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From one of America's top wordsmiths, a lively survey of words from abroad that make English a truly international language.
With dry wit and remarkable erudition, Eugene Ehrlich's You've Got Ketchup on Your Muumuu takes us on an eye-opening tour of our ever-changing language, showing us how English has, throughout its history, seamlessly sewn words from other languages into its original fabric. The language we call our own has in fact been culled from the languages of ancient invaders, such as the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes, and the French.
Ehrlich's comprehensive research and vast lingual experience bring to light the origins of some of our most popular and well-used words. For example, graffiti is shown to come from the Italian word meaning "scratches." The word for one of our favorite French pastries, éclair, means "lightning flash." And ketchup comes from the Chinese Ke-Jap, which means "fish sauce."
Ehrlich illuminates the origins, purposes, and meanings of once-foreign words that have become part of the rich texture of our language.
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|File size:||798 KB|
About the Author
Eugene Ehrlich is co-editor of The Oxford American Dictionary and the author of numerous books on language, including Les Bon Mots, What's in a Name?, and the classic bestseller Amo, Amas, Amat, and More. He lives in Mamaroneck, New York.
Eugene Ehrlich is the author and editor of many reference books on language, including The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate, What's in a Name?, Les Bon Mots, You've Got Ketchup on Your Muumuu and the classic Amo, Amas, Amat, and More. He lives in Mamaroneck, New York.
Read an Excerpt
You've Got Ketchup on Your Muumuu
An A-To-Z Guide to English Words from Around the World
By Eugene Ehrlich
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2000 Eugene Ehrlich
All rights reserved.
abacus [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From Greek abax, meaning a "drawing board."
In English since the fourteenth century, meaning "a frame for making arithmetic calculations, with balls or beads sliding on wires"; in Japanese called a soroban (SOH roh bahn), from Chinese suanpan, literally, a "count board": "The abacus has the advantage of presenting a running subtotal each time an addend is inserted, so as soon as the final addend is inserted, the total is presented."
abalone [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From American Spanish.
In English since 1840, in both languages meaning an "edible mollusk with a shell lined with mother-of-pearl": "Years ago, visitors to the San Francisco waterfront slurped oysters and abalones, all the while discussing the relative merits of each."
abat-jour AH bah ZHUUR
From French, literally, it "throws down the daylight"; meaning a lamp shade.
In English since 1830 meaning a "lamp shade" or "reflector"; also, "a skylight or sloping aperture to admit light from above": "The architect failed to design the framing needed to accommodate the promised number of abat-jours (AH bah ZHUURZ)."
abattoir [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From French, meaning a "slaughterhouse."
In English since early in the nineteenth century with the same meaning, but only infrequently used in ordinary speech: "When would he get over his revulsion at the sounds and smells of the abattoir where he finally had found work?"
That people today find any use for the English word "abattoir" may suggest a preference for the pleasant sound of this word and the cover it provides for the explicit ugliness conveyed by the word "slaughterhouse."
absinthe AB sinth
Also given as absinth, in French spelled absinthe, meaning "wormwood," a bitter herb with tonic qualities, as well as a green liqueur made from vermouth, wormwood, and other herbs.
In French, and in English since the beginning of the seventeenth century, "absinthe" has been used to mean a delicious green liqueur: "Rose knew she would never have the chance to sit with other artists, sipping absinthe and dreaming of sudden success as a painter."
Most Western countries now ban this drink, which has an alcoholic content of 68 percent.
accouchement [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From French, meaning "childbirth."
In English since the beginning of the nineteenth century, with the same meaning.
The French word accouchement derives from elements that may literally be translated as "brought to bed," a phrase not unknown in English in the sense of awaiting childbirth: "Each day that went by brought the young woman closer to her accouchement, which would change her life forever."
