The Etymology of “Grinch”

"Grinch" was predictably popularized by Dr. Seuss in 1957, but he was not the first author to use it. Rudyard Kipling included it as an onomatopoetic participle—grinching, or "harsh grating"—in the 1892 poem "The Lament of the Border Cattle Thief." Kipling, of course, is also the author of The Jungle Book. Here's the word in the context… Continue reading The Etymology of “Grinch”

The Etymology of “Alchemy”

"Alchemy" is from the Greek khemeioa, which was either from Khemia, a name for Egypt meaning "land of black earth," or the Greek khymatos "that which is poured out." It was often used as a scientific term until the 1600s when "chemistry" arose from it, leaving "alchemy" with its more mystical sense. The al- prefix predictably comes from the definite… Continue reading The Etymology of “Alchemy”

The Etymology of Psychological Terms: “Ambivalence,” “Schizophrenia” and “Autism”

Ambivalence was first a psychological term, literally meaning "strength on both sides." Paul Eugen Bleuler, the psychologist who coined it in 1910, also coined the terms schizophrenia ("a splitting of the mind") and autism (from Greek autos, "self"). Originally coined by Swiss psychologist Paul Eugen Bleuler in 1910, "ambivalence" as a psychological term means much the same… Continue reading The Etymology of Psychological Terms: “Ambivalence,” “Schizophrenia” and “Autism”

The Etymology of “Porpoise” (and “Tortoise” and “Dolphin”)

"Porpoise" literally means "pig-fish" from the Old French porpais (porc "pig, swine" + peis "fish"), probably a translation of Germanic words such as the Old Norse mar-svin, meaning "mereswine," which was also an early English word for porpoises or small dolphins. "Porpoise" is thought to have influenced the spelling of the word tortoise, which is not… Continue reading The Etymology of “Porpoise” (and “Tortoise” and “Dolphin”)

The Etymology of “Meteor”

"Meteor" comes from the Greek metéōron, literally meaning "thing high up." In 15th c. English, "meteor" could refer to any atmospheric phenomena, which were differentiated by various classifications of meteors. Hence "meteorology" as the study of atmospheric conditions, rather than just meteors. The term came to English in the late 15th century, from the Middle French météore, from Medieval… Continue reading The Etymology of “Meteor”

The Etymologies of “Jargon,” “Jabber,” and “Gibberish”

"Jargon," adopted from French in the 14th century, originally meant "unintelligible talk, gibberish; chattering, jabbering." It wryly took on its current meaning, "phraseology peculiar to a sect or profession," in the 1650s due to the fact that such speech was unintelligible to outsiders. Incidentally, the unintelligible sense of "jargon" also arose around the same time as the… Continue reading The Etymologies of “Jargon,” “Jabber,” and “Gibberish”