Tuesday, November 24, 2009


A land where big things are little, like the Mississippi River.
And other things are bigger than you can possibly imagine, such as the tales of Paul Bunyan, about whom it is said that Minnesota's 10,000 lakes are just his footprints filled up with water.

Minnesota is a Lakota word meaning "sky-tinted waters." From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water is a song written in 1909 in Nebraska but the phrase was taken by the St. Paul brewery Hamm's as their slogan and thence became Minnesotan.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mother Goose

Yesterday I went out to buy vegetables and almost got caught up in the nightmare of Mother Goose Parade traffic. So, who was Mother Goose?

Americans claim that Elizabeth Foster Goose, wife to 17th century Bostonian Issac Goose, is the feathered matron. After her husband dies, so the story goes, she moved in with family including publisher Thomas Fleet who allegedly published "Mother Goose's Melodies For Children" in 1719. The problem is a Frenchman published "The Tales of Mother Goose" 20 years previously and there is a reference to Mother Goose 50 years before that.

The French claim that Bertha (or Bertrada), briefly wife of King Robert II (972-1031) or the only wife of Pepin the Short (714-768) and mother of Charlemagne, was Berthe pied d'oie and Mère l'Oye - translation, Goose-footed Bertha and Mother Goose - was the original Mother Goose. The only problem is that the second title, Mère l'Oye, was attached in the 19th century.

My theory is the real Mother Goose is a bloke named Charles Perrault. Perrault was the author of a plethora of folk tales such as Sleeping Beauty and Puss-in-Boots. In 1696 he published a book titled Tales of Mother Goose. From one point of view, this makes the true Mother Goose a guy.

Friday, November 20, 2009


A fun word because, while old, nobody has a clue where it comes from.

Roam (v) - to wander about without purpose. Dates back to at least the 14th century. Many etymologists believes it is comes from the city of Rome, that English pilgrims had to take a circuitous route around France getting to the holy city. There is no actual evidence for this theory, though. There is a similar word in Old English (ramian) which may have come from a Saxon or Dutch word. The experts are puzzled by this little word.
Roam is also something that Buffalo used to do in the old West. Art is by Tate Hamilton.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fun With Babel Fish

Not wanting to think about words this past week. So, today I decided to have fun with Yahoo's Babel Fish. Babel Fish (name from the creature in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) is a handy place to do some simple, if barely literate, translations.
  • Movie - Casablanca - Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine. Translate it English to Spanish to French to German back to English and you get - "From all of Geneva it articulated everywhere in all cities in the world, it goes into meinss." Meinss is a word that Babel Fish made up.
  • Movie - Forrest Gump - My Mama always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get." Translate it English to Spanish to French to German back to English and you get - My mam3a always said, " ; The life was as a crate chocolates; They never know, which you' ; the RH too get." to go; ; Mam3a is Babel Fish's strange try a translating Mama. Also, as you can see, punctuation can be very confusing so You're gets translated into You' R E.
  • Politics - Nikita Khrushchev - Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river. Translate from Russian to English (my source) to Spanish to French to German back to English and you get - The politicians are by all parts entsprech. They promise to build a bridge inclusively, where they are not ninguÌ � n river. So much here. First it translates "no river" to ningún río where the accented-u becomes a random character. An accurate translation is "no hay río." Entsprech is German for Correspond, a word that Babel Fish can't seem to translate into English.
The lesson here? Babel Fish has a fun name but is abysmally stupid at translating. Far better is FreeTranslation.com.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


As in, "to be caught napping."

Nap (n) - A short sleep. Believe it or not, this word is one of the old ones in English. Chaucer used it way back in the 14th century. From the Old English word nappen. And I just love this, it is perhaps from an earlier Old Norse word, hnipna, meaning to drool.
I suppose, truly, that the master of the house has kept you so busy in bed all night long that now you need a nap. ~ Geoffrey Chaucer, The Shipman's Tale

Monday, November 9, 2009

Serial Killer

The phrase first appears in print in 1981 discussing the murder sprees of John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. It probably was used informally by police and journalists since the mid-1960's.

Who you choose as the first recorded serial killer in history depends on how you want to define the phrase. Some suggest Caligula, whose love of torture and killing goes beyond the general blood lust common for political figures of that time. But, emperors and kings have always killed people, its in the job description.

A better choice is Gilles de Rais. A French knight during the 15th century he fought alongside Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years War. He also had a penchant for kidnapping, raping, and killing children. Over an eight year period he killed between 80 and 200 children.

Jack the Ripper is generally regarded as the first modern serial killer.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Killing your sibling. Also used for killing your brother-in-arms, your fellow soldier. From the Latin fratricida. Frater (brother) also appears in fraternity and fraternize. Cida (killer) appears in all sorts of words.
  • Suicide - killing self
  • Homicide - killing another person
  • Genocide - killing a cultural group
  • Regicide - killing your king
  • Insecticide - killing bugs
  • Deicide - killing God
  • Vaccicide - killing cows
  • hirudicide - killing leeches
and my favorite...
  • Onmicide - Destroying everything
You can -cide just about anything you want using Latin and English. Art is Cain practicing fratricide on Abel from a 12th century mosaic.