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      the only Weekly Word-origin Webzine

Issue 30

March 2, 1999
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Spotlight We spotlight an etymological curiosity and provide an in-depth examination of the word(s) and the etymological theories associated with it.
Words to the Wise Our world-famous question and answer column in which we address your word-history queries.
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Sez You . . . You dare to question our profound erudition?
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Do you hear people refer to life as passing at a frenetic pace?  Do certain co-workers sometimes appear frantic?  And have you seen people in the news working themselves into a frenzy over some issue or another?  Did you ever consider that these words are related?  They are indeed.

The Greek word for "mind" was phrén.  It produced phrenítis "delirium" and then phrenetikús, which entered Latin as phreneticus and Old French as frenetique.  English took the Old French form twice, once as phrenetic (the spelling of which is based on the Latin; the U.S. spelling is frenetic) and frentik, which eventually became frantic, though there does not appear to be a good explanation of the switch from e to a.  Frenzy arose as the noun form of these words in the 14th century.

It's interesting that we don't connect these frantic words with "delirium" so much any longer, though I think it's a shame as we might find things a bit less stressful if we could all be temporarily delirious now and again.


AG00003_.gif (10348 bytes) Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Vicki Deffenbaugh :

I am a 7th grade teacher in Texas. I am interested in knowing the origin of the word cul-de-sac.

As most of our readers will be able to guess, this is a French term but, strange to say, the phrase is no longer used in France. When the French want to say "dead-end-street" they say impasse.

Figuratively, a cul-de-sac is something (usually a street) which is open at one end only. Literally, it means "bag-bottom" or "sack-bottom" but it does not use fond, the usual French word for "bottom" (as in the "bottom" of a well). For reasons we have yet to fathom, this phrase uses cul, meaning "bottom" as in... um... er... trousers (phew!) and is related to the obsolete English word cule, "buttocks".


From Ed Souder:

I love your site. I am a pilot and I've always wondered where the word cockpit comes from.

Quite simply, it is a pit (or other enclosed area) where the "sport" of cock-fighting is conducted. This literal sense dates from the mid-16th century but by the end of the century it had also come to mean a theater. Shakepeare used it thus in 1599:

Can this Cock-Pit hold
The vastie fields of France? Or may we cramme
Within this Woodden O, the very Caskes
That did affright the Ayre at Agincourt?

- Henry V, Prologue

Just over a century later, around 1700, it acquired yet another meaning: "The after part of the orlop deck of a man-of-war; forming ordinarily the quarters for the junior officers, and in action devoted to the reception and care of the wounded."

The first recorded use of cockpit to mean "the place in an airplane where the pilot sits" was in 1914. Then, in 1935 it was also applied to the analogous space in a racing car.


From Annelies Bulkens:

A big thanks for your weekly update from the only Belgian reader on your [mailing] list. I've been wondering for some time about the etymology of limousine - the car type. I ask this because I'm not quite sure what triggered the shift from the cows or Limoges-area in France to these engines.

You are quite correct in your assumption, the vehicle is named after Limoges in France, limousine being the feminine adjective formed from Limoges. (It has nothing to do with Limousin breed of cattle, though). The distinctive feature of a limousine is that the driver is completely separate from the passengers. The original (1902) limousine was an automobile in which the driver’s seat was outside though covered with a roof.

It is suggested that this former province of France lent its name to such a vehicle because the covered driver's compartment resembled the distinctive cloak worn by the inhabitants of Limoges.


From Jeff Taylor:

I've heard that chauvinism comes from the name of a Napoleonic general but wanted to confirm it with you.

You show excellent judgment; there's an awful lot of information on the web - most of it incorrect! Put your trust in Melanie and Mike.

The phenomenon which we now know as chauvinism was first called idolatrie napoléonienne, "Napoleonic idolatry".  A certain Nicolas Chauvin of Rochefort was one such "idolator". No matter how many times he was wounded while serving in Napoleon's army (and he was wounded a lot), he never ceased singing the praises of Napoleon Bonaparte. Chauvinisme became part of the French language some time after Chauvin was popularized as one of the characters in Cogniard’s famous vaudeville, La Cocarde Tricolore, 1831.  Chauvinism, the English version of this word, entered English by 1870. By this time, it had lost its Napoleonic connotations and meant any sort of exaggerated patriotism or blind enthusiasm for national glory.

The feminist term male chauvinism implies the same sort of exaggerated patriotism but was applied to the male sex rather than to a country. Please note that, as they have quite different meanings, chauvinism may not be used as an abbreviation for male chauvinism.


From John Paden:

I was wondering where the term lukewarm came from. Thanks.

We would love to be able to tell you that this word derives from Saint Luke's Day, a day which was celebrated for its unseasonally mild weather. This is a widely-believed etymology which, while picturesque, is unfortunately untrue.

While it is probably older, we have documentation of lukewarm only from 1398. In Middle English it often occurred as lew-warm, a variant which betrays its derivation from the Old English word, hleow,  which means "warm".  It is also connected to the word lee meaning "wind-shelter" and, very distantly, it is related to the -lor in Latin calor, "heat".  Therefore, some English relatives of lukewarm are calorie, cauldron, chowder, lee, and even nonchalant.


curmdgeon.GIF (1254 bytes) Curmudgeon's Corner

...our soapbox where we vent our spleen regarding abuses of the English language.

Quote Unquote

Some years ago Mike worked as a copyholder in a newspaper print-shop. This job entails taking the "copy" (an item which has been written by a journalist and marked up by a sub-editor) and reading it aloud to a proof-reader who checks the printed version for mistakes. In the interest of accuracy it is important that the copyholder alert the proof-reader to all punctuation in the copy. To this end, an initial quotation mark is called a quote and a final quotation mark is called an unquote. Thus, to read the sentence Yesterday, a White House spokesman stated: 'The President said "I didn't do it"' a copyholder would say: Yesterday comma a White House spokesman stated colon quote The President said quote I didn't do it unquote  unquote.

So we see quite clearly that the word unquote is used to terminate a quotation. These days, however, we seldom hear the word unquote outside of the abominable phrase quote unquote, as in "the senator is a quote unquote world-famous liberal statesman". We pedants feel that nothing at all is being quoted here as no word exists between the initial quote and its final delimiter, unquote. On the other hand, if something is being quoted here, it is unclear what it is. Is it "world", "world-famous", "world-famous liberal" or "world-famous liberal statesman"?

"Grrr...", says Mike.


Sez You...

Dustin Oakley writes:

I enjoyed Curmudgeons' Corner (along with the rest of your web site) [in Issue 28]. There is one thing you didn't mention with regard to anglicized Latin plurals which really bothers me:  in speaking, people usually pronounce the -i suffix as a long i instead of the Latin pronunciation like our long e. The result is that the alumni and alumnae [sound] indistinguishable when they should be distinct [i.e., they should be pronounced a-lum-nee and a-lum-nay, respectively].

In my humble opinion one of the factors in the decline of American education has been that they stopped teaching Latin...

Thanks for the great information.  Keep up the good work. :)

You're welcome, and thanks for the excellent point about classical pronunciation.  We agree, in most cases it's terrible!


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