Issue 176, page 2

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Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From PC Kid:

Who coined the term shareware?

Bob Wallace, popularizer of the term "shareware"This is a particularly timely question, as the person who popularized the term, Bob Wallace, a personal friend of ours, recently passed away in an untimely manner.  Bob was one of the initial eleven Microsoft founders.  He felt that personal computing might be a way to realize the human potential and expand the mind.  He left Microsoft in 1983 to start his own company, which he named Quicksoft.  There, he created a word processing program called PC-Write, and this piece of software was the first to be called shareware.  The principle of shareware, as Wallace put it, was like public television.  If one used it, he should make a contribution to keep it going. Shareware was made available on public PC bulletin boards, and it contained instructions on how to make a contribution to the particular program's creator, but whether to make a contribution or not was strictly up to the user in most cases (some shareware will cease working if a contribution isn't made in a certain amount of time).  

The notion of shareware appears to have been pioneered separately by two other gentlemen, Jim Knopf and Andrew Fluegelman (and Fluegelman trademarked the term freeware), but Wallace popularized the term shareware.  He does not seem to have coined the term, however.  Instead, he told Nelson Ford, founder of PsL (Public software Library), that he got the word from a pre-IBM computer magazine column.

The OED lists the first occurrence of the word shareware in 1983, which is about right (other than the pre-IBM computer article that Bob Wallace referred to), but it is from the August 15 issue of InfoWorld and refers to shareware in general.  We'll have to do more research to determine how and when Bob Wallace first used the term.  Perhaps a lengthier project would be to track down that pre-IBM computer article!

From Ian Gee:

Could you please settle a dispute between my wife and myself? We occasionally see phrases constructed thus: "Where have all the ___ gone?" My wife says that this is an allusion to the Pete Seeger song "Where have all the flowers gone?" I have a feeling that it is older than that. Can you help?

Of course we can, Ian. What's more, we are pleased to say that you are both right!

We agree with your wife that journalists and copywriters who use the "Where have all the ___ gone?" phrase are almost certainly alluding to Pete Seeger's classic anti-war song. On the other hand, Pete Seeger's own autobiography says that the inspiration for this song came from Quiet Flows the Don, a novel by the Russian author Mikhail Sholokhov. The book describes a song which is sung by Cossacks as they go off to war. It gives some of the words but doesn't name the song.

Some time after Pete Seeger's song became a hit, Sing Out magazine appealed to its readers for the original song. The answer came from A. L. Lloyd, a famous British musicologist, who revealed the original to be a Russian folksong called Koloda Duda. Here are the words in English:

Koloda Duda [a woman's name - M&M]
Where have you been?
Minding the horses.

Which were you minding?
The horse with the saddle
with the golden fringe.

But where is your horse?
Standing by the gate.

And where is the gate?
Carried away by the water.

And where are the reeds?
The girls have gathered them.

And where are the girls?
The girls have married and gone away.

And where are the Cossacks?
They've gone to war.

From Eric Le Pak:

Although your site references some asides to the term sweetbreads, nowhere on the internet can I find a plausible etymology. I am in the restaurant business using sweetbreads for a number of dishes, but am unable to answer my guests regarding the reason this organ meat is so named.

Most Americans are not familiar with sweetbreads; these organ meats simply are not widely consumed here.  However, every now and again one can find them on the menus of fine Italian restaurants.  Melanie ordered them last time we visited our favorite Italian eatery.  A sweetbread is the pancreas and/or the thymus of a meat animal such as a calf or lamb.  We always assumed they were called sweetbreads as a euphemism (kind of like Rocky Mountain oysters!), but also as a reference to the very rich flavor and consistency.  We probably weren't far off on the rich flavor part.  The sweet element is thought to come from English sweet as the thymus and pancreas are sweet and rich.  The bread element, on the other hand, is now thought to come from Old English bręd "flesh", so that sweetbreads are simply "sweet flesh", versus the more savory muscle flesh that is usually consumed because it is more plentiful.  The term dates from the mid-16th century.

Pancreas, by the way, comes from Greek pan "all" and kreas "flesh".  John Ayto says that this was because the organ was of the same consistency and substance throughout. Pancreas dates in English from the 16th century, like sweetbread.  Pancreas sweetbread is also known as stomach sweetbread, while the thymus is called throat sweetbread.  Both refer to the location of the gland in the animal (pancreas in the abdomen and thymus at the base of the throat).

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From Myfanwy Davies:

I just read a review of a book about sharks, in which the reviewer said that the word shark comes from the Mayan xoc. This seems a bit unlikely to me: surely there were words for "shark" in the European languages long before the Spanish stormed South America looking for shiny new Mayan words to bring back home. Can you shed any light on this for me?

Sir John Hawkins, Elizabethan pirate and perhaps a shark, himself!We have heard this explanation before, but the author of your book should not assert that derivation as fact, for shark's etymology simply is not known with certainty.  What is known about the word is that it seems to have been brought to English by men traveling with Sir John Hawkins, who did, in fact, go to the Caribbean and might well have picked up that Mayan word for the family of cartilaginous fish.  In fact, John Ayto (popular this week, isn't he?) provides us with a quotation from a ballad of 1569: "There is no proper name for it that I know, but that certain men of Captain Hawkins's doth call it a shark." The members of Hawkins' 1568 expedition also apparently brought a Caribbean shark back to England, and it was displayed in London in 1569. Other than that, similarity to an Austrian word for "sturgeon", schirk, has been recognized. 

A little bit about John Hawkins: he made his fortune as one of Queen Elizabeth I's pirates, much like his cousin Francis Drake.  Learn more about Hawkins at this U.K. site about him.

There is also the word shark "swindler", and it is not known if that is related to the fish word or if it is a completely different word. Evidence pointing to the latter is the existence of German schurke "scoundrel", and the adoption by English of other German words in that time period. The OED suggests that this shark might also have been influenced by the name of the fish (both being predators of sorts). Shark with the "swindler" meaning dates from the end of the 16th century, while the fish name dates from a bit earlier (1569, as noted above).

Sharks were also known as tiburons or tuberons, from French tiburon "shark". It is thought that this word was borrowed by Spanish or Portuguese from a Caribbean or even an East Indian language.  (There is a town on the northern part of San Francisco Bay called Tiburon. Apparently there were a lot of sharks in the waters around Tiburon when the Spanish settled the area.)

The shark species that lived around the British Isles and that were known to the people there had their own names (dog fish, huss [nurse], etc.).  The word shark eventually came to apply to the entire family of such fishes.

Interestingly, the nurse shark seems to take its name from huss, a word for the dogfish that dates back to the middle of the 15th century.  Apparently "an huss" soon became "a nuss", which, via folk etymology (and non-rhotic speakers*) became nurseNurse in this sense dates from the end of the 15th century, and the term nurse shark (a New World species) dates from 1851. 

Oh, back to the Mayan word: xoc is pronounced "shawk".

*non-rhotic [English] speakers are speakers who do not pronounce r's except before vowels.


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