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Word Origins

Pulling the whole length of one’s leg

Today, most English speakers will recognize the idiom: to pull one’s leg means “to deceive playfully, to tease.” Its origin has not been discovered. I usually stay away from guesswork, but in a blog, vague conjectures may not do anyone any harm.

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Word Origins

Long-delayed gleanings

No one doubts that “bachelor” came to Middle English at the end of the thirteenth century from Old French and meant “a young knight.” Most conjectures about the etymology of this mysterious word were offered long ago.

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Bachelors and bachelorettes

No one doubts that “bachelor” came to Middle English at the end of the thirteenth century from Old French and meant “a young knight.” Most conjectures about the etymology of this mysterious word were offered long ago.

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A “neat” etymology

Where do you find the origin and, if necessary, the meaning of never say die, never mind, and other phrases of this type? Should you look them up under never, say, die, or mind? Will they be there?

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Off with their prefixes

I was teaching the history of the English Language and had just mentioned that, following the English Civil War, Charles I had been convicted of treason and beheaded.

A question came from the back of the classroom: “Why do we say beheaded and decapitated, not the other way around?”

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When does a kid stop being a kid?

Last summer, my city’s community forum had a post that generated considerable discussion about the meaning of the word kid. Our governor had announced, via Twitter, that “All Oregon kids ages 1-18, regardless of immigration status, can get free summer meals” from the state’s Summer Food Service Program.

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Idioms: a historian’s view

Idioms are phrases and often pose questions not directly connected with linguistics. Linguists interested in the origin of idioms should be historians and archeologists.

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A long look at the origin of idioms

Idioms are a thankful subject: one needs no etymological algebra or linguistic preparation for suggesting the origin of phrases. And yet it may be useful to explain how a professional goes about studying idioms.

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The sour milk of etymology

The time has come to write something about the etymology of the word milk. Don’t hold your breath: “origin unknown,” that is, no one can say why milk is called milk, but then no one can say why water is called water either.

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From the ridiculous to the sublime: from “monkey” to “elephant”

Recently I have reread August Pott’s essay on the word “elephant” and decided to write something about this word. I have nothing original to say about it and depend on two works: an excellent book in Italian and a detailed essay in English. Not everybody may have read them; hence my inroad on this convoluted problem.

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