Fungus is a Latin word and is a form of the the Greek spoggos, "a sponge". (The double g in Greek is called "digamma" and often represents an ng sound.) By the way, the sponge which is a familiar bath-time adjunct is not a dead animal, it is merely the skeleton which is laid down by a loosely associated colony of animals. The biologist Lewis Thomas noted that these creatures are so loosely associated that you may liquidize a living sponge in a blender, place the resulting goop in a bucket of sea water and in a few hours it will have reorganized itself into a brand-new colony. In fact, you could even liquidize two different species of sponge in the same blender and, left to their own devices, they will miraculously reassemble themselves as two separate colonies. (Please excuse this non-etymological diversion but we think it's pretty amazing.)
English (and only English) maintains a distinction between two classes of fungus - mushrooms and toadstools. No one seems entirely clear where to draw the line between these two but the general idea is that mushrooms are the edible kind and all else are toadstools. Toadstool is said by many dictionaries to be a fanciful construction from toad + stool but at least one edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica carried a series of photographs which showed a male toad mounting a specimen of Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) as if he thought it a female of his own species. The author of the Encyclopedia Britannica article believed that this quite neatly explained the name toadstool. We might agree, too, if it were not for the fact that toad-hat is an alternative name in some dialects and we have yet to see photos of a toad trying on fungal millinery.
The word mushroom is derived from the Old French moisseron which is in turn derived from mousse, "moss". (This is also the origin of the desert called a mousse.) English did not get moss from Old Fench, though, as it already existed in Old English as mos meaning a swamp or bog. This meaning of moss still persists in some English place-names. It is related to a family of words which all suggest wetness, smelliness or something one would regret having stepped in - Middle High German mos "a bog", "moss" or "lichen", Flemish moze "mud", Latin muscus "moss", Old Norse myr "mire" and Lithuanian musai "the scum on sour milk".
When would you imagine that the word swamp first appeared in the English lexicon? Old English? Middle English, maybe? In fact, it first appeared in written form as late as 1691 and for many years was unknown outside of the North American colony of Virginia. It is possible that it existed prior to this in an English dialect but may simply be a Virginian variant of sump.
We may not be the first to have spotted this but it seems to us that the name of sphagnum moss (from Greek sphagnos) seems awfully close to sphaggos (pronounced sphangos) "sponge". While we are speculating, how about punk? No, not the mohawk-wearing, ear-splitting kind (that derives from a 16th century word for "prostitute"), the punk we mean here is a kind of tinder. Various species of fungus, especially the polypores or "bracket fungi", have been used as tinder. The ultimate origins of punk are unknown but it has a dialect variant of funk (sorry, not that sort). This suggests to us that there may be an ancient connection between sphaggos, fungus and punk.
Crony is interesting because there is no record of it before 1660. Samuel Pepys used it in his diary (1665): "Jack Cole, my old school-fellow...who was a great chrony of mine." As early as 1671 the word was identified as university slang. Because of the initial spelling with ch-, some etymologists suggest that the word may derive from a learned use of Greek chronios "for a long time", the suggestion being one of a long-time friend.
Cronyism as a political word arose in the U.S. in the 1940s with the meaning "the appointment of friends to government posts without proper regard for their qualifications." Prior to that cronyism meant only "having to do with friends".
Read about other words in our bookstore.
From G. Wilce::
This word, which is more correctly spelled bumbershoot, first appeared in the U.S. around 1915-1920. It is thought to be a playful alteration of the umber- part of umbrella plus a respelling of -chute (as in parachute).
The word really isn't known in the U.K. The British nickname for an umbrella is brolly or gamp. Brolly is simply a contraction of umbrella, but gamp comes from Dickens' character Sarah Gamp, who always carried a large umbrella in Martin Chuzzlewit.
It's about time for Seattle's Bumbershoot, a folk festival that's held every year over Labor Day weekend. "In 1973, the Bumbershoot site says, "the name Bumbershoot was chosen as a reflection of the city’s reputation for rain but more as a metaphor for [the] Bumbershoot festival as an umbrella for the arts."
From a Reader:
The best explanation, as unsatisfying as it may be, that etymologists have come up with for this word is that it is imitative of the sound made when one spanks. It is first recorded in 1727 in England, in Nathan Bailey's dictionary: "To Spank, to slap with the open Hand."
