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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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Debate: What is the origin of “buckaroo”? OED Editor responds

We (unintentionally) started a debate about the origin of the word “buckaroo” with our quiz Can you speak American? last week. Richard Bailey, author of Speaking American, argues that it comes from the West African language Efik. Here OED editor Katrin Thier argues that the origin isn’t quite so clear.

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Slang evolution = lush

In these videos, The Life of Slang author Julie Coleman tells us how — and how fast — slang can spread from one side of the globe to another, and gives us 26 ways of saying ‘groovy’.

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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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Denim venom: future products in the style of jweats

By Mark Peters
Word blends are the bunnies of language: they breed like motherfathers. During the recent American Dialect Society meeting in Portland, plenty of blends were singled out. Assholocracy is an apt description of America, especially in an election year. Botoxionist refers to a doctor specializing in the forehead region of vain people. A brony is a bro who loves The Little Pony. That word was voted Least Likely to Succeed, but you can bet similar words will keep sprouting: particularly in the world of fashion.

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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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What is a caucus, anyway?

By Katherine Connor Martin
On January 3, America’s quadrennial race for the White House began in earnest with the Iowa caucuses. If you find yourself wondering precisely what a caucus is, you’re not alone. The Byzantine process by which the US political parties choose their presidential nominees has a jargon all its own.

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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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The Oxford English Dictionary: “my favorite book ever”

By Michael P. Adams
As the year draws to a close, we’ve been reflecting on all the wonderful books we’ve read in 2011, and in doing so, we’ve also realized there are some classics worth revisiting. The authors and friends of Oxford University Press are proud to present this series of essays, which will appear regularly until the New Year, drawing our attention to books both new and old. Here, Michael Adams, author of From Elvish to Klingon, writes about the 1961 print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

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