We know even less about the origin of idioms than about the origin of individual words. This is natural: words have tangible components: roots, suffixes, consonants, vowels, and so forth, while idioms spring from customs, rites, and general experience. Yet both are apt to travel from land to land and be borrowed. Who was the first to suggest that beating (or flogging) a willing horse is a silly occupation, and who countered it with the idea that beating a dead horse is equally stupid?
The lines above look (and sound) like identical oaths, but that happens only because of the ambiguity inherent in the preposition by. No one swears by my name, while Mr. Jingo has not written or published anything. Nowadays, jingoism “extreme and aggressive patriotism” and jingoist do not seem to be used too often, though most English speakers still understand them, but in Victorian England, in the late nineteen-seventies and some time later, the words were on everybody’s lips.
Some of the most enjoyable comments and questions are those that combine scholarship and play. One of our correspondents pointed out that Engl. strawberry, if pronounced as a Slavic word, means (literally) “from grass take.” Indeed it does! In the Russian s travy beri, only one ending does not quite match Engl. s-traw-berry.
Those who read word columns in newspapers and popular journals know that columnists usually try to remain on the proverbial cutting edge of politics and be “topical.” For instance, I can discuss any word I like, and in the course of more than ten years I have written essays about words as different as dude and god (though my most popular stories deal with smut; I have no idea why).
It so happens that I have already touched on the first and the last member of the triad whether–wether—weather in the past. By a strange coincidence, the interval between the posts dealing with them was exactly four years: they appeared on 19 April 2006 (weather) and 21 April 2010 (whether) respectively.
If things happened as they are suggested in the title above, I would not have been able to write this post, and, considering that 2016 has just begun, it would have been a minor catastrophe. People of all ages and, as they used to say, from all walks of life want to know something about word origins, but they prefer to ask questions about “colorful” words (slang).
I often refer to the English etymological dictionary by Hensleigh Wedgwood, and one of our correspondents became seriously interested in this work. He wonders why the third edition is not available online. I don’t know, but I doubt that it is protected by copyright. It is even harder for me to answer the question about the changes between the second and the third edition.
The author of the pronouncement in the title above is a matter of dispute, and we’ll leave his name in limbo, where I believe it belongs. The Internet will supply those interested in the attribution with all the information they need. The paradoxical dictum (although the original is in French, even Murray’s OED gave its English version in the entry blunder) is ostensibly brilliant but rather silly.
In their search for the origin of blunt, etymologists roamed long and ineffectually among similar-sounding words and occasionally came close to the sought-for source, though more often look-alikes led them astray. One of such decoys was Old Engl. blinn. Blinn and blinnan meant “cessation” and “to cease” respectively, but how can “cease” and “devoid of sharpness; obtuse” be related?
Yes, you understood the title and identified its source correctly: this pseudo-Shakespearean post is meant to keep you interested in the blog “The Oxford Etymologist” and to offer some new ideas on the origin of the highlighted adjective.
Obviously, I would not have embarked on such a long manhunt if I did not have my idea on the origin of the troublesome word. It will probably end up in the dustbin (also known as ash heap) of etymology, but there it will come to rest in good company.
It is true that the etymology of homo confirms the biblical story of the creation of man, but I am not aware of any other word for “man” that is akin to the word for “earth.” Latin mas (long vowel, genitive maris; masculinus ends in two suffixes), whose traces we have in Engl. masculine and marital and whose reflex, via French, is Engl. male, referred to “male,” not to “man.”
This is the continuation of the story about the origin of the Germanic word for man. Last week I left off after expressing great doubts about the protoform that connected man and guma and tried to defend the Indo-European girl from an unpronounceable name. As could be expected, in their attempts to discover the origin of man etymologists cast a wide net for words containing m and n.
The title will probably be recognized at once: it is part of the last line of Kipling’s poem “If.” Unfortunately, Kipling’s only son John never became a man; he was killed in 1918 at the age of eighteen, a casualty of his father’s overblown patriotism. Our chances to reach consensus on the origin of the word man are not particularly high either.
For a long time I have been dealing with the words bad, bed, bud, body, bodkin, butt, bottom, and their likes. The readers who have followed the discussion will probably guess from today’s title that now the time of path has come round.
I keep receiving comments and questions about idioms. One of our correspondents enjoys the phrase drunk as Cooter Brown. This is a well-known simile, current mostly or exclusively in the American south. I can add nothing to the poor stock of legends connected with Mr. Brown. Those who claim that they know where such characters came from should be treated with healthy distrust.