Obsolete Words and How to Use Them

You may have noticed that I’ve been a bit absent on Wednesdays as of late. I’m swamped with writing and editing, so I’m promising myself to post at least weekly on Sundays. But I’ll pop by on Wednesdays when I have something word-related (Amazing Words Wednesday!) to say.

I recently saw a great BuzzFeed article shared on Facebook: 27 Delightful Obsolete Words It’s High Time We Revived. It’s a fun and quick read, so head over and there and check it out. I’ll wait.

. . .

So did you find a favorite word?

I was familiar with a few, such as jargogle (to confuse/bamboozle), twattle (to gossip/talk idly), gorgonize (to have a paralyzing or mesmerizing effect), and Twitter-light (synonym for twilight). But there were surprises as well.

Here are my top 5 from their list and my own research about their origins.

Lethophobia. Lethophobia is the fear of oblivion, but it’s also sometimes defined as an abnormal anxiety of forgetting. Whether forgetting or being forgotten, lethophobia doesn’t sound like too much fun. Though that fear of oblivion is perhaps one of the reasons people are eager to be on even the silliest of reality shows. Lethophobia is certainly real.

And we have the Greeks to thank for this word. In Greek mythology, the river Lethe flowed in the Underworld (Hades), and anyone who drank from it experienced a loss of memory — forgetting their former life entirely. Indeed, Lethe was also the name of the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion. The word lethe itself simply means that — forgetfulness, oblivion, that where-did-I-put-my-keys feeling. And of course, a phobia is an irrational fear. Thus . . . lethophobia.

Sources: Wiki Answers, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Brittanica

Gorgonize. Speaking of Greek mythology, to gorgonize is to mesmerize or stupefy someone. The Gorgons were three sister monsters with snake hair who could turn a person into stone with a single look. Sound familiar? Yes, one of those sisters was named Medusa.

Medusa by Arnold Böcklin, circa 1878.
Creepy, huh?

I don’t know who has this actual effect today. Maybe a hypnotist? Or that gorgeous guy you can’t stop eyeballing? Or perhaps it’s the video game screen; that seems to gorgonize my teenagers.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Etymological Worm, Theoi Greek Mythology

Crapulous. To be crapulous is to feel sick from excessive eating or drinking. Although really, it’s best applied to drinking. The word derives from the Latin crapula (Really. I am not making this up.) which essentially refers to a hangover and hails from the 1530s. But don’t stop with simply using crapulous:

The morning after the Super Bowl, my slacker roommate felt crapulous.

Expand your horizons. Use these related words!

He schlepped through his day crapulously.

I can’t believe the frequency of his crapulousness.

The moment he walked through the door, I knew he was crapulent.

And his friends are always engaged in that crapulence.

Source: Online Etymology Dictionary – crapulous

Brabble. Just consider some of your arguments with siblings when you were kids, or plenty of political pundit debates on radio and TV. To brabble is to squabble, particularly about something inconsequential. Brabble has been traced back to 1530 and comes from Middle Dutch.

We have plenty of words meaning argue, so why should you use brabble? Well, to join the likes of Shakespeare, of course!

First Officer:

“Here in the streets, desperate of shame and state,

In private brabble did we apprehend him.”

Twelfth Night, Act V, Scene 1

Sources: Merriam-WebsterShakespeare’s Non-Standard English: A Dictionary of His Informal LanguageTwelfth Night – Shakespeare.MIT.edu

Apricity. Here’s a word you’ll especially appreciate this time of year. Apricity is the warmth of the sun on a cold day. Have you enjoyed a moment of apricity lately? The word hails from the Latin apricus, which means exposed to the sun. It’s the same stem from which we (eventually) got the word apricot. The word is first referenced in a dictionary from the 1620s, but it no longer makes the cut in current dictionaries.

Which is a shame, because I could really use a word for that sense of sunny warmth as soon as I walk out from the coffee shop I’m currently in and emerge into the frigid (well, frigid for Texas) weather. I plan to revel in the apricity anyway.

Sources: Unused Words, Fritinancy

What obsolete words would you like to see used again? Which of the words from BuzzFeed’s list, or my top five list, are your favorites?

“Fast” Phrases for NaNoWriMo Writers

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can find.

quill and ink bottle
Microsoft Word Clip Art

Many of my fellow writers are knee-deep in their manuscripts and focused on making substantial progress this month. Why? Well, it’s November, and that means is National Novel Writing Month — better known as NaNoWriMo. (It’s also a hashtag on Twitter: #nanowrimo.) Participating writers are aiming to write 50,000 words to get a complete, or mostly complete, draft of a novel.

In honor of them, I was thinking about how they are writing. They are writing fast, but there must be more fanciful ways of saying that. So here are few phrases for NaNoWriMo writers. You, my friends, are…

Writing like the wind. A phrase probably from horse riders, who felt they were going really fast when they seemed to match the speed of the wind.

Burning rubber. Driving your car at high speeds can result in some rubber peeling off when you turn your wheels. I tried to research just how fast you have to go to “burn rubber,” but I couldn’t find that useful piece of information. But when you burn rubber, you can feel it and smell it.

Greased lightning. You might think this phrase also relates to cars, especially after the song by this name from the musical Grease (1978). However, its first use occurred in 1832, long before cars hit the road. If you grease something, it can move faster. And what’s faster than lightning? Well, greased lightning.

Lickety-split. “Lickety” is not a word on its own, so where did this expression originate? It’s another one that came around in the 1830s and showed up in print in 1843. Interestingly, other formations were “lickety click,” “lickety cut,” and “lickety switch.” Who knows why “split” made its mark and left the others behind? Some suggest that the licking part is what intimates fast, maybe like that grease thing of moistening something up to make it move faster. Or perhaps it’s a rhyming thing.

