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

Q - S

quart | quash | quest | rage | raining cats and dogs | Randall | rank and file | reality | receipt | recipe | red cent | religion | representation | research | ride | (in one's own) right | road | ruddy | rule of thumb | run the gauntlet | run the gamut | Rupert | sabotage | sacred | salary | salivation/salvation | saponification | scab | scholar | science fiction | scrooge | scuttlebutt | sea change | segue | semen | Semitic | sesquicentennial | shanks' mare/pony | shenanigans | sialic | silver | singlet | sirloin | six ways to Sunday | skirt | skosh | skullduggery | skunk | slang dictionaries | so long | solder | soldier | son | sophomore southpaw | sow wild oats | sphygmomanometer |spirit | squash | story/storey | straight from the horse's mouth | stumped | success | suck | sugar | sun | surf | surprise | Sussex, Essex, Wessex, Middlesex

From Martin J. Bertrand:

I was wondering where the word "sialic" came from. What is the origin of this word? More precisely related to "sialic acid". You see, I'm taking a Biochemistry course and was wondering (as well as the professor) what the origin of the word is.

Sial is a combination of silicon and aluminum, and it describes rock that is rich in silicon and aluminum and that forms the upper layer of the earth's crust under all of the continents. I assume that sialic is related to this term. If any readers have additional information on the term sialic, please send me e-mail.

From Gabriel Ortiz:

Any chance you might have something on "salary?" I'm looking for etymology, evolution and logic for today's meaning.

Salary's a good one: It goes back to a Latin word that originally denoted an 'allowance given to Roman soldiers for buying salt' (salt being in former times a valued commodity, over which wars were fought, rather than taken for granted as it is today). This was salarium, a derivative of sal 'salt.' It soon broadened out to mean 'fixed periodic payment for work done,' and passed in this sense via Old French salaire and then Anglo-Norman salarie into English.

From John Haffner:

What is the etymology of story, as in `12-story building?'

Storey, which is spelled story in American English, comes ultimately from Latin historia `account of events, narrative, history' (source also of English history). Storey/story itself was borrowed directly from Anglo-Latin historia, which is known to have been used for `picture,' and may also have denoted a `row of pictures in the form of stained glass windows or statues, telling a story,' which filled the entire wall betweeen floor and ceiling at a given level of a building.

From Molly Strange:

I am curious about rank and file -- I think it came from chess?

Rank and file was originally a military term, but it was later applied to the membership of labor unions in this country, and now it is used to refer to 'ordinary folk.' Rank and file refers to the enlisted component of an army, as contrasted with the officers. The designation comes from the fact that ordinary soldiers are required to muster in ranks -- drawn side by side -- and files -- one behind the other. Obviously the leaders -- officers -- are not required to assemble in such group formations.

From David Riban :

Sphygmomanometer: I am interested in learning the origin of the name of this medical device used to measure one's blood pressure.

The prefix of sphygmomanometer comes from Greek sphugmo- `of or relating to the pulse' which came from sphugmos `pulsation' which, in turn, came from sphuzein or sphugo `to throb.'. Manometer, an instrument used to measure the pressure of gases and liquids, comes from Greek manos `rare, sparse' with the addition of the affix -meter which comes ultimately from Greek metron `measure.'

From D.J. Tambasco :

I am interested in the set of [placenames]ending in -sex, i.e. Essex, Wessex, Middlesex, etc.

The -sex affix on the placenames in England which you mention refers to the Saxons. Hence, Essex was originally the `territory of the East Saxons' (from 9th century East Seaxe `East Saxons'); Wessex was originally West Seaxe `West Saxons;' and Middlesex, in the 6th century, was Middelseaxan, `middle Saxons.'

From Forest J. Rushay :

Is there a prefix for `1 1/4' (a la 1 1/2 = sesqui-)? How about for 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 (as in 25th, 50th and 75th anniversaries)? My university recently celebrated its 125th anniversary, and it really bugged me that I couldn't find the right word.

I haven't come upon any previously coined terms for `one and a quarter.' If anyone has, please e-mail me. However, in the mean time, let's have some fun. The prefix sesqui- is Latin and comes from semi- `half' and que which means `and,' so sesqui- means `and half' or `and half as much again.' In Latin, quartus means `a fourth,' so quartisquicentennial *might* describe a 125th anniversary. A quarticentennial *might* be a 25th anniversary, and a 75th anniversary *might* be a triquarticentennial. A 50-year anniversary is certainly documented as a semicentennial, semi- meaning `half' in Latin.

From Morgan Birge, II :

I've been trying to find the meaning of two names: Damian and Rupert. Any suggestions?

Damien comes from Greek damazein `to tame.' The name was popular among early Christians, and it may reflect their espousal of placidity and contemplation.

Rupert is the Low German and Dutch variation of Robert; the name was made famous in England by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who was a general for his uncle Charles I during the English civil war in the 17th century. Robert comes from Old English Hreodbeorht, from hrothi `fame' and berhta `bright' and translates to `shining in fame.' After the Norman conquest of England, the Norman-French version of the name, Robert replaced the Old English one.

From Andy Fano:

I was interested in finding out the origin of scuttlebutt.

