26 September 2017

More fun with words!! “nym”s

This time it is about some uncommon but very interesting words that end with “nym”. I am sure, you remember “synonym”, “antonym”, “acronym”, “homonym” and so on from your middle school days. These are a little more esoteric.

See how many of these you know without looking up the internet. Write down the number in the comment section of the post. Then see if you can find the answers to the ones you missed by using Google. If you could not find them – or were particularly lazy, come back to this post for the answers tomorrow.

Remember … each word will end with “nym”.

1. Some places are called by different names by people who live there versus people who do not. For example, most non-Germans will call the country Germans live in as “Germany”. Except Germans who live in Germany usually refer to it as Deutschland. Similarly, India and Bharat. I think Japan and Nippon will be the same way. What are such pair of words called?

2. Continuing with the theme of places, often certain words are derived from names of places. Usually where they originate from e.g. champagne (from district of Champagne in France) or spa (from Spa in Belgium). What are such words called?

3. Remember homonyms? Two words with different spellings but same pronunciations and of course very different meanings. e.g. buy and bye. But what about the opposite? Same spelling but different pronunciations? (and of course different meanings). e.g. “lead” (lead a team) and “lead” (lead in a pencil). What are such words called?

4. Sometimes a word is used not to mean the exact literal meaning of it but of something very closely associated with it. e.g. The “gun” in “a hired gun” is not really referring to the gun itself so much as the person paid to use the gun to kill somebody. Or the “bottle” in “He had one too many bottle last evening” is really referring to the alcohol that was there in the bottle – not the bottle itself. Get it? What are such words called?

5. A word can change its meaning – and often the pronunciation – if its first letter is capitalized. Think “August” and “august” or “turkey” and “Turkey”. What are such words called?

Have fun…

24 August 2017

How did that come around? – “Start from scratch”

During an office meeting today, somebody mentioned – while trying to design some stuff – “Let’s start from scratch”. At that point I made a mental note of finding out later – why do we say that?

In the evening, Nikita and I did some research to understand why do we say “start from scratch”? Of course, the meaning is generally to start from the beginning – but the nuance is to start without any relative advantage. Basically, you start without any head start.

Of course, it is difficult to deduce anything from the common meaning of “scratch”. What would minor skin lacerations originating from itching have anything to do with this? Other than tough puzzles – or posts with questions like this – when did you start anything by scratching your head first? 🙂

Turns out this has its roots in sports. There are many sports we found out – boxing, cricket, golf as examples who use the word scratch to denote a line (usually to commence something from). There is an even earlier reference to this meaning of “scratch” – for runners – essentially the starting line for runners.

The real reference goes back another century before that. And it was about horse racing in England. All horses had to be lined up perfectly on the starting line without any hoof crossing that line to give any advantage. That starting line in horse racing was referred to as the “scratch line”.

And that is the origin of the phrase “to start from scratch”. You start from the beginning with no advantage at all.

There you go!! I learnt something today!!!

5 August 2017

How did that come around? – “Lion’s share”

While trying to learn about the phrase, I learnt something that surprised me – we actually use the phrase in an incorrect way! We always think of this phrase as “majority share” or a “large proportion”. However, this is not how it was meant to be.

The origins of this phrase goes back to Aesop’s fables. While there are various versions of it – they all lead to the same thing – after the lion and two of his subjects (the animals vary in different versions and in certain versions there are three other animals who accompany him) got all the kill from their hunting session, the lion did the sharing of the food by essentially staking claim to the entire food collection – in parts by logic, in parts by power and in parts by instilling fear. For example, in the more popular and the oldest version, the lion claimed the first one-third since he was the king, the second thirds was to be assigned to him by the other two since he was a partner and the last third would be his since bodily harm would come to anybody who touched it.

The moral of the story was that partnership between two that vary immensely in power is never going to be trustworthy.

Therefore a “lion’s share” is actually meant to say “the whole of it”.

I have not been able to figure out yet, how the modern day version of “a majority share” came about.

21 June 2017

Some very interesting and uncommon words…

Came across some interesting words. How many of these do you know?

