Issue 204, 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 Sarah:

I've seen several articles about [pop singer] Beyoncé having coined the word bootylicious, but I am pretty sure I was seeing the word around prior to her song of that title from 2001. Do you know the real story?

Regular readers of TOWFI may be surprised to learn that we DO know the real story! Here is an excerpt from an article about Beyonce's amazing ability to coin a word that already existed:

Beyonce's boost
March 09, 2006
Bootylicious, the term coined by the former Destiny's Child star for her own dangerous curves - and made famous by the hit single of the same name - will reportedly be added to the dictionary.
The Sunday Times, Australia

Many other entertainment journalists have been parroting this story. So let's get this straight: the Destiny's Child song Bootylicious, with writing credits to Falonte Moore, Beyoncé Knowles, and Rob Fusari, was released in 2001. And Beyoncé now claims, as do some of the media, that she invented the word* (what do Moore and Fusari have to say about that)? WRONG. Our first search for bootylicious actually turned up bootilicious in a Jamaican newspaper, The Gleaner, from January 15, 1999. It was referring to one of the top movies rented by blacks in Jamaica, called Bootilicious. We searched the Internet Movie Database for such a movie, but it did not come up, even with slightly different spellings. However, after much diligent searching of other resources, we finally found a pornographic film, the first of a serious of Bootylicious films, called Bootylicious "Booty Call" from JM Productions. The release date of this film was 1995. Yes, you heard it, 1995, a mere 6 years before Beyoncé claims to have invented the word bootylicious. Girl, don't be takin' credit for somethin' you KNOW you didn't do!

*It is possible that some numbskull journalist decided that Beyoncé had invented the word bootylicious and then gave her credit, and Beyoncé just decided to roll with it. Also, we suspect that bootylicious was around even before 1995. The OED on-line purportedly has a citation from 1994.  Since we posted this discussion on our blog, a reader (tps12) has provided us an even earlier citation, from 1992, in a track on Dr. Dre's album The Chronic.  We'll provide a link to the lyrics, but we must WARN YOU that the lyrics are EXPLICIT and contain PROFANITY.  The track is entitled F*ck with Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin'), with writing credits to Cordozar Calvin Broadus, Jr. (at the time known as Snoop Doggy Dogg; since 1996 known as Snoop Dogg), Colin Wolfe (bassist and, later, producer), and Andre Romel Young (Dr. Dre). This surpasses the OED's earliest citation by two years.

From Zev:

 In the saying "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may", what is the difference between the ye in "gather ye rosebuds" and the ye in "as ye may"? My friend says that the first is an orthographic problem and really means the because we don't have an eth on typefaces.

I said that's probably right, but it still doesn't account for the strange meaning, "Gather the rosebuds while ye may." Wouldn't the normal way of saying it be, "gather your rosebuds while ye may"? Isn't ye plural for you?

In case anyone was wondering, the quotation comes from the 17th century poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick. Here is the verse in full:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

 Zev’s friend is quite correct that sometimes ye is shorthand for the (see “Lost Letters” Spotlight, Issue 142), but that is not the case here. The short answer is that there is very little difference between the first and second ye - they both mean you. But to do this (quite excellent) question justice we should look at the evolution of the word ye.

First, we have to clarify one point: ye cannot be the plural of you as you is already plural. Well, to be fair, in Modern English you is used as both 2nd person singular and 2nd person plural, but in earlier centuries the 2nd person singular was thou. So what’s the difference between ye and you? Here things get a little complicated. Technically, ye was the nominative case of the 2nd person plural. “Nominative case” means the form which is used as the subject of a sentence; the object of a sentence is called the “accusative case”. The word you began life as the accusative case of the 2nd person plural. Perhaps some examples will make this clearer: 


Nominative case

Accusative case


If thou kickest the dog...

the dog shall bite thee.


If ye [all] kick the dog…

the dog shall bite [all of] you.

 During the 1300s, people started using you instead of thou when addressing a superior. From this use as a form of respect it became accepted as the more polite form and thou finally disappeared from Standard English in the 1600s. We say Standard English because the use of thee, thou and thine is still current in many English dialects.

 Also beginning in the 1300s, the word you began to replace ye but it was a slow process.  One use of ye is as a “reflexive pronoun”. This occurs with a command and is equivalent to the word “yourself”. Thus we find in The Tempest, the line “Pray set it down and rest you”. Or, as we might say today, “Please put it down and rest yourself”.

That’s not quite what we have with “gather ye rosebuds”. The line doesn’t mean “gather rosebuds yourselves” but it could mean “gather rosebuds unto yourselves”. We find a very similar construction in A Midsummer Night’s Tale when Bottom states that he “will roar you as gently as any sucking dove”. This form of ye and you means “for you” or “for yourselves” and it’s called the “ethical dative”.

