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 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!

On the Origin of Tenterhooks

I’m waiting for a response from a publisher regarding a piece of flash fiction. I sent it in last Friday and I STILL haven’t received an answer. Can you believe it?

Okay, I can believe it too. These things take time. Like, a lot of time. It could be weeks, months, or never before I hear from a publisher regarding a submission.

The truth is that I hate waiting. Patience has never been my strong suit. And as I sit here clicking refresh on my email browser window, I’m reminded of the phrase, being “on tenterhooks”.

A lot of people say it wrong as “on tenderhooks”, but that isn’t a thing. So let’s look at the origin of the tenterhook.

Stretching a wet kersey on the tenter. Illustration by Harold Blackburn in 'Colne Valley Cloth' by Phyllis Bentley, published in 1947 by The Hudderfield and District Woollen Export Group

Stretching a wet kersey on the tenter. Illustration by Harold Blackburn in ‘Colne Valley Cloth’ by Phyllis Bentley, published in 1947 by The Hudderfield and District Woollen Export Group

Back in the day when clothes were made down the street instead of on the other side of the Earth, words like “tenter” and “tenterhooks” were commonplace. If you’ve ever washed a new sweater in hot water and dried it on high heat (I owe my wife probably four sweaters because I’ve done this to her stuff), then you know that some clothes shrink.

Tenterhooks were the hooks that stretched cloth over “tenters”, or frames designed for drying cloth. In fact, the word “tenter” comes from the Latin tendere, meaning “to stretch”. So to be “on tenterhooks” means to be stretched uncomfortably as you wait to dry.

Now you know. It doesn’t make the waiting any easier or more comfortable, but learning new things helps distract me from the fact that the publisher still hasn’t emailed me, even though it took me all that time to research and write this up. I guess I need more time in sun to dry out.

Where I did my research:

On the Origin of Clumsy


There are a few things that I know frustrate my wife:

  • When the kids refuse to go to sleep.
  • When the dog barks for no reason.
  • When she drops things and they break.

That last one predates the kids and the dog, and whenever it happens, she asks “Why do I have to be so clumsy?”

“Mistakes happen,” I say. “You aren’t clumsy.”

“Stop trying to make me feel better,” she says. “You aren’t the one who just shattered a glass on the floor.”

“Fair enough,” I say.

Anyway, “clumsy” is a pretty interesting word, and I was curious about its origin. So I looked it up.

According to here, it dates back to late 1500’s Middle-English as another form of “clumsid”, or “acting as if benumbed/numb with cold”.

This is a great word because that’s exactly what it is like to be clumsy. When your hands are so cold that you can’t hold on to something, or when your foot is asleep and you try to walk on it anyway, you are literally being clumsy.

So the next time my wife accidentally drops something, I’m going to take her hands (which are always freezing cold) and hold them in mine until the clumsiness passes. Also, I just really like holding her hands. She’s super awesome.

On the Origin of Dawdling

Photo by Scott Wieman

Photo by Scott Wieman

Confession time. There are times when my eldest daughter drives me a bit crazy. If this makes me a bad parent, then I have a feeling that the world is filled with bad parents. Not that everyone is annoyed with my eldest daughter (at least, I hope not). But kids have a tendency to know just how to push their parents’ buttons.

With my eldest daughter, it is her dawdling.

It’s true. She’s a dawdler. Anything she can do slowly in order to put off something that she doesn’t want to do, she does as slow as possible. Admittedly, the reason this probably annoys me so much is because it is a trait within myself that I dislike, but that’s (slightly) beside the point.

In recent conversations with various family members, I’ve discovered that the word “dawdle” is semi-archaic. And though it is a perfectly apt word, it is one that is not much used in today’s parlance.

That got me curious about the word’s origin. What I found out was pretty interesting.

Dawdling is for the birds. Well, one bird specifically: the daw, also known as the jackdaw.

Borrowed_plumesThe jackdaw is a relative of crows and ravens, perhaps named for the sound that it makes. It is semi-famous for it’s role in Aesop’s fable about vanity in “The Bird in Borrowed Feathers“. Tradition holds that the daw was a silly bird with a slow walk.

In fact, the daw’s name likely influenced the name of the walk for which it was famous, then known as daddling (think waddling, but with a d and pronounced differently). Soon, daddling was being used for anything done slowly, not just walking speed (don’t think that the irony of my daughter doing things slowly and my last name being Mosey (a type of slow walking) is lost on me). Over time, daddling became dawdling and apparently fell out of modern usage.

Well, my wife and I use it still, but I wish we didn’t have to. I’d be so happy if I never had to say, “Stop dawdling!” to my daughter again. But then, she’d probably start saying it to me, so maybe I’ll just have to learn to accept it to some degree.

