Etymological Tidbits

From a list I've been compiling little by little for the past 4 years (mostly from two different Word of the Day sources: and mirriam-webster online)

Chatoyant's poetic origin lies in the French chatoyer, "to gleam like a cat's eyes," from the French chat, "cat."
Before the standardization of writing from left to right, ancient Greek inscribers once used a style called "boustrophedon," a word meaning literally "turning like oxen in plowing." When they came to the end of a line, the ancient Greeks simply started the next line immediately below the last letter, writing the letters and words in the opposite direction, and thus following the analogy of oxen plowing left to right, then right to left. "Reverse boustrophedon" writing has also been found in which the inscribers turned the document 180 degrees before starting a new line so that the words are always read left to right with every half turn. The word "boustrophedon" itself is formed from the Greek word for the ox or cow, "bous," and the verb "strephein," which means "to turn."

profligate L. "overthrown, broken down in character",

hoary OE "white/gray, (old and venerable) as if by frost cover"

spurn ON sporna "to kick"

callow bef. 1000; ME, OE calu bald; c. D kaal, G kahl bald, OCS golŭ bare

maudlin - ORIGIN late Middle English (as a noun denoting Mary Magdalen): from Old French Madeleine, from ecclesiastical Latin Magdalena (see magdalene ). The sense of the adjective derives from allusion to pictures of Mary Magdalen weeping.

jubilee - ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French jubile, from late Latin jubilaeus (annus) ‘(year) of jubilee,’ based on Hebrew yō b ēl, originally ‘ram's-horn trumpet,’ with which the jubilee year was proclaimed.

some call the Adam's apple the Adam's walnut, la nuez de Adán
some speakers say to go crazy is rayar la papa, scratch the potato
Popinjay is from Middle English papejay, popingay, meaning "parrot," from Old French papegai, deriving ultimately from Arabic babagha.

esemplastic - "Unusual and new-coined words are, doubtless, an evil; but vagueness, confusion, and imperfect conveyance of our thoughts, are a far greater," wrote English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Biographia Literaria, 1817. True to form, in that same work, he assembled "esemplastic" by melding the Greek phrase "es hen," meaning "into one," with "plastic" to fulfill his need for a word that accurately described the imagination's ability to shape disparate experiences into a unified whole (e.g., the poet's imaginative ability to communicate a variety of images, sensations, emotions, and experiences in the unifying framework of a poem). The verb "intensify" was another word that Coleridge was compelled to mint while writing Biographia. Coinages found in his other writings include "clerisy" and "psychosomatic," among others.

kiosk - ORIGIN early 17th cent.(in the sense [pavilion] ): from French kiosque, from Turkish şk ‘pavilion,’ from Persian kuš

bikini - ORIGIN 1940s: named after Bikini , where an atomic bomb was exploded in 1946 (because of the supposed [explosive] effect created by the garment

"Saxicolous." It's not a word that exactly rolls off the tongue, but it's a useful designation for botanists. The word is from Latin, naturally. "Saxum" is Latin for "rock," and "colous" (meaning "living or growing in or on") traces back to Latin "-cola" meaning "inhabitant." Other "colous" offspring include "arenicolous" ("living, burrowing, or growing in sand"), "cavernicolous" ("inhabiting caves"), and "nidicolous" ("living in a nest" or "sharing the nest of another kind of animal"). All of these words were coined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to describe the flora and fauna of our world.

sycophant - derives from Greek sukophantes, "an accuser (especially a false accuser) or rogue," from sukon, "fig" + phantes, "one who shows," from phainein, "to show."

school - ORIGIN Old English scōl, scolu, via Latin from Greek skholē ‘leisure, philosophy, place where lectures are given,’ reinforced in Middle English by Old French escole. cf. Aristotle on genesis of episteme

delta - ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: originally specifically as the Delta (of the Nile River), from the shape of the Greek letter (see delta 1 ).

