Issue 203, page 2

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Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Roger:

What is the origin please, of the word Ings used in Yorkshire to denote a road or passage, as in Hall Ings, a passageway in Wakefield town or Round Ings Road on the moors near Huddersfield, two very different Ings?

That's a good question.  The OED tells us that ing means "meadow" and specifically a meadow near a watercourse, with the added sense of "swampy".  This word is common in the north of England, which, for our readers outside of the U.K., is exactly where Yorkshire is.  The word doesn't turn up in the written record until 1483, and the OED further tells us that ing is not found in Old English.  However, The Oxford Names Companion indicates that ing in the place name Ingoe in Northumbria (hmmm, do you think that might be in the NORTH of England, also?) derives from Old English ing "hill". While these two sources might seem contradictory, they are not - ing in Middle or Modern English would very likely have had a slightly different form in Old English, and there is simply no word referring to a meadow or a swamp in Old English that could have turned into ing "meadow" in Middle and Modern English.  To further complicate matters, there are some other ings that turn up in English place names:  one means "the people of" or "family, followers" (inga), and another means "place of" (ing).  So Hawkinge in Kent means "place frequented by hawks", while Birmingham means either "homestead [ham] of the family or followers of a man called Beorma" OR "homestead at the place associated with Beorma" - etymologists are not sure if the -ing- element comes from inga or ing

So, which of these is in the name Hall Ings?  The original Hall Ings appears to be in Bradford, Yorkshire, and today it is a field.  Over 500 years ago, it was Hallyng, which one local claims means "meadow below the hall", there having been a large hall nearby.  There are several Old English words that can result in a hall element in a place name, so we were initially skeptical about the Hall element really meaning "hall", but since ing meaning "meadow" does not have an Old English precursor, this suggests that the place name Hallyng is relatively recent, and so the "hall (building)" origin is certainly plausible.  The Hall Ings passageway in Wakefield is probably named after the field in Bradford.

As for Round Ings Road, we're not as certain, but it appears the road goes over a hill or hills near the village of Outlane, so this ing may be referring to the hills.  Whether the road goes Round the hills or the hills themselves are Round, we don't know, but we will not be at all surprised if at least one of our readers knows and clues us in!

From Seth:

While discussing English with my significant other, she said something interesting about the word dumpling. Having gone to a charm school, she was given a list of words that are not proper to say. Dumpling was one of them. The teacher would only comment that the origin of the word was naughty. Naturally, this intrigued me, as how could this word be naughty in origin? I have checked everywhere and am not able to find out anything. Please, let me know if you know the origin, even if it turns out not to be naughty.

Chinese-style dumplingsWhat is naughty is a charm school teacher who makes things up!  The word dates from the late 16th century when it referred to a mass of dough that is boiled plain or with fruit in the center.  The fruit variety was sometimes baked.  The earliest citations in English call this food item a "Norfolk-Dumplin" or "Norfolke dumpling", suggesting that the dish originated in Norfolk (England).  The best guess as to its origin is that it comes from Low German and East Frisian dump "damp, moist, heavy", with the addition of -ing, a suffix forming a diminutive.

The first quotation for dumpling in the OED is as follows:

When mine Hostis came up to call me, I was as naked as your Norfolk-Dumplin.
                             -The Blind Beggar of Bednall Green

Perhaps that charm school teacher ran across this quotation and it was too shocking for her tender ears (though we must admit that we could not get our hands on a copy of the 1881 edition of the poem which the OED tells us contains this quotation; the 1910 edition of the poem does not seem to include this line).  That's the bawdiest reference we could find to dumpling.

From Chris:

Where did the word pee come from?  Some one asked me where the word originated.  I have no answer for them. Do you have any idea ?

Sure!  It is simply from the first letter of the word pissPiss is not considered polite today, but it was in fairly wide use up to the 19th century.  Pee was coined as a euphemism for piss and the verb form of pee dates in the written records from 1788; it probably existed some time before then but simply did not get written down.  Piss is quite a bit older, dating in writing from 1290.  It is thought to be onomatopoeic (imitative in sound) of the act of urinating. 

English got piss from Old French, which also gave it to other Germanic languages. Those public urinals that ornament the streets of French cities are called pissoirs. Words related to piss are also found in other Romance languages.  For instance, in Catalán the verb is pixar - does the animation studio of the same name know that?  The claim is as follows:

Pixar - Action (verb) of making pixels in Spanish. According to The Second Coming of Steve Jobs book by Alan Deutschman, Ed Catmull and John Lassetter were looking for a sticky name and came up with Pixer, but they thought it sounded better in Spanish: Pixar. The company was founded after Steve Jobs bought the computer graphics division from Lucasfilm for $10 million.  - from Company Names Trivia

That suggests an existing Spanish verb pixar "to make pixels", and there is no such Spanish verb, but we found a slightly different version of the story in the San Francisco Chronicle:

They renamed it Pixar, a made-up Spanish verb derived from the word "picture"...

The Chronicle article claims that Ed Catmull, John Lasseter and Alvy Ray Smith (and possibly Steve Jobs) came up with the name.  Even if they did not know at the time that it means "to piss" in Catalán, surely someone told them once their company started to gain notoriety.  One saving grace for Pixar is that the Catalán verb is pronounced "pee-shar".

From Tedra:


We love queries that show such an economy of words.  We can reciprocate:

Algonquin (Cree pakan, Ojibway pagan, Abenaki pagann) "that which is cracked with a tool".  1773 in English, paccan.  By 1876 in current form.

OK, maybe that gets a bit dull.  The native range of the pecan (Carya illinoensis) extended generally from east Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri into southern Illinois and Ohio.  Some Native American groups used pecans extensively for their nutmeats and their oil.  The Algonquin-based names for the nut gave us English pecan.  Even today the word is pronounced differently depending upon what part of the U.S. you hail from.  In the Northeast many say PEE-can, while in Texas and much of the South it is pronounced peh-KAHN.  Some also say peh-CAN.  The earliest form of the word in English was paccan, and some later forms were pecanne and pekan.

The pecan is a member of the hickory family and, you guessed it, hickory is also a Native American word, again Algonquin (probably Powhatan, to be more precise).  The OED's earliest citation for hickory is from 1653 when the word was still pohickory; another source gives a 1612 date for pokahichary (from the writings of William Strachey), and Robert K. Barnhart gives 1618 for pockerchicory, but he does not name the primary source.  The secondary source that suggests the 1612 date (research horticulturist L.J. Grauke) also claims that pokachicary was a revered Powhatan drink made from pounding hickory nuts with water (versus the name for the actual hickory tree).

Chicory, by the way, is not Native American but dates from 1393 in English, coming from Latin cichorium.  The Romans took it from Greek kichora "endive".

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