Awesome.

Image by spirit111 on Pixabay

“Awesome!” is an expression that has become widely used in response to things  or experiences that are really good and very positive and, in my opinion, has become greatly cheapened by overuse.

Dating back to the late 16th century, ‘awesome’ used to be an expression of something that generated profound reverence or fear.

This was the original sense of the word ‘awe’, which goes back to around the turn of the 13th century. It was the term used in English translations of the Bible to describe the human response to the presence of God or of angels: deep fear and worship at the same time.

The phrase “stand in awe” dates back to the early 15th century. The phrase “awe-inspiring’ was first recorded in 1814.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
Etymonline

Awesome.
#words #language #awesome

Sloth.

Sloths have become enormously popular in recent times. Cute, fluffy sloths adorn pyjamas, tee shirts, and accessories. Plush sloth toys adorn bedrooms and living rooms of kids of all ages. In this era of COVID-19, I even have a face mask with sloths on it.

Native to the rainforests of Central America and South America, they are fascinating animals. Although not conventionally attractive, we still tend to think of them as “cute”. They appear to smile all the time, and they appear to have a more relaxed attitude to life than most other animals with which we are familiar. When life is stressful and busy, being a sloth for a little while might be an attractive option.

These animals were first called sloths in the early 1600s. It came from a translation of the Portuguese word  preguiça which meant “slowness” or “slothfulness”. This, in turn, originated in the Latin word  pigritia which meant “laziness”.

Sloth is a Middle English word that evolved from an Old English word that meant “laziness” or “indolence”. The sense of meaning that relates to moving slowly or being late dates to the middle of the 14th century. The King James Bible of the early 17th century uses the word sloth as one of the seven deadly sins, being the sin of laziness .

The animal, then, took its name from the behaviour rather than the other way round.

Sources:
Etymonline
Macquarie Dictionary

Sloth.
#words #language #sloth

You Could Hear a Pin Drop: More Interesting Ways of Saying ‘Quiet’

I really enjoy the sensory richness of the imagery in this post from the – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog.

You could hear a pin drop: more interesting ways of saying ‘quiet’ – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

— Read on dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2020/11/11/you-could-hear-a-pin-drop-more-interesting-ways-of-saying-quiet/amp/

Bereavement.

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking today about different words we use to communicate to others that we are grieving. It seems to me that in the 21st century, we talk more about ‘personal loss’ and one’s ‘grief journey’ than we do about bereavement.

Bereavement, although old fashioned, is a beautiful word. To me, it evokes a sense of that sense of deprivation that remains after the immediate, more aggressive emotions of immediate have subsided, and acknowledges that phase of grieving in which deep sadness fills the space left by the person who has passed away.

‘Bereave’ is a very old word. In Middle English, the word was ‘bireven’, and before that, the Old English word was ‘bereafian’, both of which meant to deprive, to steal, or take away by violence. It shares a common Germanic root with similar words in many other old languages. Old Frisian had ‘biravia’; Old Dutch had ‘berooven’; Old Saxon had ‘biroban’; Od High German had ‘biroubon’ and Gothic had ‘biarubon’.

Today, Dutch still has ‘beroeven’ which means ‘bereavement’. German still has rauben meaning ‘to rob’ and ‘berauben’ to mean ‘deprived’.

In English, ‘bereave’ has come to refer primarily to loss of life or loved ones. It can also be used in relation to the loss of something that has immaterial value, like love or hope or joy. It has been used that way since the mid 17th century. The past tense form ‘bereaved’ applies to these senses of loss.

English also has the past tense word ‘bereft’ which is used to describe the kind of grief and sadness that comes from loss or diminution of one’s personal circumstances, such as the loss of wealth or home or possessions.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
Online Etymology Dictionary
Wordhippo

Bereaved.
#words #language #emotions

Easily Confused Words: Slither v. Sliver

I was watching a documentary with a friend on Wednesday evening. I nearly spat my drink out when I heard the presenter say, “There was just a slither of a new moon…”

I looked at my friend, only to find she was already looking at me. We were both wondering if we had misheard, but we had not.

What should have been said was, “There was just a sliver of a new moon…”

‘Sliver’ and ‘slither’ may sound similar, but they are neither homophones nor synonyms. They are very different words indeed, and therefore should not be confused.

‘Sliver’ is a noun that means a very thin slice.  There can definitely be a sliver of a new moon in the sky. One can have a sliver of chocolate, or a sliver of cake, although they may wish for more. A sliver of a chance is also likely to leave one wanting for more. A very slender piece of wood or metal – such as that created by shaving  or planing– may also be referred to as a sliver.

‘Slither’  is a verb that means to slide or to move in a squirmy way, as animals without legs do. Snakes and eels contract their muscles so they look to move sideways. So do some worms. Snails and slugs slither in a different way again, looking as though they simply contract and then stretch forward.

So, If someone claims to see a slither of a new moon, they may need to either get their eyes checked or give up drinking.

Easily Confused Words: Slither v. Sliver
#words #language #blogpost

Doomscrolling.

Image by geralt on Pixabay.

Doomscrolling is the act of continually updating and reading  one’s social media feed for the latest news on a significant event. It is closely related to doomsurfing, which is scouring the Internet for the same kind of information.

The term has been around for a few years, but found new popularity as a hashtag earlier  this year, predominantly in response to Covid-19. It is surging again on Twitter today as people try to stay updated on the results of the US election.

It may be a relatively recently coined term, but it’s fair to say the activity to which it refers has probably existed for as long as  easy access to the Internet, especially via platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, has been available.

