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18 June 2024

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Words of the Day

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Merriam-Webster archives
See also Today in History


    -- meaning "completely contrary to nature, reason, or common sense" comes from the Latin praeposterus meaning "with the hinder part foremost." pre- (prae-) is an element occurring originally in loan words from Latin, meaning "before," "in front of. . . ." -post- is "behind," "later," "after. . . ." So preposterous is proceeding with your dorsal side first (i.e., with your buttocks forward. It's doing something "bass aackward," as we used to say in Boy Scouts.

    From the same Latin root (ponere) comes posit-, "to place" or "to put down," as in "deposit," "dispose" ("to put away," as in garbage . . .") "disposal," "propose" (to put forth an idea of doing something)," "impose" (to put something on someone), "oppose" (to put oneself against)," "decompose" (to reverse the putting of things together), "compounds" (things put together), "posture" the "position" we put ourselves in, and "post" (where soldiers are put and what the soldiers do with their letters to their girlfriends when they propose by mail when they can't be there in person to position their posture and preposition on one knee).

    In this class you will also see "preposition," which is something which you place before a noun, and, of course, "compose" (to put things together). In this course we propose you put your best side forward, preposterous as that may sometimes sound. More on the course next time. (TROE, RHCD)

  • Day 02: RECURSIVE

    Chapter 1 of the text states, "Researchers often describe the process of writing as seamless and recursive, meaning that its goals or parts are constantly flowing into and influencing one another, without any clear break among them." Cursive comes from the Medieval Latin cursv(us), meaning flowing or running. Cursive, as in handwriting, has flowing strokes with the letters joined (or run) together. Cursor is a little thing that "runs" across the screen of your word processor. -or is tacked on to denote a person or thing that does something, or has some particular function or office.

    Related is the Latin curs(us), now course, "a running," or "to run." Tack on -eer or -ier (they're variants of the same thing) and you get "someone who is concerned with, or employed in connection with, or busies himself with something," in this case running: courier. Re- means "again and again," and, sometimes, "backwards." -ive is tacked onto adjectives (and nouns of adjectival origin) to express "tendency, disposition, function, connection. . . ." Related words include current (running water or electricity), corridor (which is an -idor or place which runs the length of a building), career (your professional running), concur (run with), excursion (a running out), discourse (running to and fro with discussion), intercourse (a running between), precursor (a forerunner), recourse and recur (running back), occurring (running to meet), recourse (to run back), and succor (run under to help).

    In this course you have no recourse but to recurse, unless, of course, it's to curse the course. Cursing is of disputed origin, but may be from the Old Irish, crsagim, "I blame." So if you're Irish, you can curse and re-curse the recursing course. But do it anyway. (TROE, RHCD)

  • Day 03: Word of the Day -- Mirriam-Webster

  • Day 04: RASHOMON

  • Day 05: LIBRARY

    --from Latin noun, liber, originally, "the inner bark of a tree." Eventually it became "a sheet of papyrus for writing" (more on papyrus on Day 10), then it became "a book, volume, long document." From that came library and librarian.  -ian means "person of."

  • Day 07: INTERVIEW

    --the meeting of a person face to face. Interview is a word first known from the 16th century. From the early French entrev(e)ue, "to have a glimpse of," which was from s'entrevoir, "to see each other." Literally it came from the French entre, meaning inter- + voir "to see." INTER-, a preposition meaning "between," "among," is itself from the French and is related to the 14th century French word meaning "to cause to go in, put in or onto." Related words include intervene ("to come between"), interpose ("to put between"), intercept ("to put yourself in position to seize or take away"), interlude ("to play between"), international ("pertaining to between stocks or races"); there are others. (TFH) Also related are evident ("making itself seen"), and, of course review ("to see again"). (RC) See again Day 03.

    So when you interview, you cause yourself to be put into a position to meet or see the other face to face.

  • Day 08: Word of the Day -- Mirriam-Webster

  • Day 09: REVISE

    -- from Latin revise(re) "(to) look back at, revisit; freq. of revidere, "to see again." re-/red-

  • Day 09: PROSE

    Prose sometimes contrasts with poetry. Prose is spoken or written language without the metrical structure (meter and verse) that poetry has. The word comes from the Latin liturgical word known from the 14th century as prsa literally meaning "straightforward speech." Actually the original root of the word had something to do with turning. Thus prose is really more of a "turning forward," or, in modern English, straight-forward, rather than not turning.

