1. It’s brass monkeys outside
Meaning: Freezing cold weather.
Origin: ‘Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’. A ship’s cannon balls used to be stacked on a brass structure called a ‘monkey’ – the brass would contract in cold weather and the cannon balls would fall off.
At various moments in its life, a word will hop languages, change meanings, travel through sinister moments and land in pleasant ones. But no matter how many times it’s superimposed, and how far it gets from its original source, a word doesn’t let go of its memories easily. Here are 11 modern English words with socially insensitive origins.
1. Hysteria (n.) – a wild, irrational eruption of fear or emotion
Hysteria begins in the womb, or so thought the medical scholars of the 1610s, who named the condition after the Latin hystericus, meaning “of the womb.” Those who’ve studied the Victorian era, or read The Awakening in high school, may know that the go-to prognosis of the time for just about every female’s symptom from the occasional hissy fit to chronic seizures was a pesky wayfaring uterus. The condition was thought to be caused by sexual frustration and cured by intercourse or pelvic massage, the latter often performed by physicians and midwives. When doctors finally got fed up with the tedious task in the late 19th century, the personal vibrator was created to take their place. Read More…
By Onna Nelson, University of California, Santa Barbara
1. English red
The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word for red, reudh, remained largely unchanged for thousands of years, showing up in English red, Spanish rojo, French rouge, German rot, Icelandic rauðr, and Welsh rhudd. Not only did it lead to these words for the color itself, it also led to red-related English words like ruby, rust, and rubeola.
2. English black
The PIE word bhel evolved into many modern words meaning “white,” including Spanish blanco, French blanc, Italian bianco, and Portuguese branco, as well as white-related words such as bleach and blank. So why does the English word black look so much like all these other words for white? Well, bhel also referred to anything bright, like fire, and the result of fire is blackened, charred remains. Hence, black.
3. English green
The PIE word ghre-, meaning “to grow,” is another root which endured the centuries. What grows? Green stuff! Grhe- gave us many modern words meaning “green,” including English green, German grün, and Icelandic grænn, as well as the English words grow, grass, graze and herb.
4. Portuguese red and purple
As languages add color words to their lexicon, the colors a word refers to can get shifted around. Portuguese roxo, related to the same PIE word reudh, used to mean red and red-related colors, including pink, orange, and purple. When the bright red pigment vermilion was imported from China, Portuguese began using vermelho to refer to red, and pushed roxo aside to refer exclusively to purple.
5. English purple
Purpura is the Latin name of a particular kind of shellfish which, when ground up, produces a bright purple dye, which in turn was taken from the Greek word porphura to describe the same sea creature. The word purpura later began to refer to the dye, and eventually the color of this dye. This dye was very expensive, and purple was considered a color of royalty throughout Europe. When this dye was exported to England, the word purple was imported into English as well. Today “purpura” is used by medicos to describe purplish discolorations of the skin.
6. English pink
Lots of fancy color words come from flowers or fruits: violet, periwinkle, lavender, lilac, olive, eggplant, pumpkin, and peach, to name a few. In English, pink used to refer exclusively to a flower called a pink, a dianthus which has pale red petals with fringed edges. “Pink” the verb, meaning to cut or tear jaggedly, has been in use in the English language since the early 14th century. Eventually, English speakers forgot the name of the flower, but preserved the word for the color.
7. Japanese blue and green
Over two-thirds of the world’s languages have a single word for both green and blue, known as grue in English. In Japanese, aoi historically referred to grue. When Crayola crayons were imported, green was labeled midori and blue was labeled aoi. New generations of schoolchildren learned them as different colors. But traces of grue remain: Japanese still refers to “blue” traffic lights and “blue” apples with aoi.
8. Kurdish and Russian blue
In Russian, the word for dark blue is sinii, and in Kurdish the word for blue is šin. In Neo-Aramaic, a central hub of trade, the word for blue is sǐni, and in Kurdish the word for blue is šin. In Arabic, a central hub of trade, the word for ‘Chinese’ is sini. The words for Chinese and blue became synonymous due to the popular blue and white porcelain china commonly traded in the region.
9. Spanish yellow
Amarillo, or “yellow,” is a diminutive form of the Spanish word amargo, which comes from the Latin word amarus, meaning “bitter.” So how did “little bitter” come to be synonymous with “yellow”? In the Middle Ages, medical physicians commonly believed that the human body had four humors. The “bitter humor” referred to bile, which is yellow.
10. English orange
When oranges (the fruit) were exported from India, the word for them was exported too. Sanskrit narangah, or “orange tree,” was borrowed into Persian as narang, “orange (fruit),” which was borrowed into Arabic as naranj, into Italian as arancia, into French as orange, and eventually into English as orange. The color of the fruit was so striking that after borrowing the word and the crop, English speakers eventually began referring to the color by this word as well. Before oranges were imported in the 1500s, the English word for orange (the color) was geoluhread (literally, “yellow-red”).
The following is an excerpt from The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, in which author Charles Murray discusses words with meanings that have changed — and not always for the better.
Disinterested used to mean uninterested.
