Last week some space was devoted to the crawling, scratching crab, so that perhaps enlarging on the topic “Crab in Idioms” may not be quite out of place. The plural in the previous sentence is an overstatement, for I have only one idiom in view. The rest is not worthy of mention: no certain meaning and no explanation. But my database is omnivorous and absorbs a lot of rubbish. Bibliographers cannot be choosers.
At the home of the world’s most authoritative dictionary, perhaps it is not inappropriate to play a word association game. If I say the word ‘modern’, what comes into your mind? The chances are, it will be some variation of ‘new’, ‘recent’, or ‘contemporary’.
My travel through the English kr-words began with the verb creep, for I have for a long time tried to solve its mystery. On the face of it, there is no mystery. The verb has existed in Germanic from time immemorial, with cognates all over the place.
If there were an Olympics for making an apology, swimmer Ryan Lochte wouldn’t qualify. After being outed for his fake claim that he was robbed by men identifying themselves as Brazilian police officers, he took to social media for damage control. His Instragram apology on August 19 went this way
This post has been written in response to a query from our correspondent. An answer would have taken up the entire space of my next “gleanings,” and I decided not to wait a whole month.
The Oxford English Dictionary is the work of people: many thousands of them. In my work on the history of the Dictionary I have found the stories of many of those people endlessly fascinating. Very often an individual will enter the story who cries out to be made the subject of a biography in his or her own right; others, while not quite fascinating enough for that, are still sufficiently interesting that they could be a dangerous distraction to me when I was trying to concentrate on the main task of telling the story of the project itself.
The word “exotic” can take on various different meanings and connotations, depending on how it is used. It can serve as an adjective or a noun, to describe a commodity, a person, or even a human activity. No matter its usage, however, the underlying theme is that the word is used to describe something foreign or unknown, a function which can vary greatly, from enriching the luxury status of commodities, to fully sexualizing and ultimately ostracizing a literary work of psychology and anthropology, known as the Kamasutra.
Those who have followed this series will remember that English kl-words form a loose fraternity of clinging, clinking, and clotted-cluttered things. Clover, cloth, clod, cloud, and clout have figured prominently in the story.
We adults are careful about swearing around our kids. We don’t want bad language to confuse or corrupt or otherwise harm them. As Steven Pinker says in passing while talking about profanity in The Stuff of Thought (2007), “if some people would rather not explain to their young children what a blow job is, there should be television channels that don’t force them to,” and there are. We have every right to be protective of our children even if we don’t have a reason.
There was a desperate attempt to find a valid Greek cognate for cloth, but such a word did not turn up. One way out of the difficulty was to discover a Greek noun or verb beginning with sk- and refer its s to what is known as s-mobile (“movable s”). Movable s is all over the place. For instance, the English cognate of German kratzen is scratch (the same meaning).
All words, especially kl-words, and no play will make anyone dull. The origin of popular sayings is an amusing area of linguistics, but, unlike the origin of words, it presupposes no technical knowledge. No grammar, no phonetics, no nothin’: just sit back and relax, as they say to those who fly overseas first class. So here is another timeout.
Slogan-wise, this year’s presidential campaign gives us Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” and “I’m with Her.” Trump’s slogan is a call to bring something back from the past. Clinton’s are statements of solidarity.
Euphemisms, per their definition, are used to soften offensive language. Topics such as death, sex, and bodily functions are often discussed delicately, giving way to statements like, “he passed away,” “we’re hooking up,” or “it’s that time of the month.”
I keep clawing at the bars of the cage I built for myself. But first a digression. Walter W. Skeat wrote numerous notes on English etymology, some of which he eventually put together and published in book form. Much to my regret, not too many kl-words attracted his attention. But I was amused to discover that the verb clop means not only the sound made by shoes or hoofs but also “to cling, adhere to.”
Perhaps the story would not have been worth telling if German and Dutch klein, the closest cognates of Engl. clean, did not mean “small.” Long ago, on 4 July 2007, I devoted half of my post to the adjective mad.
As I have observed in the past, the best way for me to make sure that I have an audience is to say something deemed prejudicial or wrong. Then one or more readers will break their silence, and I’ll get the recognition I deserve (that is, my comeuppance).