Word Origins

Discussion in 'Evolution of Language' started by Ken Anderson, Jan 22, 2015.

  1. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    hearse / rehearse

    Farmers in Old England would rake their land with a harrow. However, when the Norman invaders came to England in the 11th century, they referred to the same instrument as a herse, which was a term that had come to them from the French, and was an adaptation of the Latin hirpex, which was a rake. This was a heavy, triangular tool made from wood, with spikes projecting from the lower side.

    When it was overturned, this device resembled the framework for holding lighted tapers used in religious ceremonies, with the tapers taking the place of the spikes. Consequently, the ecclesiastical device came to be known, in France, as a herse, a term that was brought to England by the Normans.

    The framework, although still called a herse, became more elaborate. More candles were added than the original thirteen used in Holy Week, and the structure was placed over the bier during the funeral services of distinguished people. Such structures were no longer in use in England by the 16th century, but the name, whose spelling had changed to hearse, was now applied to the vehicle that transported the coffin to the funeral.

    The word rehearse more closely retains the sens of the old French term, herse, which was a harrow or a rake. The act of repeating something that had been previously said was compared to the act of raking a field that had been previously raked. Thus, to herse again, or to rehearse.
     
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  2. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    savage

    Most of the plants and animals found in forested lands are wild. For this reason, the Romans spoke of such things as silvaticus. The term was equivalent to our word sylvan, of or pertaining to forests, a word that was derived from silva, meaning forest, but gradually it began to be applied to the plants and animals found in the forests, and especially the animals. Thus, silvaticus came to mean wild. The popular pronunciation of the word was more like salvaticus.

    Because of the alteration of Latin words that occurred in France, the word became salvage in Old French, and sauvage in later French, and that was form in which it was carried to England. Gradual change in the use of the word in England led to its present form, savage, and its use was applied especially to people or animals believed to originally dwell in the forests, and who were of a ferocious nature. This is the form that was to be applied to Native Americans by the English who were to encounter them.
     
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  3. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    shambles

    Imagine someone returning to their house after leaving their children alone for a time, taking a look around, and exclaim, "This place is a shambles!"

    Would that mean:
    1. I don't know how, but you've turned everything into a footstool.
    2. I see you've opened a butcher shop.
    3. Have the stockyards expanded? It seems our house is now a slaughterhouse?
    4. What have you done? This place is a mess.
    Today, #4 would be the obvious answer but, at different times in history, any of these other interpretations may have been accurate, as this is the path that the word has taken. It began with the Latin scamellum, which was a footstool, and the diminutive form of scamnum, a bench. Going through the Teutonic scamel and the Scandinavian skamel, it became the Anglo-Saxon sceamel, since the Scandinavian sk and the Anglo-Saxon sc had the value of sh in modern English, while continuing to refer to a low bench or footstool. This occurred more than a thousand years ago. After the Norman conquest, the meaning began to change, having, by then, the sense of a merchant's display counter. By the 14th century, it was specifically a counter or shop for the sale of meat. Various spellings were used during this time, and the b was introduced probably in the 15th century. Before 1600, the meaning had been expanded to include a slaughterhouse or, figuratively, a place of carnage, and the modern spelling had evolved. The more modern, milder meaning, of a place in general disorder, is very recent, although this is the definition the word is given by most dictionaries today, although many will include the stronger definition.
     
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  4. Herbert Jennings

    Herbert Jennings New Member
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    Bear is an interesting word across Indo-European languages due to the fact that they are all euphemisms. This probably means that there was a strong cultural taboo against "summoning" bears by speaking their name.

    For example, in Germanic languages, the words for bear are:

    • Danish and Norwegian: bjørn
    • Dutch: beer
    • German: bär
    • Swedish and Icelandic: björn
    The origin of this word actually means "the brown one". It's like Voldemort in Harry Potter if you think about it.
     
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  5. Von Jones

    Von Jones Very Well-Known Member
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    This evolution in languages -the where and how- has always intrigued me. My wonderment is how these common words end up being a surname because they all are, shambles, savage and bear. Who dons the name on a family/person? Did they keep their house in shambles? How can bear be similarly spelled and pronounced born and be Jason Bourne :rolleyes:?
     
