of Latin (Sibylla), Old French and Middle English (sibile). The word's origin is not fully understood but it is thought to come from the Doric Siobolla and from Attic Theoboule, meaning "divine wish."
Diana: Did you know there are a number of psychics working as licensed brokers on Wall Street? Some of them counsel their clients by use of Tarot cards. They're all pretty successful, even in a bear market and selling short. I met one of them a couple of weeks ago and thought of doing a show around her -- The Wayward Witch of Wall Street, something like that...Her name, aptly enough, is Sibyl. Sybil the Soothsayer.
sibyl [AHD]
sibyl [Online Etymology Dictionary]
Sibyl [OED]
Cybill Shepherd [IMDB]

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:: posted by David, 8:05 AM | link | 0 comments |

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Daily Hump: Don't Mind the Praying Mantis

Growing up it was a rare treat when we'd find a praying mantis in the yard. At most we'd spot one once per summer; the mantis would usually be found sitting on a tree limb curiously observing whoever happened to be mowing the lawn that day. I remember often hearing there was a $50 fine for killing one of the creatures. That turns out to be false, but regardless the graceful animals are certainly not pests so who would want to do them harm anyway?

Moving on...mantis is Greek for "seer" and as the AHD notes
the Greeks, who made the connection between the upraised front legs of a mantis waiting for its prey and the hands of a prophet in prayer, used the name mantis to mean “the praying mantis.” This word and sense were picked up in Modern Latin and from there came into English, being first recorded in 1658. Once we know the origin of the term mantis, we realize that the species names praying mantis and Mantis religiosa are a bit redundant.
In addition, the word is directly related to the suffix -mancy (as in necromancy). The Greek mantis is from the verb mainesthai, meaning "to be inspired", which is in turn related to menos, "passion, spirit." This is the source of our word mania. All of these forms derive from the Proto-Indo-European *men-, "to think, to have one's mind aroused, rage, be furious", which is the root of our English word mind.

mantis [Online Etymology Dictionary]
praying mantis [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 9:07 AM | link | 1 comments |

Friday, January 26, 2007

Hump This: Maelstrom

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 request comes from AM in Brooklyn, Norway who writes:
I'm a Viking princess and am leading a fleet of longships on an RPP* raid of an idyllic Christian village of peasant farmers. However, my friend Thorvald the Berserker warned me of some nasty maelstrom action off the coast of Norway. What's up with maelstrom? Sounds Dutch.
AM, how right you are! Maelstrom, which has become a generic term for a large whirlpool or turbulent situation, started off life as a proper noun on Dutch maps of the 17th (or possibly 16th) century and referred to a massive whirlpool in the Arctic Ocean off the Lofoten Islands of Norway**. The first definitive use of maelstrom is from a 1673 book written by a pastor living in the Faroes, but despite what those tricky Faroese would have you believe the word is of Dutch origin, literally meaning "grinding-stream." The first element mael, comes from the Dutch verb malen, meaning "to grind" and is the root of our modern English word meal.

Have fun storming the village!

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

*RPP: Rape, pillage, plunder - a favorite Viking pasttime

**The Lofotens also happen to be home of the village of Å, which is my favorite name for a town anywhere in the world.

maelstrom [OED]

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:: posted by David, 9:27 AM | link | 1 comments |

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Language Family Map

I thought I'd share this awesome language family map I just found on Wikipedia. It reminds me of the Mappa Linguarum I hypothesized a few months back, only sans dimension of time.

:: posted by David, 4:35 PM | link | 4 comments |

The Daily Hump: Sneeze

My original idea was to hump patsy this morning but some asshole over at Wikipedia already humped the word every which way to Sunday. Fear not! The consolation prize is nothing to sneeze at (sorry).*

The lowly sneeze, known scientifically as a sternutatory reflex,
is a semi-autonomous, convulsive expulsion of air from the nose and mouth. This air can reach speeds of 70 m/s (250 km/h or 155 MPH). Sneezes spread disease by producing infectious droplets that are 0.5 to 5 µm in diameter, about 40,000 such droplets can be produced by a single sneeze.
The word traces back to the Old English fneosan, which is from the proto-Germanic *fneusanan (which is likely of imitative origin). From this base we see similarities in Middle Dutch, Dutch (fniezen - "to sneeze"), Old Norse (fnysa - "to snort"), and Swedish (nysa - "to sneeze"). As the Online Etymology Dictionary notes
the [English] forms in sn- appear 1490s; change may be due to a misreading of fn-, or from [an Old Norse] influence. But OED suggests [the Middle English] fnese had been reduced to simple nese by early 15c., and sneeze is a "strengthened form" of this, "assisted by its phonetic appropriateness."
Regardless up until around 1400 c. English had the words fnese (sneeze), fnast (breathe) and neeze, which is still used to mean sneeze in a number of Scandinavian, northern Irish English and north England regional dialects. You may find it interesting to note that fnese and fnast make up the OED's entire contingent of words beginning with fn-.

