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Word for Word

Updated: Jul 16

In a previous post, I gave my Uncle John's Page-A-Day Bathroom Calendar credit for some of my blog ideas. I was inspired again today with the topic of word origins. The word they focused on was "raunchy" and I thought it would be fun to find out the origins of other interesting words. Did you know that etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history? And here I thought it was the study of bugs. Hey - I learned something already!


So here are some words and their origins (and, because I can't help myself - the needless commentary):


Berserk - The word berserk came into English in the early 19th century, as a noun used to describe an ancient Norse warrior who fought with uncontrolled ferocity (also known as a berserker). The English word derives from the Old Norse berserkr (noun), itself probably from combining bjorn (bear) and serkr (coat).  


I've often thought it might be fun to go back in time just to see what it was like. But now I'm considering this might involve some smelly Norseman in a bear coat fiercely coming at me with his ax and shield. Yep - I've just changed my mind. I'll stay in 2020 and deal with a pandemic.


Quiz - This word was in use by 1791 meaning "odd or eccentric person". So how did it go from that to its meaning today - "a type of entertainment based on a test of a person's knowledge?"


I guess I don't know the answer to that which means - I failed the quiz.


OK - According to Lexico.com : ... "the term originated as an abbreviation of orl korrekt, a jokey misspelling of 'all correct' which was current in the US in the 1830s. The oldest written references result from its use as a slogan by the Democratic party during the American Presidential election of 1840. Their candidate, President Martin Van Buren, was nicknamed 'Old Kinderhook' (after his birthplace in New York State), and his supporters formed the 'OK Club'. This undoubtedly helped to popularize the term (though it did not get President Van Buren re-elected)."


I've often wondered why I don't get an "OK" in response to a text but, instead, I just get a "K". Initially I guessed that the person must have misspelled it but now I see that they are simply saying "correct". That's a relief - I thought I was going to need to get better educated friends.


Snob - There are a few theories on the origin of this word. One is that in the 18th century it was a term for a shoemaker or his apprentice. Fast forward to the 21st century and we can apply this to those shoes with the red soles (you know, Christian Louboutins - the ones I can't afford). But I think that's a stretch so I like this explanation better: possibly it originates from the Latin sine nobilitate meaning "without nobility". That said, I don't like snobby people whether they know Latin or not.


And finally - Zombie - for all the Walking Dead fans out there: "The Oxford English Dictionary informs us that zombie is a word of West African origin and that it was first recorded in English in 1819. It’s related to the words zumbi (meaning ‘fetish’) and nzambi (meaning ‘a god’) in the Kikongo language, which is spoken in Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and surrounding areas."


I don't watch The Walking Dead so I can't comment on it's appeal but it lasted 10 seasons - and that's a lot of zombies! Consider that the original Star Trek only lasted 3 seasons but, even with such a short run, it developed its own cult following. If that's any indication of how things go, be afraid...be very, very afraid...


In closing, one last tidbit from my calendar: "The fastest-spreading 'language' in history: Emogi." Wow - who would've thought?! 😉



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