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Top 10 Unexpected Etymologies

John Rentoul

369px Blurbing 184x300 Top 10 Unexpected EtymologiesMy Top 10 in The New Review, the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, today is of words with surprising origins.

My favourite is tawdry: early 17th century; short for tawdry lace, contraction of St Audrey’s lace, after the patron saint of Ely, where cheap finery was sold at a fair.

More of interest on gerrymander and tawdry from Malcolm Redfellow here.

Thanks to Andrew Denny for an additional nomination: blurb, named after Miss Belinda Blurb, a fictional endorser created by Gelett Burgess, an American wit, in 1907.

I could also have had filibuster (although the online Oxford Dictionary fails to trace it all the way back: originally a pirate or freebooter, from German Freibeuter, for free and booty, through French fribustier or flibustier to Spanish filibustero); effete (which originally meant worn out by bearing young); jejune (originally fasting, barren); and nondescript (the Oxford Dictionary says “late 17th century: in the sense ‘not previously described or identified scientifically’”, which is not a sense in which it is used today).

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  • Pacificweather

    Filibustero: people who start illegal military adventures in foreign counties ends up being a word for someone who talks too much.

    How very apt.

  • Ciaron Goggins

    ZaNuLabour, the act of taking a left of centre party, then imposing 3500+ new laws criminalizing peaceful protest.

  • JohnRentoul

    That, Pacificweather, is droll.

  • TheBandyDandy

    “Independent”: which originally meant newspaper.


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