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Word Facts for Apr. 2-8, 2011

Word origin for the weekend of Apr. 2-3, 2011: just the facts, ma’am – A staple of television from 1951 to 1970, the series Dragnet was famed for its laconic detective, played by Jack Webb. Comics parodied the show with the line “Just the facts, ma’am,” though Webb’s character (Joe Friday) never uttered it. Instead, he said in an early episode, “All we want are the facts, ma’am,” giving birth to a slight misquotation that has endured ever since.

Word origin for Apr. 4, 2011: metadata – “Metadata” is information attached to a digital file that is not strictly intrinsic to the file itself. Instead, it includes information about the author, the file’s editing history, and the like. The word dates to 1983 in professional computer literature, from which it spread into the broader lexicon. The word “data,” meaning a body of information, is about four centuries older.

Word origin for Apr. 5, 2011: restaurant – Does a chef restore a famished soul the way a conservator restores an old painting? Perhaps, for “restore” is the root meaning of the word “restaurant.” The first known use of the word was in Paris in 1765, when a chef who had been working for the nobility opened up his own eatery in the French capital. The word entered English at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Word origin for Apr. 6, 2011: J.C. Penney – In the early 1900s, an enterprising young man named James Cash Penney bought a dry-goods store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, where he had been working. He changed its name from the Golden Rule Store to J.C. Penney Company. Then he relocated to Salt Lake City (Utah), and then Buffalo (New York), where he built a chain of shops that sold inexpensive goods of many kinds. As of 2010, the company had about 1200 stores throughout the United States, as well as others in South America.

Word origin for Apr. 7, 2011: riddle – An old word for speaking in English is rede, which turns up in the verb “to read.” It often meant “to counsel,” but in the sense of “riddle,” which shows up in the language more than a thousand years ago… it means to counsel using oracular, hard-to-decipher speech. Thus, the word “riddle” (now meaning an innocent enigma) once had a more portentous, darker meaning.

Word origin for Apr. 8, 2011: moist – An import from French into English in medieval times, “moist” probably derives from the Latin mucidus, which means “moldy.” Some scholars link it to the word must, meaning “new wine,” but the first explanation is likelier correct. In either case, “moist” consistently comes in as one of the most disliked words in English, perhaps because of its clammy associations.

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