Issue 187, 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 Susan Fine:

For the last 5 years, I have been trying to find out why it is called a PUP tent. I know what it is but why the term pup? Where did it originate? If you can find out, I'll be very grateful!

A pup tent.  Click to follow the link.Pup in this sense is the same as puppy "young dog".  The notion was that such tents were so small and primitive that they were only fit for dogs (the term dog tent dates from the same period) or pups.  The OED suggests that the tents were so named because they resembled dog kennels.  Pup tents, as you know, are indeed small and of a simple A-shaped construction, basically two sheets of canvas or other material tied together.  They were used in the military originally, and the term pup tent dates in writing from the U.S. in 1863, and it is likely that it was in use for some years prior to being written down.

From Keith Baker:

Thank you in advance for any effort made. The origin of this particular part of a ship - the poop deck - is what I am interested in.

While this sounds rather scatological, the poop in poop deck came to Middle English from Old French pupe "stern [of a ship]".  Many of the Romance languages have cognates: modern French is poupe, Italian is poppa, and Provençal, Spanish and Portuguese all have popa.  These are thought to descend from a hypothetical late Latin *puppa, from Latin puppis "stern".  No one seems to know where the Latin word came from.  Poop first turns up in English in 1489 in the translation work of William Caxton, the first English printer.

We know you are all wondering: poop "feces" was originally "a short blast in a hollow tube, such as a wind instrument" (mid 14th century), and then came to refer to "an act of breaking wind (flatus)" (early 18th century), which apparently could sometimes sound like a blast on a wind instrument!  Later, by association, it came to refer to feces. How much later is unclear, but the OED's first written example of the word with the "feces" meaning dates from only 1974!  This poop is thought to be echoic (of the sound of the wind instrument, originally).  There are similar words in Low German and Dutch.

From Ashley:

I'm a long time swimmer and I have always wondered where or who thought up the name goggles. If it has any meaning I would like to know, my coach thinks it's funny, but I would love to find out!

Protective goggles. Click to follow the link.The noun goggles came from the verb to goggle.  And where did the verb come from? The OED thinks that goggle is the frequentative of an onomatopoeic word *gog.  Huh?  Well, we discussed frequentatives not too long ago in Spotlight.  A frequentative is a form of a word that expresses repetition of action.  So if the hypothetical *gog refers to back and forth or side to side movement, goggle suggests repeated movement of that sort.  And that is what goggle seems to have meant originally: to move the eyes to one side or the other; later, to roll the eyes back and forth.

So how is *gog onomatopoeic (meaning, how does gog sound like the action that it describes?)?  It is apparently thought to suggest the sound of oscillating movement.  

So how did goggle the verb come to refer to goggles the eye covering?  It was simply by association, and perhaps, also, because people who wore early goggles looked like they were goggling!  The noun dates, perhaps surprisingly, from 1715, at which time it referred to eye coverings that protected the eyes from dust.  They were made of glass or even of a fine mesh and were worn like spectacles.  The verb dates from the mid-14th century, first turning up in writing in the work of Wyclif, most famous for the Bible translations performed under his direction in the 14th century. 

From Eleonore:

I am doing research on various phrases and the origin of the word itch (meaning desire) for a possible children's book. I have been unable to find any references except various explanations of the term seven year itch. Can you help me?

Sure, but first we'll start with the etymology of itch.  It comes from Old English gicce "itch", from the verb giccan, "to itch".  It became yicch or yitch in Middle English, and by the 15th century the initial y- was dropped, giving us the form we recognize today.  There are cognates in some of the other Germanic languages: Middle Dutch joken (modern Dutch jeuken) and Old High German jucchen (modern German jucken).  It first appears in the written record in its Old English form in about 1000, and by Shakespeare's time it had taken on its current spelling.

Now, as for itch meaning "desire", as a verb it dates from as early as 1225!  An itch does give one a desire to scratch, so that notion of desire was simply extended in a figurative sense.  It is first used as a noun in this sense in the mid-16th century.

Do you enjoy reading Take Our Word For It?  If so, take a moment to let us know by making a donation.  Just click the  button!  You can donate as little as 50 cents or as much as William Bennett's casino bill. 

From Don McNeal:

Well, I was a, pallbearer recently, & I wondered how, why & when the term originated.

In Old English, a paell was a rich cloth, especially purple cloth as worn by royalty.  In fact, pall meant "purple" in Old English.  The word was also taken by the ecclesiastical community to refer to an altar cloth, or the cloth with which the chalice was covered.  By the 15th century, pall was being used to describe a cloth that covered a coffin, hearse, or tomb.  Then, by the mid-18th century, we find the term pallbearer, which originally referred to those who held the corners of the pall cloth at a funeral.  Eventually, those who carried the coffin itself came to be known as the pallbearers, by association.  

Pall also has the familiar meaning of "dark, gloomy covering or mood", which is simply a figurative usage that dates from the mid-18th century.  A less familiar meaning was "cloak or mantle", and there is even a specific vestment worn by the Pope called a pall.

The Old English form derives from Latin pallium "coverlet, curtain, cloak, the philosphers' cloak".


Comments, additions? Send to Melanie & Mike:
Copyright © 1995-
2003 TIERE
Last Updated 01/08/06 01:55 PM