Melanie & Mike say...

 Tow.jpg (63573 bytes)

      the only Weekly Word-origin Webzine
Search Home FAQ Links Site map Book Store

BackIssues

New Ask Us Theory About

Archive of Your Etymology Questions

Contents

A - D | E - G | H - J | K - M | N - P | Q - S | T - Z

H - J

hallowed | hamburger | hanged | heartstringshello | help | hem and haw | hero | hex | hobo | hocus pocus | hokum | holy | honky-tonk | hoodwinked | hoosegow | hope | horrible | horse of a different color | horseradish | humbug | hungry | hurricane | husband | hush puppy | illuminatiillusion | illustrate | impunity | inch | Indian | Indian summer | Isolde | it ain't over till the fat lady sings | jamboree | jaywalker | jazz | jeans | Jehovah | Jim dandy | John (toilet) | John Doe | judgment | juryrigged

From Dave Blevins:  UPDATED JANUARY 2006

The etymology of jazz -- I have searched the Oxford English Dictionary as well as other resources and none of them seem to know how the word was created. They all admit that the word originated in New Orleans, but how the word came to be is somehow still unknown. I would think that there are still a few key informants alive today in New Orleans who could shed some light on the subject. Why is it that this treasured style of American music has such a poorly researched etymology?

Jazz, unfortunately, is one of those words of which no one knows the exact etymology. Believe me, it has been researched, but to no real avail. Many etymologists speculate that the word, first recorded in 1909, originated in a West African language, was for a long time an African-American slang term in the southern U.S. for "strenuous activity", particularly "sexual activity", and surfaced in the mainstream English language when it was applied to syncopated African-American music. Another source indicates that jazz may be related to jasm (1860), which meant "energy, drive" in a sexual sense. 

However, some of the earliest occurrences of the word in the written record are from baseball, and in San Francisco, no less!  It was not used to refer to music, but to baseball players' energy and joy.  Strange but true.  According to etymologist Michael Quinion, the writer of these baseball articles, E.T. Gleeson, said that he got the term from another journalist while they were both at the local San Francisco team's spring training in 1913.  As the story goes, a musician was also at the camp and he organized evening entertainment.  He put together a band of jobless musicians who played a new type of music which soon came to be known around the training camp as jazz.  The bandleader, Art Hickman, took the music, and its new name, to New York, but apparently the style died out rather quickly.  However, the word jazz now had its first connection with music, which continued  though the style of the music changed.

From Samuel Dallessandro:

I am looking for the etymology of illustrate, illustration, and window for my doctoral dissertation. I cannot get access to the OEDs on line, and when I found you, I thought you might be able to help.
Thank you very much.

Illustrate is closely related etymologically to illuminate. It goes back to Latin illustrare, a compound verb formed from the prefix in- and ilustrare 'make bright,' which came from the same base as produced Latin lumen (source of illuminate) and lux 'light,' and indeed English light. Originally it meant literally 'throw light on,' but this eventually passed via 'elucidate' to, in the 17th century, 'exemplify' and 'add pictures to.' More of the original sense of 'brightness' survives, albeit metaphorically, in illustrious, which comes from Latin illustris 'shining, clear,' a back-formation from illustrare. Illustration is simply the noun formation of the verb. (See the entry for window under "w").

From Michele Williamson:

I found your web page in the internet. I have to write a paper in my German linguistics course comparing the different origins and reasons for the words witch and Hexe. If you can help me, I would greatly appreciate it.

Hex entered the language through Pennsylvania Dutch and comes from Hexe, 'witch,' which came from Middle High German hecse, which came from Old High German hagzissa. (See the entry for witch under "w").

