Issue 111, page 4

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From Dustin Oakley:

I thought I should point out that your etymology for vegetarian, while logical, is not technically correct.  It is a common myth. Here is a quote:

The term "Vegetarian" was coined in 1847.  It was first formally used on September 30th of that year by Joseph Brotherton and others, at Northwood Villa in Kent, England. The occasion being the inaugural meeting of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom.

The word was derived from the Latin "vegetus," meaning whole, sound, fresh, lively; (it should not be confused with "vegetable-arian" - a mythical human whom some imagine subsisting entirely on vegetables but no nuts, fruits, grains etc!)

Prior to 1847, non-meat eaters were generally known as "Pythagoreans" or adherents of the "Pythagorean System," after the ancient Greek "vegetarian" Pythagoras. 

The original definition of "vegetarian" was "with or without eggs or dairy products" and that definition is still used by the Vegetarian Society today. However, most vegetarians in India exclude eggs from their diet, as did those in the classical Mediterranean lands, such as Pythagoras. 


Or straight from the site that you linked to (

The Vegetarian Society created the word vegetarian from the Latin 'vegetus' meaning 'lively' (which is how these early vegetarians claimed their diet made them feel) in 1847 and it has always excluded fish and fish products such as caviar.  

Thanks for the interesting newsletter/site. I hope you will update your information.

"A common myth"?  Both of the sources you cite are incorrect.  As we noted in last week's Words to the Wise, vegetarian appears for the first time in the written record in 1839: 

If I had had to be my own cook, I should inevitably become a vegetarian. 

This from the journal of a gentleman living on a plantation in Georgia, in the U.S.!  The word was probably around for a few years prior to this instance of it.  The definition applied to the 1839 usage is "One who lives wholly or principally upon vegetable foods; a person who on principle abstains from any form of animal food, or at least such as is obtained by the direct destruction of life." This is all well before the claims that it was coined in 1847.

It is true that Pythagorean was used to refer to a person who did not eat flesh, but it wasn't a common term.  Incidentally, the followers of Pythagoras also refused to eat beans.

We have been unable to find any evidence that vegetarian derives from vegetus rather than vegetable.

From Tony Hill:

The latest issue with the vegetarian - bad hunter discussion stunned me.  My teenage son (an avid carnivore) has used that saying for several years, firmly intending it as a joke among his vegetarian friends [yes, he really has some yet]. Tell your readership to lighten up!  To quote Foghorn Leghorn, "It's a joke, son.  I say, it's a joke!"

Mike was a vegetarian for 20 years and was familiar with that joke etymology, but we do have to stick up for our readers in that it's often very difficult to distinguish facts from fiction in e-mail.  In the kind of informal writing used in e-mail, one does not have the luxury of a facial expression or tone of voice to help distinguish a joke from a serious statement.  And etymologies, both sound and horribly spurious, are rampant in e-mail these days. 

From Chandra McCann:

I found it quite entertaining to learn that the American vegetarian movement was initiated by two people named Cowherd and Metcalfe.  I wonder if their surnames engendered their sensitivity to the consumption of bovine creatures.


From Friedrich Georgens:

Hello there, it's good to see you back, especially for those who sometimes think they know better than you do ...  like me. Regarding your answer to Graham Crowley ("Lingua Franca (literally "the French tongue"), by the way, was a mixed language or jargon used in the eastern Mediterranean, consisting largely of Italian words deprived of their inflections.") I must tell you I think Lingua Franca means any third language which is used by speakers of two different languages. So, being German without any knowledge of Italian, if I should meet an Italian who doesn't speak any German, but some English, we would use English as a Lingua Franca.

Confidence is a good thing, and you display much of it!  However, lingua franca, used to refer to "any mixed jargon used between people speaking different languages", is, in fact, a figurative use of the original term which does refer to an actual, specific language used by merchants in the Levant.