*"To sneeze at" first attested to in 1806.

Sneezing [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 9:01 AM | link | 2 comments |

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Daily Hump: Cinch

My friend Bob Wexler and I were having an IM discussion this morning regarding another one of our kooky, get-rich-quick, harebrained business ideas (actually, I'm not going to discuss it here because it just may be viable...). His final declaration was our plan is "a cynch." Obvious spelling errors aside (and most likely the observation would ultimately prove patently false), it got me thinking: Why is something that's easy a "cinch"?

The idea comes from one of cinch's many definitions: "A firm or secure hold" (OED). Cinch's sense of facility is an American invention, and a relatively recent one at that, first making an appearance around 1898. The word cinch originally referred to the girth of a saddle and came from the Spanish cincha, also meaning "girdle." The Spanish came from the Latin cingulum ("girdle" again) which came from the Latin verb cingere, meaning "to surround, encircle." And this can be traced back even further to the Proto-Indo-European base *kenk- meaning "to gird, encircle." Related words include precinct, succinct and, interestingly, shingles ("The inflammation often extends around the middle of the body, like a girdle.").

cinch [AHD]
cinch [Online Etymology Dictionary]
cinch [OED]

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:: posted by David, 1:27 PM | link | 0 comments |

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Daily Hump: Humping Quasimodo

Homer: (running into the church) Sanctuary! Sanctuary!
Reverend Lovejoy: Why did I teach him that word?
Now that it's lunch I have some time to take my daily hump. If you checked in earlier you may have noticed this morning's post is titled Humpback Flashback. Naturally, humpback got me thinking of Quasimodo, best known as the lovable cripple from the 1996 animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Go Fighting Irish!) (and, no, there's no difference between humpbacks, hunchbacks and crookbacks says WordNet). For those of you like me who have better things to do [i.e. anything] than slug through Victor Hugo Boss's 1831 tome or Disney's piss-poor hatchet job it's interesting to observe
Quasimodo's name is a pun. Frollo finds him on the cathedrals doorsteps on Quasimodo Sunday, and names him after the holiday, inadvertedly calling him "half-formed."
Quasimodo Sunday is the first Sunday after Easter, recently designated in 2000 as Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope John Paul II. As Wikipedia notes
The name Quasimodo came from the Latin text of the traditional Introit (opening blessing) for this day, which begins "Quasi modo geniti infantes..." ("As newborn babes...", from the First Epistle of Peter 2:2). Literally, quasi modo means "in the manner of [i.e. newborn babes]".
Quasi modo Wordhumper hump.

Quasimodo [Wikipedia]
Quasimodo Sunday [Wikipedia]
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) [IMDB]
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) [IMDB]
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame [Amazon]

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:: posted by David, 1:52 PM | link | 2 comments |

Humpback Flashback

It's a super busy day over at the real job (this just in: WH is *not* my real job), so instead of a Daily Hump I invite you to read this juicy tidbit from the oft ribald, always poignant DealBreaker.com:
Which former head of Global Wealth Management at a major New York bank is leaving his wife and two kids for a talking head on a major financial news network?
In the spirit of this juicy blind item why don't you revisit one of WH's more popular entries: cuckold.

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:: posted by David, 9:07 AM | link | 2 comments |

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Daily Hump: Schwa

Even if you don't know the word schwa you've likely seen one. It's the inverted letter "e" used to represent neutral the vowel sound in generally weakly stressed syllables. Examples include the "i" in pencil or the "u" in circus. The word schwa comes to us from Hebrew via German. In Rabbinic Hebrew, schwa (שְׁוָא) literally means "emptiness" or "vanity". For you folks in the audience who had to suffer through years of Hebrew school I guarantee you encountered the schwa fairly regularly: Remember those dots that appeared under the Hebrew letters that signified the vowel sounds? Well, they are collectively called "niqqud marks" and schwa originally referred to the vowel that looks like a vertical pair of dots, :. The Hebrew word itself likely comes from the Syriac šwayyā, meaning "even", which I'm guessing describes the identical nature of the two points.