This is an interesting one. Scuttlebutt is a compound word formed from scuttle, a `small opening or hatchway in the deck of a ship, furnished with a lid,' and butt `a large cask, especially for holding wine or water.' Therefore, a scuttlebutt was a cask used to carry a day's worth of drinking water aboard a ship, or, in more modern times, it is a drinking fountain aboard a ship or naval/marine installation. The term scuttlebutt `gossip' emerged as sailors would congregate around the scuttlebutt and engage in friendly chat and gossip.

From Don W. Hamerly:

I've a few. First, why do we pronouce 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!

Compiled from Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris and from The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology by Robert K. Barnhart.

From Jack Worlton :

The word religion is notoriously difficult to define. It comes, of course, from the Latin religio, but whence comes this word? One etymology is from religare, from re- `again' and ligare `to bind.' Thus, religion is that to which we are double or strongly bound. But we have many bonds, so we conclude that we have many religions. An good thought, but are there other etymologies of religio?

Excellent question. The current meaning of religion has evolved to `belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.' However, as you suggest, that specific meaning is not found in the etymological history of the word religion. The root of the word is indeed thought to be Latin religare, which means `to tie fast,' as you have noted. From that came Latin religio which originally meant `obligation, bond.' This word developed a more specialized sense: `bond between human beings and gods.' In the 5th century the word came to pertain to `monastic life,' and it was this sense that the word possessed when English acquired it via Old French religion in the 12th century. The current meaning did not evolve until, surprisingly, the 16th century.

Interestingly, a lone source attributes the source of Latin religio to relegere `go through' or `read again.' The source does not indicate how the progression from `read again' to `belief in supernatural powers' might have occurred, however.

From Mary Thiele Fobian:

I'm looking for the origins of the word skunked, generally meaning that you didn't get what you were hoping for. Any help is appreciated. Thanks.

The word skunk as a verb generally means `to defeat by keeping your opponent from scoring.' I have found only one source which offers any information on this word's origin, and it merely indicates that the verb was formed from the noun skunk, the North American member of the weasel family. The verb form first appears in 1831. The noun comes from Algonquian seganku `skunk.'

From Brandon Lau:

I have promised someone that I would look into the etymology of the word research. He is curious as to why we would use the word research and not search in our quest for NEW knowledge.

Research, which first appeard in English in about 1577, comes from Middle French recerche, which itself comes from Old French recercher `seek out, search closely' (re- `intensive' + cercher `to seek out'). Cercher comes ultimately from Latin circare `go about, wander,' from circus `circle.' The meaning `a careful search for facts' first appears in English in the first half of the 17th century.

From Earl Atnip :

[What is] the origin of posh? What is the origin of skoash?

The origin of posh has been widely conjectured. The most popular explanation among amateur etymologists is that the word is an acronym formed from port outward, starboard home, referring to the location of the most expensive accommodations aboard ships traveling between England and India (such accommodations were expensive supposedly because they were cooler due to receiving less direct sunlight). That explanation has never been substantiated. Instead, it is thought that the word comes from the earlier posh `dandy' (from around 1890), which itself is linked to posh `halfpenny,' or more broadly, `money.' That meaning is thought to be borrowed from Romany posh `half.'

As for skoash, could you mean skosh? This word is pronounced with a long o, which would account for your spelling. This word, which means `a small amount' and which is used adverbially with a (i.e., a skosh bit), comes from Japanese sukoshi `small amount.' It is first recorded in English in 1952.

From Tim:

Could you please give the etymology for the word sacred?

Sacred comes from Latin sacer `sacred, holy,' which itself came from the same word that produced Latin sancire `consecrate,' source of English saint and sanctuary. Other words that come from Latin sacer come via the derived verb sacrare `consecrate.' These include consecrate, execrate, sacrament, and sacred itself. Sacred was originally the past participle of the now obsolete English verb sacre `consecrate,' which was a descendant, via Old French sacrer, of Latin sacrare. Some other relatives of sacred are sacerdotal (from Latin sacerdos `priest,' a derivative of the same base as sacer), sacrifice (from a Latin compound meaning `make holy'), sacrilege (from a Latin compound meaning `steal holy things'), sacristan and its more heavily disguised relative sexton, sacrosanct (etymologically `consecrated with religious ceremonies'), and sacrum `bottom section of the spine (short for medieval Latin os sacrum `holy bone,' which was a direct translation of Greek hieron osteon, an allusion to the use of the bone in sacrificial ceremonies).

From Lynne McMahon:

A student from the school at which I work asked me for the origin of the word singlet. Another question: is there any relationship between the word singlet and the word doublet? I hate not being able to answer a ten year old.

Actually, singlet and doublet are related. The underlying meaning of doublet `close-fitting jacket' is `something folded or doubled.' Singlet was formed after doublet and referred to a vest being made from a `single' layer of material.

Doublet came into English in the 14th century via French doublet, itself a derivative of double. Double comes via Old French doble or duble from Latin duplus. This was a compound adjective formed from duo `two' and an Indo-European element *pl- which denoted `folding' (the element is present in English fold and ply).

