Word Facts for Apr. 9-15, 2011

Word origin for the weekend of Apr. 9-10, 2011: Deadhead – The term for a devotee of the rock band Grateful Dead dates to 1971, though as two words: “Dead Head.” It first shows up on the liner notes to the band’s album Live Dead, announcing a fan club for the group. The band might have been chagrined to learn that the word had another sense dating to the early nineteenth century: a “deadhead” is someone who enters a performance or conveyance without paying the admission fee.

Word origin for Apr. 11, 2011: a hard row to hoe – Tough soil, as farmers know, makes for tough tillage and backbreaking work with the hoe. This folksy American expression refers to any daunting task. Because most Americans are a few generations off the farm, the saying is often misstated as “a hard road to hoe” – which would indeed pose a difficult job.

Word origin for Apr. 12, 2011: gargoyle – The fanciful creatures called “gargoyles” found on Gothic cathedrals and other buildings serve a useful purpose: they disguise downspouts that enable rainwater to drain quickly from the steeply pitched roofs. The downspout openings are in the gargoyles’ mouths. The name comes from an Old French word that means “the sputterer,” for the sound an overly full monster would make.

Word origin for Apr. 13, 2011: dribble – In soccer, a “dribble” is a series of short kicks that moves the ball along the field. Taken metaphorically from the fitful issue of water that comes from an uncooperative pipe, the word is a variant of “drip,” which itself is onomatopoetic. Basketball borrowed the soccer term to refer to a movement made with the hands, not the feet.

Word origin for Apr. 14, 2011: grass station – A coinage from 2006 that first turns up (naturally) in California, a “grass station” is a place at which to procure biofuel – vegetable oil, say, that can burn in a modified automobile engine. The phrase is a play on “gas station,” which first turned up in American common speech in the 1920s and eventually replaced the once more widely used “filling station.”

Word origin for Apr. 15, 2011: pony up – The term “pony up,” meaning to pay someone, has nothing to do with betting on horses. Instead, it is believed to derive from the Latin legum pone, which denotes obeying the law, the law in question being to pay one’s workers. The full phrase, taken from the Latin version of Psalms, is Legum pone mihi domine viam iustificacionum tuarum. “Teach me, O Lord, the ways of your laws.”


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