Word Facts for June 25-July 1, 2011

Word origin for the weekend of June 25-26, 2011: poach – In days of old when knights were bold, hunting was a privilege reserved for the nobility. A hungry peasant would thus have to steal an animal from some estate – and, naturally, that animal would have to be small enough to carry away. In this case, it would be carried away in a poche, or sack. The same word gives us our expression “pig in a poke,” which means something not shown and whose value therefore is not known.

Word origin for June 27, 2011: honeymoon – In use since the Middle Ages in English, the “honey moon” was a folk name for the full moon that occurred in the month of June. In rural England, marriages often took place just before the late spring planting season began, the ritual idea being to encourage fertility of both field and family. The term later came to be applied to the aftermath of the wedding itself.

Word origin for June 28, 2011: hobnob – “Hobnob” comes from an English dialect term “habnab,” which means “have and not have.” The word first turns up in print in William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night in the sense of “one way or another,” and by extension, a drink that would be drunk no matter who raised a toast to it. Thus, “to drink hobnob” came to mean something like “to party” today, and “hobnob” now means to spend pleasant time hanging out with someone.

Word origin for June 29, 2011: plumber – Pipes that bring in and take out water from a home were once made of lead – in Latin, plumbum, a material that a plumbarius worked with. New pipes are rarely made of lead these days, but the material remains enshrined in the name of the craft.

Word origin for June 30, 2011: nonchalant – Someone “nonchalant” is cool as a cucumber, or perhaps cold as a fish. The word comes from the French nonchaloir, which means “not heated” – that is, metaphorically, someone who cannot be bothered to get worked up about a given subject. The original sense of “nonchalant,” which came into English about 1730, characterized someone who disregarded something that other people were hot and bothered about.

Word origin for July 1, 2011: slouch hat – Usually made of felt or canvas, a “slouch hat” is a form of headwear whose brim falls over the wearer’s eyes. The term comes from the English dialect term slouch, which carries the suggestion of leaning lazily or moving without much sense of purpose. Given that “slouch hats” are favored by warriors fighting in the tropics, that suggestion seems unwarranted.


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