parchment - ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French parchemin, from a blend of late Latin pergamina ‘writing material from Pergamum’ and Parthica pellis ‘Parthian skin’ (a kind of scarlet leather).

pukka - "Pukka" tends to evoke the height of 18th- and 19th-century British imperialism in India, and, indeed, it was first used in English at the 1775 trial of Maha Rajah Nundocomar, who was accused of forgery and tried by a British court in Bengal. The word is borrowed from Hindi and Urdu "pakkā," which means "solid." The English speakers who borrowed it applied the "sound and reliable" sense of "solid" and thus the word came to mean "genuine." As the British Raj waned, "pukka" was occasionally appended to "sahib" (an Anglo-Indian word for a European of some social or official status). That expression is sometimes used as a compliment for an elegant and refined gentleman, but it can also imply that someone is overbearing and pretentious. These days, "pukka" is also used as a British slang word meaning "excellent" or "cool."

tenderloin - ORIGIN: late 19th cent.: originally a term applied to a district of New York, seen as a ‘choice’ assignment by police because of the bribes offered to them to turn a blind eye

Farrago comes from the Latin farrago, "a mixed fodder for cattle," hence "a medley, a hodgepodge," from far, a sort of grain.

Laodicean - ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin Laodicea in Asia Minor, with reference to the early Christians there (Rev. 3:16), + -an

sciolist -ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from late Latin sciolus (diminutive of Latin scius ‘knowing,’ from scire ‘know’ ) + -ist .

The first jacquerie was an insurrection of peasants against the nobility in northeastern France in 1358, so-named from the nobles' habit of referring contemptuously to any peasant as "Jacques," or "Jacques Bonhomme." It took some time — 150 years — for the name of the first jacquerie to become a generalized term for other revolts. The term is also occasionally used to refer to the peasant class, as when Madame Defarge in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities tells her husband to "consider the faces of all the world that we know, consider the rage and discontent to which the Jacquerie addresses itself with more and more of certainty every hour."

defile - The "defile" that means "to contaminate," a homograph of today's Word of the Day, dates back to the 14th century and is derived from the Old French verb "defouler," meaning "to trample on" or "mistreat." Today's word, on the other hand, arrived in English in the early 18th century. It is also from French, but is derived from the verb "défiler," formed by combining "de-" with "filer" ("to move in a column"). "Défiler" is also the source of the English noun "defile," which means "narrow passage or gorge."

canicular - The Latin word "canicula," meaning "small dog," is the diminutive form of "canis," source of the English word "canine." "Canicula" is also the Latin name for Sirius, the star that represents the hound of Orion in the constellation named for that hunter from Roman and Greek mythology. Because the first visible rising of Sirius occurs during the summer, the hot sultry days that occur from early July to early September came to be associated with the Dog Star. The Greeks called this time of year "hemerai kynades," which the Romans translated into Latin as "dies caniculares," or as we know them in English, "the dog days."

"Tantivy" is also a noun meaning "a rapid gallop" or "an impetuous rush." Although its precise origin isn't known, one theory has it that "tantivy" represents the sound of a galloping horse's hooves. The noun does double duty as a word meaning "the blare of a trumpet or horn." The second use probably evolved from confusion with "tantara," a word for the sound of a trumpet that came about as an imitation of that sound. Both "tantivy" and "tantara" were used during foxhunts; in the heat of the chase people may have jumbled the two.

To the Romans, the shameless were "without forehead," at least figuratively. "Effrontery" derives from Latin "effrons," a word that combines the prefix "ex-" (meaning "out" or "without") and "frons" (meaning "forehead" or "brow"). The Romans never used "effrons" literally to mean "without forehead," and theorists aren't in full agreement about the connection between the modern meaning of "effrontery" and the literal senses of its roots. Some explain that "frons" can also refer to the capacity for blushing, so a person without "frons" would be "unblushing" or "shameless." Others theorize that since the Romans believed that the brow was the seat of a person's modesty, being without a brow meant being "immodest," or again, "shameless."
Megrim is from Middle English migrem, from Middle French migraine, modification of Late Latin hemicrania, "pain in one side of the head," from Greek hemikrania, from hemi-, "half" + kranion, "skull."

