Archive for Etymology


I first heard the word teep, short for telepath, on the TV show Babylon 5 in 1994 or so. Until today, I thought the word had been invented for the show. But I just happened across it in a Philip K. Dick story, “The Hood Maker,” that was written in 1953 and published in 1955, […]

Blocking and tackling

I recently encountered this sentence in a news story: Traditionally, state parties perform the basic blocking and tackling of politics, from get out the vote programs to building data in municipal elections. I assumed that the phrase blocking and tackling was a slightly odd variation on block and tackle, a system of pulleys and ropes. […]

hat trick

I’ve heard the phrase hat trick lots of times, but I just learned that I’ve been wrong about what it means. It turns out to mean three successes of the same sort (esp. in a short time). Which led me to wonder why it means that. Dictionary to the rescue: the term "hat trick" […]

motorcade etymology

Just got curious about the word motorcade, and was surprised by a couple of things in its etymology: I was thinking it might be short for something like motorcar parade, to account for that c in the middle. Turns out motorcade is more or less from motor cavalcade. It had never occurred to me that […]


According to Wikipedia: The word [frontispiece] comes from the French frontispice, which derives from the late Latin frontispicium, composed of the Latin frons (‘forehead’) and specere (‘to look at’). […] In English, it was originally used as an architectural term, referring to the decorative facade of a building. In the 17th century, in other languages […]


I’ve long known about the whisky called Cutty Sark, and I vaguely knew that it was named after a ship. But I didn’t know until today that the ship was named after a fictional character’s nickname: The ship was named after Cutty-sark, the nickname of the witch Nannie Dee in Robert Burns’s 1791 poem Tam […]


Encountered a new-to-me snack food yesterday: Peatos. I was initially startled, because I felt like the world is not yet ready for a peat-based snack food. Turns out that the idea is that it’s a Cheetos-like snack made with peas instead of corn.

On Pound’s “translations” from Chinese

I’ve been hearing Ezra Pound’s name for decades, but it recently occurred to me that I didn’t know anything about his life or his poetry. So I went looking online for more information about him, and quickly came across an entertainingly written 1958 takedown of Pound’s and Ernest Fenollosa’s approach to translating Chinese poetry: “Fenollosa, […]

Astronomical and astrological symbols

Interesting Wikipedia articles on astronomical symbols and astrological symbols. I’ve been seeing some of these symbols all my life, but had no idea what most of them derived from. For example, I didn’t know that the symbol for Mercury (☿) represents Mercury’s caduceus. I’m especially intrigued to learn that the symbol for Jupiter (♃) derives […]


Gneiss is one of those words that I have a hard time not making jokes about. I’m in the midst of labeling my photos from a 2014 trip to the British Museum. In most cases, I took a photo of a piece of art and then took a photo of the nearby explanatory card, but […]