Archive for the ‘Etymology’ Category


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.



July 8, 2013

In my set of Rossignol Art of Instruction cards, the card on fur:

At the bottom, three fur-bearing animals: le vison ‘mink’, la hermine ‘stoat, ermine’, and le putois ‘polecat’.


Springing into summer

June 24, 2013

Back in May there came botanical evidence that we were moving from spring into summer. In places with cold winters, it became possible to plant nasturtium seeds, because those places were moving past their last frost date. Meanwhile, here in Palo Alto, my geranium plants (in containers on my patios), which went through the winter as foliage plants, broke into bloom (as the cymbidium orchids moved into summer dormancy).

I’ve referred to these summer plants by their common names — as nasturtiums and geraniums — but their genus names are, respectively, Tropaeolum and Pelargonium. And to make things more confusing, there are genera (of different plants) Nasturtium (to which watercress belongs) and Geranium (the cranesbills).



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