Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Greg, Ray, and Sandy, who comprise the Thompsonville (MI) Word Etymology & Drinking Club, discussed words that they are sick of hearing at their last session, and somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, quagmire won.

Literally, a quagmire is a quaking bog. Figuratively, it is something that entraps someone, a situation from which it is difficult to extricate oneself—a vivid comparison to quicksand. For instance, a headline in The Hindu proclaimed, “Libya may become another military quagmire for the West.” And the website gigaom had this header: “AT&T, T-Mobile Merger: A Regulatory Quagmire?”

The -quag- segment is a bit of a mystery. It may be related to a word that meant soft or flabby, later applied exclusively to a piece of ground covered by vegetation that gives way when walked upon—in other words, a bog.

The -mire- segment is more traceable. It goes back to an early Scandinavian word that meant an area of swampy ground, a bog. So the joining of the two segments is actually industrial-strength redundancy: a swampy bog = a boggy swamp = quagmire.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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