It’s an understandable behaviour – we want to stay informed, after all. These things matter. We want to know. However, it can also be a very effective self-torture device, as it compels us to focus on what is actually causing our anxiety and distress.  It seems that the worse the news is, the more people tend to keep on watching or reading. Some people even become fixated on that event, to the exclusion of other things, no matter how sad or angry it makes them.

The term also hints at the subjectivity of the behaviour: what one interprets as ‘doom’ is likely to be the exact inverse of what another person interprets it to be. It all depends on what outcome one is hoping for whether the course of events is classified as doom or a reprieve.

A highly relevant and helpful Twitter account is Doomscrolling Reminder Lady, who repeatedly tells people to get off the internet and take care of themselves instead.

It’s good advice.

Sources:
Merriam-Webster
Doomscrolling, Explained
Urban Dictionary

Doomscrolling
#words #DoomScrolling #behavior

Eerie.

Image by Free-Photos on Pixabay.

Eerie, occasionally spelt ‘eery’, is an adjective that means creepy, spooky, weird, or unsettling. 

It is a very old word that has an interesting past. It has been part of our language since the time of Old English, but it is one of a small group of words whose meanings have actually reversed over time. 

Originally, ‘eerie’ had a meaning similar to ‘fearful’ or ‘timid’. Over time, though, it’s meaning has flipped to meaning something that induced those feelings instead. This sense of the word was first recorded in 1792, and is the meaning we still attribute to it today. 

Eerie.
#words #language #Halloween

Horripilation: Hair-Raising Stuff!

We all know what it is to have goosebumps.

It refers to the way in which the little hairs on our skin stand on end in response to certain sensations or experiences. It makes our skin tingle and can feel as though something with tiny feet is walking over our skin.

This is called goosebumps because  The term, which reflects the way in which the skin looks like the skin of plucked poultry, goes back to the mid 1800s. Earlier than that, it was referred to as goose-flesh in 1801, goose-skin in 1761, goose’s skin in 1744 and, as far back as the early 1400s, hen-flesh. 

It’s very interesting to see the evolution of the term over time, and then to see it persist for so long now because there really is no better way to describe the appearance of the skin.

Also interesting is the fact that goosebumps also has two other descriptive names: piloerection and horripilation.

Piloerection, meaning the actual standing up of the hair, comes from the same word pilus  and the Latin ‘erectio’  which  is the source of words such as ‘erect’ and ‘erection’, and beyond that needs no further explanation.Horripilation comes from the Latin word ‘horripiliatio’, from horripilāre  which means ‘bristle’. This in itself is a portmanteau of the Latin words horrere meaning ‘shudder’ and pilus meaning ‘hair’.

This makes horripilation a relative of ‘horror’ as they share the same Latin root, although ‘horror’ took another detour and came into English via the French word ‘horreur’.

To refer to something frightening or exciting as ‘hair-raising’ is, therefore, not a metaphor, but is rather a direct description of the physical effects of the experience.  We’ve got the nerdy words to prove it.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
Merriam-Webster.com
Online Etymology Dictionary

Horripilation: it’s hair-raising stuff!
#words #horror #SpookySeason

Spooky.

Spooky is a word that is fun to say, and feels good in the mouth when you say it. It is perceived as a more positive term than its synonyms, so it can be used to make scary things seem less threatening or terrifying. Perhaps that is why it’s used so much around the time of Halloween. 

Spooky is an adjective that means frightening, scary or creepy, or which is used to describe someone who is easily frightened.

The earliest written record of spooky to mean ‘frightening’ dates back to 1854, and to describe someone who was easily frightened goes back to 1926.

Spooky is derived from the Dutch word spook which is much older. It came into English from Dutch, where it had been used for centuries to mean ‘ghost’.  it shares a Germanic root with similar words in other languages: the Swedish call a scarecrow a ‘spok’, while the Norwegians cale a ghost or spectre a ‘spjok’.

The use of spook as a verb, meaning to move or act like a ghost dates to 1867, and meaning to haunt goes back to 1881, while the sense of startling or unnerving someone is first recorded in 1935. 

In the 20th century, spook took on some new meanings. During World War I, spook was used as a term for a wireless operator or signaller in the army. In the 1940s, people began to use spook as a term for a spy or undercover agent.

So, when you see or hear the word ‘spooky’, remember that it’s more than just a fun word: it also has a long and interesting history.

Sources:
Etymonline
Merriam-Webster
Macquarie Dictionary

Spooky.
#words #spooky #spookyseason

Octothorpe

Hashtag Octothorpe Drawn in sand
Image by yourschantz on Pixabay

Octothorpe is a less-well known name for that beloved symbol we call the hash symbol. It has been used for a plethora of functions for centuries, but it has really taken on new life in the 21st century with the proliferation of hashtags on social media. 

Octo comes from the Latin for eight, just as it does in words like octopus or octagon, and in October— which used to be the eighth month, but that’s another story. When you look at the hash symbol, it has eight points. That part is logical enough. 

The origin of the rest of the word is much more recent and much less clear.. 

The popular story is that it was named after Jim Thorpe, an athlete whose Olympic medals were taken from him because he had been a professional basketballer. Workers at Bell Laboratories, who happened to be fans of his, named the symbol in his honor at some point on the 1960s or 1970s. 

That’s a pretty cool story, supported by some dictionaries, but it’s not the only one. The name was almost certainly coined at Bell Laboratories, but the real story behind it is unclear. 

One theory is that it comes from a team member burping while talking about the hash symbol with his co-workers. A third theory is that it comes from an Old English word for “village.” Yet another is that the Bell Laboratories workers deliberately chose something that non-English speakers would find hard to pronounce. Of all the possible options, I really hope that wasn’t it. 

Octothorpe
#words #vocabulary #Explained

Sources: