computer

Computer has a rather straightforward etymology, although its usage may be a bit surprising. The word was originally applied to people, not machines.

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The Guardian on Language Decline

David Shariatmadari has a nice piece on the myth of the decline of the English language in The Guardian.

He writes:

There is no such thing as linguistic decline, so far as the expressive capacity of the spoken or written word is concerned. We need not fear a breakdown in communication. Our language will always be as flexible and sophisticated as it has been up to now. Those who warn about the deterioration of English haven’t learned about the history of the language, and don’t understand the nature of their own complaints – which are simply statements of preference for the way of doing things they have become used to.

There’s nothing new here for those that have studied the myth, but it’s a concise debunking and useful for reference.

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Voynich MS

Lisa Fagin Davis, an actual expert on the manuscript, has an excellent article in the Washington Post on the Voynich manuscript and how people keep proposing crackpot ideas about it. She gives no solutions or answers to the as-yet-undeciphered work, but she provides some excellent commentary on the misuses of medieval history.

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go yard

To go yard is baseball slang for hitting a home run. The yard is a reference to the ballyard, or ballfield.

The phrase first appears in 1988. Ben Zimmer turned up the earliest known use of the phrase in an 8 September article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The article was syndicated and appeared in a number of newspapers.

A batter with power can hit a ball out of the ballyard, yes. More likely, though, he can go back, go massive or go yard.

Like most such slang terms, determining the precise origin is impossible. The best we can get is a general idea of when the term arose.

Discussions of the origins of the phrase often associate it with Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, but that ballpark wasn’t built until four years after the phrase appears, so Camden Yards did not inspire the phrase’s origin.


Sources:

Dickson, Paul. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, 3rd edition, W. W. Norton, 2009, 379.

Zimmer, Benjamin. “Go yard (1988),” ADS-L, 15 Oct 2005.

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yard, go

See go yard

club sandwich

The club sandwich, or club house sandwich, as it is usually prepared today, consists of three slices of bread, between which is layered turkey or chicken, ham or bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. It is typically served quartered and held together by cocktail sticks.

But why club? How did it get its name? The answer is an unsatisfactory “we don’t know.” The sandwich originated in one or another social club or perhaps on the club cars of trains. The exact origin has been lost in the mists of time, but we do know that it originated in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century.

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stiff upper lip

Having a stiff upper lip is considered the quintessential British quality of resolution in the face of adversity. But surprisingly, the phrase itself is an American import to Britain.

The phrase first appears in the pages of the newspaper the Massachusetts Spy on 14 June 1815:

I kept a stiff upper lip, and bought [a] license to sell my goods.

Nova Scotian writer and politician Thomas C. Haliburton uses it in his 1837 novel The Clockmaker:

Its a proper pity sich a clever woman should carry such a stiff upper lip.

And it appears in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

“Well, good-by, Uncle Tom; keep a stiff upper lip,” said George.

The earliest British citation in the Oxford English Dictionary isn’t until 1887, when it appears in the newspaper The Spectator.


Source:

Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989, s. v. stiff, adj., n., and adv.

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bootstrap / boot up

A self-made person is one who lifts or pulls oneself up by one’s bootstraps. The phrase is used unironically nowadays, despite the fact that the laws of physics make it impossible for one actually lift oneself by one’s bootstraps. The phrase was originally ironic, recognizing that such a feat is impossible, but as the myth of the self-made man grew (and it is a myth; no one succeeds in life without help), the phrase became unironic in its application.

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tabby

Most of us know a tabby cat is either a female house cat or one with a striped or brindled coat regardless of its sex. But where does the word tabby come from? It has an unusual etymology, coming ultimately from Arabic and the history of Islam, and over the years it has been applied to things other than house cats, such as being used to refer to older, unmarried women.

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neither confirm nor deny / Glomar response

When a US government official neither confirms nor denies the existence of a classified program it is called a Glomar response or a Glomar denial. This label has its origins in one of the most fascinating incidents of the Cold War between the US and the USSR, but the wording neither confirm nor deny is much, much older, dating to at least 1840.

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