Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “word meaning”

Word Nerd Confessions: May


It is the month of Maying. Flowers blooming, warm weather, longer days, one month until summer break. Yes, there is much to like about May. Since May is full of color, warmth, and anticipatory of summer, I thought a smorgasbord of words would be appreciated for this month’s Word Nerd Confessions:

1. ergate: worker ant

2. dorp: village

3. paladin: defender of a noble cause

4. kibitzer: giver of unwanted advice

5. ululate: to complain loudly; to howl as a dog might

6. banausic: to serve a mechanical or practical purpose only

7. incogitant: thoughtless; inconsiderate

8. antinome: something that is contradictory

9.polyhistor: someone of great and varied learning

10. tittle: a small mark in punctuation as in the dot over the “i”

11. aggiornamento: bringing something up to date for current needs

12. thimblerig: the sleight of hand game to fool someone as in the pea under the cups

13. nocent: harmful; injurious

14. cruciverbalist: a designer or aficionado of crossword puzzles

15. hypogeal: underground; subterranean

 

What three words caught your fancy this month?
I’m partial to antinome. I’m gonna throw that one at Mike during a Debatable. Ssh, don’t tell him. Nocent and paladin could also be appropriate for a Debatable.

What two words did you not realize that there existed such a word of explanation?
Didn’t know a cruciverbalist is what you call people who create crossword puzzles. I just thought they had more time and talent than me. Worker ants are ergates–I had no idea.

Image result for worker ant

What word do you simply like because of the way it sounds?
Tittle, of course. It tickles the tongue and makes me want to laugh. That little dot is a tittle. Tee hee.

Why We Say: Old Words, New Meaning


Immersed in the study of Hamlet, I currently have to pause in our scrutiny of the emo Dane to explain an old word that Shakespeare uses that now has new context. Elizabethan slang is a study in itself. “Get thee to a nunnery” and “You are a fishmonger” as well as “Are you honest?” have a subtext if their own.

Moving to the present–

There are some words that used to mean one thing, however, due to current usage have evolved differently in connotation and denotation. These are standouts from an article by the Mirror:

ADDICT

In Roman times addicts were broke folk given as slaves to the people they owed money to. 

It comes from the Latin addictus, which meant “a debtor awarded as a slave to his creditor”.

In the 1600s it was used in the sense of giving yourself to someone or some practice.

AWFUL

In the 1300s it originally meant “inspiring wonder” and was a short version of “full of awe”. But now the word has purely negative connotations.

BROADCAST

It may now be the way the BBC spreads the news, but in 1767 “broadcast” meant sowing seeds with a sweeping movement of the hand or a “broad cast”. Its media use began with radio in 1922.

CUTE

Cute was a shortened form of acute, meaning “keenly perceptive and shrewd” in the 1730s. 

But by the 1830s it was part of American student slang, meaning “pretty, charming and dainty”. 

And, bizarrely, the original sense of “dainty” was “worthy and substantial”.

FANTASTIC

If you’re thinking of telling your beloved how fantastic they look today, think again.

Unless, that is, they look like a Hobbit or an Avatar (whatever floats your boat).

The 14th century meaning is “existing only in imagination”, from the old French term “fantastique”.

It was not until 1938 that the word was first used to mean “wonderful or marvelous”.

MATRIX

You may be thinking of Keanu Reeves in his 1999 hit sci-fi movie. But in reality “matrix” comes from the 14th century French word meaning “pregnant animal”.

It went on to mean “womb or source”. Eventually in 1555 it was adapted to mean “a place where something is developed”.

NERVOUS

In the 1400s a nervous person was actually “sinewy and vigorous” – as the Latin word nervus applied to both sinews and nerves.

By 1665 nerves were better understood and by 1734 the term meant “suffering a disorder of the nervous system”.

By 1740 it meant “restless, agitated, lacking nerve” and it then became a widespread euphemism for mental illness – forcing the medical community to coin “neurological” to replace it in the older sense.

“Nervous wreck” was first used in 1899.

NICE

Derived from the Latin nescius meaning “ignorant”, the word began life in the 14th century as a term for “foolish” or “silly”.

It soon embraced bad qualities, such as wantonness, extravagance, cowardice and sloth.

In the Middle Ages it took on the more neutral attributes of shyness and reserve.

Society’s admiration of such qualities in the 18th century brought on the more positively charged meanings of “nice” we know today.

I won’t even address how “literally” is so wrongly used today. Some pet peeves are best kept quiet.

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