Albany, the state capital of New York, is known as the city of many names. The original inhabitants, the Mohicans, called the city PempotowwathutMuhhcanneuw, or “the 1st fireplace of the Mohican nation,” while the Dutch called it Beverwijck or “Beaver District.” In 1664, the English would name the city after the Duke of Albany.

fun story about this post!! this is because germany ~as a unified geopolitical entity~ did not exist until 1870-ish! before that the region was a mass of very small kingdoms. so there was no need for the surrounding countries (which in general DID exist as unified entities for a lot longer than that) to have a single word for GERMANY

as a result of this, the words for germany in other languages tend to reflect the region of germany they had contact with. french calls germany “allemagne” because the french interacted with the allemannic tribe(s?) first. the english word “germany” comes through latin from the germanic tribes of gaul. finnish “saksa” comes from sachsen, etc. (interestingly, the word “deutsch” seems to come from an old high german word for “people who speak germanic languages,” and is thus probably the best blanket term for germans)

and then there is the ever-contentious “nemecko” and similar words (see also polish and russian). when i took russian i was told that the russian word is very closely related to the term for mute people, and this was because when early russians first came across early germans, they were like “what the fuck are you guys saying?? you obviously just flat-out can’t speak at all” and the name stuck

see also the wikipedia page on this topic

So it occurred to me that ‘grawlix’ is sort of an obscure and specialized word, but what I didn’t know until I was googling around just now is that it was actually invented by cartoonist Mort Walker in his 1980 book The Lexicon of Comicana, in which he categorizes (and invents terminology for) all kinds of visual cues and shorthand commonly used in comics

In other news, this is now right up there with The Meaning of Liff as ‘books of made up words I desperately need to own”

Wikipedia for Language Nerds

List of Shibboleths

List of English Words with Dual French and Anglo-Saxon Variations

List of Tautological Place Names

List of English Terms of Venery by Animal

List of Linguistic Siamese Twins

List of English Homographs

List of Country Name Etymologies

List of English Heteronyms (with IPA!)

List of English Words with Disputed Usage

List of Proposed Etymologies of OK

List of Languages by Writing System

let’s talk about the word “dashboard” for a minute. the word originally comes from the 19th century, and was used to describe the piece of wood (i.e. a board) attached to the front of a horse-drawn carriage to prevent the driver from getting splashed or hit by debris from the road which got kicked up (i.e. dashed) by the horse, which could include rocks, puddles, mud, litter, horse manure, etc.

a dashboard was originally designed to catch and accumulate filth, trash, and shit, and now we use the word to describe the place where all tumblr posts show up. coincidence? i’ll let you decide

the modern English word “bee” is thought to come from the Proto indo-european word *bhis, which means “to quiver.” whether this relationship is because bees strike fear into the hearts of men, causing them to tremble, or because they buzz so happily remains to be seen

Most surnames are from one of seven types in English:

  1. Occupational – examples include Baker, Smith, and Fletcher
  2. Describing a personal characteristic – often adjectives, they are probably nicknames which described the first person to have a last name in that family. Examples include a person’s size (Short, Long, Little), coloring (Black, White, Green, or Red, which could have evolved into “Reed”), or another character trait (Stern, Strong, Swift).
  3. From an English place name – perhaps where they were born, lived, worked, or owned land. Some examples: Bedford, Burton, Hamilton, Hampshire, Sutton.
  4. From the name of an estate – those descended from landholders might have taken the names of where their family had once owned. Windsor is a famous example, it was the surname George V adopted for the British royal family.
  5. From a geographical feature – examples include Brooks, Bridge, Moore, Wood, and Hill.
  6. Patronymic, matronymic, or ancestral – patronymic surnames (those that come from a male given name) include Benson, ie “the son of Ben,” Davis, Dawson, Nicholson, Rogers, and Simpson. Matronymic surnames, (those that come from a female given name) include Molson (from Moll, for Mary), Madison (from Maud), Emmott (from Emma), and Marriott (from Mary). Scottish clan names make up one set of ancestral surnames. These include Armstrong, Cameron, Campbell, Crawford, Douglas, Forbes, Grant, Henderson, Hunter, MacDonald, and Stewart.
  7. Patronage – some surnames showed who a man worked for, was vassal to, or generally was a follower of. Examples include Hickman, “Hick’s man,” and Kilpatrick, “follower of Patrick.”


Whelm - “turned upside down”

Like the “gruntled” in “disgruntled”, we know the overall meaning of “overwhelmed” but probably don’t know what “whelmed” means. It is from Middle English verb “whelmen”  (to topple over, turn upside down) so when we are “overwhelmed” we are completely thrown overboard. This lead to a later meaning of being submerged i.e. in stress, obligations etc. from the context of being thrown into the sea.  And for the record: “gruntled” means “pleased or satisfied” and therefore, becoming disgruntled is to become “unpleased”. 

Img//Word 1 + 2 + 3


Shrove Tuesday, a.k.a Pancake Day, a.k.a. Mardi Gras, is celebrated on the day before Ash Wednesday. Learn more about Shrove Tuesday by watching the full video.    

I don’t know about you but all this talking about pancakes has made me hungry.

GIFs by Sara Levine for Oxford University Press.

Yesterday I learnt that poubelle, the French word for “rubbish/trash + bin/trashcan” is actually named after a person

A préfet in the late 1800s called Eugène Poubelle decided to clean up Paris by installing a bunch of bins and they (as well as their contents) came to be named after him

what a fucking legacy to have, to have trash named after you


Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert - “desert desert”

Sahara desert (Arabic) means “desert desert”; Gobi desert (Mongolian) means “desert desert”; Mississippi river (Algonquin) means “big river river”; La Brea tar pits (Spanish) means “the tar tar pits”; and Torpenhow hill, in Cumbria England, seems to come from Norse, Old English, Welsh and modern English components meaning “hill hill hill hill.”



Charles Darwin and On The Origin of Species

On 24 November 1859 Charles Darwin published his monumental work On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, changing the face of biology. Recently described as the most important scientific work of the last two centuries, the Origin and its theory of evolution stand alone as a scientific achievement.  Although he only used the word once at the very end of the book, the word evolve (and evolution) is synonymous with Darwin. The word evolve had been used in a scientific sense specifically in biology for over a hundred years before Darwin wrote Origin of Species-which is one reason why he avoided it. By the mid 1850s, the word had connotations of perfectibility-something Darwin wanted to avoid. It was the last sentence of his book:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

The word evolution arrived in English in 1620 and comes from the Latin word evolutionem (nomnative form evolutio) meaning the unrolling of a book or revealing that which was rolled up. The word evolve arrived a bit later in the 1640s from the Latin word evolvere meaning to unroll and could also pertain to other ‘hidden’ things (see also for example the etymology of vulva), but mostly meant books, when a ‘volume’ was a rolled up manuscript made from vellum. The modern meaning that scientists such ad Darwin meant for it began around 1832 and reached its first full expression in Darwin’s work.