Like a bat out of hell. No, this one didn’t come from Meat Loaf, although his album of the same name might have upped our usage of the phrase. Bats have long been associated with the occult and evil (the original Dracula, anyone?), and it was suggested that they came from the bowels of hell. If you were flying out of hell, you’d want to go at top speed, wouldn’t you? Well, as a matter of fact, bats can fly up to 40 miles per hour, but they can dive at up to 80 miles per hour. No wonder this phrase means fast.

Writing a blue streak. “Blue streak” hails all the way back to the early 18th century. The streak likely refers to a streak of lightning. But why is the streak blue? We don’t know. Blue is sometimes used to mean obscene (e.g., “blue blazes”) and sometimes top-notch (e.g., “blue chip” stocks). So one of those might be responsible. Having studied fires for a mystery novel involving arson, I also wonder if blue here could mean especially hot. A flame that appears blue ranges between 2,600 and 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (think Bunsen burner).

Now that you’re armed with phrases meaning fast, which one are you most likely to use? Do you have others to suggest?

Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary – grease; StraightDope.com; The Phrase Finder – lickety-split; Word Detective; MaggieMaggio.com: Fire II – Color and Temperature; The Phrase Finder – bat out of hell; Batslive.pwnet.org – Questions and Answers about Bats

7 Ways to Say I’m on a Blogging Break

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can discover.

As usual, I rushed into summer with big plans of how much I could accomplish, and halfway through I’m looking around at the piles and thinking, “When will I ever get to all of it?” Since summer blog traffic tends to be less, and since my plate is full, I will be taking a break from blogging. But I can’t just leave y’all hanging.

So here are some words to describe what I’m doing.

Beach scene
On a Blog Vacation

Blogcation. Oddly enough, this neologism has not yet been defined in the Urban Dictionary (where I expected to find it). But it’s used by plenty of bloggers to describe a temporary absence from blogging while they focus on other tasks or personal recreation. I’m not crazy about the word, though, simply because it’s somewhat difficult to enunciate.

Furlough. This term is most often connected to military or government workers who are given leave for a time. It comes from the Dutch word verlof which literally means “for permission.” The second part of the word (-lough or -lof) is related to the word translated as “leave.” So a furlough is simply an allowed absence. (Y’all will allow me to take a break, right?)

Holiday. Originally, this was a “holy day,” meaning a day given special meaning for its religious implications. The word dates from the Middle Ages. And now it’s known as the title of Madonna’s cutesy party song. There will not be anything particularly holy about my not blogging, but since one of the reasons for taking a summer break is church volunteer work, maybe I could stretch that connection.

Leave of absence. This is the combination of the Old English leafe (permission) and the Latin word absentia (to be away from). So a leave of absence is permission to be away. I won’t be entirely away, but I won’t be here quite so much. Think of it like a Gone Fishin’ sign hanging on my blog.

Recess. As a child, this word had the awesome connotation of getting to play outside. As a adult, it’s what I hear Congress takes when it decides to stop screwing stuff up and go home for a while. This word is first found in English usage around the mid-1500s. It comes from the Latin word recedere, which means to go back. The noun form is recessus. Why it began to be applied to playtime at school, I have no idea.

Sabbatical. The Greek word sabbatikos means “of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is the seventh day in Mosaic law on which Israaelites were commanded to rest and worship God. Religious Jews still practice a Sabbath, and Christians sometimes refer to their Lord’s Day (Sunday) as a Sabbath time as well. The meaning of a professor taking time off was first recorded at Harvard in the 1880s. I will not be taking a full year like professors do, but the principle remains the same.

Vacation. From the Latin word vacare, which means “to be empty, free, or at leisure” to “to be unoccupied.” Hmmm. I don’t know about being empty, but free, at leisure, and unoccupied sound pretty good. However, I probably won’t be any of those. I’ll just be juggling other balls.

When will I return? Actually, I’ll still be posting quick ROW80 updates about my writing goals progress, but those won’t be long posts. Otherwise, I’ll be back in about a month–around mid-August.

What are you doing this summer? Have you taken a break from blogging or other normal activities? What do you call it when you step away from your usual duties?

Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary; Oxford Dictionaries

What Are You Drinking? Soda Names

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and discover something cool about words. Today’s inspiration came courtesy of my caffeine addiction. As I sat here wondering what to write about, I was staring at my bottle of Dr Pepper.

Dr Pepper 10

Why is it called Dr Pepper? (And by the way, yes, it is without the period.)

So let’s talk soda names.

Coca-Cola in a Glass
By Summi from German Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

Coca-Cola. Way back in 1886, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Dr. John S. Pemberton, mixed up a caramel-colored syrup that tasted pretty darn good when combined with carbonated water. He took it down to Jacobs’ pharmacy in his neighborhood, where it was pronounced delicious and sold at the soda fountain for 5 cents a glass. Dr. Pemberton didn’t name it, though. It was his partner and bookkeeper, Frank M. Robinson, who came up “Coca-Cola”–which he wrote in that distinctive script which is still used today. The Coca is for the coca leaves included in the original formula (yep, the same stuff that produces cocaine) and Cola is a respelling of kola for the kola nuts used in the formula (kola nuts contain caffeine).

Pepsi. You could have been drinking a “Brad’s.” In 1893, pharmacist Caleb Bradham of New Bern, North Carolina, created drinks for the soda fountain customers in his drugstore. His biggest seller was “Brad’s drink,” which contained carbonated water, sugar, vanilla, rare oils, pepsin and cola nuts. Yeah, you can see where this is going. The drink was renamed Pepsi-Cola, after its ingredients, in 1898. Unfortunately, Bradham and Pepsi went bankrupt in 1923. The company was bought out, and the drink has since be reformulated.