Singlet, the object of your query, which means `vest' and is first recorded in the 18th century, comes, of course, from single, patterned, as mentioned above, after doublet coming from double. Single comes via Old French sengle or single from Latin singlulus. This was formed from sim-, the stem of simplus `single' (which came from the same Indo-European base that produced English same and similar), together with the diminutive suffix -*go and a further element -*lo.

From M. Kalil:

I'm trying to locate the source of two euphemisms. The first is phrase that has dropped into common usage, six ways to Sunday. The second is boost `steal.'

Unfortunately, though I have heard the phrase six ways to Sunday on a few rare occasions, I can find no information on its source.  As for boost, an intransitive verb, I suspect that this word arose based upon the premise behind shoplift, that is, `moving' something up and out of the store (without paying for it!).

Road: Road comes from the same ultimate source as ride, and indeed in the Old English period it meant either simply `riding' or `hostile incursion on horseback' (a sense preserved in inroads (16th century) and in raid, which is historically the same word as road). By the 14th century the sense `sheltered anchorage' (now represented by the plural roads) had emerged, but the central modern meaning `track for traffic' did not put in an appearance until the late 16th century (hitherto the main words for expressing this concept had been way and street).

From G.M. Hogle:

We're out here "surfing the net." What's the origin of the word surf?

Surf originally meant `waves on the shore.' It first appears in 1685 and is thought to be an alteration of suffe, the r being added likely due to the influence of surge. Both surf and suffe were used with regard to the coast of India, and so perhaps the word is of Indic origin. However, surf's true origin is unknown. One source notes that suffe may be a phonetic spelling of sough `a rushing sound.' The word in verb form meaning `ride the crest of a wave' first appears in 1917.

From Eric Wallace:

I was wondering about the phrase straight from the horse's mouth. Do you have any insight into its origin? Thanks.

This phrase, which means `from the best authority,' arises from the centuries-old fact that one can tell a horse's true age by examining his teeth. (this notion also gave rise to don't look a gift horse in the mouth, which dates from as early as the 5th century). Straight from the horse's mouth, however, dates only from the 1920's.

From James Rubarth-Lay:

While reading William Safire's column in this week's New York Times Magazine (6/2/96), I saw a word I had not run across before, jamahiriya as in the official title of Libya, Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, which he defines as `gathering.' I realized at once that it sounds much like the American colloquialism jamboree, which also means `a gathering.' None of the dictionaries I have looked at so far have even speculated on an origin for jamboree. Can you comment?

The reason that most dictionaries cite no origin for this word is because no one knows definitively where jamboree came from. I found only one source which conjectures about the word's origin, indicating that it may be related to jam `press tightly' or `squeeze,' perhaps having been formed on the pattern of shivaree, `a noisy mock serenade for newlyweds.' Jamboree first appears in English in 1868. There is no evidence that it is related to jamahiriya, though your guess was a good one!

From Randy J. Smith :

My wife and I are mentoring our children (and each other) at home and have agreed to "own" at least one word per day. We have searched for etymology dictionaries online (as we see you have) and have not found any.  Our word for yesterday was sun. Could you help us with it?

This word first appears in Old English. It should not be surprising that this word's origins are quite old, going back to Indo-European roots, as the sun is and has been so central to daily life. Those Indo-European roots related to the sun are *sau- and *su-. The sau- form acquired an l suffix, which in turn gave rise to Greek helios (source of English heliotrope), Latin sol (source of English solar, solarioium, etc., as well as the Romance languages' words meaning `sun'), Welsh haul, and Swedish and Danish sol. The *su- form, which gained an l suffix, produced Russian solnce, Czech slunce, Serbo-Croat sunce, etc. The modern West Germanic languages inherited the *su- form with an n ending, resulting in German sonne, Dutch zon, and English sun.

From Brenda Kulon:

Hi. I got into a discussion with my husband about the word southpaw. Years ago I read about the design of baseball diamonds, so that the winds, I belive, blew from first to third, or west to east. Then I tried to remember how the word southpaw was associated with that. But I can't. Can you help me out with the term southpaw?

Yes, the origin of the word is certainly related to baseball, but one reliable source notes that southpaw was coined in Chicago, where the ballpark faced east and west, with home plate to the west, so that a left-handed pitcher threw from the south side -- hence, left-handed pitchers became known as southpaws. This same source notes that the term was coined by Finley Peter Dunne, who covered sports for the Chi cago News, as early as 1887. Mr. Dunne went on to become a renowned political humorist.

From Michelle Ainscough:

How early do the words sun and son draw comprison?

Actually, these words are not etymologically related, but, like may English homonyms, have different origins. Sun was discussed last week and may be read about at The Archive of Etymologies. Son, on the other hand, is a very old word, as evidenced by its relatives in several Indo-European languages. The common ancestory is believed to be the Indo-European root *sunu- or *sunyu-. This may be related to Sanskrit su- `carry, bear,' the original meaning possibly having been `birth,' and the current meaning of son evolving from `birth' to 'offspring' and then 'male offspring.'

From Maureen Goldman:

According to Webster's, the term science fiction dates back to 1851. I'd like to know how it arose. This is the year of Mary Shelley's death, so there might be a connection.