1. I have a friend – Narayan Venkatasubramanyan – who was once invited to create one of those Sunday New York Times crosswords. I am sure you know a lot of people who are very good at solving them. Maybe you are one of them. What is the English word for somebody who is adept at creating or solving crossword puzzles?

2. You have heard of being addicted to alcohol, to smoking and all that. Did you know that you can get addicted to tea? In fact there is an English word which means somebody who is addicted to drinking tea. Do you know what that word is?

3. You must have seen that when people sign their signature, usually they put in a flourish at the end – a long line, a curved design, two dots and what have you. Earlier, it was put in to prevent forgery by putting some uniqueness in the signature. What is the English word that means that flourish you put at the end of a signature?

4. There is a single English word that means a striptease performer. What is it?

5. I need to research more to find out why it is so but there is an English word to describe all books printed before the year 1501. (Very early stages of printing). Have you heard of that word?

17 June 2017

How did that come around? – Kick the bucket

This evening a very young visitor to our house was mentioning about the unfortunate passing away of her P.E. teacher. Instantly, the phrase “kick the bucket” came to my mind. And the next instant, I was wondering why is it called “kicking the bucket”?

After the guests left, started doing the research. And finally came to find this…

A common – and wrong – derivation comes from the theory that people used to commit suicide by standing atop a bucket, tying their neck to the ceiling and then kicking the bucket. There is another theory that instead of committing suicide, people were hanged that way. Both are wrong. Buckets are very unnatural choices for this purpose. In fact, statistically, a chair is more commonly used for suicide in that particular way.

There was another theory about the goat kicking the bucket after getting milked and coming to an unfortunate end.

The real derivation has an intersting twist to the word “bucket”. Back in the 16th century, “bucket” refered to a wooden beam or frame. The root comes from a French word. Such a frame was often used to hang an animal up before being slaughtered. Most commonly it was used for pigs. A refernce to this meaning of the word “bucket” can be found in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.

Anyways, the pig while being slaughterd would kick violently as it went thru its death spasms. As gross as that picture is, that is how “kicking the bucket” came around.

Who knew?

8 June 2017

How did that come around? – Mind your P’s and Q’s

Ever wondered why do we say “mind your P’s and Q’s” to mean “be on your good behavior”? Well, I for one, never had a clue. So, started another research – and I am liking to get to know the origins of phrases and words enough that I have started a separate section in my blog dedicated to this.

My first instinct was that it came from trying to keep everything prim and proper by neatly separating your similar looking letter p’s and q’s. Well, turns out it is not “mind your p’s and q’s”. It is “P’s and Q’s”. Those are difficult to get confused with when you read, write or type.

Some people think – which is mostly denounced – it stands for your “Please”s and “Thank You”s. Even I agree that it is too far fetched.

Turns out the most popular theory goes back to the 17th century. In fact, to the bars of England. All beer and ale was served in pint size containers and quart size containers. While there is reference in literature to suggest that it started as a lingo with the barmen, it is not quite surely known whether it was used to warn somebody who has imbibed too much to behave himself or it was used to keep a proper tally of the alcohol consumption itself.

Well, while it is not accepted by everybody, most seem to believe that it was from the bars of the 17th century England came the saying “mind your P’s and Q’s” meaning to mind one’s manners.

Who knew?

6 June 2017

How did that come around? – To get away “scot free”

I was reading a social discourse which talked about a certain category of folks getting away “scot free”. Which got me thinking about where could this phrase possible have come from. Of course, it means to “get away without penalty or unpunished” but how do you put a Scot in that?

Some amount of research showed that actually, this has nothing to do with the Scots. Apparently, “scot” refers to taxes. Specifically, 12th century England municipal taxes. And the Anglo Saxon word was “sceot”. But there were similar words at that time – Swedish “scatt”, Danish “scat”, Icelandic “scattur” – all meaning tax. In fact as recently as in 1921, the US Senate Committee on Finance hearings transcripts read “[The common laborer]He is scot free at 40 cents an hour”.

So “scot free” meant escaping without taxation. And all of us agree taxation is an unnecessary punishment 🙂

And that is how “scot free” came around to mean “get away without penalty”.