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Feeling fingers, part 2

Finger seems to be a transparent word, but this transparency is an illusion, for what is fing- (assuming that we understand what -er is)? Our story began last week (see the post for September 25, 2019), and I attempted to show that one of the two best-known etymologies of finger, namely, from the numeral five, is “less than fully convincing” (a common academic euphemism for “nearly unacceptable”).

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Feeling fingers

This will be a story of both protagonists mentioned in the title: the verb feel and the noun finger. However, it may be more profitable to begin with finger. In the year 2000, Ari Hoptman brought out an article on the origin of this word (NOWELE 36, 77-91). Although missed by the later dictionaries, it contains not only an exhaustive survey of everything ever said about the etymology of finger but also a reasonable conjecture, differing from those he had found in his sources, both published and unpublished.

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(Sweet and) sour

Last week (September 11, 2019), I discussed the origin of sweet and promised to tackle its partial opposite. Sour has been attested in nearly all the Old Germanic languages: nearly, because, like sweet, it never turned up in the Gothic gospels.

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Sweet (and sour)

The post on the origin of the word smell has been read by more people than any other in recent months. On the wave of this unexpected popularity, I decided to write an essay or two on related themes. If they arouse enough interest, I may continue in the same vein.

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The last shot at American Idioms

The use of metaphors is relatively late in the modern European languages; it is, in principle, a post-Renaissance phenomenon. The same holds for the idioms based on metaphors. No one in the days of Beowulf and perhaps even of Chaucer would have coined the phrase to lose one’s marbles “to become insane,” even if so long ago boys were as intent on collecting marbles as was Tom Sawyer.

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Celebrating banned books week

Book banning is not a new phenomenon. The Catholic Church’s prohibition on books advocating heliocentrism lasted until 1758. In England, Thomas Bowdler lent his name to the practice of expurgating supposed vulgarity with the 1818 publication of The Family Shakespeare, edited by his sister.

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Monthly gleanings for August 2019

As is known, glamour is a spelling variant of glamor even in American English. The question I received was about the connection between glamour and grammar. The word glamour appeared in printed books only in the 18th century.  It occurred in Scottish ballads and meant “magic, enchantment.”

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The sense and essence of smell

This post owes its existence to a letter from our correspondent, who was surprised to discover that dictionaries call the origin of the word smell unknown. Not that two and a half pages later this origin will become “known,” but the darkness around it may become less impenetrable.

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Flatterers and bletherskites

Almost exactly twelve years ago, on August 2, 2006 (see this post), when the world and this blog were much younger, I mentioned some problems pertaining to the etymology of the verb flatter. Since that time, I have written several posts on kl– and sl-words and discussed sound symbolism more than once. There is little […]

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Some American phrases

This is a continuation of the subject broached cautiously on July 17, 2019. Since the comments were supportive, I’ll continue in the same vein. Perhaps it should first be mentioned that sometimes the line separating language study from the study of history, customs, and rituals is thin.

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How to construct palindromes

A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same way forwards and backwards, like kayak or Madam, I’m Adam. The word comes to us from palindromos, made up of a pair of Greek roots: palin (meaning “again”) and dromos (meaning “way, direction”).

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Monthly gleanings for July 2019

As always, many thanks to those who left comments and to those who sent me emails and asked questions. Rather long ago, I wrote four posts on the etymology and use of the word brown (see the posts for September 24, October 1, October 15, and October 22, 2014). The origin of the animal name beaver was mentioned in them too. Here I’ll say what I know about the subject.

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Mangling etymology: an exercise in “words and things”

We read that Helgi, one of the greatest heroes of Old Norse poetry, sneaked, disguised as a bondmaid, into the palace of his father’s murderer and applied himself to a grindstone, but so bright or piercing were his eyes (a telltale sign of noble birth, according to the views of the medieval Scandinavians) that even a man called Blind (!) became suspicious.

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Idioms: the American heritage

Idioms, especially if we add proverbs and familiar quotations to them, are a shoreless ocean. Especially numerous are so-called gnomic sayings (aphorisms) like make hay while the sun shines, better safe than sorry, and a friend in need is a friend indeed. Their age is usually hard or even impossible to determine. Since most of them reflect people’s universal experience, they may be very old.

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From rabbits to gonorrhea: “clap” and its kin

Three years ago, I discussed the origin of several kl– formations, all of which were sound-symbolic: kl- appeared to suggest cleaving, cluttering, and the like. In this context, especially revealing is the etymology of cloth. The problem with such consonant groups is that there is rarely anything intrinsically symbolic in them.

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