Dr Pepper can
from Wikimedia Commons

Dr Pepper. Charles Alderton worked at Morrison’s Old Corner Drugstore mixing up both medicines and soda fountain offerings. He experimented with mixtures of fruit syrups until he came upon a formula he liked and offered it to his boss and (after the boss’s thumbs-up)  to customers. It was Waco, Texas, 1885, and customers would come in and request Charles’s special drink by asking him to “shoot them a Waco.” Morrison himself definitely renamed the drink “Dr. Pepper,” but here’s where an etymology fan like me gets disappointed with the research: “Unfortunately, the origin for the name is unclear. The Museum has collected over a dozen different stories on how the drink became known as Dr Pepper.” That’s according to the Dr Pepper Museum, but the Texas State Historical Association asserts that Alderton named the drink after a former boss in Rural Retreat, Virginia–a Dr. Charles T. Pepper. By the way, the period was dropped in the 1950s.

Sprite. Here’s a real mystery. Coca-Cola introduced a lemon-lime flavored soda in 1961 to compete with the popular 7-Up brand. Although some have suggested that the name derived from a cartoon-like sprite used in Coca-Cola commercials in the 1950s, Coca-Cola denies this suggestion. But it doesn’t offer an alternative. The best explanation is that the Houston Coca-Cola Bottling Company sold not just Cokes but also fruit-flavored drinks which were named “Sprite.” Now who thought up that name up is anyone’s guess. But the name seems to have come from a specific bottling company and was then adopted by Coca-Cola as a whole.

Mountain Dew can
By Liftarn (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mountain Dew. Today’s ad efforts are aimed at making Mountain Dew look hip and sporty, but its history is quite different. Brothers Ally and Barney Hartman mixed up a lemony soda as a spirits mixer for the moonshine liquor they produced in the Appalachian stills of Tennessee. They trademarked the name in 1948, and early bottles showed a gun-toting hillbilly chasing a federal agent from an outhouse. When PepsiCo purchased the brand in 1964, its first TV ad used the slogan: “Ya-Hoo Mountain Dew. It’ll tickle your innards.” Have you ever mixed that dew from the Appalachian mountains into your moonshine?

7UP. C.L. Grigg, the founder of the Howdy Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri, had met with some success in producing the Howdy Orange drink. He thought he’d give lemons and limes a shot, and in 1929 produced the 7-Up formula. It was originally named the Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. (Seriously? From “Howdy Orange” to that?) Eventually, someone came to their senses and suggested a name change based on the 7 flavors mixed up to make the lemon-soda: 7UP. Which spawned this lovely slogan: Make 7UP Yours.

So what’s your favorite soda? Where you surprised by the origin of any of these names? What would you name a soda if you could?

Sources: World of Coca-Cola; Coca-Cola.com; Marietta Soda Museum; About.com-Inventors; PepsiStore.com; Dr Pepper Museum; Texas State Historical Association; NBC News – America’s Top 10 Brands of Soda; Historic Brazoria County-An Illustrated History; HistoryShortNotes.com; Coca-ColaCompany.com-Who Was the Sprite Boy?; Bloomberg.com; 7UP.com

Idioms for the New Year

It’s that time of year when resolutions are made, optimism is high, and people desire a fresh start! Whether you are one to make New Year’s resolutions, or one to mock those who do, you’ll likely hear some idioms used with regard to beginnings.

For Amazing Words Wednesday, let’s take a look at a few and their origins.

Turn over a new leaf. It’s time for a fresh start, to do something different, to turn over a new leaf! “Leaf” in this case refers not to the red, orange, or brown thing that just fell from the tree in your back yard, but rather the page of a book. The phrase appears to date all the way back to the 1500s. To turn over a new leaf, therefore, means to turn the page and start a new chapter of your life.

Back to the drawing board. Maybe 2012 didn’t work out like you wished, so you need to head back to the drawing board. A drawing board is a drafting table used for preparing designs or blueprints. This phrase gained acceptance and use during World War II when military blueprints and plans were a success . . . or a failure–suggesting the need to return to the drawing board to draft something new. In 1941, Peter Arno used this as a caption for his cartoon in The New Yorker magazine:

Start from scratch. If you haven’t begun one of your New Year’s goals, you must start at the beginning, of course–or start from scratch. Sporting events historically had a practice of scratching onto the ground a start line (with a sword or other tool). References to this line as the “scratch” exist for horse racing, boxing, cricket, and golf. The first direct reference to “start from scratch” appears to be for a running race–from the British The Era newspaper in 1853: “The manner in which the men have been handicapped [is]: James Pudney (of Mile-end) and James Sherdon (of Sheffield), start from scratch . . .”

Back to square one. If you started a goal before and it didn’t pan out, you can always go back to square one. As with several oft-used idioms, the origin for this phrase is a bit uncertain. One plausible theory is that the phrase arose in the 1920s when British rugby commentators divided the field into eight rectangles and referred to the starting point as “square one.” From my own research, I’m leaning toward hopscotch as being another likely candidate for the use of “back to square one.” In hopscotch–a game which seems to have originated in the 17th century–play starts at square one.

Jump on the bandwagon. So you’ve been wanting to try something that has worked for others–a new diet, a writing challenge, a hairstyle. Maybe it’s time to jump on the bandwagon. In the 1800s, bandwagons were used to transport musicians and circus performers around the American South to entertain audiences. Politicians caught on and decided to bring their own bandwagons on the campaign trail. The band would begin playing and attract a crowd, at which point the politician would jump on and use it as a stage for his own message. In 1899 Theodore Roosevelt referred to this practice of joining an activity that’s working well for others: “When I once became sure of one majority they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon.”

