Melanie & Mike: say...
|the only Weekly Word-origin Webzine|
|August 23, 1999|
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Hardly a week goes by without us receiving a letter like this:
Our first reaction to this is "Why ask us? Ask the smart-aleck who e-mailed you the question." Our second thought was to run a database query on the Oxford English Dictionary. This is what we found:
The good news is that there are more than three words which end in -gry. There are, in all, seventeen (or sixteen, if you don't count the two grys as separate words). But, hey kids, did you notice how many times the words obscure, obsolete and rare were used? Not one of them could be construed as "a common English word" by any stretch of the imagination.
UPDATE (January 2006): We neglected to provide you the entire -gry riddle and the answer in our original discussion. Here they are:
The answer is what, for it is identified in the riddle (see the third line). Melanie remembers this riddle from the 1970s, and research indicates that is when it first turned up. It regained popularity in the 1990s on the Internet, often in a corrupted form. So it was originally a silly riddle which caused a commotion back in the '70s and again in the '90s.
For another internet hoax, see Issue 39. Incidentally, the -gry quiz has been floating around since well before internet became a household word.
From William Knowlton :
The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition, defines geek as "slang: 1. An odd or ridiculous person". The OED, on the other hand (which is sometimes less in touch with American slang) defines it simply as "a fool, a simpleton". The source of the word is thought to be the dialectic word geck "fool", which comes from Low German geck. The Low German word has a cognate in Middle Dutch geck, and it crossed over into the High German dialects and the Scandinavian languages, all versions having similar meanings. The term's evolution to mean something akin to "someone who is socially inept" is easy to see when one learns the word's origin. Geek was first recorded in 1515, believe it or not (in the form geke), and Shakespeare used it in 1601 in Twelfth Night (he used gecke).
In America, geek came to be applied to carnival freaks in the 1950s. That usage continued through the 60s, and in the late 70s the word came to be applied to people who were considered unusally interested in technical matters to the detriment of their social life, especially people who worked with computers. There is also a verb geek "to look for". It entered slang usage in the U.S. in the 1980s with respect to looking for cocaine. It comes from a different source, according to most etymologists: German gucken, "to peer at something".
From Phillip Riles:
It's about time we revisted this word. What's all the hype about, after all? Well, the word etymology comes from Greek etumon "true or literal sense of a word according to its origin", via Latin etymon. This gave English etymon, possessing the same meaning. An etymon came to refer to the "root from which a particular word was derived", and so modern etymology deals with the study of such roots. The suffix -logy means "study of" and comes from Greek logia which itself comes from -logos "one who deals with". The latter comes ultimately from Greek legein "speak of". The word is first recorded in the late 14th century.
From Roger :
Abecedarium means "a book which illustrates the alphabet" in Medieval Latin and comes from Late Latin abecedarius, which itself comes from the names of the letters A B C and D plus the affix -arius whose English equivalent is -ary "of or relating to". The Middle English derivative abecedarian refers to "one who teaches the alphabet", and it also has come to mean "elementary or rudimentary", for obvious reasons. Abecedarian dates from the the early 17th century.
From Stephen Jonke:
The connection of the heart to memorization comes from the age old belief that the heart was the center of vital functions as well as the seat of affection. To memorize something by heart is literally to "know it with the center of oneself", and the center of oneself at one time was the heart. To this day the heart remains such in a metaphoric sense.
Heart comes ultimately from Old English heorte "heart", which has relatives in Old Frisian herte "heart" and Old Saxon herta "heart". The Indo-European root to which heorte is related is *kerd, from which comes Greek kardia, source of the group of medical terms related to "heart". By heart goes all the way back to at least the 14th century, when Chaucer used it in Troilus and Criseyde: "She told ek al Þe prophesies by herte." By the way, Þ is the Old English/Icelandic letter thorn which represents the voiced "th" sound, and Þe is "the".
In Chinese, the word hsin means both "heart" and "mind". But don't think that the equation of heart and mind is universal. In earlier periods it was thought that the innermost feelings resided in the bowels. Hence Cromwell's famous words to King Charles the First: "In the bowels of Christ, I beseech thee: bethink thou may be wrong."
From Jeff Mallory:
Interestingly, these words are not related, even though their spellings are similar. Ague, "a febrile condition in which there are alternating periods of chills, fever, and sweating", actually comes from Latin febris acuta "sharp fever" which found its way into Middle English as fever agu. In the Middle Ages the Latin adjective acuta came to be used on its own as a noun meaning "fever", and this became ague in medieval French and was borrowed into English as ague. From the end of the 14th century ague was used to mean "malaria", as the word malaria (literally, "bad air") did not enter the language until the mid 18th century.
Etymologically, plague actually means a "blow" or "stroke". It goes back to the same Indo-European root*plag- "hit", which produced Latin plangere "beat". Greek plaga "blow" derived from the Indo-European root, and Latin took it as plaga "blow", "wound". In the Vulgate (the Bible translated into Latin) it was used to mean an "infectious disease", and it was borrowed with that meaning, as well as the now obsolete "blow", via Old French into English. *Plak-, an alternative form of *plag-, gave English apoplexy and plectrum. Plague "torment or disease" dates from the 15th century.
Plangere is also the source of English complain, plaintiff, plaintive, plangent and plankton. Plangent, a term which is most often used to describe a musical sound, originally alluded to the sound of waves "beating" against the shore.
...our soapbox where we vent our spleen regarding abuses of the English language.
This is so different!
There are many self-appointed arbiters of English style who will tell you which word to use after different. Is it different from, different than, or different to? Well, to tell the truth we don't care. What does irk us, though, is saying simply "such-and-such is so different". The word different is used to make comparisons. It denotes contrasting qualities. Therefore, "I love that restaurant because it's different" doesn't really make sense. Different from what, pray tell? Every other restaurant? We should hope so!
If you think we're being too curmudgeonly about this, just say, "I love that restaurant because it's so identical" and then think again.
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Last Updated 01/07/06 10:39 PM