“Understand” is a teaser: each of the two elements of this compound is clear, but why does it mean what it does?
Last week (November 6, 2019), in passing, I mentioned my idea of the origin of the word dog and did not mean to return to this subject, but John Cowan suggested that I consider an alternative etymology (dog as a color word). I have been aware of it for a long time, but why is my idea worse?
My discussion of idioms does not rest on a solid foundation. In examining the etymology of a word, I can rely on the evidence of numerous dictionaries and on my rich database. The linguists interested in the origin of idiomatic phrases wade through a swamp. My database of such phrases is rather rich, but the notes I have amassed are usually “opinions,” whose value is hard to assess. Sometimes the origin of a word is at stake.
Last week, I mentioned Francis A. Wood’s rhyme words and rhyme ideas and cited his example cloud and crowd. In my life, such a pair is gleaning and cleaning.
The title will probably be recognized at once: it is part of the last line of Kipling’s poem “If.” Unfortunately, Kipling’s only son John never became a man; he was killed in 1918 at the age of eighteen, a casualty of his father’s overblown patriotism. Our chances to reach consensus on the origin of the word man are not particularly high either.
Yes, this is Post 450. The present blog was launched on March 1, 2006 and has appeared every Wednesday ever since, rain or shine. Another short year, and the jubilant world will celebrate the great number 500.
By Anatoly Liberman
Every word journalist is on the lookout for interesting pieces of information about language. H. W. Fowler, the author of the great and incomparable book Modern English Usage, confessed that his main reading was newspapers. Naturally: where else could he find so much garbled English?
By Anatoly Liberman
I decided to throw a look at a few tw-words while writing my previous post on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk occurs with great regularity. The verb means “to move one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not yet made its way into OED and perhaps never will (let us hope so), but its origin hardly poses a problem: twerk must be a blend of twist (or twitch) and work (or jerk).
By Anatoly Liberman
For some time I have fought a trench war, trying to prove that fowl and fly are not connected. The pictures of an emu and an ostrich appended to the original post were expected to clinch the argument, but nothing worked. A few days ago, I saw a rafter of turkeys strutting leisurely along a busy street. Passersby were looking on with amused glee while drivers honked. The birds (clearly, “fowl”) crossed the road without showing the slightest signs of excitement.
Are break and brake related? Yes, they are, but the nature of their relationship deserves a detailed explanation. Break is an ancient word. It has cognates in all the Germanic languages, and Latin frango, whose root shows up in the borrowed words fragile, fragment, and refract, is believed to be allied to it (the infix n may be disregarded for reconstructing the protoform). The principal parts of break in Old English were brecan (infinitive), bræc (preterit singular; æ, as in Modern Engl. man), and brocen (past participle). At that time, verbs like break (so-called strong verbs, which displayed such alternations) had four principal parts.
The title is from The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (wash-up is the way one of the characters pronounces worship), but I owe the idea of this post to two questions. I decided not to wait for the next set of “gleanings,” because my summer schedule will prevent me from answering questions and responding to comments with the regularity one could wish for. Both questions concern Engl. r.
Anatoly Liberman discusses the etymology of “wayzgoose.”