Word Hoard

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Hearty Hogmanay To You!

I'm going to pull a lot of this from my alphaDictionary.com daily email:

Hogmanay Meaning: Scottish Hogmanay is not swine food or a pig resort but a festivity celebrated on last day of the year. Children traditionally ranged about the neighborhood on this day asking for presents. It also refers to the gifts given or received on Hogmanay. More recently it has become a raucous New Year's Eve party in many Scottish cities.

The traditional Hogmanay includes "first footing," the welcoming of a tall, dark stranger at the stroke of midnight. First-footers bring good luck but should also bring a gift such as uisge beatha "water of life" (where Gaelic uisge is the source of English whiskey). If the uisge is all sold out, a lump of coal or an oat cake called a bannock will suffice. This tradition reaches back to the Viking era.

Word History: The sense of Hogmanay corresponds to that of Old French aguillanneuf "the last day of the year, new year's gift." In modern French dialects it survives as "aiguilan," "guilané," and "guilanneau" but in Normandy it is "hoguinané," whence it probably invaded Scottish English. The French term survives today in the phrase au gui l'an neuf! "(kiss) under the New Year's mistletoe.” Others speculated that "hogmanay" itself comes either from the Anglo-Saxon haleg monath "holy month" or Gaelic oge maidne "new morning."

My second word comes from one of my favorite TV shows right now, Man v. Wild with Bear Grylls. The most recent episode I saw, he was marooned on a desert island in the Pacific Ocean. The song "It's Now or Never" was playing on the radio and Wendy said the first time she heard that song was when Bugs Bunny was singing it on a desert island. I thought the cartoon title was something like Marooned! but it was more than likely "Wackiki Wabbit". After some more searching I realize it was a children's book with Bugs called Marooned!. Anyway, the point is that maroon, the verb, came up twice this evening.

Aside from being a fine color, maroon is a neat word with an interesting history. According to Bartleby.com, it comes ultimately from Spanish cima, mountain, then cimmaron, wild, then French marron, fugitive slave. So it is not dissimilar to maverick, a fugitive calf. But people aren't mavericked.

Of course, things aren't that simple. Marron the French word for chestnut is our source for the color maroon. They got it from Italian marrone. So is there a possibility the French word for chestnut refered to fugitive slaves instead of being a French abbreviation of the American Spanish word for wild? (For the uninitiated, this is the point in my post where I get my OED off the shelf and end up fascinated in some word that is tangentially connected to the main word. It really should have its own theme music like a Mr Rogers ritual. Aside: my sister is also up at this early hour, and as I went to get my OED she independently said it was reminiscent of Mr Rogers, so I'm accurate in my description.)

The OED backs up Bartleby.com going further with the color's etymology to medieval Greek maraon and more specific with the first meaning: Any of the black people in the mountains and forests of Suriname and the W. Indies who are descended from runaway slaves. M17

No tangents today. Have a great new year, and start it off by letting some tall, dark and handsome man bless your home by bringing you some whiskey or Quaker rice cakes.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Blind Side

I've finally finished Pigskin: The Early Years of Football. I really liked it. I liked that it mentioned a lot of Chicago Bears players, but there were also some great anecdotes and glimpses of players before they were anything or anyone. The book also reinforced my desire to visit one of the cradles of professional football, in Ohio, Canton, Massillon etc. My finishing is good news because now I can finally start reading another book about football that I bought about the same time I checked out Pigskin, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis. He also wrote the much ballyhooed Moneyball, which touted a new approach to success in the economically disparate world of Major League Baseball. I didn't read that book, but purchased his newest based on his reputation and interview on the Colbert Report.

So tonight I started it, and I'm very pleased. One of the characters of the book, Michael Oher (oar), is repeatedly described as a "freak of nature." So I thought freak might be a good word to look at.

Freak, according to Bartleby.com, doesn't have a known origin. But their second entry does. And I really like this new to me definition and usage. It probably isn't a portmanteau of fleck and streak, but I like that idea.

The OED says the first freak is probably of dialectal origin. The second freak also comes from the first one but perhaps is an alteration of freck by association with streak.

