Thursday, April 30, 2009


Thinking about Sean Hannity has caused me to wonder at some of the fine synonyms for coward.

Poltroon (a & n) - A lazy and cowardly fellow, the original slacker. From an Italian word for the couch he never rises from except to run like a chicken.

Caitiff (a & n) - A guy who is not just a coward but a miserly coward. This word fits Hannity to a T. Devolved from captivum, Latin for captive. It's original meaning as a miserable prisoner has become a description of someone who is just as miserable but because of his own rotted soul.

Craven (a & n) - Abject coward. From the Old French word cravante, meaning defeated. Think a whipped puppy kind of coward.

Pusillanimous (a) - Scared like a baby. From the Latin pusillus (little boy) and animus (mind).

Milksop (n) - In the Dark Ages a sick baby who was too weak to suckle would be given bread soaked in milk to suck upon.

Lily-Livered (a) - A Shakespearian turn of phrase from MacBeth. The liver was thought to be the seat of passion and courage. To be lily-livered is to have a white, hence bloodless liver and, therefore, to be without courage.

Chicken (n) - Usage of chicken meaning coward dates to the 14th century.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine, Pig, Pork

Okay, "Swine Flu." Why not "Pig Flu" or Hog Flu?"

Swine (n) - Pig. From the Old German word that came down to modern German as Schwein. Schweinhund = pig-dog, clearly a big insult in Germany.

Pig (n) - Swine. This is the Old English word, the origins are lost in the mists of the moors. Pig Latin dates to 1937 college-speak.

Pork (n) - Pig flesh. From the Latin version of pig,

Hog (n) - Big pig. Possibly Celtic origins.

Monday, April 27, 2009


When I saw you stop the world from, you know, ending, I just assumed that was a big week for you. It turns out I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse. ~ Riley Finn, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Apocalypse (n) - The End Of The World (capital letters required). From the Latin word apocalypsis meaning revelation which is from the Greek word apokalyptein meaning uncover. The plural, apparently, is Apocalypses.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice. ~ Robert Frost, 1920

Saturday, April 25, 2009


There is a deadly strain of swine flu upon us.

Influenza (n) - From the Italian meaning "to flow in" and refers to illness flowing in from the stars. In other words, you are coughing and sneezing and have a crippling temperature because your astrological chart is all screwed up. From the same root as the word influence (obviously).

La Gripa (n) - The Spanish name for the flu. The 19th century common name for the flu in English was the Grippe. The root here is the word grasp and refers to the choking feeling the flu gives us. Interestingly, Influenza is the older word. The Grippe took over as the common word briefly, less than two centuries, before the word faded in English in the 20th century.
México cerró escuelas, museos, bibliotecas, y teatros estatales a todo lo largo y ancho de su populosa capital con el fin de controlar una epidemia de influenza porcina que según las autoridades ha cobrado la vida de por lo menos 20 personas --y quizás más de 60-- a la vez que ha infectado a casi otras mil personas. ~ Source
Translation: Mexico has closed schools, museums, libraries, and theaters throughout the capital to control the swine flu epidemic that, according to authorities, has killed at least 20 people - perhaps more than 60 - while infecting almost a thousand others.

The death toll is now 68 people in Mexico City in one week.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I had a dream with gigantic birds that crashed lightening and thunder and rained fire.

Thunderbird (n) -
In Native American mythology the Thunderbird is a sky god who creates thunder by flapping his wings and create lightening by opening his eyes. The Thunderbird is common to Native American cultures from the Algonquian to the Lakota to the Navajo to the Northwest coastal tribes.

In cryptozoology the Thunderbird is a real, rare, seldom sighted predatory bird (perhaps Pterodactyl) large enough to carry off a small deer or child.

In automobile circles the Thunderbird is a classic Ford car. In computers it is an open source email program that is way better than Microsoft's Outlook Express.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


It's Earth Day.

Gaia (proper name) - From Greek creation mythology, Gaia is Mother Earth. From her was born all of creation. She is mother of the sky (Uranus) and of the sea (Pontus). From her womb came the Titans and the Cyclopes.

Gaia Hypothesis - Proposed by scientist James Lovelock in 1965. This hypothesis observes that the Earth is a self-substaining cradle of life - a living being if you will. At its simplest, the waste product of plant life (oxygen) is necessary for animal life to thrive while animal waste (carbon dioxide) is required for photosynthesis. All life lives in balance with all other life.

If this balance is disrupted, say by releasing an excessive amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the Earth will heat up - killing off animal life while allowing plant life to thrive - until the balance is restored.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The Somali pirates have renewed some old words.