On the Origin of Bear

polsonI walked into Shannon Huffman Polson’s “Writing into Lament” session on memoir expecting to learn something about how to transform grief into something helpful and literary. I knew nothing of Polson’s writing or the journey that she had taken into grief in the wild north where her parents died. I walked away from the session with two pieces of information. One, writing memoir requires courage. Two, bears are wild animals.

Polson was visiting her brother’s family when she got the phone call that a bear had walked into her parents’ camp and killed them. Her reaction was not just one of grief, but a longing to understand how this could have happened. And so she did something that I can’t imagine anyone doing. She went a year later to retrace the path in the wilderness that her parents, avid lovers of the Arctic wilds, had taken.

She told us about how writing requires the same courage to revisit the places in our lives that cause us pain. “All good writing is about pushing on the bruise,” she said.

And then she told us about the research she had done on bears. Even the origin of the name “bear” was surrounded in superstition.

Angry Brown Bear in GrassAccording to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the English word “bear” is rooted in the proto-Germanic “beron” which means “the brown one”. The superstition part comes in because people said “the brown one” as a placeholder for the real name just as in the Harry Potter novels, people said “he who shall not be named” in place of Voldemort. It was believed that saying the true name for bears had power enough to call them down from the wilds to terrorize your village.

This was not just true among people who spoke English or proto-Germanic. Other cultures used placeholders as well. Instead of whatever the word for bear was, Irish people used “the good calf,” Welsh people said “honey-pig,” Lithuanian people “the licker,” and Russians “honey-eater”. So no one really knows what the original name for bear is any more. It’s locked away behind history’s iron curtain.

I9780310328766ronically, as Polson shared about her dual exploration into the wilderness and into herself, she did the very thing that the ancient people refused to do. She named the fear and brought it into the light of understanding.

I can’t say that I’m itching to get into writing memoir based on what she said, but if and when I do decide to “press on the bruise,” I at least know what to expect. I just hope that I can do it with the same courage that Polson used in writing North of Hope.

On the Origin of Jot

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “jot” stems from the Latin “jota” which is a derivation of the Greek “iota”, the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet. Thus, a jot is one of the smallest things you can write. And it has taken this meaning as both noun (the smallest letter) and verb (to write a small amount).

Jot is also the name that my writer’s group settled on when we came up with our free, one-night writer’s conference concept. As busy guys with full-time jobs and families, we don’t always have the time or money to attend big writers’ conferences, awesome though they be. So we decided to start one of our own targeting the needs of people like us.

So the Jot Conference, or mini-conference if you prefer, is one night only. It is free to attend. And it offers quality sessions on a variety of writing topics by amazing guest speakers who are presenting by the goodness of their hearts (we don’t actually pay any of the speakers, so if you come, be sure to buy their books and tell them that you appreciate their time).

The next Jot is happening on Friday, March 14th, from 7 – 11 pm, at Baker Book House, 2768 E Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546.


Tracy Groot

Our keynote speaker is the award-winning author of the newly-released The Sentinels of Andersonville, Tracy Groot.

Other speakers include the author Susie Finkbeiner, speaker and editorial director of Baker Books Chad Allen, and budding novelist Thomas McClurg. We even have a free poetry workshop (available to sign up for at registration) with poetry editor of Structo Magazine, Matthew Landrum.

Keep up to date by following the Jot blog. I hope to see you there!

On the Origin of Moist


Mmm… So fuktig.

Is there a word grosser than “moist”?

No. That is the epitome of gross. My wife absolutely hates it. Honestly, I can’t think of anyone who likes it.

And this begs the question, “From whence did this vile word come?”

The short answer is France. Surprised? According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “moist” showed up in the 14th century as another way to say “well-irrigated” from the Old French “moiste” which means “damp, wet, or soaked.” Track it back even further and you’ll see that it shares Vulgar Latin roots with words like “moldy, slimy, musty, and mucus.”

Is this really a word that we want to use when describing a delicious cake?

So here are a few ways that you can say that something is moist without saying “moist”:

  • damp
  • slightly wet
  • humid

Hmm, none of those are better. Well, darn. There aren’t any other words out there that mean “moist” that sound better.

At least, no English words are better. So here are a few suggestions from other languages that we might use instead:

  • niiske (Estonian)
  • tutu (Yoruba)
  • wilgotny (Polish)
  • vochtig (Dutch)
  • kostea (Danish)
  • or my personal favorite – fuktig (Norwegian)

Now, all we need to do is substitute any of these next time we feel the need to use the “m” word.

Ready? Let’s do this!