Sunday, September 16, 2007


Etymology is the study of origin and development of words.

Here are a few interesting picks ..

1) Laconic - means short, concise and to the point.

This term actually originated from the people of Greece called Laconians, they are believed to be very brave and courageous and always speak short and to the point. Once in a confrontation between the Laconians and the Athenian herald, the herald said "if we come to your city we will raze you to the ground" for which the Laconians replied just " If " and walked off.

2) Spinster - an unmarried women.

Back in the 16th and 17th century, the women before marriage used to spin yarn in their spare time. But when a women doesnt get married beyond a certain age she was called a spinster which meant she was still spinning the yarn.

3) Nemesis - cause of ruin or death.

Nemesis was a greek goddess who had been a goddess of retribution, anyone who committed sin or any wrong doings had to face the wrath of her big sword.

4) Hat trick - a feat performed thrice consecutively.

Back in the late 19th century when pple played club matches, any bowler who picked 3 wickets in 3 balls were presented a hat for their feat. It was thus termed hat trick later on and pple started using this term in other sport also.

5) Broke - A person with no money or a person who is bankrupt.

Banks in the post Renaissance Europe issued small, porcelain tiles to borrowers in which the customer name and the credit limit was imprinted. When a customer needed to borrow money he had to show this tile to the bank teller, the teller would then check the credit limit on the tile and the amount that had already been withdrawn. If the amount withdrawn exceeded the credit limit, the teller would "broke" the tile on the spot, signifying that no more money should be credited for that person which later on took the meaning as a person with no money.

6) Serendipity - means to discover something accidentally.

Long ago Serendip was the name given to Sri Lanka, Serendipity refers to the three princess of Serendip who on a venture discovered 3 countries accidentally. But i have a feeling this story is a bit fictitious.

7) Maudlin - tearfully sentimental, shed tears for little or nothing.

According to bible, Mary Magdalene was freed of her evil spirit by Christ but the classical painters have displayed her with red and swollen eyes due to some heavy crying for the sins she committed. Eventually this term was used for shedding a tear for little or nothing.

8) Malapropism - ludicrous misuse of words.

Mrs. Malaprop was actually a eighteenth century fictional character in an British comedy
"The Rivals" who constantly confused words and it turned out to be funny in the end. Like in one of her speeches to the nearby countries she addressed them "dear contagious countries" rather than contigious countries which brought a huge uproar of laughter .. Please dont mock at me if that doesnt sound funny to you, after all its comedy of the 18th century.

9) Alarm - ( i dont think you will need an explanation for this word)

The French military needed a laconic term to quickly inform the soldiers about a sudden attack from the enemies, hence they used "all' arme" which meant to get armed. This term later on caught on with the pple and was used to send a red alert to the pple.

10) News - (oh pls dont ask me for a meaning ..)

Well, News is an acronymn for North east west south .. if thats your speculation then you are absolutely wrong. Acronymns are basically a 20th century phenomenon and there are hardly any evidence of its usage before 20th century. So as your normal guess would have been, News is derieved from new which means something that has not happened before, something thats timely.

11) Salary - ( pls ask your boss..)

This word is derived from the greek word "Salarium". Centuries back salt was considered to be extremely valuble and was much in demand in Egypt and the other African countries. The extreme heat in most of the African countries made pple lose a lot of salt in their bodies and thus monthly payment for the work done was given in a form of money that can be used to buy salt, this was called Salarium. Later on this word caught on as salary and is now frequently used.

12) Baker's Dozen - adds up to a sum of 13.

The medieval law specified a weight for a loaf of bread and any baker who shorted that for any customer would have to face dire consequences. Hence a baker would include an extra loaf in a dozen just to be on the safer side. But this story is only partly true, the actual fact was that, during good harvest the bakers were able to make more bread than they could sell hence they would sell all the extra loaves to middlemen. The bakers would give a thirteenth loaf for each dozen to the middlemen and this extra loaf served as the middlemans profit.

1 comment:

optimismattheheights said...

u research for all facts and I am all ears.. !!!