Word of the Week – Anniversary

Word of the Week – Anniversary

Today, David and I are celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary!

So, of course, I thought we’d take a look at the word anniversary. That ann- prefix gives us a good idea where it comes from, sharing a root as it does with annual, from the Latin annus, for year. Latin also has anniversarium, from which English directly borrowed the word.

Originally, though, this wasn’t a word used for wedding dates or even birthdays, despite it’s very literal definition of “annual return of a certain date of the year.” Originally, the word was reserved for the day of death, especially martyrdom, of saints!

Who knew?

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Word of the Week – Camp

Word of the Week – Camp

Do you like to go camping? If so, do you prefer tents or campers?

These days, much of our camping is for recreation and leisure, but I daresay none of us will be surprised to learn that it wasn’t always so. We’re aware of travelers and military making camp when they come to a halt for the day…but do you know where the word really comes from?

Camp has been in English since about 1520, coming to us via French, who in turn got the word from the Latin campus, which means… “a field.”

Originally these wide fields where people stopped to rest was used solely in a military sense–“where armies lodge temporarily.” It only took about 30 years, though, for non-military people to borrow the term. And because so many travelers had cause to camp for the night, plenty of words sprang up around it, like camp-stool in the 1790s, camp-meeting as a religious service that took place in a field (primarily Methodist) by 1809, and camp-followers for the people not military but who traveled with them, like washer-women and other service people, by 1810.

The metaphorical sense of “people adhering to a certain doctrine” is from the 1870s.

As for camping just for fun? That’s unique to modern times.

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Word of the Week – Like

Word of the Week – Like

Sometimes the most common of words are the ones that have undergone the most change over the centuries. Case in point: like.

Now, the original meaning of like still makes plenty of sense: “having the same characteristics or qualities.” It dates from around 1200 and is a formation of an Old English word, gelic, which in turn came from a Proto-Germanic word of similar spelling that meant “having the same form.”

So what makes it interesting? How it was used. In those centuries gone by, like was used to describe how similar things were only, and usually in the phrases “like unto”…and it even had comparative and superlative forms until the mid 1600s! So that color could be liker the one I have, but that one is likest. (Fun, huh? I say we bring that back…)

In the 17th century, like was often used to mean “come near to, was likely,” as in “I like to spit out my drink from laughing.” American English developed the meaning of “be in the mood for,” as in “I feel like pizza tonight” round about 1860.

The meaning of “such as,” as in “a girl like her” is also from the 1880s. The slang filler word we’re taught to avoid in our Speech and Debate classes (He was, like, so fast) can be blamed on the “bop talk” of the 1950s

But things get interesting when you look at the verb form, rather than the adjective. Old English did also have this verb form…but back then, it meant “to please, be pleasing, be sufficient.” Etymologists aren’t exactly sure how it changed from being the property of the thing that is pleasing to the act of being pleased by something, held by the person. We see examples in Shakespeare of that original meaning–for instance in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” we get the line “The music likes you not.” As in, pleases you not. Not a snarky way of saying that you’re no good at music. But round about Shakespeare’s time, the meaning had begun to shift to what we know it as today.

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Word of the Week – Audition

Word of the Week – Audition

I’ve never really paused to think about the word audition before…but it turns out, its modern meaning is not where it began.

When you look at the word and note the audi- root, you’ll realize that it’s linked to the act of hearing or listening, like audio. So it makes sense that the original meaning of the word, from the 1590s, was “a hearing.” But it carried more of a legal sense–a court hearing, or some other event where the act of listening was the crucial thing.

The sense we most associate with the word today, of a performer doing a trial run for judges, didn’t come around the 1880s! And even then, it was only a noun. You would go to an audition…but audition as a verb only dates from the 1930s!

Have you ever gone on an audition? I have, for both music and theater, in my middle and high school days. Happy to say I always landed a part, though the nerves, man…the nerves! 😉

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Word of the Week – Meme

Word of the Week – Meme

Did you know that meme was coined as a scientific word in the 1970s?

Yep. Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist, wanted a word to describe ideas or behaviors that quickly spread from person to person within a culture, so he came up with meme, from the Greek mimesthai. His own thought-process is thus:

We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’, or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’. [Richard Dawkins, “The Selfish Gene,” 1976]

By 1997, popular computer culture had picked up the word and used it to mean “images or snippets of video, audio, or text that spread rapidly from one internet user to another.”

Bet you didn’t know that the meme you just shared is part of the study of biology, did you? 😉

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Word of the Week – Prestigious

Word of the Week – Prestigious

I imagine that, like me, you think prestigious means “honored.” And it does…today. But it started life in a very different place!

Prestigious actually comes from the Latin praestigious, meaning “full of tricks.” Think magician shows and jugglers and sword-swallowers, etc. It’s thought that the Latin word is closely related to praestringere, which means “to blindfold, to dazzle.” Anything that was a trick of the eyes–or which perhaps would make you doubt what you were seeing, it was so spectacular, was called prestigious.

That’s where it began in English too, meaning “practicing illusion or magic, deception.” Up until the 1800s, this was a word that was most often used in a derogatory fashion, much like trick today. And then, by the 1890s, it was actually considered an obsolete word, no longer in use. (Fascinating, isn’t it?)

But around 1913, it was given new life, with all illusory implications removed, just as prestige was as well. The dazzle without the deception, so to speak. Which is what it still means today.

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