Welcome to Wordorigins.org
Wordorigins.org is devoted to the origins of words and phrases, or as a linguist would put it, to etymology. Etymology is the study of word origins. (It is not the study of insects; that is entomology.) Where words come from is a fascinating subject, full of folklore and historical lessons. Often, popular tales of a word’s origin arise. Sometimes these are true; more often they are not. While it can be disappointing when a neat little tale turns out to be untrue, almost invariably the true origin is just as interesting.
SCOTUS and the Adverbial “Way”
Lowering the Bar is one of my favorite blogs. But since it deals primarily with legal humor, I don’t mention it much.
Yesterday, however, Kevin Underhill, the blogger and lawyer, posted a review of the history of the adverbial way in legal opinions. In a recent opinion, Justice Kagan wrote:
Moreover, Omnicare way overstates both the looseness of the inquiry Congress has mandated and the breadth of liability that approach threatens.
Underhill points out that this is not is not the first time Kagan has used the word in a Supreme Court opinion. Back in 2013 she wrote:
Amex has put Italian Colors to this choice: Spend way, way, way more money than your claim is worth, or relinquish your Sherman Act rights.
Lower courts have used way in this fashion since 1998, or 1992 if you count cases where the way was placed in quotation marks. And the OED records it in general usage back as far as 1941.
National Grammar Day
I don’t celebrate National Grammar Day. I think the idea is silly and anathema to true language lovers, and I don’t think I’ve ever even mentioned it on this website before.
But Dennis Baron at the University of Illinois has a blog post that I think perfectly captures the true meaning of National Grammar Day.
Early English Text Society
Here is a nice blog post about the 150th anniversary of the Early English Text Society. EETS publishes scholarly editions of Old and Middle English texts which are an invaluable resource to anyone studying medieval language and literature. (I just did a count, and I have seventeen EETS volumes on my shelves.) Without EETS most of these works would never be found outside of manuscripts held in a handful of libraries in Europe. The EETS web site is here.Read the rest of the article...
The meanings of words change over time. Sometimes words become more specialized; the Old English deor was used to refer to any kind of wild beast, but by the end of the thirteenth century had started to be used specifically to refer to the creature we now call a deer. Other words become more general; one such is enthusiasm.Read the rest of the article...
[Tip o’ the Hat to Languagehat]
Callow is a word that dates back to the beginnings of the English language, but it has shifted in meaning significantly over the past eleven-hundred years. Today it means ‘inexperienced, green,’ and it often appears in the phrase callow youth. But way back when it was associated with aging, for in Old English the word calu meant ‘bald.’Read the rest of the article...
Today we associate chauvinism with sexism, the belief that men are superior to women, but this is a relatively recent development in the word’s history. The original sense of the word was superpatriotism, the blind, bellicose, and unswerving belief that one’s country is always in the right.Read the rest of the article...
Blitz is a clipping of blitzkrieg, the German word meaning lightning war, which referred to the high-speed, offensive tactics used by the German army in the opening months of World War II. In English, blitz originally referred to a sudden, violent military attack, especially one by air, or as a verb to conduct such an attack. And the blitz refers to the German air raids on London during 1940.Read the rest of the article...
When I type awesome into the search box on urbandictionary.com,* the first definition that pops up is “something Americans use to describe everything,” and the second is “a ‘sticking plaster’ word used by Americans to cover over the huge gaps in their vocabularies. It is one of the three words which make up most American sentances [sic]. The American vocabulary consists of just three words: Omygod, awesome and shit.” Both these definitions date to 2006, and presumably both are from Britons. (The second is written by the aptly named “Spleenvent.”) In addition to demonstrating the validity of McKean’s Law, which states that any criticism of another’s language will itself contain at least one error, these definitions are pretty good, if highly informal, descriptions of how the word is used today. You have to go to the third entry to find a “real” definition: “formidable, amazing, heart-stirring, wonderful. Veronica Mars fans are awesome.” But this state of affairs was not always so.Read the rest of the article...
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton