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

What does Sombrero mean in Spanish and Where does the word “Umbrella” come from?

Like the other head coverings parasol and umbrella, sombrero is named to describe its benefit when worn. Thus this wide-brimmed hat from sunny Spain is so-called from the shade it affords its wearer, the Spanish for “shade” being sombra. Umbrella is similarly named, from the Latin umbra, “shade,” with a diminutive ending, hence, “a little … 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

Where does the word “Poppycock” come from and What does Poppycock mean in Dutch?

Now and then difficulties are presented in stating the sources and original meanings of some of our words, especially, as here, of words which through use in a different sense have become completely respectable in our language. Thus, in America, poppycock is merely an equivalent of “stuff and nonsense; bosh,” but among the Dutch ancestors … Read more

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 word “Squash” come from and What does Squash mean in Native American?

Roger Williams (he who settled Rhode Island) called squash “vine apples,” and described them as being about the size of apples, and as quite tasty. From this it can be inferred that the gourds which the Narragansett Indians called asquutasquash were a sort of melon, especially since the Indian word, literally translated, means “that which … Read more

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

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 term “Cousin-German” come from and What does Cousin German mean?

This matter of cousinship is sometimes made more complicated than it should be. German is now rarely used in such relationship, replaced by the more readily understood first or full, coming from Latin germanus, denoting such relationship. My brother’s son is my son’s cousin german, or first or full cousin. My brother’s grandson is my … Read more

Where does the expression “Dutch treat” come from and What does Dutch treat mean?

We of Pennsylvania Dutch extraction have always been of an independent spirit, unwilling to be “beholden” to anyone, and, by the same token, taking it for granted that a neighbor or companion is of the same spirit. In consequence, though far from any justifiable accusation of ungenerosity, we expect that anyone fully able to pay … Read more

Where does the word “Trespass” come from and What does Trespass mean in Latin?

The original sense was “to pass beyond or across,” and the word trespass comes to us from the Old French trespasser from the Medieval Latin transpassare, “to pass beyond.” This is made up of trans, “beyond” (which became tres in French), and passare, “to pass.” Modern French has developed a derivative meaning, “to pass away, … Read more

How did the Cranberry get its name and Where does the word “Cranberry” come from?

Most of the dictionaries agree that we Americans got the name cranberry from the Low German kraanbere, “crane berry,” from the fact that the plant flourishes in marshy lands frequented by cranes. But Dr. Mathews, in Dictionary of Americanisms, questions this assumption. The name, he points out, was used by John Eliot in Day-breaking, written … Read more

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 “Trousers” come from and What does Trousers mean in Irish?

The more recent etymology of the word trousers is fairly certain; the earlier is somewhat cloudy. The turning point comes with the medieval Irish and Scottish Gaelic triubhas, pronounced triwas. This was taken into English in the sixteenth century, and became trouse. Although the term describes the entire garment, the word has the appearance of … Read more

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

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 “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?

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?

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