1. Insomniac

    Insomniac New Member

    Dec 12, 2010
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    Where The Sidewalk Ends

    Etymology and Phrase Finding

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Insomniac, Dec 12, 2010.

    I’ve become fascinated with etymology and phrase finding over the last five years or so. It may have been earlier that I began thinking about the origin of words and phrases but I only began looking them up more recently. It’s incredible how one phrase, such as; “rule of thumb,” could have meant something so much more morbid at it’s inception. Even a word I just used, incredible, wasn’t created or formed for the purpose we typically use it for. Today when we say “That was incredible!” we generally mean it in a positive way. However, to be incredible means to be preposterous or not credible. “Mr. Brown’s report had to be dismissed because most of his claims were incredible.”

    I often get lost in thought when I hear someone use the word “awesome.” Common usage might include: “That party was awesome!” Really? While at the party you were “in awe” of it? Does that mean you didn’t have time to enjoy it? When I’m in awe of something I’m usually pretty entranced by it. Although, that could explain “raves” and “trance music.” So, by that train of thought - the party-goer was at a rave. Maybe not the case but I’ve already synthesized as much.

    Then we have words that have been popularized by unknowing agents, for which “tubular” is the example. “Totally tubular, dude!” Yeah, had to go there. Tubular more or less means to be tube shaped, kind of seems silly to refer to an object that is obviously not a tube as “tubular.” Using tubular as a positive exclamation is credited to surfers. A wave that rolls over allowing a hollow tube that can be surfed through is exactly tubular. This one has pretty much fizzled out but even I use it sarcastically.

    What words do you find yourself or others using in a context other than what was originally intended?
  2. HeinleinFan

    HeinleinFan Banned

    Jan 6, 2007
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    Well, strictly speaking we use such phrases all the time. "Silly" once meant "holy." The word "impact" was once strictly a noun; now it can be a noun or a verb. "Hound" once meant "dog," back before "dog" was a word at all; now it means a specific type of dog.

    And then there are names, many of which had actual meanings at some point, like "Thompson" or "Frederick" or "Fitzroy." (My favorite of the three is Fitzroy because it meant "The Royal Bastard.")

    Such things are all around us, and can be interesting to note now and then in a story, but overall I don't think this sort of thing has impacted my writing mcuh.
  3. art

    art Contributor Contributor

    Sep 5, 2010
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    As HF says it is very common. Like you, I think it's fascinating. Soemtimes the meanings evolve through mis-use. At some point I guess disinterest will become synonymous with uninterest. Annoying to some, yet I think way back when disinterest was synonymous with (our current 'proper' understanding of) uninterest. Fantastic stuff.
  4. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    one of the small delights of my old life was william safire's weekly column in the nyt sunday magazine, in which he did exactly what's being discussed here... the world's universally acknowledged wordmeister, willie did a masterful job that made learning about words and phrases unadulterated fun from his opening word to his last...

    i wrote to him once and cherished a handwritten notecard he sent back complimenting me on a piece of work i'd sent him... he's much missed... and sadly, no one seems to have filled the gap his leaving us has left in his fans' hearts and all of his readers' minds...

    find the book collections of his columns in the library or on amazon and you'll see what i mean... he also compiled some great advice for new writers in "How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar"...

    wherever you are, mr. s., i still think of you and thank you for sharing your brilliantly quirky 'little grey cells' for so many years!

    love and hugs to all [and r.i.p. to ws], maia

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