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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Shooting one’s bolt from North to South

I was twelve years old when I first read Jack London’s novel Martin Eden, and it remained my favorite book for years. Few people I know have heard about it, which is a pity. Jack London was a superb story teller, but his novels belong to what is called politely the history of literature—all or almost all except Martin Eden.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Keys and bolts

I received a question whether I was going to write about the word key in the series on our habitat. I didn’t have such an intention, but, since someone is interested in this matter, I’ll gladly change my plans and satisfy the curiosity of our friend.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly etymology gleanings for February 2015

One month is unlike another. Sometimes I receive many letters and many comments; then lean months may follow. February produced a good harvest (“February fill the dyke,” as they used to say), and I can glean a bagful. Perhaps I should choose a special title for my gleanings: “I Am All Ears” or something like it.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Crossing the threshold: Why “thresh ~ thrash”?

The previous post dealt with the uneasy history of the word threshold, and throughout the text I wrote thresh~ thrash, as though those were two variants of the same word. Yet today they are two different words, and their relation poses a few questions. Old English had the strong verb þerscan (þ = th in Engl. thresh), with cognates everywhere in Germanic.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Our habitat: threshold

One does not have to be a specialist to suggest that threshold is either a disguised compound or that it contains a root and some impenetrable suffix. Disguised compounds are words like bridal (originally, bride + ale but now not even a noun as in the past, because -al was taken for the suffix of an adjective) or barn, a blend of the words for “barley,” of which only b is extant, and Old Engl. earn “house.”

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Our habitat: one more etymology brought “home”

When it comes to origins, we know as little about the word home as about the word house. Distinguished American linguist Winfred P. Lehmann noted that no Indo-European terminology for even small settlements has been preserved in Germanic. And here an important distinction should be made.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly gleanings for January 2015

I am pleased to report that A Happy New Year is moving along its warlike path at the predicted speed of one day in twenty-four hours and that it is already the end of January. Spring will come before you can say Jack Robinson, as Kipling’s bicolored python would put it, and soon there will be snowdrops to glean. Etymology and spelling are the topics today. Some other questions will be answered in February.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Our habitat: house

It is astounding how mysterious the origin of such simple words as man, wife, son, god, house, and others like them is. They are old, even ancient, and over time their form has changed very little, sometimes not at all, so that we do not have to break through a thicket of sound laws to restitute their initial form.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Our habitat: dwelling

A dwelling is, obviously, a place in which someone dwells. Although the word is transparent , the verb dwell is not. Only its derivation poses no problems. Some verbs belong to the so-called causative group. They mean “to make do or to cause to do.”

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly gleanings for December 2014, Part 2

Although I am still in 2014, as the title of this post indicates, in the early January one succumbs to the desire to say something memorable that will set the tone to the rest of the year. So I would like to remind everybody that in 1915 James Murray, the first and greatest editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) or New English Dictionary (NED), died.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Season’s greetings, or “That’s the cheese”

As every student of etymology knows, today, after at least five centuries of European historical linguistics, it is hard and often impossible to discover what has been said about the origin of any word of such well-researched languages as Classical Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, German, or English. Hence my fight for updated analytic etymological dictionaries […]

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Moping on a broomstick

One of the dialogues in Jonathan Swift’s work titled A complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation­ (1738) runs as follows

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

A laughing etymologist in a humorless crowd

I have noticed that many of my acquaintances misuse the phrases a dry sense of humor and a quiet sense of humor. Some people can tell a joke with a straight face, but, as a rule, they do it intentionally; their performance is studied and has little to do with “dryness.”

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Yes? Yeah….

Two weeks ago, I discussed the troubled origin of the word aye “yes,” as in the ayes have it, and promised to return to this word in connection with some other formulas of affirmation. The main of them is yes.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly etymology gleanings for November 2014

As always, I want to thank those who have commented on the posts and written me letters bypassing the “official channels” (though nothing can be more in- or unofficial than this blog; I distinguish between inofficial and unofficial, to the disapproval of the spellchecker and some editors). I only wish there were more comments and letters.

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