In the beginning, words for things wasted or thrown away tend to denote some concrete refuse and only later acquire a generic meaning. Yet, when several synonyms share the field, they are seldom fully interchangeable. Thus, trash, rubbish, junk, offal, and garbage either refer to different kinds of discarded objects or have different stylistic overtones. One also notices with some surprise that in Modern English, all such words are borrowings.
Successful word-coinages—those that stay in lingual currency for a good, long time—tend to conceal their beginnings. In “The Hidden History of Coined Words,” author and word sleuth Ralph Keyes explores the etymological underworld of terms and expressions and uncovers plenty of hidden gems. Take our quiz and see how many hidden histories you know!
It is amazing how many words English has for things thrown away or looked upon as useless! The origin of some of them is transparent. Obviously, “offal” is something that falls off. Not all stories are so transparent. A case in point is “trash,” the subject of today’s blog post.
“Not everybody may know that ‘yesterday’ is one of the most enigmatic formations in the Indo-European language family.” In this blog post, the Oxford Etymologist explores the history of the adverb ‘yesterday’ and how the same word acquired two incompatible senses: ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow.’
I grew up in the golden era of standardized reading tests. We were taught to read for information, and our progress was tracked by multiple choice tests asking us “What is the main point of the passage?” In retrospect, it was bad training for reading (and for writing), and it took me a long time to change my habits.
Latin “forum” referred not only to a marketplace but also to a place of assembly for judicial and other business. Hence “forensic” meaning “pertaining to the forum or courts of law.”
The German for “to give a shot, to vaccinate” is “impf-en.” “Impf-” is an exact cognate of English “imp.” How can it be? This week, the Oxford Etymologist explores the language connection between vaccines, mischievous children, and Icelandic elves.
What is the origin of the name Louvre? Dictionaries and websites say unanimously that the sought-for etymology is unknown or uncertain. Perhaps so, but we will see.
Is English “skin” related to Greek “skēnē”? The story of “skin” and some other words, partly synonymous with it, is worthy of attention.
I received a query from my colleague, who asked me what I think about a possible tie between “Sheela na gig” and the English word “gig.” Therefore, I decided to devote a special post to it.
The label “natural” connotes a certain imagery: freshly grown food, pure water, safe consumption. Things described as “natural” are portrayed as being simple and lacking the intervention of culture, industry, and artificiality. Let’s take a closer look.
Impulses behind word formation never change. This statement surprised one of our readers. However, if we assume that most “natural” words are, at least to some degree, sound-symbolic and/or sound-imitative (onomatopoeic), such monosyllabic complexes as kob, kab, keb, kub, kid, kat, and their likes must have arisen again and again in the course of language history, even if every time they were tied to different objects.
The overlap between English and French idioms is considerable. Familiar quotations from Classical Greek and Latin, to say nothing of the Bible, are taken for granted. A few idioms seem to have come from India, which is not surprising, considering how long British servicemen lived in that country. The Indian connection has rarely been discussed; yet it deserves a brief mention.
“Kid” has a few relatives outside English but in an English text it appeared only around 1200, in a poem so strongly influenced by the language of the Scandinavians that the fact of borrowing is incontestable: “kid” is an import from Danish.
The time has come to find out where cub came from. “Cub,” which surfaced in English texts only in the early sixteenth century, turned out to be an aggressive creature: it ousted whelp, and later the verb “to cub” came into existence. The constant suppression of old words by upstarts is a process worth noticing.
As far as I can judge, the origin of “calf”, the animal, contains relatively few riddles, and in this blog, I prefer not to repeat what can be found in solid dictionaries and on reliable websites. But there is a hitch in relation to the frolicsome calf, the lower leg. That is why I decided to give calf a chance…