The meaning of disinterested is “free of bias and self-interest.” It is essential that a judge be disinterested, for example. Disinterested does NOT, repeat NOT, mean “lack of interest” or “uninterested.” I put this so emphatically because we’re not talking just about proper usage. Disinterest used in its correct sense is on its last legs—I’ve been appalled to see it misused in articles in the Washington Post and other major publications. English does not have another word that conveys the meaning of disinterested as economically. If we lose the distinctive meaning of the word, we have measurably degraded our ability to express ourselves in English.
Understand that some experts say that “persuade” and “convince” are synonyms that go back at least to the sixteenth century. The meanings are so closely knit that often one word serves as well as the other.
After ‘persuade’ we use the structure
to + infinitive:
- I persuaded them to stay for another drink.
- He persuaded her not to take the job.
After ‘convince’ we cannot use a verb infinitive. We say ‘convince someone that‘:
- She convinced the police that she was telling the truth.
- He convinced her that it was the right thing to do.
Both of the above sentence would also be correct without ‘that’:
- She convinced the police she was telling the truth.
- He convinced herit was the right thing to do.
Although Robert finally persuaded his girlfriend to move abroad with him, she was not fully convinced that it was the best thing to do.
In the example, Robert’s girlfriend was persuaded (to move) but was not convinced (that it was the correct decision). So, we can see that when we persuade someone to do something it doesn’t always mean that we have also convinced that person.
The teenager is convinced she can win. The boy was persuaded to run the 10-yard dash.
One more thing is worth mentioning about ‘persuade’ and ‘convince’. If we are absolutely sure about something, we say I’m convinced:
– Are you sure he’s innocent?
– Yes, I’m convinced. NOT
Some related words:
convincing (adjective) It was a convincing argument.
persuasive (adjective) Marta can be very persuasive when she wants.
persuasion (noun) He used his powers of persuasion.
When confronted with issues of word choice, I often find it helpful to consider the associations and connotations a word has in its different forms. A convincing person or argument is one that other people cannot help but agree with, whereas a persuasive person or argument is one that other people find compelling, but which leaves more room (in my mind) for the opportunity to disagree.
If you have been convinced, you have clearly and decisively changed your perspective. If you have been persuaded, then you have chosen to agree with those you previously disagreed with. In the latter case, it may not be so much that you’ve found an argument you agree with so much as you’re indulging someone who has appealed to you, either positively or negatively.
Prefer “convince” when the change of opinion must be definite or to deemphasize the role of whomever did the convincing. Prefer “persuade” to draw attention to either the arguments used or the individuals doing the arguing, to emphasize reluctance on the part of the persuaded, or when you need the word to contain more vowels.
Stop using the dangling participle and misplaced modifiers
Both can seriously change the flow and meaning of your writing. It is important to make sure we qualify the intended words and not just any words in the sentence.
A participle is a verb that acts like an adjective and ends in –ing, such as swimming or cooking or diving. You name it! Any verb can be turned into a participle. A participial phrase is a phrase describing an action, “cooking on the stove”, “swimming in the ocean” and it is used to modify a noun in the sentence. A dangling participle modifies the unintended noun. Examples of dangling participles:
Misinterpreted: Cooking on the stove, Alice decided it was time to turn the vegetables.
It sounds as though Alice herself was being cooked on the stove.
Intended: Alice decided it was time to turn the vegetables that were cooking on the stove.
Misinterpreted: Sunburned and dehydrated, Mom decided it was time for the children to go into the house.
It sounds as though the Mom is sunburned and dehydrated.
Intended: Mom decided it was time for the children, who were sunburned and dehydrated, to go into the house.
A modifier is a word or a phrase that modifies something else in the sentence. Misplaced modifiers are modifiers that modify something else other than what you intended.
Examples of misplaced modifiers:
“I only walked my dog.” which means you did nothing but walk the dog. You did not feed or wash it, etc.
“I walked only my dog.” which means you did not walk anyone else such as your cat or your child, etc.
“I write mostly for other blogs.” which means that you write for other blogs most of the time but you may write for other sources as well.
“I mostly write for other blogs.” which means that your main activity is to write for other blogs. You may do other things too, such as sleep and eat but most of the time, you are writing for other blogs.
This is an excerpt from a book by Farnoosh Brock, available at Amazon.
Photo credit: http://maineschoolwritingcenters.blogspot.com/
Wishing you a wonderful Monday,
Fig. a bad attitude that tends to get someone easily upset.“Why did you get so angry at the slightest criticism? You seem to have a chip on your shoulder.”
A perceived grievance or sense of inferiority.
The word chip has several meanings; the one that we are concerned with here is the earliest known of these, namely ‘a small piece of wood, as might be chopped, or chipped, from a larger block’. The phrase ‘a chip on one’s shoulder’ is reported as originating with the nineteenth century U.S. practice of spoiling for a fight by carrying a chip of wood on one’s shoulder, daring others to knock it off. This suggested derivation has more than the whiff of folk-etymology about it. Anyone who might be inclined to doubt that origin can take heart from an alternative theory.