Surprisingly, I'm unable to find any good information on this term.

From Bonnie Conant:

What is the origin of the word segue?

This word comes from Italian segue `there follows,' the third person singular present tense form of seguire `to follow.' Seguire comes from Vulgar Latin sequere, which itself comes from Latin sequi `follow.' Sequi (source of sequel and sequence, to name a few), comes from the Indo-European root *sek- `follow.'

From Dan Gelfand:

Is it possible for you to research the phrase in her (his, their) own right as in "She is a master musician in her own right"? I know what the meaning of the phrase is but I cannot see the connection between that and the individual definitions of the words.

I did research this phrase and came up with nothing precise. However, the word right has an interesting etymology which may help explain the origin of the phrase in one's own right. The word's Indo-European source meant `straight' or `stretched out.' By the Old English period the word had attained its meaning of `just, good, proper.' In the 13th century the notion of the right side arose, as for most people the right hand was the dominant one, and so it was considered the `good' or `proper' hand and, later, side. From that directional meaning arose the sense of the political right, for in most European countries, the conservatives would sit on the right side of the presiding officer in the legislative house.

The development of meaning which is key to your query is likely related to direction. In Latin, dexter meant `on the right.' However, since most people are more skillful when using their right hand, dexter came to mean `skillful.' Examples of this in English are dextrous and dexterity. It is from this sense that in one's own right may arise -- that is, `by one's own skillfulness.'

Interestingly, Latin dexter also has chemical/biological applications. Dextrose is a form of glucose through which the plane of polarization of light is rotated toward the right.

From Harring Figueiredo:

Please, what is the etymology of the word success?

This word entered English from succeed in the 16th century. Succeed entered English in the 15th century from Old French succeder, which itself came from Latin succedere. That word is a compound verb formed from sub- `under' in the sense of `next under' or `after,' and cedere `go.' The meaning of `getting near to something' changed in Latin to `doing well, prospering,' hence the meaning behind success.

From Robin Johnston:

What is the derivation of the phrase raining cats and dogs?

The origins of this curious phrase, which originated in the 17th century, have been lost, but the current accepted theory is that, due to the primitive drainage systems used in the 17th century, a heavy rainstorm could cause gutters to overflow with much debris, including garbage, sewage, and dead animals. Other possibilities include the notion that a severe storm could be considered similar to cats and dogs fighting, or that in Northen European mythology, it is believed that cats influence the weather and dogs reprsent wind.

From Jasr:

This question is concerning the phrase to sow wild oats, which appears both in Spanish and in English, and must be fairly old. Also, what about those words like for-give (in Spanish per-don, in French par-don) which are composed of two separate words that have been translated literally. Thanks for the help.

To sow wild oats means 'to behave foolishly' or 'indulge in excess while one is young.' This has been an English idiom since the 16th century, and it refers to the sowing of inferior wild grain instead of superior cultivated grain, alluding to sexual promiscuity. It suggests that such is something that one will grow out of. The phrase likely arose in one language (English or Spanish) and was translated into the other.

Forgive was, in Old English, forgiefan 'give, grant, forgive' (from for- 'completely' and -giefan 'give'). Interestingly, this word is a calque (a word translated into one language from another language), having come from Latin perdonare 'forgive, pardon' (clearly the source of the Spanish and French forms). The Latin word was a compound formed from per- `thoroughly' and donare 'give.' The translation from Latin occurred in prehistoric Germanic times, the Proto-Germanic form being *fergeban.

From Suzanne Clegern:

First off, thanks for a fantastic page! Great idea! My question is: What is the origin of suck as in the phrase, "That really sucks!" or "He totally sucks at football." My mom thinks it's related to oral sex, but I think it's related to the old phrase, "Go suck an egg!" or "Go suck lemon." Can you help?

You're welcome! Thank you for your kind words. As for suck in the sense you describe, I've been unable to find any information on the word's origin. .

From Lloyd W. Brown:

What is the origin of the phrase to run the gauntlet? It has been suggested that it refers to Arthurian legend, but I haven't yet found reference on my own.  Where are the best places to search for this sort of thing?

Actually, this phrase does not appear to be connected with Arthurian legend; it is actually not a very old phrase. It originated in the 17th century, at which time the Germans adopted a sort of military punishment from the Swedes in which a man was stripped to the waist and made to run between two rows of soldiers, who struck him with sticks or knotted ropes. The passage through which he ran was a gatloppe in Swedish, translated to gantlope in German. This procedure was used as civilian punishment in Colonial America where it was spelled gantlet or gauntlet.

As for searching for this kind of information, your best bet it to go to the etymology section of your local public library or university library and browse through what is available. There are many etymological dictionaries available which give more information than sources like the OED. There are also dictionaries of the etymology of slang and phrases. See my bibliography of etymological sources.

From Thomas H. Hrusa:

I am interested in the origin of the word quash as in to quash a subpoena or an indictment. Is it related in any way to the word squash?

Yes, quash `make void, annul' and squash `to crush' are very distantly related. Quash (used almost exclusively as a legal term, now), whose previous English forms were quassen and cwessen (the latter meant `to suppress' and first appeared in English in the 13th century), comes from Old French quasser `make null and void,' which came from cassare `to make null and void' with influence from Latin quassare `to shatter.' Cassare comes from Latin cassus `empty, void, null,' and is probably related to carere `be devoid of' and castus `pure or chaste.'