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If your efforts are less than successful in January or February, don’t give up! If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It’s a common phrase, but do you know where we got it? I didn’t. Although often credited to William Edward Hickson in his “Moral Song” of 1857, this proverb appeared in print in 1840. American educator Thomas H. Palmer wrote in his Teacher’s Manual an encouragement for schoolchildren to do their homework: “‘Tis a lesson you should heed, try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The whole poem is below. While intended for children, this saying applies to us adults too!

Thomas H. Palmer, Teacher’s Manual (1840)

Or for the pessimists realists…


What are you resolved to do in 2013? Turning over a new leaf? Going back to square one? What other New Year proverbs or sayings are you familiar with?

Sources: The Phrase Finder; White Elephants & Red Herrings by Albert Jack; The Word Detective; Online Etymology Dictionary; Book Browse; Google Books

The Full Monty + 8 Other Ways to Say “Everything”

If you only had one way to say something, language might get boring. But we humans are a creative lot, not content to rely on a word like “everything” to communicate that concept every time. For Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, let’s enter the labyrinth of the English language and pick up a few creative ways to say “everything.”

The whole enchilada. I admit to being confused by the use of the word “enchilada” because, living in the world of Tex-Mex cuisine, I know that a burrito is much bigger. I’d vote to change this one to “the whole burrito,” but since it’s been around since maybe the 1950s, I probably won’t prevail.

A lot of people credit John Ehrlichman for popularizing this term; in a recorded conversation with Richard Nixon and others regarding Watergate, he used the phrase “the big enchilada” to refer to U.S. Attorney General John N. Mitchell as being a big deal. However, earlier uses can be seen in the 1950s and 1960s, with actress Betty Hutton stating, “I’ll just wear an eye veil, not the full enchilada” (Lethridge Herald, 1955) and Red Sox player Ken Harrelson saying, “We’re going for the whole enchilada—the pennant and the World Series” (Washington Post, 1969), with several newspaper references to the full or whole enchilada in between.

Why an enchilada? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps it’s because you can wrap up a whole bunch of stuff into a corn tortilla.

Everything but the kitchen sink. The first appearance of this phrase that I found was from 1948 in reference to intense bombardment: “‘They chucked everything they’d got at us except, or including, the kitchen sink.” A decade later, General Trudeau said the military slowed down development “because we are such perfectionists that we want everything but the kitchen sink in a weapon.”

But after searching and searching, I can’t figure out why the kitchen sink! Why not the oven? Why not the toilet? Having seen the destruction of a tornado, I’d say that “everything but the bathtub” makes more sense. But there you go. It’s a phrase we all understand, and we get the point easily. Who’d want a kitchen sink anyway?

The Full Monty. Other than the name of a rather funny British film, the “Full Monty” means the whole lot, everything available. The most probable origin hails from the Montague Burton tailors who established a shop in Chesterfield, England in 1904. They offered a complete outfit for hire (suit, shirt, tie, shoes, socks) and called it the “Full Monty” (from Montague). It’s interesting that this phrase is often now used to connote the opposite of a full suit of clothing.

Hook, line, and sinker. I’m not a fisherman. However, I know that the hook, line, and sinker are the whole of the mechanism to catch a fish. The hook is attached to a fishing line, and a weight called a “sinker” helps the hook stay below the surface where the fish are. If a fish were to swallow the hook, line, and sinker, that would be everything he saw. This phrase often refers to someone’s gullibility; for example, “he bought that story hook, line, and sinker.” Indeed, in 1884, this phrase was used by Thurlow Weed in his Memoirs: “We are gone, hook, line and sinker.”

The whole kit-and-caboodle. The whole kit-and-caboodle was first written in 1884. The “whole kit” refers to a soldier’s necessities stored in his kit-bag (like a toolkit). “Caboodle” is a term that has passed from our common usage but was used in the 1800s. It means a group or collection, especially of people. Oddly enough, the phrase “kit and boodle” was also used at the time, with “boodle” meaning a pile of something, especially a gambler’s pile of money. The Dunkirk Observer-Journal (New York, 1988) observed that “‘The whole kit and boodle of them’ is a New England expression in common use, and the word in this sense means the whole lot.”

Why did “kit-and-caboodle” get adopted, while “kit-and-boodle” is never heard anymore? I vote for the charm of alliteration; there is something about the repeated /k/ sound that rolls off the tongue quite nicely. Either way, I’d bet (no pun intended) that some sad soldier lost everything in a card game, and “the whole kit-and-caboodle” was born.

Lock, stock, and barrel. The lock, stock, and barrel are the three main parts of a musket, a firearm in use since the 15th century. However, the use of “lock, stock, and barrel” as meaning the whole thing presents from the 19th century; this is when standardization made muskets into those three parts for quick manufacture, assembly, and replacement of a damaged part. Thus, a soldier would need all three parts to have everything for the musket.

The clearest reference to this phrase used figuratively comes from Rudyard Kipling’s Light That Failed in 1891: “The whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel, isn’t worth one big yellow sea-poppy.” In case you’re wondering, the lock is the firing mechanism, the stock is the butt-end of the gun, and the barrel is the cylinder through which the bullet is fired.

The whole nine yards. The earliest confirmed appearance of this phrase in print is from 1962, in a  short story by Robert E. Wegner (Man on the Thresh-Hold). Various theories abound for where this phrase came from, and it’s one of those that ends in “we don’t know.” (Don’t you love those?) Here are some of the suggestions:

  • A whole suit required nine yards of cloth to make.
  • The belt that held bullets for machine guns in World War II was nine yards, so a gunner using “the whole nine yards” was the whole thing.
  • Nine yards refers to football, where getting only one yard in a down means you still have pretty much everything, or the whole nine yards, to go.
  • The capacity of a ready-mix concrete truck is nine yards.
  • A three-masted ship had nine yards of cloth, three yards on each mast.
  • Nine means everything in numerology, like “dressed to the nines.”

