Sunday, 23 July 2017


After looking at the constellations last time, the research kept brinign me names of some of the best known stars in the night sky. Mythology plays a large role.

Achenar - found in the constellation of Eridamus, this is an Anglicised version of the original Arabic name of akhir an-nahr or 'river's end', while the Chinese know it as Shui Wei 'crooked running water'. It is actually a binary system, lies 139 light-years away, and is the tenth brightest star in the sky when viewed from Earth.

Altair - found in the constellation of Aquila, the Arabic name of an-nasr at-ta'ir means 'the flying eagle' while the Chinese Qian Niu Xing describes it as 'the cow herder star'. One of the closest stars visible to the naked eye at just 16.7 light-years distant, it rotates in a little under nine hours (compared to our sun's 25 days) giving it a flattened appearance, indeed the diameter at the equator is 20% greater than the diameter when measured through the poles.

Aldeberan - in the constellation of Taurus the Arabic al-dabaran means 'the follower', in relation to the Pleiades, in Indian astronomy it's Rohini 'the red one', while the Chinese describe it as Bixiuwu 'the fifth star of the net'. Ranked as the fourteenth brightest star when viewed from Earth, it is 65 light-years away, and may have a planet orbiting every 643 days and around eleven times the mass of Jupiter.

Antares - part of the constellation of Scorpius, this comes from Ancient Greek for 'against Ares', he the Greek version of the Roman god Mars. Babylonians knew it as 'the breast of the scorpion', in Arabic 'the heart of the scorpion', and other ancient cultures gave it names meaning 'the lord of the seed', 'the creator of prosperity', 'the king', 'the hero and the king', 'the vermilion star' and, to the Chinese xin suer 'second brightest'. It ranks as the fifteenth brightest star in the night sky, is 550 light-years from Earth, and has a diameter 1,766 times that of our sun.

Arcturus - is the brightest star in the constellation Bootes. It is 36.7 light-years from our sun and more than 25 times the size. This is its Greek name, this meaning 'the guardian of the bear', the Arabic name of al-simak meant 'the uplifted one', while Indian astronomers refer to it as Swati 'the horned one', the Japanese catalogue gives Mugi-boshi 'star of wheat', and in China Dajiao 'great horn'.

Betelgeuse - in the constellation of Orion this star is modern astronomers best bet to go supernova, it could happen at any time in the next million years apparently. A red supergiant it is one of the largest and brightest stars visible to the naked eye and has a distinctly red appearance. Its name comes from Arabic Ibt al-Jauza 'the axilla of Orion', with other names including Persian Basn 'the arm', Coptic Klaria 'an armlet', Tahitian Ana-varu 'the pillar to sit by', the Lacandon people of Central America knew it as chak tulix 'red butterfly', and the best of the all from the Chinese Shenxiusi 'the fourth star of the constellation of three stars'.

Canopus - named after a pilot of Greek mythology, the navigator fopr Memelaus, king of Sparta whose name is of uncertain etymology. It is the second brightest star in the night sky, approximately 320 light-years away, and in 480,000 years will become the brightest. Egptian Coptic knows this as Kahi Nub 'the golden earth', in Japan it is Roujin-sei 'the old man star', which is not as good as the name by which those on the Society Islands know this where Taura-e-tupu--tai-nanu means 'festivity whence comes the flux of the sea'.

Capella - is 24 times the diameter of our sun and 43 light-years distant. Its name is the Latin for 'small female goat', in Arabic it is Al-RakibJastreb
'the hawk', Chines Wu che 'five chariots', Hawaii Ke ka o Makali'i 'the canoe bailer of Makali'i', and to the Australian Boorang people Purra 'the kangaroo'.

Centaurus - some 390 light-years from us, it derives its name from the mythological centaur and a name first applied to a savage tribe of horsemen from Thessaly. Other names include the Arabic Agena 'knees', Chinese ma fu yi 'first star of the horse's abdomen', while the Boorang people of Australia know it as Tchingal 'the emu'.

Deneb - the 19th brightest star in the sky and 800 light-years away in the constellation of Cygnus. Its name simply means 'tail', although others know it differently. In Germany Uropygium 'the parson's nose', and to the Chines Tian Jin Si 'the fourth star of the celestial ford'. Around the year 9800 Deneb will become the new pole star as viewed from Earth.

Fomalhaut - a part of the constellation of Pisces, some 25 light-years from us, and the third brightest star in our skies. This name is from the Arabic fum al-hawt or 'mouth of the fish', although the Persians knew it as Haftorang Watcher of the south, to the Chinese it is Beiluoshimen 'north gate of the military camp', and to the Wardaman people of Australia's northern territory Menggen 'the white cockatoo'.

Polaris - at a distance of 433 light-years, this is the Latin for 'pole star' and known to the Saxons as scip-steorra 'the ship star', both named for this aid to navigation. To the Hindus it was Puranas 'immovable, fixed'; to the Greeks Cynosura 'the dog's tail'; and in Arabic al-katb al-shamaliyy 'the northern axle'.

Pollux - in the constellation of Gemini this is, with Castor, one of those heavenly twins. Some 34 light-years from Earth, this is the closest star to the sun to be classified as a giant. In Arabic it is Muekher al Dzira 'the end in the paw' and to the Chines Bei He 'the north river'.

Procyon - is from the Greek meaning 'preceding the dog', a reference to Sirius. It is the eighth brightest star in the night sky, although correctly it is actually three stars, and a distance of about 12 light-years from us. To the Babylonians this was Nangar 'the carpenter'; Arabic as-si'ra as-samiyah 'the Syrian sign' or al-ghumaisa 'the bleary-eyed woman'; and to the Chinese nanhesan 'third star in the south of the river'.

Rigel - the seventh brightest star visible from Earth is 863 light-years away and part of the constellation of Orion. The Arabic version was Rijl Jauzah al Yusra or 'the left leg of Jauzah', the personal name their interpretation of the figure known as Orion the Hunter; the Wardaman people of Australia call it Unumburrgu 'the red kangaroo leader'; the Watjobaluk people of Australia call it Yerrerdet-kurrk 'mother-in-law'; the Chinese know it as Shenxiu Qi 'the seventh star of the three star system'; and the Japanese Gin-waki 'the silver star'.

Sirius - the brightest star in the sky, also known as the Dog Star, it is a little over 8 light-years distant and part of the constellation of Canis Major. To the Greeks it was Seirios 'the scorcher'; Sanskrit Mrgavadha 'deer hunter'; to the Norsemen it was Lokabrenna 'burning done by Loki'; and the tribes of North American knew it as 'wolf star', 'coyote star' and .moon dog'.

Spica - the 16th brightest star in the sky, 250 light-years from Earth, and found in the constellation Virgo. Its name comes from Latin spica virginis 'the virgin's ear of grain'; alternatives include Arabic al-simak al-a'z'ai 'the undefended'; and in Indian astronomy Chitra 'the bright one'.

Vega - the fifth brightest star in the sky is 25 light-years away in the constellation of Lyra. Some 14,000 years ago it was the pole star and, if you can hang around a bit, will reclaim that position in the year 13,727. Its name is Arabic, from an-nasr al-waqi or 'the alighting vulture'; while the Chinese know it as Zhi Nu or 'weaving girl' in the Qi Xi love story; the Assyrians called it Dayan-sane 'the judge of heaven'; the Babylonians Dilgan 'messenger of light'; in Zoroastrianism it is Vanat 'the conquor'; and to the Boorong people of Australia Neilloan 'the flying loan'.

Spellings used are English as it is written in English.

Sunday, 16 July 2017


Overheard a conversation about horoscopes the other day. In truth I only listened in the first place as I thought the topic had been astronomy.

With the conversation fading away, I began thinking of constellations and wondered where they got their names. Now while we only have twelve signs of the zodiac - Monty Python fans will argue there are thirteen, remember Derry and Toms? – but there are many more constellations and thus we shall take a look at where these names came from.

Andromeda – from the Greek it means ‘mindful of her husband’.
Aquarius – is Latin for ‘water carrier’.
Aquila – is the Latin word for ‘eagle’.
Ara – is Latin for ‘the altar’.
Aries – is the Latin for ‘ram’ and related to arietare ‘to butt’.
Auriga – another Latin term meaning ‘a charioteer’.
Bootes – is from the Greek meaning ‘herdsman’ or ‘ploughman’, but literally translating as ‘ox-driver’.
Camelopardalis – the Greek word for the ‘giraffe’, and derived from the name of the ‘camel’ and the ‘leopard’ as it has a long neck, like the camel, and spots, like the leopard.
Cancer – from the Greek karkinos which, like the modern word, has three meanings in ‘crab’ and ‘tumour’ as well as the name of the constellation. Clearly all three share a root, this being Proto-Indo-European qarq ‘to be hard’.
Canis Vernatici – the Latin for ‘hunting dogs’.
Capricornus – Latin again for ‘having horns like a goat’.
Cetus – Greek for ‘the whale’.
Chameleon – Greek for ‘lion on the ground’.
Columba – is the Latin for ‘dove’.
Coma Berenices – or ‘Berenice’s hair’, the Egptian queen’s name meaning ‘bringer of victory’.
Corvus – is the Latin word for ‘raven’.
Crater – in this context it is the Latin word for ‘cup;.
Cruz – features the Spanish word for ‘cross’.
Cygnus – is the Greek word for ‘swan’.
Delphinus – the Greek for ‘dolphin’.
Dorado – is Portuguese for ‘dolphinfish’.
Draco – the Latin word for ‘dragon’.
Equuleus – the Latin for ‘little horse’.
Fornax – is the Latin for ‘furnace’.
Gemini – is Latin for ‘twins’.
Grus – is Latin for ‘crane’.
Hercules – means ‘glory of Hera’, the name ‘Hera’ meaning ‘fame’.
Hydra – from the Greek for ‘water’.
Hydrus – is the Greek for ‘water serpent’.
Indus – is the Sanskrit word for ‘river’.
Lacerta – is the Latin word for ‘lizard’.
Leo – the Latin word for ‘lion’.
Leo Minor – and Latin for ‘small lion’.
Lepus – the Latin for ‘hare’.
Libra – Latin for ‘balance’ or ‘pair of scales’.
Lupus – is the Latin for ‘wolf’.
Lynx – is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European leuk ‘light’.
Lyra – the Latin for ‘lyre’.
Monoceros – the Greek word for ‘unicorn’.
Musca – the Latin for ‘fly’.
Octans – is from the name of the navigational instrument named from the Latin for ‘eighth part of a circle’.
Opiuchus – this means ‘the serpent-bearer’.
Orion – some sources suggest Akkadian for ‘the light of heaven’.
Pavo – features the Latin word for ‘peacock’.
Pegasus – thought to come from the Greek for ‘spring, well’ from whence Pegasus was born.
Perseus – some sources suggest a Pre-Greek origin meaning ‘waste, sack, destroy’.
Phoenix – perhaps originally referring to ‘Phoenician’ or ‘purple-red’.
Pictor – Latin for ‘painter’.
Pisces – is the Latin plural for ‘fish’.
Polaris – Latin for ‘the pole star’.
Puppis – literally ‘the poop deck’, as in the part of the ship.
Pyxis – is Latin for a ‘small medicinal box’.
Sagitta – the Latin word for ‘arrow’.
Sagittarius – is Latin for ‘archer’.
Scorpio – simply the Latin for ‘scorpion’.
Sculpta – is Latin for ‘sculptor’.
Serpens – is Greek for ‘the serpent’.
Sextans – is named for the astronomical sextant, its name meaning ‘one sixth part’.
Taurus – is Latin for ‘bull, bullock’.
Triangulum – is Latin for ‘triangle’.
Tucana – refers to the ‘toucan’ and comes from a Tupi word, they indigenous to the region now part of modern Brazil, tukana which is probably imitative of its call.
Ursa Major – as many will know this is also known as the Great Bear, although strictly the translation from Latin should be ‘the great she-bear’.
Ursa Minor – unsurprisingly this is Latin for ‘the lesser she-bear’.
Vela – named from the Latin for ‘sails’.
Virgo – is Latin for ‘the virgin’, a word which probably began referring to a plant or crop which had yet to produce seed in something akin to ‘young shoot’.
Volans – was originally known as Piscis Volans or ‘flying fish’.