But we believe the answer is simpler than that. All commands are expressed in the 2nd person. After all, they are always addressed to "you". The command "Go ahead everyone, kick the dog" contains an implied "you" and really means "Go ahead everyone, you kick the dog". Put more poetically, this becomes "Go ahead everyone, kick ye the dog". Another example is found in the Christmas carol which implores us "come ye, Oh, come ye to Bethlehem". In such cases, the word ye has no meaning of its own but is simply part of the command form of the verb (known as the verb's "imperative mood", by the way).

Whatever its precise meaning in this context, we suspect that Herrick used ye because the metrical requirements of the verse demanded another syllable at that point. In short – it’s just filler.

From Simon:

Are the words bouillon and bullion related?

Funny you should ask this - it came up in our blog this week.  The simple answer is: maybe.

Bouillon "broth, soup" dates from the mid-17th century in English.  English took it directly from French, we're sure you're not surprised to learn.  The French noun came from the French verb bouillir "to boil".  This is not surprising as one typically boils soup when preparing it.  The noun took on some later, more specialized uses such as "a saline 'bath', or solution of an alkali, in which wool is steeped previous to dyeing" (1791) and, from dressmaking, "a puffed fold" (1869).  By 1887 it was being used to refer to "a broth used as a medium for the culture of bacteria".  We've all probably had bouillon like that in our refrigerators.

Bullion "gold or silver in the lump" or "coined or manufactured gold or silver when thought of simply as raw material" first turns up in the written record in the mid-14th century as Anglo French, at which time it was spelled as it is today.  The word's form suggests a derivation from French bouillon, though in French the word did not have any of the "melting"-derived meanings that are recorded for it in England.  It is possible that the sense of "boiling" was altered in England alone to one of "melting".  The word first referred to a "melting house or mint" (1336), but by a century later the word had come to refer to the product of the melting house.  Interestingly, bullion also came to refer to "solid gold or silver" (versus the fake stuff), first turning up with that sense in Spenser's "The Faerie Queen" (1596); impure gold or silver (1616), and any metal "in the lump" (from Christopher Marlowe in 1590).

From Cindy:

I watched O Brother Where Art Though today and just noticed that when the Klan politician lost favor of the crowd, several men came in carrying a fence rail, put the politician on the rail and carried him out of the room.  I always assumed that the phrase referred to putting someone on the train to banish them from town.  Could it be the phrase refers to a fence railing or did the movie producer intend the scene as a pun?  I've asked several people over 70 years of age and they all thought the phrase referred to the railroad. 

The phrase in question here, of course, is riding the rail or to be run out of town on a rail.  You may be surprised to learn that it has nothing to do with the railroad and everything to do with with a fence rail.  How does one ride a rail?  This is a form of punishment in which a person is tied or held to a rail that is then paraded through town, and often out of town, on the shoulders of two or more men, presumably strong men.  The object is for all to see the transgressor and immediately recognize that he has done something wrong by virtue of the fact that he is tied to and riding on a rail, and thus to humiliate him.  The OED dates the phrase to 1834, but it was clearly a familiar expression even then and so was certainly around prior to that.  Knowing this, we did some of our own research and found the phrase in the Edinburgh Advertiser of August 23, 1776!  Here is the excerpt we found:

Extract of a letter from a gentleman at Sandyhook dated July 6, 1776.
"The poor Tories, as the King's loyal subjects are called in New York, are suffering the most cruel persecutions; some have been obliged to ride skimmington on a rail, till they died; one was lately executed; others are confined in gaol in irons."

If you're wondering, skimmington is defined by the OED as "a ludicrous procession, formerly common in villages and country districts, usually intended to bring odium upon a woman or her husband in cases where the one was unfaithful to, or ill-treated, the other.  Also attributive."   The phrase ride the Skimmington ("hold a Skimmington procession") also turns up in the written record in 1697, but our find is a bit different in that Skimmington is being ridden on a rail.  If you're wondering where Skimmington came from, it is thought to come from the notion of a wife beating her husband with a skimming-ladle, with the addition of -ton (as in simpleton).  It dates from 1609.

Today it is amazing how many references one can find on Google to riding a rail meaning "taking a trip on a train".  It appears that the "punishment" sense was lost and the phrase was re-adopted with what folks today would consider a more literal meaning.

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 California's deficit. 


Comments, additions? Send to Melanie & Mike:
Copyright © 1995-
2006 TIERE
Last Updated 10/14/06 10:52 PM