Word Facts for Jan. 8-14, 2011

Word origin for the weekend of Jan. 8-9, 2011: Birds Eye – Clarence Birdseye, a Canadian trapper, invented what he called the quick-freezing method in 1924. While working in the Arctic, he noticed that fish frozen immediately after being caught tasted better than fish that were slowly frozen. His quick-freezing process resulted in 168 patents, as well as the frozen-food company that bears his name in the form “Birds Eye.”

Word origin for Jan. 10, 2011: pooh-bah – Not often heard these days but still eminently useful, the term “pooh-bah” means an official who has all the power to make your life miserable… and knows it. The word comes from the name of a character in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Mikado, in which Pooh-Bah is a vain braggart who likes nothing more than adulation save for a handsome bribe.

Word origin for Jan. 11, 2011: Facebook – The social computing site known as “Facebook” began life as a literal book of faces (well, a loose-leaf binder, anyway) at Harvard University. This compendium included photographs attached to profile sheets detailing the interests of the students who signed up for the service. That information was transferred online in February 2004, still serving the Harvard community, but quickly extending to other Boston-area schools. It is now a worldwide phenomenon, with tens of millions of users.

Word origin for Jan. 12, 2011: mohair – Many fine varieties of wool are referred to as “mohair,” particularly when they take the form of scarves and sweaters. The word has nothing to do with hair, despite appearances. Instead, it is an English effort to spell the Arabic word mukhayyar, which means “of the finest quality.”

Word origin for Jan. 13, 2011: Frisbee – Time was, students in New England schools enjoyed flinging empty pie tins (which flew like flying saucers) back and forth, especially those made by a bakery called Frisbie’s. On January 13, 1957, a company called Wham-O began to produce a similar toy that it called the Pluto Platter Flying Disk. Quite by chance, the Frisbie bakery closed that year; Wham-O acquired the name and began to sell its product as the “Frisbee.”

Word origin for Jan. 14, 2011: mystical – One might think, given the hazy wonders of the magical world, that “mystical” somehow connects to “mist.” It does not. Instead, it comes from the Greek verb muein, which means “to close the mouth or eyes,” and is directly connected to the word “mystery.” A mystery, by that light, is something that a mystic promises not to speak of, just as a thoughtful magician will never reveal another magician’s tricks.


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