Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Daily Hump: Of Kilts, Tartans and Tartars*

Kilt first makes an appearance in the English language as a type of tartaned skirt in the early 18th c. Our noun actually came from a now little-used verb form meaning "to tuck up." This word came to us via the Middle English kilten, meaning "to tuck up" (is "to tuck up" a Britishism for "to tuck in"? Anyone? Bueller?) Going back further kilt seems to be from a Scandinavian source as witnessed by the Old Norse kilting and kjalta meaning skirt or lap.

The word tartan likely comes to us via the Middle French tiretaine which referred to a "strong, coarse fabric." This can be traced back to Old French and then to the Medieval Latin tyrius meaning "cloth from Tyre." It's also possible the word was influenced by the Middle English tartaryn, also a type of cloth, which comes from Old French but is ultimately rooted in the word Tartar.

And speaking of Tartars, the tartar on your teeth is from the Greek tartaron which referred to the gunk settled to the side of casks. The Greek term is believed to be of Arabic origin unlike the proper noun Tartar which is said to be from Tata, a name the Mongols gave themselves, with some spicy influence from the Latin Tartarus, aka hell.

kilt [OED]
kilt [Online Etymology Dictionary]
tartar [OED]
Tartar [OED]
tartan [OED]
tartan [AHD]
Tartar [Online Etymology Dictionary]

*The Daily Hump is not really daily anymore--it'll now only be published on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so it really should be The Semiweekly Hump, but that name is dumb and plus I'd have to eat those rebranding costs, etc...thus, The Daily Hump it is. That being said, daily or not, there is still a new WordHumper post every weekday and thus you always have a good reason to come back now, y'hear?

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:: posted by David, 8:01 AM


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