    In the 16th century the word came to mean "matter-of-fact expression." In the 17th century pros-y ("dull, tedious"--"pros-aic") discourse arrived--actually the discourse was probably already here, the name for it just arrived. In between (in the 16th century) the word pros-aic arrived. The pros-aic is "dull, commonplace, unimaginative"--by definition, like most definitions, straightforward and not always so imaginative. A pros-er is a person who talks or writes prose. And nowadays, we can have a prosy poet--a seeming contradiction to our 14th century ancestors.

    A pro-poser is something else; it's one who sets forth a proposition, sometimes related to marriage, sometimes related to other things--like Project #5 in this class. (RC, RHD, TH)

    Today we revise prose, or "look again at that [writing] which is [supposed to be] turned [straight]forward."

  • Day 09: AUDIENCE

    -Ence/-ance in nouns and -ent/-ant in verbs comes from the Latin -encia. This suffix appears in adjectives formed from verbs of Latin origin, and in nouns formed from those verbs. The Latin word in this case is audit-, "to hear." So you have audi- and -ence to make up "hearing or listening." So if you go listen to the Pope, you have an audience with the Pope. If the Pope listens back, it's a miracle. Audience as we know it in the sense of a group who will listen to you, first appeared in the records in the 14th century.

    Related words include audit-orium ("listening place"), audi-ble ("able to be listened to"), and Audio King (place where you go to by supermega listening equipment), and audit.

    If you're listening to all of this, you are an audit-or. If you are paid by the IRS to listen, you are also an audit-or. If you get called in by the person who listens to you for the IRS, then you are in a listing situation, an audit. If the IRS audit-or does not like what s/he hears from the audit-ee, that's trouble (which comes from another Latin word meaning "turbulent" or "restless," which is probably what you've been all along in the IRS audit), and that starts with "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for "POOL" (which comes from a French word meaning "a young hen").

    If you are just sitting in class and not expecting to get credit for this course, you're audit-ing--just "in the process of listening." If you are sitting in the class just listening and still expecting to get credit for this course, that's real hope. Hope, by the way, is of unknown origin. Audacity is something else.


    Biblio comes from the Greek word biblía ("[the] books"), which itself is a diminutive (a term of familiarity, smallness, affection . . . , like "Timmy") of búblos, which originally meant "papyrus, scroll," and which later meant "book, papyrus." Byblos (now the city of Jubayl in Lebanon) is the name of the Phoenician city from which papyrus was exported in the old days.

    Papyrus is a writing material made from pressed-together thin strips of the pith of the papyrus plant (which is "a tall, aquatic, cyperaceous plant," whatever that is). Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used ancient papyrus. The earliest books were rolls of papyrus. The Romans called that rolled up papyrus volumen, from the Latin verb volvere, meaning "to roll," because they rolled it all up on an old rolling pin. [The word pie as in what we eat didn't appear until the 14th century, itself apparently coming from the Old French (13th century) word for magpie, so we know that they must have had a whole bunch of unused rolling pins laying around, and so they must have used them for the purpose of rolling up the papyrus scrolls.]

    By the 5th century parchment made from sheep, goat, or calf skin had generally replaced papyrus because it was tougher, could be cleaned, and could be used on both sides. Parchment could also be folded and bound, which eliminated the need for rolling up the texts. And because they loved to barbecue, they had a lot of old sheep and goat skins around, from which they made volum-inous tomes. [In those days they didn't call it "barbecue," however, because that was a Caribbean Indian word (barbacoa to the Spanish) which Columbus had not yet discovered, although when he did discover it, he found out that they were having their neighbors over to barbecue, rather than to a barbecue, or so they say.] Tome, by the way, comes from the Greek tómos, "slice, piece, roll of paper, book. . . . A tome, any heavy large book, can also be one volume of a two-or-more-volume work.

    The early Latin word volumnen was borrowed into the French as volume, which by the 14th century became part of the English vocabulary. By the 16th century volume had acquired the additional meaning of "the size or bulk (of a book)," which eventually led to the word meaning the size or volume of anything.

    Of course, the most famous volume is The Bible (the name of which comes from the Greek word meaning "the books," which it was called since it is actually many books, not one, although it is often physically one book, and therein--as one in many, many in one--is much like the Trinity described in the New Testament section thereof), which originally was holy scripture written, in part, on a roll of papyrus from Byblos.