It is Latin quassare `to shatter' which ultimately gave us quash `to crush,' a word that is distinct from quash `to make null' in both English and Old French. Vulgar Latin exquassare is the ultimate source of squash `to crush.' Exquassare was formed from the affixes ex- `out' and quassare `to crush.' Squash also entered English in the 13th century.

It is interesting to note that squash the noun comes from Algonquian (an American Indian language) askutasquash which meant literally `the green things that may be eaten raw." Somehow that does not sound as appetizing as squash.

From Silvino B. Tanchoco:

I was wondering where the word scholar came from. What is the origin of the word and its derivation?

This word is a obviously related to school, which dates back to Old English. It was borrowed from Medieval Latin scola, from classical Latin schola, which itself comes from Greek skhole. The original sense of skhole was `leisure,' and then 'discussion at leisure,' and then `discussion at leisure for educational or intellectual purposes,' and finally `school.' Scholar was derived from Medieval Latin scholaris,and it was scolere in Old English, and scholer by 1300. The Medieval Latin term scholaris comes from Latin schola.

From Steve Tarney:

Please help me with the origins of the phrase so long.

This phrase, which is a farewell, likely is a shortened form of "It won't be so long until we see each other again." One source notes that a popular theory regarding this phrase is that it comes from Salaam, an Arabic greeting. That same source indicates that this theory is unlikely true, becaues it seems far-fetched that 19th century Americans would pick up an Arabic greeting, much less that they would use it as a farewell.

From Gene Anderson:

What is the origin of red cent, as in something being `not worth one red cent?' My dictionary simply says "U.S. informal," i.e., slang, and nothing to indicate the origin.

The red in red cent refers to the fact that a U.S. cent (penny) is, and was, made of copper, a reddish metal. The expression dates from the early to mid-19th century.

From Jim Taylor:

Please offer information on the origins of the word soldier.

This word entered English in the 13th century. It comes from Old French soudier or soldier, which was derived from soulde `pay.' The Old French terms came from Latin solidus, which was an ancient Roman term for a gold coin. It was short for nummus solidus `solid [gold] coin.' The idea of `pay' comes into the word soldier in the sense of mercenary soldiers.

From Ian Viney:

A Swedish colleague of mine referred to using your Disciples' horses. I had not heard this expression and asked if she meant Shanks' pony, which I know means `to walk.' But I realized I didn't know why it's called Shanks' Pony, so I had a search on the web and found your site.  Do you know the derivation of either of these phrases?

I'd never heard your Disciples' horses, either, and I have no information on it. Shanks' pony or shanks' mare does not, as one might expect, refer to a person by the name of Shanks. It instead refers to legs. Shanks is an old term for `legs;' one well-known use of the word is in the nickname for Edward I of England, Longshanks. How the equine reference made its way into the phrase is not known, but one source guesses that it might be because mares, as opposed to stallions, and ponies, as opposed to full-sized horses, tend to amble, like humans.

Since posting the above answer, I have heard from a Swedish source, Mr. Birger Drake (whose etymological work can be seen via a link on the Etymological Links page associated with this column). He says that Disciples' Horses, an expression which is well-know to all adult Swedes, "refers to the poverty of Christ's disciples who could not afford to have horses and, therefore, had to use their own feet."

Based upon the explanation of the Swedish phrase, I do not think it unreasonable to assume that the two phrases may be related, or at least that shanks' mare uses the equine reference in the same sense that Disciples' Horses does -- that in place of a horse, one's legs must be used for transportation.

From Tammy Dotts:

I'm trying to find the etymology of sabotage. I believe it came from the French root sabot meaning `a type of shoe,' but I need to know how it developed into today's current meaning of subversive/destructive behavior.

The popular etymology of this word is that it originated when striking workers threw their sabots into machinery to damage it. However, the accepted origin of sabotage is that it comes from the fact that sabot meant `clog.' The word saboter was derived from it, with the meaning `walk noisily in clogs.' That was later associated with `clumsiness,' and then with `bungling,' and finally with `the purposeful destruction of machinery or equipment by factory workers. ' The latter meaning gained a broader application when it came to include any purposeful and disruptive destruction. The word entered English around 1910.

From Chris:

I am looking for a word suprise. I believe that it is an earlier precursor of surprise. Any information would be most helpful.

Suprise was indeed an earlier form of surprise. Before 1375 or so, suprise was the accepted form. At that time the word meant `a taking unawares,' and it was borrowed from Old French surprise, the past participle of surprendre `to overtake' (which came from the prefix sur- `over' and prendre `to take,' from Latin prendere, a contraction of prehendere `to grasp, seize'). In 1425 the word was supprise, and in 1457 it was surprise, and it meant `sudden, unexpected attack or capture.' By the early 1600s it acquired a meaning which was different: `something unexpected' or 'a feeling caused by something unexpected.'

From Michael J. Moore:

Where does the word sugar come from?

