Posted in Chatty

Word Origins: from fact to compliment with “handsome”

Hey y’all! As I was feeling appreciative of my lovely boyfriend, I was thinking to myself how handsome he is and then started getting distracted thinking about how weird a word that is to mean attractive. And it’s usually in a masculine way these days, but I’ve definitely read older books where it was for women and was mostly a compliment as far as I could tell. And yet the word itself by rights sounds more like an action or request to give an item to another person. So what happened here??

Origins of “handsome”

When did it first get used?
1400s

What does it mean?
modern day meaning of attractive, usually for men or strong featured women

originally, though… it meant easy to handle or readily at hand. So my instinct was right: it did have more to do with being given something or an object being held!

and then in 1580s it started to track with the meaning of an attractive or pleasing thing (or person)

and then in 1680s to extend the 1580s meaning to items to mean generous more broadly, as in “I’ll reward you handsomely”

And you know when it finally started to mean heavily that something was “agreeable to the eye” as they used to phrase it? Not until 1848!!

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Word Origins: Ditto? ditto?? ( . ___ . )

I’ve become a Wordle convert after months of resisting the baffling squares being shared by everyone on my social media feeds. One of my friends today played the word “ditto” which made me think of it outside the context of children being snotty or Pokemon for maybe the first time ever. I mean… ditto? That’s a real word? Is it just me or does it seem like a word that adults don’t use? An unprofessional word?

So… what does it mean, technically? Could I defend my usage of it in a meeting or should I probably pass that one on by in favor of “I concur?”

Origins of “ditto”

When did it first get used?
1620s, in Italian! Specifically the Tuscan dialect. Go you!

What does it mean?
modern day meaning is “what they said” or “same here” kind of mentality. Agreeing with a previous statement or sentiment

Originally, it was “in the month of the same name” which is… weird and specific and kind of confusing?

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Word Origins: Big Word Summer

It’s friggin’ hot here, and while it’s usually hot in late July, this has been excessively hot for the area. Heat warnings galore! My puppy is spending about ten minutes outside and most, then coming inside to slurp a gallon of water and pass out on the cool tile floor for a few hours. I’m not far behind.

So today’s word is “summer,” and let me tell ya: I thought this would be a boring AF word to search but the results told a different story. Who knew?!

Origins of “summer”

When did it first get used?
1300s, but it had other points of innovation all the way up through 1941!

What does it mean?
Hot season of the year. In Old Norse, that was starting on the first Thursday between April 9 and April 15, which is weirdly specific and very sensible for Norwegians way up in the north, I guess.

What did it come from?
The word summer itself is so old that the roots I found were basically just looking at all the other words in old languages that also meant summer, which wasn’t really helpful. But I did learn a lot of other little things related to summer that were fascinating! Such as:

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Posted in Chatty

Word Origins: when a botanist has a giggle

Hey y’all! It’s been a while since I did one of these, but I was poking around on an etymology site again and was curious to see that orchid was listed as the top trending word. I have no idea why, but I figured, why not see what orchids are all about? Basically all I know is that it’s a big fancy flower that people seem to think is hard to take care of but then also say “just put an ice cube in it once a week” so I’m not sure what to think.

Origins of “orchid”

When did it first get used?
1845

What does it mean?
The Latin name for a plant family, technically called Orchideæ or Orchidaceæ, the latter of which sounds like a dope ass rogue name I would use for a poisoner.

What did it come from?
As John Lindley was publishing the third edition of School Botany, he decided to give the schoolchildren something sneaky to giggle about — and maybe himself, as well. And so he named his favorite group of plants Orchid. The word comes from Greek orkhis, which is a very crucial and respectable word. What does it mean? Well…

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Posted in Book Talk

Word Origins: was blackmail ever actually black?

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.

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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

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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?

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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.
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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?