    Now that papyrus is "paper" on which you write, and which you write. And which you will soon be writing on and writing on for your project #4 speech.

    Speaking of writing, -graphy often is a suffix which denotes the processes or styles of writing ("calligraphy," "orthography" . . .), but -graphy is also used to denote sciences ("geo-graphy," "lexico-graphy," "strati-graphy" . . . ).

    Could biblio-graphy be the science which deals with books? . . . YES! That's it! Bibliography is "the science that deals with the history of books, their physical description, printing, publication, editions, etc. [sic.]" (RHD, p. 131). The word bibliography also now means the list of informations produced by that science of the written descendants of the markings on the export of Byblos. And that's what you're supposed to have brought in for today. (M-W WH, TH, RHD)


    A geek is a geek in part because he can't coordinate things. (Can you have a female geek?) He may, for example, wear a different colored sock on each foot. (Geek, by the way, is probably an English variant of the Scottish word geck which means "fool." In later years geek came to mean a carnival fellow who performed acts such as biting off the head of a live chicken or snake. More recently it came to mean one who is nerdy, or, in a word, a "dweeb." What do you get when you cross a nerd and a jerk? A nerk, which is the modern English variant of nerd.)

    Coordinate means "to get your _ _ _ _ together." Literally speaking the word is co-ordinate, where the ordinate part means "having your _ _ _ _ in order." The original Latin of that was ordintus, "arranged," or "ordered." From the 17th century on the co- meant "being together," or "[something done] joint(ly)"--as in co-habit, wherein -habit means "dwelling" (as in in-habit-ing), rather than having a bad one of. The prefix co- also implies equality of parts! [Note: when was the last time you saw an exclamation point used in this syllabus? What does that tell you?]

    Thus the co-ordinate-ed things that are arranged are always approximately equal (like two feet, or two socks . . .). So co-ordinate thusly is "having your order [of equal things] together"--like being able to put one foot in front of the other, or, "having [equal] things arranged [together]"--like having your socks match--which is what geeks often have a hard time having.

    But even geeks recognize that SOME THINGS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN OTHERS--like, it's more important to have your shoes on the correct feet than to have socks that match. When you are trying to organ-ize (literally, "put things in order") in a way that some things are more important than others, that's sub-ordination. Here sub- means "under" as in sub-marine, "[a thing which goes] under maris, 'the sea.'" (A sub-marine sandwich, however, is different, and somehow under-went metamorphosis from a "hero sandwich." Maybe that's what the heroes in submarines ate, but I don't know. I didn't see anyone eating submarine sandwiches in The Hunt for Red October or Das Boot.) Anyway, according to like thinking, your sub-ordinates are those that are under you.

    When you sub-ordinate in your writing you put one thing under another. With sub-ordination the important point is that things that are arranged are not equal . . . and that they are lined up in the order of their importance. (M-W, ODNW, RHD, TH, WH)

  • Day 12: KETCHUP

    From the Chinese, ketchup, or ke-tsiap (sometimes ke-chiap), was originally a pickled-fish brine. Pickle is a word of unknown origin, which used to be spelled pykyl. Fish is an English word meaning "fish," originally spelled fisc. Fisc with a c seems more logical.

    Maylays call that pickled-fisc brine kechap. So we know it was going around that part of the world. Yep, over there they were really pouring it on, so to speak.

    Earlier on in England (17th century), the sauce was spelled catchup, which is, in part, what we're going to do today. Sometime around A.D. 1200 the English borrowed some catch up from the Old North French. It was cachier to the French, which meant "to chase," as in hunting. Maybe that's why Americans, offspring as they are of English colonials, like catchup on their French fries.

    Q: What do the French call French fries?

    A: "Fried potatoes." British call them "chips." ". . . What do they call a Quarter Pounder in France . . . ?"

    British don't use catchup on their "chips." Same with cowboys. The British usually eat their chips with fisc--without the fisc brine. They, the British, eat their chips with "vinegar"--which is a Romance term meaning "sour wine." (How much romance can there be in sour wine? About the same amount as pickled-fisc brine in your "Chow-Mein" [which is Chinese for "fried dough"]).

