The SpecGram Archive Elves recently made a large collection of documents available to the XQK Directorate, by leaving them on our doorstep in black plastic sacks in the middle of the night. After an unfortunate incident involving a cucumber, a marmot, and the Director’s favourite coffee mug, we were given the task of cataloging these documents. Going through the collection, we have found that, while apparently lacking provenance (which the Archive Elves attribute to a bizarre set of circumstances obscurely alluded to in editorials passim), they shed unexpected light on the origin of several well known words and phrases. Note that some entries contradict others. Etymology is like that.
Here we publish the first half of our collection of excerpts.
In an effort to quell their destructive emotions, certain Norse warriors strove to quiet their inner turmoil by first quieting their outer mien, often by invoking the aid of one or more of their pantheon. The most common of these evocations was, “I am woe, Odin.” Their firm, stolid visages were seen as the model of unyielding strength. As a fixed phrase, this petition to Odin was subject to haplology, and then reanalysis. Application to the strongest of the structural tissue of trees is a backformation.
The true philosopher is consistent in all he says, but there are many who claim to be philosophers and yet contradict themselves incessantly. These fellows are as stupid as oxen, and thus may be called oxy morons.
It is well known that, as well as being able furniture throwers, Scots are also highly intelligent. This, coupled with their inherited ability to get into a stramash when out on the randan, led to a race of people who were very good at making dangerous substances that could be thrown in a fight. Hence, the name “chemist” is a corruption of “och, ye miss’d”, said when one’s colleague failed to whack the napper of his opponent with a test tube full of something totally rank. Similarly, “physics” is a corruption of “physog”, from “physogeny” or one’s face, which itself became a weapon during a “Glasgow Kiss” or headbutt. Lastly, the term “biology” has a rather complicated backstory, involving John Logie Baird, the invention of the television and an ill-
Ever wondered where “linguistics” got its name and why it is plural? Well, it all began in the mid-
Until the development of cheap stainless steel, many homesteaders in the American West had to make do with cast iron fencing implements that easily rusted, hence the common term for people living far from the cities, “rusty-
A famous anecdote recalls the following conversation between Winston Churchill and Bessie Braddock:
Braddock: Winston, you are drunk, and what’s more you are disgustingly drunk.
Churchill: Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.
Often omitted from retelling is the follow-up utterance by Braddock, “Bugger off, Churchill!” In fact, this response became used so often that “Churchill” was eventually elided to “churl”, which subsequently became a word applied to anyone whose actions merited such a response.
It is well-
The Scottish athletic event now known as the caber toss has been dramatically simplified from its historical roots. Where competitors now toss a single large beam (typically derived from a larch tree), the game originally involved a husband and wife throwing various wooden household furnishings back and forth to each other. Complicated rules aside, the essence of the competition was that larger items, smaller injuries, and greater distances constituted victory. Many large household items derive their modern English names from this game.
Modern “sofa” descends from the expression “so far”, which became the label for the largest of the items which were traditionally tossed, and which normally would travel “only so far”. Within the game, the “trunk”
For the French-
It is a little-
Europeans first encountered elephants in the context of invading African armies, and mistook the creatures for mastodons whose hair had been burned off
While dockers are not always known for having exquisite vocabularies, they are known for their unusually robust physiques. In some regions, they are also saddled with having the moral rectitudes of drunk sailors. Thus, when one stevedore decided to eschew such illicit pleasures and settle down for cosy family life, he became the talk of his town, all the more so given that genetics had endowed him with an aesthetically pleasing visage. Hence, not only did his become the “face that launched a thousand ships” due to his long service but his mere presence on the quayside led to an increase in crew morale. Thus, sailors would gleefully shout to one another, “here comes that hunky dorey”, which, though time and laziness was reduced to “hunky dory” and the expression of contentment we have today.
In the early 20th century, it was often difficult to convince youngsters in rural areas in the US of the importance of doing their schoolwork. As most were destined for traditional farm labor, they saw little value in learning to read and write. In 1907, a brilliant young school teacher working with reluctant adolescents in the rich farmland surrounding Lancaster, PA, devised an innovative system of motivation for these children. She ordered five-
Garu is an Aboriginal word (can’t tell you which language mate, but no worries) meaning “to travel by leaping”. Aboriginals traditionally divide animals into those that can garu, and those that can’t.
More to come...