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 is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, primarily historical in focus, and will occasionally be controversial. Finally, we hope that the selections will resonate beyond the subject of the book from which they were excerpted. Sign up and join 99,000 other subscribers who receive Delanceyplace every weekday morning.


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a few word origins - 1/30/15

Today's selection -- from Why Do We Say It? by Castle Books. A few word origins:

"Corn. Why does the word 'corn' mean so many different grains?

Because 'corn' originally meant any small particle -- even sand or salt. That is why beef preserved by the use of salt is called 'corned beef.' When 'corn' finally came to mean a certain type of grain it was used to refer to the grain that was the leading crop of the locality. In England, therefore, 'corn' is wheat; in Scotland and Ireland, 'corn' is oats; and in the United States, it's maize.

"Gargoyle. Does the word 'gargoyle' refer to the appearance of these images?

No. 'Gargoyle' is an Old French word and literally means 'throat.' Gargoyles were originally used as projections from the gutter of a building to carry the rainwater clear of the walls, and they spurted this drain water through their 'throats.'

"Kid. What is the reason we call a child a 'kid'?

The Anglo-Saxon word for 'child' is cild. In ancient times -- just as today -- folks often failed to pronounce the letter 'l.' The similarity of sound between this name for a child and that for a young goat, and the similarity of antics, led to the use of 'kid' as a synonym for 'child.'

"Necking. From what did the word 'necking' get its current meaning?

From the neck's being an added object of the affection and the theoretical lower limit of action. The word 'neck' itself has its origin in the Dutch nekken, meaning 'to kill.' Our neck acquired its name from the fact that you pull or twist the neck of a chicken to kill it. But there's no implied allusion to this origin in the current meaning of 'necking.'

"Salary. Where did we get the word 'salary''?

From the ancient Romans. The word literally means 'salt money.' The Roman soldier was once given an allowance of salt; then he was given an allowance of money for the purchase of salt. This was called a salarium -- from sal, meaning 'salt.'

"Umpire. Where does the word 'umpire' come from?

From the Old French word nompair, meaning 'not paired.' The 'umpire' is the third or 'not paired' person called upon to decide between two contestants."

author: Castle Books
title: Why Do We Say It?: The Stories Behind the Words, Expressions and Cliches We Use
publisher: Castle Books
date: Copyright 1985 Book Sales, Inc.
pages: 64-65, 103, 141, 173, 213, 249
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