Fun Random Linguistic Tidbits

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Periodically while studying some aspect or other of linguistics, I come across factoids regarding the etymology of a word or phrase. While they're not usually of any great significance, I think they're fascinating.

The word 'cattle' comes from the Old French chattels referring to all things a person owns.

'Spree' comes from a Scottish word meaning "cattle raid".

'Eulogy' originated in Ancient Greek. The original meaning was 'good word'.

The Gaelic word for 'war cry' was 'slogan'.

During a British military operation in India, the city of Sind was under siege. A message was sent from headquarters to the general leading the attack asking how the battle was going. His response was a single Latin word; Peccavi. The translation is "I have sinned".

If you've got any you'd like to share, be all means do so.


Oh man, I wonder if this is THE Mr. Ratzsch. I love randomly googling people who I have known and finding they do worthwhile endeavors. If it tis I might keep this website on the drop down menu, even if I am not that interested in computer things, it's still good to read good writing wherever it might come from.

Anywho, some fun linguistic facts.

America was probably named, not after Amerigo Vespucci as is taught in school, but after an English land owner named Merrick, who was a map maker. The most convincing argument against Vespucci is that simply no one really used their first names to name new lands after themselves, except royalty.

The Chinese word for Pedestrian is Xing, which makes looking at Ped Xing signs a little fun.

The word tank was coined by a reporter named Hank Wales, who was the reporter who made Sgt. York famous, and whose life was the inspiration for the movie "Foreign Correspondent" by Alfred Hitchcock.

The Roman word Vomitorium was not a place where people went to puke, but where they left a building.

The first use in popular culture of the word "gay" to mean homsexual was in the 1938 Howard Hawks film "Bringing up Baby".

James Joyce invented the word "epiphany" to describe when a character changes due to a revelation in a written work.

Shakespeare invented 3000 words, most of which are still used in common English today, my favorite being "eyeball".

The element Plutonium on the Periodic table of elements has the moniker Pu, because when the scientist who discovered it said that it smelled terrible, and being the late 40's when something smelled people would say "P U!" whilst waving their hands in front of their faces.

Those are the ones I can think of off the top of the brain.

How many Ratzschs interested in linguistics could there really be, Schuster? It's good to hear from you again man - it's been a long time since the military days in Monterey. What have you been up to?

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This page contains a single entry by Philip Ratzsch published on May 31, 2009 7:00 PM.

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