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Word Facts for May 21-27, 2011

Word origin for the weekend of May 21-22, 2011: hooah – The U.S. Army exclamation “hooah,” used to mean everything except “no,” dates to the 1980s. It is said to derive from the acronym HUA, meaning “heard, understood, and acknowledged” in response to an order. Films that place the term in the Vietnam era are anachronistic. By the way, the Marines say “oorah” instead of “hooah,” imitating the sound of a klaxon.

Word origin for May 23, 2011: hokey pokey – Is the “hokey pokey” really what it’s all about? In wartime England, a bandleader concocted a hit tune that borrowed a phrase from Italian ice cream vendors, Ecco un poco – meaning “try a little” – and joined it to an old children’s dance. The “hokey pokey” craze rapidly spread throughout the 1940s, though in various parts of the English-speaking world, it is known as the “hokey cokey” / the “cokey” / the “hokey tokey.”

Word origin for May 24, 2011: loblolly pine – The “loblolly pine” grows in the swamps of the American Southeast, and it has been known by that name – which may have been borrowed from an Indian language – since 1760. “Loblolly” occurs as a dialect term for “mudhole” in the following century, and it is that usage that gives an old-fashioned southern dessert: a gooey, sticky mess of cream / sugar / egg – its name.

Word origin for May 25, 2011: fungible – Something “fungible” is not made of fungus, or even fun, but instead is interchangeable. It comes from the Latin fungi, which means “to perform,” and is typically found in legal and economic contexts to mean something that can be converted readily into something of the same kind, be it a stock share or a junior employee.

Word origin for May 26, 2011: Peter Principle – Published in 1969, Laurence J. Peter’s book, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, was famous for the observation: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” The corollary is that the real work is done by employees who have yet to be promoted to their levels of incompetence. The “Peter Principle” is often confused for Murphy’s law, which is another matter entirely.

Word origin for May 27, 2011: eat my shorts – Bart Simpson’s favorite curse is not original to him – or rather, his writers – yet no one really knows who came up with it. It turns up in a passage by the novelist Ken Kesey in 1973, about the time it sees print in the old National Lampoon magazine – but even then, it seems to have been borrowed from somewhere else. Whatever the case, it was widespread slang across American college campuses in the mid-1970s, when Simpsons creator Matt Groening was attending school.

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