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  6. Ruth Belena

    Ruth Belena Active Member
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    There is a famous street called The Shambles, in the city of York, which was originally named as the place where butchers sold their meat. The original wood-framed 14th century buildings still exist and it's the best example of a medieval street in England. The shops now sell antiques, gifts and souvenirs to tourists. The street is so narrow that, so it is said, someone leaning out of an upper window can shake hands with a person across the street leaning out of their window.
     
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  7. Bobby Cole

    Bobby Cole Very Well-Known Member
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    I did a small stint (2 years) on the carnival and circus circuit. Some words and phrases that I had grown up with actually started with the circus. One of which is a business term called, " making the nut." ie: How much money does your business have to take in per day in order to "make the nut?" In other words, where do you break even?

    It used to be when a performing group would join a circus already on location, the leader of the troupe would have to relinquish the "left rear nut" of the wheels on each of his wagons to the owner of the circus. In order for the troupe leader to get the wagon nuts back after the show, he had to settle up the agreed upon percentage of his take to the circus owner. Ergo: He made the nuts.
     
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  8. Ina I. Wonder

    Ina I. Wonder Very Well-Known Member
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    I don't know much about the origins of words. As a small child I remember being confused by the word behave. I would wonder how you could be a have. Just what was a have.

    When I was introduced to my first dictionary, that was the word I first looked up.

    I found out that have was came from the word haven, and that some how came from the word representing "safe". Then I understood that the word behave meant to be safe, and that I understood.
     
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  9. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    purple

    Hundreds of years before the Christian era, the Phoenicians, who lived along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, near Tyre, discovered a strange shellfish attached to some rocks. The shellfish was found to emit a small amount of fluid that colored cloth a dark crimson color when coming into contact with it. The story is that the stain was first seen around the mouth of a dog that had crushed and eaten one of the shellfish. The Greeks called this shellfish porphyros, because they felt that its color resembled a red volcanic rock that was known as porphyry, which was quarried in Egypt. In Latin, the name was altered to purpura, which was further changed to purple in English. The dye became valuable because it was found only along the shores near Tyre, and each shellfish produced only a small amount of it. Only emperors or men of great wealth could afford Tyrian purple, as it was called. Used in only the finest cloths, the color became a distinguishing mark of emperors and kings.
     
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  10. Tom Locke

    Tom Locke Very Well-Known Member
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    One of the things that is so fascinating about the English language is the diversity. We use words from Greek, Romance languages and many others. You'll find commonly-used words that have origins in Hebrew, Arabic and Hindi. It sometimes puzzles me that English is such a universal language, because it is not that easy to learn. Spanish, for example, is a much simpler language.
     
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  11. Mal Campbell

    Mal Campbell Well-Known Member
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    Somewhat off-topic.

    Behave stumped me as a kid, too. I remember in grade school we learned to conjugate verbs. I was trying to get behave right. I knew that - I will behave, he has behaved, but the verb for being in the middle of behaving confused me. I thought it should be - being have.
     
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  12. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    kidnap

    Many of the people who came to North America from England after the founding of Jamestown and Plymouth came of their own accord, and were eager to make the trip. However, that wasn't the case for all of them. Many of the early colonists, particularly those in Maryland and Virginia, were not accustomed to manual labor, and required servants and agricultural workers to maintain their households. Craftsmen needed apprentices in order to meet the demands for their products and services.

    In order to meet this demand, British ship owners began to offer free transportation in return for an agreement to work without wages for a period of seven years. These were the indentured servants who most of us have heard of. Once the seven years of service was up, their master was required to supply them with agricultural implements, some clothing, and some seed, and the colony usually granted them fifty acres of land in which to get a start. There was nothing debasing in being an indentured servant. Many of them were well educated and became honored citizens in the community.

    However, the demand for labor exceeded the willing supply, so some ship owners obtained passengers through less scrupulous means. First, the began enticing homeless children from English slums, promising them a new future in the New World, and this worked out well for some of them. Still, there were not enough willing laborers, so they began abducting youngsters.

