Issue 110, page 2

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Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Erin Evansen:

My littlest sister suffers from migraines.  And if I had to guess I would think that migraine originated from a word that means "to stab one's head with a pick ax".  I was just wondering if that was at all accurate.

Migraine sufferers would agree with you, but etymologists, at least those who do not suffer from migraines, would not.  Migraine is actually the French version of late Latin hemicrania "half the skull".  The Latin derives from Greek hemikrania.  The French dropped the he- and ended up with migraine, and English adopted it in the mid- to late 18th century.  Previously English had used megrim, the Anglicized form of migraine, since the end of the 14th century.  The English synonym used by the educated was hemicrane or hemicrania.  It became obsolete by the end of the 17th century.

As migraine sufferers may know, the "half the skull" derivation refers to a common aspect of suchMy mother never looked that calm when she had a migraine!  Click to follow the link. severe headaches - they may only affect half the head.  Those prone to migraines often experience warning signs of an impending attack.  These signs can vary from numbness of the tongue to flashing lights in one's field of vision.  Beta blockers (such as propanolol, known by the trade name Inderal) are frequently prescribed to reduce the frequency of migraines, and some of the newer classes of drugs developed to help sufferers of this condition include ergot derivatives (like Migranal nasal spray) and seratonin receptor agonists (like Imitrex).  Even so, the complete etiology of migraines still eludes doctors and researchers.

Interestingly, Dr. Oliver Sacks suggested, in his book Migraine (currently out of print), that several famous persons suffered from migraine-like symptoms.  For example, he thinks that the visions of heaven seen by Hildegard von Bingen may well have been manifestations of migraines.

From Sam Cook:

First off, this is a pretty cool site.  I like etymologies and words in general.  Recently I started thinking about the word universeUni-, of course, means "one", and verse is usually used to describe poetry.  Suddenly it hit me.  The word could be in reference to the Biblical creation story, where everything was spoken into existence.  So, basically, I'm just curious if that is the case or not.

Or not.  The -verse part of universe is related to verse "line of poetry", but only in that both derive from the Latin versus, the past participle of vertere "to turn".  A verse of poetry is called thus because one must "turn" to begin a new line.  That word dates back to Old English (at least around the year 900).  On the other hand, universe is, etymologically, "turned into one" or "one whole thing".  It came to English via Old French univers in the 12th century.  Chaucer used it in his Troylus and Cressida in about 1374: "Ye folk a lawe han sette in universe; And this know I by hem that loveres be, that whoso stryveth with thow hath the worse."

Glad you enjoy the site, Sam!

From Christie Kopitzke:

As the holidays [were recently] upon us, and inquiring minds want to know, what is the origin of nog, as in eggnog?  Does it describe a particular family of beverages?  Did it, at one time, have wider application than its current seasonal use?

Eggnog was originally a drink of eggs (whites and yolks) combined with hot beer, wine, or cider.  The word is first recorded in 1825.  Nog originally referred to a strong type of beer brewed in East Anglia in England.  We first find it in the written record in 1693.  Mark Morton, in Cupboard Love, suggests that nog may be related to noggin, a word for a cup that held only a quarter of a pint of ale or other drinking liquid.  He goes on to say that it is probably related to noggin "head", the skull being a kind of cup for the brain.  Anyhow, eggnog was probably first made with that East Anglian beer and then the term came to be applied to similar concoctions.

Today, of course, eggnog is made with rum, and we imagine it's probably a lot more tasty than the original stuff!

From Karen Budzinski:

What is the root word for vegetarian?  I received this in an e-mail today: "the root word for vegetarian comes from an old Indian word meaning 'bad hunter'."

Click to visit the historic Vegetarian Society's web site.Oh dear!  Here we go again, another spurious (and silly!) etymology promulgated via e-mail.  It originated as a bad joke. The derivation of vegetarian is actually quite simple: it is formed from the word vegetable and the suffix -arian (the same suffix found in agrarian, librarian, etc.).  We find vegetarian used as early as 1839 with the same meaning as today, but it appears that it entered wide use thanks to the founding of the Vegetarian Society in England in 1847.  As the Society's web site says:

In 1807, the Reverend William Cowherd, founder of the Bible Christian Church in Salford, famously advanced the principle of abstinence from the consumption of flesh. Two followers of Rev Cowherd, Rev William Metcalfe and Rev James Clark set sail for the United States with 39 other members of the Bible Christian Church in 1817 and it was from this that the American vegetarian movement grew. 

Joseph Brotherton, social reformer and MP for Salford (also a member of Rev Cowherd's congregation), was an important figure in the formation of The Vegetarian Society. Earlier, in 1812, his wife published the first vegetarian cookery book. Although there were many vegetarians, until the mid-l9th century there was still no formal organisation to represent them. 

On the 30 September 1847, at a vegetarian hospital called Northwood Villa in Ramsgate, Kent The Vegetarian Society was born.  The name was the result of a unanimously passed resolution. 

The following year, at the Society's first annual meeting in Manchester, the fledgling organisation could boast 478 members, with 232 attending the post-AGM dinner.

We're not sure if the e-mail you quote intends to say that the word derives from American Indian or Hindi, but it derives from neither, and instead it comes ultimately from Latin vegere "be active", the "active" reference being to the growth of plants.  Related words are vigil, vigour, and even wake.  

"Bad hunter", indeed!

From L. Rivlin:

Somewhere in the distant past, I read about the name of an English - or possibly Welsh border - town, the name of which means "Hill hill hill hill".  The place is called something like Monttorpenden Hill, which each segment of the word actually meaning the word "hill" in the language of whoever conquered that area in the past: Celts, Saxons, Normans and so on.  The problem is, I do not remember the real name of the place.  do you know it?

We do, in fact, know the name of this place.  It's called Torpenhow, and today it's pronounced something like "tropenner".  Tor is Celtic (possibly Welsh - it's not known with certainty) for "hill", as is pen, while hoh is Old English for "ridge".  The village name, written in modern English, would be Hillhillhill!  Pen, by the way, is actually Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish and Breton make up the Brythonic family) and literally means "head".  You might recall our note in a previous issue that the character Uther Pendragon, supposed father of King Arthur, may have arisen as a misinterpretation of Old Welsh pen.  See Issue 108.

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