Melanie & Mike: say...
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|August 3, 1999|
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Recently, we mentioned that something had wreaked havoc with our PC. We were fairly quickly corrected by someone who said, "Shouldn't that be wrought havoc?" The answer is no, because either wreaked or wrought is fine here. A misconception often arises because wrought is wrongly assumed to be the past participle of wreak. In fact wrought is the past participle of an early version of the word work!
Wreak comes from Old English wrecan "drive out, punish, avenge", which derives ultimately from the Indo-European root *wreg- "push, shove, drive, track down". Latin urgere "to urge" comes from the same source, giving English urge. Interestingly, wreak is also related to wrack and wreck. The phrase wreak havoc was first used by Agatha Christie in 1923.
Wrought, on the other hand, arose in the 13th century as the past participle of wirchen, Old English for "work". In the 15th century worked came into use as the past participle of work, but wrought survived in such phrases as finely-wrought, hand-wrought, and, of course, wrought havoc, which seems to have arisen in 1978 in the Washington Post.
Havoc, by the way, comes from Anglo-French havok, which derived from the phrase crier havot "to cry havoc". This meant "to give the army the order to begin seizing spoil, or to pillage". It is thought that this exclamation was Germanic in origin, but that's all that anyone will say about it! The destruction associated with pillaging came to be applied metaphorically to havoc, giving the word its current meaning.
From Helen Yu:
Quite simply, gutta-percha is one of several English words derived from the Malay language. The original Malay was getah percha which means "the gum of the percha tree".
The OED, somewhat pompously, defines gutta-percha as "The inspissated juice of various trees found chiefly in the Malayan archipelago". We hesitate to admit it but neither of us was familiar with the verb to inspissate. A few moments' research revealed that it is merely a fancy way of saying "thickened". Imagine the following dialog:
Well, would you eat it?
From Bill Mayer:
Bolinas is the name of a charming fishing village in northern California. That is to say, it used to be a fishing village but since the 1960s it has gradually become a haven for artists and bohemians. A curiosity of this place is that while you may easily find it on a map, it is not so easy to reach it by road. Inhabitants consider it a matter of civic duty to remove all road signs indicating the village's whereabouts.
The name Bolinas was first recorded in 1834 as Baulenes, the name of a band of Miwok indians. Northern California also has a Bolinas Creek but this takes its name from a certain Antonio Bolena, a Portuguese immigrant.
Incidentally, there is a part of Daly City, just south of San Francisco, which also has streets with nautical names. Our favorite is Stowa Way. (We are not making this up.)
From David Monroe:
Well? Apparently... what? It seems that David was unfortunately stricken with a tongue-binding spell while writing that last sentence.
According to the OED, a zombie, in the West Indies and southern states of America, is "a soulless corpse" said to have been revived by witchcraft. It goes on to state that it was formerly the name of a snake-deity in voodoo cults of (or deriving from) West Africa and Haiti.
Now, which part of that does your friend contest? I think most would agree with the revived corpse part. Is it the purported lack of soul? According to the Vodoun religion (that's the correct name for what is popularly called voodoo), people have several components to their souls, the two most important being the gros bon ange and the ti bon ange. Traditionally, when creating a zombie, a Vodoun bokor (i.e. "sorcerer") captures the victim's ti bon ange and keeps it in a jar.
Perhaps your friend disagrees with the suggestion that Zombi was ever the name of a snake deity. If so, then we can see his point. We can find no evidence for this allegation. There is a snake deity in Vodoun but he is usually known as Damballah-Wedo. There is, however, a Congolese word nzambi which means "god".
Wade Davis, in his book, "The Serpent and the Rainbow" describes a concoction of puffer fish toxins which is thought to be responsible for the state of suspended animation seen in some real-life zombies. This concoction bears no relation to the mixture of rum, apricot liqueur, lime juice and pineapple juice known as a zombie.
We are sure that most of our readers have seen a real, live elephant. Many may even have ridden one. In the mid-19th century, unless you travelled to far-flung parts of the globe, elephants were something only read about in books. Until one was acquired by the London Zoological Gardens, that is. As it was a magnificent African elephant, it was given a magnificent African name. At least, it was given an African name (kind of). The zoo-keepers named the elephant Jumbo, which was probably the only African word they knew. It is, in fact, a slightly garbled version of the Swahili word jambo which means "hello".
In 1882 the London Zoo sold Jumbo to Phineas T. Barnum, the great showman. Barnum's flair for publicity ensured that the name Jumbo became synonymous with "huge".
From D Rench:
Oh, please don't apologize. We'll take all the compliments you want to throw at us. (Readers please take note. This is the fast track to getting your queries answered.)
There is no easy answer to the origin of mumbo jumbo but the earliest references used capital initials as Mumbo Jumbo was said to be an African deity.
F. Moore ,Travels in Africa, 1738
Then again, in 1799, the explorer Mungo Park described...
Unfortunately, no one since the 18th century has reported any such deity in any West African tribe. It is possible that mumbo jumbo may be a corrupt form of nzambi, Congolese for "god" (see zombie, above).
Explorers such as Moore and Park dismissed any native god as ignorant superstition. A religious belief in Mumbo Jumbo, a god invented simply to scare the womenfolk, was seen as even more nonsensical. Presumably this gave rise to mumbo jumbo in its modern sense of "obscure or meaningless talk".
Incidentally, there is also a rum-based West Indian drink called mumbo jum (see zombie, above).
...our soapbox where we vent our spleen regarding abuses of the English language.
Racked with seaweed
According to many newspapers we've read recently, arthritis sufferers are wracked with pain, students wrack their brains and smokers suffer from wracking coughs. None of this makes any sense; wrack is either a kind of seaweed or an obsolete form of the noun wreck.
What the writers meant was rack. The allusion is to the medieval torture device. You know, that device for stretching people until they screamed for mercy. We think it could be brought back for use on certain journalists.
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