Incidentally if you want to know the origin of Derry and Toms, they were a London department store who went out of business in 1971 and were named after founders Charles Derry and Joseph Toms.

For those wondering what happened to some of the omissions, those have never been understood and, etymologically speaking, are simply proper names.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Seas and Oceans

Chose the perfect week for a UK holiday this year - not a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the low thirties. In an attempt to keep a little cooler we took many boat trips around the Devon coastline. Obviously we all know the origins of the English Channel, etymologicially not geologically - 'English' from 'England' or 'the land of the Angles' and 'channel' correctly referring to 'a bed of running water' in the 14th century (interestingly it was the British Channel prior to 1825) - but I wondered about the origins of others seas and oceans. Doubtless those enjoying the waters of more exotic locations, such as the Irish Sea, will wonder how the names Wonder no more.

Adriatic - named from the town of Atria, modern Adria, in Picenum near Venice. At the time it was a seaport but is now more than 10 miles from the coast. This comes from atra from 'black' or 'the black city'.

Aegean - traditionally named for Aegeus of Greek mythology, the father of Theseus who threw himself to his own death when thinking his son had perished. However the more likely explanation is the Greek aiges 'waves', which is not unlike the Latin aqua from Proto-Indo-European akwa 'water'.

Andaman - thought to come from the Andaman Islands, itself said to be from Andoman, a form of Hanuman, the Sanskrit name of the Indian god.

Arabian - from Arab, itself traceable to the Greek Arabos probably meaning 'inhabitant of the desert' and related to the Hebrew arabha 'desert'.

Aral - in the Turkic tongues aral means 'island' or 'archipelago' and can thus be understood as 'sea of islands', of which some 1,100 were once found here. Correctly the Aral Sea had been the fourth largest lakes in the world but irrigation projects have diverted waters and there are now four small lakes of higher salinity.

Azov - another likely named from a settlement on the shore, here Kipchak Turkish azaq meaning 'lowlands'. However another origin theory points to the Cuman prince Azum who was killed defending a local town in 1067.

Baltic - until the 11th century this was the Mare Suebicum, Latin for 'the sea of the Suebi', the local people who may, depending upon which source is accepted, have named themselves as 'one's own' or were named by the Celts as 'vagabonds'. The modern name is unknown until the German chronicler Adam of Bremen and, while the origin is disputed, may come from the Germanic belt or 'strait' as this is still used for two Danish straits known as the Belts.

Beaufort - an Arctic sea named after hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort, a naval officer who lived in Ireland but was descended from the French Huguenots and who had the Beaufort wind scale named after him. Despite being self-educated he was associated with contemporary mathematicians of the calibre of John Herschel and Charles Babbage.

Bering - named for the Danish navigator Vitus Bering, the first European to explore the region extensively.

Black - one of four 'coloured seas' in English but one which is difficult to see as in any way darker than others. Thus the modern idea is this related to the Red Sea as the 'north sea' (see below).

Caribbean - named after the Carib people (which is why the American pronunciation is correct). The Kalina people are how they know themselves, the western name comes from the Spanish Caribe, a bad pronunciation of the Arawakan kalingo 'brave ones' or kalino 'strong men'.

Caspian - named for the people who lives on the shores of the Caspian Sea, themselves originally from the Caucasus, who were named Caspii or 'whites' by the Romans.

Coral - abounds with coral as evidenced by the Great Barrier Reef. The word 'coral' is of semitic origin, related to Hebrew goral 'small stone' and Arabic garal 'small pebble' and originally only applied to the red coral found in the Mediterranean.

Dead - the Dead Sea is named because of its salt content (the Bible refers to it as the Salt Sea). Now people will jump up and down and claim all the sea is salty, yet the Dead Sea's salinity at 34.2% is great deal higher than the 3% to 4% of the vast oceans of the world. It is known as the Dead Sea although it does support a very small population of bacteria and microbial fungi and is correctly a lake.

Galilee - is named for the province of Palestine and derived from the Hebrew root galil used here to mean 'district' but usually meaning 'circle'.

Irish - named after the Irish inhabitants of Ireland, itself derived from the Old Irish Eriu and Proto-Celtic Iveriu and understood as 'fat' as in 'prosperous'.

Ionian - of unknown origins but ancient Greek writers attributed it to the myth of Io, who was said to have swum the sea. The name is probably pre-Greek and could be related to Sanskrit yoni 'womb' and reference to a goddess.

Java - named after the most populous island on the planet, itself of disputed origins. This could be from the jawa-wut, a plant also known as foxtail millet grown in India since before records began, and certainly grown in China some 8,000 years ago. Other suggestions point to jau 'distant, beyond' or Sanskrit yava 'barley', or even a Proto-Indonesian word Iawa meaning 'home'.

Labrador - named after the Portuguese explorer Joao Fernandes Lavrador. His family name is 'Fernandes', the last element shows he was a landowner for lavrador means 'farmer, plougher'.

Ligurian - named after the ancient Ligures people who inhabited the area known as Iberia. Little is known of these Celtic people, which may be due to the suggestion their name is Pre-Celtic and only the suffix asco 'village' has survived.

Marmara - the sea, once again, took its name from the island of Marmara. The place is a rich source of marble, which is why the Greek marmaron meaning 'marble'.

Mediterranean - the name is of Latin derivation, where mediterraneus means 'inland' or 'middle of the land', which is a good description of the sea which, one day, will be very much an inland sea.

North - this came to English from Dutch Noordzee as opposed to the Zuiderzee or 'South Sea'. It has also been known as the German Sea, German Ocean, Frisian Sea, Mare Frisicum, and in different languages today as the Nordsoen, Noordzee, Mer du Nord, Noardsee, Nordsee, Noordsee, Weestsiie, Nordsjoen, NNordsjon, An Cuan a Tuath, Noordzee and others.

Norwegian - clearly derived from the country of Norway, itself named for 'the northern way' which is how the English viewed it.

Okhotsk - named after the region giving its name to the town of Okhotsk, the first Russian settlement in the Far East with a name derived from the river Okhota, itself a Tungus word meaning 'river'. Hence a river name gave a district name, which gave a settlement its name, and then to the sea - of of which mean 'river'.

Red - some think this is named from the algal growth or corals, however this does not seem true of the majority of the sea for most of the year. Hence the modern idea is this refers to the 'southern sea' in relation to the Black Sea being the northern version.

Ross - along with Ross Island and the Ross Ice Shelf, the Ross Sea was named after British explorer James Clark Ross who came here in 1841 and whose name is a Gaelic word meaning 'headland'.

Sargasso - named after the Sargassum seaweed which grows in these calm waters. The seaweed was named by Portuguese sailors after a species of rock rose found in water wells in their homeland, Helianthemum. Sargassum is used in Chinese medicine as the answer to "heat phlegm" (neither do I), and of greater interest is the Sargasso Sea, which is unique in having no land borders.

South China - oddly enough it washes the southern shores of China.

Timor - comes from the island of Timor, itself derived from the Malay word timur meaning 'east'.

Tyrrhenian - named after the Tyrrhenian people but a name which is difficult to define. This is due to every early reference we know coming from the Greeks but it is not from a Greek word. It has been connected to an early loan word tursis or 'tower' but this lacks support as we have no idea how this was used. What does seem likely, however, is this shares an origin with the Tusci, the Latin exonym for the Etruscans.

Yellow - named from the sand storms across the Gobi Desert which sprinkles sand particles on the surface waters to make the sea appear yellow.

There are also a number of minor seas around the Antarctic continent, of which we have only examined the Ross Sea. Some interesting names and thus, working clockwise from the Ross Sea, we find .....

Amundsen Sea - named by Norwegian Nils Larsen in 1929 after his compatriot Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, doing so on December 14th 1911. His surname means 'the son of the respectful protector'.

Bellinghausen Sea - named after explorer Admiral Thaddeus Bellinghausen who explored the area in 1821.

Weddell Sea - named after Scotland's James Weddell, he explored this area from 1823 but was not named such until 1900.

Scotia Sea - this was not named from Scotland directly, but after the vessel Scotia of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition in 1902-04 under William Bruce, although the sea was not officially named in 1932.

Lazarev Sea - a name coined in 1962 to honour Russian admiral Mikhail Lazarev but, despite this appearing on Soviet and Russian maps, it failed to gain international approval in 2002.

Riiser-Larsen Sea - another name din 1962, this time to honour Nowegian explorer and aviator Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, who is regarded as the founder of the Norwegian Air Force. Again it appears only on Soviet and Russian maps, failing to be recognised internationally in 2002.

Cosmonauts Sea - yet again named in 1962 and only appearing on Soviet and Russian maps and also rejected at the 2002 international conference. The name was chosen to mark the first manned craft to journey into space and is an interesting word. It is formed of two Greek elements, 'cosmos' and 'nautes'. Here the suffix is 'sailor' derived from a Proto-Indo-European nau 'boat', while the prefix is Greek kosmos 'order'. Interesting to see one of the most recent words is based on a language of one of the earliest civilizations together with what must have been among our earliest Europen words.

Cooperation Sea - another only found on Soviet and Russian maps, named in 1962 and dismissed forty years later, it was meant to mark the idea of international cooperation on this massive continent - which seems to have been overlooked by the international committee of 2002.

Davis Sea - at last one receiving international approval, it was named by Sir Douglas Mawson, leader of the Australian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14 after Captain J. K. Davis, second in command of the expedition and in command of the Aurora.

Mawson Sea - as above except named by the International Hydrographic Organization of 2002 for the commander of the expedition of 1911-14.

D'Urville Sea - named after French explorer and officer Jules Dumont d'Urville.

Somov Sea - for a change not named by the Russians in 1962 but in 2002, the outcome remained the same as it was never approved. It would have honoured Russian oceanologist and polar explorer Mikhail Somov (1908-73) who commanded the first Soviet Antarctic Expedition between 1955 and 1957.

So interested had I been to define the less well known names, I was in danger of omitting the major areas of ocean in the world - or maybe not.

Pacific - named by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan as the Mar Pacifico as he encountered favourable winds on the 'peaceful sea'.

Atlantic - named for the famed island of Atlantis, itself the 'island of Atlas' (the Titan who held up the world and not the book of maps).

Indian - named after India, itself derived from Indus, a river name from Old Persian word Hindu, itself from the Sanskrit word Sindhu which was the Sanskrit name for the Indus River and which means simply 'river' or 'stream'.

Arctic - from the Greek word artikos or 'near the Bear'. Note this is 'Bear' not 'bear' and thus doesn't refer to the mammal but the constellation of either Ursa Major (the Great Bear) or Ursa Minor (the Little Bear) - the latter more likely as it contains Polaris, the Pole Star or the North Star.

English spellings have been used as the piece is written in English

Sunday, 2 July 2017


Subject of volcanoes came up the other day when the quizmaster asked "At 6,893 metres (22,615 feet) Ojos del Salado is the world's highest what?" Of course I got the answer completely wrong, as it is the world's highest volcano and not the world's highest ski lift. (No comments please!) However I did wonder if, had I known the origin and/or meaning of Ojos del Salado, the answer was staring me in the face. So I looked and produced the following list of the world's highest volcanoes, dormant and active, to see how they got their names. The list includes every volcano over 6,000 metres, all of which are found in South America, and beginning with the highest.

Ojos del Salado - 6,893 metres (22,615 feet) - is also the highest active volcano on the planet. This name means 'the eyes of the salty one', a reference to the large deposits of salt forming within the glaciers giving the appearance of eyes.

Monte Pissis - 6,793 metres (22,287 feet) - not named after a waterfall but after a French geologist working for the Chilean government. Pedro Jose Amadeo Pissis.

