Hunkering down for the blizzard

As the snow accumulates outside and I huddle underneath a blanket, I am compelled to research the origin of the word blizzard.  The word sounds somewhat onomatopoeic.  Could it be related to blitz or blast or bluster – a strong force of something barreling through?  Most sources I found say the origin is unknown, but pointed to an 1870 Iowa newspaper article in which a snowstorm is referred to as a blizzard. It is possible that it originated in American English in 1870 (or earlier), while other sources mention possible French or German connections. The Oxford Etymologist has one of the most thorough examinations here.  Whatever the origin may be, the word certainly conjures up a cold, blustery feeling.

Stay warm, everyone, as this blizzard blasts and blitzes its way through the region.


Toxic Sagittarius


Considering the time of year, I thought it appropriate to dedicate a post to my fellow Sagittarians.  The ninth sign of the zodiac is represented by the archer.  Sagitta is Latin for arrow – an appropriate name for a constellation resembling an archer. Somehow, the word toxic fits into all this. Toxic is from the Greek word toxikos meaning pertaining to archery.  How did toxic come to mean what it means today if its origin pertains to archery?   Because hunters would dip their arrows in poison before going out on the attack.  Poisonous arrows were very toxic.

[Source: Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth
Photo credit:

Ars Magna

For those of us who delight in the origin of words, we also get pretty jazzed about anagrams. Thus, I wanted to share a great PBS documentary called ars magna on just that – anagrams.  One of the best parts of ars magna is that ars magna means ‘great art’ in Latin and is an anagram for anagrams.  Blows your mind a little, right?

It documents Cory Calhoun and shares his famous Hamlet anagram:

The original…

To be or not to be: that is the question, whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

The anagram… 

In one of the Bard’s best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.


Watch Video | Ars Magna: Short Films | POV | PBS.

Hoi Polloi – hoity toity, low-class, the many?

This is an interesting term, because it is occasionally used to express opposite ideas. Greek for ‘the many’, in English it used as a term for ‘the masses’ or ‘ordinary’ people (often derogatory). However, it is also occasionally used to mean the ‘upper-crust’ – the exact opposite of its Greek meaning. How did that happen? I’m interested in finding similar phrases that are used in opposite contexts. If you have any to share, please post them here!


(Hoi Polloi poster from

The Grumpy Grinch?

The Grumpy Grinch?

I was looking for information on the word grumpy and came across this exchange on the origin of grinch from the 1957 Dr. Seuss classic.  The word grincheux in French means grumpy.  Could this be the word Theodore Geisel used to come up with this name?

Moving on to the word grumpy.  Perhaps, it’s from the Danish grum, or cruel?  Or, it mimics the sound one makes when expressing displeasure?

Either way, it sounds pretty miserable… Cheerful post to come next week!



I am a student of Arabic and love coming across Arabic words and phrases that have migrated to English. One of my favorites is the phrase “Checkmate.” Playing chess (the few times that I did), I never knew what the phrase meant, but I didn’t think much of it. That changed when an Arabic professor asked our class what the words Check and Mate sounded like in Arabic. Well, come to think of it, they sound like Sheikh and Mat, which translate to King and Dead or The King is Dead

For those interested in chess, I’ve linked to a great podcast on how an incarcerated teenager used chess to reconnect with a teacher and the outside world.

Baia Fonda

Ever wonder where ‘Fundy’ came from?  As in, the Bay of Fundy?  Well, it may come from the Portuguese baia fonda or ‘deep bay.’  I just started reading A Great and Noble Scheme by John Mack Faragher, and this nugget was in the opening pages.  The Bay is 700 feet deep, in points, and has the highest recorded tide change in the world – up to 56 feet! For more information on the Bay, check out Natural Resources Canada.

Delighting in the origins of words