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Monthly Gleanings: July 2010

by Anatoly Liberman HOOSIER. Almost exactly two years ago, on July 30, 2008, I posted an essay on the origin of the nickname Hoosier.  In it I expressed my cautious support of R. Hooser, who derived the “moniker” for an inhabitant of Indiana from a family name. I was cautious not because I found fault […]

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Monthly Gleanings: April 2010

I notice that my posts on usage, including spelling, invite livelier comments than those on word origins, and most questions I receive also concern usage. This is natural, and, as always, I am grateful for questions, suggestions, and criticism. Today I will take care of about half of my backlog but will try to get rid of the other half in May.

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On buying and selling

Strange as it may seem, the origin of the verb buy remains a matter of uninspiring debate, at least partly because we don’t know what this verb meant before it acquired the modern sense.

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Etymology gleanings for November 2020

Why is there no “master key” to the closet hiding the origin of language and all the oldest words?
Historians deal with documents or, when no documents have been preserved, with oral tradition, which may or may not be reliable. The earliest epoch did not leave us any documents pertaining to the origin of language.

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Etymology gleanings: May 2018 [Part 2]

With one exception, I’ll take care of the most recent comments in due time. For today I have two items from the merry month of May. The exception concerns Italian becco “cuckold.” I don’t think the association is with the word for “beak; nose.” Becco “cuckold” is probably from becco “male goat.” If so, the reference must be to the horns, as discussed in the previous post.

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Embracing the cattle

A story that keeps recycling the same episodes tends to become boring.  So today I’ll say goodbye to my horned friends, though there is so much left that is of interest. In dealing with cows, bulls, bucks, and the rest, an etymologist is constantly made to choose among three possibilities: an ancient root with a transparent etymology (a rare case), a migratory word, or a sound-imitative formation. Like cattle breeders, words are nomads, but some are more sedentary than the others.

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