Although the eclogue (a poem in which shepherds converse) first appeared in the Idylls of the Greek poet Theocritus, it was the 10 Eclogues (or Bucolics) of the Roman poet Virgil that gave us the word "eclogue." (The Latin title "Eclogae" literally meant "selections.") The eclogue was popular in the Renaissance and through the 17th century, when less formal eclogues were written. As our example sentence suggests, the eclogue traditionally depicted rural life as free from the complexity and corruption of more citified realms. The poets of the Romantic period rebelled against the artificiality of the older pastoral, and the eclogue fell out of favor. In more modern times, though, the term "eclogue" has been applied to pastoral poems involving the conversations of people other than shepherds, often with heavy doses of irony.
Sybarite is derived from Greek Sybarites, from Sybaris, an ancient Greek city noted for the luxurious, pleasure-seeking habits of many of its inhabitants.

fingere - L. to shape ==> feign, figure, effigy, figment, fiction

"Recrudescence" derives from the Latin verb "recrudescere," meaning "to become raw again” (used, for example, of wounds). Ultimately, it can be traced back to the Latin word for "raw," which is "crudus."
diatribe - by 1581, from Latin diatriba "learned discussion," from Greek diatribe "discourse, study," literally "a wearing away (of time)," from dia- "away" + tribein "to wear, rub."
blarney - The village of Blarney in County Cork, Ireland, is home to Blarney Castle, and in the southern wall of that edifice lies the famous Blarney Stone. Legend has it that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone will gain the gift of skillful flattery, but that gift must be attained at the price of some limber maneuvering — you have to lie down and hang your head over a precipice to reach and kiss the stone. One story claims the word “blarney” gained popularity as a word for “flattery” after Queen Elizabeth I of England used it to describe the flowery (but apparently less than honest) cajolery of McCarthy Mor, who was then the lord of Blarney Castle.
hermetic - by 1663, "completely sealed," also (1637) "dealing with occult science or alchemy," from Latin hermeticus, from Greek Hermes, god of science and art, among other things, identified by Neoplatonists, mystics, and alchemists with the Egyptian god Thoth as Hermes Trismegistos "Thrice-Great Hermes," who supposedly invented the process of making a glass tube airtight (a process in alchemy) using a secret seal.
crepuscular - The early Romans had two words for "twilight." "Crepusculum" was favored by Roman writers for the half-light of evening, just after the sun sets; it is a diminutive formation based on their word for "dusky," which is "creper." "Diluculum" was reserved for morning twilight, just before the sun rises — it is related to "lucidus," meaning "bright." We didn't embrace either of these Latin nouns as substitutes for our Middle English "twilight," but we did form the adjective "crepuscular" in the 17th century. At first, it only meant "dim" or "indistinct," often used in a figurative sense. In the 1820s, we added its special zoological sense, describing animals that are most active at twilight.
gadarene - Gadara, in Biblical times, was a steep hill town just southeast of the Sea of Galilee. In the account given in the book of Matthew (8:28), Jesus, on a visit there, exorcised the demons from two possessed people and sent the demons into some nearby swine. The possessed swine ran in a mad dash down a steep bank into the Sea and drowned. “Gadarene,” an adjective used to describe a headlong rush (and often capitalized in recognition of its origin), made its first known plunge into our lexicon in the 1920s. The swine sometimes make an appearance as well, as when an imprudently hasty act is compared to “the rush of the Gadarene swine.”
maverick - ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from the name of Samuel A. Maverick (1803–70), a Texas engineer and rancher who did not brand his cattle.

comstockery - ORIGIN named for Anthony Comstock (1844–1915), U.S. author and reformer.

A malapropism is so called after Mrs. Malaprop, a character noted for her amusing misuse of words in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comedy The Rivals.

