Thursday, August 09, 2007


Donald from Bay Harbor writes: “I’m curious about the word bayonet. I can see the word ‘bay’ buried in there, along with ‘net,’ but I can’t see how those words would relate to a stabbing weapon attached to the barrel of a rifle.”

The Oxford English Dictionary casts some doubt, but the usual explanation is that the instrument was either invented or first used in the city of Bayonne, France, in the 16th century.

Words often do arise from a place name with which an object is associated.

• The artesian well was developed in Artois, a province in France.
• A cantering horse moves at a moderate gallop, and it derives from Canterbury, England, where pilgrims on horseback visited the shrine of Thomas à Becket.
• Bubbly champagne, proprietarily speaking, comes only from Champagne, a region in northeast France.
• The ermine, whose fur is prized for decoration, probably took its name from the country of Armenia.
• A laconic person--a person of few words--owes his name to the tight-lipped inhabitants of Laconia in southern Greece.
• To meander means to wander, and its name comes from the Meander River in Phrygia, noted for its twists and turns.
• Sodomy comes from the biblical city of Sodom, destroyed by God along with Gomorrah because of industrial-strength vice and depravity. [See Genesis 19]
• In computer terminology, a trojan horse is a program that pretends to be harmless or helpul, but actually installs malicious code that enables the perpetrator to access your computer files remotely. The name comes from the city of Troy in northwest Asia Minor. [See The Trojan War]

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