Issue 187, page 4

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From Ken Berry:

I read with interest your comments on the word gander.  I thought I might add that both Spanish and Portuguese have the word ganso for goose, and this would appear to me to be related to gander, though whether from the Lithuanian or pre-Lithuanian, I could not say. However, my trusty Diccionario de la Lengua Española of the Royal Spanish Academy tells me that the word ganso is derived from the Gothic word gans, which would certainly take us into the general area of Lithuania.

The Indo-European root *ghans- gave many of the European languages their words for "goose".  One might think that gander came from the same source, but the OED does not, based on various linguistic principles.

From Ingeborg S. Nordén:

After reading the "book" article in Issue 186 of Take Our Word for It, I have a few comments to add:

First, it's unlikely that wood used for inscriptions will survive in a damp climate for over a thousand years. This is especially true of a soft wood like beech: it might carve better than harder wood, but also rots sooner. Most ancient writings on beechwood are probably long gone by now; as the cliché says, "Absence of evidence is *not* evidence of absence." 

Incidentally, at least one collection of mundane runic inscriptions in wood *has* been found in southern Norway: it included name-tags for people's property, love letters, and one note from a wife asking her husband to come home. This collection is hardly a "book" as we'd understand it, I'll grant; but it does make the writings-on-wood etymology look reasonable. Chances are that someone generalized the beech-word to include any collection of writings, even if they were done in a different medium; once the Germanic peoples settled north of Denmark, the best wood for the job got harder to find. (Compare modern English usage of "silverware" for any cutlery, "linens" for any bedsheets and towels, or "paper" for any written document--even an unprinted one stored online!)

Second, the "book/beech" connection is even more apparent in other Germanic languages: the words are *identical* in German (Buch) and Swedish (bok). The word for "letter of the alphabet" in both languages also alludes to a history of inscribing words in wood: German Buchstabe and Swedish bokstav both literally mean "beech-stave". Equating a single letter with the whole stick it's carved on may seem far-fetched, but Norse manuscripts and even older Germanic finds show that "stave" words have been used as synonyms for "runic letter" for centuries. (Other modern examples of Scandinavian words along these lines: Icelandic stafrof 'alphabet' literally means "stave-row" or a string of letters; Swedish stava 'spell (vb.)' implies naming letters of a word.)

You do give excellent (and fascinating!) examples of why it makes sense to derive book from beech.  Apparently English etymologists feel that the earliest versions of those words are very difficult to reconcile as being ultimately the same, so it is not possible to conclusively connect book with beech.

From Monika Schwarzbach:

I know I look forward for each issue of Towfi, it's always fun and educational too!

Some amusing detail about a law regarding books: the Sachsenspiegel (medieval law book from Saxonia) sets rules about who inherits what, the men get weapons and tools, the women get the housekeeping tools, the pillows and the books!

It was OK for a man to be able to read, but writing was for women and monks.  Wolfram von Eschenbach told his readers/listners "ih kan decheinen buochstab" (I don't even know letters) in Parzival. It's a big discussion among Wolfram scholars whether that means that he dictated his books and poems or that he just uses this to make clear that he's of high birth.

Thanks for that, Monika.  Very interesting!

From Stephen Upton:

For those dozing at the back of the class:

English also has words beginning with re- which do not imply repetition. For example, rebukes, remarks, refuted, regrettably, rebuttals and regards.

So??? What does the prefix here mean in English?

The meaning of the re- prefix in rebuke, rebut, and refute is "back", and in regret, remark, and regard it is an intensifier.

How interesting...... as I am reading Issue 186, pg. 2, I come across the question on grabbling. An amazing coincidence, since I just this very evening, not an hour ago, saw a program on our local PBS Affiliate, Channel 8, on noodling (not sure of the spelling). The very thing your questioner was referring to as grabbling, they referred to as noodling. I couldn't watch much of the show........ I am from the South, and I know what is down in those waters..... and I am not about to stick my hand down in the water like that. Amazing what some people will do for thrills!!! 