Today, however, the : vowel mark is more commonly called a sheva in English in order to differentiate it from Ə. Sheva is simply an arbitrarily constructed alteration of schwa.

schwa [Wikipedia]
niqqud [Wikipedia]
schwa [AHD]
sheva [OED]

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:: posted by David, 8:30 AM | link | 2 comments |

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Daily Hump: Minx

Hump This, a quasi-regular Friday feature where you, the WordHumper reader, decide which words gets humped back to Proto-Indo-Europa, is taking a hiatus this week for lack of any good requests. We'll hopefully return next week. But in the meantime, please enjoy the following hump.

The OED describes a minx as "A pert, sly, or boldly flirtatious young woman" noting that in recent years the word has taken on a more playful connotation. The word's origin is uncertain but it's generally assumed minx is a shortened form of minikin which is a fairly rare word that the AHD defines as "A very small delicate creature." In its original sense minikin referred to a young girl or woman. The word comes from the Middle Dutch minnekijn which meant "darling" and is itself a compound of minne (love) + -kijn, which is a diminutive suffix.

Minikin should not be confused with the Jewish surname Minkin. Minkin is likely an alteration of Mencken or Menken which themselves are likely alterations of Menahem who you may remember from the Hebrew Bible as one of the more colorful kings of Israel who, per II Kings 15:16, had a fondness for giving abortions: "He sacked Tiphsah and ripped open all the pregnant women."

Wow...I just humped myself. Word.

UPDATE: Interestingly, Minkin is also an extinct Australian Aboriginal language. Ooga booga.

minx [Online Etymology Dictionary]
minx [AHD]
minikin [AHD]
minikin [OED]
minx [OED]
Menahem [Wikipedia]
List of Jewish surnames [Wikipedia]
II Kings 15:16 [Biblegateway.com]
Minkin (language) [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 8:43 AM | link | 2 comments |

Thursday, January 18, 2007

WordHumper EXCLUSIVE!!!

WordHumper is first to report that DealBreaker.com's esteemed editor John Carney is out of the hospital!

MUST SOURCE WORDHUMPER. MUST SOURCE WORDHUMPER.

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:: posted by David, 6:28 PM | link | 1 comments |

The Daily Hump: Bleach

I know some of my more loyal readers may read into the fact that yesterday I humped witch hazel and today I'm humping bleach. Yes, I have a thing for cleanliness. Yes, you could even say I'm kind of OCD. But really, I swear, this hullaballoo is unwarranted as this whole occurrence is a freak coincidence.

Do ya know what I'm doin', doin' the Humpty Hump.

Bleach isn't just the name of Nirvana's totally excellent first album (which, granted, pales is comparison to their later efforts) so-named because Kurt appreciated the chemical's effectiveness for cleaning needles. Bleach is better known as that noxious agent that keeps your brights bright and your tile floor sparkly. The word comes down to us from the Old English blǣcan, which is from the Proto-Germanic *blaikos "white," which is from the Proto-Indo-European *bhleg- "to gleam." Other related words include blanche, blank, bleak and blink; and curiously, quite unexpectedly, black.

Yes, folks, bleach and black are likely from the same root. As the Online Etymology Dictionary notes the connection between blanche, blank, bleak and blink seems to be "burning, blazing, shining, whiteness." The burning and blazing aspect is what's important because that's also the likely link between bleach and black. "That the same root yielded words for 'black' and 'white' is probably because both are colorless, and perhaps because both are associated with burning." Okay then.

Before you go some more fodder for your noggin: according to the AHD bleachers (like those ass-hurting things you used to sit on at high school pep rallies) were so named because it's a comparison of "a person's exposure to the sun when sitting on them with the exposure of linens bleaching on a clothesline." The Online Etymology Dictionary disputes this etymology however saying bleachers "were so-named because the boards were bleached by the sun." The OED doesn't weigh in on the issue so I'm going to have to go with the Online Etymology Dictionary on this one. The AHD etymology is just stoopid.

