Thursday, August 27, 2009


As in, "It's was over 100 degrees F yesterday and it will breech the century mark today and tomorrow as well."

Century (n) - One hundred of something, be it years, degrees, soldiers. From the Latin, of course, centum, meaning 100. The rank of Centurion commanded a centuria of men in a Roman legion. Both words come from centum. That a centuria was only 80 men, not 100, is just proof of how hard it is to count using Roman numerals.

Monday, August 24, 2009


From finding this disturbing as well as fascinating recipe for human flesh.

Cannibal (n) - Something that eats its own kind, think Hannibal Lecter. From the Carib Indian's name for themselves, Galibi ("brave people"), as modified by Christopher Columbus himself. Convince that he has found China he was certain that the Galibi were actually referring to the Khan, Columbus recorded the "gal" sound as a "can" sound.

Of course, all this reminds me of that great Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man." Which, in turn, points out the strange habit of human filmwriters (and, while we are at it rightwing conspiricy theorists) to believe that the tastiest dish in the Universe is humanity.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


A lovely place before it became a war zone for the drug cartels.

At one time, in the 19th century, the town of Tijuana straddled the US-Mexico border. It was a tiny hamlet of less than 300 along the Tijuana River. It attracted tourists due to its hot springs (Agua Caliente).

Prohibition saw Tijuana boom. A casino joined the horse race track and hot springs spa as Americanos streamed across the border to get drunk, a tradition we continue to this day. Mobsters got rich smuggling liquor into the US, just as now mobsters get rich smuggling cocaine. Less than 70,000 people lived in Tijuana in 1950, today the population exceeds 3 million and Tijuana is more than twice the size of neighboring San Diego.

Tijuana - Most likely not, as many believe, from Tia Juana (Aunt Jane), although the Spanish land grant rancho was named Rancho Tia Juana. More likely the origin is a Kumeyaay Indian word, Tiwan, meaning close to the sea. There are many other possible origins including Teguana, meaning inhospitable place. Whatever, the place name Tijuana was recorded on maps as early as 1719.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


In honor of the Discovery Channel series Raging Planet.
Hurricane (n) - A violent tropical cyclonic storm located in the Atlantic Ocean or the eastern Pacific. From the Spanish word huracan which, in turn, is derived from the Taino (Arawak dialect) words Hura (wind) and Can (central), or Center of the Wind.

Typhoon (n) - The same cyclonic storm located in the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. From Greek mythology, Typhon was the last child of Gaia, a massive monster with a hundred serpent heads that touched the stars who warred with the Greek Gods and nearly destroyed the world. A storm demon and the father, the mother is Echidna, of many of the classic Greek monsters like the Hydra and the Sphinx. Also, in Cantonese, tai fung translates to big wind and reinforces this word for Asian storms.

Cyclone (n) - First appeared in English in 1848, it was a word coined by a British East India Company official to describe an Indian Ocean typhoon. From the Greek kyklon, meaning whirling around.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Another of my favorite britishisms (yes, there is such a word).

Blimey (interj) - The best definition is either Wow! or Shit! The full phrase is Cor Blimey and is a contraction of the phrase God blind me as in "may God blind me if I'm lying."

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Lemon (n) - A fruit. From the Persian word for the fruit, limun. Originated in South and Southeast Asia. First brought to Europe during the era of the Roman Empire.

(n) - A worthless thing, like a car. Dates to 1909 in American slang. Possibly from an older pool hall hustle, the "lemon game."

Lemon Game (hustle) - A hustler gets a mark into a pool game, playing for credit. The hustler loses a significant amount of money, say $100. When it comes time to pay up, the hustler refuses to pay unless the mark displays $100 to show he could have paid off if he had lost. When the mark gets the money he is robbed.

Lemon Tree (folk song written by Will Holt in the 1960's)
When I was just a lad of ten, my father said to me,
Come here and learn a lesson from the lovely lemon tree.

Don't put your faith in love, my boy, my father said to me,

I fear you'll find that love is like the lovely lemon tree.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Meaning the British swear word. There are several theories as to the origin. Here are some options, take your pick.
  • God's Blood - A common oath was to swear upon the body or blood of Christ - "God's body" or "God's blood," and this evolved from that.
  • Menstruation - A reference to menstrual flow. Lot's of curses refer to bodily functions.
  • Aristocrats - Aristocratic heritage is called "blood." Some sources think it comes from "bloody drunk" meaning as drunk as a rowdy young aristocrat.
  • Blood - Other sources say that "bloody drunk" means "fired up and ready for a fight."
  • Virgin Mary - Many sources claim that the phrase "by Our Lady" became "By'r Lady" (found in Shakespeare) and devolved further to just "bloody." Eric Partridge calls this "phonetically implausible."
  • Mary Tudor - The Catholic queen who preceded Elizabeth I and was know for burning Protestants was known as Bloody Mary.

Friday, August 7, 2009

E-Ticket Ride

One of those idioms, like "dialing" a telephone, that has lingered long after the source has disappeared.

Decades ago each individual ride at Disneyland had a separate admission. In 1957, for example, the Dumbo Flying Elephant ride cost 25 cents. Disney sold ticket books that allowed people to save money. The tickets were labeled A through E. The very best rides, like the Matterhorn Bobsleds, were on that valuable E-ticket.
To this day, E-ticket means an exciting or sensational adventure. Even people who never held a precious E-ticket in their tiny hands and don't know the Disney connection use the phrase.

For people nostalgic for Southern California amusement parks, the blog Vintage Disneyland Tickets is a pleasant romp.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


As in "Republicans Riot at Tampa Town Hall Meeting."

Riot (n/v) - From an Old French word. In the 13th century it meant "debauchery." By the end of the 14th century the word had evolved to mean "public disturbance." Glenn Beck and his ilk will try to spin it, but the attack on democracy in Tampa this evening meets the dictionary definition of a riot.
Riot - A wild or turbulent disturbance created by a large number of people. ~ The Free Dictionary

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


One of my favorite British words that is almost never used in America. Americans, you see, will never use a word with panache when there is a perfectly dull and ordinary phrase like "two weeks" available.

Fortnight (n) - Two weeks. A shortening of the Old English phrase feowertyne niht, fourteen nights. There is also the never used Sennight meaning seven nights, one week, which is how long I've been away.