luxury

Today, we associate luxury with wealth, opulence, and indulgence, but the word originally meant “sexual desire,” or plain and unadorned “lust.”

Luxury is first recorded in English in 1340 and comes to us from French, one of those words imported by the Normans when they conquered England in 1066. The earliest known English use is found in the Ayenbite of Inwyt, a confessional text copied by a Kentish monk in 1340. It’s a translation of the French Somme le Roi, a very popular book in its day:

Read the rest of the article...

lunch, luncheon

Lunch and luncheon have a very confused etymology. One might think that luncheon is the original, and that lunch is a clipping of it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Both words originally referred to a hunk or thick slice of food, often bread or cheese. The common view is that lunch came first and that it evolved from lump, in an analogous fashion to hump and hunch and bump and bunch. Luncheon is an extension of the shorter word. Then sometime in the eighteenth century the shorter word disappeared, only to pop up again a few decades later as a clipping of luncheon. But this common view is by no means certain, as the early history of the words is thoroughly confused.

Read the rest of the article...

louse, lousy

Most of us use the word lousy, meaning “bad, poor,” without thought as to where the word comes from. But unlike many words, the etymology of lousy is rather obvious and the metaphor underlying its current meaning is clear.

The word comes from louse and the original meaning was “infested with lice.” Louse, in turn, is from the Old English lus, and has cognates throughout the Germanic languages. 

Read the rest of the article...

libel

Today, the word libel refers to a false, defamatory, written statement and the verb to libel means to write such a statement. (Libel should not be confused with slander, which is an oral statement and generally considered a less serious matter because it is ephemeral and less likely to cause lasting damage.) The word, like many legal terms, comes to English from French. Ultimately the word comes from the Latin libellus, or “little book.”

Read the rest of the article...

imp

We all know that an imp is a small devil or demon, or somewhat more playfully, a mischievous child. But it was not always so. Would you believe that imp originally meant a shoot of a plant, a sapling?

Read the rest of the article...

Watson’s Potty Mouth

A bit of amusement for a Sunday morning.

It seems that the IBM Watson computer, the one that bested the Jeopardy! champs, developed a foul mouth after being given access to the Urban Dictionary. Watson is seven years old; so the behavior seems age appropriate.

[Discuss this post]

hag

The word hag, like the woman it represents, is old, tracing back to the Old English, but hag does not appear to be a very common word until the sixteenth century, when it underwent an explosion of usage and popularity. And while today hag simply means an ugly old woman, the history of the word indicates that it once meant something darker and more sinister.

Read the rest of the article...

galoot

A galoot is an awkward and not-too-intelligent person. It’s often used in affectionate deprecation; you might call a friend “a big galoot.” But most people would be surprised to find that the word has an origin in Royal Navy slang and that it is associated with a man who is perhaps the most colorful lexicographer in history.

Read the rest of the article...

gerrymander

Political jargon terms often have a short life. Some may remember, but almost no one now uses, terms such as to bork or hanging chad. Gerrymander, however, is one of the more successful political jargon terms of all time, but its survival that is somewhat unfair to its namesake, Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814), a signer of The Declaration of Independence, governor of Massachusetts, and vice president of the United States. To gerrymander is to draw a state’s voting districts in such a way as to give political advantage to one’s own political party, but Gerry was only tangentially and reluctantly associated with the practice.

Read the rest of the article...

frak

"Obscene” words are funny things. Supposedly, a word is classified as obscene because of its meaning, what it represents. But very often the meaning seemingly has nothing to do with it. Frak is a case in point. Frak is a euphemism for that more familiar four-letter word that you can’t say on U. S. broadcast television without incurring hefty fines from the Federal Communications Commission. So screenwriters use words like freak, frap, frick, and frig as substitutes for the expletive. But frak goes a bit further and takes on all the valences of its more suspect progenitor. Despite meaning exactly the same thing as fuck, and despite being used in exactly the same manner and context as fuck, frak is okay, while fuck is not.

Read the rest of the article...
Powered by ExpressionEngine
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton