Pens and Pencils

The words pen and pencil appear to be related, but are they? Let’s find out.

Pens and Pencils

The word pen, as in a writing implement, comes from Middle English penne (pen, quill, wing, feather), from the Anglo-Norman penne, from Latin penna (wing, feather, quill pen), from Proto-Italic petnā (feather, wing), from Proto-Indo-European *péth₂r̥/pth₂én- (feather, wing), from *peth₂- (to spread out, to fly) [source].

Words from the same roots include petal, petulant, petition, plume, plumage, fathom, feather and helicopter in English, adar (birds) and adain (wing) in Welsh, and Faden (yarn, thread, fathom, suture) in German [source].

The word pen, as in an enclosure for animals, comes from Middle English pen(ne) (enclosure for animals), from Old English penn (enclosure, pen, fold), from Proto-Germanic *pennō/*pannijō (pin, bolt, nail, tack), from Proto-Indo-European *bend- (pointed peg, nail, edge).

The English word pin comes from the same PIE root, as does the Dutch word pin (peg, pin), the German word Pinne (pin, pivot, tiller), and the Swedish word pinne (stick, peg, pin) [source].

The word pencil comes from Anglo-Norman, from the Old French pincel (paintbrush), from the Vulgar Latin *penicellum, from the Latin pēnicillum (a painter’s brush, (style of) painting), a diminutive of pēniculus (brush, sponge), a diminutive of pēnis (tail, penis), from the Proto-Italic *pesnis, from the Proto-Indo-European *pes-ni-s, from *pes- (penis) [source].

Words from the same roots include penicillin in English and other languages, pincel (paintbrush) in Spanish and Portuguese, pinceau (paintbrush) in French and Pinsel (paintbrush) in German [source]. Penicillin and penicillium are apparently so named because the spore of the fungi resemble brushes [source].

Incidentally, the French idiom s’emmêler les pinceaux means to get one’s wires crossed to get things all mixed up, to get in a muddle or to misstep. Literally it means “to get tangled in the paintbrushes” [source].

Gadding About

In this post we explore the various meanings and origins of the word gad.

Gadfly

As an exclamation, gad! is a euphemistic alteration of the word God, and is the roughly equivalent of by God!, goodness gracious! and similar exclamations. It also appears in such exclamations as egad!, egads!, gadzooks!, gadsbobs!, gadsbudlikins! and gadsnouns!.

As a verb, to gad means:

  • to move from one location to another in an apparently random and frivolous manner
  • (of cattle) to run with the tail in the air, bent over the back, usually in an attempt to escape the warble fly

This comes from Middle English gadden (to go quickly, hurry, rush about), possibly from gadde. Related words include gadabout (a person who restlessly moves from place to place, seeking amusement or the companionship of others) and gaddish (inclined to gad, or move from place to place frivolously).

As a noun, gad means one who roams about idly, or a gadabout. This version comes from Middle English gade (a fool, simpleton), from Old English gāda (comrade, companion), from Proto-West Germanic *gadō, from Proto-Germanic *gadô/*gagadô (companion, associate), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰedʰ- (to join, unite).

The obsolete English word gadling (a companion in arms, fellow, comrade, a roving vagabond) comes from the same roots, as does the Dutch word gade (spouse), and the German word Gatte (spouse).

In Northern England and Scotland, gad is apparently used to mean a greedy and/or stupid person.

Finally, gad can mean:

  • a goad, a sharp-pointed rod for driving cattle, horses, etc, or one with a whip or thong on the end for the same purpose
  • a rod or stick, such as a fishing rod or a measuring rod
  • a pointed metal tool for breaking or chiselling rock
  • a spike on a gauntlet.

This comes from Middle English gad(de), from Old Norse gaddr (goad, spike), from Proto-Germanic *gazdaz (spike, rod, stake).

Words from the same roots include yard (a unit of length equal to 3 feet, a spar on a sail) in English, and gadd (stinger, sting, tooth) in Swedish.

Also from the same root in the English word gadfly, which refers to certain types of flies that irritate animals by buzzing around them and biting them to suck their blood, and by extension, a person of thing that irritates or instigates, or a person who takes without giving back. It is also a synonym of gadabout.

Sources: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gad#English
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gadfly#English
https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/dictionary
https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=gad

Hiding in Caves

In this post we find out what links the word grotesque with caves and hiding.