It also turns up in thieves' cant, where to spank a glaze is to break a pane of glass in a shop window and make a sudden snatch at some article of value within one's reach. In modern terms this is called smash and grab.
From Richard Lightner:
Great story! It's wrong, but it's great! We do love some of the ludicrous stories that we encounter regarding word or phrase derivations. This one's especially good because it's harmless.
The real derivation of bimbo is much simpler; it comes from Italian bambino "baby". It was applied to men, originally - those who were stupid, contemptible, or even disreputable. This was around 1915-20. By the 1920s bimbo referred to "a prostitute"; that plus the earlier meaning seem to have combined to give us today's meaning: "a dim, easy woman". The word himbo has been used to refer similarly to men.
P.G. Wodehouse used bimbo in its original male sense as late as 1947. The first recorded use referring to a woman is from 1929.
From Allan Price:
First, let us diverge a little and discuss the word Basque itself. Of course, it is not the Basques' name for themselves; they are the Euskadi. In fact, the term Euskarian is used by some ethnologists to refer to the pre-Aryan population of Europe, supposing that element was represented by the Basques. Basque, however, comes from Vasconia, the Roman name of the region that encompasses the western slopes of the Pyrenees. This area is also known as Gascony, a word which derives from the same source and so is cognate with Basque. Interestingly, there is a medieval Latin term Basculi which means "brigands or raiders from Vasconia". We guess those Basques were always quite fierce! It is thought that the sk sound in Euskadi, Basque, Gascony and Vasconia represents an ancient pre-Indo-European word for "sea-farer" and is also found in Etruscan.
Now for some English words that come from Basque: anchovy (maybe), garbanzo, jai alai (a fast ball game), [by] Jingo, and possibly sasparilla. There are a few more, but they are not common English words. There are some etymologists who believe that bizarre comes from a Basque word for "bearded", but most (including us) reject that explanation (see Issue 57). Anchovy is thought by some to come from the Basque anchoa, a form of antzua "dry", as anchovies are dried. Garbanzo is thought to have entered Spanish from Basque garbantzu, formed from garau "seed" and antzu "dry". Incidentally, this word exists only in American English; Brits call it the "chick pea". Jai alai is simply Basque for "festival" and "merry", respectively. We discussed by Jingo in Issue 85. As for sasparilla, it is said to come from Spanish zarzaparrilla, thought to be composed of zarza, "bramble", from Basque sartzia, and Spanish parilla, a diminutive of parra, "vine".
The Basques are fond of z's, it seems, at least in the words we got from them!
Jean Jacobi joins Malcolm Tent and Barb Dwyer in this week's curmudgeoning:
Oooh, and that side panel information is so tasty, too!
Your excellent example of misuse reminds us of another, similar one: healthy vs. healthful. "Have a healthy snack!" That means, of course, that you should have a snack that is not ill!
From Mike James:
Excellent! Thanks, Mike, for the song and for the link to Paul Brians' site.
From Mel Moyer:
Haha - you know that puns like that deserve fun-guy-cide!! Thanks for your note!
From Steve Parkes:
Many thanks. Do, please, tell us the "Royal" vs. "British" story, that's just the kind of inconsequential trivia we live for. Oh, and while you're at it... what's a mollet? It sounds like some kind of fish.
From Sam Small:
Great quotations, Sam. Scholars believe that Shakespeare did mean "key" in that sonnet. He was simply mistaken about the meaning of jack. (One of the very few chinks in his encyclopedic knowledge.) Richard III is one of our favorite works of Shakespeare, by the way.
From Bob Band:
No, we hadn't run across hosey before. We didn't have a whole lot of time to look into it, however, and we would love to hear from other readers familiar with this term.
As for punctuation inside or outside the quotation marks, Mike (a Brit) says that he was always taught to place the comma inside. It was (for you new readers out there) printers who began placing the comma inside the quotation marks to save their commas from being damaged or lost.
Dining in Style
Our favorite restaurant style - brassiere! Does that mean that all of the wait staff, male or female, must wear brassieres? And is there such a thing as a sans-brassiere-style restaurant? The ad meant, of course, brasserie "brewery".
This was taken from the Asian Wall Street Journal.
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