Archive for the ‘Etymology’ Category


July 29, 2014

A recently reprinted Calvin and Hobbes:


The strip exploits the ambiguity of toast as a noun (delightfully, to my mind). But, astonishingly, the two nouns (though clearly quite distinct in modern English, as are the corresponding verbs) have a common historical source. The tale is one of those stories that might make you believe in any damn fanciful etymology.



May 1, 2014

Continuing a thread on flowering plants that don’t thrive where I live now (in Palo Alto CA) but do thrive where I lived before (in Columbus OH); the key is needing cold winters, with at least some freezing.

Earlier (6/20/13)I posted about lilac (Syringa) — for which the so-called (unrelated but physically somewhat similar) “California lilac” (Ceonothus) can stand in:

they are both ornamental flowering shrubs, and Ceonothus can fill much the same function in landscape gardening in Mediterranean or semi-tropical climates as Syringa, most species of which thrive only in places with decidedly chilly winters.

Then more recently (4/24/14) I took up forsythia:

We don’t see much forsythia in these parts, because they require a winter freeze to flourish. They do grow in California and elsewhere in the West, but only in areas with cold winters; the Sunset New Western Garden Book enumerates these.

Now it’s peonies.



February 11, 2014

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm:

You say flamenco, I say flamingo. Amazingly, these words turn out to share a history.


Cartoon etymology

January 26, 2014

A link from Karen Chung to this Joseph Fall cartoon of the 16th:


A naturalistic theory of word origins, based on letter shapes in the Latin alphabet. Preposterous, but entertaining.

Two cartoons

January 8, 2014

Two recent cartoons, a Bizarro and a Dilbert:


Either a portmanteau of pseudo and sudoku, or just a pun on sudoku,


Comic-strip etymology.


December 31, 2013

It starts with tlhe clipping amaze for amazing and then goes on to the playful extension amazeballs (or amaze balls). Then both of these can be modified by the slang clipping totes (for totally). And another slang intensive modifier, def, can be added to the mix, giving things like the slogan on this tea towel:



Sunday Book Review language and sex

October 9, 2013

Two items from the NYT Sunday Book Review (the sex issue): the etymology of buddy and the grammaticality of zipless.


on the fritz

August 21, 2013

A while back, when Ned Deily was visiting me, my iTunes produced an album of Joshua Bell playing Fritz Kreisler violin music, and Ned joked about my computer being on the fritz — and we both wondered about the source of the slang idiom. It turns out that it’s not very old — the OED‘s first cite is from 1903 — but is nevertheless of unknown origin, and the etymologies that come first to mind are very unlikely.


Odds and ends 8/18/13

August 18, 2013

An assortment of short items on various topics, beginning with three from the July 22nd New Yorker. Portmanteaus, New Jerseyization, oology, dago, killer whale, and Gail Collins on Bob Filner.



July 19, 2013

In looking at the simile piss like a horse (here), I came across references to the pizzles of male horses (from which copious piss streams, famously). Pizzle — ‘the penis of an animal, esp. a bull’ (NOAD2) — was a word familiar to me from childhood (close to the farm), but not one I see often these days, except in overheated porn writing (in gems like “gets the pizzle drizzlin’ “).

Etymological point: pizzle has nothing to do with piss, which is onomatopoetic. Cultural point: pizzles have a variety of uses, notably as chew sticks for dogs. I’m not making this up.



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