Issue 167, page 2

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Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Paul:

Where does the word arrow come from?   I had heard in sixth grade that the word comes from the Aphrodite's son, Eros, Eros being the Greek equivalent to the Roman Cupid.  Eros would, of course shoot arrows. I'm curious if there is the connection between arrow and Eros.

Nope, never, zilch, zip, zero.  Connections to Eros, that is.  Sixth grade etymology is a fanciful thing, at least in most cases! Arrow derives from the Indo-European root *arkw, which meant "bow".  It gave us Latin arcus and the related Romance words, plus English arc and arch.  In fact, there is a tree common in Texas called bodark which is actually bois d'arc "bow wood" as it was thought by French explorers to be used by Indians for their bows.  Bodark is the Texan approximation of the French term.  

Anyhow, back to arrow.  The Germanic root became *arkhw-, and that gave the different Germanic languages their words for "arrow", the Germanic root having taken on the meaning "the thing belonging to the bow" versus just "bow".  Old English had it as earh, but other words for the arrow (stræl and flan) were more common in Old English.  Toward the end of the Old English period English seems to have reborrowed arrow from Old Norse *arw-, and that is where today's form arose.

So you see that for there to have been a connection with Eros, the word arrow in English would have had to be quite a bit younger, for English did not take words directly from Greek, especially pagan words, until quite a bit later.  Words that we do get from Eros, like erotic and such, date from the 17th century.

From Michael Weishaar:

In a recent email discussion about digital rights, the word pirate came up. How did the term pirate come about, and at what point was it first used to refer to the copying of someone else's work without authorization? 

A scary pirate!  Arrrrrrr!Here's  an example of a Greek word being borrowed by English before the 17th century, but via Latin (so the "rule" described above remains intact!).  The Latin form was pirata and the Greek was peirates, derived from peiran "to attempt, to attack, to assault".  Pirate first turns up in English in the early 15th century as pyratys (plural), with the meaning "one who robs and plunders on the sea".  You may be surprised to learn that the meaning "plagiarize" or "infringe on the copyright of another" dates back to the late 17th century!

Seafaring pirates are making a comeback.  Reports of attack and murder at sea by marauding sailors seem to increase in number yearly.

From Tasy Walker:

Tell me about the phrase to boot.

That's a good one!  This phrase has the meaning "in addition, besides, moreover".  What on earth do foot coverings have to do with this?  Nothing, of course.  The boot here means "good" and dates in English all the way back to the 11th century, when it was spelled bote.  The phrase was the same, then, too, to bote.  Where did English get this strange word?  From the Indo-European root *bhad- "good, useful".  It made it into other Germanic languages, as well (modern German busze, Swedish bot, and Danish bod).  Better, best and booty come from the same source.

The footwear boot is from medieval Latin botta, a word of obscure origin. 

From Chuck Labrensz:

Been trying to find out how the phrase apeshit came about. Everybody knows what it means, but no one can give any insight. Maybe it's just innate?

It's something, that's certain.  It is usually seen as go ape or go apeshit.  Tony Thorne, compiler of slang terms, suggests that it refers to a "primal state" of infatuation, excitement, or anger, and that explains its etymology.  Going ape is rather primal, but going ape AND defecating is extremely primal!  Yet he may have overlooked a known trait of certain primate species to throw feces when extremely annoyed. 

Thorne dates it to the late 1950s.  To go ape was certainly in use by then as Neil Sedaka used the term in his 1960 song "I Go Ape".

Our favorite quotation comes from Stephen Fry (English actor and comic best known in the U.S.Click to learn more about Stephen Fry. for his work as Jeeves in the television series Wooster and Jeeves, based on Wodehouse's characters; and for playing Oscar Wilde in the film Wilde): "After I'd left my last school, I pinched a wallet full of credit cards and went apeshit in about five different counties."  We giggle every time we picture Jeeves behaving so badly!  The quotation is from the Sunday Times magazine, August 1989.

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From Don Pelto:

I was recently enjoying a butter brickle ice cream cone when I wondered about the term brickle. I don't believe I've seen it in any other usage. I also failed to find an entry for it in the dictionary. One source suggested it was a variant of brittle. What's your take on this? I recommend the home-made waffle cone. Yummy!

Ah, yes, that brings mouthwatering memories back to Melanie, but not to Mike, because the term in this sense is peculiarly American.  Brickle is obsolete elsewhere and has been since the 18th century (though it hung on as a dialectical word in places like Lancashire through the 19th century).  It is not a variant of brittle but is instead a parallel formation. It derives from Old English brecan "to break" and now refers to hard but brittle candy, much like peanut brittle (same notion there).  It first appears in the written record in 1460, at which time it meant simply "brittle" (no connection with candy then).

And if you don't have a Krispy Kreme near you but wish to make a donation to TOWFI, you can always send us Baskin-Robbin gift certificates (for you outside the U.S., B-R is a chain of ice cream parlors).

From Southernsweetie:

Can you tell me the etymology of the word scrutinize?

We surely cay-un, l'il lady. [ahem...]

Usually, when a vote is taken with a show of hands, the result is clear, but on those occasions when it is not, a scrutiny is made and every vote is counted. That is the original meaning of scrutinize - "to count votes". Etymologically, it comes from the Latin scrutator, "examiner, investigator" which ultimately derives from scruta, Latin for "trash". This is thought to indicate that if you were being investigated by a scrutator he would even rummage through your garbage.  Scrutiny first appears in the record 1450.


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2002 TIERE
Last Updated 08/23/02 09:59 PM