New Word I Just Learned: Blad

“Blad” sounds like a third-rate vampire knock-off movie (either as a mix of “blood” and “Vlad” if it is a classic vampire movie –or– as a misspelling of “Blade” which is a different kind of vampire/vampire-hunter protagonist), and maybe it is, but it is also an underused publishing term.

papereen-26-1420209A “blad” is a booklet, used as an advertisement. It’s probably a mashup of the words “blurb” and “ad.” And the publishing industry uses them frequently, though you may recognize them differently in the current digital age. For instance, the “Look Inside” feature on most Amazon book listings is essentially a “blad.”

In doing my research for the word, I’ve come across another reason why “blad” should be brought back into use. It is also a bit of a play on words, because “blad” is related to the word “blade,” which is the Proto-Germanic version of “leaf”. Think about a blade of grass. Same thing. But, wait a second! What are the pages of a book called? Leaves. Thus, on a whole different level a “blad” is a subsection of a book.

So now that you know, you can help me make “blad” popular again.*

*I have no idea if it was ever a popular word. But I think it should be.


On the Origin of Egging Someone On


“Stop egging your sister on.”

It is a phrase that I’ve used as a parent, though I’ve never understood it. Is “egging” even the right word?

For the longest time, I thought that the real phrase was “agging,” which isn’t even a word, but I justified it because I thought it was somehow slang for “aggravating” or something like that. But I was woefully wrong.

The phrase really is to “egg on,” and it has nothing to do with a bird’s eggs or being on top of anything. The verb form of “egg” has the same etymological root as the word “edge.” Thus to “egg someone on” carries the same idea as “edging them onward” or leading them down a specific path. As we use it, it specifically refers to leading someone down the path of frustration.

So now I can say the phrase with confidence, even if I don’t want to say it because it means that my kids are aggravating each other. Oh well.

Word power!

On the Origin of Lunch

ducktales_lunchboxHave you ever wondered where we got the word “lunch”? Everyone seems to know that breakfast is a combination of “break” and “fast” which is the meal where you stop your overnight fast (or period of not eating). And supper and dinner are pretty easy to see as extensions of sup and dine, both of which mean to eat. But where the heck did lunch come from? Let’s trace it back.

Lunch comes from its longer form, “luncheon”. And while that makes sense, it is hardly a satisfying answer. So what is the origin of luncheon? The answer is kind of complex.

Luncheon is probably a combination of the Spanish word “lonja”–which means a slice of meat, specifically a loin–and the Middle English word “nuncheon”–which itself is a combination word of “noon” and “schench” which is an Old English word that means to drink.

So what do you get when you combine the words for drink, noon, and meat?

You get lunch! Now let’s eat!

On the Origin of Pet Peeves

pet_peeve_7Given yesterday’s airing of grievances against the world in general, I thought it might be interesting to look at where the phrase “pet peeve” comes from.

As a phrase, “pet peeve” is fairly young, dating back to the early 1900’s. The components of the phrase go back further. I won’t go into the origin of “pet” because that is a pretty common word, referring here–ironically–to something of which a person is fond. The interesting part of the phrase is the word “peeve.”

“Peeve” is related to the older word “peevish,” which dates back to the late 14th century and means “perverse, capricious, or silly.” The word itself is of an uncertain origin, but could be from the Latin perversus, which spawned the words “perverse and reversed.” The idea is there that something peevish is backward from what is normal.

It isn’t a big leap to see how something that annoys us–a pet peeve–is a perversion of how we think things should be (like being annoyed if someone puts the fork on the right instead of the left of a plate), even if those things aren’t universally recognized as perverse (like corruption and human trafficking and such).

Bonus fact: If you want an easy way to remember where the silverware goes lest you annoy someone, remember that fork and left both have 4 letters, while spoon, knife, glass and right have 5 letters. And since it gets lonely by itself, put the napkin under the fork (even if it has 6 letters and doesn’t fit the pattern).

On the Origin of Orange


Orange is my favorite color. My favorite color used to be red, but as I’ve got older, perhaps I’ve gone a bit yellow. Anyway, I like orange now.

But the weird thing about orange is that just about every other language out there calls orange by some variant of “naranja”. And that is pretty much just the word orange with an “n” slapped on the front. So why the difference? Where did the word come from? And which came first, the color or the fruit?

Looking back at the history of the word, we can see that our n-less version is newer than its forebears. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word orange dates back to the 13th century and comes from Old French. The French borrowed the word from Medieval Latin which got it from Arabic out of Persian all the way back to Sanskrit, where “naranga-s” meant an “orange tree”. Somewhere between the Latin and the French, a misunderstanding took place.

Let’s do an experiment to illustrate what happened. Say “an orange.” Now say “A norange”. It sounds the same, right? Well, someone along the line put the “n” on the wrong word and English just went with it.

So which is older, the color or the fruit? The fruit is older! We didn’t start using orange as a color word until the 1500’s, hundreds of years after the fruit was making its way around the globe. So did it exist before then? Probably. But what it was called other than orange, the world may never know.

On the Origin of Eating Crow and Humble Pie

Photo by Scott Wieman

Photo by Scott Wieman

On Monday, I mentioned that I may need to eat crow regarding something I said in an earlier blog post. After writing the phrase, I realized that although I know what it means, I don’t know why it means that.

For those who are new to American English, to “eat crow” means to humbly admit when you are wrong and accept the consequences of being so. But why crow?

Well, not that I can tell you firsthand, but apparently crow tastes disgusting. I can’t imagine that it would taste all that good given that crows are carrion birds and eat roadkill and eyeballs and other disgusting things. I suppose that crow meat is edible when boiled, but it leaves a lot to be desired on the palate. So the first possibility of why we eat crow when we are wrong is that admitting our faults is about as palatable as eating something disgusting.

