Issue 174, page 2

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Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Eric:

The word sniper has been in the news recently. What is its origin?  Why does the presumably related verb to snipe have a very different meaning, at least in everyday usage?

The snipe.  Click to follow the link to a site that allows you to "snipe" (bid at the last moment) on Ebay!As you  might have guessed, a sniper is one who snipesTo snipe is to shoot at from a distance and while under cover, and it comes from the noun snipe.  What is a snipe, you ask?  Why, it's a bird!  Don't you remember camping as a child and having the adults gather all the kids to go snipe hunting at dusk (which usually ended up being only a walk in the woods)?  Well, it is apparently from real snipe hunting that the verb and then the noun in this sense arose. Sniper dates from 1824 and the verb from 1782.  The bird's name is first recorded about 1325.  It appears to be of Germanic origin, with apparent cognates in Icelandic and Norwegian.

Snipe was also used as an abusive term, as in this quotation from Shakespeare's Othello (1604): "For I mine owne gain'd knowledge should prophane, If I would time expend with such [a] Snipe."  Further, the verb took on a figurative sense by the late 19th century: to verbally rebuke or criticize (to "shoot" at with words).

From Margie Newtown:

Can you give me the etymology of the word camouflage?

This is one of those not so common words that came to English from French rather recently: World War I, to be exact.  It comes from the French verb camoufler "disguise", which the French derived from Italian camuffare "disguise, trick", perhaps with the influence of French camouflet "snub", which was earlier "smoke blown in someone's face".  Camouflet shows up in English (1836) referring to a bomb used to blow in the wall of a besieged room/building, the result being that the occupants are buried.   Etymologist Robert K. Barnhart believes that the Italian camuffare comes from Medieval Latin muffula "manipulation". 

From Glenn:

Origin of the term crab apple?

The crab apple is actually the wild apple, source of all domestic apples grown today.  There areCrab apple.  This image from the University of Washington.  Click to follow the link. two thoughts about the origin of crab in this sense.  The first notes that the Scottish form is scrab or scrabbe, seemingly from a Norse source, as there is Swedish skrabba "fruit of the wild apple tree".  This would suggest that crab and crabbe are aphetic forms of a much older word.  The other possibility is that it derives from crabbed, which itself means, etymologically, "crooked or wayward gait of a crab" and the several figurative senses that follow from that (disagreeable, contrary, ill-tempered, or crooked).  One of those senses might have been applied to the fruit of the crab apple: not right, not pleasant, ill-flavored (because crab apples are very sour and astringent).

Whatever crab apple's origin, it dates from 1712, while the term crab "crab apple" dates from the early 15th century.  Crabbed dates from about 1300. Feeling crabby now?  That dates from the late 18th century. Thomas Paine used it in his Common Sense: "The narrow and crabby spirit of a despairing political party."

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From Tom Brady:

For as long as I can remember (which is a very long time) I've enjoyed a salad made from shredded cabbage, vinegar, carrots, and mayonnaise; usually with ham, baked beans and corn sticks. Delicious! The salad was always called coleslaw, but I have no idea of the origin, or ethnicity of the word.

Cole slaw.  Click for a recipe.First we must mention that cole is a generic term for members of the Brassica family, such as broccoli and cabbage.  Most of the European languages adopted it in one form or another, from Latin caulis "stalk, cabbage".  So, back to cole slaw.  It derives from Dutch koolsla, an aphetic form of kool-salade, and no, that does not mean "cool salad"!  The kool element is the Dutch form of our cole.  So cole slaw is etymologically "cabbage salad".  It apparently entered English via America from the Dutch in New York and thereabouts.  The first record of it is from 1794.

There is a form that arose through folk etymology: cold slaw.  "Folks" were simply not familiar with the word cole and so substituted it with what they thought was the proper word, cold (as most cole slaw is served cold or at room temperature).

From Gary Foster:

What is the etymology of bogey (or sometimes bogie) as in "one over par" in golf. I did search your site and looked elsewhere, but have not found anything on the origination of this golf term or any others (such as birdie or eagle). Any insight will be appreciated. Thanks.

Here's the story we found regarding bogey: 

One popular song at least has left its permanent effect on the game of golf. That song is "The Bogey Man". In 1890 Dr. Thos. Browne, R.N., the hon. secretary of the Great Yarmouth Club, was playing against a Major Wellman, the match being against the "ground score", which was the name given to the scratch value of each hole. The system of playing against the "ground score" was new to Major Wellman, and he exclaimed, thinking of the song of the moment, that his mysterious and well-nigh invincible opponent was a regular "bogey-man". The name "caught on" at Great Yarmouth, and to-day "Bogey" is one of the most feared opponents on all the courses that acknowledge him (1908).

As for birdie, meaning a score of one under par, that one is slightly more complicated.  The word bird came to be used figuratively, based on the ability of birds to fly, and to fly perfectly and noiselessly, to any accomplished or smart person (1839).  From there it came to be applied to the great accomplishment of shooting one under par, and it was familiarized to birdieBird dates in print with that meaning from 1911, and birdie from 1921.

Eagle is apparently simply bigger and better than a birdie  An eagle is, of course, two under par.


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