Just note that for every suggestion here, someone raises a good objection for why that one isn’t the correct origin. I recommend you simply claim your favorite and make a good case for why you’re right. Give your argument the whole nine yards!

The whole shebang. This phrase made its appearance in America in the 1920s. What is a shebang? Well, that’s up for some debate. Many believe that its first meaning was a crude shack or shelter. Although its origins are unclear, “shebang” began appearing in print around the 1860s and simply denoted “thing.” Given that “shebang” is a really fun word to say (try saying it three times fast!), it seems that people used it as a colorful way to express everything by saying “the whole shebang!”

The whole ball of wax. No idea. The earliest reference is from the Atlanta Constitution in 1882: “We notice that John Sherman & Co. have opened a real estate office in Washington. Believing in his heart of hearts that he owns this country, we will be greatly surprised if Mr. Sherman does not attempt to sell out the whole ball of wax under the hammer.”

The only specific suggestion I have seen comes from a 17th century practice of doling out the estate by writing down gifts onto pieces of paper, rolling them in wax, dropping them into a hat, and having the beneficiaries draw their ball of wax out. Yeah, I’m not buying it. That’s 200+ years of no one using the phrase, and then suddenly it shows up? I’ll present my own theory that some poor schmuck cleaned out their grandfather’s ears and found seemingly everything in there; thus, the “whole ball of wax.” What d’ya think?

I’ll let Porky Pig to have the final say for “everything”:

What other phrases have you heard or used that mean “everything”? Which of the above phrases do you like?

Sources: The Phrase Finder; Red Herrings & White Elephants by Albert Jack; Time Magazine; Big Apple Corner (site of an OED contributor); Word Wizard; Thesaurus.com; The Word Detective; World Wide Words

Got a Word Named after You? Eponyms

Another Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, and I’m ready to enter the labyrinth of language where surprises await us each week. It’s time to feature another kind of word defined by its etymology: eponyms. Eponyms are words named after a person–real or fictional.

For instance, you’ve probably all heard of sideburns, named after Civil War Union General Ambrose Burnside who sported ridiculously long facial hair that grew from his ears to his mustache. Originally, such facial hair were called burnsides, and then sideburns. Or how about an atlas? Our bound collections of world maps were named for the mythological Titan Atlas who presumably held up the globe on his shoulders.

Let’s take a look at some other fascinating ones. These examples are from the fabulous book Anonyponymous by John Bemelmans Marciano, whose books I highly recommend to language lovers.

Boycott. British Army Captain Charles Boycott became a land agent for Lord Erne’s estate in the Irish countryside. A bad crop in 1879 threatened the lands of potato growers, and a Land League was formed that promised retaliation against anyone who attempted to evict the Irish tenant farmers. Boycott posted writs of eviction, and in turn was ostracized by his community. “No shop would serve him, the postman stopped delivering his mail, and even his church congregation gave him the deep freeze.” Thus, we have the word “boycott”–meaning “to combine in abstaining from, or preventing dealings with, as a means of intimidation or coercion.” As for Charles Boycott, he left the area before Christmas, and the British Prime Minister introduced legislation that met many of the Land League’s demands.

Frisbee. We can thank a pie maker in Bridgeport, Connecticut for this name. Originally the brainchild of drunk Yale students who ate a pie and started playing catch with the tin, it became popular across the Yale campus for students to purchase a pie from Mrs. Frisbie’s Pies of Bridgeport and then use the pie tin to play a game. Mrs. Frisbie was hardly complaining when her sales reached 80,000 a day in 1956. Meanwhile, Fred Morrison created the flying disc we know of today, which caught the eye of Wham-O. They decided the fun disc needed a fun name, so they adopted the one already in use where pie tins were flying through the air. Of course, they had to change the spelling, but that’s how we got the frisbee. Thanks to Mrs. Frisbie for such a great name. (If her name had been Mrs. Scherbatsky, would we all be tossing Scherbatskys?)

Guillotine. I’m sure you can already guess that some cold-hearted executioner is behind this one. Physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed a method of execution to the French Revolutionary body in 1789. He thought it would be more efficient and humane. I suppose that compared to some of the executions of the day, it was a quicker and thus nicer way to go. All this has led us to rather useful guillotines of today: the bagel guillotine; the cigar guillotine; and the paper guillotine trimmer. Thanks, Dr. Guillotin!

Jacuzzi. Candido Jacuzzi was a loving father who wanted to help his son who suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis. So he invented a portable pump that he could put into a bathtub to recreate a whirlpool. His nephew, Roy Jacuzzi, saw greater opportunity and began producing the pump as a product from their family business in the 1960s. The sales of jacuzzi pumps outdistanced the sales of their regular product–aircraft equipment–and took over.

Leotard. Jules Léotard invented two things–the flying trapeze and the one-piece costume he flew through the air in. Jules was a novice acrobat who did his routine on fixed bars, like everyone else. Then one day, voila! the notion occurred to him to let those bars swing. In 1859 he debuted his flying trapeze act and became an international superstar. He then redesigned the standard acrobat clothing into a single piece that clung to his body–aka the “leotard.” Circus performers, gymnasts, and ballet dancers can thank The Daring Man on the Flying Trapeze.

Mausoleum. A Persian satrap (local ruler) named Mausolos had a super-swank tomb. In 335 B.C. after he died, his wife/sister Artemisia was so broken up that she commissioned a whopping memorial so amazing that it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Eventually, as in 16 centuries later, earthquakes got to this architecture marvel, but to this day large tomb with statues and architectural finery are called mausoleums after the ruler Mausolos.