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:: posted by David, 8:50 AM | link | 2 comments |

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Daily Hump: Witch Hazel

I've got a pimple living at the end of my nose and it makes me a sad WordHumper. It's one of those ones that's kind of under the skin, so it's just a sort of red splotch that hurts a lot. Anyway, I should be washing my face with witch hazel like I was back in the day, but I'm too lazy and the smell is kind of funky. Plus, this pimple got me thinking; what's so witchy about witch hazel? Is it a magical bush? Evil? Satanic perhaps?

Actually, no. Witch hazel has absolutely nothing to do with old crones flying around on broomsticks or reciting incantations and frolicking in an orgiastic circle around a bonfire in some sylvan glen. No, the "witch" in witch hazel is from the obsolete wych, which is a shortened form of the wych elm (see photo at left) whose name in turn comes from the Old English wice. Wice is from the proto-Germanic wik- meaning "to bend" and from this root we get oodles of other modern English words including: weak, wicker and wicket. Even the words week and vicarious share a proto-Indo-European root with wik-, the PIE base *weik-, *weig- "to bend, wind" (in regards to vicarious think of bending in the sense of changing, or a substitution. For week the sense comes more from the idea of "turning" or "succession").

So, there ya have it: for better or for worse there is nothing diabolical about the powers of witch hazel.

witch hazel [Online Etymology Dictionary]
vicarious [Online Etymology Dictionary]
witch, wych, n3 [OED]
witch hazel [AHD]
Wych elm [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 8:53 AM | link | 1 comments |

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Daily Hump: Hibernation in the Himalaya

According to Wikipedia
Hibernation is a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in animals, characterized by lower body temperature, slower breathing, and lower metabolic rate.
This process most often occurs in animals during the winter months, thus it should be of little surprise that the English word comes from a verb meaning "to winter", the Latin hibenare.

The Latin form is from the Proto-Indo-European root *gheim- meaning "snow" or "winter". The Sanskrit hima, meaning "snow", is also from this PIE root and gives us the name of Earth's highest mountain range, the Himalaya, which literally translates to "abode of snow". As a point of trivia there are a few animals which hibernate in the Himalaya and thus doubly rely on the *gheim- root; these include the Himalayan marmot and both the brown and black bear.

hibernation [Online Etymology Dictionary]
Himalaya [Online Etmology Dictionary]

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:: posted by David, 9:00 AM | link | 0 comments |

Monday, January 15, 2007

WordHumper EXCLUSIVE!!!

WordHumper is first to report that DealBreaker.com's esteemed editor John Carney broke a freakin' leg thanks to some asshole hit and run driver. Here's wishin' John a fast and speedy recovery!

MUST SOURCE WORDHUMPER. MUST SOURCE WORDHUMPER.

Update: "EXCLUSIVE" is a joke, people! Cool your jets...

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

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hump This: Tampon

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 we're ridin' the cotton pony with CH of Brooklyn who writes:
Talk to me about tampons. Why aren't they called vagina plugs?
You'll need to thank the French that when Cap'n Bloodsnatch comes to town you're not rifling through your purse searching for a "vagina plug". But don't thank them too much because as it happens tampon actually means "plug" in Middle French. Similarly, we have a word in English tampion which is the plug or cover one uses for a muzzle of a gun or cannon to keep out the moisture.

And next time you saddle up to the bar for a pint keep this in mind: tampon can ultimately be traced back to the Proto-Germanic *tappon meaning "stopper, faucet", which happens to be the ancestor of our modern English word tap.

Hey, barkeep, I'll have a Red Stripe.

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

tap [Online Etymology Dictionary]
tampion [Online Etymology Dictionary]
tampion [AHD]
tampon [AHD]
Tampontification Euphemisms [Seventh Generation]

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:: posted by David, 9:45 AM | link | 0 comments |

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Daily Hump: Hey Taxi!

Today we're going to find the connection between taxicabs and high school geometry.

Unbeknownst to many a New Yorker the word taxi is actually a shortened form of taximeter cab, which is a vehicle first introduced in London in 1907. Basically, a taxi is defined as a car-for-hire that charges based on a taximeter rate, the taximeter being an "automatic meter to record the distance and fare" invented in Germany in the late 19th century. Taximeter is simply tax + meter, tax coming from the Latin taxare meaning, among other things, to "evaluate, estimate, assess, handle."

