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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

Words related to size, part two: tiny

Now that we know how untrivial the origin of small, little ~ leetle, and wee is (see the post for June 20, 2024), we are fully prepared to examine the puzzling history of tiny. Little pitchers have long ears, and inconspicuous words may have a nearly impenetrable etymology. It is hard to believe how much trouble the adjective tiny has given researchers.

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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

Etymological small fry: some words for “size”

Quite recently, the Polish linguist Kamil Stachowski has published a paper “On the Spread and Evolution of pudding” (the source is the journal Studia Linguistica Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis 141, 2024, 117-137).

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

All about all

One of the quirkier features of the English syntax has to do with the simple word all. All is a quantity word, or quantifier in the terminology of grammarians and logicians. It indicates an entirety of something.

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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

More gleanings and a few English sw-words

Before I come to the point, a short remark is due. Some of our readers may have noticed that two weeks ago, they did not receive Wednesday’s post. This happened because of a technical problem, but the post “Some Gleanings and the Shortest History of Bummers,” is available.

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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

Pudding all over the world

Quite recently, the Polish linguist Kamil Stachowski has published a paper “On the Spread and Evolution of pudding” (the source is the journal Studia Linguistica Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis 141, 2024, 117-137).

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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

Some gleanings and the shortest history of bummers

Every English dictionary with even minimal information on word origins, will tell us that lord and lady are so-called disguised compounds. Unlike skyline or doomsday (to give two random examples), lord and lady do not seem to consist of two parts. Yet a look at their oldest forms—namely, hlāf-weard and hlæf-dīge—dispels all doubts about their original status (the hyphens above are given only for convenience).

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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

From rags to riches, or the multifaceted progress of lady

Every English dictionary with even minimal information on word origins, will tell us that lord and lady are so-called disguised compounds. Unlike skyline or doomsday (to give two random examples), lord and lady do not seem to consist of two parts. Yet a look at their oldest forms—namely, hlāf-weard and hlæf-dīge—dispels all doubts about their original status (the hyphens above are given only for convenience).

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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

Fink, a police informer

Specialists and amateurs have long discussed fink, and the main purpose of today’s post is to tell those who are not versed in etymology what it takes to study the origin of an even recent piece of slang and come away almost empty-handed.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

The word on arithmetic

When we think of genre, it is often in the sense of literature or film. However, rhetoricians will tell us that genre is a concept that includes any sort of writing that has well-defined conventions, such as business memos, grant proposals, obituaries, syllabi, and much more.

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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

My word of the year: hostages

I have never been able to guess the so-called word of the year, because the criteria are so vague: neither an especially frequent word nor an especially popular one, we are told, but the one that characterizes the past twelvemonth in a particularly striking way. To increase my puzzlement, every major dictionary has its own favorite, to be named and speedily forgotten.

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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

Dab-dab and a learned idiom

I receive questions about the origin of words and idioms with some regularity. If the subjects are trivial, I respond privately, but this week a correspondent asked me about the etymology of the verb loiter, and I thought it might be a good idea to devote some space to it and to its closest synonyms.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

In search of the MacGuffin

I considered opening this post in the style of Dashiell Hammett: Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal.

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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

Unscheduled gleanings and a few idioms

I receive questions about the origin of words and idioms with some regularity. If the subjects are trivial, I respond privately, but this week a correspondent asked me about the etymology of the verb loiter, and I thought it might be a good idea to devote some space to it and to its closest synonyms.

Read More
Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

Walter W. Skeat and the Oxford English Dictionary

For many years, I have been trying to talk an old friend of mine into writing a popular book on Skeat. A book about such a colorful individual, I kept repeating, would sell like hotcakes. But he never wrote it. Neither will I (much to my regret), but there is no reason why I should not devote another short essay to Skeat. In 2016, Oxford University Press published Peter Gilliver’s book The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, a work of incredible erudition.

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Do American family names make sense?

Do names really mean anything, even when they seem to? Individuals in present day America called Smith, Jackson, Washington, or Redhead are not usually smiths, sons of Jack, residents in Washington, or red-haired.

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Title cover of "Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology" by Anatoly Liberman

From “frog” to “toad”

I did not intend to write an essay about toad, because a detailed entry on this word can be found in An Analytical Dictionary of English Etymology (2008), but a letter came from our correspondent wondering whether the etymology of toad is comparable with that of frog (the subject of the previous two posts), and the most recent comment also deals with both creatures.

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