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155119.  Thu Mar 08, 2007 5:09 pm Reply with quote

I always found etymology fascinating. Word origins can be very original (excuse the awful pun). The word "tawdry", for example, originates from the church of St Etheldreda in London's Ely Place, commonly known as "St Audrey" (BTW, Britain's oldest Roman Catholic church). In 16th-18th centuries, there used to be cheap market stalls near the church (to raise money for its upkeep) where lots of trinkets were on sale. The stuff was mostly tacky and useless...
Source: Collins Dictionary: "C16 tawdry lace, shortened and altered from Seynt Audries lace, finery sold at the fair of St Audrey (Etheldreda), 7th century queen of Northumbria."
I bet the question "Where tawdry comes from?" will trigger lots of jokes from the panelists.
There must be many more fascinating etymological anecdotes of this kind...
leading to QI or GI questions...
And, incidentally, where does the word "etymology" come from? (it's an easy one!)

155169.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 3:41 am Reply with quote

1398, from Gk. etymologia, from etymon "true sense" (neut. of etymos "true," related to eteos "true") + logos "word." In classical times, of meanings; later, of histories. Latinized by Cicero as veriloquium.

We have a long standing joke Vitali at QI about 'etymology'.

Piers (Flash) thinks it's the most boring subject in the world, whereas a few of us others love it.

Tawdry is a good one though. I think the question would be better phrased into something like:

"Why is lace so tawdry?"

...because then you open up connotations about lace knickers, stockings, suspenders etc for the comics.

While we're on the subject, can I heartily recommended one of the most popularly used QI websites:

155173.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 4:58 am Reply with quote

Just to clarify, here's my take on this subject:

1) the pro-etymology camp is very adequately represented in the production team: both the Johns and Stephen are instinctive etymologists to their roots

2) on the other hand, not many of the panellists are interested in the topic at all, and at the moment I'm struggling to think of an etymology question which has 'worked' (there may be some, but I'm struggling to think of them)

3) one can't be as definite about the audience, but my guess is that their interest in the subject is, at least, not universal

4) at the end of the C Series we had one script which featured no fewer than eight etymology questions in a single show

5) in general, I think stories about people, animals, astronomy, etc are more likely to inspire good moments than discussions of language are

6) we don't want to accidentally morph into Never Mind the Full Stops

So it's true to say that I do resist the over-etymologicisation of the show, but I'm not against it altogether by any means, particularly when it feeds into some topic that we're looking at anyway (eg, this time, the origin of 'Elephant and Castle').

155176.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 5:37 am Reply with quote

Is there an actual law that says every long-running BBC radio or TV show has to do the Elephant and Castle etymology dance sooner or later?

155279.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 8:09 am Reply with quote

"Why is lace tawdry?" sounds like a good question to me, thanks, Bunter.

155314.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 9:26 am Reply with quote

In the meeting it was suggested that the etymology of 'assassin' is not "hashish-eater", but etymonline says:

1531 (in Anglo-L. from c.1237), via Fr. and It., from Arabic hashishiyyin "hashish-users," pl. of hashishiyy, from hashish (q.v.). A fanatical Ismaili Muslim sect of the time of the Crusades, under leadership of the "Old Man of the Mountains" (translates Arabic shaik-al-jibal, name applied to Hasan ibu-al-Sabbah), with a reputation for murdering opposing leaders after intoxicating themselves by eating hashish. The pl. suffix -in was mistaken in Europe for part of the word (cf. Bedouin).

and Mat tells me that Chambers and OED concur so shome mishtake, maybe.

Damn, I love this thread!

155316.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 9:33 am Reply with quote

The best known "fact" about the Assassins is that the word derives from "hashish". The earliest authority for the assassins taking hashish in order to witness the pleasures awaiting them after death is the notoriously unreliable Marco Polo. A more convincing etymology is "assassiyun", meaning people who are faithful to the "assass", the "foundation" of the faith. They were, literally, "fundamentalists".

From the "notoriously unreliable" QI column in the Telegraph.

155701.  Sun Mar 11, 2007 5:00 pm Reply with quote

"Cleavage" was invented by American film censors:

The term is first noted in a work on geology in 1816, but the first citation in its now more common sense is from an article in Time magazine in 1946. Time noted the neologism and explained it as "Johnston Office trade term for the shadowed depression dividing an actress' bosom into two distinct sections".

Etymonline, spotted by Gaazy & suze, elsewhere on the board.

Frederick The Monk
156743.  Thu Mar 15, 2007 7:16 am Reply with quote

eggshaped wrote:
The best known "fact" about the Assassins is that the word derives from "hashish". The earliest authority for the assassins taking hashish in order to witness the pleasures awaiting them after death is the notoriously unreliable Marco Polo. A more convincing etymology is "assassiyun", meaning people who are faithful to the "assass", the "foundation" of the faith. They were, literally, "fundamentalists".

From the "notoriously unreliable" QI column in the Telegraph.

The full OED gives the etymology of assassin as:

[a. F. assassin, or ad. It. assassino: cf. also Pr. assassin, Pg. assassino, Sp. asesino, med.L. assassnus (OF. forms were assacin, asescin, asisim, hasisin, hassissin, haussasin, etc.; med.L. (pl.) assessini, ascisini, etc.), ad. Arab. ashshshn and ashshiyyn, pl. of ashshsh and ashshiyy, lit. ‘a hashish-eater, one addicted to hashish,’ both forms being applied in Arabic to the Ismli sectarians, who used to intoxicate themselves with hashish or hemp, when preparing to dispatch some king or public man. The OF. variants, (pl.) assacis, hassisis, haississis, med.L. assasi, haussasi, med.Gr. , point to the Arabic singular, but the form finally established in the European languages arises from the Arab. plural, as in Bedouin; cf. also It. cherubino, serafino, F. and earlier Eng. cherubin, seraphin (sing.). Naturally the plural was first in use, in the historical sense, and occurred in Eng. in the Lat. or It. form before assassin was naturalized: the latter was still accented assassin by Oldham in 1679.]

Link to OED

159822.  Sun Mar 25, 2007 5:55 pm Reply with quote

I didn't know this: the origin of the expression "Halcyon Days" - our old chum Pliny the Elder, in the Natural History.

It is for this that the halcyon is more especially remarkable; the seas, and all those who sail upon their surface, well know the days of its incubation. This bird is a little larger than a sparrow, and the greater part of its body is of an azure blue colour, with only an intermixture of white and purple in some of the larger feathers, while the neck is long and slender. There is one kind that is remarkable for its larger size and its note; the smaller ones are heard singing in the reed-beds. It is a thing of very rare occurrence to see a halcyon, and then it is only about the time of the setting of the Vergiliĉ, and the summer and winter solstices; when one is sometimes to be seen to hover about a ship, and then immediately disappear. They hatch their young at the time of the winter solstice, from which circumstance those days are known as the "halcyon days": during this period the sea is calm and navigable, the Sicilian sea in particular. They make their nest during the seven days before the winter solstice, and sit the same number of days after. Their nests are truly wonderful; they are of the shape of a ball slightly elongated, have a very narrow mouth, and bear a strong resemblance to a large sponge. It is impossible to cut them asunder with iron, and they are only to be broken with a strong blow, upon which they separate, just like foam of the sea when dried up. It has never yet been discovered of what material they are made; some persons think that they are formed of sharp fish-Bones, as it is on fish that these birds live. They enter rivers also; their eggs are five in number.

The Halcyon = the king-fisher, or Alcedo ispida of Linnĉus. There is no truth whatever in this favourite story of the ancients.


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