    Caught, as in what the English did to the fisc before they ate them with their chips and sour wine, interestingly enough, didn't come from the French. There is a limit to what the English will take from the French and they drew the line between catch and caught. "Catch, catch, caught" was formed by analogy from the English "latch, latch, laught"--as in "Did you laught the gate last night when you went out with that rogue you've been coquetting?" (Coquetting, by the way, comes from the French word meaning "strutting like a cock before hens," presumably when the cock was the cachier-or rather than the cachier-ee; hmm, here all the while I thought it was the chicks that did the coquetting. . . .) Anyway, some people, being stubborn, and Scottish, and not hating the French as much as the English do, actually used the word catched--as in "I catched cold," or, "I catched hell from my Mom for putting too much ketchup on my French fried potatoes." Potato is Spanish, from patata. Sometimes the Spanish call their French fries fried papas--which is also what happens when students total out their fathers' cars. Q: What do the Irish call French fries? A: They don't bother with calling them anything because they like their potatoes boiled. Russians, on the other hand, like their potatoes distilled. The Chinese don't like potatoes at all. They like rice--with pickled-fisc brine on it. (M-WWH, ODEE, RHD)

  • Day 13: SPEECH

    SPEECH. Speech comes from the West Saxon word sp. They both came from Germanic for speak, which became specan or sprecan in Late Old English, and speken in Middle Dutch. "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" "Spreekt u Nederlands?"

    Talk, on the other hand, is a 13th century word based on the Middle English base tal-, of tale and tell. A tell-tale is a gossiper who gives out to an audience information concerning the private affairs of others; a tell-tale is a tattler, so to speak. Tattler comes from the Middle Dutch word meaning gossip, or prattling talk, or idle talk. (Gossip comes from the Old English word godsibb or baptismal sponsor. Prattle comes from the French prate, which, in turn, comes from the Middle Dutch praten, which means "to utter idly or emptily." "Idle chatter" means to "speak with words of little value or significance, with frivolity, and with trifling." Idle itself means "empty or useless.")

    Back to tal-, of tale and tell. In the related Dutch, taal was/is a speech (like the one you're writing) probably coming from the Old High German zala, "number," as tale also meant "reckoning number"--from German zhlen which means "count, recount, mention numerically." Speech, harangue, oration, lecture, address, talk, sermon, homily, and discourse all denote something said to an audience (which you remember from before, and which will be listening to your speech). Harangue means "to speak out loudly, like someone in the Army." Oration means to speak out to God. Lecture means to read out, or, later, to teach to someone. Apparently, we're supposed to read to you when we lecture.

    Address comes from the Latin ad- directus, which means "go straight to." Talk originally meant to chatter. Technically speaking, sermon is a discourse or speech given which is based on a passage of the Bible. Sermon actually means "talk" in Latin. Homily means to speak on morals or on proper conduct to the same crowd, all at once (from the Greek homos, "the same," ilé, "crowd.") Discourse is "a running"--maybe running out of . . . the mouth? To that list of things said to a crowd or audience you can also add utter--something not to be confused with the large pendulous bovine gland, udder. (Bovine, by the way, comes from the Latin bovinus which means ox, the female of which also has one of those large pendulous bovine glands.) Utter originally meant "to put forth," as in "she uttered something for sale." It also rarely still means "reveal, put on the market, sell, give currency to (as in 'coin something'. . .)." If you published a book in the old days, you uttered it. If you utter a book nowadays, you're probably cussing your textbook. Nowadays utter means "give out audibly, speak, pronounce." The 14th century word for utter comes from Middle Dutch, teren, originally meaning "drive away, speak, show, make known." In the Middle Low German the related tern meant "turn out, sell, speak, demonstrate." It was also related to the word which meant "outward, outer, extreme, total," from which we get our modern English word utter-ly--"way out, man." Utter-ance is a putting or speaking out. Utter-er is the one who puts or speaks out.