From Lee Murrah:

I am interested in discovering the origins of the term honky-tonk, usually meaning a rowdy dance hall or burlesque show. The term came to be applied to southwestern roadhouses that feature liquor, dancing and violence. A style of country-western music developed in the roadhouses that appealed to their clientele and that was loud enough to be heard over the noise, and it came to be called honky-tonk. Dictionaries simply state "origin unknown" and slang dictionaries make all sorts of wild guesses. The term reportedly first appeared in a newspaper in Ardmore, OK about 1894 to describe a travelling bursleque show (the "Fanny Hill Burlesque Company", no less!) that offended the sensibilities of the editor. I also found the term used by Marshal Wyatt Earp in his quasi-autobiography "Wyatt Earp--Frontier Marshal" to describe the bordellos that were common in Dodge City in the mid-1870's. So presumably the term was used at that time. I think the term sounds like it may be of Indian origin, which is supported by its first appearance on the borders of the Indian Nation. I have found that Indian ballgames had many of the characteristics associated with the modern term "honky-tonk" and the Choctaw word for ball ground (the field on which the game was played) is hetoka.  I would like to know if others have any insight into the etymology of this word.

From Paul Rosenzweig :

Appropriate to the Passover holiday, what is the etymology of the word horseradish? I can find all sorts of cross references to the true Latin name of the vegetable, etc., but no clue why it is called horseradish in English. Any ideas?

The word horse came to be associated in the 15th century with the attributes of coarseness, roughness, or large size, alluding to the large size of the horses of that time. Therefore, the larger, more pungent of the radishes came to be known as the horseradish. Radish comes from Latin radix `root.'

Other examples of horse used to describe the attributes of another word are horseplay and horse mushroom.

From Rob Strauss :

I'm having a standing argument with the pastor of my church about the origin (or actual derivation) of the words holy and hallowed. He says the word originally meant (and actually means) `separate, different,' and I say it comes from `good' and `goodness.' Can you help settle this dispute?

I'll do my best! Holy originated as a derivative of the prehistoric Germanic adjective which produced modern English whole, and so its etymological meaning is perhaps `unimpaired, inviolate.' This ancestral form was *khailagaz, which diversified into German and Dutch heilig, Swedish helig, and Danish hellig as well as English holy. Hallow is essentially the same word (see below), and compounds with holy as now a hidden component include hollyhock as well as holiday.

Hallow is essentially the same word as holy. The noun, as in Halloween, the eve of All Hallows, or All Saints, comes from a noun use of Old English halig, which as an adjective developed into modern English holy; and the verb was formed in prehistoric German times from the root *khailag-, source also of holy.

So, Rob, it appears that your pastor is closest to the etymological sense of the word, though he's not right on the nose, if that's worth anything to you!

From Don W. Hamerly:

I've a few. First, why do we pronounce the word solder as we do? Second, why do we say hanged when referring to an execution only? Third, where did the expression May Day originate?  I'm holding my breath with sincerest thanks.

First, solder comes from Middle English soudur which itself came, via Old French soldure and soulder, from Latin solidare `to make solid.' The American pronunciation stems from the Middle English soudur, which first appears about 1320. The British pronunciation is more in line with a different spelling of the word, souldur which first appears in 1428.

The spelling hanged, referring to execution, came about because before the 16th century, hanged was the past participle of hang. In the 17th century hung became the standard past participle, but hanged was retained in law and as an extension of legal use, as in the pronouncement of punishment, including execution.

May Day, a term used in radio communications for `help us,' is simply the Anglicization of the French phrase (venez) m'aider `(come) help me.'

I hope this is enough so that you can breathe again!

From Joe Papalia:

I've often heard people say, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings!" Besides the obvious overture to opera, can you please tell me where this expression comes from?

I find no indication that there is any other source for this phrase. We have all seen the image of the portly Viking-costumed woman singing the finale in a Wagnerian opera. That is apparently the origin of this phrase. 

This phrase is attributed to the great Yankee baseball catcher Yogi Berra, who likened a baseball game to an opera, noting, "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings..." In this case, until the last out is made, there's always a chance to win.

From Jennifer Payne:

My boyfriend and I recently dined at a seafood restaurant, and he asked a thought-provoking question: Where did they come up with the name hush puppy? Could you please help us out?

The generally accepted explanation for the origin of this term is that bits of leftover cornmeal dough were fried and thrown out to the dogs to quiet them. One source indicates that the word first appears after the American Civil War. Another indicates that it was coined during the Civil War, and yet another claims that hush puppy was first used during Colonial American times. It seems likeliest that the term first came into use in the mid-18th century.

