Linguists in academia don’t seem very fond of word origins. They like to focus on the tiny phonological bits of languages [p,t,k] or the grand syntactic structure that binds sentences together. Somehow, the very juicy goodness of language, the words, are either too big or too small to care about. BOO. I love word origins. I don’t know how important they are, but I want to spend all my time paying attention to them. But! Before we have fun, there are some ground rules that we need to agree on before we can safely and happily play together in the sandbox of word origins. This is our first negotiation on this subject, this should continue as a dialogue (probably in the comments). I’ll start: Here are 3 rules to counteract misconceptions I often encounter.

1.     The origin of a word is not the true or right meaning, just the literal one.

  • WRONG: “The true meaning of hippopotamus is river horse.”
  • RIGHT: “The literal meaning of hippopotamus is river horse,  how cute is that? You can see these word-parts in other words you already know. Mesopotamia is the land between rivers, and a hippogriff is made of a horse and an eagle.” (See Best Monday Comic Ever)

[and then suddenly…]


February 15, 2012

in career,english,Etymology,etymonline,history of language,morphemes,Words & Origins

There are so many words in the world, I can’t blame anyone for not knowing the original meaning of any specific word, even when its a simple compound made of two familiar words. We’re so busy using language as a communication tool that we rarely stop hammering to look at the thing itself. A funny old thing, the dashboard. [and then suddenly…]


May 28, 2011

in cars,english,Etymology,etymonline,history of language,horses,insignificant linguistics mystery,wikipedia,wordnik,Words & Origins

A few years ago, I took first year Latin at PSU. I didn’t continue Latin because I got a job, and it turns out I hate declining nouns and adjectives. It is three times as much work. The professor was great, seemingly normal, but with a great unexpected affection for Elvis (pronouced Elwees in Latin). I really liked learning the new vocab and connecting it to modern words I know in English, Spanish and French. I also loved conjugating the verbs and learning the four principle parts like in the verb ‘regere,’ to rule or reign: Rego, Regere, Rexi, Rectum.

[and then suddenly…]


May 15, 2011

in best post ever,career,etymonline,history of language,insignificant linguistics mystery,IPA,latin,morphemes,spanish,wordnik

Today is being declared as OK Day by the author of a new book about the word OK. The word OK was first published on March 23, 1839. It is a fanciful acronym for the intentionally misspelled ‘oll korrect.’ Really. You can learn about OK Day suggested activities at the Facebook page.

1. Oh Well, Okay – Elliot Smith
2. Is This Sound Okay? – Coconut Records
3. Is It Okay if I Call You Mine? – Sondre Lerche
4. Pony (It’s OK) – Erin McCarley
5. It’s Ok – Dead Moon
6. Luna Lovegood is OK – Harry and the Potters
7. Oklahoma – Oklahoma!
8. Everything’s Okay – Hank Williams
9. It’s OK – Cee-Lo Green
10. Ok/No Way – Mission of Burma
11. (OK Go)


March 23, 2011

in Books,classic,Etymology,etymonline,holiday,Music,OK Go,Playlists,short list,thanks john

1. Strangers on a Train – Lovage

2. Strangers in the Night – Cake (cover)

3. Stranger – Presidents of the United States of America

4. People are Strange – the Doors

5. Beautiful Stranger – Madonna

6. Strange Bath – Jon Brion

Etymology of the word STRANGE.


July 23, 2010

in Etymology,etymonline,Music,Playlists,short list,strangers