Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tools of the Trade: Another I-Never-Quite-Knew-What-That-Word-Meant Edition

It's been too long since I've done a Tools of the Trade post, but today I'll make up for lost time with a Super-Sized Edition featuring not three ... not four ... but five (yes, count 'em, five) word origins!

But, that's not all! This special edition examines not only the origins of the five selected words, but also their definitions. That's right! Two lessons in one!

And so, without further ado, I present this week's words:


Courtesy of the Online Etymology Dictionary, and Merriam-Webster's Online, we discover the following:

Gainsay dates back to the 1300s and means "to contradict," or literally, to "say against," based on the Old English gegn- meaning "against." Apparently "gain" was once a common prefix, used in now-obsolete words such as gain-taking, "taking back again"; gainclap, "a counterstroke"; gainbuy, "redeem"; and gainstand, "to oppose."

Gainsay is the only surviving example of this prefix. As such, I am hereby lauching a campaign to promote its widespread usage to preserve gain's place in the English language. Unfortunately, my campaign stalled two seconds after I typed that last sentence, when my husband challenged me to use "gainsay" in a sentence and I could not think of a single way to use it. Well, except in that last sentence. It's a start. (Anyone? Anyone? Please leave your examples in the comments section so we can all begin using "gainsay" in casual conversation.)

In a hard-fought game of Cranium Wow! over the holidays, my husband and I (who did not win but who did not come in last either, ahem), were asked to define toothsome. This was a multiple-choice question, and we had it narrowed down to two choices ("attractive" or "having many teeth.") We picked the wrong one. [Slaps forehead.] As most of you probably already know, it means "attractive." Or, to be more specific, it means (1) pleasing to the taste; palatable; (2) pleasing or desirable, as fame or power; and (3) voluptuous; sexually alluring.

Dating back to 1551, It is taken from tooth (which evolved from the Middle English toth) and some. The origins are fascinating, no? No. Nor were they helpful to me in explaining why "toothsome" should mean "attractive." That is, until I looked further into the meaning of those two words. Turns out "some" is often used to create adjectives from nouns, as in "burdensome," "meddlesome" and "troublesome." And "tooth" ... if you dig way down to meaning #8 in the dictionary, can mean "taste, relish, or liking." Aha!

On his blog this week, my husband used the word anomie in describing himself. Having never encountered this word before and being eternally curious about my husband's self-image, I wasted no time looking this up. Dating to 1591, it is a French word meaning "absence of accepted social values." Its origins are the Greek a-, "without" and nomos, "law." Um. Yep, that's him.

Of the five words featured in this post, nonplussed is the only one I already knew, however tentatively. But the question of its meaning came up during a family gathering on Christmas Day, and it turned out I was the only one who knew its correct meaning (however tentatively). The noun "nonplus" dates back to 1582 and means "a state where nothing more can be done or said," from the Latin non plus, which means "no more, no further." The verb form dates back to 1591 and means "to bring to a nonplus, to perplex." Nonplussed? Me too.

Last and (IMO) least, is hebdomadally. Least because I can't imagine anyone ever using this word. But it came up in a crossword this week, and it stumped me. So, should you ever encounter hebdomadally in a crossword or perhaps at level 50 on the Free Rice site or while competing in Jeopardy, please be advised that it means "weekly." It hails from the Latin hebdomas, hebdomad-, the number seven, and from the Greek, hebdomos, seventh, related to hepta, seven.

One fun footnote: My research this time around brought me to a very cool discovery: Folk-Etymology: A Dictionary of Verbal Corruptions Or Words Perverted in Form or Meaning, by False Derivation or Mistaken Analogy, edited by the Rev. A. Smythe Palmer and published in 1882. A mixed blessing, as it turns out, because further research revealed that the best price available for it on Amazon is $60. So, I’ll have to live knowing there are at least seven copies of Palmer’s book out there that I can’t afford. Sigh.


Danette Haworth said...

I love this post!

Man1:You, sir, are an imbecile.
Man 2:I gainsay.

Toothsome: Donny.

hebdomadally--sounds like abdominal, like it's referring to a nearby area.

LindaBudz said...

Thanks, Danette! I actually get that "imbecile" comment every now and again, so that'll come in handy! :)

And Donny ... Osmond, I presume?

Re: hebdomadally ... I was thinking the accent would be on the "ad" part ... but I just checked it out and you are right, it is on the "dom" part!

AnWulf said...

Benote gainsay? Eath!

Luke 21:15 KJV
For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist .

"Even a sceptic (sic) can't gainsay the populist power of their hearty, outdoorsy singalongs, suggesting by turns a folk Coldplay and an Ocado Levellers."

Now for gainclap, I'll hav to make one unless yu can read Middle English writing ... Patton's gainclap against the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge crushed their offensive.

LindaBudz said...

Thank you, AnWulf, for visiting my moribund (another great word) blog and for your contributions to my "gainsay" campaign. Please, carry on!