From Jason Bryant:

I was chatting with some people in a pub the other day about the origin of the word ketchup that you provided. Someone mentioned that the origin of denim (i.e., the material) was that it came froma place in France called Nium and hence the material was `of Nium,' i.e. de Nium or denim. I'm not sure if this is true but if it is, would it seem feasible that the name of the person who sold this material was Jean, hence the word jeans?

You're close with the etymology of denim -- this fabric came from Nimes, France. As for jeans, this word, which is the plural of jean, first appeared in English in 1843. Jean is first recorded in 1567, and that comes from the adjective jene, from 1436, which sprang from Middle French Genes `Genoa,' a city in Italy where the strong twilled cotton cloth of jeans was made.

From Dan Graur, Professor of Zoology:  Updated January 2006

I am curious about the origins of two words: hobo and bum. Hobo has been recently used to denote a piece of mobile DNA (transposable element) within the genome of the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster that induces asymmetrical mating barriers (hybrid dysgenesis).

First, I am amused by the fact that our friend Drosophila melanogaster shares a portion of my name (Melanie). As an example of how we can determine the meanings of words using etymology, I'll briefly state that the root melano- means `black' in Greek, so I assume that the Drosophila melanogaster possesses a black gaster, which is the enlarged part of the abdomen behind the pedicel in hymenopterous insects. Now, on to your query.

Hobo's origin is unknown, though it first appears in 1889, having then the meaning which it has today: "a homeless and usually penniless person who wanders from place to place".   Though its etymology isn't known, there are plenty of guesses:  that it comes from Hoboken, in New Jersey; or from French ho, Beau, "hey, handsome", supposedly what beggars in Paris called to rich passersby in the 18th century; or hoe-boy, one who works with a hoe.  However, there is no evidence for any of these.  Michael Quinion, though, likes something similar to ho, Beau.  It is the call or greeting ho, boy, where boy is shortened to bo.  There are some references from the late 19th century railroad industry that seem to support this, but nothing definitive.

Bum "vagrant, tramp", on the other hand, comes from bummer, which is "one who loafs". Bummer first appears in 1855, and its derivative bum appears in 1864. Bummer is thought to be a modified form of Bummler, German meaning "one who loafs", and that came ultimately from German bummeln "to dangle or loaf". Does hobo's meaning explain its use in referring to mobile DNA?

From Kevin Phillips :

Being from the south (lower Alabama) I have come upon many interesting words. Holp is one that I find amusing. I believe that this word originates from the Middle English conjugation of help -- help, holp, holpen -- before the standardization occurred. Do you think this is the case or just another instance of strange coincidence?

I find that most of the older people that say this word [pronounce it] "hope," with the l being silent.

Your assumption is likely correct. The original past tense form of the word help, which is halp, survived until the 15th century, and it was replaced in the 16th century by holp. American English possesses many old forms of words which are not found today in other English-speaking countries, interestingly, so it is not unlikely that holp as used in Alabama is one such word. As for the pronunciation, the l probably disappeared over the years, and it is not difficult to see why -- try saying holp rapidly a few times.

Help, which before 1200 was helpen, has as its likely ultimate source Indo-European *kelp-. It is found in Old English in about 725 as helpan, and some cognates were Old Frisian helpa, Old Saxon helpan, Middle Low German, Middle Dutch, and modern Dutch helpen, Old High German helfan (modern German helfen), Old Icelandic hjalpa, and Gothic hilpan. All of these cognates come from the same Indo-European source, scholars believe, as opposed to a Germanic source, because of the existence of the Lithuanian (i.e. non-Germanic) word shelpti `help,support.'

From Michael Clugston:

Could you tell me the origins of the words wife and husband? A Japanese friend tells me that the Japanese word for wife (okusan) is derogatory (i.e., it literally means `the one who stays in the house, or behind the scenes') and she wonders if there is any such exclusionary notion behind the English word.

English wife does not have quite the derogatory notion that the Japanese equivalent does. In fact, wife originally meant, simply, `woman.' It attained its `married woman' meaning in the Old English period, however, and that meaning has remained. The ultimate source of wife is said to be unknown. Interestingly, the Old English meaning of wife, `woman,' remains in such terms as fishwife, midwife, and old wives' tale . Also, a woman is etymologically a `wife-man,' that is, a `woman-person.'

