Outlaws and Brigands

Here are a few words that might be relevant today, if you happen to be in the UK:

Election – the choice of a leader or representative by popular vote, comes from the Anglo-Norman eleccioun, from the Latin ēlectiō (choice, option), from ēligō (I pluck out, I choose).

Vote – a formalized choice on matters of administration or other democratic activities, comes from the Latin vōtum (prayer, votive offering, wish, longing), from voveō (to vow, promise solemnity, dedicate, wish), from Proto-Indo-European *h₁wegʷʰ- (to promise, vow, praise).

Ballot – originally, a small ball placed in a container to cast a vote; now, a piece of paper or card used for this purpose, or some other means used to signify a vote. It comes from Italian ballotta (ballot, shot, ball, boiled chestnut), a diminutive of balla (bale, bundle).

Poll – a collection of votes, from the Middle English pol(le) (scalp, pate), probably from the Middle Dutch pol / pōle / polle (top, summit; head), from Proto-Germanic *pullaz (round object, head, top), from Proto-Indo-European *bolno-, *bōwl- (orb, round object, bubble), from *bew- (to blow, swell). The meaning of a “collection of votes” was first recorded in 1625, and came from the notion of counting heads.

Labour – comes from the Middle English labouren, from Old French laborer (to work, labour), from Latin laborare (to labor, strive, exert oneself, suffer), from labor (labor, toil, work, exertion).

Liberal – comes from Old French liberal (appropriate for a free person, generous, giving), from the Latin līberālis (befitting a freeman), from līber (free).

Conservative – comes from the Middle French conservatif (conservative), from Latin cōnservō (to preserve, conserve), from con- (with) and servō (to save, rescue, preserve, retain, watch).

Tory – comes from the Middle Irish tóraidhe, (outlaw, robber or brigand), from tóir (pursuit) [More details].

Source: Wiktionary.


Procrastinate Now! (or tomorrow, or whenever you feel like it)

Procrastination – “the act of postponing, delaying or putting off, especially habitually or intentionally.” From the Middle French procrastination, from the Latin prōcrāstinātiō (a putting off until tomorrow), from prōcrāstinō (procrastinate), from prō (of) + crāstinus (tomorrow), from crās (tomorrow) [source].

Crās comes from the Proto-Italic *krās, and is probably from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (head, top), which is the root of words for head, horn, cow and others in various Indo-European languages

Crās became crai in Italian, crás in Portuguese and cras in Sardinian. These all mean tomorrow, but only the Sardinian one is still used. Tomorrow is domani in Italian – from the Late Latin dē māne (of the early morning), amanhã in Portuguese – from Vulgar Latin *ad maneana (at morning). The French demain (tomorrow), and the Romanian dimineață (morning), come from the same root as the Italian domani.

The antonym of procrastination is precrastination / pre-crastination, or “the completion of a task too quickly or too early, when taking more time would result in a better outcome” [source]. It was coined by David Rosenbaum in an article he wrote in 2014: Pre-crastination: hastening subgoal completion at the expense of extra physical effort. [More information].

I have a tendency to procrastinate, and often put off things that don’t seem important or urgent. For example, there’s a pile of papers on my desk that could do with filing, and I might just get round to it one of these days. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t though.

Sometimes, when I’m in a getting-things-done-mood, I go round doing all the things I’ve been putting off for days/week/months/years. Or at least as many of them as I can before I get distracted by something more interesting.

Some things I put off and do something easier instead – writing this blog post, for example, rather than recording the next episode of my podcast, or doing some language lessons rather than practising one of my instruments.

I precrastinate as well, but wasn’t aware of it. Or at least I didn’t have a word for this practice until now.

Are you a procrastinator, and/or a precrastinator?

What task / jobs / activities do you tend to put off?

What things to you prefer to do instead?

Where Three Roads Meet

Trivia - where three roads meet

I learned the other day that the word trivia (insignificant trifles of little importance), comes from the Latin trivia, the plural of trivium – crossroads, public space, or literally “a place where three roads meet”. From trēs (three) and via (road, street, way, journey, march, passage, way method).

Apparently this term came to be used for anything commonplace. Also, beginners courses in universities used to be called trivium, and the word came be used to refer to things that are basic, simple or trivial [source].

The Latin word via comes from the Proto-Indo-European *weǵʰ- (to bring, to transport), which is the root of such English words as way, wagon, wain (as in hay wain), weigh, wag, vehicle, vector, voyage, obvious and devious [source].

Knives and Cutlasses


Yesterday I discovered that the French word for penknife is canif [ka.nif], which was borrowed from the Middle English knif / knyf [kniːf] (knife, dagger) [source]. The English word knife comes from the same root.

Knif comes from the Old English cnīf [kniːf] (knife), which was possibly borrowed or influenced by the Old Norse knífr (knife), which comes from the Proto-Germanic *knībaz [ˈkniː.βɑz] (pincers, shears, knife), from the Proto-Indo-European *gneybʰ- (to pinch, nip), from *gen- (to pinch, squeeze, bend, press) [source].

Cnīf was first used in writing in the 11th century. Before then, seax [sæɑ̯ks] was the word for a knife or dagger, which is related to the word Saxon [source].

The French word for knife is couteau [ku.to], which comes from the Old French coutel, from the Latin cultellus (small knife, dagger), a diminutive of culter [ˈkul.ter] (knife, razor) [source], which is also the root of words for knife in Romance languages, the English words cutlass and cutlery, and the Welsh word cyllell [ˈkəɬɛɬ].