From Jeff Lee:

Although it's not related to the etymology of the egg nog, you might be mildly amused to know that the French term for it is lait de poule, or, literally, "hen milk". (How does one milk a hen?)

Good one!  In German it is bieresuppe or, literally, "beer soup".  That reminds us... the dessert which is called a trifle in English is called Zuppa Inglese ("English soup") in Italian.

From Jack Day:

Your Japanese food dish on page 5 of TOWFI online reminded me of a line of small Japanese-made kits for children marketed here in Australia some years back. They were made of fine plywood, and were already cut out to be assembled into various animals. Giraffe was one I remember, but the one which took my fancy was the beautiful winged insect called a "Butterfry".  ([I] would probably have similar difficulties with some Japanese pronunciation.)

We agree.  (And that's not a comment on our appearance.)

From Gil Ross:

Thanks for your web site.  It is interesting, intriguing and often funny, even if it isn't in the Laughing Stock section.  A propos of your "Engrish" article, I had a recent fax from a head of section of a major Japanese airline.  In the address was typed, literally, "Fright Operations Department".  I really hope it isn't appropriate.

Remind us never to fly that airline!

From Rex:

You state on your page that 

The name Lucifer is Latin for "light bearer" and derives from the  Latin word for "light" which is lux. Thus, if  you really object to using words related to  Lucifer, you will have to avoid anything with  lustre (from Latin lustrare, "to shine", probably from earlier luc-strare). Also, to be on the safe side, we suggest that you cease lucubration (working by artificial light), forthwith.  

However, this is incorrect, but is a common mistake. The original Hebrew for Lucifer means "bright sounding" not "light bearer".  Lucifer was the chief musician archangel before he fell. Parts of his body were actual musical instruments. It's all in the Bible. Hope this helps.

Actually, no, what we stated is not incorrect.  The word Lucifer is ultimately the Latin translation of a Greek word, not a Hebrew one.  Lucifer means "light bearer" as discussed in Issues 53 and 63.  The corresponding Greek word is phosphorusLucifer was the Latin name for Venus, the morning star.

Interestingly, Lucifer appeared only once in the Bible (Isaiah 14:12) where it is now more commonly translated as "morning star".  There is no reference in the Bible to a figure named Lucifer (or now "morning star") being a musician, archangel, or anything else but a king of Babylon.  The passage in Isaiah was misinterpreted by early Christians as a reference to an angel who fell from heaven.  Here it is from The Good News Bible:

King of Babylon, bright morning star, you have fallen from heaven!  In the past you conquered nations, but now you have been thrown to the ground.  You were determined to climb up to heaven and to place your throne above the highest stars.  You thought you would sit like a king on that mountain in the north where the gods assemble.  You said you would climb to the tops of the clouds and be like the almighty.  But instead you have been brought down to the deepest part of the world of the dead.

This passage clearly addresses the king of Babylon, and it is part of a parable against that king. 

[We don't wish to start a holy war so, please, no further letters on this subject unless you are a Hebrew scholar and can shed some light on the original Hebrew term translated as Lucifer/morning star.  Thank you.]

From Doug Hansen:

I searched like a mad man for 20 minutes to settle an argument.  I got frustrated following three links at the Internet Public Library and confused their search forms with a word that does not mean: "Fornication Under Consent of the King" or "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge".  I insisted that the origin of that naughty word was in fact an acronym.  I would have persisted forever in my ignorance, had you not had the courage to boldly give the true facts. Thank you.

We are happy to have helped.  For those who missed that discussion, it can be found here (it is a frank discussion of the etymology of some coarse terms.  Do not follow the link if you are easily offended.). 

From Judith Cuneo:

I really enjoyed the newsletter this week and especially thanks for the Mac link!  I was about 50/50 for either getting on the site or crashing.  Works great now.

Glad it worked for you, Judith, and we've printed your message to make other Mac users aware of the alternate menu page.  Apparently, Macs don't like the JavaScript used in our regular menu page (  The Mac menu page is at


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