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”

Word Origins: when a botanist has a giggle

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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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, 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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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.
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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!