Bowdlerize - ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from the name of Dr. Thomas Bowdler (1754–1825), who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare in 1818
toady - c 1690 for noun, possibly shortened from toad-eater "fawning flatterer," originally referring to the assistant of a charlatan, who ate a toad (believed to be poisonous) to enable his master to display his skill in expelling the poison. The verb is recorded from 1827.
syncretism - ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from modern Latin syncretismus, from Greek sunkrētismos, from sunkrētizein ‘unite against a third party,’ from sun- ‘together’ + krēs ‘Cretan’ (originally with reference to ancient Cretan communities).

Ancient mariners noted that all the stars in the heavens seem to revolve around a particular star, and they relied on it to guide their navigation. The constellation that this bright star appears in is known to English speakers today as Ursa Minor, or the Little Dipper, but the Ancient Greeks called it Kynosoura, a term that comes from a phrase meaning "dog's tail." "Kynosoura" passed into Latin and Middle French, becoming "cynosure." When English speakers adopted the term in the mid-16th century, they used it as a name for the constellation and the star (which is also known as the North Star) and also to identify a guide of any kind. By the early 17th century, "cynosure" was also being used figuratively for anything or anyone that, like the North Star, was the focus of attention or observation.
talisman - by 1599, from French talisman, in part via Arabic tilsam (pl. tilsaman), a Greek loan-word; in part directly from Byzantine Greek telesma "talisman, religious rite, payment," earlier "consecration, ceremony," originally "completion," from telein "perform (religious rites), pay (tax), fulfill," from telos "completion, end, tax."

"Espiègle" is a corruption of "Ulespiegle," the French name for Till Eulenspiegel, a peasant prankster of German folklore. Tales of Eulenspiegel's merry pranks against well-to-do townsmen, clergy, and nobility were first translated into French in 1532 and into English around 1560. In the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott introduced his readers to the adjective "espiègle" and the related noun "espièglerie" (a word for "roguishness" or "playfulness") in his Waverley novels. Other 19th century authors followed suit, and even today these words are most likely to be encountered in literature.

The history of "maudlin" owes as much to the Bible as to the barroom. The biblical Mary Magdalene is often (though some say mistakenly) identified with the weeping sinner who washed Jesus' feet with her tears to repent for her sins. This association led to the frequent depiction of Mary Magdalene as a weeping penitent, and by the 16th century even the name "Magdalene" suggested teary emotion to many English speakers. It was then that "maudlin," an alteration of "Magdalene," appeared in the English phrase "maudlin drunk," which, as one Englishman explained in 1592, described a tearful drunken state whereby "a fellow will weepe for kindnes in the midst of his Ale and kisse you."

"Berserk" comes from Old Norse "berserkr," which combines "ber-" ("bear") and "serkr" ("shirt"). According to Norse legend, "berserkrs" were warriors who wore bearskin coverings and worked themselves into such frenzies during combat that they became immune to the effects of steel and fire.

The origin of the term Hobson's choice is said to be in the name of one Thomas Hobson (ca. 1544-1631), at Cambridge, England, who kept a livery stable and required every customer to take either the horse nearest the stable door or none at all.
Egregious derives from Latin egregius, separated or chosen from the herd, from e-, ex-, out of, from + grex, greg-, herd, flock. Egregious was formerly used with words importing a good quality (that which was distinguished "from the herd" because of excellence), but now it is joined with words having a bad sense. It is related to congregate (to "flock together," from con-, together, with + gregare, to assemble, from grex); segregate (from segregare, to separate from the herd, from se-, apart + gregare); and gregarious (from gregarius, belonging to a flock).

Cajole derives from Early Modern French cajoler, originally, "to chatter like a bird in a cage, to sing; hence, to amuse with idle talk, to flatter," from Old French gaiole, jaiole, "a cage," from Medieval Latin caveola, "a small cage," from Latin cavea, "an enclosure, a den for animals, a bird cage," from cavus, "hollow." It is related to cave, cage and jail (British gaol).

