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
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!).