Where does the term “Brand new” come from and What does span-new mean?

where does the term brand new come from and what does span new mean

This concept of absolute, perfect newness is very old in itself, dating back past medieval English to the Old Norse, in which its form was span-nyr, from spann, “a chip,” plus nyr, “new.” The allusion is to the newness of a chip freshly cut by the woodsman’s ax. Variants such as spang-new, spanking new, etc., … Read more

Where does the word “Sojourner” come from and What does Sojourner mean?

where does the word sojourner come from and what does sojourner mean

The verb sojourn comes to us from the French sojorner, which, with the related Italian soggiornare, has been traced to the Popular Latin subdiurnare, compounded from sub, “under,” and diurnus, “day-long” (from dies, “day”). Thus the original sense was applied to some event lasting for less than a day, especially a short visit. The sense … Read more

Where does the word “Buckram” come from and What does Buckram mean?

where does the word buckram come from and what does buckram mean

Despite the appearance of a compound word, the word buckram is wholly unrelated to either buck or ram. In fact, though it has counterparts in other European languages, its ultimate source is unknown. The fabric itself was originally of fine linen or cotton, costly and delicate. Such was its nature through the Middle Ages. But … Read more

Where do Graham Bread, Graham Crackers, and Graham Flour Come From?

where do graham bread graham crackers and graham flour come from scaled

We take our food fads very seriously in this country, and some continue for many years. Along about 1830, a young Presbyterian minister, Sylvester Graham (1794-1851), an ardent temperance advocate, got the notion that if one lived wholly on a vegetable diet he would have no interest in any alcoholic beverage. Graham boardinghouses sprang up … Read more

Where does the word “Quicklime” come from and What does Quicklime mean?

where does the word quicklime come from and what does quicklime mean

Here, quick has its original sense of living, and the popular term quicklime for this substance is a direct translation of the Latin calx viva, “living lime,” as taken through the French chaux vive. To the chemist, quicklime is calcium oxide, and it was called “living” by virtue of its intensely vigorous reaction when brought … Read more

Where does the word “Polliwog” come from and What does Polliwog mean?

where does the word polliwog come from and what does polliwog mean

If we called the polliwog (immature amphibian) a polwygle as our English forebears did five centuries ago, the source of the name might be more easily identified. That is, poll, “head,” and wygle, which we now spell wiggle, a “wigglehead.” Tadpole (which see) is the usual name in England; in America we use one or … Read more

Where does the word “Assassin” come from and What does Assassin mean?

where does the word assassin come from and what does assassin mean

In today’s underworld slang, an assassin would be a gangster, a gunman, a gorilla, a trigger boy, or, from the murderous qualities ascribed to the tribe, an Apache. But the old term, dating to a band of Saracens in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, came from the practice by the members to dope themselves heavily … Read more

Where does the word “Soupcon” come from and What does Soupcon mean?

where does the word soupcon come from and what does soupcon mean scaled

Coming to us directly from the French, in which it has the same meaning, “a trifle,” the word soupcon has gone through several spellings as the French language itself was evolved. It stems from the Late Latin suspectio, which comes, in turn, from the Latin suspicio, “a suspicion.” A soupcon, therefore, is a quantity so … Read more

Where does the word “Stockade” come from and What does Stockade mean?

where does the word stockade come from and what does stockade mean scaled

One of those curious words which have entered English with both Romance and Teutonic backgrounds, stockade comes to us through the French estacade from the Spanish estacada, “a fortification consisting of a row of stakes.” But estacada is from estaca, “a stake,” which is derived from the Teutonic root stak-, a variant of the verb … Read more

Where does the word “Quatchgrass” come from and What does Quatchgrass mean?

Quatchgrass is a variant form, of minor importance, of the common name for various grasses, especially Agropyron repens. This is only one of several onomatopoetic names for the same thing. Others include couchgrass, quitchgrass, quackgrass, and twitchgrass, or just couch or quitch. This last is the oldest known form, and it seems to be related … Read more

How did the Atlas get its name and Where does the word Atlas come from?

how did the atlas get its name and where does the word atlas come from scaled

Greek mythology tells us of a terrific struggle between the gods and the rebellious Titans, a race of giants, led by the powerful Atlas. When defeated, Atlas was compelled in punishment to bear the heavens upon his shoulders through all eternity. Ancient artists pictured him as supporting an enormous globe, and a copy of such … Read more

Where does the word “Honeymoon” come from and What does Honeymoon mean?

where does the word honeymoon come from and what does honeymoon mean

The definition of the word honeymoon in an old dictionary, Blount’s Glossographia (1656), on our shelves delights us: “Hony-moon, applyed to those marryed persons that love well at first, and decline in affections afterwards; it is hony now, but will change as the moon.” Thomas Blount, however, merely paraphrased the definition in Richard Huloet’s Abecedarium, … Read more

Where does the term “Cracker” come from and What does Cracker mean?

where does the term cracker come from and what does cracker mean

The term cracker is now used with pride by native whites of Florida as a distinction from the influx of residents from other states, but also applied in other Southern states to ignorant, shiftless white people, commonly called “poor whites.” Among various explanations, one often recurring is that the term originated from the “cracker” or … Read more

Where does the word “Avoirdupois” come from and What does Avoirdupois mean?

where does the word avoirdupois come from and what does avoirdupois mean scaled

The Oxford English Dictionary calls the word avoirdupois “a recent corrupt spelling,” and adds: “The best modern spelling is the 17th century averdepois; in any case de ought to be restored for du, introduced by some ignorant ‘improver’ c 1640-1650.” The term was borrowed from France about the year 1300. Though its literal meaning was … Read more

