Sunday, September 24, 2017

Temblors & Tremblers


While reading a local newspaper, Vic from Suttons Bay came across an article about the recent earthquake in Mexico. What caught his eye was the following sentence:  “The U.S. Geological Survey said the new, magnitude 6.1 temblor was centered about 11 miles south-southwest of Matias Romero in the state of Oaxaca.” What caught his eye was the word temblor. “Shouldn’t that be trembler, or maybe tremblor, as in a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on?”

We appreciate the musical reference, Vic, but temblor is the correct spelling. The word was heisted from the Spanish spoken in the southwestern United States. It translates as earthquake.

There’s no question that the earth trembles during an earthquake and that  tremors are felt by people in the quake area, but those words are not used in the scientific sense. The word tremulous (shaking with fear) can also be referenced. All three of those words owe their existence to the Latin verb tremere, to tremble, shake, and quake.

Our word quake seems to track back to an Old English word that meant chattering teeth.

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.






Friday, September 08, 2017

Nitwit


 Corky from Atlanta, Michigan, asked about the word nitwit. It’s a great little insult –dismissive, but stopping short of outright contempt.

It means a stupid, silly, or intellectually deficient person. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a 1914 citation from the Los Angeles Times (06/05/1914) as its first written instance: “After her trip to Virginia, Miss Helen Morton was quoted as saying that Chicago men were ‘nit wits’.” The quotation marks around nit wits indicates that the word was still relatively new in 1914. In time, when a term is used often enough and long enough, the quotation marks disappear.

The OED points to nit, meaning the egg of a louse or other parasitic insect, as the source. Shakespeare later used the word nit to designate an insignificant, inconsequential, or contemptible person. So, an evolution from insect to bug brain.

But there is an alternate explanation. Merriam-Webster, along with several other dictionaries, thinks that the nit portion probably came from the German dialectical nit, meaning not. So, not having an ounce of intelligence.

An allied word takes us back to lice again. Nitpicking – petty criticism or fault-finding on a trivial level – summons up images of someone removing tiny lice eggs from a scalp.



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






Dona Sheehan's prints