23 July 2016

10 Misnomers - 500 Words Ep. 28

Looking back through the HH archives the other day, we happened across this little gem of information:

The Pont Neuf, then, is a misnomer—its name really doesn’t (or, at least, no longer) fits it. 

And from strawberries to the Big Bang Theory, this week on the Haggard Hawks YouTube channel we’re looking at 10 misnomers precisely like this one:

In fact the dictionary is so full of examples like these that cutting our list down to just 10 here was a brutal business. Koala bears, for instance, aren’t bears. Irish moss is a marine algae. Chinese chequers aren’t Chinese. Fireflies aren’t flies. Peanuts aren’t nuts. Thousand Island dressing takes its name from an archipelago of 1,864 islands. And let’s not get started on the Hundred Years War

But as misnomers go, this one will forever be one of the best:

So how the dickens did that happen?

The colour pink as we know it today takes its name from the Dianthus flowers known as “pinks”. They in turn are thought to take their name either from the use of pink as a verb, meaning “to perforate” or “to give an ornate trim”, or else from the even older use of pink as an adjective, meaning “half-closed” or “winking” (which was, at the risk of making this discussion even more complicated, the original meaning of pink-eye). If that’s the case, then pink probably has its roots in Dutch, and might even be a distant relative of blink.

The “pink” in French pink is something of a mystery, but one very plausible theory claims that it derives from an old German word, pinkeln, literally meaning “to pee” (hence its yellowy colour). This murky-yellow shade of pink is actually the oldest recorded use of the word pink in Englishand remains in use in artistic contexts—but nowadays the pale red version has all but taken its place.

Why? Well, no one is entirely sure, but one popular theory is that the use of pink to refer to pale red derives from the popularity of Dianthus flowers in Elizabethan England. According to the story, pinks were one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite flowers and so were grown and sold all across England in the sixteenth century. That helped to establish their name, pink, with their pale fuchsia colour, and it’s that colour that the word has remained attached to ever since. 

20 July 2016

10 Words For The People You Know - 500 Words Ep. 27

You might have spotted this tweet over on the HH Twitter feed the other day:

Which, as our friends at UWG English pointed out, is probably not the most appropriate word for that kind of person…:

But what about all the other characters that we know and love and love to hate? What other words are hiding out in the dictionary to describe them?

Well, from unknowledgeable critics to penniless friends, this week’s HH YouTube instalment is looking at 10 words for precisely those kinds of people:

One word that didn’t make the final cut here, however, was zoilist:

Just as (spoiler alert if you haven’t watched the video yet...) the ultracrepidarians of this world take their name from a story from Ancient Greece, the carping zoilists have their roots in a fourth-century BC Greek grammarian and literary critic named Zoilus of Amphipolis

Born in what is now Macedonia c.400 BC, Zoilus was one of the most scathing critics of the Greek poet Homer. Despite being the author of both the Iliad and Odyssey and one of the most well respected writers of Ancient Greece, writing two cornerstones of Western literature was not enough, it seems, to impress Zoilus. 

In a long-lost essay called Homeric Questions, Zoilus challenged Homer’s portrayal of the gods, and called out a number of plot holes and inconsistencies in his works: in the Iliad, for instance, Menelaus dies in battle only to be seemingly revived to witness the death of his son several pages later. Other writers might have fallen victim to Zoilus’ criticizing glare of the years, but it was for these criticisms of Homer’s writing that Zoilus was best known—and for which he deservedly the nickname Homeromastix, the “Scourge of Homer”, among his contemporaries. 

Zoilus’s writings have not survived, and as a result it’s unclear just how harsh his criticism really was. But the enduring popularity of Homer’s works has nevertheless led to history being somewhat less kind to his harshest critic. 

Various historical accounts record that Zoilus died having been thrown from a cliff by an angry mob, stoned to death on the island of Chios, or else tossed alive on top of a funeral pyre in Smyrna. Whether any of these gruesome demises ever truly occurred is debateable, but instead it’s likely that they are all just myths and smears rooted in little more than the unpopularity of Zoilus’s opinions—but it’s precisely those opinions that led to Zoilus the zoilist earning a permanent place in the language. 

6 July 2016

10 Words Derived From Places In America - 500 Words Ep. 26

It seems we’re always late to the party here at HaggardHawks. Yes, it was July 4 last Monday but, hey—what can you do? 

So. A very belated Happy Independence Day to anyone reading this over in the States, and in honour (or rather honor) of your celebrations, this week on the HH YouTube channel we’re looking at 10 places in the United States that somehow ended up in the dictionary. Dinner jackets. Outdoor symposiums. Endless, mind-numbing political speeches. Frankly, it’s all here.

One little bit of linguistic Americana that didn’t make the final cut this week, however, is hooch.

As a slang term for alcohol—and in particular homemade or rough quality alcohol—the word hooch first appeared in the language in the late nineteenth century. It derives from the name of the Hoochinoo, a tribe of Tlingit Native Americans based on Admiralty Island in the far southeast of Alaska. And as they knew all too well, if there’s one thing guaranteed to keep you warm on a cold southeast Alaskan night, it’s home-brewed alcohol. Apparently. 

The Hoochinoo had long manufactured their own liquor, but when the Klondike Gold Rush brought 100,000 prospectors to the region in mid-1890s, they realised they had the perfect captive audience. Before long, they were making a considerable profit selling their alcoholic beverages to the prospectors hoping to strike it rich in the Yukon—and to the prospectors, the name Hoochinoo, and eventually the reduced form hooch, came to be their byword of choice for potent, homebrewed booze. (Booze, incidentally, is another story for another day…)

As for the Hoochinoo themselves, they took their name from a local Tlingit word, Hutsnuwu, literally meaning “grizzly bear fort”, thought to be either the name of one of the tribe’s settlements on the island, or else a local name for the island itself. All of which makes hooch the perfect geographical accompaniment to your tuxedo, your Denver boots and, of course, absolute bunkum

2 July 2016

10 Words To Do With Halves - 500 Words Ep. 25

Ah, how the time flies. It seems like only yesterday HaggardHawks embarked on a series of fifty Top 10 YouTube videos, back when David Cameron was Prime Minister and the UK wasn’t being laughed at by everyone, but here we are! How. The time. Flies.

Unbelievably, we’re already at the halfway point in our series, as this week’s video—looking, appropriately enough, at the meanings and origins of 10 Words To Do With Halves—is the 25th of the 50 in the series. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re officially embarking on the home stretch...

Out of all the halves in the video, however, one word that nearly-but-didn’t make the final cut was Laodicean, a synonym (as Thomas Hardy fans will doubtless know) for half-heartedness or apathy, or else a byword for someone who is indifferent or uninterested in important matters.

The word derives from Laodicea, a city and region of Ancient Greece now located in modern-day Turkey, whose inhabitants were notorious for their religious indifference. In the Book of Revelation, the Laodiceans were one of seven ancient peoples or Christian churches—alongside those of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyateira, Sardis and Philadelphia (no, not that Philadelphia)—to whom messages were to be sent to stir them from their apathy. And in his letter to the Laodiceans, the author of the Book of Revelation John of Patmos accused them of being “neither cold not hot.”

“I would thou wert cold or hot,” he exclaimed, “so, then because thou are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth”. Good old John of Patmos, such a way with words.

It’s this image of someone or something being “neither cold not hot” in their opinions that led to the adjective Loadicean appearing in English in the early 1600s, as another word for a lukewarm disinterest, or apathy regarding important issues like politics and religion. Likewise, Laodiceanism is another word for unconcern or indifference—one thing John of Patmos certainly couldn’t be accused of.