This word entered English in 1325 as sucre, by 1381 it was sugure, and in 1393 it was sugre. It was borrowed from Old French sucre `sugar,' which came from Latin succarum.  The Latin came from Arabic sukkar, from Persian shakar, from Sanskrit sarkara `ground or candied sugar.'

From Sheila Cohill:

Can you find the origin of the word rider or ride? I am writing a story for which I invented a race of people that I'd like to call riders, but I don't want to do it if the origin of the word does not coincide with the history of these people. Any help would be most appreciated!

The word ride entered English in the early 12th century as riden with the meaning `ride, travel.' It came from Old English ridan `ride on horseback, move forward, rock.' The Old English came from Proto-Germanic *ridanan. Rider was formed from ridan + -er in Old English.

From Klemen Pisk, Student of Comparative Linguistics in Ljubljana:

I want to know the etymology of the word skirt. What about other sk- and sc- prefixes? Are they Danish or Icelandic or Old Nordic or Norwegian? In what century did those words come to English?

Skirt was apparently borrowed from a Scandinavian source, though it is unclear exactly which one. Some similar words are Old Icelandic skyrta `shirt' (the same in modern Icelandic), Swedish skjorta, and Danish and Norwegian skjorte. It is unclear why, in English, the word's meaning shifted from `shirt' to `skirt.' However, a similar shift occurred in German. One source believes that the long peasant shirt was the source of the `bottom part of a woman's dress' meaning of skirt, which arose in English in 1325.  Prior to that, the word appeared as a surname in English around 1224.

Other sk- words are often from Scandinavian sources, but they are also from German, French, and Dutch sources, and even Greek. Sc- words also come from multiple sources.

From Christopher Wicke:

I am interested in the history of two words: salvation and salivation. I realize that they probably have different origins, but I couldn't help but notice the coincidence.

There's a great pun in there somewhere, Christopher, but I'll spare you for now! Salvation comes from Latin salvus `to save.' Salivation comes from Latin saliva `spittle.' There is no relation between the words.

From Ethan Aaron Brosowsky:

I would like the word histories and interesting facts about these four words: archetype, eden, quest, and epic.

The word quest entered English in the early 14th century and meant `search, official inquiry.' It came from Medieval Latin questa `search, inquiry,' which itself came from quaerere `to seek, gain, ask.' English question comes from the same source.

From Turhan Murguz:

We are trying to determine the true origin of the phrase rule of thumb. Is it derived from an old English law which stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb or because of the scar that could be inflicted on the thumb of those who killed another in a street fight duel? If this person then killed another and had such a scar on the left thumb, they would be tried for murder.

Actually, neither of these explanations is likely. There are two which are likely, however. The first is that the lower part of the thumb, which is, for the average adult male, about an inch in length, was frequently used for measuring. The second possibility is that beer brewers used to test the temperature of their brewing beer with their thumbs to determine how well the brewing process was coming along.

From Michael S. Rosellini:

I was wondering if you knew the history of the word rage.

Believe it or not, rage and rabies are related! Rage (from around 1300) came, via Old French rage or raige, from Medieval Latin rabia, which came from Latin rabies `madness, rage.' That is related to Latin rabere `to be mad, rave.'

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 Oliver duCille, Sr.:

I would like to know the etymologies of ruddy, macrobiotic, propriety, excursive, and zymoscope. Thank you.

My, you've got quite a variety of words there! Ruddy is related to red. In Late Old English (pre-1100), it was rudi, likely from rudu `redness.' Red comes from the Proto-Germanic word *raudaz.

Macrobiotic is a word formed from macro- 'long' and biotic `life.' Simply put, it is a diet (and a lifestyle) which prolongs life.

Propriety comes, via Old French propriete, from Latin proprietatem `appropriateness, propriety, ownership.' Propriety is related to proper and property.

Excursive `pertaining to digression' comes from Old French excursion `digression,' which comes ultimately from Latin excurrere `run out' (from ex- `out' + currere `to run').

Finally, zymoscope comes from Greek zyme `leaven (yeast)' and, ultimately, skopein `look at.'

From Stephen Day:

When and how did the words receipt and recipe diverge in meaning? I know that Jane Austen (c. 1800) used receipt to mean what recipe now means.

Recipe appears in English in the 14th century with the sense `receive, take,' coming from the Latin imperative recipe `take,' from recipere `receive, take.' It was used in lists of ingredients for medicines and dishes, as in "Take two eggs..." Later, the lists of medicinal ingredients themselves came to be known as recipes (16th century), and then the word was applied to lists of food ingredients in the 18th century. The symbol for a prescription, Rx, comes from the use of the word recipe in the pharmaceutical sense.

Receipt was resseite `the act of receiving' in the early 14th century, reseit `a sum of money' in the about 1390, and receit `a medicinal recipe,' in 1392. It came from Anglo-Norman receite `receipt recipe,' ultimately from Latin recipere `to receive.'

Receipt lost its `recipe' sense in the 19th century.

My best etymological sources? I can't reveal those! Actually, my favorites are among those listed in my bibliography.

From Jim Weiler:

Is shenanigans from Irish shee nanna gasne or from French for `I dunno'?