Hmm, there is a verb noodle "to search for opals" used in Australia...

From Daniel H. Schechner:

Regarding the derivation of loo, Webster's cites the French lieux (places), short for lieux d'aisances (literally, places of conveniences). I, however, prefer an unsupported theory that the true source is the French l'eau (water), as in water closet (or W.C.). This interpretation, then, leads to Waterloo as a sort of bilingual double-speak, a cut above boringly repetitive place names such as Walla Walla, Bora Bora, or Pago Pago. Sometimes the truth simply isn't colorful enough (gasp!).

AMAZING !!! I think this first statement must be the most likely. As a Greek-American, fluent in Modern Greek, and somewhat versed in older forms of Older Greek, I was quite struck to note, that in Modern Greek «το μέρος, ΤΟ ΜΕΡΟΣ», not only means "place", but also is a euphemism for a "loo". In Modern Greek, one often says; "Πού είναι το μέρος", i.e.,  "Where is the bathroom/loo?" or "Πηγαίνω στο μέρος" = "I'm going to the restroom".

From Fred Dimitrius:

Regarding the word espresso, as in espresso coffee, I was under the impression that it meant "each cup is 'expressly' made" at the time it is going to be drunk.

Nope.  It is "expressed" or "pressed" out of the grounds.

From Dick Mackin:

As your resources are certainly vaster (more vast?) than mine, your research on the origins of the phrase “the penny dropped” is probably correct. However my mother who was born and raised in London England and moved to Canada in 1946 had this phrase in her repertoire of what our friends and neighbours called her “Englishisms”. It would seem that the phrase was in common use well before the date you note.

I am a faithful reader of TOWI and look forward to each and every issue.  Keep up the good work.

As with all references to the date that a word or phrase first appeared in the written record, the implication is that the word or phrase was in spoken use for some time prior to that date. so it is not surprising that your mother used the phrase before the OED's first example of it.

From Marina T. Stern:

You happened to touch on a topic I researched recently. Mincemeat was originally a meat product, "meat" as in "animal flesh". Sugar and spices were added to preserve the meat, as both retard the growth of spoilage bacteria. Fruits were added for flavor. Gradually, over the course of centuries, the proportion of fruit to meat rose, until the meat component of the pie became extinct in the 1970s. I include a recipe for mincemeat containing about 1/3 beef in my next book, "The Fairy Party Book", to be published this October. 

From Helen Griffin:

Many recipes for mincemeat, and the commercial produced mincemeat most often found in US stores, (Nonesuch brand, made by Borden foods) contains beef suet. Old recipes (from colonial times) have mincemeat as containing organ meats, and other odd bits of meat (including meat that is about to go 'off' since the fruit acids and sugar in mincemeat will 'preserve' the meat, and the spice will hid any off flavors.)

I fully realize that meat can be 'nutmeat' or 'sweetmeats', or 'flesh' (what we now commonly call meat) but in the case of mincemeat, it is mixture of the old (fruits and other meats) and the new (animal meats-suet in most cases)! 

From Morgiana P. Halley:

My family *always* made mincemeat with meat, and I still do. It is much preferable to the mushy, too sweet, canned stuff. I have had it made with beef, venison, moose, and rabbit. Once we made it with sirloin steak, and it was pasty and tasteless. I usually use about a quarter of a pound of stewing beef for every two quarts of mincemeat. Sometimes I make "instant" mincemeat, which involves getting some of the bottled stuff and adding boiled and shredded meat (totally unseasoned and with all gristle and fat removed), fresh tart apples, additional spices, and a dollop of brandy, rum, or whiskey. An hour or two simmering together, a week or so aging, and it's ready for pies and cookies. Much better than oversweetened underspiced fruit mush. Ask the people I go to for Christmas and Thanksgiving. They always ask me to bring mincemeat pies.

Lots of mincemeat fans out there!  Thanks for your comments.

