Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Silent but Deadly

Crystal asked about poppycock, which is defined as nonsense, rubbish, and humbug. The Oxford English Dictionary hedges a bit, but it passes along the opinion that it may have come from a Dutch word meaning excrement from a doll. That, indeed, would be nonsense. Alternatively, the Dutch word is also translated as soft dung. A related word is poppet, a small or dainty person, which became a term of endearment. Puppet is also related.

Hidden meanings also show up on a couple of other words. Partridge, the bird, comes from a Greek word that meant to fart, probably because of the whirring noise that the bird makes as it takes off.

Pumpernickel, a dark, dense bread made in Westphalia, comes from a German word that meant a fart. As the Oxford English Dictionary delicately puts it, “This type of bread was probably so called either on account of its being difficult to digest and causing flatulence or in a more general allusion to its hardness and poor quality.”

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

Nook edition

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