One source doesn't even mention a possible Irish origin, but instead, it indicates that Spanish chanada (a short form of charranada `trick, deceit') is a likely origin. William and Mary Morris (see the bibliography) note that shenanigans could comes from Irish sionnachuighim `I play the fox.' But both the sources mention German dialectic schinageln `to work at hard labor' as a possible origin for shenanigans. Apparently, the implication is `using trickery to avoid hard labor.'

A French connection is unlikely.

From Rebecca Olin:

In my chemistry lab, we did a saponification. Where does this word come from?

So were you turning fat into soap in chemistry class? I wish we'd done that in chemistry! That's what saponify ultimately means. It comes from French saponifier `make soap from fat,' from New Latin saponificare (saponis `soap' + facere `to make.')

From Paul Brunelle:

I have not been able to find the origin of the word skullduggery, or the Scottish spelling sculdudurie. Can you help?

The Scottish version meant `adultery,' and another variation, sculduddery, meant `obscenity.' The origin of the Scottish forms is unknown. Today's meaning `trickery' arose from the Scottish meanings in around 1856.

From Dana Thompson:

Can you please tell me the origin of the word semen? I was studying a Hebrew term, shemen, where I believe we got the English word.  Thank you!

English semen originally meant 'seed of male animals' in the 14th century, and it was not applied to human males until the 18th century. It came from Latin semen, from serere `to sow.' The Latin goes back to the Indo-European root *se-, source of seed, disseminate, season, seminar, and seminal. It appears that there is no Hebrew connection.

From Stephen Hupp:

What is the etymology of stumped, as in "I don't know, I'm stumped?"

The following was excerpted from the Car Talk web site. Your question, Stephen, was the Car Talk weekly puzzler recently.

Ray: ...In its utter simplicity--what is the derivation of the phrase, "I'm stumped"? I thought it was pretty cute.

Back in the early days of the Republic, when we were pushing westward --

Tom: I remember.

Ray: --there arose a need to make areas that were passable for horses and wagons so people that settled there could get goods to market and whatever. These states were heavily forested and people, mostly the government, went through and cut down trees in order to make roads. By necessity they left the stumps because they were so difficult to move. In some areas, there were so many stumps, and because the roads got washed with rains and became muddy, it was possible to get into an area where you couldn't move at all. Between the ruts in the road and the stumps all around your travel was impeded and when that happened you were stumped.

From Blake Wylie:

I am looking for the origin and the first time that the word scab was first officially recognized, scab being a person who crosses the picket line to work while everyone is on strike.  Can you help?

Scab in the `strike-breaker' sense is directly related to scab `crust which forms over a wound.' The word is descended from an Old English source with influence from a Scandinavian source. The Old English word was sceabb `scab' (source of shab, a dialectal form of sceabb. Shab survives in English in the word shabby). There was also a Norse relative skabbr `scab.' Both the Old English and the Norse words come from the Proto-Germanic *skab- `scratch, shave' (source also of English shave). The form scab entered English in about 1275 with the meaning `skin disease characterized by pustules or scales.' By the late 14th century it had acquired the meaning `crust which forms over a wound.' The word was likely reinforced by Latin scabies `scab, itch,' from scabere `to scratch.' Interestingly, the Latin word and Proto-Germanic root come from the same Indo-Eurpean root.

The `strike-breaker' sense first arose in the early 19th century, and prior to that it referred to a person who refused to join a trade union. These meanings arose from an early 16th century meaning of `despicable person.'

From Vong Vilavong:

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

Reality entered English around 1550, borrowed from Middle French réalité and also directly from Medieval Latin realitas, itself from Late Latin realis `actual.' This came from Latin res `matter or thing.' Real, of course, comes from the same source. Real entered English in about 1325.

From Dale Bauer:

Your web page is great and extremely interesting. Thanks for thinking of us. Please, if you can, compile the origin of the word silver.

You get a silver star for that, Dale. Thank you. Silver is an old word, having developed from Old English seolfor, which has cognates in the other Germanic languages, such as Old Frisian selover or silver, Old Saxon silubar, Middle Dutch silver, and Gothic silubr, all descended from Proto-Germanic *silubra-. The Latin word meaning silver, argentum, also entered English as argent, which was used to describe the color silver as well as quicksilver/mercury.

From A. Willis:

What a great column you have, thanks for helping me. I work with high schoolers who are reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol. We were curious if the word scrooge was an actual name prior to Dickens' story, or if the word is now used to describe those lacking in Christmas spirit because of the character from the story.

You're certainly not a scrooge with your kind words!  Thank you. The word scrooge does indeed come from Dickens' work and is used to describe someone who is similar to Ebenezer Scrooge, who was mean spirited and miserly (for most of the story, anyhow).

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.

Quart is not surprising in its etymology -- it is related to quarter `one fourth.' It was quarte `a quart container' in the early 14th century, and by the mid 14th century the e had been dropped and the word was quart. It was borrowed from Old French quarte `a fourth part,' and came from Latin quarta, feminine form of quartus `fourth.'

From Dick Diffenderfer:

The archaic term sea change is in popular use today, and it means `a transformation.' Can you help me with its origin?