Paparazzi. Thanks to Lady Gaga, I can no longer say this word, but rather I sing it, “Papa, Paparazzi.” But this word came into use long before Gaga hit the scene. The classic movie La Dolce Vita (1960) from famed director Federico Fellini included a character who made a living taking secret photos of celebrities around town. Screenwriter Ennio Flaiano wasn’t sure what to name this character until he ran across English novelist George Gissing’s travel book By the Ionian Sea in which he mentions a lodging proprietor by the surname of Paparazzo. The photographer was thus named Paparazzo, and the term paparazzi came to mean those picture-takers who will do nearly anything to get a candid shot of a celebrity.

Ritzy. César Ritz started in Paris as a waiter, but through work and flair rose to become a hotelier himself. He co-managed London’s Savoy Hotel and then opened the Hotel Ritz in 1898. The Hotel Ritz, and César himself, were displays of luxury that captured the wealthy’s attention. Thus, a highfalutin’ place or person became known as “ritzy.”

Voltage. I’m sure you science types already know this one, but for the rest of us, let me introduce Alessandro Volta, a high school physics teacher from Como, Italy. He posited that electric current was produced by contact of the two different metals. Volta tinkered with electricity and, using his knowledge, developed the world’s first battery in 1800. Thus, the charge contained in the battery is known as its “voltage.”

Zeppelin. I credit Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin for keeping this term alive, since you almost never see a zeppelin anymore, but Led Zeppelin is heard all over the airwaves (and apparently on VP Candidate Paul Ryan’s playlist). The original word, however, comes from Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, an aviator who worked with the Union Army Balloon Corps doing reconnaissance. After the Civil War, von Zeppelin concluded that he could build a motor-powered balloon with a hard shell and patented one in 1899. Zeppelins were used as commercial flights, bombers in World War I, and for civilian flights after the war. Perhaps we’ll see more soon with Goodyear’s announcement last year that they will be purchasing three zeppelins to add to their blimp fleet.

Did you know these eponyms? Were you even familiar with the word “eponym”? Do you have any others to share?

Sources: Anonyponymous by John Bemelmans Marciano; Everything You Know about English Is Wrong; Dictionary.com

Fast Food Names: Where Did They Come From?

Y’all know that I love tracing the etymology of words, phrases, nicknames, and much more. For today’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, we’re going to take a look at 10 top fast food restaurants (in the top 15 most popular according to Business Insider*) and how they got their names.

Arby’s. The Raffel Brothers, Forrest and Leroy, got the notion for a roast beef sandwich as fast-food fare after a trip to a Boston sandwich shop. They wanted to use the name “Big Tex,” but yeah, that was already taken. So they came up with the word Arby’s–a play on R.B. for Raffel Brothers. They also admitted that some might think it stands for Roast Beef. Source: Arby’s

Burger King. In 1954, the 22-year-old David Edgerton wanted to open a Dairy Queen. Instead, he bought the rights to open an “Insta Burger” restaurant that centered around a mechanical burger-cooking machine. Edgerton added the word “King” (Inspired by Dairy “Queen,” I guess) and a picture to go with it. The restaurant opened in Miami in 1954 as “Insta Burger King.” Three months later, business was slow and the machine was breaking down. A college friend, Jim McLamore, became a co-owner. The two designed their own cooking machine and dropped “Insta” from its name. Since that time, we’ve had “Burger King.” By the way, back in 1958 the fire-grilled hamburgers and milkshakes sold for 18 cents each. Sources: The Huffington Post – Burger King: A Short History; NNBD; Burger King

Chick-fil-A. In 1963 Truett Cathy invented the first fast-food chicken sandwich. That’s not all he invented. He made up the name “Chick-fil-A” playing on the words “chicken fillet” and putting the “A” on the end to mean top quality. Source: Cathy Family website

Jack in the Box. Why? Why? I don’t know. Robert Oscar Peterson opened a hamburger restaurant in San Diego in 1951. The building had a large Jack-in-the-Box clown on top of it. Why a clown? Sources don’t say. Perhaps it was just a cheery mascot and fun name. Peterson is credited with developing the drive-through speaker system, although he did not invent it. Source: Jack in the Box

KFC. In 1930 Harland Sanders operated a service station and decided to open up a restaurant in his front room for travelers. He served fried chicken, but it took up to 30 minutes to ready the “Sunday dinner” he provided to customers. Over the next decade, Sanders was given the title “Kentucky Colonel” by the governor for his contribution to the state’s cuisine, the pressure cooker was invented and Sanders discovered that it quickened his frying time substantially, and the Colonel perfected his secret recipe. His own restaurant was called Sanders Court & Cafe, but in 1952 he offered his brand of fried chicken as a franchise. The first taker was Pete Harman of Salt Lake City, and that first franchise was known as Kentucky Fried Chicken–since that’s where the Colonel originated his famous recipe. These days, the restaurant is simply known as KFC. Source: KFC

McDonald’s. All of my life, I’ve been told that Ray Kroc started McDonald’s. Not so, friends. Dick and Mac McDonald opened the first restaurant, which was actually called “McDonald’s Bar-B-Q,” in San Bernardino, California in 1940. It closed for renovations in 1948 and reopened as a hamburger restaurant simply called “McDonald’s” with a menu of 15-cent burgers, soft drinks, pie, and more. Ray Kroc discovered the brothers’ hamburger spot in 1954 and sold the idea of franchising to them. In 1960 he purchased exclusive rights to the name. Kudos to Ray for not renaming the restaurant “Kroc’s,” which would have been confusing with the shoes, right? Source: McDonald’s

SONIC. Troy Smith opened his first hamburger joint in Shawnee, Oklahoma in 1953. It was called Top Hat Drive-In. While traveling in Louisiana, he saw homemade intercoms at a hamburger stand there. He grabbed the concept, tweaked it, and introduced the model of ordering through speakers. Charlie Pappe joined him, and they expanded to four restaurants. Then lawyers informed them that “Top Hat” was copyrighted. They had to change the name! Since their slogan was “Service with the Speed of Sound,” they chose the word SONIC–meaning the “speed of sound.” Source: Sonic; Sonic-South Carolina

