Posted in Book Talk

Word Origins: it ain’t proper!

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.

Posted in Book Talk

Word Origins: was a mermaid always a fishy woman?

Origins of “mermaid”

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

Continue reading “Word Origins: was a mermaid always a fishy woman?”
Posted in Book Talk, Chatty

Word Origins: Can being notorious be a good thing?

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?

Continue reading “Word Origins: Can being notorious be a good thing?”
Posted in Book Talk, Chatty

Word origins: can Nick have a nickname?

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

Curly… is bald.
Continue reading “Word origins: can Nick have a nickname?”
Posted in Book Talk, Chatty

Word Origins: this is Jeopardy!

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 partijeu 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.

As far as the legal sense, where you cannot be tried for the same crime twice, that seems to link more to the sense of a risk or danger. Honestly, it seems weird that these meanings are in the same word. At the very least, I’m pretty clear on which kind of double jeopardy I would rather be dealing with!

Have you ever shouted out the answers to Jeopardy and wondered why it was named such?

Posted in Book Talk, Chatty

Word Origins: When did ‘zzz’ start signifying sleep??

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!).

Comment below with how to represent snoring in your language! 😁
Ps – here are some more delightful posters like the one below!

Posted in Book Talk, Chatty

Word origins: how “hype” first started

Pictured: a book with too much hype -_-

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. 🤣

also related: hype man/men, seen here in droves!

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)

Posted in Book Talk

Word origins: Why is it called a “blog?”

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.

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 41153.7. Our destination is planet Deneb IV…”

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