Husband has origins which are unrelated to wife. In the 13th century it was used to replace we `husband.' (Wer remains today in the term werewolf, literally `man-wolf'). Husband originally meant `master of a household,' coming from Old Norse husbondi. Husbondi, in turn, was a compound of hus `house' and bondi. Bondi was a contraction of boandi `dweller.'

From Nick Selby :

I'm trying to get an etymology for the word Indian as applied to Native Americans. Any help?

This term, as applied to Native Americans, has an interesting background. Columbus, when he discovered America, in fact thought he had arrived in India, a term that often encompassed East India and beyond. The region of the New World that he discovered came to be known as India or the Indies. That term stuck, though it was differentiated from the India which he had originally been seeking by the addition of West -- hence, East India or the East Indies and the West Indies. However, this differentiation was not extended to the name which had been given to the inhabitants of the West Indies and the New World. They continued to be called, if inaccurately, Indians.

From Bruce :

I am looking for some information on references to God in the New and Old Testaments, particularly in the Book of Isaiah. God is referred to as I am and as Yahweh, as well as Jehovah. Please provide information on these words also as they may be related to my search/study. God refers to himself as Abba, also, in the New Testament. Can you provide the roots of that word? One word which I am not sure how to spell exactly but for which I serach ws based on hearing someon espeak of God referring to himeslf as Rahamein (sp?) in Isaiah, I believe. Can you help me with this?

I'll do my best. Interestingly, Jehovah and Yahweh apparently come from the same root. Both words are from an erroneous transliteration (the expressing of a word from one alphabet using a different alphabet) of the Hebrew JHVH (sometimes represented as YHWH), the `unspeakable' name of God. Jehovah was formed by adding the vowels from adonai `my lord' into JHVH, and Yahweh was formed by adding those vowels into YHWH.

Abba means, simply, `father' or even `daddy.' It is Aramaic. The words abbot, abbess and abbey are all descendants of Aramaic abba.

While I have no information on the non-English word Rahamein, I am happy to ask any readers who do to contact Bruce.

From Frank Cabanski:

Two phrases were just given to me: John Doe and eating crow. Where did they come from?

Surprisingly, John Doe has been around since at least the 14th century, if not earlier. One source believes that the first use of the name may go back to the time of the Magna Carta (1215). The Magna Carta required that two witnesses be named in every legal action. When two witnesses could not be found, the name John Doe (as well as Richard Roe) was used. The names were also used to protect the identities of witnesses. This has been the case ever since, and more recently John Doe came to describe 'everyman.'

The origin of to eat crow is not known with certainty, although it is clear that it originated in America in the 19th century. Its meaning is similar to the phrase to eat humble pie. It is widely ackowledged that crow tastes terrible, so this is one possible explanation for its origin! One source notes that Charles Funk cited a story in 1888 that the term came from an incident during the War of 1812. During a truce, an American soldier accidentally crossed into British territory while hunting. He shot a crow there, and was found by an unarmed British officer who, by complimenting him on his excellent shooting, managed to persuade the American to hand over his weapon. The officer then forced the unarmed American to take a bite out of the crow. The American did so, but when the British officer returned his gun to him and tried to send him on his way, the American forced the officer to eat the rest of the crow.

Jill Dybka:

I really enjoy the site. What is the origin of the term heart strings? Thanks

Heartstrings are the nerves or tendons which were formerly believed to brace and sustain the heart, so anything that `tugs at one's heartstrings' affects the heart and 'moves' it. See the entry for memorize by heart in the Archives for more information on heart.

From David Corwin:

I am interested in the origin of the expression to hem and haw. I would appreciate any information you could give me.

This phrase, which means 'to give an indefinite answer, to avoid 'answering,' dates back to the 17th century. Interestingly, it is an imitative term, i.e., hem imitates the sounds made when one clears one's throat ('ahem') and haw represents the sound one might make when stammering or trying to think of something noncommittal to say. If you find this difficult to believe, every source which had a reference to this phrase gave this exact explanation!