Nevado Tres Cruces - 6,748 metres (22,139 feet) - this is Spanish for 'three crosses'.

LLullaillaco - 6,739 metres (22,110 feet) - from the Kunza tongue where llulla means 'lies, deceit' and llaco 'water'. Here the message speaks of how meltwater, which would normally be seen as a source of fresh water, is quickly absorbed into the soil.

Cazadero - 6,660 metres (21,850 feet) - a Spanish name meaning 'a place for the pursuit of game'.

Nevado Tres Cruces Central - 6,629 metres (21,749 feet) - is, as above, 'the central three crosses'.

Incahuasi - 6,621 metres (21,722 feet) - is easy to see when we know this is Quechua for 'Inca house'.

Tupungato - 6,570 metres (21,555 feet) - means 'star viewpoint' in the Huarpe language.

Nevado Sajama - 6,542 metres (21,463 feet) - while nevado is Spanish for 'snowy' I'm afraid I drew a blank on Sajama. Any suggestions?

Ata - 6,501 metres (21,329 feet) - whether the Ata people took their name from the mountain or vice versa is not clear, but in both cases likely means 'father' or perhaps 'ancestor'.

Coropuna - 6,425 metres (21,079 feet) - means 'shrine on the plateau', this is the site of an irrigation scheme by the Incas which remains the highest ever known anywhere in the world.

Cerro El Condor - 6,414 metres (21,043 feet) - is simply 'the mountain of the condor'.

Parinacota - 6,348 metres (20,827 feet) - an Aymara name meaning 'the flamingo lake'.

Ampato - 6,288 metres (20,630 feet) - another from the Aymara language, this meaning 'frog'.

Chimborazo - 6,267 metres (20,561 feet) - and although not officially the highest point on the Earth it is at its peak, by virtue of the Earth not being a perfect sphere but having an equatorial bulge, the furthest point from the centre of the Earth. However until the beginning of the 19th century this was considered the highest point on the planet and would still be so, if convention didn't measure land above sea level. Its etymology is disputed, perhaps Quechua chimba 'on the other side' joins razu 'ice, snow' to refer to the snowline. Another idea points to the Cayapa tongue giving 'women of the ice' and a third idea offers Jivaro for 'throne of the ice god'.

Pular - 6,233 metres (20,449 feet) - no question this is from the Kunza language and means 'the eyebrow'.

Cerro Solo - 6,190 metres (20,308 feet) - is fairly easy Spanish for 'one hill' (albeit a very high hill).

Aucanquilcha - 6,176 metres (20,262 feet) - another where I drew a blank at finding an origin but I did discover this was the location of the highest mine ever known and until at least the end of the last century was the highest permanently inhabited location in the world - population of the village being just four and unlikely to grow as they were all men.

San Pedro - 6,145 metres (20,161 feet) - simply Spanish for Saint Peter.

Sierra Nevada - 6,127 metres (20,102 feet) - another Spanish name, this coming from 'the snowy range'.

Solimana - 6,093 metres (19,990 feet) - probably derived from the Spanish soliman 'corrosive, poison' and a reasonable description of a volanco.

Aracar - 6,082 metres (19,954 feet) - no origins of this name have been suggested.

Guallatini - 6,071 metres (19,918 feet) - one suggestion gives this as 'the place of the Andean geese'.

Chachani - 6,057 metres (19,872 feet) - no origins of this name could be found.

Socompa - 6,051 metres (19,852 feet) - sadly nothing could be found here.

Acamarachi - 6,046 metres (19,836 feet) - is a name meaning 'black moon'.

Hualca Hualca - 6,025 metres (19,767 feet) - has been suggested as meaning 'a complex of collars', volcanic craters could certainly be seen as collar-like.

Uturunku - 6,008 metres (19,711 feet) - this is the Quecha word for 'jaguar' - presumably the large cat and not the car.

And just so we include some of the better known names

Cotopaxi - is often said to mean 'shining pile' but this has yet to be proved.

Etna - is held to be from the Phoenician attuna meaning 'furnace' or perhaps 'chimney'.

Fujiyama - having no early records makes it difficult to define but a text from the 10th century maintains this means 'immortal'. A similar story suggests the literal meaning of 'not exhaust', thus another suggestion of immortality. One further explanation gives this as 'not two', thus 'without equal'.

Mauna Loa - translates as 'long mountain'.

Popacatapetl - derived from the Nahuatl words popoca 'it smokes' and tepetl 'mountain', a fair description of a volcano.

Mt St Helens - was named after British diplomat Lord St Helens, a good friend of George Vancouver who first surveyed the area in the late 18th century. Traditional names, there are several depending upon the tribe concerned, describe this as 'the smoker', 'water coming out', and 'snow mountain'.

Stromboli - a name derived from Ancient Greek Strongule because of its rounded, rather swollen shape. Yes, say it out loud - it makes sense.

Tristan da Cunha - was named by the Portuguese explorer who first saw the islands in 1506, one Tristao da Cunha.

Vesuvius - an ancient name and one where the meaning depends very much on which language first coined the name. Greek would give us either 'unquenchable' or 'hurling violence'; while an earlier Indo-European root would offer up 'the one who lightens' or 'hearth'.

Sunday, 25 June 2017


From time to time I define surnames, this as I'm intrigued to know whether anyone with a particular surname is suited to their name. Now I'm not big on poetry but a did enter a recent competition, this simply to show support for a local event. Probably because very few entered I was told the other week I had been lucky enough to be among the winning entries. Now I know the origin of my surname - a combination of 'the farmstead by a pool' and the trade of 'metalworker', neither of which have the slightest connection with writing and certainly not poetry. Hence I thought it worthwhile to see if any poet has a name suggesting he or she was born to the task.

Arnold - obviously began as a personal name, one which can be traced to Proto-Indo-European or wal which literally meant 'large bird' and 'power' respectively but understood as 'the strength of an eagle'.

Beaumont - is of French derivation and simply means 'beautiful hill'.

Beddoes - is from a Welsh diminutive of Meredydd which is the same as the modern 'Meredith'. The name means as 'lord of splendour'

Benet - shares a root with the name 'Benedict' meaning 'blessed'.

Betjeman - shares an orign with the above as a corruption of 'Benedict' meaning 'blessed'.

Blake - another corruption, this simply began as 'black' although as a name it could not only refer to one with dark hair or skin but as a nickname meaning someone with quite the opposite features.

Bridges - does indeed mean 'bridge' but is taken from the Belgian place name of Bruges, which does mean 'bridge'. As a surname it is derived from the place name, a reference to someone from Bruges.

Bronte - an Anglicised form of the Gaelic O Proinntigh or 'descendant of Proinnteach' where proinn 'banquet' and teach 'hall, house' and suggesting a generous person.

Brooks - no doubt this began as 'small stream'.

Brown - as with Blake a name drescribing one's colour, be it hair or skin.

Browning - is exactly the same as 'Brown' above.

Bryant - is from Old Breton-Irish and is identical to the name 'Brian' in coming from either 'hill' or 'strong'.

Burns - is the same as 'Brooks' above 'a stream'.

Byron - is a place name, now seen as Byram and meaning 'place of the cattlesheds'.

Campion - is from the French for 'champion'.

Carew - is of Welsh and/or Cornish origins where caer rhiw 'fort on a slope'.

Carroll - is thought to come from the Irish cearbh 'hacking' and a nickname for a butcher or warrior.

Chatterton - is another place name where Celtic cadeir 'chair' precedes Old English tun 'farmstead'.

Chaucer - is from the French for 'hosier'.

Chesterton - an Old English place name where caester tun refers to 'the farmstead at the former Roman stronghold'.

Clare - a Celtic river name meaning 'bright, gentle'.

Coleridge - another place name and probably referring to 'the ridge of land where charcoal was obtained'.

Collins - is from the name 'Colin', itself of Irish origin where cuilein meant 'darling' and used as a term of endearment for a young animal.

Cowper - is a trade name, one who produced a barrel or rub for German kup was 'a container'.

Cummings - is from a Breton personal name meaning 'bent' or 'crooked' and likely refers more to posture than honesty.

Dante - from the Latin verb durare 'to endure'.

Davidson - obviously 'son of David', a personal name meaning 'beloved friend'.

Davies - is exactly the same as the above, from 'son of David'.

De la Mare - from the French for 'of the sea'.

Dickinson - obviously 'son of Dick' or Richard, itself meaning 'powerful, strong'.

Dryden - a place name meaning 'the dry valley'.

Eliot - is ultimately from 'Elijah' or 'Jehovah is God'.

Emerson - comes from 'son of Amery', the personal name meaning 'bravery, vigour'.

Flecker - is a variation of 'Fletcher' or 'one who made arrows'.

Fletcher - is, as mentioned above, 'a maker of arrows'.

Goethe - a German variation on Gottfried, itself meaning 'God's protection'.

Gordon - is a Olde Gaelic personal name from gor dun 'a large fort', where 'large' is used more in the sense of 'spacious' than referring to armament.

Graves - nothing to do with burials, this comes from Old English graefe meaning 'grove (of trees)'.

Gray - has two origins, either as a nickname for one with grey hair or from the commune in the Calvados department of Normandy of Graye-sur-Mer, itself named for the owner Anchetil de Greye, whose surname probably refers to his mixed Scandinavian-Frankish ancestry. Note the change in spelling, where the North American preference for 'gray' the color represents the earlier and thus traditional form; while we Brits have gone for the colour as 'grey'. Yet another example of a difference which we on the eastern side of the Atlantic blame on our English-speaking friends to the west, when the error (if it is indeed an error) came from the mother country.

Gunn - comes from the Old Scandinavian name Gunnr meaning 'battle'.

Hardy - from the French hardi meaning 'bold, courageous'.

Henley - is another place name, one meaning 'the high (as in chief) woodland clearing'.

Herbert - from the personal name it is Germanic in origin from hari 'host' and beraht 'bright'.

Herrick - is derived from the Old Scandinavian personal name Eirikr from eir 'mercy' and rik 'power'.

Homer - a trade name, he being 'one who made helmets'.

Hood - is derived from the same source as 'hat' in Proto-Indo-European kadh meaning 'cover, protect' and it is in this sense it more likely became a surname.

Hopkins - this the 'son of Hob', a personal name from Germanic Hrodbert, this translating as 'renowned fame', and the basis for the French name 'Robert'.

Horace - another personal name and one with a surprising origin for this represents the Saxon version of Rabin or Robin, itself a pet form of Robert (see Hopkins).

Housman - speaks for itself, this 'man' worked in the 'house' and was really a servant.

Hughes - comes from the personal name 'Hugh', brought to England by the French and loaned from the German 'Hugo' meaning 'bright in mind and spirit'.

Hunt - a trade name, it is a shortened version of 'hunter'.

Jonson - 'son of John', a personal name thought to have its beginnings in the Hebrew 'Jehovah has favoured'.

Keats - comes from the Old English cyta 'a herdsman'.

Kipling - a place name meaning 'the place of the people of Cyppel'.

Landor - is easy to understand when the meaning of 'washerman' or 'launderer' is seen.

Larkin - a diminutive of 'Laurence', itself meaning 'victory'.

Longfellow - a nickname used to describe someone tall or used ironically for one who was lacking in stature.

Lovelace - is a nickname and not for one who likes lace but actually a corruption for a miserable beggar as it began as 'loveless'.

Lowell - is from the French 'Lou', itself from lupus 'wolf'.

Macaulay - from an Old Gaelic Mac-Amhalghaidh. The 'mac' is, of course, 'son' - while the personal name means 'like the willow twig'.

Macbeth - another Gaelic name, this meaning 'son of life'.

Marvell - came to English from French and thought to mean 'a marvel, wonder'.

Masefield - certainly a place name and likely meaning 'great field'.

Meredith - as seen above, this is 'lord of splendour'.

Milton - a place name and as simple a name as they come for this is 'the middle farmstead'.

