Friday, November 22, 2013


I’ve always loved words. Early on, I would remember words I heard on television or radio, or from grown up conversations and try to work them into my own spiel at a later date. Several times, repeating words I heard my father’s friends say in “guy” bull sessions earned me a corner table at the Lifebuoy Soap cafe, with the entree delivered by my mother. If you catch my drift.

My enthusiasm for the sound of words may have contributed to my career choices: semi-professional radio pronouncer and disk-jockey (reinforced by my love of music) and later on, writer of stories, books and doggerel. To this day, I continue my life-long habit of incorporating fun-to-say words into my day-to-day speech. Words such as: marginalia, kumquat and brap-a-dap-a-dap-a-dap.

Etymology, in itself a fun word to wrap your lips around, sounds like it should be the be the study of someone’s dining habits as in “I et last night at Tommy O’s and the night before I et at that Russian sushi joint over on Maybe Street. But, as I’m sure you know, etymology is the study of word origins. 

The internet is a wonderful place, allowing us to dig for information on a wide range of subjects. Occasionally, the excavated facts are even true. This is a great boon to a dedicated amateur etymologist like me.  Here are a sampling of my current favorite words and a brief explanation of their roots. 

·       hornswoggle—meaning to embarrass, disconcert or confuse. Nobody’s quite sure, but  they think it was one of those farcified words settlers in the American West liked to invent to confuse the tourists.
·       bamboozle—A cousin of hornswoggle. To practice trickery—to take advantage of someone. Again, they’re not sure, but think it might have spun off the Scottish word “bumbaze.” If you’ve had a few “wee drops” of single malt and a mouthful of haggis, it’s easy to see how it could evolve.
·       Unctuousa favorite because it’s so perfectly descriptive. It means excessively smooth, suave or smug. With a side order of insincere. The word comes from Middle Ages Latin.
·       Wanker—This one is British slang. Used as a pejorative. Shows disdain for the person described.  It’s roots are 19th century British working-class and derives from a form (ahem) of self gratification. Thus the verb form “to wank.”
·       Snogging—another British slang tongue tantalizer. It mean’s kissing, cuddling and perhaps anything short of actually tummy bumping. The roots are uncertain but first turned up amongst U.K. hipsters in the late 50’s.
·       Pejorative—Expression of disapproval or contempt. Roots are Latin and adapted by the French because it was fun to pronounce through your nose. 
·       Loofah—sounds like it should be some sort of exotic sports chant, doesn’t it? Yes, the Samoans have scored again here at the exfoliation bowl and their fans reward them with their trademark cheer: “loofah, loofah, loofah.” It’s called the vegetable sponge and is the fruit of the Luffa plant. Arabic in origin.

So, now, it’s your turn to etymologize. Remember, if you can dazzle ‘em with footwork, baffle ‘em with B.S. Share a fun-to-say word or two in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. I am assuming it is Mike's name against this little gem of a post!

    I know that the English language as gone to 'hell in a handcart' in these days of text speak and twitter talk, however I can't believe that the one word which epitomises all things English to you, is 'wanker'. Although this word is in constant daily use by the youngsters and 'chav's' in Britain, it is a vile and disgusting word, with which I for one, certainly don't wish to be associated! .... You have completely hornswoggled me ... LOL!

    Like yourself, I love discovering new words and reading is a great way to do this, although managing to drop some of the more weird and wonderful words into a casual conversation, often proves to be much more of a difficult task.

    Myself and several fellow bloggers participate in a weekly meme, called 'Wondrous Words Wednesday', where we share new words that we have come across in our recent reading. There is always a sense of profound satisfaction when I know a word which someone else has put forward as new to them, but some words are so obscure as to be a complete mystery to everyone.

    You can check out my recent posts in this meme by clicking on the 'Wondrous Words Wednesday' link in the categories section to the right of the page

    Great Post,