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Issue 46

June 29, 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.
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spotlight_1.GIF (2578 bytes) Spotlight on...

A campaign for camping

We'll be camping in the coming weeks, and this made us think of how camp and campaign have a common origin. Their histories are interesting.  Campaign comes from French campagne "open country", which also gave its name to a specific region of France, whence champagne.  The French word came from Italian campagna, which came ultimately from Latin campus "plain, field". It first entered English as campania, from the Latin, at the end of the 16th century, and it referred to "army operations performed in a field or open country". By 1770 it came to be applied also to "action to obtain an end", and in 1809 it came to be applied to "activities to get someone elected".  Makes us wonder about the connection between politicians and war!

Camp, of course, comes directly from Latin campus, as the campus is where soldiers would camp.  It also came to have other meanings, such as "field of battle", hence the German word Kampf  "struggle".  The academic meaning of campus "grounds of a college" was originally applied to Princeton University in the 18th century.

Be sure that there will be champagne on our camping trip.


AG00003_.gif (10348 bytes) Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Cicile Ulrich:

The words lamb, plumb (as in plumber), dumb, and thumb are all examples of words that end with a silent b. What is the origin of this ending? Does it have a meaning?

Typically, these silent b endings are simply remnants of an earlier, longer form of the word where the b was pronounced. Thumb was, in Old English, thumbe, a two-syllable word, the -be being pronounced. The final syllable eventually came to be dropped in pronunciation, but the final b remained in the spelling. Plumb (found today in plumb bob, and the source of plumber) comes ultimately from Latin plumbus 'lead.' English acquired the word from Old French plom, plomb. Before 1325 the English form did not have the final b, but under the influence of Latin the b returned, albeit silently. Lamb has had its b since Old English times; the word comes from a Proto-Germanic root *lambaz, where the b was pronounced. Dumb dates back in its present form to Old English.  Its origin is unknown.



From Tim Howard:

I just discovered your web site, and I love it.  I'd like to enquire about two words. I've known too many people to use cynic and skeptic interchangeably. While I know the difference, I'd like to know the word origins.

We're glad you enjoy this site! Of course, without readers' inquiries, this site wouldn't be possible. So we, in turn, thank you.

Yours is quite an interesting question, as both words arose from similar circumstances. The Cynics were a group of philosophers founded around 400 B.C. by Antisthenes in ancient Greece. They held self-mastery to be of utmost importance. Under one of the group's later teachers, Diogenes, they came to despise the weaknesses of others, and this, according to popular belief, earned them their nickname, cynics.  This comes from Greek kunikos "dog-like", supposedly because of their "dog-like" sneers. Kunikos comes from Greek kuon "dog" (related to English hound). A prosaic but more likely explanation is that the group was named after the Kunosarge, which was where Antisthenes taught, and that the word was later influenced by kuon. Cynic entered English in the 16th century, acquired via Latin cynicus.

As for skeptic (sceptic in British English), the Skeptics were also a group of Greek philosophers, their leader being Pyrrho of Elis. The word skeptic comes from Greek skeptikos "look about, consider, observe". It is descended from the base *skep-, which was related to *skop-, source of English scope, and *skep- may be a reversed version of *spek-, from which English gets spectator, speculate, etc. Greek skeptikos was applied to Pyrrho's school of philosophy, which stressed the importance of careful scrutiny of any proposition, using doubt, before accepting that proposition. The word entered English in the 16th century, via Latin scepticus and French sceptique, with a wider meaning of "initial doubt".



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.


curmdgeon.GIF (1254 bytes) Curmudgeon's Corner

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

And who, may I ask, is calling?

Patience, they say, is a virtue.  Mike: is very patient.  He's so patient sometimes that you just want to reach out and shake him warmly by the throat...

Receptionist: [ring... ring...] Nipcheese, Mobard and Kern, good morning.

Mike: Good morning.  I'd like to speak to Mr. Kern, please.

Receptionist: May I tell him who's calling?

Mike: Yes.

Receptionist: [emphatically] May I tell him who's calling?

Mike: Why, certainly.

Receptionist: [puzzled] May I tell him who's calling?

Mike: You have my full and explicit permission.  Please go ahead - tell him my name.

Receptionist: [testily] But I don't know your name.

Mike: I see.

Receptionist: [exasperated]  I'll need to know your name if I'm going to tell Mr. Kern.

Mike: I would assume so.

Receptionist: [teeth clenched]  Will you tell me your name?

Mike: If you ask me.

Receptionist: [furious]  OK... May I tell him who's calling?

Mike: Yes.

Receptionist: [slams phone down]

~~ PAUSE ~~

Receptionist: [ring... ring...] Nipcheese, Mobard and Kern, good morning.

Mike: Hi, me again.  I'd like to speak to Mr. Kern, please.


Sez You...

Last week, we Curmudgeons bemoaned the notion of reverse psychology

From Kevin Kennedy-Spaien:

Let us not forget that we *do* have such a field as "Reverse Engineering!"




The cartoon is from reader Meir Shani.

The perils of reverse psychology


Steve Parkes writes:

Hi! I've just read your latest Take Our Word For It - I will, but I'd like to add a couple of observations too.

I read years ago that "brand-new" derives from "bran-new", without the d; sorry, I've forgotten the explanation. And the source, but it was probably the "Old Codgers" column in the British "Daily Mirror" newspaper (now called "The Mirror", if you want to send a spy to check out the archives!).

Well, according to the OED, "brand-new" was sometimes spelled "bran-new" as well as "brank-new" and "brent- (i.e. 'burnt-') new". It comes from brand (as in "fire-brand") + new, as if fresh and glowing from the furnace.  Shakespeare has "fire-new".

Aaargh! The  "Old Codgers"!  Mike left Blighty expressly to escape those guys. Now he'll have to emigrate again.  Bring back Garth and Professor Lumiere, he says!

We mathematical types like to talk of subtraction as being the INverse of addition (as distinct from the REverse); likewise division is the inverse of multiplication. If you think about the way you do either of these, you can see why. (If you can't, I'll be glad to explain!)

We're sure you would, but please don't go to all that trouble just for us.  We do in fact know a little about mathematics but we prefer the stuff with silly names like "imaginary numbers" and the "pearls of Sluze".

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