Subway. Fred DeLuca wanted to be a medical doctor. So of course, he did the logical thing and opened a submarine sandwich shop. Actually, the sub shop was the money-making idea of family friend Dr. Peter Buck, a nuclear physicist, who loaned Fred the money and became a partner in the business. The first sandwich shop, called Pete’s Super Submarines, opened in 1965 in Bridgeport, Connecticut (when DeLuca was only 17 years old!). Within 9 years, they had 16 sub shops in the state. An unofficial report online said that Pete’s Submarines sounded too much like “pizza marines” on the radio, so the restaurants became known as Pete’s Subs. It does not appear the word SUBWAY came into use until franchising began in 1974, and the name has nothing whatsoever to do with the New York City subway system. Sources: Subway; Subway Student Guide; Subway Development Group

Taco Bell. Glen W. Bell, Jr. first owned Bell’s Hamburgers and Hot Dogs in 1948 in San Bernardino, only a few miles from the original McDonald’s. He got the notion that selling tacos would be a good idea and added them to the menu in 1951. In 1954 he opened a Mexican-food only restaurant called Taco Tia with a partner (“Tia” means “aunt” in Spanish). Then he opened another chain called El Taco (“The Taco” in Spanish) with three partners. However, in 1962 he opened his own Mexican fast-food restaurant and called it Taco Bell in Downey, California. The name obviously indicates the type of food (taco) and the fact that this restaurant was his baby (Bell). Sources: New York Times; Baltimore Sun

Wendy’s. Before opening up his first restaurant in 1969, Dave Thomas operated Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, turning four franchises around and making them profitable. He made quite a few pennies from this endeavor and used the money to open his own hamburger place with a square piece of meat hanging outside the bun. He named it “Wendy’s” after his youngest daughter Melinda Thomas, who was nicknamed “Wendy” by her brothers and sisters. Sources: Wendy’s; RoadsideAmerica.com

So which ones did you know? (I really thought that Taco Bell had something to do with its dinner bell on the logo!) What other fast food names are you familiar with? Do you know the origins of restaurants’ names?

*I choose to ignore the pizza places, breakfast and beverage spots, and Panera Bread (because that’s not very fast-foody).

Gone to the Dogs: Idioms

Last week, we looked at feline-inspired idioms with The Cat’s Out of the Bag. For today’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, let’s take another trail in the labyrinth where we find our canine companions.

Check out the following dog-related idioms and their origins.

Barking up the wrong tree. Back in the 1800s, people went raccoon hunting. (Meanwhile, all I have to do is wait for the raccoons to show up to my porch where my sons will shoot them with airsoft bullets to scare them away.) Since raccoons are nocturnal, hunts occurred at night when sight was limited and scent was a better clue. Hunters would bring dogs to pick up the scent. If a raccoon climbed up a tree, a dog would stand at the base and bark up at it, signaling the hunter to climb the tree and get his prey. But if the hunter climbed and no raccoon was found, that dog was “barking up the wrong tree.”

Gone to the dogs. In medieval times, the rich discarded their table scraps and partially eaten food by throwing out for the dogs. Impoverished, starving folk could be found sifting through the leftovers with the dogs, looking for something to eat. Thus, one who is down on his luck and has deteriorated has “gone to the dogs.”

Dog eat dog. This is usually expressed as “It’s dog eat dog out there!” or “It’s a dog-eat-dog world.” According to Christine Ammer, author of Cool Cats and Top Dogs (and Other Beastly Expressions), in 43 B.C. a Roman man of letters Marcus Tarentius Varro said “Canis caninam non est.” Had you been studying your Latin faithfully, you would know that translates as “Dog does not eat dog.” He meant to suggest that even animals like dogs have limits and will not destroy their own kind. Surely, we humans could show some restraint as well!

But as any pit bull gambler and schoolyard graduate will note, dogs do eat dogs. Thus, by the Industrial Revolution, the phrase “dog eat dog” to connote a cut-throat, competitive world had taken hold. By 1789, the London Times printed:  “As it is an established fact, that sharper will not rob sharper, nor dog eat dog.”

Every dog has his day.  Stuart and Doris Flexner explain in Wise Words and Wives’ Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New that medieveal Dutch scholar Erasmus gave the history on this one. He said that the phrase was used after the death of Euripides, a Greek playwright, who was mauled and killed by a pack of dogs in 405 B.C. (presumably loosed upon him by a rival). The saying refers to the presumption that even the most lowly person will at some time get revenge on an oppressor, no matter how powerful the oppressor may be.

Greek biographer Plutarch first recorded the phrase in Moralia (written in 95) as “Even a dog gets his revenge.” In 1539, Englishman Richard Taverner wrote, “A dogge hath a day” (Proverbes). By 1670, John Ray gave us “every dog hath his day” (A Collection of English Proverbs). It’s a great saying, but still a shame that Euripedes had to get ripped to shreds by canines for this phrase to make its way to us.

Working like a dog. I’ve never seen dogs engaged in particularly hard work myself. However, Looney Tunes got this one right with its Ralph E. Wolf & Sam Sheepdog cartoons. Sheepdogs are said to work from dawn to dusk for nothing more than food, a place to sleep, and affection. Perhaps this phrase should be “working like a sheepdog,” since no one has accused chihuahuas of being overly taxed.

Dog days. I became especially interested in this one after downloading Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” Ancient Romans noted that the hottest days of the year (late July/early August) coincided with the appearance of Sirius, the Dog Star, and thus believed that the star contributed to the heat of the day. Therefore, these hot summer days became known as the dog days.