Horrible comes from Latin horrere, which refers to 'hair standing on end or bristling.' Of course, hair stands on end when one is afraid, and so horrere came to mean 'tremble, shake, be filled with fear and revulsion.' The 'fear and revulsion' meaning is the one which followed the Latin term into English in the forms horrible, horrid, and horror.

Hurricane first entered English around 1555, coming from Arawakan (natives of the West Indies) hurakan via Spanish huracan. The word took several forms in its infancy in English, including furacane, huarachana, and uracan, all of which were alterations of the Spanish and of Portuguese furacao. Hurricane became the accepted form by 1688.

From Doug Fowler: UPDATED JANUARY 2006

I realize this is slang but I am interested in finding the origin of the term juryrigged. I am sure you have heard gerryrigged or jerryrigged and another racially insensitive version I won't repeat here. Can you help?

Well, I can try. Most sources claim that the origin of the word jerryrig is unknown, but William and Mary Morris, in Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (see my bibliography), indicate that the term is likely a corrupted form of juryrig, which referred to temporary rigging on a ship. Jury as used in juryrig (which arose in the 17th century) likely comes from Old French ajurie "help, relief". The 'temporarily repair' sense remained with the word juryrig, while its nautical roots faded away.  The form jerryrig is thought to be influenced by a possibly separate term, jerrybuilt.  This refers to a house that has been hastily, and shoddily, built, and is thought to derive from Jericho, where "the walls came tumblin' down" (a Biblical town whose protective walls were destroyed by the sound of a trumpet).

The vulgar expression to which you refer is likely patterned after juryrig and jerryrig.

From Joel S. Sokol:

I was wondering about the origin of the expression that's a horse of a different color.

Shakespeare was the man who at least first recorded this phrase in its original form, which was in Twelfth Night: "My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that colour." It meant `my purpose is indeed that.' The phrase's sense eventually changed to `difference' instead of `similarity,' and it became a horse of a different color!

From Robert:

I hear dead as a doornail and hoodwinked today but no one can tell me their origin. I have just gotten on the net and was lucky to have found your site so soon. From what I have seen so far, on a scale of 1 to 10 you are a number 11. Keep up the good work.

Well, Robert, I see you got that money I sent you (just kidding!).

Hoodwinked's source has not been lost to time. Wink originally meant simply `to close one's eyes.' To be hoodwinked was to have one's eyes 'closed' or `covered' by one's hood (hoods were often worn when this term originated, in the 16th century). Thieves would hoodwink their victims in order to rob them. The term was also used to describe the practice of hooding hawks and falcons when they were carried.

From PeachyNJ:

I am interested in finding the history and interesting facts about the words hocus-pocus and nightmlare.

The word nightmlare is one that we've already looked into here. See it in the Archive of Etymologies. Hocus-pocus, however, is not a word that we have investigated yet. Most sources indicate that this is a perversion of a phrase said in the consecration portion of the Catholic Mass: Hoc est corpus meum `This is my body.' The word first appeared in English in around 1624 as Hocas Pocas and was the name given to any magician or juggler. By 1632 it was hocus-pocus. The first record of the meaning `trickery or deception' is from 1774.

From Masinm:

I would like to know the etymology of the word hello.

The current form arose in 1883 as an alteration of hallo, itself arising in 1840 from holla, hollo `a shout to attract attention.' It is possible that holla/hollo came from the earlier English exclamation holla! `stop!' Interestingly, holler `shout' comes from the same source.

From Bob Meyer, Jr.:

Can you help me with the origin of the word impunity? Thanks.

This word, which entered English in 1532, was borrowed both from Middle French impunite and Latin impunitatem `omission of punishment.' The Latin was formed from im- `not' and poena `punishment.' It is related to such words as subpoena, penalty and penal, all of which contain forms of poena.

From Vik Muniz:

Two words: illusion and representation. Thanks.

I believe yours is the most succinct query I've had for this column! My reply won't be quite so short. Illusion entered English around 1350 with the meaning `mockery.' It wasn't until around 1380 that it meant `deceptive appearance.' It came from Old French illusion `a mocking,' which was borrowed from Latin illusionem `a mocking, jesting.' The Latin word was formed from il- `at' + ludere `to play.'