In earlier times "accouchement" was hit upon as an acceptable term for an event that English had a tough time dealing with — witness other euphemisms for childbirth: "confinement"; "delivery"; and "lying-in"; not to mention "blessed event." After all, until recently people never spoke of, nor did newspapers ever write of, a woman's pregnancy. Instead, many people resorted to whispering that a woman was "anticipating"; "expecting"; "in a family way"; "in an interesting condition"; "in a delicate condition"; or, falling back on French for inspiration, enceinte (which see). Those with a propensity for more colorful language would say a woman "has one in the oven"; she's "knocked up"; even she's "wearing her apron high."
afflatus [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From Latin, literally, a "breathing on."
In English since the mid-seventeenth century, meaning "divine inspiration" or just plain old "inspiration." The meaning "divine inspiration" is understood when we use "afflatus" to characterize the mysterious force that gives rise to a poetic impulse, but anyone who uses "afflatus" in this sense had better be sure of his grounds for making this claim: "The writers' workshops he attended that winter promised him everything but afflatus, and that was what he needed most." There ain't hardly no poets around these days who are divinely inspired.
aficionado [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From Spanish aficionado, literally, "amateur"; the past participle of aficionar, meaning "to engender affection."
In English since the mid-nineteenth century, meaning "a devotee or fan of any sport or pastime," originally said especially of a person devoted to bullfighting. The feminine form of the Spanish and the English word is aficionada ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]). "They opened a bar across the street from where the cockfights were held, and almost at once, the aficionados made it their drinking headquarters."
It is worth pointing out that amateur [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], a French word from Latin amator, meaning "lover," was taken into English about one hundred years before "aficionado" and was welcomed by our omnivorous language. "Amateur" now has as its principal meaning in both French and English "someone who participates in a sport or other activity for the love of it, not for pay." A secondary meaning of "amateur" is "someone who lacks skill in a particular activity."
agent provocateur [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From French, literally, "inciting agent."
The plural in English as well as in French is agents provocateurs ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]). It carries the same meaning in French as it has in English since late in the nineteenth century: "a secret agent employed to incite suspects to overt action that will make them liable to punishment": "Because it was becoming too difficult to recruit the necessary number of agents provocateurs, the department chiefs decided to set up a school and award certificates in troublemaking, which they called 'government service.'"
aide-de-camp [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From French, literally, "camp helper." In English since the late seventeenth century, also given in American English as aid-de-camp, with the same meaning as in French: "a subordinate military officer acting as confidential assistant to a seniorofficer."
In a highly regarded French-English dictionary, aide-de-camp is defined as "aide-de-camp."
This term has largely been replaced by aide, which clearly carries the suggestion that a person so described is not to be confused with a military orderly. The latter person is an officer of low rank who performs menial duties for an officer of high rank: "Much to his chagrin, the new aide found he was expected to play cards with the colonel for half the night."
Lurking within the "aide"/"orderly" distinction seen in military life is a comparable spirit abroad in the corporate world, where much is made of the difference between "administrative assistant" and "secretary." Just refer to someone as "secretary" these days and see how quickly a friendly atmosphere turns dark.
And then see what may happen when you ask this same person whether he or she can get you a cup of coffee.
aide-mémoire AYD mem WAHR
From French, literally, "aids memory"; meaning a "memorandum."
In English since the mid-nineteenth century, plural aides-mémoire (AYDZ mem WAHR), with the same meaning, more completely a "memorandum summarizing a discussion, agreement, or action." The term is used particularly in diplomacy: "Immediately after the meeting concluded, I was expected to prepare an aide-mémoire for my government's use."
Lest we forget.
alfresco al FRESS koh
From Italian al fresco, literally, "in the fresh (air)."
In English since the mid-eighteenth century, as an adverb meaning 1. "in the open air"; "out-of-doors": "We hope for good weather this weekend, so we'll be able to lunch alfresco."
2. As an adjective meaning "outdoor": "Alfresco dining will be impossible if the weather is as poor as predicted."
And as it almost always is.
alter ego [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From Latin, literally, "another I."
