Category Archives: Etymology

Gossip

“One winds on the distaff what the other spins” (Both spread gossip) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder / Wikimedia Commons

According to Ben Healy writing recently in The Atlantic, there might be evidence to suggest that gossip is healthy and good for us. Really? To my mind there’s a slightly onomatopoeic quality to the word itself, with the hiss of a whisper at its center and the heavy thud of its first syllable both implying that surely nothing good can come of it. Have you ever stopped to wonder where the slightly strange word comes from? Continue reading

A good wallop

Middle & Over Wallop, Glyndebourne

If you’ve ever been to the opera at Glyndebourne, deep in England’s green and pretty Sussex countryside, you might have eaten in Middle & Over Wallop or Nether Wallop. If you’re like me, the names of those distinctive dining rooms might conjure up images of saucy spankings, or at least a punch below the belt, perhaps somewhere in England’s green and pleasant lands. But we might be wrong in thinking there was any sort of thrashing going on in the history of these eatery names. Continue reading

The language of sex: come one, come all (come v cum)

Update: The censored cake … With the word “cum” back in the news today, Glossophilia is happy to republish one of its most popular posts.

The censored cake / Facebook

 

KamaSutra

*  *  Warning: contains strong language *  * Language advisory: viewer discretion is advised * *

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

 

frigga

Reposting this, on this auspicious day …

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

You say aluminum, I say aluminium

Aluminum. Or aluminium. / Wikimedia Commons

There might be trade war brewing over steel and aluminum. But another trans-Atlantic war has already been raging for a couple of centuries over one of those heavy metals. Which came first: American aluminum or British aluminium? Continue reading

A glossary of colors

rainbow

“Dream when you’re feeling blue”, sang Ray Charles. Shakespeare’s Cleopatra talked famously of her salad days when she was “green in judgement”; the Everley Brothers sang of all their friends being “just about green with envy”. Depeche Mode wrote a whole song about a black day, and Cyndi Lauper saw someone’s “true colors shining through”. The poetic use of color in a metaphorical rather than a literal sense — to describe everything from moods to bank-balances, political affiliations to social classes — dates back centuries and permeates most modern languages. Colors themselves have metaphorical meanings that are universal across cultures and languages. Here’s a summary of their figurative meanings, which are often evoked as keenly and understood as universally as the hues they describe literally. Continue reading

“Bombogenesis”, “bomb cyclone”: new words for a new reality

A Nor’easter / Wikimedia Commons

It’s not just any old Nor’easter heading towards America’s east coast today. It’s a “bomb cyclone,” folks. That’s another name for a word that most of the world has learned in the last 48 hours. Mashable first coined the phrase “bomb cyclone” as a more punchy  synonym for the meteorological term bombogenesis. But what the nor’easter is a bombogenesis? Continue reading