Grotesque

Grotesque [ɡɹəʊˈtɛsk / ɡɹoʊˈtɛsk] as an adjective means:

  • Distorted and unnatural in shape or size; abnormal, especially in a hideous way
  • Disgusting or otherwise viscerally revolting
  • Sans serif (in typography)

As an noun it means:

  • A style of ornamentation characterized by fanciful combinations of intertwined forms
  • Anything grotesque
  • A sans serif typeface

It comes from Middle French grotesque (farcical, ridiculous; small cave, ornament), from Italian grottesco (grotesque) from grotta (cave, grotto) and -esco (relational suffix) [source]. Grotta comes from Vulgar Latin *grupta/*crupta, from Latin crypta (underground passage, tunnel, crypt, vault), from Ancient Greek κρυπτή (kruptḗ – crypt, vault) from κρύπτω (krúptō -hide), the origins of which are unknown [source].

Words from the same roots include grotto and crypt in English, grot (cave, cavern) in Dutch, and grotte (cave) in French [source].

The words grotty and gro(a)dy and clippings of grotesque: grotty is used in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and means unpleasant, dirty, slovenly, offensive [source], shoddy, rundown, disgusting, gross, bad [source], while gro(a)dy is used in the USA and means nasty, dirty, disgusting, foul, revolting, yucky or grotesque [source].

Grody is shortened even further into gro (disgusting, unpleasant; gross), although that might come from gross [source].

Smiling Hum

One of the Finnish words that I learnt recently and really like is hymy [ˈhymy] which means smile. Apparently it is imitative of the short humming sound associated with smiling. In fact, it’s difficult to say without smiling [source].

Woody smiling

Related words include:

  • hymytä = to smile
  • hymyillä = to smile, beam, smirk, grin
  • hymyilyttää = to make someone smile, to amuse, to feel like smiling
  • hymähtää [ˈhymæht̪æː(ʔ)] = to smile shortly, especially with a short “hm” sound; to scorn, often with ivallisesti (mockingly), to raise a corner of the upper lip slightly, especially in scorn, to sneer
  • hymykuoppa = dimple
  • hymiö [ˈhymiø̞] = emoticon, smiley 🙂
  • hyminä [ˈhyminæ] = a hum
  • hymistä [ˈhymis̠tæ(ʔ)] = to hum
  • hymistellä [ˈhymis̠ˌte̞lːæ(ʔ)] = to hum, to praise

Is hymähtää a particularly Finnish way of smiling?

Are there any other languages in which the words smile and hum are connected?

Incidentally, the English word smile comes from Middle English smilen (to smile), from Old Norse *smíla (to smile), from Proto-Germanic *smīlijaną (to smile), from Proto-Indo-European *smey- (to laugh, be glad, wonder) [source].

In Old English a word for to smile was smearcian, which comes from Proto-Germanic *smarōną (to mock, scoff at, deride), which possibly comes from *smīlijaną (to smile), from Proto-Indo-European *smey- (to laugh, etc) [source].

English words from the same root include smirk, smear, admire, marvel, miracle, and the name Miranda [source].

Singing Cows

What links the word bazooka with Roman trumpets and singing cows? Let’s find out in this blog post.

A bazooka was originally a primitive type of trombone with wide tubes. During World War II it came to refer to a shoulder-held rocket launcher used as an antitank weapon that was developed at the time, and which resembled the musical instrument. Bazooka has other meanings that we won’t go into here.

Bazooka comes from bazoo, an old word for a wind instrument (used in the USA and Canada) and a slang word for mouth (in the USA). That probably comes from the Dutch word bazuin [baːˈzœy̯n] (a medieval trumpet), from the Middle Dutch basune/basine (a kind of trumpet), from the Old French buisine (a type of trumpet used in battle), from the Latin būcina (bugle, curved war trumpet), from bōs/bovi- (cow, bull, steer, ox) and canō (I sing, recite, play, sound, blow [a trumpet]) [source].

Ludovisi Sarcophagus - VI: Bucinator

The būcina was used in the Roman army to announce night watches, to give orders and to summon soldiers. Someone who played it was known as a buccinātor or būcinātor [source].

Words from the same roots include buccina (a curved brass instrument used by the Ancient Roman army), buisine (a medieval wind instrument with a very long, straight and slender body, usually made of metal) and posaune (an old word for a trombone) in English, Posaune (trombone) in German, buse (nozzle, pipe, conduit) in French, buzina (hunting horn, car horn, spokesperson) in Portuguese, and bocina (horn, loudspeaker, conch shell) in Spanish [source].