Moore - another simplistic place name, this is 'moor' or 'uncultivated land'.

Morris - from the personal name but nearly always with the original spelling of 'Maurice' or 'inhabitant of Mauretania'

Nashe - is a place name, one where the original atten asc has seen a migration of the last letter of the previous word to the beginning of the following one. Thus this place name meant 'at the ash trees'.

Ovid - simply means 'gentle'.

Plath - this is undoubtedly Germanic but could be either 'a maker of breast plates' or topographical in 'the plateau'.

Poe - a variation on 'Peacock', a nickname for anyone considered vain.

Pope - if of English origin it comes from the office of the Roman Catholic church, however if of Scottish beginnings then this is a pointer to a possible Pictish ancestry.

Pound - a 'pound' was an area in which animals were held, but as a surname is more likely to have become Pinder. Thus 'Pound' is from the same as 'pond'.

Prior - is unlikely to be derived from the religious root, here the name is probably a nickname describing someone who appeared to give off a 'superior' air.

Pushkin - derived from the Russian personal name Pushka meaning 'cannon', this began as a nickname for someone who was loud and overly outgoing.

Raleigh - is a place name meaning 'woodland clearing where roe deer are seen'.

Rossetti - is derived from the Italian word for 'red'.

Schiller - is of southern Ashkenazic and became a German nickname for someone with a squint.

Shelley - a place name meaning 'a woodland clearing on or near the shelf of land'.

Sidney - is from a place name meaning 'at the wide island or watermeadow'.

Skelton - a place name meaning 'a farmstead on or near a shelf of land'.

Smart - comes from Old English smeart 'quick' and used as a nickname for one who was overly brisk or active.

Smith - simple 'a worker in metal'.

Southey - another place name, this meaning 'the southern island'.

Spenser - is derived from Old English spens 'a larder', thus this referred to someone in a large house working in a job akin to a butler or steward.

Swinburne - a place name meaning 'the river where swine are seen'.

Tasso - is derived from a Germanic word tat meaning 'deed'.

Teasdale - another place name, one referring to 'the valley of the Tees' where the river name can be defined as 'surging river'.

Tennyson - is actually 'the son of Dennis', the personal name from the Greek Dionysos the god of wine and revelry.

Thompson - 'son of Thomas' with the personal name meaning 'a twin'.

Virgil - a Latin name thought to mean 'vigil'.

Wain - derived from the Germanic for 'cart'.

Watson - 'son of Walter', the personal name meaning 'the ruler of the army'.

Whitman - 'the friend or servant of a man called Hwit', the personal name probably beginning as a reference to one having fair or white hair.

Whittier - two possible origins here: either 'one who made cases' or an abbreviated place name telling of 'the dweller at' and found originally with a second and now lost element.

Wilde - was probably a nickname for it really does mean 'wild man, savage'.

Wolfe - clear enough, this is indeed 'wolf'.

Wordsworth - an excellent name for any writer but actually a corruption of the place name Wadworth, itself referring to 'the enclosure of a man called Wada'.

Wotton - another place name, this meaning 'the farmstead where woad grows'.

Wyatt - from the Old English personal name Wigheard meaning 'hardy, brave, strong'.

Yeats - from early Germanic which we would read as 'gate' but which referred to the 'way' rather than the gate across same.

So really none of the poets have a name particularly suited to their apparent talents. Not even the Bard himself, for Shakespeare does indeed refer to a person who shakes a spear. However don't take this literally for this should be seen as a nickname for an argumentative or confrontational individual. Perhaps old Bill's ancestors would agree with me when I maintain it ain't poetry unless it rhymes, it's just overly-flowery writing with excessive use of 'enter'.

Thus perhaps I should change my name to Shakespeare. Not that I would ever write anything akin to the man himself, but when it comes to being confrontational..... and it would certainly raise my profile on search engines.

Friday, 16 June 2017


Research often sees me ploughing through week after week of old newspapers, inevitably found on microfilm. Looking for criminal activities of yesteryear, I found the now obsolete crime of 'uttering' (passing forged money) and wondered how on earth a word meaning 'to speak' could also be a crime, etymologically speaking of course, for it is easy to see how certain individuals even thinking of opening their mouths could be considered criminal.

Arson - came to English from Old French arsion and Latin arsionem both meaning 'a burning'. Ultimately from Proto-Indo-European as 'to burn, glow', this has also given us the word 'ash' as in the residue of a fire.

Barratry - I actually thought this a misprint until I discovered this referred to marine law and 'the wrongful conduct by any on board resulting in a loss to the owners'. The word came to English from Old French baraterie 'deceit, guile, trickery' and a name also given to a bay off the coast of Louisiana and named as it was difficult to navigate through the entry.

Battery - is fairly easy to see as meaning 'to beat, thrash'; the word also giving us the sense of 'bombardment' and also the electrical storage cell. All come from Proto-Indo-European bhau 'to strike'.

Bigamy - is easier to understand if we separate the two elements, the prefix 'bi' meaning 'double' and followed by the Greek gamos 'to marry' and Proto-Indo-European gem 'to marry'. This early root is also the source of 'gamete', and Greek words referring to 'son-in-law, brother-in-law, father-in-law', Sanskrit fir 'brother, sister, daughter-in-law', and the seventh month of the ancient Attic calendar known as Gamelion, roughly corresponding to late January and early February this translates as 'the month of marriages'.

Blackmail - again two elements, the former 'black', first used as an adjective and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European bhleg 'to burn, shine, flash' and thus coming to the colour black as being used in the sense 'to blacken' for the original meaning was quite the opposite; with the suffix 'mail' ultimately from Proto-Indo-European mod 'meet, assemble'.

Bribery - came to English from Old French bribe 'bit, piece, hunk, morsel of bread given to beggars' and also Old French bribeor 'vagrant, beggar'.

Burglary - first please note ITV newsreaders the word is not pronounced as 'burgle-ree', although it does come from the Latin burgator 'burglar' and burgare 'to break open'.

Embezzlement - is from Old French em 'in' and besillier torment, destroy, gouge'. Earlier forms are unknown.

Embracery - is an alternative description of 'bribery' and comes from the Middle French embrasser 'to clasp in arms, enclose, covet, handle'.

Extortion - directly from Latin extorquere 'to wrench out, wrest away, obtain by force' and ultimately Proto-Indo-European terkw 'to twist'.

Forgery - quite obviously having the same root as 'forge' in the metalwork sense which can be shown to share a common root with 'fabric' in Proto-Indo-European dhabh 'to fit together'.

Hijacking - puts together a shortened form of 'high' used to mean 'to lift' with 'jack' a slang term for 'to steal'. It is a comparatively recent term.

Incitement - from Old French and ultimately Proto-Indo-European en 'in' and the root of 'cite', Proto-Indo-European keie 'to set in motion'.

Kidnapping - a compound of 'kid' and a variant of 'nab', this originally referred to stealing children to provide servants and labourers in the American colonies, thus 'kid' is quite correct.

Larceny - coming to English from the French and Latin route, this originates in Proto-Indo-European le 'to get'.

Libel - comes from Latin libellus 'a little book, pamphlet', it also the origin of 'library'.

Looting - in English meant, as recently as the 19th century, 'goods taken from an enemy' rather than simply any stolen goods. This came from the Hindi lut and Sanskrit lotram, and all with the root in Proto-Indo-European roup-tro 'to snatch'.

Malversation - is another I'd never heard and thus had no idea it was 'professional or official corruption'. Coming to English through French and Latin, it can be traced to Proto-Indo-European wer 'to turn, bend' and preceded by 'mal' from Proto-Indo-European mol-o 'wrong, evil'.

Manslaughter - the important part here is the 'slaughter', itself from 'slay' which is virtually unchanged through a chain of Germanic terms and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European slak 'to strike'.

Murder - is another with a Germanic history and one traceable to Proto-Indo-European where mer was used to mean 'rub away, harm, die'.

Perjury - here Old French per 'entirely' and the root of 'jury', this Latin iurare 'to swear'.

Piracy - is from 'pirate', itself seen as ultimately from Proto-Indo-European per-ya 'trial, an attempt, attack'.

Rape - comes from the Latin rapere 'seize' and Proto-Indo-European rep 'to snatch'.

Robbery - is obvioulsy from 'rob' and this can be traced back to the same Proto-Indo-European root as the previous crime, where rep means 'to snatch'.

Sacrilege - here 'sacred', from the Proto-Indo-European root sak 'to sanctify' unites with the Proto-Indo-European root leg 'to collect, gather'; to suggest something taken away from a holy idea or object.

Shoplifting - 'lift' here is used in the sense of 'to take', this following a word with a Germanic root meaning 'shed, barn, building without walls'.

Smuggling - 'smuggle' has similar words in several Germanic tongues all suggesting 'to creep', 'to slip', and similar.

Theft - a Germanic word and derived from 'thief', itself of uncertain origin but common to just about every Germanic language.

Treason - seen as the worst of crimes, as it affects more than any other crime, it comes from the French and Latin where the latter traditionem 'delivery, surrender' and from two elements trans 'over' and do 'to give' and for obvious reasons.

Uttering - was what started it all and derived from the Middle English verb outen 'to disclose' and Old English utan 'to put out'. These can be traced to Proto-Germanic ut 'out' and this from Proto-Indo-European ud 'up, out, away'. Thus the link between 'to speak' and passing forged money is in the sense 'to give out'.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Ghouls and Ghosts

Although I have written a number of books on ghost stories, these you'll find at the end of this piece, here I'm looking at the origins of the many assorted named used to describe these supernatural beings. In some cases the etymologies are even weirder than the stories.

Banshee - in Irish folklore this fairy is held to predict an imminent death. First recorded in 1771 as Irish bean sidhe, this the phonetic spelling for 'female of the elves'. The root bean 'woman' from the Proto-Indo-European root gwen with the same meaning of 'woman'.

Bogeyman, unsurprisingly, is a combination of two words. The suffix 'man' is unchanged since at least Proto-Indo-European, while 'bogey' is another form of many dialect terms - such as 'bogge, boggart, bogle, etc, - all from the same root as Welsh bwg 'goblin' and thought to date back to 'buck', a goat-like supernatural creature and a word which can traced back to Proto-Indo-European bhugo 'buck, goat'. This is hardly a surprise as many supernatural beings are depicted with horns reminiscent of those worn by a goat.

Brownie comes from Scotland, a diminutive of 'a wee brown man' and thus comes from the same root as the colour, itself from Proto-Indo-European bher which also means simply 'brown'.

Demon still has the alternative spelling of 'daemon' in English, this the Latin word for 'spirit' and taken from the Greek daimon 'deity, divine power, lesser god'. The Greek comes directly from Proto-Indo-European dai mon 'the divider, provider' and thus only in recent times have demons been perceived with any negativity.

Devil here is used to mean 'evil spirit' rather than the alternative name for Satan. Here 'devil' comes to English from Latin, Greek, Jewish, where diaballein 'to slander, attack' (although literally 'throw across') from Proto-Indo-European dia 'across, through' and gwele 'to throw, reach'.

Elf is from Germanic folklore, where it was used to refer to any small supernatural being. Here the Proto-Germanic albiz is thought to come from Proto-Indo-European albho 'white' and a reasonable description of an indistinct ghostly image.

Fairy is derived from Latin fata 'the Fates' of Roman mythology. This is derived from Proto-Indo-European bha 'to speak, say'.

Genie comes from the Latin genius, the original meaning being 'an individual's guardian spirit'. This derived from the same root as 'gene' in 'birth, beget'.

Ghost comes from Old English gast 'breath' as well as 'good or bad spirit'. This Germanic word can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European gheis which is the root for so many words in any number of languages, all meaning 'excitement, amazement, fear, wonder' such as Sanskrit hedah 'wrath', Avestan zaesha 'horrible', and Gothic usgaisjan 'frighten'.

Goblin has an uncertain origin, although it may be from Greek kobalas 'rogue, knave' and possibly a diminutive of the proper noun Gobel.

