Category Archives: Etymology

Dog’s bollocks

You learn something new every day. Today I learned something about one of my favorite phrases. Do you know what “dog’s bollocks” meant originally? (I bet you don’t.) Here’s a clue: it represented what the dog is apparently doing in the picture above. And, perhaps more importantly, do you know what the phrase means today? Continue reading

Bathos, pathos — and passion

Just in case, like me, you can’t remember the difference between bathos and pathos, here’s a refresher. And no, they don’t mean the same thing. There’s also a surprising connection between pathos and passionContinue reading

Beware the ides of March

 

The Death of Caesar (1798) by Vincenzo Camuccini / Wikimedia Commons

Ides: The “middle day of a Roman month,” early 14th century, from Old French ides (12c.), from Latin idus (plural) “the ides,” a word perhaps of Etruscan origin. In the Roman calendar the eighth day after the nones, corresponding to the 15th of March, May, July, and October; the 13th of other months. “Debts and interest were often payable on the ides” [Lewis]. (from Online Etymology Dictionary)

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Caesar:
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.

Soothsayer:
Beware the ides of March.

Caesar:
What man is that

Brutus:
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

— from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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Marmite and its unconvincing etymology

 

Beyond the Joke, when reviewing last year’s comedy offerings, wrote that “[Ricky] Gervais might be a Marmite comedian but the success of Humanity shows that a hell of a lot of people love Marmite. Politically challenging, controversial but also laugh out loud funny.” Brits will confirm that many plays and musical theater productions (in the UK, not anywhere else) get tagged these days as “Marmite shows”. What does that mean? And is there a connection with the Marmite name’s origin? [Update, March 8: Thanks to a hat-tip from John Leake on Glosso’s Facebook page, we’ve also got the origin of Bovril — Marmite’s cousin: scroll to the bottom to see its etymology.] Continue reading

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