Thursday, June 09, 2005
Etymology - Meaning the Study of the History of Words
The origin of the word "Salary"
"It goes back to a Latin word that originally denoted an 'allowance given to Roman soldiers for buying salt' (salt being in former times a valued commodity, over which wars were fought, rather than taken for granted as it is today). This was salarium, a derivative of sal 'salt.' It soon broadened out to mean 'fixed periodic payment for work done,' and passed in this sense via Old French salaire and then Anglo-Norman salarie into English."
The origin of the phrase "Bakers' Dozen"
"A baker's dozen is thirteen. The term arose becaues a law was passed in England in 1266 specifying exactly how much a loaf of bread should weigh, and it imposed a heavy penalty for underweight loaves. Bakers took to giving their customers an extra, or thirteenth, loaf so that they would be assured of meeting the weight minimum imposed by law. The term baker's dozen came about in the 16th century."
The "Whole Nine Yards"
"There are two possible origins of the phrase the whole nine yards. One comes from the fact that rotating cement-mixer trucks had a capacity of nine yards (I assume nine cubic yards in volume), and when the mixer emptied its load, it had discharged the whole nine yards and had completed its job. Another theory is that the phrase originated due to the fact that the construction of prisons at one time included an outside wall and then, nine yards outside of that, a fence. If a prisoner attempting to escape made it over the wall, across those nine yards, and over the fence, he was said to have gone the whole nine yards.
Tim Powell writes that his military friends explained that "the whole nine yards referred to the ammunition cassions carried during World War II to supply the .50 calibre machine gun. A small case carried three yards of ammunition, whereas a full case carried nine yards of connected rounds. Obviously, a full case was three times as heavy, and harder to carry over a lot of ground. When preparing to go on a mission, men were often heard to ask, when told to shoulder their ammo, `Do we have to carry the whole nine yards?'"
Here's a good one. "Tom Foolery"
"This phrase's origin is quite surprising. The general public was allowed into mental hospitals or asylums in the Middle Ages in order to be amused by the actions of the residents there. Interestingly, one such asylum was called Bedlam, a corruption of Bethlehem, its real name. The audience's favorite "performers" were often nicknamed Tom Fool, and that popular nickname came to be applied to the antics of the asylum residents, and then its meaning was softened to mean `silly behavior' in general."
I love this kind of stuff (I told you I found a winner :) ). Hope you guys enjoyed it too!
*All quotes can be found at Take Our Word For It