    When this practice was at its height, from 1660 to 1685, the word kidnaping was coined to describe the crime, taken from kid, the slang word for child, and nap, which meant to steal. It is estimated that more than a hundred thousand children were kidnaped and taken to the Americas. One ship owner admitted that he had kidnaped eight hundred and forty-five in a single year. In theory, they were thought of as indentured servants but, in practice, they were less likely than willing indentured servant to obtain the rewards after seven years of service, and were sometimes simply put out to make their own way.
     
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  13. Corie Henson

    Corie Henson Very Well-Known Member
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    I remember the old dictionary which spelled KIDNAPED as the past tense of Kidnap. That's also what we had learned in school. But now, the newspapers are writing it as KIDNAPPED. I wonder what happened or is the local media establishing their own standards? And that suffix nap is now being used for almost anything that can be stolen like Carnappers who steal cars, Dognappers, who steal dogs, Catnappers, who sleep in the afternoon, hahahaaa.
     
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  14. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    As with much of English grammar, there is much that seems contradictory but, for what it's worth, it's explained here.
     
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  15. Carlota Clemens

    Carlota Clemens Well-Known Member
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    Very good English language resource site, I haven't heard about before.

    As for the origins of some words, sometimes I found interesting words in the Webster's 1903 Unabridged Dictionary, words that sometimes sound to me like nonexistent, and certainly not listed in modern dictionaries, but explained in this.
     
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  16. Tom Locke

    Tom Locke Very Well-Known Member
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    The word "hijack" (not too dissimilar in meaning to "kidnap") has all kinds of theories as to its origin. Some suggest that it comes from the prohibition era in America, whereby a bootlegger would be relieved of his goods with a friendly "Hi, Jack," along with a gun pointed at his head. Seems a bit dubious to me.

    Another suggestion is that is derives from the French échaquer, when peasants attacked the coaches of aristocrats. A little more plausible, but far from convincing.

    A compound word for "highway jackrolling?" I can't say I think much of this one.

    Better, though still doubtful, is the idea that the term is a mishearing or misuse of the word hajduk, a common word in Slavic languages, meaning a bandit. This isn't too bad, but hijack is another of those words that we can't quite explain.
     
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  17. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    What I have on hijack is this, along the lines of your first suggestion.

    hijack

    It became a part of the American language shortly after World War I during the "silk shirt" era of prosperity, while Prohibition was still in force, and people with money wanted to spend it on liquor. Some hold that it originated in the MidWest, and was in reference to hoboes who preyed upon harvesters, even to the point of murder, but it is more often believed that it originally indicated a holdup, at night, of a cargo of illicit liquor. The hold up may or may not involve murder, and might involve the cargo being transferred to another truck or vessel. As the holdup man came upon the intended victim, he would give a friendly greeting, "Hi, Jack!" intended to disarm the suspicions of the victim.

    Like you, that doesn't seem persuasive to me. Why Jack? Why not Bob or Fred, or any other name.
     
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  18. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    hobo

    There are several theories as to the origins of this word.

    Approximately four centuries ago, the French musical instrument, the hautbois, came into English use. Its name was literal, from haut (high) and bois (wood), as the instrument was made of wood and its tone was high. Later, from Italian spelling, it came to be called an oboe. As they often did, the English corrupted the spelling into hautboy and sometimes hoboy, giving it the latter pronunciation in either case. It is believed, by some, that hobo, of American origin, came about from wandering homeless people who played the oboe. This is the theory that Jack London advanced in his writing.

    Another explanation credits the source of the word to lumber camps. When French-Canadians would fell a tree, would cry "Haut bois!" -- literally, high timber, using it in much the same way as we think of lumbermen crying, "Timber!" as a warning. From this cry, which was rendered ho bo in English, French-Canadian lumberjacks, who were known for wandering from job to job, became known as hobos.

    Another is that the word is derived from the an ironic use of the word beau, along with the word of greeting, "Ho." Thus, "Ho, beau," much as someone might say, "Hi, fella."

    Yet another is that the source of the word goes back three hundred years, where there is record of a slang term that applied to men who engaged in the most menial of labor, going out about London at night to clean latrines. Such a man was called a hoboy. The word may have been of gypsy origin, as much of the slang that was in use at that time was derived from gypsies. It is theorized that hoboy persisted among gypsies, changing to hobo over the years, and was applied to either tramps or migratory workers.
     
