Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Word Wednesday

For the word nerds . . . 


What came first: the chicken or the egg? The word or the elephant? 

The word “jumbo”, meaning big, was certainly popularised by an elephant. The elephant that came to be called Jumbo had been captured as a calf in Africa in about 1860 and sold to a French botanical garden. In 1865 Jumbo was sold to the London Zoo and became a major attraction, especially because of his massive size and gentle temperament, growing to become one of the largest elephants ever. In 1882, to the consternation of the English public (including Queen Victoria, who petitioned for him to remain in London), Jumbo was sold to P T Barnum’s Circus. As in England, Jumbo became a major attraction in the US but was killed 3 years later when hit by a train. Barnum had Jumbo’s remains preserved and continued displaying them.

After Jumbo’s death, his name became synonymous with anything huge.

The word was already in existence by the time that Jumbo was captured in Africa. As early as 1823 the word was recorded in print as a slang term meaning “a big, clumsy person, animal or thing.” It has been suggested that this originated from a word for "elephant" in a West African language or possibly that it derived from “mumbo jumbo”, an African deity.

Jumbo with his keeper, 1882.


The word “mortgage” derives from the words “mort”, meaning death, and “gage”, meaning pledge. Dating from the late 14th century, it reefers not to the death of the borrower but to the pledge: ithe debt becomes void or ‘dead’ when the pledge is redeemed, or, if the mortgagor fails to repay the loan, the property pledged as security is lost, or becomes ‘dead,’ to him or her.



Nothing to do with horses.

The word "nightmare" derived from the Old English "mare", a mythological demon or goblin who torments others with frightening dreams. Subsequently, the prefix "night-" was added to stress the dream aspect. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of “nightmare” in English to around 1300, as “a female spirit or monster supposed to settle on and produce a feeling of suffocation in a sleeping person or animal.” A “nightmare” came to mean any bad dream, whether accompanied by that suffocating feeling or not. The word "nightmare" is equivalent to the older Dutch term nachtmerrie and German Nachtmahr. 

Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781


The word 'addict' evolves from the Latin word addictus, meaning to 'devote or surrender'. In ancient Rome being “addict”— originally an adjective—meant being forced by a judge to be a servant or slave, often because of debt. From there, “to addict” started meaning to voluntarily “bind or attach oneself to a person, party, or cause; to devote oneself to as a servant, adherent, or disciple.” The meaning of “addiction” then grew to mean a zealous, disciple-like devotion. There is also a suggested derivation that Roman soldiers were given slaves as a reward for their fine performances in battles. These slaves we known as 'addicts'. Eventually persons who were slaves to anything were called "addicts".

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.