Freck first is an obsolete adjective exclusively Scottish and north. It means eager, prompt, ready in Old English and strong, vigorous in the Early 16th cent. This starts as faihufriks, avaricious in Gothic, then Old Norse frekr, greedy, then German frech, bold, insolent, and Old High German freh, covetous, greedy, which is = to Old English frec, fric, fraec.

The second freck, originally the past participle freckt, abbreviation of freckled, is from the early 17th century and means to mark with spots or freckles; dapple. The OED has some disagreement with Bartleby.com on the origin of freckle, but that's okay. Suffice it to say that the OED goes to Old Norse with Swedish and Danish connections, while Bart goes to Old Icelandic. Not a large departure.

Back to freak, the first meaning in the mid-16th century was caprice, whim, a vagary, and it is used to great effect by some fine authors:

R.L. Stevenson - You should be able to stop and go on, and follow this way or that, as the freak takes you.

C. Bronte - A decent quiescence under the freak of manner, gave me the advantage.

I leave you with a quote from the Biology teacher of Mr. Oher after she gave him a test verbally:

"'Classified' overwhelmed him. 'Science has its own vocabulary,' she said. 'He didn't know it. He didn'tknow what a cell was, or an atom. He didn't have the foundation to figure out meanings through prefixes and suffixes. He didn't know what the prefixes and suffixes were--they might as well have been Greek.'"

Yes, they might as well have been.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I was reading something and there was the word bother. I thought, that is a pretty cool word, wonder where it comes from. So here we go:

says it is probably from bodder and possibly of Celtic origin. There's even a botheration. What a fun latinization.

Michael, is there a possibility of an orthographical shift based on the d being taken for a thorn or ash?

From my A.Word.A.Day email, one of my more consistently appreciated word a day emails, edited by Anu Garg:

jugulate (JOO-gyuh-layt) verb tr. 1 To stop something by extreme measures. 2 To slit the throat.

From Latin jugulatus, past participle of jugulare (to cut the throat), from jugulum (collarbone, neck), diminutive of jugum (yoke). Ultimately from the Indo-European root yeug- (to join) that is also the ancestor of such words as junction, yoke, yoga, adjust, juxtapose, and junta.

I like this word because it replaces the phrase "go for the throat." Much more efficient. I can hardly wait to start making it part of my regular lexicon. We already have a form of the concept as part of the jargon around the shipping department at AdventSource. When we are particularly busy, or particularly short handed which then makes us a bit busier, we say that it is "boot to the throat time" or "boot to the throat" for short. I'll mention more AS jargon some other time.

Society prepares the crime; the criminal commits it. -Henry Thomas Buckle,
historian (1821-1862)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Thank You, Miss Nevada

Racy, that was the word used to describe the pictures taken of Katie Rees when she was 19 in a bar. She later made another poor decision; she ran for Miss Nevada USA and won.

My question is why does racy mean what it does? What does race have to do with the risque or "ribald"? I understand how the first definition in Bartleby.com relates to the "brands" of man, but I come up empty when trying to relate the strong or sharp in flavor and the vigorous, lively meanings. Maybe it is just that the food is so distinct that it is sharp, but I'm not buying it. What does the OED say? (Daniel goes to get his OED off the shelf.)

The "race" in question is from the Italian razza. The OED's second definition:

A particular class of wine; the characteristic flavour of this. now rare or obsolete. E16. b fig. A characteristic individual style or manner of speech, writing, etc., esp. liveliness, piquancy. L17.

I think this puts us much closer to the relationship. The OED's definition for racy is similar to Bartleby:

Of a wine, fruit, flavour, etc.: having a characteristic (usu. desirable) quality, esp. in a high degree. M17. 2 Vigorous, spirited, lively; spec. (of speech, writing, etc.) vivid, piquant, uninhibited, risque. M17.

There is a fun phrase in their example block too: racy of the soil characteristic of a certain country or people. I like the connection her pictures taken in a bar have with wine. It is definitely a new and exciting way to play the race card. These definitions also focus our gaze. Many would say Tiger Woods is very racy because he is Caucasian, African-American, and Asian. When in fact, he is actually not racy because he doesn't have any of those characteristics in a high degree. I found it interesting that the adjective (M17) seems to carry the meaning of "lively" before the noun (L17).

