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 cartoons.

On this day in 1955, Disneyland officially opened in Anaheim, California. And while I am not a fan of Disney cartoons or theme parks, there is no denying the influence that the Disney corporation has played in both media and culture. And it all started with cartoons.

But where did the word “cartoon” come from?

Well, it has French roots as “carton” or Italian roots as “cartone” and dates from the 1670’s. Originally, it referred to the “strong, heavy paper, pasteboard” that artists would use to make preliminary sketches. It wasn’t used to describe the comical drawings from newspapers and magazines that we know and love today until 1843. Of course, today, the word is synonymous with the animated variety that Walt Disney helped birth into modern culture.

So, Happy Anniversary Disneyland, and thank you 17th century paper manufacturers for giving the world cartoons.

On the Origin of Mosey


It’s been a while since I’ve done an etymology post, as I haven’t come across any words and needed to know where they came from (it’s a passing fancy, I guess). But knowing that I enjoy etymology, I decided to find a word to look up.

I settled on my last name. When people ask for my last name, I usually say, “Mosey, like to saunter or walk slowly”, since that is the meaning as used down south. It helps differentiate me from any Mosleys out there (as that is the most common misspelling of my name). But where did that “walk slowly” meaning come from?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the origin is unknown, but it is most likely related to the British dialectal “mose” which means to “go around in a dull, stupid way.”

Not very uplifting.

But it is possible that it has some Spanish origins in “Vamos”, which means “to go”. That’s a bit nicer to believe.

In any case, it isn’t like I’m going to change it now. Not legally, at least. Although, I may stop correcting people if they call me “Mosley” on accident.

On the Origin of Mortgage

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy wife and I bought our house just before the housing bubble burst. At the time, we thought we were getting a pretty good mortgage rate. Oh, those were the days.

Since then, we’ve been chipping away at the mortgage, suffering through PMI, and hoping against hope that we might qualify for some sort of refinancing miracle to bring our rates down. Now, we aren’t struggling to make ends meet or anything, but the more we can apply to the principle of our mortgage, the faster we can pay it off, and that is just good sense.

At a recent visit to the bank, we brought up the question of refinancing to the bank employee. Things still don’t look great for the miracle mortgage reduction, but the whole process got me thinking about the word “mortgage” itself.

When you trace it back to its Old French and Latin roots, mortgage is a compound word that is literally translated as “dead pledge”. The pledge part is understandable in reference to the modern use of the word. When we take a mortgage out from a bank, we are pledging, or promising, to pay the money back to the bank. So where does the dead part come in?

Simply stated, if you die before paying off your debt, the bank retains full ownership of the property. And if you pay off your debt to the bank, the debt is considered dead. Either way, something dies.

Just like I did a little inside when I heard what our house is currently worth according to the bank’s estimates.

On the Origin of Worry

One of the things that I love about reading is coming across a familiar word that is used in an unfamiliar way. When I hear the word “worry”, I usually think of anxiety, but every so often I read it as an active verb, as in, “The dog worried the rabbit.”

In the case of the dog worrying the rabbit, I am sure that the rabbit was anxious, but that isn’t what the writer was saying. When a dog worries a rabbit, the rabbit dies. The history of the word that we associate with anxiety is rooted in the Old English word “wyrgen” which means to strangle.

Isn’t it interesting that we adapted the word for strangulation to mean how we feel when things aren’t going well?

Knowing the origin, it’s kind of creepy that Mr. Worry is blue.

Are you worried about things in your life? Does it feel like you are being strangled by circumstances, by relationships, by work, or even by your hobbies (like writing)? Maybe it is time to look at these things and start prying their fingers off your throat. Learn some balance and breathe easier.

After all, either meaning of worry will likely lead to an early death.

The Origin of Bah Humbug!

scroogebluray1It’s Christmas time, and that makes everyone happy… well, everyone except the Scrooges among us. And when one of those Scrooges says “Bah Humbug!” to you, don’t you wonder what they are really saying? Well, have no fear. We’ll dive in to this question together. (Yesterday’s usage of the phrase was in reference to the text adventure game by the name of Humbug. We’re talking about something a bit older here.)

Everyone knows the line. Ebenezer Scrooge made it famous. But “Bah Humbug!” existed before Dickens. According to the 1911 Classic Encyclopedia, based on the 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the term dates back to the mid-1700s:

According to the New English Dictionary, Ferdinando Killigrew’s The Universal Jester, which contains the word in its sub-title “a choice collection of many conceits … bonmots and humbugs,” was published in 1754, not, as is often stated, in 1735-1740. The principal passage in reference to the introduction of the word occurs in The Student, 1750-1751, ii. 41, where it is called “a word very much in vogue with the people of taste and fashion.”

But even then, the origin is unclear. It had apparently been popular already and was synonymous with a hoax or a sham. The Encyclopedia goes on to say:

The origin appears to have been unknown at that date. Skeat connects it (Etym. Diet. 1898) with “hum,” to murmur applause, hence flatter, trick, cajole, and “bug,” bogey, spectre, the word thus meaning a false alarm. Many fanciful conjectures have been made, e.g. from Irish uim-bog, soft copper, worthless as opposed to sterling money; from “Hamburg,” as the centre from which false coins came into England during the Napoleonic wars; and from the Italian uomo bugiardo, lying man.

And so there are many possibilities on where the phrase came from, but each points back to a meaning of deception. Which makes sense in the way that Scrooge used it in A Christmas Carol, as he thought that Christmas itself was a hoax or deception. In fact, this is not the only literary use of the phrase, as the venerable Wizard of Oz declares himself to be “just a humbug.”

So now you know. Though there are many possible sources for this phrase that was “very much in vogue with the people of taste and fashion”, there was only one primary meaning. And through time and many versions of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, many have forgotten that the phrase meant anything at all, simply associating it was a bad attitude about Christmas. But not you. You know the truth.

So the next time some Scrooge says “Bah Humbug!” to you, just smile and tell them that Christmas is no hoax.