Issue 118, page 2

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Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Roland Newkirk:

Lock, stock and barrel has its origins from colonial American times, possibly British army. It refers to the military issue musket and has to do with soldier "losing it all". I do not know the specifics and would like to.

We just love it when our readers tell us the origin of a word or phrase, especially when they are wrong.  Yes, the lock, the stock and the barrel of the phrase are all musket components but it was not necessarily army-issue. A musket was made up of three parts: the wooden stock which was placed against the shoulder, the lock which ignited the powder and the barrel from which the ball was ejected. So lock, stock and barrel simply means "the whole thing". Nowhere in this phrase is there any suggestion of loss.

Also, it has no connection with colonial America. The earliest example of lock, stock and barrel which we can find is English, from 1842:

All moved, lock, stock, and barrel. 

 - Major Jones' Courtship, W. T. Thompson, 1842

For the most part, a musket is a simple device. The stock is just a carved piece of wood and the barrel is just a metal tube, but the lock is an ingenious mechanical contrivance. Back in the simpler world of the 16th century, locks (or, occasionally, clocks) were the most complicated mechanical devices most people ever saw, thus, anything mechanical was called a lock (or, if it involved winding a spring, clockwork). The earliest (1500s) type of musket lock was the firelock but, in time, this was superseded by the matchlock and the flintlock. Lock derives from the Old English word loc (pronounced "loach") which meant "lock, latch or hole" which first appears in a text from 900 A.D. 

The word stock is essentially the same word as stick, is closely related to stake, and comes from the Old English stoc (pronounced "stoach") meaning "tree-trunk, stump". This root crops up in such words as stockade (an enclosure made of wooden stakes), stock-dove (a dove which lives in hollow trees), stock-fish (cod which is dried by hanging on stakes) and stocky (what we call someone who is built like a tree-trunk).

Just as the mechanical part of the musket was named after a commonly encountered mechanism, the barrel takes its name from a commonly encountered tube - the beer barrel. In this case the etymology is uncertain. All we can say is that barrel comes from barillus, a word which entered Medieval Latin in the 9th century (but from where?).

From Kris Weeks:

Juggernaut… just curious - thanks!

This is a juicy one and one that requires a little background in the Hindu religion…

One of the most popular of the thousands of Hindu gods is Krishna (literally "the dark one" in Sanskrit). He is considered to be the eighth of the ten avatars ("incarnations") of the great god Vishnu. There has been one avatar since Krishna and the tenth will be a white horse called Kalki who will usher in the end of the world.

In the Hindi language, Krishna is known by many other names, one of which is Jagannath (pronounced "jug-a-nut", from Sanskrit jagan-natha, "lord of the world"). In the city of Puri, in the Indian state of Orissa, there is a huge statue of Jagannath and every year it is placed on an enormous cart and is pulled through the streets in a religious procession. In former times, some excessively pious devotees of Krishna would throw themselves under the wheels of the wagon to be crushed to death. Their assumption was that such a death would guarantee rebirth in a heaven. The first westerner to have commented on such deaths was Friar Odoric in 1321.

After centuries of very peculiar spelling, juggernaut became standard in the early 19th century, apparently due to confusion with such -naut words as Argonaut. At the same time, the word began to enjoy popularity as a metaphor. Most of these metaphorical references were to institutions such as "…the Jaggernaut car of wild and fierce democracy" but some specifically referred to vehicles, such as…

How gladly would I have him killed or shot,
That blind, fat fool who drove the Juggernaut! 

 - Game-Bag & Creel, W. G. M. Dobie, 1927

These days, juggernaut tends to mean a huge truck but in the above quotation it simply means a motor-car.

From Margery Kimbrough:  UPDATED JANUARY 2006

I'm working on a television show in which comic high jinks frequently ensue, but none of us know exactly what jinks are or what makes them high. My other internet research suggests it's the name of a Scottish (perhaps drinking) game. 

High jinks (or high pranks) was indeed a Scottish game:

The revel had lasted since four o'clock, and, at length… the frolicsome company had begun to practise the ancient and now forgotten pastime of high jinks. This game was played in several different ways. 