Taxare is likely a frequentative form of the Latin tangere, meaning "to touch." And from tangere we get our English word tangent which describes a straight line that touches a curve at a single point where the curve's derivative equals the slope of the line.

tax [Online Etymology Dictionary]
taxi [Online Etymology Dictionary]
tangent [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 9:26 AM | link | 1 comments |

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Guest Hump: Ait

An ait, or an eyot as it is sometimes spelled, is a small island, especially one found in a river, but also in a lake. Ait is, in fact, derived from the Old English word for small island. As in: “On a bare ait at midcurrent, completely surrounded and only inches above that muddy roiling water, huddle the squealing pigs.” Not to be confused with: “Yo momma gave me a blowjob. Watchoo think about that. Ait!”

Check out: Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape

Interested in guest humping? Send WH an email.

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:: posted by [feeld ri-kawr-der], 10:41 AM | link | 1 comments |

The Daily Hump: Cozy

As warm-blooded mammals human beings seem to have a natural affinity towards snug, comfortable shelters. Perhaps this yearning for coziness is nothing more than a memory heldover from our time in the womb. The word cozy is most likely of Scandinavian origin (cf. the Norwegian kose seg, "be cozy") which is unsurprising given the cold Nordic climate.

English also has a word gemutlich (with or without umlaut) which is from zie Germans and is generally defined as "pleasant and friendly" (possibly first used as an adjective in English by Queen Victoria). In German a gemütlich person or place is one that obeys the philosphy of Gemütlichkeit, which goes beyond the English concept of coziness in its level of abstractness:
...rather than basically just describing a place as not too large, well-heated and nicely furnished (a cosy room, a cosy flat), Gemütlichkeit connotes, much more than cosiness, the notion of belonging, social acceptance, cheerfulness, the absence of anything hectic and the spending of quality time in a place as described above...A gemütlich person...is one that takes part in this lifestyle and knows about the tensions he/she is able to cause, and thus tries to avoid these things actively.
This idea of avoiding tension in one's enviroment suggests a similarity to Chinese feng shui, although I'd argue the Taoist-inspired art would likely be focused much more on passive rather than active avoidance. This being said, we do see fairly analagous ideas to Gemütlichkeit in other parts of northern Europe including the Dutch gezelligheid, the Danish hygge and the Russian уют.

From an anthropological perspective it'd be interesting to examine whether cultures from warmer climates maintain any sort of concept of cozy.

cozy [Online Etymology Dictionary]
cozy [OED]
gemütlich [OED]
Gemütlichkeit [Wikipedia]
Gezelligheid [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 8:46 AM | link | 0 comments |

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mercaptan! Mercaptan!

So, Charles Sturcken, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, said that the mysterious odor that hovered over Manhattan yesterday wafted over from New Jersey's industrialized waterfront (shocking). I've read a few reports that theorize the smell originated in the Meadowland swamps (I'm imagining a huge burp erupting from beneath Giants Stadium which causes among other things the exhumation of Jimmy Hoffa's remains). According to 1010Wins.com
Sturcken said that the odor could have been caused by mercaptan, the chemical added to normally odorless natural gas to make it easily detectable, but he added, "Nothing has been confirmed."
Mercaptan, C2H5SH, also called thiol, comes to us from Medieval Latin via Danish and then German. The Medieval Latin mercurium captāns literally means "seizing mercury" because of the -SH group's ability to bind tightly with the element mercury, which was of great importance to the early alchemists.

And if yesterday's smell was familiar, get this: the notorious asparagus pee effect is caused from the breakdown of mercaptan. According to Take Our Word For It
Mercaptans are found in onions, skunks, rotten eggs, and farts! And, of course, asparagus. One source says that humans can detect the odor of mercaptans at 0.02 parts per billion. If correct that is quite astounding.
It looks like Take Our Word For It forgot to include one thing in its list of places where we find mercaptan: New Jersey.

Thiol [Wikipedia]
Mercaptan [AHD]

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:: posted by David, 11:36 AM | link | 0 comments |

The Daily Hump: Pimple

We all get them--some people more often than others. The lowly, ubiquitous pimple. It's sort of like nature's oil well, only it just happens to be on your skin. We know the word existed in English as far back as around 1400 CE. It's assumed that there is some relationship between pimple and the Old English pipligende which is the state of having...wait for it...herpes. It's possible that pipligende, in turn, is related to the Latin papula, which gives us our modern word papule meaning "A small, solid, usually inflammatory elevation of the skin that does not contain pus." However, as the OED explains, this is difficult to connect phonologically.

