Podcast ort

Printable Version
Pronunciation: ort Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Leftover, scrap of food that remains after a meal is finished. 2. A scrap, a piece of trash that is left over from any job, as cleaning up the orts on a construction site.

Notes: This word is remarkable in that it is one of the few words in English actually spelled as it is pronounced. It has been in the English language since the 14th century and is making yet another comeback in the 21st. How is that for staying power? It is almost always used in the plural, orts, just as is the case with its near synonyms, leftovers and crumbs.

In Play: The original meaning of today's word apparently was "leftover animal feed", but my experience with animals leads me to believe that animals are careful not to leave food behind. In fact, they tend to help us out with our leftovers: "Ernie, would you let the dog back into the kitchen to clean up the baby's orts?" However, orts can be any kind of leftovers you can imagine: "Oh, the good committee posts go to the senior faculty; junior faculty are left the orts." (Sounds like a faculty feeling its orts, doesn't it?)

Word History: Today's Good Word is probably the reflex of an unattested Old English noun that we surmise was something like *ort, a cognate of Early Modern Dutch ooraete, now found in a few dialects as oort or orte "remains of food or fodder". If this guess is correct, or- is an old prefix of uncertain meaning found in a few frozen forms like ordeal. It would be akin to the German prefix ur- "proto-" seen in that word every spelling bee enthusiast knows, Ursprache "proto-language". The T is what remains in (an ort itself), which comes from a root found in most Indo-European languages, such as German essen and Russian est'. (We want to make sure that the main course of our gratitude today goes to Mr. Mark Angney's B-Block senior English class of Concord-Carlisle High School in Concord, Massachusetts, and not just the orts.)

Dr. Goodword,

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