    Speaking out is parlance. In medieval monasteries the monks weren't allowed to speak. If they wanted to say something, either to each other or to visitors, they had to go to a special room called a parlor--a "place where one talks." Later on, many people had parlors in their homes--rooms which served as a reception rooms for visitors and as a ceremonial rooms for family gatherings on Sundays and important occasions. The word parlor came into the English language from the French in the 13th century. The French word comes from the Latin word meaning "to talk," which came from the Greek parabolé, meaning "juxtaposition." Also related to the word parlor are parable, parabola, and parliament. And parlez-vous. The French parlez-vous-ed in the parlor. Raymonde Carroll, in "Money and Seduction" (Reading [R15B] for Day 16), suggests that the French were doing more than talking in the parlor. They parleyed, sure, we all know that, and we'll find out on Day 16 whether or not that had anything to do with "juxtaposition." Parlay, by the way, is different. Parlay means to bet what you just won. Discussion next time. (M-W WH, ODEE, RD-GED, RE)

  • Day 14: DISCUSSION

    DISCUSSION. Talk you heard and saw last time (p. 24). Discuss has two meanings: (1) "to investigate, decide, examine," and (2) to "dispel or disperse." In the 15th century it also came to mean "examine by argument." All of these come from the present participle stem of the Latin word discutere, meaning "to dash to pieces, disperse, dispel." In the Romance languages it came to mean investigate, from dis- + quatere, "shake."

    The dis- appears in words adapted directly from Latin. dis- has at least seven meanings, but basically it means "apart," "asunder," "separately"--as in "disperse," "discuss," "dismantle"--or "with a negative or reversive force"--as in "disaster," "disturb," "disgust," "disagree." "Disgust" must be negative gusto, or negative "relishing the taste of something." Relish is made from Middle English reles, "taste"--so a negative tasting of the taste of things is disgust-ing.

    Discus is what you throw in the Olympics, where they go for the gold with gusto. Discus comes from the Greek word "throw" (diskos; dikein). Olympics comes from the Greek word for Olimpiás, a mountain in Thessaly which is home of the gods, and home of the Olympic festival now known as the Olympic Games. (Why is Olympic Games capitalized and olympiad not? What is the olympiad?) Olimpiás is not all that far from Marathon, home of the marathon, of which Grandma's Marathon is one. (What's with the capitalization in the last sentence?)

    Discus has an interesting history, having been thrown around a lot over the years:

    "Latin discus meant 'platter' or 'quoit' and was borrowed unchanged by English in the mid-seventeenth century in a sports sense similar to the Latin. Discus was re-borrowed a few years later as disk, now shorn of the Latin grammatical termination -us, for astronomical applications, referring to the round shape of the sun and moon. But discus had already been borrowed, more than a millennium earlier, appearing in Old English as disc 'platter' and evolving by regular sound changes into dish. Latin itself, meanwhile, had not stood still, and the classical discus had spun off a Medieval Latin desca 'table', [sic] which English borrowed and which is the source of modern desk. [What is this [sic.] about?] Discus also underwent comparatively radical sound change as the Latin spoken in France evolved into French; the Old French version of discus is now reflected in English dais 'raised platform'. (The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, 1991, p. 150.)

    But this doesn't fully explain, for example, the sentence, "A real dish mans the disco desk." Could it be another doublet? Words which go back to the same source but look different because they arrived by different routes are called "doublets." More on man-ning and woman-ing (or should it be -izing?) next week. Today we need to dispel, investigate, examine, disturb, and disperse writing. I hope it is not a disaster.

  • Day 15: CONVERSE

    CONVERSE (no, not the shoe). Last class we discussed discussion. On Day 13 (p. 24) we talked the talk, and spoke the "speech." Today it's a little "Coffee and Conversation." Conversation, an informal talk with someone, is also known as "colloquy." ("Criminal conversation" is something altogether different, although it too probably starts out with informal talk.) Related are colloquium (like the Philosophy Department often has on Wednesday afternoons), colloquial, colloquialism, and colloquially--all related in one way or another to talking in a familiar or informal style. All of those words come from the Latin colloquium meaning "conversation." Actually it literally means com + loqui, or "coming together to speak."

    A "Brown Bag Lunch" is a colloquium, a place where you come together to have an informal talk with someone. Informal means not formal, or not "characterized by or given to a scrupulous adherence to rule, convention, or etiquette," particularly those related to academia. (Academia--from whence comes words like academics, academy, academic freedom, Academe--comes from the Greek Akadmeia, the grove of Akadmos where Plato, friend of Socrates, taught. Plato is also a small town west of Minneapolis.) Informal is like you behave when you have coffee and conversation in Plato.

    Converse comes from the Old French, "to live with." That, in turn, comes from the Latin convertere, meaning "thoroughly + to turn," as in convert, to "turn thoroughly." So in your "Brown Bag Coffee and Conversation" talk you want to "get- together- without- following- conventional- rules- for- debate- and- convert- someone- to- something- while- drinking coffee."I suppose you could also drink beer, although a "Beer and Conversation" paper would probably be a horse of a different color.

