This week we'll look at the interesting etymologies behind some words.
[Wordcrafter note: I believe this can be for women too.]
– Boston Globe, Oct. 9, 1990
By the way, redingote also fits last week's Camouflaged Animals theme:
dingo – a wild dog, native to AustraliaThis message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
Really? Just Frenchified mis-spelling?
It's quite Pythonic! "Ah doo naht laike yure redingcote, Anglish peeg-dawg!"
The etymology in an online French dictionary which I consulted suggests that the current spelling in French is because the word was acquired by hearing it spoken rather than its being read. There are other examples of this, e.g., US soldiers in World War One were called sommes biches (from their usual curse son of a bitch). There's also a humorous scene in Shakespeare's Henry V, III.iv., where the French princess gets an English lesson from her maid, but most of the words sound like different, obscene words in French: e.g., foot, gown.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
Today's word comes from wooden shoes. A sabot is a wooden shoe of the sort you associate with the Dutch, made from a piece of wood shaped and hollowed out to fit the foot.
As you can imagine, walking in sabots makes a good deal of clatter. The French made sabot into the verb saboter, "to walk noisily," which evolved to mean "to botch up a job, as in 'murdering' a piece of music." Later, French trade unions adopted the word to their tactic of deliberately botching up a job.
– New York Times, May 17, 1909 (letter to editor; ellipses omitted)
sabotage – destruction of property to interfere with another's normal operations; more broadly, deliberate subversion
Today's words were invented on-the-spot by a nine-year-old boy. Kasner & Newman explain in their book Mathematics and the Imagination.
googolplex – the number written as 1 followed by a googol of zeros
“Googol” is also used to mean “a very large number or quantity”.
The different spelling probably began as a misspelling, but was kept because the domain name was available only when misspelled as google.com. Another story is that Googol was intended but an early investor misspelled it on a check he wrote to them. With check in hand, they feared he might get cold feet if they asked him to correct it, so they simply changed the company name to match his check.This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
demijohn – a large bottle with bulging body and narrow neck (it typically holds 3 - 10 gallons and is encased in wicker, with one or two handles for carrying)
[From French damejeanne "Lady Jane," probably because its shape suggested a stout woman. I suspect "Dame Jeanne" may be the French equivalent of Jane Doe or John Q. Public. Other languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic) each have a similar word.]
– Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944
… the man's body was tilted back to balance the weight of the demijohn he held to his lips and his throat jerked regularly as he swallowed. The crowd around his feet were chanting: 'Drink it, down, down, down, down.'
– Wilbur Smith, When the Lion Feeds
Recall that in old print-styles the letter s was often stretched tall and thin, and could easily be confused with an f. That may be part of how today's word evolved into a familiar, everyday term.
étui (or etwee; accent on second syllable) – a small case, usually ornamental, for small articles such as needles, toothpicks, etc.
A synonym is huswife, related to modern housewife.
– Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
In any event, plural etuis, etwees came to be thought of as a singular noun, spelled etweese. Then the unstressed first syllable dropped off, leaving us with tweese or tweeze, which first meant the case itself, and later the object in that case. The object, the tweeze, became a tweezer and then, probably because it is double-pronged, a tweezers.
French étui < Old French estui 'prison' (form of estuier 'to guard') < Vulgar Latin *estudio (*estudiare, *estudiavi, *estudiatus) 'to treat carefully' < Latin studium 'study, zeal'.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
ostrakon – Greek for potsherd (related to osteon bone and ostreion oyster)
By vote, ancient Athenian citizens could temporarily banish, for ten years, any citizen whose power or influence was considered dangerous to the state. The custom was named for the pieces of potsherd used as ballots, and that name has come down to us as today's word.
ostracize – to exclude from a society or group
– Jane Green, Swapping Lives
Interesting, especially in light of lower life-expectancy of the ancients, to hear ten year banishment described as "temporary."