Representation entered English as representacioun some time before 1400. It came from Old French representation and from Latin repraesentationem `a showing, exhibiting.' The Latin form comes from repraesentare `represent' (from re- `back' + praesentare `place before, present'). The meaning `the act of standing in for' arose in around 1389.

From ClChuck@aol.com:

When and why did people start using the word John to refer to a bathroom? Why does the Navy refer to a bathroom as a head?

In nautical terminology, the head was the forward part of a vessel, which is where the euphemistic head was located. John is yet another euphemism for a toilet, and while the exact reason for it being chosen as such a euphemism is not known, what is known is that it was originally Cousin John, as evidenced by a rule published at Harvard College in 1735. That rule, according to William and Mary Morris, was: "No Freshman shall go into the Fellows' Cousin John."

From Meir Shani:

How do hamburger and frankfurter relate to the places in Germany they seem to be called after?

Hamburger itself did not come from Hamburg. Instead, the term comes from Hamburg steak, which was a dish on American restaurant menus by the 1880s. It consisted of cut-up beef eaten cold, and it was apparently so named because it was associated with immigrants who came from Hamburg. By 1885 the dish was called hamburger steak (the -er ending simply indicating that it was "of hamburg"), and by 1901, it was shortened to hamburger and was ground meat fried or grilled in a patty.

Frankfurters were named because they resembled a sausage made in Germany and associated with the city of Frankfurt am Main. The term entered English in 1894.

From John Hartman:

Could you please tell me about the history of Indian summer?  I would really appreciate it.

The origin of this term is not known with certainty, but William and Mary Morris (see my bibliography) suggest that the term arose due to the use of the term Indian as a synonym for `bogus.' Therefore, an Indian summer is something which appears to be summer but is not. There are other similar terms which arose about the same time as Indian summer (the 17th century), such as Indian corn (not what the colonists considered true corn) and Indian tea (again, not true tea). The Morrises suggest that the Indians' occasional use of trickery in their dealings with the white man (who can blame 'em?)may have been the source of the 'bogus' association.

From Andrew J. Burke:

How about jim dandy and doodad?

Doodad is an informal term for an unnamed or nameless item or gadget. Unfortunately, I have no information on the etymology of the term.

The same is true for jim dandy

From Harry Zumaque:

I was curious about the etymology of the first name Isolde.  Thanks for the page and for the help!

There are two possible sources for this name: coming from Celtic (the Welsh form is Esyllt), it would mean `beautiful, fair.' Coming from Old German, it likely would mean `ice ruler.' Of course, the most famous Isolde was that of Sir Thomas Malory, whom he incorporated, with her counterpart, Tristan, in his Arthurian tales. The name is also sometimes seen in the form Yseult.

From Michael Rainone:

I'm curious where the jay in jaywalking comes from. Thanks for your response; this is a great site.

This one is a bit surprising! Jaywalker first entered American English in about 1917, and jay comes from a previous use of jay to describe a `bold or impudent person.' That is thought to come from (blue) jay, which is known to be a bold bird, teasing other animals and even humans as it does. The name of the bird originated before the 14th century as jai, likely from Latin Gaius, a proper name. It was the practice to name birds with proper names (robin, martin, etc.).

From Timothy Cook:

Could you please help me with the origin of the word hero? Is it masculine? What is it the root of, etc.?

This word is indeed masculine in its origins. It comes from ancient Greek heros `man of superhuman ability or strength.' It entered English in the 14th century, but only in the Greek sense. By the 16th century it was being used to denote "a brave or admirable man.' It was originally heros in English, too, but that came to be seen as a plural form, and hero became the singular. The feminine form of Greek heros was heroine, which is the ultimate source of English heroine.

From Kerrie Pacha:

One of my Creative Writing classes has been searching for the history of hokey.