Incidentally, the word kazoo is possibly based on bazoo, or is of onomatopoeic origin [source]. While similar instruments using a membrane, such as the eunuch/onion flute, have existed since at least the 16th century, the kazoo was patented in 1883 by Warren Herbert Frost, an American inventor [source].

Asunto

A Finnish word I learnt recently is asua [ˈɑsuɑ], which means to live, reside or dwell. I could say, for example, Asun Bangorissa Walesissa (I live in Bangor in Wales).

Julkisivu loppukesästä

It comes from the Proto-Finnic *asudak, from the Proto-Uralic *ëśew- (to camp, remain), from *ëśe- (to exist, be located) [source].

Related words in Finnish include:

  • asukas = resident, inhabitant
  • asumaton = uninhabited
  • asumus = dwelling
  • asunto = home, residence, housing unit, flat, apartment
  • asuttaa = to inhabit, people, populate, settle, colonize, (re)locate

So you could say, Asukas asuu asumattomassa asunnossa (The resident lives in an uninhabited flat/apartment), but that wouldn’t make much sense.

I actually learnt the word asunto first, and when I came across asua, I guessed it meant to live or something simliar. Although Finnish vocabulary is mostly unlike any other language I know, you can find plenty of internal connections like this.

Incidentally, house in Finnish is talo [ˈtɑlo], which comes from the Proto-Finnic *taloi (farm, house). It is cognate with the Estonian talu (farm) and the Northern Sami dállu (house, farm) [source].

The word asunto [aˈsunto] also exists in Spanish and Galician. In Spanish it means matter, issue, (romantic) affair, or business, [source] while in Galician it means matter, issue or business [source].

It comes from the Latin assūmptus (received, adopted, accepted), from assūmō (I take up, receive, adopt or accept), from ad- (to) and sūmō (I take, catch, assume) [source].

Words from the same roots include assume in English, assumer (to embrace, accept, own) in French, assumere (to take on, employ, consume) in Italian, asumir (to assume, take on) in Spanish [source].

Attics

The attic in my house is currently being converted into a usable space, so I thought I’d look into the origins of the word attic and related ones.

Attic

An attic is:

  • The space, often unfinished and with sloped walls, directly below the roof in the uppermost part of a house or other building, generally used for storage or habitation.
  • A person’s head or brain (slang)

It comes from the French attique (penthouse flat/apartment; Attic, delicate, elegant), from the Latin atticus (Attic – relating to Athenian culture or architecture), from the Ancient Greek Ἀττικός [at.ti.kós] (Attic, Athenian). Apparently the name is related to the practice of decorating the top storey of building facades in the Attic architectural style [source].

Another word for attic is loft, which used to mean air, sky or the heavens. It comes from the Middle English lofte (air, sky, loft), from the Old English loft, a version of lyft (air, atmosphere, sky), from the Proto-West-Germanic *luftu (roof, air). from the Proto-Germanic *luftuz (roof, firmament, heavens, sky, air) [source].

Words from the same roots include lift and aloft in English, lucht (air) in Dutch and Luft (air) in German.

Attics might also be known as garrets, which comes from the Middle English garett (watchtower, turret, attic), from the Old French garite (watchtower), from guarir (to protect, save, cure, heal), from the Frankish *warjan (to ward off) , from the Proto-West Germanic *warjan (to ward off, defend against), from the Proto-Germanic *warjaną (to ward off, defend against, thwart, stop) from the PIE *wer- (to heed) [source].

Words from the same roots include weir in English, weren (to hold back, keep out, defend oneself) in Dutch, wehren (to fight, defend) in German, guérir (to cure, heal) in French [source].

Are there interesting words for attics in other languages?

Moon’s Ear

What do you call the symbol @?

at sign

I would call it at or at sign. Other names are available, and it’s used in various ways.

The oldest known appearence of @ in writing was in 1345 in a Bulgarian translation of a Greek chronicle by Constantinos Manasses. It was used as the first letter of the word Amen – @мин (@min) in the manuscript.

In Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese @ has long been used to refer to a unit of weight know as arroba, which is equal to 25 pounds. This name comes from the Arabic الربع (alrubue – quarter).

In Venitian @ was used to represent the word anfora (amphora), a unit of weight and volume equivalent to the standard amphora.

In accounting, @ means “at a rate of” or “at the price of”, for example, 5 widgets @ £5 = £25.