Wag the dog. You might know this phrase from 1997 film of its title with Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman. However, the original proverb came from the 19th century. Rudyard Kipling wrote in The Conundrum of the Workshops (1892): “We know that the tail must wag the dog, for, the horse is drawn by the cart.” What that means is that a tail wagging the dog is like putting the cart before the horse. So to “wag the dog” is simply to put the wrong priority first.

Of course, there is the idiom that includes both canines and felines: It’s raining cats and dogs. Where did we get that one? There is an ancient nautical myth that cats had some sort of influence over storms, and a Norse (Viking) myth that dogs were a symbol of storms. Ancient mariners believed that cats caused the rain and dogs brought the gales. Thus a major thunderstorm was referred to as “raining cats and dogs.” The phrase is first recorded in literature in 1738 by Jonathan Swift (A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation).

Are you a cat person, a dog person, both, or neither? Can you think of any other dog idioms? What are your favorite canine-inspired sayings?

Sources: The Pet Wiki, The Phrase Finder, Red Herrings & White Elephants by Albert Jack, Word DetectiveWordOrigins.org, UsingEnglish.com, Cesar’s Way, Wikipedia

ROW80: I am participating in Round 2. My goals can be found by clicking the #ROW80 tab at the top. I will post my first update on Sunday, April 8.

The Cat’s Out of the Bag: Idioms

Welcome to Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, where we enter the labyrinth of language and look for something interesting among the hedges. Today’s topic is in honor of our feline friends. I was going to do a post with idioms that included both dogs and cats, but there are so many that I will need to cover “man’s best friend” next Wednesday. Stay tuned.

In full disclosure, I am a cat person. While there are some lovely dogs out there, I gravitate toward the furballs who largely ignore you unless they want food or petting on their own schedule. In case you care, here are my cats:

Eclipse & Shadow

And now for the feline-inspired idioms and their origins.

The cat’s meow. A lot of slang words were introduced in the 1920s, including “the cat’s meow” — meaning something excellent or outstanding. It was introduced by American cartoonist Thomas Aloysius Dorgan, who also coined “dumbbell,” “for crying out loud,” “hard-boiled,” and another popular cat idiom: “the cat’s pajamas.” From what I can tell, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. But it caught on.

Couldn't find "cat's meow" comic. Here's "dumb-bell."

Cat got your tongue? Several theories exist on this one. Here’s one to make you cringe: Hundreds of years ago in the Mideast, liars had their tongues cut out and fed to the king’s pet felines. Well, maybe. But the first incidence of the term in the Oxford English Dictionary occurs in 1911, so this phrase wasn’t used much before then. It may simply be the general superstition about cats (e.g., don’t cross a black cat) that inspires this phrase meaning you can’t talk.

Not enough room to swing a cat. I had heard that this phrase came from 17th century sailors swinging the cat o’ nine tails, but according to Albert Jack (White Elephants & Red Herrings) this isn’t about a whip. Two centuries earlier, there was a “sport” of swinging cats by the tail into the air, making them moving targets for archers. This activity occurred at fairs and festivals, and if there were large crowds, there wouldn’t enough be room to swing a cat.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. After reading the swing-a-cat story, I was so relieved to find that this one isn’t even about cats! Catfish are easy to catch, but their skin is difficult to remove. Apparently, there are several ways to skin a catfish, but no one in their right mind would skin a beautiful furry feline.

Curiosity killed the cat. The original phrase was “care killed the cat” from Ben Jonson’s 1598 play, Every Man in His Humor: “Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care’ll kill a Cat, up-tails all, and a Louse for the Hangman.” Don’t ask me what that line means. In Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, it was defined as “Care killed the Cat. It is said that a cat has nine lives [see below], but care would wear them all out.” That same year, the word “care” was exchanged for “curiosity” in The Galveston Daily News: “It is said that once ‘curiosity killed a Thomas cat.'” This new turn of the phrase was used by O’Henry in 1909 in Schools and Schools: “Curiosity can do more things than kill a cat; and if emotions, well recognized as feminine, are inimical to feline life, then jealousy would soon leave the whole world catless.”

I don’t know why care, or worry, would kill a cat to begin with. However, curiosity hasn’t always had the positive connotation it has today. Curiosity has at times been seen as challenging the status quo (tsk, tsk). Lord Byron called curiosity a “low vice” in Don Juan. I personally prefer the line I’ve seen several places: “Curiosity didn’t kill the cat; it was framed.”

A cat has nine lives. The number nine is considered sacred or mystical in some religions and mythology. Think about the trinity of trinities, nine muses, “dressed to the nines,” and a cat’s nine lives. Thus, when people in the Middle Ages had no X-Box or American Idol to entertain them, they threw cats off towers and watched them fall. Surprisingly, cats survived the murderous drop by twisting their bodies and landing on four paws. A cat seemed mystical in that moment: Surely it must have nine lives! My conclusion: The medievalers needed to get one life.

Let the cat out of the bag. Two good options here. First, back in the Middle Ages, people bought their food from the local marketplace. Apparently, some vendors were less honest than others. This idiom comes from a person purchasing a piglet at the market. While the vendor exchanged money and distracted the customer, the piglet in the bag would be exchanged for a cat. Only when the customer arrived home would the secret be discovered, as they “let the cat out of the bag.” Second, and far less appealing to me, there was once a game in which a cat was put in a bag filled with soot and hung on a tree. The game’s object was for competitors to cut open the sack, let the cat free, but not get covered with soot themselves.

Are you a cat person, a dog person, both, or neither? Can you think of any other cat idioms? What are your favorite feline-inspired sayings?

Sources: The Pet Wiki, The Phrase Finder, Red Herrings & White Elephants by Albert Jack, Lambiek Comic Shop, Cat-ch Phrases, The Word Detective, Moggies – Online Cat Guide, Westminster Gazette, Askville by Amazon.com