    Speaking of colored animals . . . Coffee is brown. And brown is coffee. Coffee comes to English from Turkey via the Italians. The Turkish word for coffee is qahveh, from the Arabic qahwe. Qahwe now is sometimes also java. Java is an island of Indonesia, now also called "Malaysia." Java is also a type of domestic chicken with black or black-and-white feathers. Next time we'll have a talk about "women." Java woman is Pithecanthropus erectus, or, literally "ape woman," probably named because she went ape while drinking coffee and listening to informal talks like yours in someplace like Plato. (OAD, ODNW, WDUD, RDED)

  • Day 16: WOMAN

    WOMAN. Feminist. Feminine comes from the Latin femininus--femina, meaning "woman." The suffix of nouns -ist--as in sexist, environmentalist, communist, socialist, anarchist, nihilist, rapist, Marxist-- denotes" one or that which does or has to do with," or someone who is a devotee of or advocate of. An -ist is often an extension of nouns ending in -ism--as in sexism, communism, socialism. . . . -Ist can also indicate a profession, as with sociologist, anthropologist, archaeologist, geographist, pharmacist, chemist. . . . It comes from the Greek ists or Latin -ista. Sometimes you also see that as -ize. With adjectives you see it as -istic, meaning "having the quality of," as in masochistic or humanistic. For the -er of it see Day 18.

    Woman comes from the Old English wífmann wherein wíf was "wife" and mann stood for "human being." The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories has this to say about women:

    "People occasionally express the belief that woman is a compound made from womb and man, but it is not. Woman derives from Old English wfman, a compound formed from Old English wf 'woman' and man 'human being'. . . . Wfman descended to Middle English with the f blended into the m by assimilation as wimman with a plural wimmen. In various dialects wimman because wummon, wumman, wommon, and womman. All of these developments in Middle English seem to have had some influence on the mismatched spelling and pronunciation of modern woman, women."

    "The oldest word in English for 'woman' is wif. Its male counterpart was wer. Quite early in Old English wf developed its prevalent modern meaning 'married woman'. It was presumably the growth of this sense that resulted in the compound wfman becoming the word for 'woman' that would survive into Modern English. In Middle English wife developed a meaning 'mistress of a household, hostess or landlady of an inn'. The Middle English sense survives in the compound housewife; the original sense serves in old wives' tale and in compounds like midwife." (1991, p. 510.)

    "In the fourteenth century female appears in English with spellings such as femel, femelle, and female and is used both as a noun and as an adjective. It is derived through Middle French, from Latin femella, 'young woman, girl,' which is a diminutive of femina, 'woman'. In English, however the similarity in form and pronunciation between the words female and male led to the retention of the spelling female and also to the popular belief that it is derived from, or somehow related to, male. Apart from the influence on the spelling there is no etymological connection between them. . . . (p. 176.)" [That is to say, male and female have almost nothing in common. Next time we'll look over men.]

    "Girl is another curiosity. In Middle English girle, gerle, gurle, around 1300, meant 'young person of either sex'; it did not develop its present 'female child' sense until around 1375." (pp. 290-291.)

    A womanist is a Black feminist, or feminist of color. Also, womanist is a woman who prefers the company and culture of women, but who is committed to the wholeness of the entire people. It is formed by adding the suffix -ist to woman, on the model of a Black English word womanish meaning "wilful, grown up (or trying to be too soon)," as in the expression which Black mothers might use to their daughters: "You acting womanish." Womanist had been independently formed several hundred years ago in the sense of "a womanizer," but this usage did not catch on. The word womanist was coined by the American Black woman writer Alice Walker (see Verburg pp. 705-715) as a deliberate attempt to challenge the racist implications of the feminist movement, which found it necessary to speak of a separate category of "Black Feminism" and which thereby excluded Black women from mainstream feminism. Maya Angelou, Bill Clinton's poet laureate (Verburg pp. 415-421), once said, "I've been female so long that I'd be stupid not to be on my own side but if I have to be an 'ist' at all I'd rather be a womanist. The feminist lost me because they can't laugh at themselves." (Daily Telegraph, 26 Oct. 1985, p. 11; M-WNBWH). Can Simone de Beauvoir laugh at herself? (M-WNBWH, OAD, ODNW, WDUD, RDED)