Imp, until the 14th century, referred not to fauna but flora, the change almost gradual and initially referring to 'a little one'. Earlier this was used to mean 'young shoot, graft' and began as Proto-Indo-European bheue'to be, exist, grow'.

Incubus, credited with causing nightmares makes the origin of Latin incubo 'nightmare' and from incubare 'to lie upon'.

Kobold shares an origin with 'cobalt', a metal not named until 1733 and not used as a colour unbtil 1835. Here the metal, and thus the colour, come from the German kobold 'household goblin' - the name being taken for the ore as it contained traces of arsenic and sulphur and made the miners in the Harz Mountains ill.

Leprechaun is from Irish luchorpan 'a very small body' and from the Proto-Indo-European legwh 'not heavy' and kwrep 'body'.

Phantom, in the sense of 'spirit, ghost' is unrecorded before the 14th century, prior to that it had been used to mean 'to bring light' and is derived from Proto-Indo-European bha 'to shine'.

Poltergeist is German and means 'noisy ghost'. This is derived from Proto-Indo-European bhel 'to roar, sound', itself also the origin of both 'bellow' and 'bell'.

Spectre shares a root with 'spectrum', both from Proto-Indo-European spek 'to observe'.

Spirit can be traced to Proto-Indo-European speis 'to blow', this developing into Latin and French words suggesting 'breath of life'.

Spook is from the Middle Dutch spooc 'ghost'. While the trail ends here, we can find related words such as Danish spog 'joke' and Swedish spok 'scarecrow'.

Sprite shares an origin with 'spirit' (see above).

Succubus is related to 'incubus' (see above) but here means 'to lie under'. The word is seen in Latin succuba, used to refer to a 'fiend in female form having a sexual connection with men in their sleep'.

Troll is an Old Norse word, used as a noun to mean 'giant not of the human race' but also as an adjective 'to walk clumsily'. Here the latter possibly came from the verb form, itself meaning 'to stroll'.

Wraith is also from Old Norse, coming to English from vorthr meaning 'guardian'. Now today the 'wraith' is never seen positively and thus this Old Norse root is probably a red herring and we should be looking at the same root as 'wrath', itself having numerous forms in Germanic tongues all meaning 'anger, cruel, offended' and based on Proto-Indo-European wer 'to turn, bend'.

Zombie is of West African origin and originally the name of a snake god. It is related to Kikongo zumbi 'fetish' and Kimbundu nzambi 'god'.

These and other terms can be found in my books on the supernatural and paranormal. See how my research uncovered a relative in Haunted Worcestershire, read the best-seller Black Country Ghosts, hear about the intriguing telephone call in Paranormal Cotswolds, have a look at where I live in Paranormal Staffordshire, find out there is more to Warwick than its famous castle in Ghosts Around Warwickshire, and read how her lover could never admit he wasn't in the room when she had the best sex of her life in Ghosts Around Birmingham.

Sunday, 4 June 2017


Two years ago I looked at Parts of Speech but only covered the most commonly known. Here are some other terms used in grammar but, rather than explaining their use, this time I have simply looked at the etymology of the word.

Ablative - is the 'grammatical case denoting removal or separation', it came to English through the Old French and Latin route, where in the Latin phrase casus ablativus we see the meaning of 'case of removal'. Here the root is Proto-Indo-European bher meaning 'to carry' and a word we still use in the sense of 'to bear children'.

Absolute - came to us from the Latin absolvere and is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European swe leu which literally means 'ourselves apart (from)'.

Accidence is derived from 'accident', itself from Proto-Indo-European ad kad 'to make fall' (which hardly sounds accidental to me!)

Accusative is clearly derived from 'accuse', which features the suffix ad used to mean 'with regard to' and the Latin causa 'a reason' which is of unknown origin.

Active came to English through the French/Latin route and is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ag 'to drive, move'.

Adjunct is from 'adjoin', once again featuring the prefix ad 'with regard to' and the Proto-Indo-European yeug 'to join'.

Analysis comes from the Greek ana lyein, literally 'to unfasten throughout' and from Proto-Indo-European an 'upon, above' and leu 'to loosen, divide'.

Antonym is from the Greek anti 'opposite' and onym 'name' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European anti nomm with exactly the same meaning.

Apostrophe - from the Greek apo 'off, away from' and strephein 'to turn', in turn from Proto-Indo-European apo strebh, 'to turn away'.

Article refers to anything written, with a root in Proto-Indo-European ar 'to fit together' and coming to English via articulus meaning not only 'a part' but also 'knuckle'.

Assonance features that ad suffix again, here with the Proto-Indo-European root swen to give 'with regard to sound'.

Clause shares an origin with the verb 'to close', these from Latin clausus 'to shot, close' and intriguingly from Proto-Indo-European klau meaning 'hook, peg, crooked, forked branch', all being seen in the sense of 'closing'.

Colon had me worried but only comes from the Latin word for 'part of a poem', itself from Greek kolon and used to mean 'part of a verse' but literally 'limb, member' and particularly referring to the leg but also a tree limb. These all have a root in Proto-Indo-European kel 'bent, crooked'.

Comma is the Latin for 'short phrase', itself from Greek komma 'piece which is cut off' and from the root Proto-Indo-European kop 'to beat, strike', itself also the root of 'hatchet'.

Conditional is from 'condition', itself from Latin and ultimately Proto-Indo-European deik 'to show'.

Conjugate is from the Latin coniugatus and ultimately Proto-Indo-European kom yeug 'to join together'.

Consonant is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kom swen 'to join sound'.

Dative can be traced through Latin dativus 'pertaining to giving' to the Proto-Indo-European root do 'to give'.

Declension is from Latin declinare, also the root of 'decline', and traced back to Proto-Indo-European de 'from' and klein 'to lean'.

Decline (see above)

Definite shares a root with 'define' in de 'from' and dhigw 'pierce, fix, fasten'.

Diaeresis has two root elements, dia 'apart' and ser which means 'to seize' and shares an origin with 'heresy'.

Ellipsis has two elements, enin
and leikw the Proto-Indo-European word meaning 'to leave'.

Epistrophe has two Proto-Indo-European elements epi 'near, at, against
and strebh 'to wind, turn'.

Feminine comes from Proto-Indo-European dhei 'to suck' as in 'she who suckles'.

Finite shares a root with 'finish' and 'fix' in Proto-Indo-European dhigw 'to pierce, fix, fasten'.

Fricative shares an origin with 'friction' in Proto-Indo-European bhreie 'to rub, break'.

Gender shares a root with 'gene' in Proto-Indo-European gene 'to give birth'.

Hyperbaton has two Proto-Indo-European elements uper 'over' and gwa 'to go'.

Imperative also has two Proto-Indo-European elements en 'in' and pere 'to produce'.

Imperfect from the prefix im 'not, opposite of' and from the same root as 'perfect' per 'completely' and dhe to set, put'.

Interrogative comes from 'iterrogate' and Proto-Indo-European inter reg 'to stretch out in a straight line'.

Indefinite the opposite of 'definite' (see above).

Infinite the opposite of 'finite' (see above).

Intransitive is the opposite of 'transitive' (see below).

Irregular features the prefix in 'opposite of' and the Proto-Indo-European reg in 'a straight line'

Labial refers to the way a word is sounded, this from 'lip' and Proto-Indo-European leb 'to lick'.

Litotes is a Greek word meaning 'plainness, simplicity' and from the Proto-Indo-European root lei 'smily, sticky, slippery'.

Meiosis is a Greek word from the Proto-Indo-European root mei 'small'.

Metaphor again of Greek origins, where meta 'over, across' precedes Proto-Indo-European bher 'to carry' and 'bear children'.

Metre is derived from the same root as the metric measurement, this Proto-Indo-European me 'to measure'.

Neologism three Greek elements this time: neo 'new', logos 'word', and ism 'condition or quality of being'.

Nominative comes from 'nominate', itself from 'name', which is a Proto-Indo-European word nomm meaning 'name'.

Object a word which has certainly changed its meaning over time. It has two elements ob in front of, against' and the Proto-Indo-European root ye 'to throw, impel'.

Onomatopoeia still appears more Greek than English, this coming from onoma 'word, name' and the same Proto-Indo-European root as 'poet', this kwei 'to pile up, build, make'.

Oxymoron another obviously Greek word, here Proto-Indo-European ak 'be sharp, rise to a point' precedes moros 'stupid'.

Parataxis features more Greek, with para from Proto-Indo-European per 'forward, toward, near' and a Proto-Indo-European word tag 'to touch. handle' which is also the root of 'tactics'.

Parse comes from Proto-Indo-European pere 'to grant, allott'.

Particle also comes from Proto-Indo-European pere as above.

Participle shares an origin with 'participate' in Proto-Indo-European pere 'to grasp, allot' and kap 'to grasp'.

Passive comes from Latin root pati meaning 'to suffer'.

Person is of Greek origin and could share a root with the mythical Persephone in meaning 'mask'.

Semicolon while 'semi' does mean 'half', it comes from the rootsem 'imperfect' which explains why a semicolon is not half a 'colon' - if it did this wouldbe defined as 'half bent or crooked' and that would just be plain silly.

Sentence is from the past participle of 'sense', traceable to Proto-Indo-European sent 'to go'.

Simile shares an origin with 'similar' in Proto-Indo-European sem 'one, as one'.

Subject is along the lines of 'object' (see above) only here the Proto-Indo-European upo is 'under' with ye 'to throw, impel'.

Subjunctive links the prefix sub 'under' with the Proto-Indo-European root yeug 'to join'.

Subordinate another sub or 'under' with a word having the same origin as 'order', this Proto-Indo-European ar 'to fit together'.

Supine comes from the Latin supinus used figuratively to mean 'inactive, indolent' and derived from the Proto-Indo-European root sup 'under'.

Syntax is from the Greek where syn 'together' precedes tassein 'arrange'.

Transitive links the prefix trans 'across, beyond' and the Proto-Indo-European root ire 'to go'.

Vocative shares a root with 'vocal' in Proto-Indo-European wekw 'to speak'.

Vowel comes from exactly the same Proto-Indo-European root wekw 'to speak'.

Zeugma is a Greek word meaning 'that which is used for joining' literally 'a yoking' and comes from Proto-Indo-European yeug 'to join'.

Monday, 29 May 2017


weeks ago I looked at how our attire acquired names we use daily without a second thought. Researching same revealed any number of materials used to produce clothes, most of which I hadn't even heard of let alone knew what it was. Hence I decided to produce this follow-up looking at how these terms got their names.

Clearly the majority are likely to be modern, man-made fibres and named to reflect those who first produced and/or marketed same, rather than the more interesting etymologies of the traditional names. Trying to produce this list in chronological order proved something of a nightmare, hence I went for the alphabetical list which makes everything easier to find and also reveals any omissions.

Baize - a woollen fabric typified as much by its plain colours as its nap on one side only. Coming to English from Old French where baies is the plural of the adjective bai meaning 'bay-coloured, itself from the Latin badius 'chestnut -coloured' and thus sharing an etymology with the colour used when referring to a horse. Here the trail leads back to Proto-Indo-European badyo. Now while the horse should correctly be described as 'reddish-bown' the original meaning of the word is both 'yellow' and also 'brown'.

Braid - for obvious reasons referring to the way the cloth is produced as it can also be used to mean 'plait, knit, weave, twist'. The weaving, knitting, plaiting theme has resulted in the use of the word in English and other languages, both contemporary and historical, to mean an amazing array of things. For example Old English bregdan was used in the senses of 'to move quickly, pull, shake, swing, throw (in wrestling), draw (one's sword), change colour, vary, scheme, feign, pretend' as well as those already mentioned. Earlier the term referred to the tight weave-plait-knit producing a finish which saw Proto-Indo-European bherek referring to how it would 'gleam, flash', also seen in Sanskrit bhrasate 'flames, shines, blazes'.

