Issue 190, page 2

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Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Linda R. Worczak:

I know wrought is a past tense for work, but I can't figure out what verb frought is a past tense for.

You're thinking of fraught.  "He was fraught with anger."  This is indeed a past participle form, but the infinitive, which is now obsolete, is fraught, too.  So it's not like caught and catch or anything of that sort.  In fact, the verb fraught derives from the noun fraught, which English seems to have borrowed from a Dutch source.  It is cognate with the more common freight (which actually comes from a Latinate borrowing from a Germanic source).  The noun means the same thing as freight: "cargo, charge for transport".  The form that is most common today, the past participle, means "laden" or "filled".  So one who is "fraught with anger" is full of anger.  That figurative sense dates from the 16th century.

The ultimate sense of the Old Teutonic root from which the word derives is "acquisition, property".

From Kevin J. Mooney:

What is the origin of the word jimmy in the following: "We had to jimmy the door open when we were locked out"? 

It's a dialectical alteration of jemmy.  And what on earth is jemmy, you ask?  Among several other wide-ranging things, it is a crowbar used by burglars.  So it went from a crowbar to anything used to open a lock, and then it became the verb that described the use of a jemmy.  Like jimmy, jemmy is a familiar form of James.  Beyond that, no one knows exactly why the crowbar was originally called a jemmy.

Jemmy "crow bar" dates from 1811, while jimmy "tool for opening a lock" dates from 1848. 

Sort of makes one wonder why GMC named a truck the Jimmy.  Guess they were thinking of James and not lockpicking!

From Michael (a Marine in Iraq):

Can you tell me the meaning of the phrase you have your work cut out for you?  I've been arguing this with a friend for the last week.

One, or perhaps both of you, will say, "Oh, yeah!" when you hear this one.  It means "you have a big, perhaps difficult, task ahead of you" and it dates from the late 16th century.  It refers to cutting cloth in order to make a garment.  Once you have cut the shapes out, you usually have a great deal of sewing to do (and it was originally done by hand, remember!) before the cloth becomes a garment. 

From Roger Bean:

What is the origin of the word boss? As an employer, line manager, overseer, its meaning is plain enough, as in one who directs a subordinate. It sounds so colloquial, yet is almost universal in its use. Where did it come from?

As a child Melanie wondered if boss "master" or "manager" was related to emboss.  It seems it is not.  Instead, boss in this sense comes from Dutch baas "master".  The older sense of the Dutch word was apparently "uncle", and German base "female cousin" (from Old High German basa "aunt") is supposed to be related.  Boss is first recorded in English in the mid-17th century in New England, which certainly explains the Dutch connection.

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