The meaning of this word today actually has a sense of more than just any transformation. It refers to a transformation into something richer or finer. Shakespeare used the term in The Tempest, but I've been unable to determine whether he coined the phrase or if it was in use prior to his recording it. However, in The Tempest, the change was literally caused by the sea:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange.

From Jon Glassman:

I was wondering if you could tell me about the origin and etymology of the word sophomore and the phrase break a leg.

Sophomore was originally sophumer and it referred to `one taking part in dialectic exercises,' in the 16th century. It later came to mean `a student in his second year of study at university' (about 1653). It was formed from sophom, a variant of Middle English sophime `sophism.' The later version, sophomore (1688) was likely influenced by Greek sophós `wise' and morós `foolish, dull' (from which we get moron), the idea being that sophomores have acquired some knowledge but still have a great deal yet to learn.

From A. Rahman:

Hi, I think you are doing a great job. I am doing a project and it requires the roots of semitic/semite and aryan. I want a root as close to the Sanskrit as possible, and any and all information you can give me will be extremely helpful. Thank you very much.

We thank you for your kind words. The word Semitic entered English fairly recently, according to one source -- in 1813. It likely came to English from German semitisch, which came from New Latin Semiticus, from Latin Semita. This came from Late Latin Sem `Shem,' who was one of the three sons of Noah, thought of as the ancestor of the Semites. Sem came from Greek Sem, which came, itself, from Hebrew Shem.

The word Aryan has a fascinating history. Today's spelling arose in about 1847. Prior to that it was Arian `concerning the worshippers of the gods of the Brahmans' as a national group. The word also referred to the Indo-European languages, including Sanskrit which was associated with the Brahmans. The word came from Latin Arianus `of Ariana' and Greek Areia `the eastern part of ancient Persia.' These came from Sanskrit Arya- Aria- `noble,' and it was how the Sanskrit-speaking immigrants to India referred to themselves. The ancient Persians had the same name, Old Persian Ariya-. Interestingly, the modern Persian name Iran comes from this source! Sanskrit árya-s meant `honorable, respectable,' and originally, `belonging to the hospitable.' It comes from aryà-s `lord, hospitable lord,' and, originally, `protecting the stranger,' from arí-s `stranger.'

Indo-European came to replace Aryan when referring to the group of Indo-European languages.

From Jason Hancey:

My friend and I are having an argument. The word sirloin, I have been told, comes from a medieval king who enjoyed beef so much that he had his favorite cut (loin) "knighted." Is this correct? Or, is sir- an Old English term relating to the cooking procedure, or something similar?

Have you heard the origin of sincere? It is my understanding that it is derived from two Latin words: sine and cera, which literally translated means `without wax.' Apparently, some potters in ancient Rome would spend all day on a pot, only to have it crack when it was put in the kiln. So the dishonest potter would fill the crack with wax, paint it, and sell it anyway. Well, back then, they actually used their pots for cooking, and you can imagine the disappointment when the pot was placed on the stove, the wax melted, and all of the stew spilled out. Potters began assuming a reputation of being `without wax' if they did not sell a defective pot.

Actually, there are several versions of the story about sirloin: one (recorded by Jonathan Swift) credits James I with knighting the cut, and another (written about by Thomas Fuller in his Church History, 1655) notes that it was Henry VIII who had the honor. The word sirloin, however, comes from Middle French surlonge `above the loin' (sur `over' + longe `loin' (from Old French loigne `loin')). It was surloyne in English in 1425. The u changing to an i, according to several sources, was due to the erroneous "knightly" etymology. Today's spelling first appeared in the 17th century.

We have heard variations of the story regarding sincere before; however, to date, we have not been able to substantiate such. Instead, the word, which appeared in English in its current form about 1533, came from Middle French sincere, which itself came from Latin sincerus `sound, whole, pure, genuine,' and perhaps even, originally, `of one growth,' i.e., not hybrid. An earlier form was sincreros, from sen-, sin- `one' + crescere `to grow.' Crescere had as its source the Indo-European root *ker- `to grow.'

From John:

I am interested in the word as used in the expression to run the gamut.  Obviously this is a noun, perhaps a place name. I also thought there might be some correlation to the word gauntlet, as there is a similar expression describing a ritual of chivalry.

Gamut means `a musical scale.' To run the gamut means, therefore, `to sound all the notes of the scale.' The word is formed from the Greek letter gamma and the Latin particle ut. It was coined in the 11th century by Guy d'Arezzo who devised a musical mnemonic based on a Latin hymn to St. John:

UT queant laxis REsonare fibris
MI gestorum FAmuli tuorum
SOLve polluti LAbii reatum
SAncte Iohannes.

Certain key syllables of this hymn (shown here in upper-case) gave the notes in succession from A to G. This gave rise to a form of musical notation which evolved from UT-RE-MI-FA-SOL-LA-SA-UT to DO-RE-MI-FA-SOL-LA-TI-DO as the latter is easier to sing. If you were wondering where gamma came into this scheme, it was the name given by Guy d'Arezzo to the note below low UT.

The phrase to run the ga(u)ntlet to which your "ritual of chivalry" presumably refers is unrelated. It has already been dealt with in this column and may be found in the archives.

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