Pirate (n) - The Greek word pirao (attack) led to the Latin word pirata, meaning sea robber.

Buccaneer (n) - From the French word
boucanier which freely translates to barbecuer. Literally boucanier means someone who smokes meat or fish for food in the fashion of the Arawak Indians. The word came to be applied to Frenchmen in the Caribbean, then to French pirates, and then to freebooters in general.

Freebooter (n) - From a Dutch word for robbery, vrijbuit, that translates literally to free booty.

Booty (n) - The German word, bute, meaning "to distribute" came to apply to the plunder pirates distributed among themselves.
Jolly Roger (n) - Pirate flag. This one is interesting. The first recorded uses of the term is by Bartholomew Roberts, far and away the most ruthless pirate of the 18th century. Some say Jolly Roger comes from the French p
hrase jolie rouge (pretty red). Others say it is a reference to the devil's nickname, Old Roger. The flag above is the design used by Blackbeard.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Heat and Hot

With the temperature over 106 degrees F (41 degrees C) where I live and sweat, there are no other words today but...

Heat (n) and Hot (n) - These words date back to the dawn of the English Language. From old Germanic words like hittia (Old Saxon) and hete (Old Frisian) Old English developed the word hat that became hot. The phrase heat wave dates to 1893. The Latin word torridus, from which English derives torrid comes from the Latin name for the Sirocco winds that blow across Italy and the Mediterranean from the Sahara Desert.

Art is from Steve Greenberg of the Ventura County Star.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hockey and Puck

Since the Stanley Cup playoffs have begun, and will continue into June, lets look at two of the strangest words in sports.
Hockey (n) - A game played with sticks as in Field Hockey and Ice Hockey.

Nobody seems to know where the word comes from. One source suggests it comes from a stick game played in Ireland in the 16th century - "The horlinge of the litill balle with hockie stickes or staves ...." Another source says the word comes from the French word for a shepherd's crook (hoquet). Then again, maybe the game was named after a British Army officer stationed in Nova Scotia in the 19th century, John Hockey, although the word seems to predate the soldier.

Puck (n) - A disk of frozen, vulcanized rubber used in ice hockey.

This word origin is even more obscure than hockey. It may come from poke, or from the verb puck meaning "to hit" (I didn't even know that verb existed until now).

Photo is of Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time.

Friday, April 17, 2009


More Bush Torture Memos have been released.

Torture - As a noun torture is extreme mental or physical distress. As a verb it is the act of inflicting the noun upon another. The Latin base word, torquere, also generates the English words torque, torsion, and torment.

means to twist or to writhe. It is commonly believed that the word originates from the twisting of the wheel of the rack. But, it could just as easily refer to the writhing in agony of the victims of torture.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Secede and Secession

Texas Governor Rick Perry has begun talking about taking his state out of the United States of America.
Secede (v) - To remove yourself from an organization or communion. The word comes from Latin and means to go apart. Secession is the formal act of seceding.
The word in Latin, secedere, described the act of plebeians migrating from the city to compel patricians to address their grievances. In other words, the common laborers would leave town and let the rich folk to fend for themselves for a while. It wouldn't take long for the patricians to remember that they needed the poor folk more than the plebeians needed the rich folk.

The Texas secession movement is not alone. The League of the South, which considers Abraham Lincoln to be a domestic terrorist, wants to restore the Confederate States of America. South Carolina, which was the first state to secede back in 1860, has in 2009 introduced legislation that reads a lot like a secession bill. Like the 1860's secessionist movement in the South, this modern one turns the original origin of the word on its head. It is moneyed interests, patrician slaveholders then and tax complainers now, who want to leave.

Alaska has a secession movement, so does Vermont and Hawaii. Back when George Bush was president California had its own secessionist movement. As this guy points out, practically every state in the Union wants to secede.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea and Teabags

Conservatives are all into Tea Parties and Tea-bagging today.

(n) - An infusion of dried leaves in boiling water - From the Chinese word t'e, the word for the plant commonly used to make Chinese tea.
Why someone should want to drink dried leaved in boiling water? Answer: Because he's an ignorant monkey who doesn't know better. Cute, eh? ~ Eddie the shipboard computer, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Tea-bag (n) - A small porous sack holding dried leaves for dunking in boiling water. Also, when some guy puts his testicles.... Ah, hell. If you don't know this definition by now I'm not going to be the one to tell you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Word is 'Justice'

Spanish prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales and five top associates (including John Yoo) over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo ~ Crooks and Liars