Our Sponsors

Technical Translation
Website TranslationClip Art
 

Archive for the 'Word History' Category

Snicklefritzes and Spizzerincta

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

I received this query from a long-time subscriber to the Good Word, David Lloyd-Jones:

“Seeing snickersnee made me wonder whether schnicklefritz had crossed over from German into English yet.”

“I searched on it, and was referred to shnicklefritz and shnickelfritz, and was appalled to find it in the Urban Dictionary (which I assume means black English), [defined as] a snob or a pretentious person.”

“In my experience it’s what my ver-ree conservative father-in-law called his grand-daughters, and snobbishness was far from his mind. It migtht have overtones of mischief to it, but cuteness is surely the dominant theme.”

My response to him is as follows.

Yet another reason why not to trust the completely unedited Urban Dictionary. You should see the entry for Pennsylvania Dutch (Dutch as in Deutsch = German) written by someone who is not only ignorant of their culture, but who bears a major grudge against them. They are predominantly Amish or Mennonite and in my Pennsylvania county (Union) with a large population of these people, no crime committed by a Mennonite or Amish has ever been recorded.

Now, let’s get down to business. Schnickel is a real German surname and Fritz is just short for Friedrich. Put them together backwards and you get a pretty amusing appellation.

Schnicklefritz started out in English around here; it comes from Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvania Dutch brought it over from the Neckar Valley in Germany in the 18th century. Schnicklefritz is an affectionate name for a mischievous, overly talkative, or otherwise bothersome child.

In North Carolina in my day my father called his children spizzerinctum for similar reasons, to amuse by befuddling the child and in a gentle way to dissuade them from mischief.

Binky

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

• binky •

Pronunciation: bing-kee • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Love my binky1. Security blanked or a favorite stuffed animal that soothes and offers comfort to a baby. Something babies must cling to in order to get to sleep. 2. A pacifier (US &: Canada), dummy (UK), soother (elsewhere). 3. A bunny pronk, a high hop of joy for a rabbit.

Notes: Today’s Good Word may be two words: one referring to a pacifier, the other referring to a security toy or blanket. You’ll have to read the Word History to find out why. Remember to change the Y to an I in the plural: binkies.

In Play: Because the word is used as a commercial name for a popular pacifier, many people know only this meaning: “What happened to the baby’s binky? He didn’t swallow it, did he?” We needn’t stretch the sense of this word far to apply it more broadly: “Martin must have his coffee in his favorite cup, his ‘binky’. I would be surprised if he didn’t sleep with it.”

Word History: Two sources have been proposed for Binky: (1) the commercial name for a pacifier manufactured by Playtex® and (2) a baby’s pronunciation of blanket. According to Paul Ogden’s research, binky first appeared in print in 1944 and Playtex came into existence only in 1947, so we can’t give Playtex® the credit. We simply don’t know how binky came to be associated with pacifiers. Blanket is from Old French blanchet “white flannel cloth”, a diminutive of blanc “white”. Old French apparently borrowed this word from a Germanic language. Proto-Germanic had a word blangkaz “shine, dazzle”, which came to be German blank “shining, clean”. This same word turned out in English as bleachblanch and blank. (We now offer a blanket ‘thank you’ to Eric Berntson, who proposed today’s Good Word in the Alpha Agora.)

Mothers and Fathers in European and Semitic Languages

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Paul Ogden, one of the editors of the Good Word series, responded to my etymology of the word amorous and we engaged in an e-conversation I thought might interest the readers of this blog. Here it is.

Interesting etymology. Something similar happened in Hebrew and some of the other Semitic languages. The Hebrew word for mother is emm, the Aramaic word is immah, and the Arabic word is umm.

The liturgical word amen, which at its core means “confirmation, support”, is derived from the words for “mother”. Another derivation from amen is oman, Hebrew for “artist”, from the days when artists made faithful representations of what they saw. A slew of additional Hebrew words that mean loyalty, trust, reliability and so forth are in turn derived from amen.

I replied:

Fascinating. Mother and father started out the same way. Ma and pa are usually the first two “words” settled on by an infant in referring to its parents. So to these utterances were added the suffix marking members of a family: ma-ter and pa-ter. Compare brother and sister, which started out with the same suffix and—voila—the words for “mother” (mater) and “father” (pater).

Paul replied:

But there’s more:

Av is Hebrew for father. Abba is Aramaic for father. Ab is Arabic for father. I know that P and B are considered pretty much the same in historical linguistics, so we’re not too far here from papa, pappas, and the like. [The only difference between [p] and [b] is that we vibrate our vocal cords when pronouncing the latter. –RB] The noun abbot, referring to the Christian religious authority, comes from Aramaic abba.

The word abu that you sometimes see as an element in Arab male names means “father of”, e.g., Mohammed Abbas is sometimes referred to as Abu Mazen, meaning he has a son, probably his firstborn, named Mazen.