Where does the word “Spindrift” come from and What does Spindrift mean?

where does the word spindrift come from and what does spindrift mean

Years ago, the verb spoon had a now obsolete meaning, “to run before the wind, to scud.” The origin of this sense is not known, but the similarity in sound to spume (from the Latin spuma, “foam”) led to an alternate spelling, spoom. Then, through some confused process of reasoning quite difficult to reconstruct, the … Read more

Where does the term “Pot Cheese” come from and What does Pot Cheese mean?

where does the term pot cheese come from and what does pot cheese mean

Now we call it “cottage cheese,” probably because the old-fashioned names, pot cheese, bonnyclabber, and smearcase (which comes to us from the German Schmierktise, “spreading cheese”), are no longer sufficiently elite for the modern dining room. But in grandmother’s time the curds were separated from the water by heating the coagulated milk in a pot. … Read more

Where does the word “Turncoat” come from and What does Turncoat mean?

where does the word turncoat come from and what does turncoat mean

In medieval times, the retainers and servants of any given nobleman were clothed in livery of distinctive color and design for easy recognition. If, as might happen under the stress of war or of sharp political differences, it became expedient that a man not be recognized as associated with another, it was a simple matter … Read more

Where does the word “Cowslip” come from and What does Cowslip mean?

where does the word cowslip come from and what does cowslip mean

Sorry, but the name of the cowslip plant has nothing to do with the lip of the cow. The English wildflower, the primrose or Primula veris, to which the American plant is allied, commonly grows in cow pastures, and the name pertains to the slip, anciently slyppe, “dung,” among which the plant flourishes.

Where does the word “Doughboy” come from and What does Doughboy mean?

where does the word doughboy come from and what does doughboy mean

In her book, Tenting on the Plains (1887), Elizabeth Custer, wife of the General, says, “A doughboy is a small, round doughnut served to sailors on shipboard, generally with hash. Early in the Civil War the term was applied to the large globular brass buttons on the infantry uniform, from which it passed, by natural … Read more

Where does the term “Firedog” come from and What does Firedog mean?

where does the term firedog come from and what does firedog mean scaled

No fireplace has less than two, one firedog on either side for supporting logs or grate. But today, possibly because the name sounds more highfalutin, we speak of them as andirons. Formerly, however, the dogs, as they were then called, were of utilitarian iron, serving as supports, and the andirons, in households that afforded them, … Read more

Where does the word “Stucco” come from and What does Stucco mean in Italian?

where does the word stucco come from and what does stucco mean in italian scaled

Taken into English directly from the Italian, without change of spelling or meaning, the word stucco seems originally to have come from a Teutonic rather than a Romance background. Specifically, the Italians apparently adopted the Old High German stucchi or stukki, one of the meanings of which was “crust,” although the more common meaning was … Read more

Where does the word “Hodgepodge” come from and What does Hodgepodge mean?

where does the word hodgepodge come from and what does hodgepodge mean

Although originally a corruption of hotch-potch, taking over most of the sense of the older term, the word hodgepodge became the more common form from the seventeenth century onward, probably because hotch was assumed to be an altered form of the proper name Hodge, nickname for Roger. But hotch-potch was itself a rhyming corruption of … Read more

Where does the word “Kaleyard” come from and What does Kailyard mean?

where does the word kaleyard come from and what does kailyard mean

It is likely that few of the so-styled literati who speak with authority are aware of the fact that a kaleyard (also spelled kailyard) is nothing more nor less than a cabbage patch or kitchen garden. The Scottish authors, Barrie, “Ian Maclaren” (John Watson), S. R. Crockett, and others, who wrote, a half century ago, … Read more

Where does the word “Tycoon” come from and What does Tycoon mean in Chinese?

where does the word tycoon come from and what does tycoon mean in chinese

Commodore Perry’s expedition of 1852-54, which played so great a part in bringing Japan into the fellowship of the world’s nations, brought back with it the Japanese word taikun, “great prince,” the descriptive title of the army’s commander-in-chief, whose military title was shogun. Upon being taken into American English, the word was respelled phonetically, becoming … Read more

Where does the word “Roorback” come from and What does Roorback mean?

where does the word roorback come from and what does roorback mean

Political campaigns have rarely been entirely free of invective and diatribe regarding the candidates for office, and the presidential campaign of 1844 was no exception. Widespread publicity was given by those opposing the election of James Polk to a purported book by a mythical Baron von Roorback (sometimes Roorbach), in which certain unsavory practices involving … Read more

Where does the phrase “aide-de-camp” come from and What does aide de camp mean?

where does the phrase aide de camp come from and what does aide de camp mean

Without by-your-leave or even the courtesy of an attempt to observe the original pronunciation, we “borrowed” the phrase aide-de-camp from the French. Literally it means “an assistant of the field”. Hence, one upon whom a general officer relies, on the field of battle, to receive and transmit orders. However, the duties of such a confidential … Read more

Where does the word “Madstone” come from and What does Madstone mean?

where does the word madstone come from and what does madstone mean

The New Orleans Times-Picayune Magazine of June 19, 1949, as quoted by Dictionary of Americanisms, reported a statement to the effect that there had been an estimated “4000 actual cases in which the application of the Mad Stone brought about instant relief and final cure of snake bites, black widow spider stings, bee stings, and … Read more

Where does the term “Sack Coat” come from and What does Sack Coat mean?

where does the term sack coat come from and what does sack coat mean

A sack coat is not (or at least, is hardly ever) made of sackcloth, but, because it is a loosely fitting garment, hanging straight from the shoulders, is so-called simply because it gives the impression of having been fashioned from a sack. Sackcloth is just that, a coarsely woven cloth from which sacks are made.