Monday, January 08, 2018

Bob


A recurrent theme that both amuses and confuses listeners to Words to the Wise is the existence of multiple meanings for words. Often, words spelled precisely the same in our day have totally different etymologies, accounting for some wildly diverse definitions attached to what appears to be the same word.

Mike from Traverse City, Michigan, contributed another one last week when he commented on the word bob. That three-letter combination tracks back to many differerent sources and languages: Irish, Scottish, Old French, Middle English, an abbreviation for Robert, and onomatopoeia representing the sound of a blow or a repetitive action. Let’s just luxuriate in the following multiple meanings.

·      a cluster of flowers
·      the weight at the end of a pendulum or plumb line
·      a short  sleigh-runner
·      earrings
·      a knot of hair at the back of the head
·      a horse’s tail docked short
·      a woman’s hair style—short and even all around
·      the weight on the tail of a kite
·      lob worms connected together like a small mop to catch eels
·      a lump of clay used by potters
·      the larva of a beetle
·      the refrain of a song
·      a trick or deception
·      a blow with the fist
·      a sharp rebuke
·      a sudden jerking up and down
·      a curtsy
·      a bell-ringing style
·      an apparatus for polishing metal surfaces
·      a shilling
·      a euphemistic substitute for the word God
·      to deceive or mock
·      to strike with the fist
·      to move up and down buoyantly in water
·      to snatch with the mouth at floating apples
·      to move evasively
·      to fish for eels
·      to cut short a horse’s tail
·      to cut a woman’s hair short and even all around
·      to polish metal with a bob
·      to ride on a sleigh

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Heroine and Heroin





Greg asked if there was a connection between heroin and heroine.  My immediate reaction was, that doesn’t sound likely. I was wrong.

Traditionally, a heroine is a woman who performs courageous and noble deeds. These days, of course, many people prefer to use the word hero to designate both male and female role models. Heroin is an addictive narcotic that was compounded and named by a German drug company in the late 19th century. Some chemist chose the name heroin because users of the drug often experience an inflated sense of self, thinking themselves capable of performing heroic deeds.

Both heroine and heroin are derived from the ancient Greek ρως (heros), a person of great strength favored by the gods. The suffix –ine, signifying “of the nature of” was added to both, but abbreviated to –in by the German chemist to conform with the suffix used to designate neutral chemical substances.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Saturday, December 02, 2017

Pig Latin


 Tom from Bellaire asked who invented pig latin. The current version of pig latin involves moving the first letter or digraph of a word to the end of the word and adding –ay. “First things first” becomes “Irstfay ingsthay irstfay.” It is a form of humorous word play, albeit somewhat silly, and is often used by youngsters as a code.

Pig Latin, far from actually being a form of Latin, is a parody of Latin, a deliberate corruption, a sound-alike deception. Throughout the centuries, it has taken various forms and has been called dog latin, hog latin, thieves’ latin, and pig latin. It is not clear when it started, but we find it in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor Lost, Act v, scene 1:

            Costard: Go to; thou hast it ad dungill, at the fingers’ ends, as they say.
            Holofernes: O, I smell false Latine; dunghill for unguem.

Pig latin was particularly popular in movies made in the 1930s. Here is a prime example. The pig latin kicks in around 2:40.



Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Monday, November 20, 2017

Tergiversation


Wally from Elk Rapids asked about a word that he hopes he never has to say out loud: tergiversation.

It comes from the Latin tergum, the back, and vertere, to turn. Literally, the word means to turn one’s back on something. While a person can turn his or her back on something attractive but evil, the word has taken on negative connotations. Thus, synonyms would be to desert, to be a renegade, to abandon one’s duties, and to apostatize.

Here is an example: “Rudoph Guiliani had himself changed positions over the years, having been prolife and then pro-choice, and he knew the pain and punishment of tergiversation. But after all, he was elected mayor, and like so many others, concluded that to oppose abortion is politically more dangerous than to tolerate it.” [William F. Buckley, “Temporizing on the Abortion Issue,” Buffalo News, 08/03/1994.]

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






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