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Word Facts for Feb. 5-11, 2011

Word origin for the weekend of Feb. 5-6, 2011: dollar – In the mid-sixteenth century, a German silver coin called the Joachimsthaler – mined, that is, in the valley (thal) of Joachim – came into wide circulation throughout Europe. By 1600, English speakers were calling the coin the “dollar,” pronouncing it as the Dutch did. The coin never became formal currency in England, but the term was adopted in many English-speaking counties including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

Word origin for Feb. 7, 2011: nudnik – The Polish word nuda is related to the French word ennui, meaning a kind of spiritually crushing boredom. Yiddish speakers borrowed the Polish word, added the agentive suffix -nik to it, and named a particular kind of person, the one who will bore you to tears without ever realizing that he or she is doing so.

Word origin for Feb. 8, 2011: fulsome – If someone offers you “fulsome” praise, be prepared to hear a shoe drop somewhere. The word, almost always paired with words such as “praise” and “compliments,” means “overly abundant to the point that the generosity is suspect.” Some writers in the past used the word simply as a synonym for “copious,” but the modern sense is rarely anything but negative.

Word origin for Feb. 9, 2011: public enemy number one – In 1934, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a list of the top-ten most wanted criminals in the United States. At the top of the list was a photograph and description of the bank robber John Dillinger, headed with the slogan “public enemy number one.” The law-enforcement phrase soon came into general use, usually ironically or as a bit of political mudslinging to brand an opponent as the bad guy.

Word origin for Feb. 10, 2011: trichologist – Many people visit “trichologists” without ever knowing so – “trichologist” being a mock-scientific term for a hairdresser, from the Greek trichos, meaning “hair.” The word underlies the much more fearful term “trichinosis,” a potentially fatal disease spread by trichina, tiny parasitic worms named because of their resemblance to hair.

Word origin for Feb. 11, 2011: zit – This slang term for an acne pimple is of decidedly unknown origin, but dictionaries credit U.S. teen slang from the 1960s. One guess is that it comes from a slurred version of the question “What is it?” The word was first applied to things such as lint (“What’s that ‘zit’ on your coat?”) before making it to an unfortunate teenager’s face.

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