Category Archives: Etymology

Chad, Brad and other tools

A hanging Chad (h/t Jacob B)

As my friend Clyde recently, idly, commented on Facebook: “4am thought. It’s pretty random that the paper fragment created when you three-hole punch paper is called a “Chad” and the brass fastener you put through that hole is called a “Brad”. Why do these stationery terms have the most bro-y names (ironically, possibly names of people most likely to generally punch holes in things)?” Jacob B had some more bro-y names to add to the toolbox:  Continue reading

The language of loos and johns

"Deluxe Portable Restroom" / photo courtesy Don's John's

“Deluxe Portable Restroom” / photo courtesy Don’s Johns

“Inauguration planners rushed to wipe away a potential controversy Friday after porta-potties on the National Mall happened to be adorned with the President-elect’s first name. Workers were spotted Friday morning covering the “Don’s Johns” logo with blue masking tape. … Trump, whose middle name is John, will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States at the US Capitol next Friday, an event expected to draw thousands of onlookers onto the National Mall who will use the facilities, of which there are about 2,000. The company [Don’s Johns] is the number-one provider of sanitation services in the Washington area.” So reported CNN a couple of weeks ago, before the country started going down the lav (or the toilet, or the WC …). Oh, where to start …

Perhaps surprisingly, the language of loos is something Glosso hasn’t yet addressed. It’s such a mess of expressions that stream from our mouths and tongues when we refer to that little room of excretion, and yet it’s a topic that no-one can really avoid, even if only when you have to ask how to get to the lav — or the john. With their various whiffs and odors of place, class and manners — from the perfumery of hair powder in the 17th-century French toilet to the stench of Don’s Johns in dirty D.C. — the words for our potties plastic and porcelain and where we house them are teaming and flowing with linguistic innuendo. Let’s dive in … Continue reading

With a hey nonny nonny and a diddle dildo …

Morleydog

Reposted today. Just because.

A dildo, you might think, is a modern contraption and a word of our times — something that sprang to life with the advent of battery-operated toys and women’s lib and all that. But you would be wrong to believe that. It was alive and healthy and serving its perky purposes way back in heady Elizabethan times, and it found its way not only into the bawdy boudoirs of the 16th century, but also into the rhyme and verse of the period’s literary and musical fare. Continue reading

It’s Friday 13th: a day for paraskevidekatriaphobia, friggatriskaidekaphobia or triskaidekaphobia

 

frigga

It’s Friday 13th, and for some people that’s a day when their triskaidekaphobia kicks in big time. Triskaidekaphobia? It means “fear of the number 13”. Also sometimes spelled triskaidecaphobia, it’s a slightly strange word deriving from two different languages: it combines the Greek treiskaideka (“thirteen”) with the Latin word for “fear of”, phobia. The first known written citation is in a book by Isador Coriat, Religion and Medicine: the Moral Control of Nervous Disorders, published in 1908, so this superstition linked to the number 13 is probably quite a recent phenomenon. But is there also a word for the fear of the date itself? Continue reading

Kompromat, and polezni durak

The Kremlin / Wikimedia Commons

The Kremlin / Wikimedia Commons

Kompromat (Russian: компромат; short for компрометирующий материал, literally “compromising material”) is the Russian term for compromising materials about a politician or other public figure. Such materials can be used to create negative publicity, for blackmail, or for ensuring loyalty.

Will kompromat be 2017’s word of the year?

And while we’re on the subject of Russian turns-of-phrase: a “polezni durak” is how Michael Hayden, a former head of both the CIA and NSA, has described President-elect Donald Trump. Translation: a “useful fool.” This term (полезный дурак, tr. polezni durak) has been attributed to Lenin by some Russian writers (e.g. Vladimir Bukovsky in 1984) and Western commentators. However, in 1987 American journalist William Safire noted that a Library of Congress librarian hadn’t been able to find the phrase in Lenin’s works. The book They Never Said It also suggests the attribution is false.

~~~~~~

Separated by a common (Christmas) language

BritChristmas

Reposting Glosso’s perennial favorite: a Brit-Chriss-Ameri-mas glossary …

Merry/Happy Christmas to all, on whatever side of the pond you’re on! Continue reading

Political jargon 5: “Hear, hear!”

The House of Commons at Westminster; Plate 21 of Microcosm of London (1808) / Wikimedia Commons

The House of Commons at Westminster; Plate 21 of Microcosm of London (1808) / Wikimedia Commons

As the Grammarly blog explains: “The phrase hear, hear seems to have come into existence as an abbreviation of the phrase hear him, hear him, which was well-established in Parliament in the late seventeenth century. The UK Parliament prides itself on its lively debates, and saying “hear him, hear him” was a way to draw attention to what a person was saying. …  Sometime during the eighteenth century hear him, hear him acquired its short form, hear, hear, and that form is still used today.”

A contributor to StackExchange noted that the phrase must be older than this entry in Pearson’s Political Dictionary from 1792:

hearhear

What was originally a parliamentary call for attention has turned into a phrase the OED describes as being “used to express one’s wholehearted agreement with something said, especially in a speech.” As Yahoo! News recently reported about Samantha Bee: “She was also recently her hilarious self on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, talking about how she cannot wait for the election to end (hear, hear!)”

***

Political jargon 3: “Filibuster”

Wendy Davis during her famous filibuster

Wendy Davis during her famous filibuster

Continuing our exploration of American political jargon, here’s a look at the word filibuster, which to British ears sounds more like a horse-trainer than an obstructive political process. Here’s an explanation from an earlier Glossophilia post. Continue reading

Political jargon 1: “Bellwether”

The bellwether sheep, who leads the flock. Photo from Goodreads.

The bellwether sheep, who leads the flock. Photo from Goodreads.

“Ohio, Long a Bellwether, Is Fading on the Electoral Map” So read a headline in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago. What exactly does bellwether mean, and where does the word come from? Continue reading