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All’s well that ends well

By Anatoly Liberman
The year 2011 is coming to an end. Strange that we say “come to an end,” even though a year, unlike a rope, a street, and even life, in which it is hard to make ends (or both ends) meet, can have only one end, but such are the caprices of usage. In any case, the end of the year is close at hand. Those interested in such tricks may recollect that year sometimes needs neither the definite nor the indefinite article when we speak about this time of year, and so it has been for centuries.

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Verily, this tomfoolery must be quashed!

By Catherine Soanes
‘Cripes! What bally tomfoolery are those diabolical cads in the media coming up with now?’ I asked my betrothed, when confronted with a spate of recent news reports. ‘Verily, I must quash this balderdash forthwith.’

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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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Fake squid, psychiatric patients, and other Muppet meanings

By Mark Peters
With the arrival of the new Muppet movie, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Beaker, and our other felt friends are everywhere. There’s no escaping Jim Henson’s creations, and few of us would want to (unless the movie happens to suck, which is doubtful, given the stewardship of Jason Segel, who showed major Muppet mojo in the heartbreaking and spit-taking Forgetting Sarah Marshall). It’s a good time to look at the history of the word Muppet, which has some meanings that would make the Swedish Chef bork with outrage.

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Our words remember them: the language of the First World War

By Charlotte Buxton
The First World War may be famed for poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Edmund Blunden (most of whom were officers), but the rank and file also made their own vigorous contribution to the English language. Remembrance, after all, isn’t just in the two minute silence. It’s in the talk that follows; the memories of those who gave their lives woven into the very words we use every day.

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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

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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