Buckram - another of Old French origins, similar words seen in Spanish and Italian, where boquerant meant 'fine oriental cloth' in the 12th century and whilst latterly this is a coarse fabric often used for lining, originally this was a delicate and most expensive fabric which, from its name, tells us it was imported from the east, most likely central Asia.

Burlap - another coming to English from France, here Old French borel 'coarse cloth' is probably from Old Dutch boeren meaning 'coarse' but this is derived from boer 'peasant'. The second element originally referred to the garment, specifically 'the skirt or flap of a garment' and a word which also led to the reference to the upper part of the legs of a seated person.

Calico - is a corruption of Calicut, a seaport on the Malabar coast of India from whence it was first exported to Europe. When it first appeared in English around 1530, the accepted spelling was kalyko.

Cambric - named from the French place name where it was originally produced. The place name is from the Romano-Gaulish era, probably referring to 'the place of a man named Camarus' although some sources go further and speak of the personal name as a nickname meaning 'that which is twisted or bent'.

Chantilly - of course is the name of the town in France where this lace was originally produced from 1831 - it is also the name of a kind of porcelain, this seen since 1774. The place name refers to itself as 'the place of a man named Cantilius'.

Cheesecloth - having already defined 'cloth' above, suffice to say this was the cloth produced from around 1650 to aid in the production of cheese as this was that in which the curds would be pressed. It won't hurt to add that 'cheese' is derived from Proto-Indo-European kwat 'to ferment, become sour' and an apt description of cheese.

Cloth - is a word first seen in English as referring to the sail or, more often, the woven or felted material wrapped around same. Hence the almost simultaneous use in the sense 'garment'. This can be traced to Proto-Germanic kalithaz, which has given words for 'garment' and/or 'dress' in just about every modern Germanic tongue and all their many early forms. With unchanging forms and use for so long, and then nothing, this is good evidence the term is an early loan word from an unknown, perhaps now lost, language.

Corduroy - is not, as some would have us believe, from the French corde du roi or 'the king's cord', but of English origins where 'cord' and 'duroy' were combined. The latter is a coarse fabric of unknown origins, while 'cord' is an Old French term corde meaning 'rope, string' and derived from Proto-Indo-European ghere 'intestine'.

Cotton - coming to English from Old French, it is thought to be of Egyptian origin and came to Europe from Arabic qutn. Sadly earlier forms and languages are unknown.

Crepe - is named for its crinkled appearance and named, appropriately enough, from the French and Latin crispa 'curled, wrinkled, having curly hair' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European sker 'to turn, bend'. Note there are over a hundred supposedly different kinds of this material, all with distinctive names which refer solely to their point of manufacture.

Damask - is named after the Syrian city of Damascus, discussed under my earlier look at capital cities is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and, somewhat predictably, a name which has seen several explations including 'dwelling', 'a well-watered place', 'the land of Levant' and 'industrious'.

Denim - named after the French town, indeed it was originally referred to as serge de Nimes or 'serge from Nimes', with the place name ultimately from the Gaulish nemo 'sanctuary'.

Drill - came to English from the French, itself a German loan word drilich from Latin trilix both meaning 'threefold' and used because of the way the weave is produced. Note this has identical origins with 'trellis'.

Ermine - animals are generally named for either their colour or the sound they make. Here there are equally plausible explanations for both - either this is an eastern European root related to mus 'mouse' or a Germic word for 'weasel' harmo. Note the latter was used in Old English hearma to refer to a 'shrew', likely because a misunderstanding in the sound they make.

Fabric - comes from Latin fabricare 'to make, construct' and ultimately from Proto-Italic fafro and Proto-Indo-European dhabh 'to fit together' and an obvious reference to weaving. Note this root has also given the Armenian word darbin 'a metalworker' and also the English word 'daft' which was originally used to mean 'to put in order, assemble, suitable' before evolving to mean 'well-mannered' and then used ironically to 'dull, awkward' and thereafter 'foolish'.

Fleece - originally referred to it still being on the sheep, this traceable back to Proto-Indo-European pleus 'to pluck' which has also given us the word 'feather', thus it is easy to see how both were seen primarily as filling.

Fur - although we think of 'fur' as being on the animal, this has only been the case since 1400. Prior to that 'fur' applied to the pelt of animal when used as a lining or trimming of a garment. Hence why this comes from Proto-Germanic fodram 'sheath', Old High German fotar 'coat lining', and Gothic fodr 'sword sheath' - all based on the Proto-Indo-European root pa 'to protect'.

Gaberdine - as a cloth is unknown until 1904, however the word had applied to 'a long, loose outer garment' since the early 16th century. Here we can trace the word related to Middle High German wallevart 'pilgrimage' and named from Wallfahrt 'pilgrim's cloak'. The ultimate origin is Proto-Indo-European per 'to lead, pass over'.

Gingham - obtained from the east and a cotton fabric named by Dutch traders as gingang, itself from the Malay ginggang 'striped'.

Hessian - is derived from the use of this coarsely woven fabric in the uniform of the soldiers of Hesse, a place name derived from the Germanic tribe known as the Chatti, itself 'the dwellers on the Hase river', this river name probably simply meaning 'to flow'.

Lace - in 1902 the Century Dictionary records 87 distinct varieties of lace, although there are certainly many, many more. Coming to English from Old French laz, the root is Early Latin laqueum 'noose, snare' and a reference to the twining and braiding of cotton in the production of lace. It shares an etymology with 'lasso' and the Latin lacere 'to entice'.

Lame - a silk interwoven with metallic threads which is why the French lame meant 'thin metal plate' and earlier 'thin strip, blade, sheet, slice' and also shares a root with 'laminate'.

Leather - as one of the earliest materials used for clothing and certainly the most enduring, it is no surprise to find the word has hardly changed in thousands of years since Proto-Indo-European letro.

Linen - the cloth is woven from flax and therefore it comes a no surprise to find the name does, too. Here the Old English lin and Proto-Germanic linam, both meaning 'flax', are but two of many possible examples. Clearly of ancient use and ancient origin, the true root is lost in the mists of time. While it is easily seen as sharing a modern origin with 'lingerie', less obvious is the link to 'woollen'.

Lisle - is named after the French city where it was made, and indeed the city of Lille had long been recorded as Lisle. This comes from the French l'isle meaning 'the island'.

Material - this basic term began in English as an adjective. Here the root is Latin materia 'matter, stuff, wood, timber' and even shares a root with 'matter' in the Proto-Indo-European words associated with the sense of 'origin, source' and even 'mother' which is why the Latin for 'mother' is mater.

Mink - takes its name from the animal, this related to the Swedish menk which has the quite specific meaning of 'a stinking animal in Finland' but not applied to the animal we know in English until 1620.

Nankeen - named from the place where this cotton cloth was first produced, what we would known as Nanking in China takes its name from the Chinese nan jing 'southern capital'.

Nylon - coind in 1938 when this, the world's first synthetic material, used the suffix '-on' because of 'cotton'. There are a number of dubious explanations as to how nylon got its name, the most popular, and seemingly the most convoluted, being that it was originally to be called 'No-Run', but was discarded as this suggested something untrue. Next these letters were reversed to produced 'nuron', this also thrown out owing to it sounding like a nerve tonic (really?). This was then tweaked to 'nilon' and then to 'nylon' to clarify pronunciation.

Organdy - is a fine muslin, the name of unknown origin but it has been suggested it is named after the Uzbekistan city of Urgench, a known cotton textile centre. If so we need to define the place name but I couldn't so we won't mention that and move swiftly on.

Polyester - is a synthetic fibre first created in 1941. A polymer, which is why the inventors named it from 'polymer' and 'ester', and named for very sensible but quite complex reasons. Taking the suffix first, this was coined as it was an acid joined to an alcohol and ultimately from the same root as 'ether' in Proto-Indo-European aidh 'to burn'. 'Polymer' is comprised of two Proto-Indo-European root words: pele 'to fill' and meros, which has also given us 'merit', meaning 'part'.

Rayon - another with the '-on' suffix, this shiny fabric borrowed the name of an earlier cloth, itself named from the French rai 'beam of light, ray' as it was shiny.

Sable - named from the animal, itself probably of eastern European origins, a Slavic word which likely refers to colour but thus far has proven elusive.

Satin - might be from the Chinese place name Zaitun, 'city of olives', now known as Quanzhou or 'place with a spring', although this is likely created to answer a problem no one knows the answer to.

Seersucker - from the Hinda sirsakar, itself a corriuption of Persian shir o shakkar which literally means 'milk and sugar' but refers to the striped effect produced by the alternative rough and smooth surfaces.

Serge - shares an origin with 'silk' (see below) as its early use meant 'silken'.

Silk - named by the Greeks as Serikos, as they obtained their silk from the Seres people of the Serica region of Asia, said to be named from the local word for 'silkworms' from which silk is, of course, produced. However this has been ridiculed by some saying it is ludicrous to think a nation would ever be named after an insect - never heard of ant-arctica then.

Spandex - a proprietary name based on 'expand' as it is noted for its elastic properties, with the oft-seen commercial addition of '-ex'. Oddly 'expand' features the same syllable, albeit as a prefix, this referring to 'out' and from the Proto-Indo-European eghs with the same meaning. The other half is from a French and Latin route, traced back to the same root as 'pace' which, once again, comes from Proto-Indo-European where pete meant 'to spread'.

Suede - is correctly defined as 'undressed kid skin' and named from the middle of the 19th century as gants de Suede, quite literally 'gloves of Sweden'. The name of the nation is from Proto-Germanic, either sweba meaning 'free, independent' or geswion 'kinsman'.

Taffeta - another to come to English along the French and Latin route, here the origin is Persian taftan 'to twist, spin, weave' and shares an etymology with 'tapestry'.

Towelling - comes from the word 'towel', itself seen in many European languages where, although the common root is not known, all seem to refer to material used to protect. Among the examples is the French for towel, Dutch for 'altar cloth', German for 'towel', German for 'napkin', and Old English 'to wash'.

Tulle - is named after the French town where the material was first made, the town being named after Tutela a pagan guardian deity.

Tweed - began as a trade name for a woollen fabric first advertised as 'Tweed fishing trousers' and thus named from the river which simply means 'the dark one'.

Twill - is a Germanic word, seen in Old English twili 'woven with a double thread'.

Velour - again a French and Latin trail, it is named from being 'shaggy, hairy, rough' and shares an etymology with 'velvet' (see below).

Velvet - came to English through French and Latin and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European wel-no 'to tear, to pull' and used in the sense 'rough' as is 'velour' (see above).

Voile - a fine material sharing an etymology with 'veil' in the Proto-Indo-European weg 'to weave a web'.

Wool - irrespective of which European language is examined, all point back to Proto-Indo-European wele meaning simply 'wool'.

Worsted - as many will know the woollen fabric was first made in Norfolk and named after the town of Worstead meaning 'place of a man called Wirda'.

If there are any others I have omitted and you would like to know the origins, drop me a line.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Military Ranks

Browsing the displays of uniforms and insignia at a military museum recently my thoughts soon turned, as usual, to etymology. In particular the military ranks and just why a 'private' seems quite inappropriate.

Marshal - came to English from French, the latter version now seen as marechal and much easier seen as 'stable officer, horse groom' but, as a rank, began in referring to 'an officer in charge of a household' and a rank seen in other languages but, depending on the language group, rather differently. We have already seen the standing for the French, a language of the Latin arm of the Indo-European languages and indeed the Latin languages always have a marshal as a person of importance. Yet when it comes to the other arm of the Western European group, the Germanic tongues, the understanding is quite different. For example the Old English equivalent was a horsthegn, or stable officer - interestingly also the root for the police rank of 'constable' - while Old High German marahscalc 'groom', Frankish marhskalk, Gothic skalks 'servant', and Dutch schalk 'rogue' and very much lower designations.

Commodore - shares an origin with 'commander', both from Old French comandeor, itself the agent noun of the verb 'command'. Tracing the etymology of 'command' we find this to have a common root with 'commend' and 'mandate' in the Latin mandare and ultimately Proto-Indo-European man 'hand' and do 'to give'. Perfectly sensible for one still speaks of 'handing out orders'.

