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Word Facts for Apr. 30-May 6, 2011

Word origin for the weekend of Apr. 30-May 1, 2011: nerd – In his 1950 children’s book, If I Ran the Zoo, Dr. Seuss used the word “nerd” to describe an odd-looking creature. It’s not clear whether he coined the word or borrowed it, but by 1951, it was widely used to signify a socially inept or “square” person. Now often combined with attributives such as “computer” and “golf,” it means someone whose expertise or interest in a subject is deep, but whose social skills may leave something to be desired.

Word origin for May 2, 2011: disparage – You can “disparage” someone or something, but can you “parage” to make up for it? Not really. The original meaning of the term, from the Old French desparagier, is “mismatch” or “marry unequally,” as when a movie star weds an unknown or a prince falls in love with a pauper. Through time, it came to suggest the unpleasant conversation that might result when the bloom was off the romance, and now means (in modern terms) “to talk smack about.”

Word origin for May 3, 2011: gopher – The critter called the “gopher” is one of the less repulsive rodents, just as the waffle is one of the more attractive ways of making pancakes. The analogy may seem strange, but guafre is the French rendering of the Dutch word wafel, which means “honeycomb.” When English speakers encountered the creature in French-speaking Louisiana, they borrowed the local term, which referred to the rodents’ honeycomb-shaped burrows.

Word origin for May 4, 2011: Gatorade – In 1965, concerned that so many of his players suffered from heat exhaustion in the tropical sun, a University of Florida football coach did some research, and discovered that carbohydrates and electrolytes had to be replaced as quickly as they were burned if his Gators were ever to be a winning team. Scientists at the university jumped in, developing the drink they called (naturally enough) “Gatorade.”

Word origin for May 5, 2011: Nashville – The “home of country music” honors a Revolutionary War general named Francis Nash, a Virginia-born North Carolinian who died at the Battle of Germantown in 1777. North Carolina migrants to Tennessee named the city after him. Nashville’s official name is Nashville-Davidson County, reflecting the merger of city and county governments in 1961. The second name honors another fallen Revolutionary War general, William L. Davidson.

Word origin for May 6, 2011: kit and caboodle – In eighteenth-century English slang, “the whole kit and caboodle” referred to the totality of a person’s possessions or the company he or she kept. (“She brought the whole kit,” or “He and his whole kit just showed up.”) On the American frontier, the phrase became “the whole kit and boodle,” the latter being a slang term meaning “crowd” – thus, “the whole bunch and whole bunch.” The redundancy notwithstanding, the phrase has been popular since the nineteenth century.

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