  • Day 17: MAN

    MAN. And about man The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories has this to say:

    "As you might well suspect, man is one of the oldest words in our language, attested very early in Old English in a number of spellings including man, mann, mon, and manna. Unsurprisingly it goes deep into the roots of the Germanic languages and has cognates in every Germanic language you can think of. So deep are those roots that there are even cognates in Slavic languages, such as Russian muzh 'husband' and muzhchina 'man', and in other groups within the Indo-European family. (p. 290)

    "The prevailing meaning of man in Old English is 'human being', used both in a particular and a collective way, that is, meaning 'human being' and 'humanity'. In Old English the sex-marked words were wer 'male person' (related to Latin vir) and wif 'female person'. Sometime around 1000 man began being used in the sense 'male person' and after a couple of centuries its use drove poor old wer into permanent retirement. Wer survives today only in the ever popular compound werewolf. . . ."

    "It is a curious fact that many of the Romance, Germanic, and Slavic words meaning 'male person'--Spanish hombre [for example] . . . --developed in a fashion similar to that of man, being first sex-neutral words . . . [from the] Latin homo, which is also sex-neutral." (pp. 290-291)

    Men are full of virtue. No kidding! If you don't believe me see The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, p. 496:

    "From their word vir, meaning [sex-marked] 'man', the Romans derived the noun virtus to denote the sum of the excellent qualities of [male] men, including physical strength, valorous conduct and moral rectitude. . . . The French developed their word vertu or virtu from Latin, and it is first recorded in the tenth century. It was borrowed into English in the thirteenth century. In the fourteenth century virtue came to be applied to any 'characteristic, quality, or trait known or felt to be excellent'. By the end of the sixteen century the sense 'chastity, purity' appeared, especially in reference to women. . . .

    "The Latin adjective virilis, 'manly, masculine', another derivative of virile when first used in English in the fifteenth century. The Late Latin adjective virtuosus, derived from virtus, became virtuoso in Italian, and then was taken into English as the noun virtuoso in the seventeenth century. Virtuoso then as now suggested man's prowess in one sort of endeavor or another rather than his moral virtue. The Latin noun virago, meaning 'a manlike woman', was borrowed into English in the fourteenth century in the sense 'a bold impudent woman, shrew'. . . . (pp. 496-497)

    Did you know that the word mansuetude means gentleness? It comes from the French or Latin mánsuétd, gentle, and manus, hand. So, man is sex-neutral, men have lots of virtue, and every man should be gentle. (M-WNBWH, OAD, ODNW, WDUD, RDED)

  • Day 18: LAWYER

    LAWYER. -Ier/-yer attached to a noun makes it an agent-noun, or the person that is doing whatever the -ier/-yer is attached to. Among the earliest of these words (13th century) are tiliere, an extension with -ere of Old English tilia, meaning "tiller, or cultivator." Along the same line you find bowiare or bowyer (maker of bows), brazier (a worker in brass), clothier (one who makes clothes), collier (one who "makes" coal, i.e., a miner), drovier (one who finishes stone with a drove chisel), glazier (one who cuts glass), grazier (one who grazes or pastures cattle), sawyer (one who saws wood), hosier (one who hoses, that is, sells hoses). . . . For the -ist of it see Day 16.

    OK. But what about lawyer? A lawyer is one who lays something, or one who causes something to lie. No kidding. Lay comes from the Old English lecgan, "to cause to lie." In it's preterit form [a grammatical form signifying past time or completed past action] lecgan was, in Old English, licyan, "to lie or recline"--from which we get lie or lay, signifying something laid down.

    Related words include the lair (place where animals lie [liar comes from the Anglo Saxon leogan, "to lie"]), ledge (originally a shelf where people laid on, but now a shelf where some people occasionally rest between classes), ledger (originally a book lying permanently in one place, but now one who lays their derrière on a ledge in between classes), and lager beer (a beer that has been lying in a cellar or warehouse).

    OK. But what about lawyer?

    A lawyer is one who lays down the law.

    What about the law?

    The law is what is laid down; it's a body or code of rules. Law comes from the Late Old English lagu, the plural of which is laga. In Middle English it became laze, and lawe. In Old Norse it's lagu. In Old Icelandic it's log, the plural of which is layer, "a share or partnership of a place where you lay things." (Fellow, by the way, came from the same word, and originally meant someone who laid down a "fee," that is, money, in a business partnership.) In the 14th century this all became lawyer, also lawier, which is more or less what we know today--one often associated with lying down the law, for a fee.

