Hey y’all! I promise I haven’t been up to anything shady, but blackmail has been on my mind. This is one of those words where I wonder what degree of literal it ever accomplished. Was it at some point actually black?
I’m imagining an elegant black envelope with a formal seal on it, where just the sight alone would terrify the postmaster delivering it for knowledge of the grim contents inside! And the shame of receiving one, for who would be blackmailed if they were a holy and upstanding citizen? The secret they carry is bad enough for another to extort them!
Origins of “blackmail”
When did it first get used? 1550s
What does it mean? Currently, this is demanding payment or another benefit from someone in return for not revealing compromising or damaging information about them.
In the past, though, it was more like protection money from thugs and ruffians. Today’s meaning has some elegance and effort: I search and listen and carefully find some secret information that another may not want to be public knowledge, then quietly tell them I KNOW and demand money to keep the secret.
Hey y’all! I got to clicking around in the many pages of etymological history of all the words in English, and it of course led me to a delightful little discovery. ^.^
Origins of “ain’t”
When did it first get used? 1706
What does it mean? a contraction meaning “is not,” “have not,” “are not,” basically a pretty flexible little word
What did it come from? This one is kind of simple, as it more or less logically followed the rules of other contractions. I am becomes I’m, can not becomes can’t, and is not became ain’t, probably because “int” is an awkward sound to make and link to other sounds in the sentence.
My favorite part of this work is that it was perfectly acceptable in proper English for quite a while. The thing that tipped the word into disfavor is when ain’t was used largely in Cockney dialect in writing, such as from Dickens around the 1850s. Once people hear the way those caricatured characters sounded saying it, they ditched it ASAP. Ain’t fell into the pits of the uncouth and uncultured.
And was dramatically resurrected by humorists and hooligans galore!
Or at least that’s my preferred depiction, since ain’t is still pretty popular where I’m from. It’s not something I would normally say, but I might use it to make a point or for dramatic effect. Here are a few notable uses of ain’t even after it’s been -ahem- disbarred from proper English.
When did it first get used? 1200s as Old English “merewif” 1350ish as Middle English “meremayde”
What does it mean? a fabled creature that has the top form of a woman and the bottom form of a fish; often causing harm to mortals whether intentionally or not; often magical or with supernatural qualities, as with a siren
Connotation is one of my favorite things about language. Connotation shapes our language so much, and in such a natural way that you’d rarely even realize it was happening. Words pick up new meanings, and sometimes are made into completely opposite or entirely different meanings than where they began.
Notorious is a wonderful word. It feels salacious and darkly intriguing and bad-boy-ish. It’s just a tiny bit dangerous, but probably not so much as to be truly perilous. Just enough to be… interesting.
But has it always meant that? Was being notorious once a good thing? Or have villains and playboys been notorious for all time?
Origins of “notorious”
When did it first get used? 1540s
What does it mean? then: publicly known or spoken about; well known now: low-key famous for something bad or negative (a personality trait, an action, etc)
You could be the office worker notorious for reheating fish in the communal microwave. You could be the mafia boss notorious for creative smashings of knees. But… could you be the single dad notorious for contributing to every bake sale for his kid’s class?
Hey y’all, I’ve been thinking about the origins of words, yet again! This time, it was stemmed from my brother, Nick. As a child (and, let’s be real, still now as an adult) I was positively delighted that my brother Nicholas had the ultimate nickname, because he was literally Nick! That was as good as it got in my mind. But it also made me wonder, on the other hand, how anyone could have a Nick-name that wasn’t Nick. What kind of sense is that?
Today, I’ve resolved this puzzling mystery that’s plagued me all my life. 🕵️♀️
Origins of “nickname”
When did it first get used? Mid 1400s as a noun, as a verb in the 1530s
What does it mean? literally “a second name,” also a familiar name. Interestingly, it’s also in particular to reference a derisive or insulting nickname
Today’s word origin post comes after seeing that Alex Trebek, the quintessential host of Jeopardy!, has a book out! For me and many others, he’s a wholesome delight who’s been around for many years. Representing all corners of knowledge, it really sucked to hear he’s been diagnosed with severe pancreatic cancer. It sucks a little less to see that he has a book out, and I can learn more about him than just in his role as host. It also made me think about how weird the word jeopardy is, and what it actually means. I would guess something related to knowledge or facts, since the show by that title is a quiz show of all kinds of information. But then there’s also the phrase “double jeopardy” in law, meaning you cannot be tried for the same crime twice. How do they connect??