The word serendipity was formed by English author Horace Walpole (1717-1797) from Serendip (also Serendib), an old name for Sri Lanka, in reference to a Persian tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes "discovered, quite unexpectedly, great and wonderful good in the most unlikely of situations, places and people."

Nefarious - 1595–1605; < Latin nefārius wicked, vile, equivalent to nefās offense against divine or moral law ( ne- negative prefix + fās law, right) + -ius -ious, with intervocalic s > r

Roue comes from French, from the past participle of rouer, "to break upon the wheel" (from the feeling that a roue deserves such a punishment), ultimately from Latin rota, "wheel."
alternative: 1790–1800; < French, noun use of past participle of rouer to break on the wheel (derivative of roue wheelLatin rota ); name first applied to the profligate companions of the Duc d'Orléans (c1720)

Craft - ORIGIN Old English cræft [strength, skill,] of Germanic origin; related to Dutch kracht, German Kraft, and Swedish kraft ‘strength’ (the change of sense to [skill] occurring only in English). Sense 2 , originally in the expression small craft [small trading vessels or lighters,] may be elliptical, referring to vessels requiring a small amount of “craft” or skill to handle, as opposed to large oceangoing ships.

Truckle is from truckle in truckle bed (a low bed on wheels that may be pushed under another bed; also called a trundle bed), in reference to the fact that the truckle bed on which the pupil slept was rolled under the large bed of the master. The ultimate source of the word is Greek trokhos, "a wheel."

Gelid comes from Latin gelidus, from gelu, "frost, cold."

Calvary ORIGIN from late Latin calvaria ‘skull,’ translation of Greek golgotha ‘place of a skull’ which is likewise from an Aramaic form of Hebrew gulgoleth ‘skull’ (see Matt. 27:33)

Kismet (means destiny or fate) comes (via Turkish) from Arabic qismah, "portion, lot."

Rodomontade comes from Italian rodomontada, from Rodomonte, a great yet boastful warrior king in Italian epics of the late 15th - early 16th centuries. At root the name means "roller-away of mountains," from the Italian dialect rodare, "to roll away" (from Latin rota, "wheel") + Italian monte, "mountain" (from Latin mons).

vanilla ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Spanish vainilla ‘pod,’ diminutive of vaina ‘sheath, pod,’ from Latin vagina ‘sheath.’ ( See vagina.) The spelling change was due to association with French vanille.

Aplomb is from the French word meaning "perpendicularity, equilibrium, steadiness, assurance," from the Old French phrase a plomb, from a, "according to" (from Latin ad) + plomb, "lead weight" (from Latin plumbum, "lead").

weird - noun archaic chiefly Scottish
a person's destiny. cf kismet

ignis fatuus - ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: modern Latin, literally ‘foolish fire’ (because of its erratic movement).

threnody - ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Greek thrēnōidia, from thrēnos ‘wailing’ + ōidē ‘song.’
Sub rosa comes from the Latin, literally "under the rose," from the ancient association of the rose with confidentiality, the origin of which traces to a famous story in which Cupid gave Harpocrates, the god of silence, a rose to bribe him not to betray the confidence of Venus. Hence the ceilings of Roman banquet-rooms were decorated with roses to remind guests that what was spoken sub vino (under the influence of wine) was also sub rosa.

Halcyon derives from Latin (h)alcyon, from Greek halkuon, a mythical bird, kingfisher. This bird was fabled by the Greeks to nest at sea, about the time of the winter solstice, and, during incubation, to calm the waves.

Muscle - ORIGIN late Middle English : from French, from Latin musculus, diminutive of mus ‘mouse’ (some muscles being thought to be mouselike in form).

eldritch ORIGIN early 16th cent.(originally Scots): perhaps related to elf

rostrum - mid 16th century: from Latin, literally ‘beak’ (from rodere ‘gnaw’). The word was originally used (at first in the plural rostra ) to denote part of the Forum in Rome, which was decorated with the beaks of captured galleys, and was used as a platform for public speakers.
Written on January 6, 2011