Captain - nothing to do with headgear, this comes from Latin capitaneus 'chief' in the sense of 'prominent'. Taking this back to its ultimate root we find Proto-Indo-European kaput meaning 'head'. Note this is not found in a naval sense until 1560 and no mention in a sporting sense before 1823.

Commander - see 'commodore' above.

Lieutenant - we British traditionally use the pronunciation 'lef-' and have done so since at least the 14th century as evidenced by the documented spelling. Just why this came about nobody has any idea - the Oxford English Dictionary rejects the usual explanation of mistaking the 'U' for a 'V' - but it does call into question a statement I once heard (and often repeat) that "nobody ever mispronounced anything until they could read", it if looks wrong then that is down to spelling. However here this is the exception for judging by every other language where such is used, we Brits have somehow got it quite wrong. Here the rank is made up of two words Old French lieu 'place' and the past participle tenir 'to hold', the latter from Proto-Indo-European ten 'to stretch'. Here the idea is the lieutenant is an officer who often deputises for a higher rank, most often a captain, and thus whilst not translating as such is used in the sense of 'substitute'.

Officer - not used in a military sense until the early 14th century. Clearly from 'office', itself coming to English through the French/Latin route where it literally meant 'work-doing'. and derived from the Proto-Indo-European root op 'to work' and dhe 'to set'. Note this 'office' is the post and not the room, that is unknown before 1560s.

General - used in military sense from 1570s, the noun comes from the adjective and is another coming from the French/Latin source. Here the roots are Latin generalis 'relating to all' and Proto-Indo-European gene 'to give birth' or 'beget'.

Major - has only been a military rank since the 1640s. As a noun it comes from the adjective and again to English from French/Latin. Here Latin magjos is a comparative of magnus 'large, great' and from the Proto-Indo-European root meg 'great'.

Brigadier - seen since the 1670s and another from the French/Latin route, here based on 'brigade', a military division unknown before the 1630s. The Italian brigata means 'troop, crowd, gang' and shares a root with 'brigafe' in brigare 'brawl, fight' and briga 'strife, quarrel. These comparable to Celtic words such as Gaelic brigh and Welsh bri both meaning 'power' and derived from the Proto-Indo-European root dwere 'heavy'.

Colonel - unlike 'lieutenant' (see above), there is an explanation for the pronunciation of 'kernel'. Until the 16th century this appeared as coronel, hence the spelling is wrong as is the norm (see 'lieutenant' above). Middle French coronel, Italian colonnella are both derived from the same root as 'column' or 'pillar'. Here the sense of a solid rectangular formation, albeit tipped on its end, can be traced to the Proto-Indo-European root of kel meaning 'to project, be prominent'.

Admiral - is not seen in its modern sense until the 13th century, and then specifically as amiral de la mer or 'admiral of the sea' which suggests the earlier admirals were not associated with the fleet and this is indeed the case. While 'admiral' came to English from French, for a change this is not Latin but a French loan word of Arabic beginnings. Here the root is a word some crossword puzzlers will be familiar with, for amir is a favourite with American compilers as an alternative (some would say 'correct') spelling for what the British would see as 'emir' and simply means 'commander'. The rank shares its origins with 'admirable', which isn't difficult to see, but the butterfly known as the 'admiral' (named from around 1720) is actually a corruption of 'admirable' and nothing to do with military rank.

Sergeant - seen since the early 13th century, here we go back to the French/Latin trail. Old French sergent meant 'servant' while the Latin servientem referred to 'serving'. Hence we need to find the root of the verb 'to serve' which is simply 'slave'.

Corporal - as the lowest non-commissioned army officer not seen until 1570s, this is another coming from the French/Latin route based on the Latin caput and Proto-Indo-European kaput both meaning 'head'.

Cadet - in a military sense from the 15th century, this shares an origin with 'corporal' (see above) in coming from kaput but here the sense is in 'little head'.

Ensign - seen from the 15th century referring to a flag or pennant, not in the sense of 'rank until 1862, here the word shares a root with 'insignia'. It combines the Proto-Indo-European en 'in' and sekw-no 'to follow', the latter also the root of 'sign'.

Albeit not correctly ranks, I thought it worthwhile also looking at the general terms used in the army, navy and air force of the military.

Solider - has a myriad etymological lines to trace but all essentially mean 'one having pay'.

Sailor - is clearly the agent noun of 'sail, itself traceable to Proto-Indo-European sek meaning 'to cut' and exactly what was required to make a sail from a piece of cloth. Note the term 'sailor' has only been in use since around 1400 (when it was 'sailer'), prior to this it was either 'seaman' or 'mariner'. Looking at these we find 'sea' originally used to mean 'large quantity' and 'man' in the sense 'person' (and thus not sexist in the slightest); while 'mariner' has the ultimate root mori 'body of water'.

Pilot - clearly one could never use this in an aviation sense until the invention of the aeroplane. Earlier balloonists could never be known as 'pilots' as we will see. Many will be aware the use for an airman came from its use in a marine sense, a 'pilot' still steering vessels into harbour, hence this is the sense we need to trace. The term came to English from Middle French pillote, Italian piloto, and Medieval Greek pedotes 'helmsman' and Greek pedon 'steering oar' and all coming from the Proto-Indo-European root ped 'foot'.

Note as the piece is in English, English spelling is used.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Whys of Wear

Ever wondered why several items of clothing can never be found in the singular? Now when it comes to socks, shoes and glove then it is quite obvious, but what about trousers and tights? Why can’t you have a trouser or a tight?

Obviously clothing has been around a long time and therefore so have the many names for same. But where do these terms come from? Who named them? And what do they mean?

To find an order proved difficult, sexism was always a likely criticism but, having played with several ideas, ended up taking them in alphabetical order, which also makes it easier to search. Oh, and to find the reason why 'trousers' are plural, see 'breeches'.

Anorak – not seen in English until 1924, this comes from Greenland Eskimo anoraq which simply describes this hooded jacket.

Apron – one of a number of words, adder and umpire are others, which began as ‘a napron’, and continued to be used until the 16th century, but through a process known as ‘faulty separation’ became ‘an apron’. Coming to English from Old French naperon ‘small table cloth’ and ultimately from the Latin mappa ‘napkin’ and further back still to ‘matting’.

Bags – looking at the singular ‘bag’ this is an Old Scandinavian word baggi meaning ‘pack bundle’ around 1200 and only latterly used to mean ‘small sack’. It has a common origin with ‘bellows’ and ‘belly’.

Bandana – first seen in English in 1752, it coming from the Hindi bandhnu which is a method of dyeing (basically the same as the modern tie-dye), itself from Sanskrit badhnati ‘binds’ and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European bhendh ‘to bind’.

Bathrobe – not seen before 1894, this a composite of two words: ‘bath’ can be traced to Proto-Indo-European ‘to warm’; and ‘robe’ which shares an origin with, of all things, ‘rob’ and presumably using both as vestments taken as spoils.

Bearskin – another composite, this seen since the early 19th century, and: ‘bear’ of Germanic origins means ‘the brown one’; and ‘skin’ ultimately from Proto-Indo-European sken ‘to cut off’ and clearly used first and foremost as a verb.

Bedsocks – not seen until the early 20th century, another composite: ‘bed’ is from Proto-Indo-European bhedh ‘to dig, pierce’ and showing the early beds required a bit of digging to allow for the lumpier bits of the body; and ‘socks’, an early 14th century word which began either as Greek sykchos or a similar Asiatic origin, both actually describing a type of shoe.

Belt – seen in English since the 5th century, the word is a Germanic loan word from Latin balteus ‘girdle, sword belt’.

Beret – unknown in English until 1827, this is from Old Gascon berrt meaning simply ‘cap’. Perhaps both the idea of a cap attached to a cape is seen as a Gaulish word related to Latin birrus ‘large hooded cloak’.

Bib – is found in English since 1570, this derived from a now lost verb bibben meaning ‘to drink’ and clearly related to ‘imbibe’.

Bikini – coined in 1948 and, as many will be aware, takes its name from the Bikini atoll of the Marshall Islands where the A-bomb test took place in June 1946. Note the idea of a ‘monokini’, seen since 1964, was down to the mistaken belief the first syllable was a Greek prefix meaning ‘two’, when it is a local word from pik ‘surface’ and ni ‘coconut’.

Blazer – not known until 1880, beginning as British university slang and derived from ‘blaze’ in referring to the red flannel jackets worn by the boating club of Lady Margaret, St John College, Cambridge.

Bloomers – coined in 1851 and named after US feminist reformer Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-94) who helped to promote them. Her surname comes from Old English bloma meaning ‘iron worker’.

Boa – as a name for a fur from 1836, it alludes to the snake due to its shape, the word boa is Latin an simply means ‘large snake’.

Bodice – first seen in 1560, this is a very odd spelling as it is the plural of ‘body’. Not difficult to see why ‘body’ for this tight-fitting garment covered the torso, less easy is why it should be plural. ‘Body’ comes from a Germanic term where leib meant simply ‘life’.

Bonnet – first seen in Britain in 14th century Scotland as bonat ‘brimless hat for men’, this coming from Old French bonet an abbreviation of chapel de bonet ‘kind of cloth used as a headdress’, and Latin bonitum ‘material for hats’.

Bowler – named in 1861 and from a J. Bowler, a 19th century London hat manufacturer. There were two other ‘Bowlers’ associated with hats: John Bowler of Surrey and William Bowler of Southwark.

Blouse – again seen in the 19th century and specifically 1822, this is a French word originally meaning ‘smock of a workman or peasant’. It is thought to be derived from Provencal (lano) blouso ‘short (wool)’ or, less likely, from a city of Upper Egypt named Pelusium which was an important clothing manufacturing centre.

Brassiere – known as a ‘bra’ from 1923, the longer version is an 18th century French word originally meaning ‘child’s chemise, shoulder strap’.

Breeches – seen since around 1200, this is an odd double plural. Here Old English brec meant ‘breeches’ before it was pluralised, for brec was already the plural form of broc meaning ‘garment for the legs and trunk’. Now originally the garment was one sided, thus when pluralised it referred to both legs which, with the upper part, crossed over and were tied together to form a single item but clearly plural. That the item was intended to be worn in two halves is likely the reason for it coming from Proto-Indo-European bhreg or ‘break’.

Britches – is a variant of ‘breeches’ and seen as britch from 1620 (the singular) and as ‘britches’ from 1905.

Burberry – a company established in London in 1856 by Thomas Burberry (1835-1926) who specialised in outdoor attire.

Burnous – is from more than 2,000 years ago and a Berber word abernus and shares an origin with the Greek word for ‘cloak’.

Busby – first seen in 1807, this fur hat worn by hussars it was earlier used to describe ‘a bushy tall wig’ in 1764. The origins are unknown but it is both a place name and a surname and seems likely to come from one of these sources.

Bustle – is first seen in 1788, of uncertain origin but possibly from German buschel meaning ‘bunch, pad’ or as in the sound made by these dresses as in a ‘rustling motion’.

Camisole – recorded in England by 1816, this comes from the French where Provencal camisola ‘mantle’ is a diminutive of camisa ‘shirt’.

Cape – seen from the middle of the 16th century, this Old English word has the same origins as Latin cappa ‘hooded cloak’.

Cardigan – first coined in 1868, this was named after James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan (1797-1868) who apparently wore such an item when leading the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. His title comes from the Anglicised version of the Welsh place name Ceredigion meaning ‘Ceredig’s land’, this Welsh chieftain lived in the 5th century.

Chaps – recorded in 1844, this is American English and taken from Mexican Spanish chaparreras named as they protected from the chaparro ‘evergreen oak’ but used here to refer to scrubland in general.

Chemise – seen in the 12th century, this shares an origin with ‘Camisole’ and originally meant ‘shirt’.

