Sunday, August 04, 2013

Yet Another Five Words With Surprising Etymologies

The long-awaited sequel to “Five Words With Surprising Etymologies,” “Five More Words With Surprising Etymologies” and “Another Five Words With Surprising Etymologies,” of course.


greyhound: I’d imagine that most people would guess that the grey in greyhound referred to color, even though we’ve all seen greyhounds sporting the full range of dog colors. I did (and I have). However, according to Etymonline, the grey actually comes from the Old English grig, meaning “bitch.” So greyhounds are bitchhounds, etymologically speaking. Of course, this doesn’t seem any more appropriate, since not all greyhounds are bitches, just like not all greyhounds are gray. But there you go.

torpedo: The name for the naval weapon comes from the genus Torpedo, which includes various species of marine rays that can shoot out electricity to defend themselves. In Latin, torpedo literally means “numbness,” because of how getting shocked makes you feel, and is related to the word torpor, which I forget is a word and which always looks misspelled.

pinochle: Etymonline speculates that the word could have come to English via the Swiss German Binokel, which in turn comes from the French binocle, “pince-nez.” Pinochle is derived from an older card game, bezique, which uses two decks, and that’s apparently the connection between the game and eyes — two decks, two sides of a pair of glasses. More important than any of that, however, the name can also be spelled peaknuckle, and I insist that’s how we spell it from now on.

soccer: It’s an abbreviation of assoc., which itself was an abbreviation for association, as in football association. The Etymonline author actually gets a little sassy and points out that “they could hardly could have taken the first three letters of assoc.

squeegee: I would have guessed that it came from a brand name that just became the generic term for that particular item, like xerox or google, but squeegee actually goes back to 1844, when it meant pretty much what it means now. Etymonline guesses that it could have come from the word squeege, “to press.”

3 comments:

  1. I don't think there was a standalone OE "*grīg", I think it was a cranberry morpheme only found in "grīghund". It might be cognate with Old Norse "grøy" meaning "neuter, bitch", or it might be related to "gray".

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  2. I do love cranberry morphemes. Is it odd how Old Norse would have a word that can mean "neuter" or "bitch"? You'd think they'd need to differentiate, just for livestock breeding purposes.

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  3. Yeah, it's odd. That is from the OED. "grøy" is not in my Old Norse dictionary. In Icelandic "grey" is "greyhound", "bitch", or "paltry fellow, coward".

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