There’s a story that the phrase is based on a historical incident dating back to the War of 1812, when a British soldier forced an American soldier to eat a crow that was shot on British land. Whether that is true or not, it segues nicely into the second phrase from the title: Humble Pie.

Eating crow is a specifically American phrase, but it has a British cousin. Eating “humble pie” means roughly the same things as “eating crow”, but where the American phrase is based on the literal unpleasantness of eating a carrion bird, the British phrase is built with inherent humor. You see, “humble pie” is a play on words, but to understand the joke you need to know that umbles are the undesirable leftover guts (stomach, intestines, etc.) from a deer or other hunted creature. If you think about it, umbles is pretty close to umbilical, which has to do with our stomach region, but umbles has fallen out of vogue with pop culture.

So to eat humble pie means both eating something gross like crow, but it is also a humbling experience. And now that I know the difference between these phrases, I’m going to start saying humble pie instead of crow, because even though they both taste bad, I prefer the one with comic flair.

Resolutions Break.

In case you didn’t know, it’s a new year, a new beginning. In fact, January gets its name from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions.

broken_chainIt is common at this time to celebrate with new beginnings of our own. Resolutions. Things about which to be resolute or resolved. Interestingly, the word resolve (from which resolution is derived) means to loosen or the break apart into smaller bits.

Perhaps that’s why my resolutions always end in failure. I’m loose on my commitment within weeks of making it, eventually I break off little bits of my decision until I’m back to the way things were before I made them.

That’s more or less what happened to my writing goals from the last year. So what do I do about this year? Should I not make goals since I’m already in a defeatist mindset?

Well, maybe. But I think goals are still good things to have. At the least, they help us aspire to do new things. I just need to be realistic about my expectations. After all, why make a resolution about doing something brand new when I don’t know what kind of commitment it will take? I’m better off working to improve the things that I already understand.

That’s why this year, my goal isn’t to be more organized (sorry wife and employer), or to tackle some new writing project (I’ve got plenty of old ones that need finishing before I start something new anyway). My goal this year is to be more intentional about experiencing life.

What does that mean?

Take reading for example. I read a lot of books, but I couldn’t tell you how many or which ones I ready last year. This year, I’m going to make a list to see what I’ve accomplished. I’m going to be intentional about experiencing books.

In the same way, I’d like to approach my other daily tasks and responsibilities with an attitude of awareness, not simply doing, but watching myself do. It’s what Terry Pratchett would call Second Thoughts. Most people live with First Vision, but rarely take time to reflect on what they see. Second Thoughts reflect. But since I have a terrible memory, I’ll have to rely on external methods like blogging, pictures, and journals record these reflections.

What are your thoughts on resolutions this year?

On the Origin of Dwindle


Dwindle is a great word and appropriate for the final post of the year, but it isn’t a word you would hear everyday. So for those of you who may not know it already, it means to become less, to decrease, to diminish. It speaks to a supply of something that is coming to its end.

See why it’s a good word for the end of the year? But where does it come from?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, dwindle is a “diminutive form of Middle English dwinen “waste away, fade, vanish,” from Old English dwinan, derived from dheu, which means “to die”. A bit morbid, eh?

But I like the fact that it is a diminutive form for death, because death in its full power is a frightening thing. Words like dwindle help us deal with death in bite-sized pieces. It is the dimming of the lights rather than being cast into sudden darkness.

Let’s use today to put this past year to bed. Share with someone the best and worst parts of the past year and then put those things away. After all, a new year is coming.

On the Origin of Stockings

stockingThere’s a couple of ways to go with this: the Christmas tradition and the origin of the word itself. I’ll do both.

The tradition of hanging stockings at Christmas has a few origin stories. The most popular one actually involves the historical Saint Nicholas, so we’ll go over that one first.

The story goes that Saint Nicholas happened upon a poor man with three beautiful daughters. The old man was concerned about his daughters’ welfare after he died since he was poor and couldn’t afford to marry any of them off to proper gentleman. If they couldn’t get married, they might become prostitutes. Saint Nicholas knew that the old man was too proud to accept charity, so in the cover of night, he threw three bags of gold into an open window of the poor man’s house. One of the bags of gold fell into a stocking set by the fire. In the morning, the poor man found the gold and his daughters were all able to get married.

In other regions, the stocking tradition is said to stem from Odin and the food that would be left for his 8-legged horse, Sleipnir, in the shoes of home’s occupants. Odin would take the carrots and hay and whatever and leave presents and candy in their place. But I don’t think I’d want to eat candy from a shoe that was just emptied of horse food.

So I’m going to believe that the stocking tradition came from St. Nick himself and his efforts to prevent pretty girls from becoming prostitutes, even though I’m a fan of Odin too. I’m just a sucker for a story that ends well.

But what about the origin of the word “stocking”? Where did that come from?

As it happens, we have trees to thank for stockings. The root of stocking is “stock”, which is an Old English word (stocu) for sleeve that is related to a very similar Old English word (stocc) for log or trunk. This is probably because legs look a bit like tree trunks. More so if you are an Ent from Lord of the Rings or Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. As root words go, “stock” also went on to be used in stockades, which as almost nothing to do with stockings, but now you know the connection.

So as we get closer to Christmas day, don’t forget to hang up your leg-sleeve so you can avoid a life of prostitution! Maybe you could even throw a carrot in there for good luck. If Odin’s 8-legged horse doesn’t want it, maybe Santa’s reindeer will.

Merry Christmas!