Words & Stuff

qqq: Roots

(15 August 1999)

Dominus has been collecting material for some time now to be eventually turned into an online etymology quiz. The general idea behind the quiz is to give people an idea of which kinds of etymology are likely to be true and which aren't, rather than to trick people. To that end, although the quiz includes spurious etymologies, it never lies about the meanings of roots; if a quiz item claims that a given word comes from a given root, then that root exists and has the stated meaning even if the given word doesn't really come from that root. (Note that explanations to connect the root to the word may be entirely bogus.)

Here are a couple dozen quiz items, some contributed by me and some by Dominus, and a few (indirectly) by others. Longtime readers may notice that I've given the answers to some of these in earlier columns. The best quiz items are those which propose two or more alternate etymologies, but most of the items below are simple true/false questions.

There is a third class of quiz items which are really hard: the ones that require you to sort a set of words into cognate groups (that is, into groups of words which are related to each other). Unfortunately I'm out of time and out of space this week, so I'm not going to include any such items; you'll just have to wait for Dominus' online version of the quiz, or a future column.

True or false?

Ampersand is from Amper's and, because someone named Amper was the first one to write "Et" in that particular form. (JEH, from Jere7my Tho?rpe)

Azure is related to lapis lazuli. (JEH)

Buckaroo (cowboy) is related to vaccine by way of Latin vacca (cow). (JEH)

Caliber (the diameter of a bullet) is from Arabic qalib (a shoemaker's last). (JEH)

Chapel is from Latin cappa, cloak, because a chapel was built to house the cloak of St. Martin of Tours. (JEH)

Chauvinism is from Nicholas Chauvin, a fictional patriotic French soldier (JEH)

Cloud-cuckoo-land is a direct translation from the Greek nephelokokkygia. (JEH)

Copper (metal) is from Latin Cuprum, from Classical Greek Kupros (Cyprus), the island to which it is native. (MJD)

Cypress (tree) is from Latin Cuprum, from Classical Greek Kupros (Cyprus), the island to which it is native. (MJD)

Counsel is from the same root as council.

Corduroy is from the French cour du roi, "court of the king," because that's where it was first worn. (JEH)

Denim originally came from Nimes, France, and was called serge de Nimes. (MJD)

Don and doff are related to on and off, respectively. (MJD)

Egregious is related to gregarious by way of Latin grex (herd). (JEH)

Galvanize is named after Luigi Galvani, Italian physician and physicist. (JEH)

Gargle is cognate with gargoyle. (JEH)

Garlic is from gar (spear, because of its spear-shaped leaves, akin to the spear-shaped gar fish) + lic (leek, because it's like a leek). (MJD)

Journal derives from the same root as diary. (JEH)

Maudlin derives from Mary Magdalene, often depicted as crying. (from Jon Carroll)

Minimum is cognate with miniature. (MJD?)

Minister is from Latin minister (servant). (JEH)

Minister is related to Latin minor; majesty and magister are related to Latin major. (JEH)

Mustard is related to musty. (MJD)

Slogan is from a Gaelic battle-cry, sluagh-ghairm. (JEH)

Squash (to smash) means to cause to resemble the messy, pulpy insides of the squash plant. (MJD)

Toll is from Latin tollis, to take away. (JEH)

Truce is related to truculent. (JEH)

Vanilla derives from Latin vagina (sheath). (JEH)

Glans is Latin for acorn. (MJD)

Vicar is related to vicarious. (JEH)

Multiple choice

Alimony is related to:
A. Alimentary
B. Ailment
C. Money
D. None of the above

Baguette is named that because:
A. It comes in a bag
B. It's related to bagel
C. It's French for "rod"
D. It's a mere trifle (related to bagatelle)

Gamut is:
A. From gamma and ut, two names for notes; denoted the whole musical scale
B. Related to game
C. From gammon and mutton; denoted the whole range of meats
D. Related to gamete

Hecatomb (a large-scale slaughter) is from:
A. Hect- (100) + tomb (tomb): 100 tombs.
B. Hekaton (100) + bous (ox): sacrificial slaughter of 100 oxen
C. None of the above

Honcho is from:
A. Japanese
B. Spanish
C. Algonquian

Peccary (a kind of wild pig) derives from:
A. Latin peccata (sins)
B. Latin pecu (cattle)
C. A Carib word

Typhoon is from:
A. Cantonese tai fung (enormous wind: tai (very big) + fung (wind))
B. Urdu tufan (violent storm), ultimately from tafa (to turn around)
C. Greek Typhon, an enormous monster, son of Typhoeus (father of the winds)

Whiskey is called that because:
A. The mash was originally stirred with a whisk
B. It's from Irish Gaelic uisce beathadh (water of life)

All of the answers to the above questions are clustered together on the answers page; don't peek until you've answered all you're going to.

Dominus is interested in more contributions to the quiz. If you have some (particularly if you have plausible-sounding but false etymologies for reasonably common words), send them to him at mjd-www-equiz@plover.com.


I'm using a new authoring tool for this week's column; please let me know if you encounter any weirdnesses in displaying the HTML.


Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>