Word of the Week – Quantum

Word of the Week – Quantum

I’m currently reading Siri Mitchell’s State of Lies for my book club (SO GOOD!!!!), in which the heroine is a quantum physicist. (Which her 6-yr-old son calls a fizziest, which made me giggle.) I’ve been thoroughly enjoying all the science jokes on her T-shirts, and her musings about things like black holes.

And I also thought it would fun to take a quick peek at the history of the word. Quantum is directly from Latin, meaning “as much as,” which them in turn came to be “one’s portion.” This word has always been there in Latin, but it wasn’t borrowed for scientific purposes until Max Planck decided to use it in 1900 for these small portions of energy. It was Einstein who then took up the word and made it part of our vernacular, beginning in 1905 when he used the word in his Theory of Relativity; and then in 1912 actually coined the phrase “quantum theory” and, in 1922, “quantum mechanics.”

I do find it rather entertaining that if you look up the word in Merriam-Webster, the noun version means “small increments or parcels,” but the adjective means “large, significant.” Hmm…not sure how that one happened!

Word of the Week – Fence

Word of the Week – Fence

Originally posted in May 2015

So, duh moment. Did you know that the noun fence–like, you know, the thing around your yard–is from defense? Yeah. Duh. I’d never paused to consider that, perhaps because the spelling has ended up different, but there you go! It has been a shortening of defense with the same meaning since the 14th century. Then sense of that enclosure followed in the 15th century.

It had a similar verb meaning at the same times too, with the “to sword-fight” way of defending oneself arising in the 1590s.

But the reason I looked it up was for the meaning that has a fence being someone who buys and sells stolen goods…and to fence being to sell those stolen goods. I expected it to be a pretty modern use, but no! As the verb, it’s been around since 1610, and it was then applied to the person doing it right around 1700–all from the idea that it’s accomplished under “the defense of secrecy.”
Word of the Week – Field Trip

Word of the Week – Field Trip

This is another revisit…and since we were all sheltering at home for the last months of the school year, one that we’re probably all thinking about with longing. πŸ˜‰ Coming at you originally from May of 2015, when Rowyn was only 7 and Xoe was 9, which of course gave me all the “awwww”s when I saw the picture I had in this one, from the year before that. πŸ˜‰ (Still not sure how my babies are now going into 7th and 10th!)


Since someone asked me about this over the weekend, I figured, hey–already looked it up, might as well share! πŸ˜‰ Especially appropriate since this is our last week of school. Oh yeah. Right about now the kids are mighty glad we didn’t take a bunch of snow days! πŸ˜‰

Field trip comes from the idea of field…not as in “an open piece of land, often cultivated” (which dates from time immemorial) but from the idea of field being a place where things happen. This is a slightly newer meaning that began evolving in the 1300s. (I said slightly newer, not new, LOL.) By then it could mean a battleground. And by mid-century, a “sphere or place of related things.” By the mid-1700s people would refer to field-work as anything that took one out of the office or laboratory and into the world, where things take place.

Field trip, then, is a natural extension of this meaning. It’s a trip into the field, going out of the classroom and into the world where the things you’ve been learning about can be found. Though an actually-new phrase (from the 1950s), it has its foundation on a nicely aged idea. =)

My kiddos on a field trip to a one room school house in 2014. Rowyn would be the lonely boy in the boys line, LOL, and Xoe is the one in teal and purple. (No, shockingly, not the one dressed in period attire, LOL.) They had a blast that day, and Xoe even won the little spelling bee!

Word of the Week – Grapevine

Word of the Week – Grapevine

Originally published June 2015

We’ve all heard it through the grapevine (and some of us might break into song at the mere mention…), but do you know where the saying comes from?

I didn’t–but I learned recently so thought I’d share. =)

Grapevine, meaning “a rumor” or “information spread in an unconventional method,” comes from the Civil War era South. The “grapevine telegraph” was much like the “underground railroad.” Metaphorical and secretive. Just as the latter wasn’t a real railroad, but a term to refer to the secret movements of runaways, so the “grapevine telegraph” referred to spreading information on the down-low, rather than using the real telegraph. And so grapevine is a shortening of that–a way to spread information without using typical means that could be tapped or overheard.
Word of the Week – Salary and Salt

Word of the Week – Salary and Salt

Leave it to my daughter to lean over in the middle of church and whisper, “Word of the week!” during the sermon–which is exactly what happened when my dad shared this fun little tidbit. πŸ˜‰

Did you know that salary is from the same root as salt? Salary has meant “wages, compensation” since the 13th century, and the word comes from the Latin salarium (same meaning), which is closely linked to salarius, “of or pertaining to salt.” Some sources say it’s because a soldier’s salary was considered to be spent on salt, and others say that sometimes wages were even paid in salt. Either way, salt is such a necessary and, historically, valuable item that it’s no wonder it’s linked so closely to money in our words!

And I’ll admit it . . . I’ve spent a fair bit on salt over the years. I have a cabinet full of different varieties, which I occasionally find very amusing. Especially when I find a recipe that calls for one I don’t yet have. Gasp! My favorite: a variety of Cornish seasoned sea salts.

Do you have a favorite or rare kind of salt in your kitchen?
Word of the Week – Sit, Twiddle, and Twirl

Word of the Week – Sit, Twiddle, and Twirl

Today I’m going to examine the origin of a particular phrase rather than a particular word. πŸ˜‰ Back in the day when I originally examined this, as I was working on Whispers from the Shadows, my hero was exclaiming something about how it was time to take action himself, since those who ought to be continued to…
Sit on their hands?
Twiddle their thumbs?
Do nothing, but that was far too boring an option for his current state of mind. So Roseanna headed to www.etymonline.com. πŸ˜€

I was somewhat surprised to find sit on one’s hands in the
listing, because, well, I figured “sit” would have about a thousand
idioms associated with it and didn’t know if that would make the cut.
But in fact, it was one of the few they included. And it certainly wasn’t around in 1814, when Whispers takes place. No, to sit on one’s hands comes from the notion of doing so to withhold applause and originated in 1926. Not until the ’50s did it get extended to “do nothing; be

So Thad certainly couldn’t be accusing the politicians of sitting on their hands. What, then?
The next phrase to leap into mind was twiddling their thumbs. Here I got closer. Twiddle is from the 1540s, when it meant “to trifle.” But the notion of twiddling one’s thumbs, i.e., having nothing to do, didn’t emerge until the 1840s. Closer, closer. But not quite there.

But in the entry for twiddle was the earlier phrase that twiddle one’s thumbs replaced–to twirl one’s thumbs. Ah! Fun. Enough of a variation to sound old-fashioned to us, but still recognizable. And from . . . 1816.

At first sight, argh. Because that’s two years past my date. But then I remembered that etymonline.com uses the first written appearance (because what else could they possibly go on?) and in those days, a phrase usually appeared in writing several years after it had entered the common spoken vernacular. So I decided that was close enough, and my up-to-the-minute hero could well be using a newfangled, 
popular phrase that his father would be less likely to try out. πŸ˜‰

And so a few key politicians in Washington City are twirling their thumbs. And Thad has decided it’s time to do himself what they refuse

Happy Memorial Day, all! Enjoy some idle time today. Sit on your hands for a
while, guilt-free. Or better still, pick up a good book. πŸ˜€