And in case you're curious the origin of zit, which was first recorded in use around 1966, is completly unknown.

pimple [AHD]
papule [AHD]
pimple [OED]
zit [Online Etymology Dictionary]

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:: posted by David, 8:52 AM | link | 0 comments |

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Daily Hump: Labyrinth

I saw a great movie yesterday, Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth*. In addition to just being an excellent story it had beautiful haunting and disturbing imagery, especially during the fantasy arc. Think Labyrinth meets City of Lost Children meets Schindler's List. The Bosch/Goyaesque Pale Man character in particular is the stuff of nightmares and for creep-factor alone he makes the film worth seeing. If you go also take notice of the mandrake root, which I humped back in August.

Anyway, in honor of the movie I've decided to hump labyrinth. The word harkens back to the Greek (laburinthos) myth of the minotaur, the half man/half bull who roamed the Minoan maze eating young Athenian sacrifices. The etymological trail goes a bit cold once we look beyond Greek; it is thought labyrinth may be related to the Lydian labrys meaning "double-edged axe." In the Minoan culture this was a symbol of royal power and as the Online Etymology Dictionary notes this "fits with the theory that the labyrinth was originally the royal Minoan palace on Crete and meant 'palace of the double-axe'."

As an FYI labyrinth and maze should not be used interchangeably:
...a maze is a tour puzzle in the form of a complex branching passage, with choices of path and direction, while a single-path ("unicursal") labyrinth has only a single, Eulerian path to the centre. A labyrinth has an unambiguous through-route to the centre and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.
labyrinth [Wikipedia]

*The original non-English title is El Laberinto del Fauno. I was curious why "Faun" became "Pan" in the English release. According to a poster on the DelToroFilms.com forum the change was purely for marketing purposes--Pan's Labyrinth simply sounded nicer. My thought was that ignorant American audiences wouldn't know what a faun was (not that they'd necessarily know who Pan was either).

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:: posted by David, 8:46 AM | link | 1 comments |

Friday, January 05, 2007

Gaeilge, sea?

An impressive 25% of the Irish population claims to speak Gaelic, but this very unscientific study from The Guardian suggests this is a wee exaggeration.
In Galway, I went out busking on the streets, singing the filthiest, most debauched lyrics I could think of to see if anyone would understand. No one did - old women smiled, tapping their feet merrily, as I serenaded them with filth.
(Thanks for the link, Mo!)

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:: posted by David, 4:15 PM | link | 0 comments |

Hump This: Sham

First, a big shoutout (one word? two words? hyphenated?) to Katy Oliver's mom who is an avowed WordHumping fan. Mrs. O, I'd love to send you a copy of my book All I Really Need to Know About Humping I Learned in Kindergarten but I haven't written it yet.

Second, a big dis to tickets.com. I was on your site at 8:55 this morning waiting for 9AM when the Arcade Fire tickets were to go on sale. I refreshed my browser tirelessly figuring I could score just 2 tickets to one of the 5 shows the AF were playing. Ten minutes later all the shows were sold out. You can't tell me that all these NYU brats/hipsters were up at 9AM buying tickets. I don't buy it. Thus, I dis you.

Now on to the humpage--

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 AM in Brooklyn who asks:
What's up with sham? Bed shams, pillow shams, and Sham the thoroughbred who placed second to Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. That horse was a sham! I lost big money!
Calm down, Esse! The AHD gives one definition of sham as "A decorative cover made to simulate an article of household linen and used over or in place of it." This sense of "simulation" is what connects say pillow sham to the sham which defines a state of deceitfulness and fakery.

Sham, which first appears as slang (in both noun and verb forms) around 1677, quickly came into frequent use. The word is of curious origin. Both the AHD and the Online Etymology Dictionary suggest sham is a northern dialectal form of shame. The OED disputes this idea, however, noting that although this theory is plausible "the alleged origin does not seem to account satisfactorily for the sense in the early examples."

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

UPDATE: I guess I won't be getting AF tix anytime soon. (Thanks for the link, A)

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:: posted by David, 8:41 AM | link | 0 comments |

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Hump Alert!!! is like an Amber Alert, only it's different because children aren't being abducted and you're not going to see this message on an electronic traffic-condition sign...yet.