Buoys & Oxen

What is the connection between buoys and oxen?


Well, the word buoy comes from the Middle Dutch boeye (float, buoy), from the Old French buie (fetter, chain), probably from Frankish *baukan (sign, signal), the root of the English word beacon, or from the Latin boia (a (leather) collar, band, fetter), from the Ancient Greek βόεος (bóeos – of ox-hide), from βοῦς (boûs – ox), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷow- (cow) [source].

Traditional Ox & cart

How do you pronounce buoy, by the way?

I pronounce it [ˈbɔɪ], as in boy, but I understand that some pronounce it [ˈbuːiː] or [ˈbui], like bwee.

Registering the Matrix

Language quiz image

Yesterday I learnt that the French for a number plate / license plate / vehilce registration plate is une plaque d’immatriculation [source].

The word immatriculation means registration, and comes from the word immatriculer (to register), which comes from the Medieval Latin immatriculare (to join) [source]. This comes from the Latin mātrīcula (public register), a diminutive of mātrīx (uterus, womb, source, origin, list, register) [source].

Mātrīx comes from Latin māter (mother, woman, nurse, motherland), from the Proto-Italic *mātēr (mother), from Proto-Indo-European *méh₂tēr (mother), which is the root of words for mother in many languages [source].

The English word matrix comes from the Latin mātrīx, either directly, or via the Old French matrice (pregnant animal) [source].

I never know what connections I’ll find when I set off on an etymological adventure like this. Yesterday I found that matriculation and mātrīx were connected, which inspired me to write this, but I wouldn’t have guessed that mātrīx and māter were also connected.

Elephants & Camels

Elephants and camels

What do elephants and camels have in common?

Well, words for camel in Slavic languages like Czech and Russian possibly come from an Ancient Greek word meaning elephant.

In Czech the word for camel is velbloud [ˈvɛlblou̯t], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *velьb(l)ǫdъ / vъlьb(l)ǫdъ (camel), from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus – camel), from the Latin elephantus (elephant), from the Ancient Greek ἐλέφας (eléphas – elephant) [source].

Words from camel in other Slavic languages come from the same root: верблюд (verbljúd) in Russian and Ukrainian, вярблюд (vjarbljúd) in Belarusian, wielbłąd in Polish, and so on [source].

These all come from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus), but from there the etmological trial gets a bit hazy, as they quite often do. Traditionally this word is thought to derive from the Greek ἐλέφας, via the Latin elephantus.

Another theory is that the Gothic word comes from the Proto-Germanic *elpanduz (elephant, camel), which possibly comes from the Hittite word hu(wa)lpant (humpback), or from another ancient language of Anatolian such as Luwian [source].

The word for elephant in Czech (and also in Slovak, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian) is slon [slon], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *slonъ (elephant) [source], which comes either from the Turkish aslan (lion), or from *sloniti (to lean against), relating to the medieval story of an elephant sleeping leaning on a tree [source].

So now we know where the name of the lion in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe probably comes from.

Do you latibulate?

Do you ever feel like latibulating?

Perhaps you might do if you don’t feel very osculable.

These are words I learnt today from the Something Rhymes with Purple podcast.

Latibulate means “to hide oneself in a corner” and comes from the Latin latibulum (hiding place, refuge, den) [source].

Osculable means “capable of being kissed” or “kissable” and comes from the Latin ōsculāre (to kiss) [source].

Related words include to osculte (to kiss), osculation (the act of kissing), osculatrix (a lady who kisses), an oscularity (a kiss), and an osculary (anything that can and should be kissed).

So if you meet an osculary, maybe you could suggest to them that you latibulate in order to engage in some osculation. Perhaps not the most effective of chat-up lines, but it might work if you find another word nerd.

Dilemmas and Trilemmas

A dilemma is “a situation necessitating a choice between two equal, esp. equally undesirable, alternatives”, or “a problem that seems incapable of a solution” [source].

It comes, via Late Latin, from the Ancient Greek δίλημμα (dílēmma, – ambiguous proposition), from δι- (di-, having two of) and λῆμμα (lêmma, – premise, proposition) [source].

Today I spotted the word trilemma in an article in The Spectator. I hadn’t seen it before, but from the context it appears to be a variant of dilemma involving three choices.

According to Wiktionary, a trilemma is “A circumstance in which a choice must be made between three options that seem equally undesirable” or “put another way, in which a choice must be made among three desirable options, only two of which are possible at the same time.”

I thought trilemma was a recently-coined word, but according to Wikpedia, it was first used in writing back in 1672.

Soft mitigation

The Russian word милый means dear, sweet (having a pleasing disposition); beloved, dear or darling. I learnt this while putting together a page of terms of endearment in Russian today.

It comes from the Proto-Slavic word *milъ (sweet, dear), from the Proto-Indo-European word *meh₁y- (mild, soft).

The Czech word milý (nice, kind, good, dear, pleasant, sweet; boyfriend) comes from the same root, as do similar words in other Slavic languages, such as the Belarusian мілы (sweet, nice), the Bulgarian мил (dear), and the Polish miły (nice, pleasant).

The Latin mītis (gentle, mild, ripe) comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root, as does the Italian word mite (mild, moderate, balmy), the Portuguese word mitigar (to mitigate), the Spanish word mitigar (to mitigate, alleviate, allay, assuage, quench, soothe), and the English word mitigate.

I’m would like to put together pages of terms of endearment / affection in other languages. Can you help with this?