Origins of jeopardy
When did it first get used? late 1300s, but variations and very similar forms have been used since the tenth century!!
What does it mean? 1. a danger or risk 2. a cunning plan 3. a lost game, or a game with even chances
What did it come from? This stems from old French jeu parti — jeu meaning a game, and parti meaning divided. So in terms of Jeopardy! the quiz game show, it seems that the intent is to show it’s a game where anyone can succeed. Luck is not required because it’s all based on your own knowledge and what you know. I’m not sure that makes perfect sense, but I’ll let it go.
One of my favorite parts of doing these word origins posts is that they make me think about things that I usually just take for granted and don’t pause to consider why it is that way. For example, using three z’s to represent someone being asleep. It’s unquestionable to me; just an obvious thing that I somehow, sometime, learned. But… why?? That’s definitely not super intuitive!
Origins of “zzz”
When did it first get used? 1918* I’ve seen this on many resources, but none could actually specify what exactly it was from so this is a little hairy. But 1900s at least!
What does it mean? Represents someone being asleep
What did it come from? I found many sources stating it originated in comics, when artists were trying to find a simple way to show that someone was asleep. Limited space required concise art and language, so zzz was used as an onomateopoeia of snoring. Another variant was to use a tiny saw cutting through a log, with “zzz” being attributed to the saw and the sleeper as making the same noise. I guess it just got shortened along the way!
Not convinced? Me either
Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone muttering a “zzzzz” sound while asleep. If anything it’s more of a throaty “HAAAAAOOOOOCKKKK….” with a bit of a snort mixed in. I’m not the only one who has a different idea of the sound of sleep, either: onomatopoeia is typically represented differently in languages all around (particularly in animal sounds!).
One of the main issues I have with newly published books is hype. When it feels like everyone is talking about a book, I end up sick of it before it’s even out. No matter how interested I might otherwise be, I usually end up staying away from it for a while.
So when did “hype” first start? And is it anything related to how we use it today, like when something is said by many people to be outrageously amazing and mind-blowing?
Origins of the word ‘hype’
When did it first get used? 1914
What does it mean? As a verb: to swindle by overcharging or short-changing As a noun (1): a no-good dirty swindler As a noun (2): excessive or misleading publicity or advertising (this is the same for our current-day verb form like my example issue above!)
What did it come from? This comes from the shady underworld — my favorite! They have words for everything there. It was used in reference to con men who would try to trick people by charging them too much or not giving them enough change in return after payment.
Hyper, as the con men were called (1914). This comes from the prefix hyper-, meaning “in excess”
To hype or hyping is what con men did.
In the sense that we have it today from the 2nd definition above, it’s related to the word hyperbole which is an extreme exaggeration of something. (“I just finished this book and I am literally dying right now.”) Book reviewers are notorious for this… we’re an emotional bunch. 🤣
It’s not a new one, though!
This word also took some unexpected left turns of related meanings. Some startlingly delightful and some more dark.
1700s: depressed, termed as “the hyps.” Somewhat annoyingly related to the idea that depression was a fake issue (hypchondria, 1816)
1913: drug user slang for hypodermic needle used to inject drugs. Presumably related in that the result of injecting the drug makes you feel over the top and “hyped up”
and a little bonus: Ballyhoo: meaning hype, originating from circus term for a sideshow used to draw people in to the main (paid) show (1908)
I’ve been blogging for over a year now, which is a big exciting accomplishment for me! And yet, it wasn’t until this week that I stopped and thought about how weird the word blog is. It doesn’t sound very nice; in fact it sounds more like a sound you might make while throwing up. 😶
So let’s take a look and find out exactly why there’s a whole community built around this bizarre word and wonderful hobby. ^.^
Origins of the word ‘blog’
When did it first get used? 1998
What does it mean? In this sense, it’s defined as an online journal
What did it come from? This was a shortened and tweaked version of “web log,” which was originally a record of server requests.
Web, from World Wide Web. Not sure how many of y’all are old enough / young enough to remember that URLs used to begin with www, but that’s what it came from!
Log, in the sense of a record of observations, thoughts, etc. Think old sea captains, or Star Trek.
It’s not a new one, though!
Even though blogging in the sense we use it for writing online is still new, the word blog itself has been used in many other ways through the years. The etymology stretches back:
1750: to look sullen or sulky
1860: a servant-boy at a college (related to the British bloke)
1860: to beat or defeat someone (schoolboy slang)
1898: used of anything resembling a block or log of wood
1969: a generic term for any random person as in “Joe Bloggs,” a default anonymous name