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Monthly Etymology Gleanings for April 2012

By Anatoly Liberman
Is loan a verb? Few questions have been asked with such regularity, and few answers have been so definitive, but people keep asking. Perhaps I might make a short introduction. Since English nouns of native origin have no endings (book, rope, pig, cow, goat) and even old borrowed nouns are often monosyllabic (wall, chair, table, desk, pen, lamp) and since infinitives also lack endings (come, go, see, take), the line separating the two grammatical categories is blurred. Some nouns and verbs had different forms in Old English. Such were love (noun) and love (verb); later they lost their endings and now coexist as homonyms. Other verbs were derived from “ready-made” nouns. The opposite process is less common, but consider the nouns meet, say, and go from the corresponding verbs. In principle, any noun can be converted into a verb. “Do students Professor, Dr., or Mr. us at this university?” “Don’t you uncle me!” The messages are perfectly clear.

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A scrumptious shrimp with a riddle

By Anatoly Liberman
My romance with shrimp began when, years ago, I looked up the etymology of scrumptious in some modern dictionary. Naturally, it turned out that the word’s origin is unknown (this happens every time I try to satisfy my curiosity in the area of my specialization). The usually sensible Century Dictionary suggests that scrumptious is an alternation of scrimptious, from scrimption, a funny noun going back to scrimp. The OED thinks so too.

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Dudes, dandies, swells, and mashers

By Anatoly Liberman
My February blog on dude has been picked up by several websites, and rather numerous comments were the result of the publicity. Below, I will say what I think of the word’s “true” etymology and quote two pronouncements on “dudedom,” as they once appeared in The Nation. But before doing all that, I should thank the readers who pointed to me the existence of some recent contributions to the subject.

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The Seasons, Part 3: Rainy Winter?

By Anatoly Liberman
The Latin for “winter; snowstorm” is hiems, a noun related in a convoluted way to Engl. hibernate. It is a reflex (continuation) of an old Indo-European word for “winter,” and its cognates in various languages are numerous. Germanic must also have had one of them, but it lies hidden like the proverbial needle in a hayrick. Old Icelandic (OI) gymbr means “one-year old sheep.” In the Scandinavian area, this word does not have an exotic ring, as follows from Modern Icelandic and Norwegian gimber ~ gymber ~ gimmerlam (the latter refers specifically to a sheep that has not yet lambed), along with Swedish gymmer with its dialectal variants.

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Monthly Etymology Gleanings for March

By Anatoly Liberman
I have received many questions, some of which are familiar (they recur with great regularity) and others that are new and will answer a few today and the rest in a month’s time.

Nostratic Hypothesis. Our correspondent Mr. Steve Miller asked me whether I ever treat the topic of language evolution and, if I do, what I think of the Nostratic hypothesis.

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The Seasons, part 2. From three to four, summer.

By Anatoly Liberman
The ancient Indo-Europeans lived in the northern hemisphere (see the previous post), but, although this conclusion is certain, it does not follow that they divided the year into four seasons. Our perception of climate is colored too strongly by Vivaldi, the French impressionists, and popular restaurants. At some time, the Indo-Europeans dominated the territory from India to Scandinavia (hence the name scholars gave them). They lived and traveled in many climate zones, and no word for “winter,” “spring,” “summer,” and “autumn” is common to the entire family; yet some cover several language groups.

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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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