  - Guy Mannering, Scott, 1815

The usual way was to throw dice to decide which of the assembled company would perform some foolish or amusing task. This task might be anything from reciting "I'm a Little Teapot" to drinking a prodigious amount of alcohol in one draught. For some reason, the tasks tended to gravitate toward the alcoholic end of the spectrum, though.

Often in Maggy's, at hy-jinks We guzzled scuds, 
Till we could scarce, wi' hale-out drinks, Cast off our duds. 

- Elegy for Maggy Johnstoun, Ramsay, 1711

A jink is a quick turn made when running in order to escape a pursuer. The word is still used with this meaning in Rugby Football. Then again, jink or jinks also meant "taking all five tricks" in the old card games "spoil five", "tweny-five" and "forty-five". 

But Margery asks "what makes them high"? Well, as this was a Scottish drinking game, our guess is that it was single-malt whisky. You think we jest? The word high has been used to mean "intoxicated" since the early 1600s; it's even older than the expressions high spirits or to have a high [old] time, which did not appear until the 1730s and 1830s, respectively.

The jinx which is a curse or bad luck is popularly derived from jynx , the Greek for "wryneck" (a bird - Jynx torquilla). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this bird was "made use of in witchcraft". Now, for all its wisdom, we humbly submit that the august OED has screwed up this time. In Greek, jynx meant both "wryneck" and a kind of spinning disk toy. The disk has two holes near its center through which a loop of string is threaded. The string is held in the hands and a few initial turns of the disk enable it to be spun at high speeds by rhythmically altering the tension in the loop of string. At this point, half of our readers are saying "Huh?" and the rest are saying "Hey, we used to play with those when we were kids". According to ancient authors, the witches of Thessaly in northern Greece used these devices to cast spells. In particular, they used them to "draw down the moon". Now, all our readers are saying "Huh?" All we can say is that the Thessalian witches were famous for doing this but not even the experts are entirely sure what it means.  And it may be that the disk was somehow named after the bird. 

However, recall that we said this is a popular explanation.  It is a bit implausible, as etymologist Michael Quinion notes, for the word jinx was not widely known in England or in the U.S.., and the bird of that name doesn't even exist in the New World.  Sooooo...Quinion's explanation is that the word came from a vaudeville song of 1868 by the name of Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines.  In this song is a reference to "the curse of the Army".  That may seem tenuous, but the song was very popular, and it spawned other songs in addition to a play and a novel, the latter being published as late as 1902.  It is quite possible that the word, which first turns up with the "curse" sense in 1910 (spelled jinks, by the way), was picked up from the song, play, and/or book by sports writers (the first examples are in writings about baseball) and spread into wider usage from there.

From xon tiffany:

According to the website Traditions:

These [bun and hot cross-bun] have been derived primarily from Pagan traditions at Easter time: 

Hot Cross Buns: 
At the feast of Eostre, the Saxon fertility Goddess, an ox was sacrificed. The ox's horns became a symbol for the feast. They were carved into the ritual bread. Thus originated "hot cross buns". The word "buns" is derived from the Saxon word "boun" which means "sacred ox." Later, the symbol of a symmetrical cross was used to decorate the buns; the cross represented the moon, the heavenly body associated with the Goddess, and its four quarters.

Is this true? Does our modern word bun come from boun? The Oxford English Dictionary says: "bun: etymology doubtful." What do you say?

We say "Where did they get this stuff?"! Has some Old Saxon text on pagan rituals just come to light and we missed it? Or did they channel the spirit of an ancient shaman?

While we can't definitively explain the origin of bun, we would like to point out that there is no record of the hot cross-bun before the 18th century:

Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs 
With one or two a penny hot cross buns. 

- Poor Richard's Almanack, 1733

This extract mentions hot cross buns as if they were familiar fare so they were probably around for a good while before this date. But Saxon? If that were the case then we would probably find an early version of bun in Old English (a.k.a. Anglo-Saxon) but we don't. The earliest mention of a bun is in the late 14th century and the word appears to have come from Old French. It has relatives in the French beignet "doughnut" and Spanish buñuelo, "bun, fritter" but none (as far as we know) in any Germanic languages.

Another reason to doubt this account of the Saxon origin of bun is that the Old Saxon for "ox" was ohs. On the other hand, the Greek for "ox" is buos which is very close to their supposed Saxon word. By the way, an ox is a castrated bull. Doesn't that strike you as rather an odd fertility symbol?


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