20160425

Humorous English Etymologies 9 Bootleg

Bootleg (n.)
A product, especially alcoholic liquor, but including recorded music, that is illicitly produced, distributed, or sold. The phrase "leg of a boot," goes back to the 1630s, using boot + leg to refer to that part of a boot. As an adjective in reference to illegal alcohol and is found from 1889 on and is American English slang. Presumably it was knives and pistols that were hidden in boots by smugglers and that led to the idea of hiding booze there, although this obviously cannot be done while the boots are being worn. An alternative understanding suggests that the word bootleg in reference to alcohol relates to the unpleasant taste of some illegals brews.

20160423

Humorous English Etymologies 8 Bumf

Bumf (n.)
Papers, paperwork. First attested 1889, this was originally British schoolboy slang for "toilet-paper". It is a shortened from of bum-fodder.

Humorous English Etymologies 7 Tycoon

Tycoon (n.)
In 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed into a harbour near Tokyo and presented a letter from the US President Millard Fillmore demanding that Japan open itself to trade with the US. At the time, the Japanese restricted foreign trade severely. Among Western nations, for example, only the Dutch were allowed to trade in Japan, and then only on a small island in the harbor of Nagasaki. This policy had been put in place in the 1630s by the shogun (as rulers of pre-modern Japan were called). In late medieval times, the Japanese emperor had been reduced to a figurehead, and all real power belonged to the shogun, who ruled on the emperor's behalf. On the date of Perry's visit, the Tokugawa family had held the shogunate for 250 years, as a kind of hereditary monarchy. Although Perry believed that he was dealing with emissaries from the emperor, nominally the ruler of the land, in fact he met the representatives of the shogun. The emissaries spoke of the shogun as the taikun, using a title of Chinese origin that literally means "great prince." (Chinese tai "great" + kiun "lord."). This title was used by Japanese officials in foreign relations because tennō, "emperor," was obviously unavailable - the shogun ruled the Empire of Japan in the emperor's name. The title shōgun itself was probably not considered grand enough, as it literally means just "general of the army." Accounts of Perry's visit made the shogun's title taikun well-known back in the US as tycoon, and Abraham Lincoln's cabinet members took up tycoon as an affectionate nickname for the president. The word soon came to be used for business and industry leaders in general - at times being applied to figures like J P Morgan, who may indeed have wielded more power than many princes and presidents. The specific application to "wealthy and powerful businessman" is post-World War I. it is no doubt ironic.

Humorous English Etymologies 6 Skinflint

Skinflint (n.)
A miser, one who makes use of contemptible economy to keep money, a slang word from 1700. Clearly it is made up of skin and flint. The idea seems to be the kind of person who would skin a flint to save or gain something (or perhaps would use a flint until it was as thin as skin). Flay-flint in same sense is from 1670s.

Humorous English Etymologies 5 Quiz

Quiz (n.)
A question and answer game. As a verb to quiz someone means to question them.
The story goes that a Dublin theatre proprietor by the name of Richard Daly made a bet that he could, within 48 hours, make a nonsense word known throughout the city, and that the public would supply a meaning for it. After a performance one evening, he gave his staff cards with the word 'quiz' written on them, and told them to write the word on walls around the city. The next day the strange word was the talk of the town, and within a short time it had become part of the language.
The most detailed account of this supposed exploit (in F. T. Porter's Gleanings and Reminiscences, 1875) gives its date as 1791. The word, however, was already in use by then, meaning 'an odd or eccentric person', and had been used in this sense by Fanny Burney in her diary entry for 24 June 1782. 'Quiz' was also used as a name for a kind of toy, something like a yo-yo, popular around 1790. The word is nevertheless hard to account for, and so is its later meaning of 'to question or interrogate'. This emerged in the mid-19th century and gave rise to the most common use of the term today, for a type of entertainment based on a test of a person's knowledge. The word must have its roots in inquisitive.
So the humour here is not in the word itself but in the supposed etymology.

