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Club ‘an association’

By Anatoly Liberman
It is inevitable that after dealing with club “cudgel” we should ask ourselves where club “group of members” came from. Some people think that the explanation is natural and easy. Skeat was among them. Following his etymology of club “cudgel,” he also derived this club from a Scandinavian source and commented: “Lit[erally] ‘a clump of people’.

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Club ‘cudgel’

By Anatoly Liberman

Where there is golf, there are clubs; hence this post. But club is an intriguing word regardless of the association. It surfaced only in Middle English. Since the noun believed to be its etymon, namely klubba, has been attested in Old Icelandic, dictionaries say that club came to English with the Vikings or their descendants. Perhaps it did. In Icelandic, klubba coexists with its synonym klumba, and the opinion prevails that bb developed from mb, which later became mp.

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Golf

By Anatoly Liberman
Before we embark on the etymology of golf, something should be said about the pronunciation of the word. Golf does not rhyme with wolf (because long ago w changed the vowel following it), but in the speech of some people it rhymes with oaf, and “goafers” despises everyone who would allow l to creep in

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Monthly Gleanings: June 2011

By Anatoly Liberman
Half of 2011 is behind us. This is reason enough for looking through one’s notes and offering a retrospect.
Old Business
Once again many thanks to those who responded to my question about the difference between in future and in the future. I am sure

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But the dictionary says…

By Dennis Baron
The Supreme Court is using dictionaries to interpret the Constitution. Both conservative justices, who believe the Constitution means today exactly what the Framers meant in the 18th century, and liberal ones, who see the Constitution as a living, breathing document changing with the times, are turning to dictionaries more than ever to interpret our laws: a new report shows that the justices have looked up almost 300 words

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Flummadiddle, skimble-skamble, and other arkymalarky

Tweet By Mark Peters I love bullshit. Perhaps I should clarify. It’s not pure, unadulterated bullshit I enjoy (or even the hard-to-find alternative, adulterated bullshit). I agree with the great George Carlin, who said, “It’s all bullshit, and it’s bad for ya.” Hard to argue with that. What I love is the enormous lexicon of […]

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‘Pretty’ is as pretty does

By Anatoly Liberman


The adjective pretty had such a tempestuous history that it deserves an essay, even though no new facts are likely to shed light on the obscurities of its development. We will move from Old English tricks to Jack Sprat (surely, you remember: “Jack Sprat could eat no fat, / His wife could eat no lean; / and so betwixt them both, you see, / They licked the plate clean”), from Welsh praith “act, deed” to Russian bred “delirium” and end up pretty much where we were at the beginning.

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“Jump” and related matters

By Anatoly Liberman

Like the previous post on penguin, this one has been written in response to a question from our correspondent. His surname is Jump, and he has investigated the origin of the homonymous verb quite well. My task consists in adding a few details to what can be found in the Internet and easily available dictionaries.

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Penguin

By Anatoly Liberman
Practically everything that can be said about the origin of penguin has been said in the OED, and in what follows I will only touch on three later works on the subject. It must be admitted that these works are almost as flightless as the bird they discuss. Here is the relevant part of the digest of the OED’s long note, as it appears in The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology: “…of unknown origin; first recorded in both applications [that is, as “great auk” and as “penguin”] in reports

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Monthly Gleanings: May 2011

By Anatoly Liberman
I was delighted to hear from a fellow journalist that his experience matches mine: no reaction when one’s work is good and immediate rebuke when one errs. However, critics save us from complacency, so may they keep their vigil. I am particularly grateful for the explanation about the difference between in future “from now on” and in the future “in days to come,” because

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The oddest English spellings, part 17:
The letter H

By Anatoly Liberman
Because of the frequency of the words the, this, that, these, those, them, their, there, then, and with, the letter h probably occurs in our texts more often than any other (for Shakespeare’s epoch thee and thou should have been added). But then of course we have think, three, though, through, thousand, and words with ch, sh,

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A penny for your thoughts…

According to some, today is ‘Lucky Penny Day’. The OED describes a ‘lucky penny’ as usually one that is bent or perforated, or sometimes an old or foreign coin. In the early nineteenth century, a ‘luck-penny’ was defined as ‘the cash which the seller gives back to the buyer after the latter has paid him; it is given back with the hope that it may prove a lucky’. It’s also recorded that the participants would usually also spit on their palms to seal the deal.

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Two hard L-words, second word: Lunker

By Anatoly Liberman
Lunker seems to be well-known in the United States and very little in British English. Mark Twain used lunkhead “blockhead.” Lunker surfaced in books later, but lunkhead must have been preceded by lunk, whatever it meant. In today’s American English, lunker has several unappetizing and gross connotations, and we will let them be: one cannot constantly deal with turd and genitals.

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Two hard L-words, first word: Larrup

By Anatoly Liberman
For this essay I have to thank Walter Turner, who asked me about the origin of larrup. The verb means “beat, thrash, whip, flog.” Long before my database became available in printed form as A Bibliography of English Etymology, I described in a special post what kind of lexical fish my small-meshed net had caught. (Sorry for the florid style. I remember a dean saying in irritation to one of the speakers at

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An etymologist looks at habits and customs

By Anatoly Liberman

Habit, in addition to the meaning that is universally known (“settled disposition of mind and body”), can also designate “apparel,” even though in restricted contexts, such as monk’s habit or riding habit. At first sight, these senses do not belong together, and yet they do. The word is, of course, a “loan” from French. (I have mentioned more than once that linguistic loans are permanent, for they are never returned, except when, for example, an ancient Germanic, that is, Franconian word

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