Archive for the ‘Etymology’ Category

Z & G tumble into a thesaurus

April 10, 2021

Yesterday’s Zippy strip has Zippy and Griffy falling into a delirium of word attraction, savoring a smorgasbord of colorful synonyms, plundering the Rogetian treasures:

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592 is the compendium section of Peter Mark Roget’s 1852 Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases. If we’re to trust Bill Griffith, the 1st edition had numbered subsections, and 592.4 had the words thesaurus, index, archive, and idioticon (yes, idioticon; see below). The successor edition that I have (the 4th, billed as “Americanized”) has a quite different 592, focused on words for abbreviated compendia, like resumé and summary — but the volume does have the word thesaurus, in four different sections. Details below, after I give you some background.

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dildo, the insult

April 1, 2021

A Twitter comment on yesterday’s posting on dildos, the sex toys — entitled “Mitch is always DTF”  (Mitch is a dildo) — reminded me that the word dildo has developed a use as a slur or term of abuse, and that — despite this blog’s long-standing attentions to dildos as sex toys, to slurs in general, and to the development of vocabulary in the sexual domain into terms of abuse — I hadn’t previously recorded this development here. So here comes a gang of fuckin’ stupid dildos.

From GDoS:

1 a general term of abuse: a fool, an incompetent [clear examples are 20th century; in American slang dictionaries in the 1960s, e.g. College Undergraduate Slang Study 1967-8 Dildo A person who always does the wrong thing; 1998 what a pair of fuckin dildos] …

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All about -ette

March 28, 2021

Diminutive, feminine (in some sense), both. In the One Big Happy strip of 3/4, in my comics feed on 3/36:

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In modern English — that’s important — the suffix -ette has two relatively productive — that’s also important — functions: as a literal diminutive, referring to a small version of the referent of the base to which –ette is attached (“diminutive” suffixes can have a variety of other functions, notably as expressing affection towards this referent); and as a literal feminine, referring to a female version of the referent of the base to which –ette is attached (“feminine” suffixes can have a variety of other functions, notably as markers of grammatical gender (ggender), as opposed to natural, or sex, gender (ngender); English doesn’t have ggender).

The big generalization about modern English is that –ette attached to bases with inanimate reference (like disk) tends to have the literally diminutive function (diskette), while attached to bases with human (or, more generally, higher-animate) reference (like usher), –ette tends to have the literally feminine function (usherette). Novel formations follow the generalization: a spoonette would be a small spoon, not a spoon in female shape, or a spoon intended for use by girls and women; while a guardette would be a female guard (perhaps viewed dismissively or derogatorily), not a miniature guard.

Ruthie’s brother Joe apparently fails to appreciate the big –ette generalization, and takes a bachelorette to be a miniature bachelor, rather than the female counterpart of a bachelor (in Joe’s terms, a grown-up girl — a woman — who isn’t married yet).

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lookit, looky

March 15, 2021

My morning names a few days ago: surprising places the verb look has gone.

To come: the story of these items, from the OED. The related stories of some uses of say and like. All having moved from relatively concrete to much more abstract uses, serving discourse functions of various kinds.

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Morning names: cavitation, Gwen Stefani

February 24, 2021

Morning names for yesterday (2/23). In both cases I found the names (one common, one proper) vaguely familiar but couldn’t recall actually having experienced the name in use (though obviously I must have, to have them pop up in my mind on awaking). I then made guesses about the referents of the names — and was well off the mark in both cases.

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anaphylaxis

February 4, 2021

Today’s morning name, a little exercise in etymology. From NOAD:

ORIGIN early 20th century: modern Latin, from Greek ana- ‘again’ + phulaxis ‘guarding’.

From Michael Quinion’s Affixes site on ana:

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Morning name: consilience

January 13, 2021

A set of morning names from a long time back: consilience, Jay Gould, and Vespa. I will get to them, eventually, one by one. Today it’s consilience, with an entertaining etymology and an interesting two-part history.

From Wikipedia, the initial discussion:

In science and history, consilience (also convergence of evidence or concordance of evidence) is the principle that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can “converge” on strong conclusions. That is, when multiple sources of evidence are in agreement, the conclusion can be very strong even when none of the individual sources of evidence is significantly so on its own. Most established scientific knowledge is supported by a convergence of evidence: if not, the evidence is comparatively weak, and there will not likely be a strong scientific consensus.

The principle is based on the unity of knowledge; measuring the same result by several different methods should lead to the same answer. For example, it should not matter whether one measures the distance between the Giza pyramid complex by laser rangefinding, by satellite imaging, or with a meter stick – in all three cases, the answer should be approximately the same.

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More for the birds

September 5, 2020

Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky arrived this morning with a collection of astonishing bird-related birthday presents for me: a ground-hugging bird bath, a Water Wiggler for the bird bath, and a hanging metal mesh bird feeder in the shape of a penguin. (There’s always something penguin-related.)

None of these is a standard item for the yard or patio, but Elizabeth has been cultivating birds in her own backyard and now knows a lot about bird gear. (Oddly, though she lives only about six blocks from me, she has bird visitors I do not: hummingbirds, chickadees, and parakeets, in particular).

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tantrum

August 30, 2020

Today’s morning name. So obviously Latin, a 2nd-declension neuter noun. But apparently not; instead it’s a mystery.

OED2 on tantrum:

Etymology: Origin unascertained.
colloquial.
An outburst or display of petulance or ill-temper; a fit of passion. Frequently in plural. Now often spec. a fit of bad temper in a young child.
[1st cite: 1714 E. Verney Let. 30 Oct. in M. M. Verney Verney Lett. (1930) II. xxi. 18 Our lady has had some of her tanterums as Vapors comeing out etc. Then: 1754 S. Foote Knights  ii. 41 None of your Fleers!..Your Tantrums! You are grown too head-strong and robust for me.]

fleers? From NOAD:

verb fleer: [no object] literary laugh impudently or jeeringly: he fleered at us. noun archaic an impudent or jeering look or speech. ORIGIN late Middle English: probably of Scandinavian origin and related to Norwegian and Swedish dialect flira ‘to grin’

Etymology occasionally throws up mysteries like this one. If someone now wants to search collections of texts from the period, they might find some clues as to its source. It’s even possible that the noun doesn’t have an ordinary etymology, but was a mock-Latin invention. Whatever; ya gotta know the territory.

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Zippy philaconfusion

August 9, 2020

(There will be a brief dip into a mansex-steamy Tom of Finland drawing, which might offend some readers.)

Today’s Zippy, in which philandering and philately are confounded:

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Word confusions are very common; sometimes they are momentary failures to retrieve the intended word; sometimes they are misapprehensions about the target. Zerbina’s error is apparently of the first type, but she nevertheless has a complaint about Zippy’s attentions to her, though the cause isn’t philandering but philately.

The two words share an etymological component, the phil(a)- (originally ‘love’) part, seen also in philosophy, philodendron, pedophilia, Philadelphia, and much more. But this is scarcely obvious to modern speakers of English.

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