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The Seasons, part 1: spring and fall

By Anatoly Liberman
Since this blog is now in the seventh year of its existence (if I remember correctly, it started in March 2006), some questions tend to recur. Our correspondent wants to know the origin of the word winter. Long ago I touched on winter and summer, but briefly, in the “gleanings,” so that it may be useful to devote a short series to the Germanic names of the seasons, leave these posts in the archive, and thus avoid possible repetition.

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Monthly Gleanings, February 2012, part 2

By Anatoly Liberman
The Infamous C-Word. This is the letter I received soon after the publication of the post devoted to our (formerly) most unpronounceable word: “…I am writing to ask you if you have run across it [this word] as a nautical term. I am a former sailing ship mariner (a.k.a. “tall ships”) and sailmaker and currently maritime historian/editor for the National Maritime Historical Society.

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Monthly Gleanings for February 2012, Part 1

By Anatoly Liberman
There has been a good deal to glean this month because the comments and responses have been numerous and also because, although February is a short month even in a leap year, in 2012 it had five Wednesdays. Among the questions was one about the profession and qualifications of an etymologist. It is a recurring question from young correspondents, and I have answered it briefly more than once, but always in the “gleanings.” It occurred to me that perhaps I should write a short essay on this subject and, if someone else asks me about such things in the future, I will be able to refer to this post. The rest will be discussed next week.

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Oh Dude, you are so welcome

By Anatoly Liberman
I borrowed the title of this post from an ad for an alcoholic beverage whose taste remains unknown to me. The picture shows two sparsely clad very young females sitting in a bar on both sides of a decently dressed but bewildered youngster. I assume their age allows all three characters to drink legally and as much as they want. My concern is not with their thirst but with the word dude. After all, this blog is about the origin of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, rather than the early stages of alcoholism.

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Balderdash: A no-nonsense word

By Anatoly Liberman
Unlike hogwash or, for example, flapdoodle, the noun balderdash is a word of “uncertain” (some authorities even say of “unknown”) origin. However, what is “known” about it is probably sufficient for questioning the disparaging epithets.

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Odd man out, a militant Gepid, and other etymological oddities

By Anatoly Liberman
I usually try to discuss words whose origin is so uncertain that, when it comes to etymology, dictionaries refuse to commit themselves. But every now and then words occur whose history has been investigated most convincingly, and their history is worth recounting. Such is the word odd. Everything is odd about it, including the fact that its original form has not survived in English.

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The deep roots of gaiety

by Anatoly Liberman
The question about the origin of gay “homosexual” has been asked and answered many times (and always correctly), so that we needn’t expect sensational discoveries in this area. The adjective gay, first attested in Middle English, is of French descent; in the fourteenth century it meant both “joyous” and “bright; showy.” The OED gives no attestations of gay “immoral” before 1637.

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Monthly Gleanings: January 2012

In the post on the C-word, I made two mistakes, for both of which I am sorry, though neither was due to chance. In Middle High German, the word klotze “vagina” existed, and I was going to write that, given such a noun, the verb klotzen “copulate” can also be reconstructed.

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An Etymological Headache

To an etymologist ache is one of the most enigmatic words. Although it has been attested in Old English, its unquestionable cognates in other languages are few.

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The infamous C-word

By Anatoly Liberman
Like all word columnists, I keep receiving the same questions again and again.  Approximately once a month someone asks me about the origin of the F-word, the C-word, and gay.  Well, the C-word has been investigated in great detail, and a few conjectures are not so bad.

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Beginning one way in the New Year

By Anatoly Liberman
As promised, the first of the fifty-two posts due to appear in 2012 will be devoted to the verb begin, whose siblings have been attested in all the West Germanic languages (English is one of them) and Gothic. Surprisingly, they did not turn up in Old Scandinavian, except for Danish (under the influence of German?). Old Icelandic for “begin” was byrja, and its cognates continued into Norwegian and Swedish, let alone Modern Icelandic and Faroese. The etymology of begin has not been explained to everybody’s satisfaction, but such is the history of most etymological flesh.

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Meditations in the process of Winter Gleanings

By Anatoly Liberman
Last Wednesday, in anticipation of the inevitable calendar leap, I discussed the origin of the word end. The end has come. This post happens to be the last in 2011 — not really a rite of passage, for a week from now another Wednesday will bring the world another post, dated January 4, 2012. As announced, it will be devoted to the verb begin. One should not take December or oneself too seriously, but I am pleased to say that this blog is read and quoted by many and that I continue to receive letters and comments from all over the world.

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All’s well that ends well

By Anatoly Liberman
The year 2011 is coming to an end. Strange that we say “come to an end,” even though a year, unlike a rope, a street, and even life, in which it is hard to make ends (or both ends) meet, can have only one end, but such are the caprices of usage. In any case, the end of the year is close at hand. Those interested in such tricks may recollect that year sometimes needs neither the definite nor the indefinite article when we speak about this time of year, and so it has been for centuries.

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Rotten Row

By Anatoly Liberman
Some time ago, a colleague asked me what materials I have on the place name Rotten Row; she was going to write an article on this subject. But her plans changed, and the article did not appear. My folders contain a sizable batch of letters to Notes and Queries and essays from other popular sources dealing with Rotten Row. I am not a specialist in onomastics, and, if I am not mistaken, the question about the etymology of Rotten Row has never been answered to everybody’s satisfaction.

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Coffee or tea?

By Anatoly Liberman
It will be seen that the main question about tea is the same as about coffee, namely: How did the form tea conquer its numerous rivals?

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Monthly Gleanings: November 2011

By Anatoly Liberman
It was good to hear from Masha Bell, an ally in the losing battle for reformed spelling.  Her remarks can be found at the end of the previous post (it was about su- in sure and sugar), and here I’ll comment briefly only on her questions. 

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