From Zayd Abdulla:

'Something will be very good (retebien)' made me laugh, because retegoed is a less formal way in Dutch of saying something is very good. The prefix there, as you will certainly know, is derived from reet, meaning "crack" in its "bottom" or "arse" sense in this case. Funny, though, since you can also say that something is "cracking good" in English without people thinking of bottoms. Or do they?

I expect a Dutch speaker learning Spanish will have no problems with retebien, though at first he will be likely to see it as a combination of rete and bien - which he is also likely to know from French - instead of re and tebien. It's certainly a word I'll never forget ;-)

From Morgiana P. Halley:

My mother was partially raised by a Mexican woman and I grew up with cocina Mexicana and learned to make refritos early in my career. I always assumed that they were "refried" because they were first cooked by boiling and then reheated by frying. In my mind truly good frijoles refritos are made with little pink beans (those from the Santa Ynez valley in California are called "pinquitos"), or little red beans, although pintos will do in a pinch. You clean them, soak them overnight, and boil them with salt and pepper to taste, some onion (and optional garlic) and a bit of cured pigmeat (ham hock, bacon ends, salt pork, etc.) for flavour. Cook them *slowly*. The back of a woodstove is great, but you can also make do with gas or electric at the lowest setting where cooking is actually taking place. As long as there are beans in the pot you can keep the heat on, but you must check every few hours and replenish water, if they look like they'll boil dry. After the first two or three hours, they are edible, but they get better as they cook longer. when they cooked beans are at least one day old, take a cast iron skillet and melt about two tablespoonfuls (real tablespoons, not measuring tablespoons) of bacon grease or lard in the bottom. Other cooking fat may be used, but the flavour will not be as good. Scoop out two or three cupfuls of beans, with as little liquid as possible, and put them into the hot fat. Use a wooden spoon to mash them down, but don't try to get them all pureed, as the differences in texture are appealing. When they are hot and relatively dry, they are ready to serve. Other than the cooking skills my mother learned from Victoria, our family tradition is basically middle-America,a but we've always had multicultural friends from whom we've learned other cooking traditions as well.

And a recipe for refritos!  We're going to have to rename this column.

From Daniel H. Schechner:

Many years ago, I encountered an amusing anecdote concerning the practice of ending a clause with a preposition. Winston Churchill, after having been criticized for committing this unpardonable crime, supposedly responded, "This is something up with which I will not put!" The story is probably apocryphal; however, my definition of apocryphal is, "It may not be true, but I like it, so don't tell me."

From Ray Adams:

Thanks for including a link to Albert Grumich’s dictionary site.  Well organized and very productive links!  Thank you, Albert. That’s a link I quickly bookmarked.

From Steve Parkes:

I must beg to differ: this is a horse of a different colour!  "You have only to wash his face and his leg in spirits of wine, and you will find that he is the same old Silver Blaze as ever."

Holmes had uncovered and old racing trick of disguising a horse by darkening its coat, hiding its distinguishing marks. Of course, it only works if you make a lighter coloured animal darker; bleaching it could be a problem! It was usually done when the horse had good form (i.e. it was a frequent winner), and allowed for much better odds. Quite fraudulent, of course! I'm sure the racing fancy in the US has always been much more scrupulous.

Despite Holmes' erudition, there is simply no evidence to support the phrase's derivation from an underhanded practice with racehorses.  That doesn't stop some etymologists (or purported etymologists) from using that derivation, however.

From Paul Jacxsens:

I like your site, well done.  When I just read the Words to the Wise on the question "Does a spider spide" I noticed this line of text : "

Other Germanic words for spider show their relation to spin more clearly: German spinne, Dutch spinner, Swedish spindel, and Danish spinder. The Proto-Germanic root is presumed to be *spenwanan "to spin". "

Well, being a native Dutch speaker I can assure you that the Dutch word for spider is spin. Nothing more, nothing less... unless you are talking dialects of course. In my dialect (Bruges) a spider is called spinne but even more often referred to as cobbe.


Or read last week's issue to see what all of these people are talking about!

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Last Updated 01/08/06 01:55 PM