Issue 166, page 2

Search Home FAQ Links Site map Book Store


New Ask Us Theory About
AG00003_.gif (10348 bytes)

Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Gene Wilkes:

Here in Trinidad & Tobago many people use the word togs to refer to the boots used for playing football (soccer). I have always known togs to refer to clothing, all clothing, especially the kit for a sport e.g. riding togs. Am I right? 

First, we have to tell you about a tog that is not related to the one you seek, simply because the earliest quotation containing it is so indescribably wonderful:

A lamb eight or nine months old, and until his first shearing, is called a heder or sheder, hog, hogget, or lamb-hog. In other counties a teg, tog, gimmer, and dinmont, &c.

This from the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1851.  Can any of our readers add toA man wearing a toga.  Click to learn about Roman society. that list?

Now, on to togs "clothes".  This word comes from the language spoken by vagabonds, called Vagabond's Cant, in the 16th century.  Their word was togeman or togman, coming from French toge and Latin toga meaning "toga".  The -man ending is somewhat common in cant, for example, darkmans meant "night" and lightmans meant "day".  Anyhow, togman was shortened to tog by the early 18th century.  It originally referred to a loose coat or other outer garment; by the late 18th century it was being used to refer to "clothes" in general, and it was pluralized to match the meaning: togs.  That is what we have today.  In Australia and New Zealand, however, the word took on the meaning of "bathing costume" or "swimsuit".  And apparently in Trinidad and Tobago, togs now refers to soccer boots.  Etymologically you are correct, Gene, in that togs generally refers to "clothes" these days.

From Jayne Gallimre:

I need to know where the term rummage sale originated.

Rummage dates back to the early 16th century.  The word was adopted from French arrumage (arrimage today), which derives from the French verb arrumer.  Spanish and Portuguese had the same or similar versions of these words, which mean "to stow".  No one seems to know where the Romance languages acquired the word.  It was first used in English with a nautical sense, meaning "the arranging of casks, etc., in the hold of a vessel".  Soon it came to mean "bustle, commotion, turmoil" (as apparently these were associated with the holds of vessels, perhaps as they were being loaded and unloaded), and then, by the mid-18th century, it referred to "an overhauling search".  Today the verb still has that sense, if refined a bit to "dig through in search of".  A rummage sale was originally a clearance  sale of unclaimed goods at the docks, or of odds and ends in a warehouse (1858).  Now, off to rummage through the pantry in search of something for dinner!

From Ethan Brown:

I saw that you've researched the word uncle in terms of a family member. But what's the etymology of the word when used as say uncle, as is when two people are wrestling? Kudos on a fantastic site, I've really enjoyed it.

It has been suggested that to cry uncle "to ask for mercy" derives from Irish anacol "act of protecting; deliverance; mercy; quarter; safety", from Old Irish aingid "protect".  This use of uncle was unknown in Britain before the influence of American television.  The earliest example of it in print dates from Chicago in 1918.  There was (and is) a large population of Irish descent in Chicago, so this is plausible, but we have no evidence. 

We discussed uncle's etymology here.

From Harry Coleman:

In the mid 1960's, oodles of moons ago, a BBC radio show had a character who would say, when asked to believe other than the situation warranted, "Oh, right. I should cocoa". What is its origin? 

The cocoa of I should cocoa is an example of Cockney rhyming-slang, albeit a rather peculiar one. It means "think so" (yes, we realized that it doesn't really rhyme) and is only ever used in the phrase I should cocoa which, therefore, translates as "I should think so".  It is usually spoken in an ironic tone as in, "Pay 10 quid for an ice-cream? I should cocoa!"

Do you enjoy reading Take Our Word For It?  Give us a small token of your appreciation and help keep the site running by making a donation.  It's easy, and you can pay via credit card.  To donate, just click the  button!  You can donated as little as 50 cents or as much as you desire.

From Carol Nichols:

The jig is up: I can't see where this might relate to the dance jig and I've been told that the correct word is gig. Or maybe it's just a term used in old Jimmy Cagney movies.

A jig costume.  Click to see more.Jig in this sense is indeed the same as jig meaning "dance".  The meaning shifted from "dance" (mid-16th century) to "music for such a dance" (late 16th century) to "a lively, jocular, or mocking ballad or song" (also late 16th century).  It evolved further to mean "a light, comical performance at the end of a play" (near 1700) and then "a joke, a jest, a sportive trick" (also near 1700).  It is from that latter meaning that we get the jig is up which means, etymologically "the game is up" or "it's all over".

Jig's etymology has been discussed before; it is here (within the discussion of gig).  While jig and gig appear to be related, the phrase originated as the jig is up, and it is first recorded in the U.S. in 1777 (as the jig is over).  And, in fact, this jig is up.  On to the next column!


Comments, additions? Send to Melanie & Mike:
Copyright 1995-
2002 TIERE
Last Updated 08/17/02 11:36 AM