Nazi – an insult in use long before the rise of Adolf Hitler’s party. It was a derogatory term for a backwards peasant – being a shortened version of Ignatius, a common name in Bavaria, the area from which the Nazis emerged
Did you ever wonder why we complete the buck, eat humble pie or let the cat out from the bag?
The English language is abundant with idioms and expressions which have evolved in meaning on the centuries, often arising from trades or customs which may have long disappeared.
The origins of hundreds of everyday phrases and words have been set out in the new guide.
Its compiler, Indicate Forsyth, has traced them by means of books and writings, some back in terms of Ancient Greece.
Called The Etymologicon, the particular guide studies the influx regarding words into English, particularly occasionally of social change and discord.
Mr Forsyth, a writer and also etymologist, said: “What I love about etymology just isn’t the grand theories but the particular strange back alleys and amazing and ridiculous journeys that terms take. ”
Much of his research was performed in the British Library, following references by way of a succession of dictionaries back, in terms of possible, to their original options. There are competing theories in regards to the origins of some phrases, but he’s got selected those which are supported from the most evidence.
Sir Winston Churchill emerges being a prolific source of words, paid with inventing, among others, the particular terms out-tray, social security and also seaplane.
The book also describes how “hello” was popularised from the advent of the telephone. Right up until then, it had been a great obscure greeting, with people mostly using good morning, good day and good night time.
Alexander Bell, credited with inventing calling, had favoured the nautical “ahoy” being a short, standard salutation, but it failed to catch on.
The research also demonstrates many words entered the language from India through the days of empire, including wash, bungalow, juggernaut and pundit.
Called The Etymologicon, the guide studies the influx of words into English, particularly at times of social change and conflict.
Mr Forsyth, a writer and etymologist, said: “What I love about etymology is not the grand theories but the strange back alleys and extraordinary and ridiculous journeys that words take.”
Much of his research was carried out in the British Library, following references through a succession of dictionaries back, as far as possible, to their original sources. There are competing theories about the origins of some phrases, but he has selected those which are supported by the most evidence.
Sir Winston Churchill emerges as a prolific source of words, credited with inventing, among others, the terms out-tray, social security and seaplane.
The book also describes how “hello” was popularised by the advent of the telephone. Until then, it had been an obscure greeting, with people mostly using good morning, good day and good night.
Alexander Bell, credited with inventing the telephone, had favoured the nautical “ahoy” as a short, standard salutation, but it did not catch on.
The research also shows that many words entered the language from India during the days of empire, including shampoo, bungalow, juggernaut and pundit.
From The Etymologicon:
Cold shoulder – cold shoulder of mutton was the sort of leftovers given to unwelcome house guests
Winging it – actor learning lines in the wings
To heckle – originally the process of removing knots from wool, by combing. In eighteenth century Dundee, workers who carried out the task, hecklers, were political radicals and would interrupt their colleague responsible for reading out the daily news
To hector – from the Trojan warrior who would challenge anyone to a fight
Bite the dust – a direct translation of a quote from The Iliad in which a character talks of the death of Hector
Humble pie – a meal made using the “umbles” – innards – of deer and only eaten by the lowliest servants
Pavilion – from the French for butterfly, papillons, which was the name given to the tents erected at medieval tournaments and jousts, because they resembled the insect’s wings
Film buff – from buffalo, the leather from which was worn by 19th century New York firemen who attracted crowds of fans when putting out fires. These aficionados became known as buffs, and the use spread to other experts
Pidgin English – from the pronunciation of “business” by Chinese traders encountered by British merchants in the 19th century
Rolling stone – a seventeenth century gardening implement – similar to a modern roller – used to flatten lawns. The proverb about it gathering no moss, which inspired Sir Mick Jagger and other musicians who used it in their lyrics, gave the phrase a more dynamic image than its prosaic origin suggests
Nazi – an insult in use long before the rise of Adolf Hitler’s party. It was a derogatory term for a backwards peasant – being a shortened version of Ignatius, a common name in Bavaria, the area from which the Nazis emerged. Opponents seized on this and shortened the party’s title Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, to the dismissive “Nazi”
Let the cat out of the bag – In medieval markets, piglets were sold in bags – a pig in a poke – but a common con was to switch the valuable animal for a worthless cat or dog: buyers were either sold a pup, or, if they discovered the ruse, let the cat out of the bag
The proof of the pudding – from an older meaning of “proof”, meaning “test”
Champion – from the Latin for field, campus. The best soldiers in the field were called campiones, hence champions
In the doghouse – from Peter Pan. In JM Barrie’s 1911 novel, Mr Darling forces the dog to sleep in the kennel, and as a result the children disappear. As penance, he takes to sleeping there himself.
Through the grapevine – from the “grapevine telegraph”, a phrase which emerged during the US Civil War, for an unofficial, word of mouth network along which news was passed, either because Confederate soldiers passed it on while drinking wine after dinner, or because slaves discussed it while picking grapes from vines.
Hoax – from hocus-pocus, which was used by Protestants to ridicule the rite of consecration carried out in the course of Catholic mass, which includes the phrase “Hoc est corpus meum” (“This is my body”)
Average – from an old French term avarie, meaning “damage done to a ship”. Vessels were often co-owned and when repairs were carried out, owners were expected to pay an equal share – the average.
Castor oil – originally the name of a liquid used as a laxative which was extracted from the glands of a beaver – or Castor, in Latin. It was not until the mid-eighteenth century that it was discovered that the same effect could be got from the oil produced by the seeds of Ricinus communis, which became known as the castor oil plant.
Bizarre – from the Basque word for beard, bizar, because when bearded Spanish soldiers arrived in remote Pyrenean villages, locals thought them odd.
Serendipity – word coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, son of the first prime minister, after reading a book about the island of Serendip – now known as Sri Lanka
Sardonic – referred to those from Sardinia who, in ancient times, were characterised as unfriendly. The Mediterranean island also gave its name to sardines, which were found in its waters
Dog days – the name for the hottest, sultriest part of the summer which coincides with a period, during July, when Sirius – the dog star – cannot be seen as it rises and sets at the same time as the sun.
Pass the buck – from the horn of a deer (buck), which was commonly used as a knife handle. The phrase emerged in nineteenth century America, from when poker players would signify the dealer for each game by stabbing a knife into the table in front of him
Shell out – from the awkward process of getting a nut out of its shell. Artillery shells are so described because early grenades looked like nuts in their shells.
In a nutshell – Pliny, the Roman writer, claimed there was a copy of The Iliad so small it could fit inside a walnut shell
Grocer – one who buys in gross
Kiosk – Turkish word for palace, which gradually becomes less grand as its use as it moves westward across Europe. In Italy it refers to a pagoda-like garden structure
Bigot – old English for “by god”, to describe someone who asserts their own saintliness, while being a hypocrite
Upshot – the decisive, final shot in an archery contest which decided who had won
Soon – was the Anglo-Saxon word for “now” – far more immediate than its current use