Archive for the ‘Etymology’ Category

Morning: spanakopita

February 23, 2017

Spanakopita was the morning name some weeks ago, and then this morning the bon appétit site offered instructions on how to “make spanakopita pie”, with a yummy photo:


The full instructions, which are pretty complex, amount to:

make the spinach filling (using frozen spinach), prepare the phyllo pastry (using frozen phyllo), assemble, bake

The result, seen above, is spanakopita:

(in Greek cooking) a phyllo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. ORIGIN modern Greek, literally ‘spinach pie.’ (NOAD2)


Bring out your lukewarm etymythologies

October 26, 2016

The instructions said to use lukewarm water, and Kim, being a linguist, wondered about the luke of lukewarm; we don’t, after all, have luke + anything else, even lukecool, lukecold, or lukehot.  I said that she wasn’t going to be satisfied with the standard story, and she wasn’t. A brief version, from NOAD2:

(of liquid or food that should be hot) only moderately warm; tepid. ORIGIN late Middle English: from dialect luke (probably from dialect lew ‘lukewarm’ and related to lee [‘shelter from wind or weather’]) + warm

This account is suppositious, and unclear on many points (what dialects, how, and why? and is lukewarm really etymologically ‘lukewarm’ + warm?). So it occurred to us to just invent more satisfying etymologies — or, better, to invite others to invent them, to devise etymythologies. This is that invitation: to suggest better stories than the truth (as far as we know the truth), IN A COMMENT ON THIS BLOG (I will disregard e-mail to me or Kim and comments on Facebook or Google+ or ADS-L or wherever else; I cannot possibly spend time amalgamating suggestions from half a dozen sources). But before you jump in, read the rest of what I have to say about lukewarm and about etymythology. And, eventually, some suggestions as to what you might use to play with for ideas about lukewarm etymythologies.


A ewer in the morning

August 22, 2016

Today’s morning name: ewer. An eminently useful object that has received the attentions of designers for millennia, craftsmen who lavished their skills on these objects to create items of great beauty. for instance;



Morning spunk: same word, different word

May 27, 2016

In a sense, a re-play of an earlier posting, “spunk” of 3/16/11, which was about spunk ‘spirit, mettle, courage, pluck’ vs. spunk ‘semen, seminal fluid’. Now spunk appeared as a morning name for me a few days ago, along with the ‘pluck’ context of the interview between Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore) and Lou Grant (played by Ed Asner) in the first episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show: Grant: “You’ve got spunk … I hate spunk.”

That led me to NOAD2, where I found a single noun entry with three subentries:

1 informal courage and determination.
2 tinder; touchwood.
3 Brit. vulgar slang semen.

(Note: seminal spunk might be more common in BrE than AmE, but it is scarcely unknown in AmE, as a search will readily confirm.)

Speaking informally, this dictionary presents these three as a single word with three different uses (all of which ae available in my speech), while I would have thought these were three different words which just happened to be identical in spelling and pronunciation. What could possibly unite them?


The gang double

May 14, 2016

Today’s Rhymes With Orange (guest cartoon by Rina Piccolo) plays on double and gang, incidentally threading into a bit of etymology:


Wine tartar and Asian tartar

May 4, 2016

The One Big Happy in my comics feed today (from April 5th originally), with Ruthie putting together the tartar of dental hygiene (as held in check by toothpaste) and the tartar of tartar sauce, going on the resemblance between toothpaste and the sauce commonly accompanying fish:

Here, Ruthie adopts the widespread attitude that Sound/Spelling Rules: an element with the phonology /tártǝr/ or the spelling TARTAR is “the same word” as any other such element (or, at least, is very closely related to it). The opposed attitude — Sense Rules — is also well-known, as evidenced (for example) in some speakers’ hot denials that gay ‘foolish, stupid, unimpressive’ (NOAD2) has anything to do with gay ‘homosexual’.

In the case of tartar, there are two clearly different etymological sources, one having to do with the production of wine (the ultimate source, believe it or not, of the tartar of dental hygiene), the other with inhabitants of Central Asia (the ultimate source, believe it or not, of the tartar of tartar sauce). This is a case where, spectacularly, etymology is not destiny, the two sources of tartar having each split semantically a number of times, each developing into a collection of elements that have nothing much to do with one another beyond sound/spelling, indeed not much more than the descendants of wine tartar have to do with the descendants of Asian tartar; from the point of view of modern speakers, what we’ve got is either a big assortment of distinct lexical items (if you follow Sense Rules resolutely) or a single lexical item with a big heterogeneous assortment of uses (if you follow Sound/Spelling Rules resolutely) — or something in between.


Morning name: penumbra

November 30, 2015

Today’s name that just popped into my head, for no reason I could think of. From NOAD2:

penumbra  the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object. [also figurative uses] ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: modern Latin, from Latin paene ‘almost’ + umbra ‘shadow’ [OED3 (Sept. 2005): Johannes Kepler Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena (1604)]

I think it’s wonderful that this was devised by Kepler as a technical term in astronomy. As a technical term in English it comes paired with umbra:

the fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object, especially the area on the earth or moon experiencing the total phase of an eclipse. (NOAD2)

A diagram illustrating both terms, without the complexities of eclipses:


Two parts to the word penumbra, pen(e)- and umbra, each putting the word into relationships with a cluster of other words in English.


cold cuts

November 12, 2015

Recently I wondered about the story of cold cuts ‘lunch meat’, an Adj + N composite that is not particularly transparent semantically (in fact, lunch meat isn’t fully transparent either). There’s some interesting linguistic history here. But there’s clearly also some substantial cultural history to be uncovered, and for this I don’t have the resources.


Bizarro etymology

November 8, 2015

Today’s Bizarro, with a preposterous (but entertaining) etymology:

Fantasy etymology and fantasy cultural history.


November 1, 2015

Recently among specials offered by Reposado in Palo Alto, dishes featuring mussels (which I’m very fond of). Mussels have been mentioned a number of times on this blog, but have never gotten special attention. Now their day has come. Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce, on pasta (not from Reposado):