This word likely comes from hokum, `something apparently true but actually untrue or false.' Hokum is thought to come from hocus pocus and bunkum. We've discussed hocus pocus in this column before, but bunkum is actually a phonetic spelling of Buncombe, a county in North Carolina. In about 1820 Felix Walker was the 16th Congress' representative for Buncombe. He made a lengthy yet unimportant speech at that time, continuing it despite protest because he was "determined to make a speech for Buncombe." The name came to apply to any meaningless talk.

From Darren Clark:

I've asked before about related groups of words (day names, month names, etc.), so in keeping with that theme I find myself wondering how we got our names for common measurements of length, area, and volume: inch, foot, yard, mile, league, acre, pint, quart, gallon, etc.

Darren, do I look like an etymological dictionary? Actually, I'll address inch, foot, yard, and mile this week, and we'll look into the rest in the following weeks.

Inch and ounce come, interestingly, from the same source, though ounce has lost its `one twelfth' meaning, while inch has retained it. Both words come from Latin uncia `twelfth part,' whose source is unus `one.' The Latin was taken by Proto-Germanic as *ungkja. Strangely, there are no surviving relatives in any other Germanic languages.

In Old English the word was ynce; by 1200 it was unche. It was inch by 1300.

From Bethany:

Do you kow where the word humbug comes from?

One source lists this word as coming from students in the mid-18th century with the meaning `hoax, jest, trick or deception.' There is also a verb form, which means `to trick.' Other than this, the word's origin is not known. It has come to mean today, however, `nonsense; rubbish.' The connection of this meaning with the original meaning is easy to see.

From A Reader:

Your website caught my attention.  It is very interesting.  I was wondering if you could help me with something. A famous rapper uses the word killuminati on his CD. I have no idea what his meaning is. I believe it may be a word he coined himself, but I'm not sure.  Does it have origins anywhere else, and if so what does it mean? My theory is that it has something to do with military things.  It also sounds like it could be Italian. Any help you could give would be appreciated.

This is clearly a word coined by the singer/songwriter himself by combining kill and illuminati. It is actually quite clever. The illuminati today are people claiming to have enlightenment in a particular subject or subjects. Interestingly, the Illuminati were originally a Spanish sect of the 16th century and a German secret society of the 18th century (the latter was founded by a man named Georg Weishaupt as a secret society within the Freemasons, and some conspiracy theorists claim that Weishaupt later turned up in America as George Washington!). The term comes from Latin illuminare `to throw into light.' I suspect that the rapper in question coined the term to refer to the `enlightened ones' who kill (metaphorically or literally) the less fortunate.

From Virpi Pyykkö:

Could you tell me about the etymology of the terms hope and despair?

Do not despair, for we hope we can help you. Hope is an Old English word. Before 1200 it was hopen, and it arose from Old English hopian `wish, expect, look forward to.' It was cognate with Old Frisian hopia `to hope' as well as Middle Low German, Middle Dutch, and modern Dutch hopen, not to mention Middle High and modern German hoffen. Unfortunately, that is all we know about hope. There has been a suggestion that it is related to hop and that it originally denoted `jumping to safety.' Reaching a place of safety gives one hope, the theory goes on to say.

Despair was dyspayr in about 1300. It was likely borrwed from Old French despeir, which was an early form of despoir, which came from desperer `lose hope, despair,' from Latin desperare (de- `without' + sperare `to hope'). Desperate comes from the same source, as does desperado, which, though it sounds Spanish, is possibly an English invention.

From Shoshana Rosenthal:

Could you please provide some history on the word judgment? I am afraid its connotation is somewhat heavy and forbidding. I'd like some insight. Thanks.

Prior to 1250 the word was jugement, juggement `capacity for making decisions, act of judging, decision.' It was borrowed from Old French jugement, from jugier `to judge.' The Old French noun form was juge, from Latin judicem, a combination of jus `right, law' and dicere `to say.' This word is not necessarily 'heavy and forbidding' by virtue of its etymology, but I suspect it may be if one has ever been on the wrong side of the `law.' Note that the alternative spelling judgement is also accepted in American English, while in Britain the two different spellings each denote different meanings.

Comments, additions? Send to Melanie & Mike: melmike@takeourword.com
Copyright © 1995-2000 TIERE
Last Updated 10/09/06 07:46 PM