Sunday, January 29, 2012

Etymology [et-uh-mol-uh-jee], (n)

I love to find out and teach about the origin of words. Knowing the etymology of a word helps you remember it better and gives a deeper insight on the development of the English language. I therefore teach the origin of interesting English words to my student teachers as well. Here an example of some of the etymology they study:

Current meaning Etymology
1 Steeplechase A horserace across open country or over an obstacle course. Steeple = high tower. Originally a horserace with a visible church steeple as the goal.
2 Cardigan A knitted jacket, that opens down the full length of the front After the Seventh Earl of Cardigan, James Thomas Brudenell (1797-1868), British army officer who liked wearing such jackets.
3 Drawing-room A room appropriated for the reception of company Short for withdrawing room, a room into which ladies would withdraw after dinner.
4 Maverick An individualist, an unconventional person (master-less) After Samual A. Maverick, Texas, a cattle owner who was negligent in branding his calves. Therefore a calf found without an owner's brand was called a Maverick. Later, anyone ownerless was called this way.
5 Matinee An entertainment, such as a dramatic performance or movie, presented in the daytime, usually in the afternoon From French Matin=morning
6 Tar macadam Also called Tarmac = pavement created by spraying tar over crushed stone. From tar + McAdam. John L. McAdam was the person who invented this method of paving roads. 
7 Canter Gentle gallop of a horse During Middle Ages in England the pilgrims going to Canterbury used to ride at a gentle gallop known as the "Canterbury gallop"
8 Gerrymander To divide (a geographic area) into voting districts so as to give unfair advantage to one party in elections. 1813 Elbridge Gerry, a former governor of Massachusetts. Gerry was immortalized in this word because an election district created by members of his party in 1812 looked like a salamander. "Gerrymander" soon came to mean not only "the action of shaping a district to gain political advantage" but also "any representative elected from such a district by that method." 
9 Ambulance A motor vehicle designed to carry sick or injured people From French, based on (hôpital) ambulant mobile or field (hospital), from Latin ambulāre to walk
10 Boycott To abstain from or act together in abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with as an expression of protest or disfavor or as a means of coercion Charles C. Boycott was an Englishman and estate agent in Ireland. Even though the  Irish wanted better treatment Boycott refused to charge lower rents and ejected his tenants. Boycott and his family found themselves isolated without servants, farmhands, service in stores, or mail delivery. Boycott's name was quickly adopted as the term for this treatment.
11 Corduroy A durable fabric, usually made of cotton, with vertical ribs often made into trousers. Corde du roi (F) = "the king's cord"
12 Mesmerize To spellbind; enthrall; hypnotize 1802, from Fr. mesmérisme, named for Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), Austrian physician who developed a theory of animal magnetism and a mysterious body fluid which allows one person to hypnotize another.
13 Foolscap A large size of paper for writing or printing. Traditional paper size in Europe before adaptation of international standard A4 (which is slightly smaller). Nowadays called folio. This size paper used to have a watermark with a fool's cap on it.
14 Sadism The (sexual) joy of afflicting pain or cruelty on others. From French, named after Comte Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, known as the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), French soldier and writer of works describing sexual perversion
15 Funny-bone A point on the elbow where the ulnar nerve runs close to the surface and produces a sharp tingling sensation if knocked against the bone. This name is a pun, based on the sound resemblance between the name of the bone of the upper arm, the "humerus" and the word "humorous" (=funny).
16 Sandwich Food placed in between two slices of bread. After the 4th Earl of Sandwich who had no patience to stop his favorite pastime for a meal and therefore asked his servant to place some meat between two slices of bread.
17 Honeymoon A holiday or trip taken by a newly married couple. From honey in reference to the new marriage's sweetness, and moon in reference to how long it would probably last – one month. German version is flitterwochen (pl.), from flitter "tinsel" + wochen "week."
18 Wellington High boots covering the knees After the 1st Duke of Wellington who used to wear such boots.
19 Santa Claus The personification of the spirit of Christmas, usually represented as a jolly fat old man with a white beard and a red suit, who brings gifts to good children on Christmas Eve. Alteration of Dutch Sinterklaas which is alteration of Saint Nicholas
20 Shrapnel Fragments from an exploded artillery shell, mine, or bomb After Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842), British army officer who invented a hollow cannon ball filled with fragments which burst in mid-air.
21 Tenterhooks To be on tenterhooks means to be uncertain and anxious about what is going to happen Late 15c., "one of the hooks that holds cloth on a tenter," from tenter + hook. (Tenter = A framework on which milled cloth is stretched for drying without shrinkage) The figurative phrase on tenterhooks "in painful suspense" is from 1748
22 Silhouette A drawing consisting of the outline of something, e.g. a human profile, filled in with a solid color. After Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), penny-pinching French finance minister. His policy was considered cheap so the cheap so the cheap silhouette art form which was growing in popularity at the time was named after him. 
23 Derrick machine for hoisting and moving heavy objects, consisting of a movable boom equipped with cables and pulleys and connected to the base of an upright stationary beam. Originally a derick was a hangman, gallows, after Derick, 16th-century English hangman.
24 Panick A sudden, overpowering terror, often affecting many people at once. From Gk. panikon, lit. "pertaining to Pan," Pan was the Greek god of woods and fields who was the source of mysterious sounds (>Pan Flute) that caused contagious, groundless fear in herds and crowds, or in people in lonely spots
25 America USA Named after Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512) who made two trips to the New World as a navigator and claimed to have discovered it. His published works put forward the idea that it was a new continent, and he was first to call it Novus Mundus "New World."

Next time 25 more.

All the best,