Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Honduras, like Chicago means "stinky place," has one of those place names that doesn't bear up well to scrutiny.

The name comes from a line in Christopher Columbus' log, "Gracias a Dios que hemos salido de estas honduras!" The literal translation is, "Thank God we've escaped these treacherous depths." A freer translation would be, "Fuck! We're finally out of that hell hole."

Monday, June 29, 2009


Sabotage (n/v) - The destruction of property to hinder operations. From the French word sabot (shoe) with the Latin suffix -age (the act of). So, literally, sabotage means the act of shoes. There are many stories as to the origin of the word.
  • That it dates to a 1910 French railway strike where the workers destroyed the wooden ties, called shoes or sabots. This is certainly not true as the word in English predates that strike by 35 years and the word had been in the French language even longer.
  • Another is that it dates to the Industrial Revolution when newly out of work hand weavers would throw their wooden shoes into the mechanical looms, thus breaking them. Alternatively, wooden shoed serfs deliberately stomped fields to punish landowners. The former is a commonly accepted origin, and the one I prefer, but many etymologists dismiss it because....
  • In French the word sabotage had an early meaning of bungling or botching something. Etymologists theorize that the original use of the word in French was to describe uneducated country bumpkins who were hired to work in early industrial workshops. They would clatter in wearing their wooden clogs (as opposed to the leather shoes city dwellers wore) and make a total hash of the job. The act of shoes meant the ignorant destruction caused by rubes who just happen to wear wooden shoes.
  • Or, the least interesting possible origin, that sabotage began merely meaning the ugly noise that wooden shoes make. It evolved to mean badly played music and evolved further to anything that was botched up. Its final evolution was to mean deliberately botching up something.
The picture is from a CIA sabotage manual distributed in Nicaragua in the 1980's.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Michael Jackson's family wants a second one.

Autopsy (n/v) - meaning cutting up a corpse to discover the cause of death. From the Greek autopsia, autos- (self) and -opsis (sight), meaning "self sight." While the word originally meant "to eye witness" it quickly (17th century) acquired the meaning of studied dissection.

Necropsy (n) - A more accurate word. Composed with the Greek necro (corpse). Only dates to the 19th century in English and more commonly used for an animal autopsy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Mark Sanford, married governor of South Carolina, went on a week long bachelor's retreat to Argentina last week.

Argentina comes from the Latin word argentum, meaning silver. The land was first called Tierra Argentina (Land of Silver). The chemical symbol for silver is Ag (argentum). The country is named after the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver in Spanish).

Plata is Medieval Latin for a flat piece of metal. In Spanish plato now means plate while plata means silver.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Ever consider the word playwright and what that bloody -wright means? While a playwright writes plays -wright does not mean write.

Wright (n) - is an Old English word meaning worker. The root word is the Saxon verb wyrcan, meaning to work. So, playwright means play worker. Not so romantic.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


The acts of Iranian butcher Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
  • قتل العمد ~ Arabic
  • ادمکشی ~ Farsi
  • murha ~ Finnish
  • meurtre ~ French
  • Vergewaltigung ~ German
  • हत्या ~ Hindi
  • pembunuhan ~ Indonesian
  • тяжкое убийство ~ Russian
  • homicidio ~ Spanish
  • cinayet ~ Turkish
  • tội giết người ~ Vietnamese

Friday, June 19, 2009


Conservatives on the United States Supreme Court believe innocence is no reason to overturn a properly reached conviction. Better to execute innocent men than to burden the courts with the procedural effort of freeing the guiltless.

Innocent (a) - Free from guilt. Another word that came to English from Latin through Old French. From in- (not) and nocentem (to harm). In other words, someone not to be harmed.

To Do Nothing

Not that I am doing nothing. Here are a few words that carry the meaning with different emphases.

Abeyant (a) - Temporarily do nothing through a deliberate suspension. Generally a legal term for delaying an action.
Indolent (a) - Being a lazy do-nothing, lacking the will to do something.
Quiescent (a) - To do nothing by being in a state of rest or sleep.

When you want to do nothing yet cannot, there is...

Zugzwang (n) - German for "compulsion to move." In chess it is used to describe a situation where doing nothing is better than doing anything. Since, in chess, declaring pass is not an option, Zugzwang is a bad place to be.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


As in "the Iranians are revolting."

Revolt (v) - From the Latin revolvere, re- (back) and volvere (to roll), to roll back. Also the root word for revolve and volvere is where the word vulva comes from. Revolt dates in English to the 16th century. Revolt, meaning disgusting, dates to 1806. How a word meaning rebellion came to mean disgusting is not certain but Mel Brooks probably is right in pegging it with the French Revolution.
Harvey Korman as Count de Monet: It is said that the people are revolting.
Mel Brooks as King Louis XVI: That’s right, they stink on ice!
~ History of the World: Part One

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Okay, I missed Flag Day by a couple of of days.

Flag (n/v) - The noun (cloth ensign) comes from the verb (to flap loosely), or the other way around. Authorities disagree which came first, the rag or the flap.