Humorous English Etymologies 4 Dumb Waiter

Dumbwaiter (n.)
A dumbwaiter is a small lift intended to carry objects rather than people. Dumbwaiters found within modern structures, including both commercial, public and private buildings, are often connected between multiple floors. When installed in restaurants, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, retirement homes or in private homes, the lifts generally terminate in a kitchen.
The term seems to have been popularized in the United States in the 1840s, after the model of earlier "dumbwaiters" now known as serving trays and lazy Susans.
It is the title of a play by Harold Pinter. The great thing about a dumb waiter is that he cannot answer back.

20160420

New birth no optional extra

 

"If we simply confine ourselves, firstly, to what the Bible says about the new birth itself, we immediately see that being reborn is not an optional extra for Christian living. It is not a de luxe add-on, a bonus, an extra, something reserved only for ‘first-class travel’. Rather it is something vital. It is indispensable. It is not an elegant window giving us a view of the glory of God’s house but the very door into it. Without this there can be no entrance. It is not a mere sniff at the delicacies in God’s kingdom but a real taste of what he has to offer, a feast that will enter our bodies and do eternal good. Without it we will starve. If you are not born again, you are simply not a Christian at all."
From my book What the Bible teaches about being born again, p 77

Humorous English etymologies 3 Lazy Susan

Lazy Susan (n)
(also Lazy Suzy) A turntable (rotating tray) placed on a table or countertop to aid in distributing food. Lazy Susans may be made from a variety of materials but are usually glass, wood or plastic. They are usually circular and placed in the center of a circular table to share dishes easily among diners.
It is likely that the explanation of the term Lazy Susan, and who Susan was, has been lost to history. Folk etymologies claim it as an American invention and trace its name to a product – Ovington's $8.50 mahogany "Revolving Server or Lazy Susan" – advertised in a 1917 Vanity Fair, but its use well predates both the advertisement and (probably) the country. The earliest example of these "serviettes" or "butler's assistants" being called a lazy Susan dates to the 1903 Boston Journal:
John B. Laurie, as the resuscitator of "Lazy Susan", seems destined to leap into fortune as an individual worker. "Lazy Susan" is a step toward solving the ever-vexing servant problem. She can be seen, but not heard, nor can she hear, she simply minds her business and carries out your orders in a jiffy.
Susan here is then a name for a servant. A more intriguing possibility suggests that the “Susan” was inspired by the flower known as a “Black-eyed Susan” (Rudbeckia hirta, aka “Yellow Daisy”), whose circular blooms consist of yellow “rays” surrounding a dark brown centre. The flower apparently took its name from the poem “Black-Eyed Susan” by English poet and dramatist John Gay (1685-1732), in which a sailor bids fond and extended adieu to his love Susan, who is called “black-eyed Susan” in the first stanza. The popularity of the Black-eyed Susan flower, and the resemblance of a circular serving tray to the circular bloom of the flower, may well have given us the name.

Humorous Englsih etymologies 2 Parson's nose

Parson's nose (n)
(Cookery) the fatty extreme end portion of the tail of a fowl when cooked. Also called the pope's nose and even the sultan's nose. It may eb a euphemism. Parson's nose, however, is from the notion that an English parson may 'have his nose up in the air', upturned like the chicken's rear end. The term must have been known as early as around 1400 AD, when a carpenter had been contracted to provide new choir stalls for St Mary's Church, Nantwich. The vicar was either slow to pay the artisan, or did not pay at all. In retaliation, on the last misericord in the stalls, the carpenter carved a bird with an image of that Vicar's face with protuberant nose as rump. The carving is still visible today.

Humorous English etymologies 1 Undertaker

Undertaker (n.)
Funeral director. In America a mortician.
c. 1400, "a contractor or projector of any sort," agent noun from undertake (v.). The specialised sense (1690s) emerged from funeral-undertaker. It is a euphemism. The little joke, of course, is that the undertaker takes the body and puts it six feet under ground.