These days it most commonly appears in email addresses, a usage that dates back to 1971, when it was introduced by Ray Tomlinson of BBN Technologies. Online it may be omitted or replaced when listing email addresses to trip up spam programs trawling for email adresses. That’s why I give my email as feedback[at]omniglot[dot]com, or as an image. This practise is known as address munging. A better way to trip up the spam bots is apparently feedback@omniglot.com.

Some names for @ in English include: ampersat, asperand, at, atmark, at symbol, commercial at, amphora and strudel.

Ampersat comes from the phrase “and per se at”, which means “and by itself @”, and was how it was originally referred to in English.

Some interesting names for @ in other languages include:

  • Afrikaans: aapstert (monkey tail)
  • Armenian: շնիկ (shnik – puppy)
  • Belarusian: сьлімак (sʹlimak – helix, snail)
  • Chinese: 小老鼠 (xiǎo lǎoshǔ – little mouse)
  • Danish & Swedish: snabel-a (elephant’s trunk A)
  • Finnish: kissanhäntä (cat’s tail), miuku mauku (miaow-meow)
  • Greek: παπάκι (papáki – duckling)
  • Kazakh: айқұлақ (aıqulaq – moon’s ear)
  • Korean: 골뱅이 (golbaeng-i – whelk)
  • Polish: małpa (monkey, ape)
  • Welsh: malwoden (snail)

Do you know any other interesting names for this symbol?

Sources and further information:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_sign
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/at_sign
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Address_munging

Oof! What a Hash!

What do you call the symbol #?

I would call it a hash or hashtag, but quite a few other names are available, including number, number sign, number mark, pound sign, hash sign, hash mark, crosshatch, crunch, fence, flash, garden fence, garden gate, gate, grid, hak, hex, mesh, octothorp, oof, pig-pen, punch mark, rake, scratch, scratch mark, tic-tac-toe and unequal.

l-b ligature

It is thought that it comes from the symbol , a ligature of l and b which stands for the Latin libra pondo (pound weight). Over time it became simplified until it morphed into #. The image is a stylized version of this symbol [source].

# is described as “number” in a treatise on bookkeeping from 1853. It was included the Remington Standard typewriter keyboard from about 1886, and was used in teleprinter codes. In 1968 it was included on touch-tone telephone keypads, and started to be used more extensively in the early 1980s. It was used to label groups and topics on internet relay chat (IRC) from about 1988. This lead Chris Messina, an American blogger and consultant, to propose its use to tag topics on Twitter in 2007. He became known as the inventor of the hashtag [source].

The name octothorp, which was apparently invented at Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1968. Variants include octothorpe, octathorp and octatherp. The name combines octo- (eight) from Latin, with the English thorp (hamlet, village), as it looks like a village surrounded by eight fields. Other stories about the origins of this name are available.

Sources and further information:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_sign
https://www.sporcle.com/blog/2017/08/octothorpe-history/
https://www.dictionary.com/e/octothorpe/

Croissants and Cereal

What links the words croissant and cereal, apart from them often being eaten for breakfast?

Croissant

A croissant is a flaky roll or pastry in a form of a crescent. Although they’re associated with France, they’re based on the Viennese kipferl, a crescent-shaped pastry dating back to at least the 13th century. They became popular in France after August Zang, an Austrian artillery officer, set up a Viennese bakery in Paris in 1839 which sold Viennese pastries, including the kipferl. Other bakers copied this and created the croissant [source].

The word croissant comes from French, and is the present participle of the verb croître (to increase, grow), from the Old French creistre (to grow), from the Latin crēscō (I grow, from the Proto-Indo-European root *ḱer- (to grow, become bigger) [source].

The word cereal comes from the same roots, via the French céréale (cereal), the Latin Cerealis (of or relating to Ceres), from Ceres (Roman goddess of agriculture), from the Proto-Indo-European root *ḱer- (to grow, become bigger) [source].

Other words from the same roots include create, creature, crecent, crew, increase and sincere [source].

Sincere? That comes from the Middle French sincere (sincere), from the Latin sincerus (genuine), from the Proto-Indo-European roots *sem- (together) and *ḱer- (to grow). So you could say that being sincere involves growing together, perhaps. [source].

It doesn’t come from the Latin sine (without) and cera (wax). That is a popular folk etymology. One story is that dishonest Roman and Greek sculptors covered flaws in their work with wax. A sculpture “without wax” was therefore an honest or sincere one. Another story is that Greek sculptors made fake marble statues out of wax to offer as tribute to their Roman conquerors [source].