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  19. Bobby Cole

    Bobby Cole Very Well-Known Member
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    I am perfectly happy with the way it is thank you. Just as I am extremely happy that some questionable ladies of il-repute choose to call their suitors "Johns." Which is, a curiosity. I know why a toilet might be called a john but the later throws me. I digress.
    I have my own slings and arrows in the form of "bob-tailed nags" and such.

    Now, I have to go to some extremes and find out what the name Kenneth is assoiated with. We really cannot leave you sitting there with no alternative definition of Ken other than Ken. I am sure, with a world full of liberal arts and communication majors that there must be at least one.
     
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  20. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    I don't have anything authoritative on that, but I am not known for allowing the absence of facts to prevent me from offering an opinion, so I will do that. I imagine it has to do with the fact that, traditionally, in prostitution arrests, only the prostitute was arrested, while the men were allowed, not only to go free, but in the comfort of anonymity, referred to only as "John Doe."
     
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  21. Jennifer Graves

    Jennifer Graves Active Member
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    It makes it so much easier to remember what each of these words literally mean, when you know the root. Not to mention, its incredibly interesting to understand exactly what you are saying. I love the way you explain these terms!
     
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  22. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    scavenger

    In London and some other English cities, it was a custom during the Middle Ages to inspect the wares and collect a fee or toll from foreign merchants who wish to exhibit their wares for sale. The Old English law referred to such a fee as a sceawung (showing), but after the Norman invasion, the Anglo-French form of the word, scawage was adopted, and that later became known as scavage. The person authorized by the city officials to collect such tolls was known as a scavager, which later became scavenger.

    The duties of the scavenger as inspector and collector of tariffs in the early days did not occupy the official's full time because, as early as the 15th century, we find that the scavenger was also expected to keep the streets clean, and the scavenger would keep his eyes out for anything of value that might be retained or sold in the process, and it was to this later duty that the current definition of the word is related.
     
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  23. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    loophole

    The type of loop now attached to this hole is seldom used or heard of anymore. In the Late Middle Ages, a loop was a narrow window in a castle or other fortified building, through which an archer could direct arrows at an invading foe, but so narrow as to be a difficult target for an opposing archer. The masonry of the window would widen inwardly to permit a wider maneuvering space for the defending archer. Probably to avoid confusion between loop (window) and loop (a fold), the first became known as a loophole.
     
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  24. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    ferris wheel

    The first ferris wheel made its debut at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, otherwise known as the World's Fair, and was the largest attraction at the event. This first ferris wheel rotated between two pyramids, and had a framework of steel, 250 feet in diameter, and carried 36 cars, each able to hold 40 passengers. The ferris wheel was not named for the fair, however. It was named for George Washington Gale Ferris, the Galesburg, Illinois engineer who designed it.
     
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  25. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    dumbbell

    A few hundred years ago, someone noticed that bell ringers had attained a remarkable muscular development of the chest, shoulders and arms, due to the repeated exercise of pulling the ropes, which put the great weight of the bells in motion. As far as I am aware the inventor is unknown, but someone came up with a scheme for erecting a device that would simulate the work done by the bell ringer, but without the bells.

    This device could be installed in a corner of a room or in the attic. It is known that the author, Joseph Addison, had one. The rope was attached to weights suspended over a pulley installed in the ceiling. A wooden bar, knobbed at the ends to prevent the hands from slipping, was knotted to the other end of the rope, and hung within reach of the exerciser, who could duplicate the physical activity of the bell ringer and, by regulating the weights, he could get whatever degree of exercise he might wish. Since there was no bell attached to the apparatus, it became known as a dumb bell.

    Later, someone discovered that a person could get much the same kind of exercise without the cumbersome contraption by using only the wooden bar or a heavier one made of metal. This much simpler device continued to be known as a dumbbell because it had originally been part of the earlier equipment, although it was no longer associated with the art of bell ringing.

    The modern derogatory slang term, dumbbell, did not originate from any of the above devices, but came about through a play on words, and was applied only to females, particularly those who were considered to be the belle of the beautiful (but dumb) type.
     
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