Authorities also disagree on the source word. It is possibly Old Norse (Norwegian has its word flagg), possibly Germanic (the Dutch word vlag is obviously related), possibly English through and through. My best guess is the word is Norwegian in origin, spread by Viking raiders.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


The name of the third largest city in the United States comes from an Ojibwa word (the exact word varies by the source) that means either stripped skunk, the skunk place, or skunk cabbage. Many Chicagoans prefer to believe the source word meant onion patch.

But Chicago was built on swampy land and it is possible the word that became Chicago in English originally meant Smelly Place. Certainly, the Chicago Stockyard of the last century earned that moniker.
The people of Chicago, a city of over three million souls, live under an encircling and overpowering smell. At breakfast, at luncheon, at dinner: while working and, playing; awake and asleep; Chicago's millions inhale penetrating smells from the mountains of dung and offal in its great stockyards. The greater the smells the stockyards make, the greater their contributions to Chicago. ~ Ralph Borsodi, This Ugly Civilization, 1929

Chicago Stockyards, 1947

Friday, June 12, 2009


As an American slang word Cracker means poor white Southern trash. It dates to the 18th century and comes from the verb to crack. Crack as a loud noise led to using crack to describe a loud braggart.

A Cracker is traditionally a pasty white, fat-assed, Southern Baptist, who longs for the return of segregation. They hate the government. They hate blacks, especially blacks who are more educated than they are which is just about everyone. They hate book learning except where it comes to reading the Bible, even then they hate all that peace and love shit Jesus taught. They love the "eye for an eye" and smiting parts though.

Huckleberry Finn's Pap was a Cracker. So is Wiley Drake.
Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free nigger there from Ohio -- a mulatter, most as white as a white man....They said he was a p'fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain't the wust. They said he could VOTE when he was at home....but when they told me there was a State in this country where they'd let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I'll never vote agin. Them's the very words I said; they all heard me; and the country may rot for all me -- I'll never vote agin as long as I live. And to see the cool way of that nigger -- why, he wouldn't a give me the road if I hadn't shoved him out o' the way....They call that a govment that can't sell a free nigger till he's been in the State six months. Here's a govment that calls itself a govment, and lets on to be a govment, and thinks it is a govment, and yet's got to set stock-still for six whole months before it can take a hold of a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free nigger... ~ 'Pap' Finn, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapter 6, by Mark Twain

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Why is it governor but gubernatorial?

Both words come from the same Latin root, gubernare meaning to direct or rule. Gubernatorial is an 18th century American word formed directly from the Latin. Governor dates to the 14th century in English and is an import from the French word, gouverneur.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Newt Gingrich, knowing as he does that Republicans have become the American Hezbollah (the Party of God), recently announced, "We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism."

Pagan (n) - A non-Christian. An idolatrous worshiper of false gods. From the Latin paganus meaning rustic villager. Literally, pagan is the Latin word for hick and came to its meaning because villagers came to Christianity later than sophisticated city dwellers. It's use to mean devil worshiper is the simplistic extension that anything that is not Christian must be of the devil.

Infidel (n) - A non-Muslim. The common translation of the Arabic word kafir, meaning disbeliever. From the Latin infidelis meaning unfaithful.

Gentile (n) - A non-Jew. The common translation of the Hebrew
ha goyim, meaning non-Jewish nations. Also Yiddish goy. From the Latin gentilis meaning countrymen, it was the early Christian church translation of the Greek word ethnikos (the nations) which had been the common translation of ha goyim.

Christians and Muslims believe their religions are so distasteful that if their adherents are exposed to any of the fun religions, like Wicca, they will convert en mass. Hence, Christians have been known to burn pagans and Muslims to behead infidels. Jews view gentiles as "everybody else" and are far more peacefully tolerate.

Monday, June 8, 2009


V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N in the summer sun. ~ Connie Francis
Sometimes you just need to take a few days off and let the world struggle on without you.

Vacation (n) - a period of intermission; rest; leisure. From the Latin vacationem, meaning free of duty. That, in turn, was from the Latin word vacare meaning empty which also leads to the words vacuum and vain.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


An Incubus
Nightmare (n) - A bad dream. Night is an Old English word. Mare is also Old English word for an evil spirit. Combined, the words described the incubi and succubi. Respectively male and female demons that have sexual intercourse with sleeping people, feeding off the sleeper's soul.

Incubus and Succubus (n) - Both from Latin. Incubus means one who lies on top of a sleeper. Succubus means one who lies underneath a sleeper. These demons are staples of World of Warcraft, second-rate horror movies, and fundamentalist Christian sects trying to scare believers away from sex.
A Succubus

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor

Names also have meanings.

Sonia - Comes from the Greek name Sophia meaning wisdom.

Sotomayor - Parsed, soto means thicket and mayor means great or greater. So at its simplest Sotomayor means "the Great Thicket." It is an old family name from the Andalucia region of Spain. There are two stories how the name came to be.

The simpler is that many centuries ago a noble family took its surname from where it settled, the Valley of the Thickets; in colloquial Latin of the region: Sotomayor.

The more complicated story, described here, is that the tutor to the son of a Galician king in the time of the Goths threw a spear into a thicket not knowing that the king's son was playing there. The king understood it was an accident and forgave the tutor. The tutor, in turn, took the name of Sotomayor to honor to slain boy.