Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Giddy with Enthusiasm

Three words are linked in a curious way: swindler, giddy, and dizzy.

A swindler cheats and defrauds people for his or her personal gain. Originally, the word meant a giddy person. Giddy people were believed to indulge in flights of fancy, in gossamer schemes, in flights from reality. Eventually, the schemes were seen as nefarious, and the cheating element crept in.

At first, giddy meant possessed by spirits; that was the original explanation for insanity. There was a connection to the word god, pointing to giddiness as the result of being taken over by a god. When finally secularized, it came to mean silly or foolish. [Although it is not etymologically connected, the word enthusiasm also started out as “possessed by a god.”]

In Old English, dizzy meant foolish or stupid. In the 14th century, the idea of vertigo was introduced. In Latin, vertigo was a whirling or turning that resulted in a loss of equilibrium.

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

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