Baffle crossed my mind this last week too. I didn't know what the confusion had to do with a "structure or enclosure designed to stop, alter, or regulate the movement of a gas, sound, light, or liquid." My American Heritage paperback also failed me with its [Orig. unknown.]. I don't take unknown for an answer.

Apparently, between 1983, the second edition when my paperback was published, and 2000, when the American Heritage fourth edition that Bartleby uses, they "perhaps" found an etymology:

Perhaps blend of Scottish Gaelic bauchle, to denounce, revile publicly, and French bafouer, to ridicule.

Seriously? You've got to be kidding me. I bet that gatherings of Gaelic Scots and French were full of ridicule and confusion. No wonder they gave us this word.

The connection between "stymie" and the object that stops or redirects air is a logical one, but where does it come from? Back to the OED. (I don't have to get it this time, already at my feet.)

Okay, most of these searches end with me being put in my place, and this one is no different, kinda. I'm going to be a bit obstinate and say that baffle is related to

baff: noun & verb Scot. E16. [Prob. from Old French baffe a slap in the face.] A noun. A blow with something flat or soft. E16. B verb trans. Beat, strike; GOLF strike (the ground) with the sole of the club-head in making a stroke. E16.

The OED agrees with the American Heritage:

baffle [In sense 1 perh. alt. of BAUCHLE verb. In other senses perh. rel. to French bafouer (16) ridicule, alt. of Old Provencal bafar cf. French beffler (Rabelais) mock, deceive.]
1 Subject to public disgrace or infamy; treat with scorn. M16-L17.

In case you were wondering bauchle, verb trans. Subject to disgrace or ignominy, vilify; = BAFFLE verb 1, is of uncertain origin, perhaps from bauch [Perh. from Old Norse bagr uneasy: cf. Icelandic bagur difficult, hard, (eiga) bagt (be) poor, hard up.] adj. Scot. E16 Weak, poor, spineless.

So, baffle baffles everyone else and subjects us to scorn and shame slapping us in the face, or doesn't if you don't agree with me, which you shouldn't. But what a fun trip it was; who would've thunk it that we would end up uniting Provencal and Icelandic in one little word?

[Editor's note: While I'm sure it is great fun to read dictionary entries verbatim, I think I'm going to start paraphrasing a bit, and just hope you trust me enough to believe I am using the OED or Bartleby.com]

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Elan for Ellen

élan \ay-LAHNG (the "NG" is not pronounced, but the vowel is nasalized)noun: vigorous spirit or enthusiasm

Here is what Merriam-Webster's word of the day editors had to say, with some editing from me for lameness, about this fine word's origin:

Once upon a time, English speakers did not have "élan." We had, however, "elance," a verb meaning "to hurl" that was used specifically for throwing lances and darts. "Elance" derived down the line from Middle French "(s')eslancer," meaning "to rush" or "dash" (that is, "to hurl oneself forth"). We tossed out "elance" a century and half ago. Just about that time we found "élan," a noun that traces to "(s')eslancer." We copied "élan" in form from the French, but we dispensed with the French sense of a literal "rush" or "dash," retaining the sense of enthusiastic animation that we sometimes characterize as "dash."

I like this word: first, it is short (I'm always impressed when we can pack so much meaning into such a small space. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but four letters can give you a world of meaning.); second, it is a bit deceptive (I don't see its energy or vigor, but it's there.); and finally, it pairs so nicely with elegance (Hale and Hearty, Vim and Vigor, meet Elegance and Elan). I think it pairs with elegance conceptually as well as orthographically. I really like the image of something or someone being both graceful and full of energy, a strong fluidity.

The talk about rushing and "hurling oneself forth" reminded me of gadarene. Gadarene comes from the passage in the Book of Matthew, 8:28ish, where Jesus sends two demons into a herd of swine, who then run over a cliff to their deaths. That gadarene is probably only matched in elan by the crowds entering a Wal-Mart at 5AM on the day after Thanksgiving. A group of possessed swine, yep that pretty much sums up the American consumer.

Welcome Ellen, may you find enough elan to complete all your semester end stuff.