Monthly gleanings for June 2021: bric-a-brac

Two birds (no stones): litorne and sparrow

In one of the comments on the etymology of litorne (23 June 2021), one reader took issue with my “dismissive demolition” from other points of view. Disdain is not one of my vices (decades of research teaches modesty), and being able to reject a bad solution makes it neither overdone nor sufficient. For example, I refuse to accept the idea suggested in the comment that –rate in litorne means “food”. Although in its present form litorne appeared only in the Middle Ages, its ancestor was known around the year 1100, while rate “Food” appeared much later. Rate means “passage”; hence the later meaning of “the food necessary to travel”. I cannot find a single bird in any European language in whose name, old or new, a similar idea is present. Litorne for the “food of the fields” seems improbable. Also, while proposing an etymology, it is recommended to explain why the previous assumptions are false.

The original meaning of sparrow has been the subject of extensive research. From classical Greek several words have come down to us: separation, sporgilos, and (s) pergoulos. They resemble the name of the sparrow in languages ​​all over Eurasia, with or without m- at the beginning (latin parra, Gothic sparwa, And so on). Maybe the word meant ‘hopper’ (if it does, then the English verb despise can be linked: its current meaning “reject” developed from the concrete meaning “trample”). Everything else is just guesswork. (Even, when it is a pair such as German Sperling and Spatz, which both mean “sparrow”, it is not clear that they are related. (Russian vorobeI is just as difficult.)


A common bird with an unusual etymology. (Image by David Friel via Wikimedia Commons)

This is one of the few words that I will not say: “of disputed origin”. Math (here) has the same unproductive suffix as in lengthe, breade, widthe, strengthe, hote, and in slow motione. In afternoone, the root is a noun related to the verb mow “cut the grass”. From where consequences “A second crop of grass (the grass that grew after the first mowing)”; see the photo at the top of the post. The figurative sense has almost supplanted the direct sense; therefore, the etymology of this word is no longer clear to modern speakers.

Heifer and beyond

The post on heifer (June 16, 2021) was no. 800 in this blog. Several readers have sent me their greetings on the occasion of this “anniversary”. My sincere thanks to them and to everyone who paid attention to “The Oxford Etymologist”. And I’m not at all surprised that mean ended up with a bad accent in this post. Mean is one of the first French words I learned in my life, but the words tend to live up to their etymology and meaning (it’s a law of my own discovery). How could such an adjective surface without a typo?

From my archives

I have a significant amount of quotes from newspapers and books, some of which may be of interest to our readers.

Popular etymology: the adjective sarcastic

Sneaky but usable clothes. (Image by Bbensmith via Wikimedia Commons)

Oddly, almost nothing is known about the origin of this relatively late Americanism, but since a sneaky remark (for example) is a “sharp” remark, there may (must?) Be some connection to the root of words such as Dutch. snijden or german schneiden “cut.” This is what I read in American Notes and Queries, Flight. 4, for April 12, 1890. Someone asked the editor about the etymology of sarcastic defined in the letter as “difficult, worthless, etc. “Here is the answer:” I am told that men born in New York can remember in their childhood a custom that all tailors were called ‘Schneiders’ by the boys on the street, “says NY Sun.” De there was born the abbreviated word sarcastic, which initially applied only to inexpensive or mediocre clothing, such as those made by German tailors in small shops in side streets. Now the word applies to anything bad, poor, or fraudulent. If you have a better guess or know the origin of the sentence zoot costume, please share your information with me.

What is good English?

T. Adolphus Trollope, 1810-1892, a prolific novelist and follower of Beautiful English. (Image by Harper and his brothers via Wikimedia Commons)

This is a message from T. Adolphus Trollope, one of the most popular writers of his time. It appeared on October 29, 1892, three or four weeks before his death (Notes and queries, 8e Series, vol. II, p. 357):

“In times less vulgar than these ‘end of centuryAt the time, English custom sanctioned the modes of speech that writers, recognized as good writers, and educated people used. And the neologisms became acclimatized and sanctioned slowly. Nowadays the process is much faster. A fool with a very limited vocabulary at his disposal hears a word or a combination of words – perhaps a happy and suggestive word, but most likely an extremely stupid and agrammatically constructed word – which is new to him, and he immediately grabs it with pleasure and adds to her meager store. Seven other fools worse than him hear it, and each appropriates it and is in turn imitated, each by seven other spirits of its kind. A journalist, writing hastily, picks it up. Others plagiarize “happy thinking”. And voila. English custom sanctifies the use of the most recent expression. So not only do the words change, but in some cases they completely lose their meaning.

It is indeed disdain (and I hope the emphasis in century is correct). For decades I have told my students (and I wrote once in this blog and I was even praised for that feeling) that the history of the language is an extremely interesting subject but that nothing is wrong. is sadder than being part of it.

Some things that Trollope would probably have winced at

The said s possessive is natural when used with names (Tom’s, Dick’s, Harry’s, etc.). We often see it elsewhere (the destruction of the city, the country’s progress, etc.), but here are two examples: “the lack of english of a gender neutral pronoun in the third person singular is a centuries-old problem ”(du NY Times Book Review, February 2, 2020, p.12). “Investigators… were on the scene until Tuesday afternoon, but had not yet determined the origin of the fire or cause ”(of the Minneapolis Star Tribune). the lack of english, the origin of the fire… Isn’t this use strange? (On the other hand, the abuse of the apostrophe has been ridiculed more than once. I, for example, was delighted to read a recent letter from a person in high office who sent his greetings to all daddy.)

A long time ago, I wrote in this blog that, if I am not mistaken, the split infinitive of the do not do the type is South Americanism, as Huck Finn says it six times; it only uses this construction once with always. No one has commented on my hypothesis, and no one has explained why this type of cleavage has suddenly become ubiquitous. It is even difficult to understand why some speakers go to such lengths to make their message incomprehensible. “Our process calls for this type of message to send only by email “;” I promised write only one email per day. Any ideas on the subject?

You may have applied for a grant and your application was rejected. Find solace in the following note: “When in January 1932, Dr. Grant, editor of the Scottish National Dictionary, applied for financial help in his excellent work at around 270 Burns Clubs, he received a donation of £ 1.

Next week I’ll write on the word tag (as promised).

Feature image: UGA CAES / Extension via Flickr

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