Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tools of the Trade

Like most writers, I love words. I love learning about words: how they’re spelled, how they’re pronounced, what they mean and most of all, where they come from.

One of my favorite reference books is the Dictionary of Word Origins written by Joseph T. Shipley and published by the Philosophical Library in 1945. It is perhaps not the most practical book of its type for a writer of contemporary fiction, as it doesn't have words that originated in the past 60 years, and it does have some words that are not in use anymore or whose meanings have since changed. Still, I love to leaf through it and read Shipley's notes.

Here are a few cool entries (though, yes, at the time, “cool” just meant “chilly”). See if you can guess at the origins:


“Cereal” is taken from the name of the daughter of Saturn and Vesta. Ceres was the goddess of the harvest.

“Fiasco” is related to the word “flask.” When Venetian glassmakers messed up on one of their masterpieces, they would put the flawed glass aside to use to make bottles, or far fiasco. Fiasco came to represent failure.

“Muscle” is taken from the word musculum, which is the Latin diminutive of the word mus, which means … mouse! Apparently to the Romans, rippling muscles brought to mind little mice running around beneath the skin. Eww.

Do you know of any interesting word origins? Any you’d like me to look up for you? (I’ll be happy to!)


Andie K. said...

Cool! Is there an origin for the word 'wish?' My maiden name means wish, and I've always loved the word.

LindaBudz said...

Hi, Andie! Great word!

"Wish" does not appear in my book. However, I've done some searches on the net and here's what I've found:

Middle English wissh, from wisshen, to wish, from Old English wyscan. Akin to Old High German wunsken, to wish.

(Are one of those words your maiden name?)

I know that's not much help, because it doesn't really tell us where it came from ... BUT check out these links for some very cool additional info/theories:

Andie K. said...

Close, it's German - Wunsch. (although it has some sort of accent thingy - 2 dots over the U or something). It's still used in Germany today, so perhaps modern German is a bit different than Old High German.


Terrie Farley Moran said...

Hi Linda,
Just stopping by to say hello. Does your book happen to have the word "darling" in it. Thanks. Terrie

LindaBudz said...

Welcome, Terrie!

My book does list the word "darling," but oddly enough, it does not explain its origins.

Under "darling," it says: See gossip, Viking.

Weird! What could those words have to do with anything?

When you look up "gossip: and "Viking," both have very long explanations, part of which includes a note that "ling" is a diminutive term, "as in darling."

But it never defines darling!

So I did some more research on the net, and it appears that "deore" in Old English means:precious, dear. And "darling" is taken from that word.

Hope that is helpful!