Friday, June 11, 2004

No Escape From Words

A fun article (via Good reports) about words and phrases and etymology (not to be confused with entomology).

You're with a friend and you start talking about language, probably because one of you has just uttered an expression that you've never thought about before, like "one fell swoop" or "dressed to the nines". Your friend tells you an interesting story about where the saying comes from, such as that the word "honeymoon" derives from an old Persian custom of giving the happy couple mead for the first month after the wedding, or that a "hooker" is so called after the camp followers who flocked around the headquarters of the American Civil War general Joseph Hooker. Well, you believe it, don't you? Who wouldn't? The story is convincing, often backed up with extraneous but significant detail. And you have nothing to measure it against. It all sounds very reasonable. At the next opportunity, you mention the story to somebody else. Each time you do so, or hear somebody else repeat it, the tale becomes more familiar. After a while, it's as though you have always known it.
Merriam-Webster Online has it's 2004 Top Ten Favorite Words list. The list is compiled from the ten most frequently submitted words in their request for favorite words. I didn't know about this (a co-worker sent me the link for the list), or I would have submitted my favorite word, effervescent. But after purusing the list, callipygian might be in the running. Do you have a favorite word? If so, what is it?