Today's Hump Alert!!! comes to us courtesy of Gawker which writes:
A few years ago, when the Brazilian bikini wax craze first hit, we dutifully trekked to our local salon and subjected ourselves to the excruciatingly painful defenestration process.
Defenestration comes from the prefix de- meaning "out of the..." plus the Latin fenestra, meaning "window." In my opinion waxers must be a bit warped by the sheer nature of their job, but I'm sure waxers who throw their clients out the window are just fucked in the head.

UPDATE: Now the post reads "deforestation"--literally wrong but at least now it relays a more correct image, however disturbing.

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:: posted by David, 4:14 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Daily Hump: Bowel Movement

Alternative title: Sausagefest

Bowels are not pretty. In the anatomical sense they're your intenstines. More generically the bowels can refer to the interior of anything, such as "the bowels of a sausage factory". Our word bowel is from the Latin botellus, meaning small intenstine. This is a diminutive form of the Latin botulus meaning sausage. In 1829, after 230 people died of sausage poisoning (no joke), German poet/health official Justinus Kerner looked to this Latin root and christened the disease botulism. Botulism spores, when not causing respiratory muscle paralysis, do an amazing job of erasing frown lines. Alas, Botox, as the spores are marketed, also does a great job of making people look really freaky.

bowel [AHD]
botulism [Gale Encyclopedia of Neurological Disorders]
Justinus Kerner [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 9:25 AM | link | 0 comments |

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How much do you know about tossers?

From a piece in The Independent:
In an attempt to extend its understanding of the roots of some popular words and phrases in the nation's vocabulary, the [OED] is seeking public help...Viewers will be asked to trawl through unpublished papers, old magazines and even dated postcards to find earlier appearances of words including "wally," "wassock" and "tosser" than those examples already cited in the dictionary.
(Thanks for the link, F!)
:: posted by David, 1:34 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Daily Hump: Clumsy

Surprisingly, I do not have the physical skill and grace of a ballerina or even a Gerald Ford. Lo, I am condemned to a life of uncoordination. But the unwieldiness of my being has no effect on my love of the hump, and thus today we hump, however clumsily, clumsy.

Clumsy is a fascinating little word that oft gets overlooked by your Word-of-the-Day vocabinistas. It's the adjective form of a now obsolete verb clumse, which in Middle English meant "to become stiff or numb with cold" or in transitive form "to stupify." Given the Scandinavian climate it's not surprising to discover this word is of Old Norse origin, descending from the verb klumsa, "to make motionless."

Here's where it gets cool (pun most-certainly intended): per the OED
The [Old Norse] stem klum- is in ablaut relation to klam- in [the English] clam...the radical notion being that of ‘confinement, constraint, constriction’, which, in this group, is [especially] referred to the stiffening action of cold.
For you non-linguists in the crowd "ablaut relation" has nothing to do with your fat Uncle Otto from Germany; rather, it simply refers to vowel changes common in words of Indo-European origin, the classic example being sing, sang, sung. Also, it's important to point out that to "clam up", meaning to not speak, is an American construction from 1916 and is not related to the idea of confinement as described above.

clumsy [OED]
clumse [OED]
clam [Online Etymology Dictionary]
ablaut [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 8:11 AM | link | 0 comments |

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Daily Hump: Smitten

Ah, to be smitten; that time in one's life when your attention is romantically focused upon a single person. But do people realize that smitten is simply the past participle of smite? You know, smite, as in God's favorite pastime in the Hebrew Bible: God smote the Egyptians, God smites the Midianites, God hearts smiting Philistines. Yes, smitten comes from a not-so-nice word at all, as smite literally means to be beaten or struck.

Smite comes to us via Old English, Proto-Germanic and quite possibly the Proto-Indo-European base *(s)mei-, meaning (somewhat disturbingly) "to smear or rub". In the Germanic languages the early sense of smite seems to be focused on throwing. As the Online Etymology Dictionary notes, the Biblical sense of the word, as in "to slay", doesn't start showing up until around 1200 CE. Smitten, in the sense of love, is a relatively recent concoction, making its linguistic debut in 1663: "Lord Chesterfield..is..put away from Court upon the score of his lady's having smitten the Duke of Yorke" (from the Diary of Samuel Pepys, as written Jan 1, 1663--happy 344th birthday, Smitten; my apologies for being a day late but it was New Year's Day and I was hungover. You understand.)

So next time you beat, strike, throw, smear or rub your lover just remember this is all part of being smitten and, by definition, is expected.

smite [OED]

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:: posted by David, 8:20 AM | link | 0 comments |