    OK. But what about attorney?

    "A person calling himself [sic.] an attorney for another but not licensed to practice law might be thought of as guilty of violating the law. But while the predominant use of the word "attorney" today is that of an 'attorney-at-law,' meaning 'lawyer', this is not always the case, and this use was not the original use of the word.

    "Attorney comes, by way of Middle English attourney, from Middle French atorné, a past participle [a word usually ending with -ed, -d, -en, as in billed] of atorner, meaning 'to direct, appoint'. This derives from Old French a 'to' and torner 'to turn (in the sense of 'to turn to')'. Thus, in its original use, an attorney was someone you turned to or someone you let handle your affairs for you. The earliest use in English is from the late thirteenth century, and it distinguishes the action of a person acting "in person" or "in his own person" from the work of someone acting for another "by attorney". . . . As the body of special professional legal agents became recognized in English law, there developed, beginning in the fourteenth century, the specific use to mean 'attorney-at-law (one licensed to practice law in the courts). . . . (The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, 1991, pp. 28-29. M-WNBWH, OAD, ODNW, WDUD, RDED)

  • Day 19: ANGST

    ANGST. Angst might likely develop in preparation for the final exam. Angst comes from the Danish and German. And from the Old High German angust came the Middle Low German angst, meaning "dread." From thence came Middle Dutch, anxt, and Old Frisian, dngost, also meaning "dread, or a feeling of anxiety." Old Frisian is a language spoken on the Frisian Islands, in the North Sea, by Amsterdam--where it's cold and stormy enough to give anyone dngost. And if that won't do it, certainly the thought of the little Dutch boy pulling his finger out of the dyke and flooding Amsterdam will give someone dngost, now angst. The Frisians are related to people in the Netherlands and to the West Germanic people.

    The Latin root angh- meant "tight, painfully tight, painful"--from whence comes the words anxious, or, literally, "uptight," and anguish, which originally meant "pain or trouble." Anxiety may bring anger along with it.

    From the related Greek ankhone, "a strangling (from something tight around the neck)" came angina (short for angina pectoris) "a strangling chest pain." Which brings me back to next week. The final exam may be a pain, even "a strangling pain," a pain not around the throat, but a pain in the a_ _--sort of an angina buttocks, so to speak. (Buttocks--butt for short--comes from the 15th century Middle English word bott, meaning "the thicker end of something," like a stump.) But don't angst--don't worry . . . be happy. . . . Whistle(1) while you work. Don't angst . . . you'll make it through the exam . . . the course . . . and life itself . . . if you work hard . . . and listen carefully . . . and whistle. (ODEE, RE, RHCD)

  • Day 20: THE END

    The End. End comes from the Old English word ende, meaning "end." This is almost the end.

  • Day 21: FINAL

    FINAL. Final comes straightforwardly from the Latin finis, meaning "end." In Middle English the word was final, from the Old French final. That's final.

  • Day 22: GOOD-BYE

    GOOD-BYE. "In the Spanish adios and French adieu 'farewell, good-bye', we see an explicit wish that the person addressed should be in the care of God (dios, dieu). The same sentiment lies at the origin of good-bye, which comes from the phrase God be with you. The phrase gradually eroded over time, appearing in such versions as God be wy you (in the sixteenth century), God b'y you (in the seventeenth), and numerous other versions before settling on good-bye in the nineteenth century, the final form buttressed by the example of good night and good day. Such a process of gradual phonetic attrition has occasionally occurred elsewhere in English, producing, for instance, hussy from Middle English housewife , good-bye, and God be with you, exist side by side in the language with differing employments.

    "In time good-bye was further shortened simply to bye, at which point reduction could scarcely proceed further. To some speakers, indeed, this meager monosyllable seemed in need of fattening, so they produced the reduplicaton bye-bye. But bye-bye is again thick enough to shed a little poundage; accordingly you will sometimes hear this uttered as a breezy 'b'bye.'" (The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, 1991, p. 199.)


    1. 2Whistle is a word whose origin lies in trying to imitate what it is. Other words of the "onomatopoeic" type include words such as sigh, buzz, bow-wow, honk, moo. . . .

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