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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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The phonetic taste of coffee

By Anatoly Liberman
All sources inform us about the Arabic-Turkish home of the word coffee, though in the European languages some forms were taken over directly from Arabic, so that the etymological part of the relevant entry in dictionaries and encyclopedias needs modification. There is a possibility of coffee being connected with the name of the kingdom of Kaffa, but this question need not bother us at the moment. The main puzzle is the development of the form coffee rather than its distant origin.

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Monthly Gleanings, Part 1: October 2011

By Anatoly Liberman
This has been a long month, and I was very pleased to have such generous feedback. Today I’ll only respond to the comments and will deal with the questions next Wednesday. Many thanks to our correspondents who take the time to agree and disagree with me and suggest new topics. In one comment, my responses were called derogatory. God forbid! Why should they even sound such to anyone? I may misunderstand an opponent or refuse to go all the way with him or her (“them”), but I am truly grateful for the attention my blog receives, and I like to hear counterarguments, even though no one’s opinion has ever changed as a result of discussion.

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Nobody wants to be called a bigot

By Anatoly Liberman
Nobody wants to be called a bigot, but accusations of bigotry are hurled at political opponents with great regularity, because (obviously) everyone who disagrees with us is a bigot, and it is to the popularity of this ignominious word that I ascribe the frequency with which I am asked about its origin. Rather long ago I wrote about bigot in the “gleanings,” but answers in the “gleanings” tend to be lost, while a separate essay will pop up in the Internet every time someone will ask: “Where did bigot come from?”

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Notes and Queries: jubilees and jubilation

By Anatoly Liberman
During five and a half years of its existence, this blog has featured the periodical Notes and Queries twice. Why I am turning to this subject again (now probably for the last time) will become clear at the end of the post. Notes and Queries appeared on November 3, 1849. In a series of short notes (naturally, notes) spread over the years 1876-1877, its first editor William John Thoms (1803-1885) told the world how the periodical had become a reality and how almost overnight

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Were ancient ‘wives’ women?

By Anatoly Liberman
When we deal with the origin of ship and boat (the names of things pertaining to material culture), problems are almost predictable. Such words may have been borrowed from an unknown language (or from an attested language, but definitive proof of the connection is wanting) or coined in a way we are unable to reconstruct, but wife? Yet its etymology is no less obscure. My proposal will add to the existing stock of conjectures, and the future will show whether it has any chance of survival, let alone acceptance.

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From ship to boat

By Anatoly Liberman
The history of boat is no less obscure than the history of ship. Britain was colonized by Germanic-speakers in the fifth century CE from northern Germany and Denmark. It is hard to imagine that the invaders, who became known to history as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes and who must have known a good deal about navigation, stopped using boats after they crossed the Channel. But a cognate of boat has not turned up in any modern dialect spoken on the southern coast of the North Sea.

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Monthly Gleanings: September 2011

By Anatoly Liberman
Ingle is usually derived from Celtic. The Scots form is the same as the English one, while Irish Gaelic has aingeal. The Celtic word is a borrowing of Latin ignis “fire” (cf. Engl. ignite, ignition). Therefore, some etymologists derive Engl. ingle directly from the Latin diminutive igniculus; ingle nook gives this derivation some support. Be that as it may, no path leads from ingle to inkling.

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The undiscovered origin of frigate

By Anatoly Liberman
I decided to stay at sea for at least two more weeks. The history of the word frigate is expected to comfort Germanic scholars, who may not know that, regardless of the language, the names of ships invariably give etymologists grief. In English, frigate is from French, and in French it is from Italian, so that the question is: Where did Italian fregata come from? Naturally, nobody knows. Although the literature

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Ship and the rings it leaves in etymological waters
(Part 2)

By Anatoly Liberman
Alongside Old Icelandic skip “ship,” we find the verb skipa “arrange; assign.” It is tempting to suggest that the unattested meaning of this verb was either “arrange things on a ship; prepare a ship for a voyage; make it secure and shipshape” or even “board a ship, travel by ship,” because the connection between skip and skipa can hardly be doubted. However, not improbably, the earliest meaning of ship was simply “thing made, artifact,” rather than “vessel,” with skipa reminding us of that sense.

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Ship and the rings it leaves in etymological waters
(Part 1)

By Anatoly Liberman
We are in deep waters here. A first puzzle is that ship has exact cognates in Frisian, Dutch, German, Scandinavian, and Gothic, but nowhere outside Germanic. The ancient Indo-Europeans called their floating vessel something else, and we know what they called it. The modern echo of that word can be seen in Latin navis (from whose root we have navigation; and remember Captain Nemo’s Nautilus “little ship” and the Argonauts?), as well as in several other languages. So why ship?

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Monthly Gleanings: August 2011

By Anatoly Liberman
One of our most faithful correspondents writes: “According to the Wall Street Journal, Indiana now outlawed teaching script in schools, so the kids can concentrate on their typing.” He was saddened by the news, and so was I. He asked me about non-cursive writing in old times, especially in the days of Chaucer. Here is a

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