Saturday, May 24, 2003


IN the early seventeenth century, brandy was called brandewine. It was taken from the Dutch brandewijn, literally meaning ‘burnt wine’, made up as it is of branden (burn, distil) and wijn (wine). Later it came to be known as brandywine that was shortened to brandy.

The hippopotamus is a large, thick-skinned semiaquatic African mammal with massive jaws and tusks. The Greeks gave the animal its name by coining a word to describe the bulky, barrel-shaped animal that spends most of the day bathing in rivers. The two elements of the word are hippos (horse) and potomos (river).

Fanatic is derived from the Latin adjective fanaticus (of, or relating to a temple), which is derived from the noun fanum (temple). It was later used in reference to those pious individuals who were thought to be inspired by a deity. In time, the sense ‘frantic, frenzied, mad’ arose because it was thought that persons behaving in such a manner were possessed by a deity. The earliest sense of the word referred to a religious maniac, which led to the idea of single-minded zeal or enthusiasm in any area.

Once upon a time...
May 10, 2003
Gifts from writers
April 26, 2003
Creative destruction
April 12, 2003
Language triumphs
March 29, 2003
March 15, 2003
Describing people
March 1, 2003
A living language
February 15, 2003
The New Year - III
February 1, 2003
The New Year - II
January 18, 2003
The New Year
January 4, 2003

Etiquette took its name from estiquier (to attach or fix), a verb the French borrowed from the Dutch steken. The French used estiquet to refer to the fixed list of ceremonial observances in court. Today, etiquette is no longer confined to the high circles it began in and includes the code of conduct to be observed in any social situation.

In the early years of the sixteenth century there began to appear in Britain a wandering race of people who were ultimately of Hindu origin and called themselves and their language Romany. In Britain, however, it was popularly believed that they came from Egypt, and thus they were called Egipcyans. This was soon shortened to Gypcyans and by the year 1600 it became Gipsy. Today, a gypsy is a member of a travelling people, making a living through seasonal work or fortune telling. Their nomadic trait has led to the adjective gypsyish, for a person who may look like a gypsy or may be a wanderer.

Chocolate comes through French, from the Spanish word chocolate, which refers to a drink or other food made of a mixture of cocoa seeds and certain other seeds. The Spanish word was borrowed from the Aztecs’ word chokolatl, which meant food made from cacao seeds.

Hijack is a word completely American in origin. It is believed that hijack comes from the command ‘High, Jack!’ This is in slang a way of telling the person being robbed to raise his arms up in the air, like hands-up. The literal sense is common enough; figuratively it refers to taking over something and using it for a different purpose than the one it is intended for.


While using language, many times certain words come up that reinforce the oneness of the human race, the common denominator of human experience that all languages share, showing a glimmer of hope for peace. Pait, the word for stomach shared by Hindi and Sanskrit originally meant bag or container. Udar is also used for stomach in Hindi, a word that again means bag. Obviously, the idea developed out of the many items the stomach contains: organs, food, gastric juices and so on. The Irish word bolg means both bag and stomach. And then, the English belly is derived from the Old English belig, meaning bag.