Chiton – seen from 1850, this a form of Greek khiton ‘frock, tunic, mail coat’ and worn by both sexes.

Choker – speaks for itself, but we do need to point out this tight-fitting necklace wasn’t named until 1928.

Cloak – a late 13th century word, this from Old French cloque ‘travelling cloak’, and ultimately sharing an origin with ‘bell’ and ‘clock’.

Clog – from the early 14th century, this comes from Old English clogge meaning ‘lump of wood’ and shortly used for the shoe, too. Now the earlier usage is unknown, it certainly does come from the very ‘to clog (up)’ as this comes from the noun – but interestingly, and I make no judgement here, clogge was also used to describe large pieces of jewelry and large testicles.

Coat – a 14th century term ‘outer garment’ and from Frankish kotta ‘coarse cloth’. Not used for animal covering or a layer covering a surface until the 1660s.

Coif – late 13th century, a close-fitting cap from Old French coife ‘headgear’.

Collar – first seen at the end of the 12th century, this originally applied to the collar on a suit of armour and thus it comes as no surprise to find this is from Proto-Indo-European kwol-o ‘neck’.

Comforter – as a scarf from 1823 and an agent noun from ‘comfort’, itself from the Latin intensive prefix com with fortis ‘strong’.

Corset – from 1795 century and clearly a French word, it is a diminutive of cors ‘body’

Cowl – a 6th century word, ultimately from Latin cuculus ‘monk’s hood’.

Crinoline – dating from 1830, this is from the French crinoline ‘hair cloth’.

Cummerbund – seen from 1610, here Hindi kamarband meaning ‘loin band’ and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European bhendh ‘to bind’.

Denims – seen since 1690, from the French serge de Nimes a French town from Gaulish nemo meaning ‘sanctuary’.

Derby – since 1870, a hat worn and probably associated with the race, itself named from the 12th Earl of Derby, and a place name meaning ‘the farmstead where deer are seen’ from Old Scandinavian deor by.

Domino – seen since 1801, this perhaps ‘hood with a cloak worn by canons or priests’ and comparing the black cloak with the tiles (for the game) this is from Latin dominus ‘lord, master’.

Doublet – early 14th century, from Old French doublet a diminutive of duble and from Latin duplus ‘two more’.

Drawers – first seen in 1560, these are simply garments which are ‘drawn on’.

Dungarees – since 1868 made from dungaree, itself from Hindi dungri ‘coarse calico’ and from the village Dongri in India.

Farthingale – since 1550, this hooped dress is from French / Spanish where verdugo ‘young shoot of a tree’ and the contrivance was originally made from cane shoots.

Fatigues – seen from 1836, this came from the duties given to a soldier (and thus the clothes he wore when performing same) and simply describes the soldier’s weariness. Ultimately this can be traced to Proto-Indo-European affatim ag ‘sufficiently set in motion’.

Fedora – since 1887 a type of hat, it was named from a popular play by Victorien Sardo (1831-1908) Fedora. The name comes from a Russian princess Fedora Romanodd, originally portrayed by Sarah Bernhardt who, famed for wearing manish clothes whenever she could, sported a centre-creased soft-brimmed hat. The name is ultimately from the Greek theodoros ‘gift of the gods’.

Fez – from 1802, and the city of Fez in Morocco, a place name meaning ‘pickaxe’ in Arabic. Legends states the founder of the city were marked out by the pickaxe of silver and gold by Idris I of Morocco.

Frock – since the middle of the 14th century and from French froc ‘monk’s clothing’. Probably a loan word from Germanic hroc ‘mantle, coat’.

Frog – a clothes fastening since 1719, possibly from Latin floccus ‘tuft of wool’.

Gaiters – since 1775, from Middle French guestre and Frankish wrist ‘instep’.

Galoshes – from the 14th century, this is probably from the Greek kalopous ‘shoemaker’s last’ itself made up of kalon ‘wood’ and pous ‘foot’.

Garibaldi – since 1862 this blouse is named after Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82), liberator of Italy.

Gauntlet – since the 15th century used as ‘glove’ and originally from Germanic wintan ‘to wind’.

Girdle – since the 8th century, from a Germanic word meaning ‘to gird’ and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ghr-dh ‘to grasp’.

Glengarry – the bonnet of Scotland dates from 1841, it is a place name where Glengarry means ‘the valley of the river Garry’.

Glove – since the 8th century and from Old Scandinavian ga a collective prefix and lofi ‘hand’.

Gown – since 1300, from Old French goune ‘habit, gown’. Probably from Latin gunna ‘skin, hide’.

Guernsey – since 1839, a vest of wool worn by seamen and from the island where it was first associated (as with Jersey) and possibly Old Scandinavian for ‘mill island’.

Habit – since the 13th century, it is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ghabh ‘to give, to receive’.

Homburg – since 1910 and popularised by Edward VII after he visited the town of Bad Homburg in Germany, a place name meaning ‘the bath (spa) of the high fortification’.

Hood – since the 9th century, this is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kadh ‘to cover’.

Hose – since the 13th century, this is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European keu ‘to cover, conceal’.

Jacket – since the 15th century, this is ultimately from Jacque, the generic name given to all French peasants.

Jeans – since the middle of the 15th century this has been named as it was associated with Genoa, a place name meaning ‘knee’, a description of an angled topographical feature.

Jersey – since 1580 the knitted cloth used to produce the woollen tunic, itself a place name meaning ‘Geirr’s island’.

Jodhpurs – since 1899, the name comes from a place in India, itself named after local ruler Rao Jodha who founded the place in 1459.

Jumper – since 1853, the origin and meaning is completely unknown.

Kerchief – since the early 13th century, it comes from the French couvrechief meaning ‘cover head’.

Kilt – since 1730, comes from a Germanic word meaning ‘to truss, tuck up’.

Kimono – since 1630, and a Japanese expression meaning ‘a thing to put on’.

Kirtle – since the 11th century, it is derived from a word meaning ‘short’ and simply means ‘tunic’.

Knickerbockers – since 1831, this is the alias used by Washington Irving when he published History of New York in 1809 under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. He borrowed this name from his friend Herman Knickerbocker, his name meaning ‘toy marble maker’.

Knickers – since 1866, a shortened form of ‘knickerbockers’.

Leotard – since 1881, named after Jules Leotard (1830-1870) a popular French trapeze artist who wore such a garment.

Levis – since 1926, named after manufacturer Levi Strauss and Company of San Francisco. The Bavarian-born Strauss used copper rivets at stress points to make his jeans longer-lasting.

Lingerie – since 1852, this is French and ultimately from Latin lineus ‘of linen’.

Loincloth – since 1851, a combination of two words beginning as Proto-Indo-European lendh ‘loin’ and Old Frisian klath ‘cloth’.

Mantilla – since 1717, a diminutive of the Spanish manta ‘blanket’.

Mantle – since 6th century, and originally meant simply ‘cloak’.

Mittens – since the latter part of the 14th century, this is from French mitaine meaning ‘half glove’.

Moccasins – since 1700, originally this simply means ‘plaited shoes’.

Muffler – since 1530, an agent noun from ‘muffle’ ultimately meaning simply ‘to wrap’.

Negligee – since 1756, it comes from Latin neglegere ‘to disregard, not trouble about’ and clearly a reference to the flimsy and well-nigh see-through garment.

Nylons – since 1940, it takes the name of the manmade fibre coined by putting together nyl and on meaning ‘no (cott)on’.

Panama – a hat, since 1833, named after a place with a name meaning ‘place of many fish’.

Pantaloons – since 1660, associated with San Pantaleone a Christian martyr and Venetian saint said to have worn tight trousers over his very skinny legs.

Panties – since 1845, a diminutive of ‘pants’.

Pants – since 1893, a diminutive of ‘pantaloons’.

Parka – since 1780, an Aleut word derived from Russia parka meaning ‘pelt’.

Petticoat – since the early 15th century, from the French petite and thus ‘small coat’.

Pinafore – since 1782, originally pinned to the front of the dress, this is why it is called ‘pinned to the front’.

Plus-fours – since 1924, named because they were four inches longer in the leg than similar trousers and thus had an overhang when tucked up.

Pyjamas – since 1800, comes from Hindi and means loose trousers tied at the waist’.

Raglan – since 1863, named for British General Lord Raglan (1788-1855) who commanded forces in the Crimean War and named from a Welsh place name meaning ‘place with a market’.

Robe – since late 13th century, from the same source as ‘bathrobe’.

Rompers – first seen in 1909, the agent noun of romp (which fitted nicely with the suffix seen in trousers) came from ‘romp’ a variant of ‘ramp’ ‘to climb, scale’.

Ruff – since 1520, it is a shortened form of ‘ruffle’, itself meaning ‘to disturb the smoothness of’.

Sabot – since the 13th century, this wooden shoe (which has famously given us ‘sabotage’) simply means ‘old shoe’.

Sandal – since the 14th century, our records only show ‘sandal’ as meaning ‘sandal’ and therefore impossible to trace.

Sari – since 1785, from a Pakrit word sadi meaning ‘garment’.

Scarf – since 1550, comes from Old French escherpe or ‘pilgrim’s purse suspended from the neck’ and ultimately from a number of Middle East words meaning ‘purse’.

Shift – 1590, meaning ‘to make efforts’ and perhaps better seen as ‘change, alteration’.

Shirt – since 1580, this can be traced to Proto-Indo-European sker ‘to cut’.

Shoe – since the 5th century, originates in Proto-Indo-European skeu ‘to cover’.

Singlet – since 1746, an unlined woollen garment and thus ‘of a single thickness’.

Skirt – since the early 14th century, this has exactly the same origin as ‘shirt’.

Slacks – since 1824, as in the sense ‘loose trousers’ first used by the military.

Slip – since 1550, from Middle Dutch slippe meaning ‘cut, slit’.

Slippers – since late 15th century, agent noun from ‘slip’ as in easily ‘slipped’ onto one’s foot.

Smock – since 8th century, A Germanic root simply meaning ‘a narrow hole or gap (for the head)’.

Sneakers – since 1895, as a rubber-soled shoe made the walker’s steps fall noiselessly.

Socks – early 14th century, Old English socc ‘light shoe’.

Soutane – since 1838, from French sotane ‘undershirt’ and ultimately Latin subtus ‘beneath, under’.

Spats – since 1779, a shortening of ‘spatterdash’ to prevent trousers or stockings being spattered with mud.

Sporran – since 1818, from Irish sparan meaning ‘purse’.

Stays – since 1600, plural of stay and a common origin with ‘stake’ it come from Proto-Indo-European stak ‘stand, place’.

Stole – since 9th century, shares an origin with Latin stola ‘robe, vestment’ and Proto-Indo-European stel ‘to put, stand’.

Suit – since 1300, matching garments and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European sekw ‘to follow’.

Sweater – since 1882, was originally worn to produce sweating and to lose weight.

Tabard – about 1300, originally from Latin tapete ‘figured cloth’

Tie – since 1550, obviously from the knot, this from Proto-Indo-European deuk ‘to lead’.

Tights – since 1827, they are indeed tight-fitting.

Toga – since 100, ultimately Proto-Indo-European tog-a ‘a covering’.

Trilby – since 1897, named after Trilby O’Ferrall, eponymous heroine in the novel Trilby by George du Maurier (1834-96).

Trousers – 1610, from Middle Irish triubhas ‘close-fitting shorts’.

Turban – since 1560s, from Turkish tulbent meaning ‘gauze, muslin’.

Tutu – since 1910, an infantile reduplication of cucu meaning ‘bottom, backside’.

Tuxedo – since 1889 and an American place name of Tuxedo Park, New York State, from an Algonquian p’tuck-sepo ‘the crooked river’.

Vest – since 1610, and originally from Proto-Indo-European wes ‘to clothe’.

Wellingtons – since 1817 and famously from Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, the place name meaning ‘the farmstead in the temple clearing’.

Yashmak – since 13th century, this is the Turkish word for ‘veil’.