From Richard Hulme:
Reading the question of 'crossing your fingers for luck' in issue 147
brings two points to mind:
1. In Germany (I don't know about other countries), you don't cross your fingers for luck, you press your thumbs (make a fist and press your thumb onto the top of your index finger).
2. What then, is the origin of crossing your fingers when you make a promise to mean that, as far as you're concerned, the promise isn't real or valid?
Admittedly, neither point is directly related to etymology but
interesting all the same, I think.
Keep up the good work!
We'll research item 2 for a
future issue. Regarding item 1, very interesting! Sounds as
though the resulting form could be considered a cross, too.
From Michael Bonner:
Roger Whitehead wrote, in issue #147:
... ID document (ID = identity document). Many people have forgotten, if
they ever knew, what the D in ID stands for. "Got any ID?" is a common request from security guards, shop assistants and other such persons.
This reminds me of a graffito I once saw. By the check-out counter in a
convenience store was a sign that read, "No ID, no beer." Underneath that was written, "Too much beer, no superego."
I've been chuckling over that one for years now, but haven't seen it anywhere since then.
I love your site - keep up the good work!
From Susan Clarke:
From Tony Hill:
This showed up in my inbox this morning. Thought you word folks might be (briefly) entertained...
In British slang, the term to spend a penny means
"to go to the toilet." After the UK joins the EU, the term will be euronating.
Perhaps this explains the classified ad I keep seeing in my local paper. "Back office help needed for eurology office."
Eurology, the study of Euros!
From Steve Folkers:
From the Catholic Encyclopedia (online):
On the Jewish altar there were four projections, one at each corner, which were called the horns of the altar. These projections are not found on the Christian altar, but the word
cornu ("horn") is still maintained to designate the sides or corners of the altar. Hence
cornu epistolae and cornu evangelii mean the epistle and gospel side of the altar respectively,
cornu anterius and cornu posterius evangelii or cornu dexterum anterius and
dexterum posterius mean respectively the anterior or posterior corner of the altar at the gospel side.
Good work, Steve!
From Gilia Benbassat:
In regard to last weeks spotlight on corners and horns:
In Hebrew the word KEREN means both horn
and corner. This word, with both its
meanings, is found in the Bible. A similar word is found in many other Semitic languages (some of them quite
distinct from Hebrew), and also in Greek & Roman. Although my dictionary didn't say which is the origin, I can only guess this word existed in
Proto-Semitic , the theoretical mother of all Semitic languages.
KEREN is usually used for "horn".
Corner is usually called PINA (which
itself roots from "to turn") - also a biblical word.
Now the connection to the Alter. In Exodus:27 you can find explicit
instructions to how it should be build. Verse 2 says "And thou shalt make the horns of it upon the four corners thereof". The Hebrew origin of this
verse uses KEREN for horn and PINA for corner.
Isaiah:5:1 uses KEREN in the meaning of corner (in free translation, it is
"My friend had a vineyard in the corner of ... " - King James translated it to "My
well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill".)
I didn't know all this until today. It was your newsletter that triggered
We are happy to have spurred such research and
interest on your part. Thank you for sharing the fruits of your
From Gil Ross:
Continuing your puns...
Two parrots sitting on a perch, idly watching the world go by. After a while one of them sniffs, and says, "Do you smell fish?"
Boo, aaargh, moan
(the louder the complaints, the better the pun).
From Jed Boba:
[W]hat is the rule for period placement with quotation marks? I always
thought that the period ALWAYS went inside the quotation marks- the origin
being from the days when they used type set for printing. The period would
keep falling off the press when it was placed outside the quotation marks.
If this is true, you have a lot of mistakes on you website. Please advise.
This is a good time to point newer readers
to an explanation of the reasoning behind our comma placement at Take Our
Word For It. Read Curmudgeons'
Corner in Issue 35 (from way, way back in 1999!) to find out why we
seem to be breaking punctuation rules.
By the way, are you a Star Wars fan,
Jed[i] Boba [Fett]?
From Carol Cool:
Hi, there! Your site always sparks my interest; this time enough to write!
I was interested in Roger Whitehead's comment on ID: ID document (ID = identity document). Many people have forgotten, if they ever knew, what the D in ID stands for. "Got any ID?" is a common request from security guards, shop assistants and other such persons. As a copy editor, I had a debate with a client as to whether ID should have periods or not. My Merriam Webster dictionary says it is simply short for "identification," in which case it would have no periods and one could correctly say "ID document." My style guide (Gregg's) says it is short for "identification data." If that's so, you could still say "ID document," although I would then be inclined to put in the periods. Do you have any history on where the phrase actually began? I'd be willing to bet you can solve it!
We were hoping that Fowler might have
addressed ID, but alas, he does not appear to have done so. However,
everywhere else that we looked up the term, it was ID, no periods.
It appears that ID is actually simply an abbreviation of identity,
but we'll be doing further research on this one.
Aren't words wonderful? I love your web site, having found it after a
particularly infuriating e-mail was circulated (and ended up in my box) giving several origins of words which I know full well are totally
I wanted to check that gossip was NOTHING to do with people being sent to
taverns to listen to political comments, having been told to 'go sip' beer!!
Good grief <head in hands, with despair>
Here in Waitakere [New
Zealand] we have an annual Literary Festival and for several years now I have amused the populace by putting together flyers with amusing (or
interesting) origins of phrases and sayings.
I have lots of curmudgeonly gripes, one of which is that some people, having
got a word origin explanation fixed in their head, will not accept any sensible alternative. The 2nd gripe is that so many people say 'pacific'
when the mean 'specific'. I have a good friend who did this and finally I
got up the courage to explain, pointing out 'specify' and so on....and after
this she said, 'Nah, it's easier to say pacific.' Her name is Christine, I said 'from now on I'll call you Jo, it's easier.'
I shall revisit your site regularly now, well done.
Thanks for your amusing
From Joel Taylor:
I'm the assistant news editor at
The Sun in San Bernardino, Calif. I like your site. Regarding Issue 40
Curmudgeon's Corner: You're right about the reason for use of the
preposition in. It is a substitute for in connection with. It is used because it is short and
it does not assign guilt, only connection. A headline should not use in the way you mentioned, it's true.
Someone is suspected OF a murder. The proper use of in would be regarding an arrest: John Doe arrested IN
February killing, rather than arrested FOR February killing, which assigns guilt.
Anyway, really do like the site.