In Latin, and in English since the sixteenth century, meaning a "second self"; an "inseparable friend"; and a "perfect substitute or deputy": "Soon enough he found himself no longer satisfied with the role of alter ego he was expected to play."
ancien régime ahn SYAN ray ZHEEM
From French, literally, "old rule," referring particularly to the French system of government before the Revolution of 1789.
In English since the end of the eighteenth century, meaning a "superseded regime." Thus, we may write, "How I long for the days of the ancien régime, before mergers and acquisitions became common and our little company was still family-owned."
angina pectoris [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From Latin, literally, "spasm of the chest."
In English given initially as angina — meaning "throat inflammation" — since the end of the sixteenth century. Later, toward the end of the eighteenth century, it became known as angina pectoris. The addition of pectoris gave English a dignified name for the severe chest pain that results when a diseased heart is subjected to overexertion.
Today, once again called "angina" by those who know it well, and applied broadly to any attack of painful spasms: "My doctor gave me a prescription for pills to take immediately when an attack of angina begins."
From German Angst meaning "fear" or "anxiety."
In English since the mid-nineteenth century, meaning "anxiety" or a "feeling of dread, remorse, or guilt, especially neurotic fear": "He appears doomed to irrepressible angst even though the battle experiences he blames for his condition occurred decades ago."
The word "angst" may have become fashionable in English speech because of the glut of twentieth-century psychoanalysts whose first language was German and had to adapt — resisting all the way — to learning English. "Angst," thus, came into English as a vestige of German psychoanalytical terminology.
Which also gave us the fifty-minute hour, eventually to be replaced by the forty-five-minute hour.
annus mirabilis [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From Latin, meaning "year of wonders."
In English since late in the seventeenth century, plural anni mirabiles (ANI m? RAB ? leez), meaning "remarkable or auspicious year."
The classic "annus mirabilis" in English history is generally taken as the year 1666, memorable for the Great Fire of London and England's victory over the Dutch, and impelling John Dryden, in 1667, to publish his poem "Annus Mirabilis." "Breathes there a young writer who does not dream that acceptance of his first novel for publication will surely lead to his annus mirabilis?"
It is interesting to note that England's Queen Elizabeth II, unhappy over highly publicized family problems that had befallen the House of Windsor and alluding to Dryden's phrase, used annus horribilis (haw RIB i liss), "awful year," to characterize a year recently past.
She could not, with Charles Dickens in mind, say, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
No way. It wasn't the best of times in any sense.
anomie [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From French anomie, from Greek anomia, meaning "disregard of law."
In English since the end of the sixteenth century, also given as anomy, meaning "a condition of individuals or society characterized by an absence of social values."
This term comes into use particularly as a vogue word from the pens and mouths of social scientists searching for a way to characterize the causes of social unrest and unruly behavior of adolescents. Thus, one may read such mouthfuls as "Incipient anomie is an alarming sign of a society on the edge of disintegration."
In other words, when law and order break down, things don't look too good.
apéritif ah PAIR i TEEF
From French, literally, an "opener."
In French, and in English since the end of the nineteenth century, meaning "an alcoholic drink taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal."
The word is also given in English as aperitif [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], an indication that the word is getting ready to write "paid" on its debt to French: "By the time Alfred had drunk three aperitifs, we knew he wouldn't make it to the dinner table."
Or to an upstairs bedroom.
apparatchik [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From Russian apparatchik, plural apparatchiki, meaning "party bureaucrat."
In English since the end of World War II, plural apparatchiks, meaning "Russian Communist Party bureaucrat," also "Russian Communist agent or spy." The term has also come to be applied loosely to any bureaucrat: "Few journalists were unaware that former apparatchiks were in full control of the so-called new Russian economy."
The Russian word combines apparat, meaning the "Russian Communist Party machine," with the suffix -chik, meaning "agent." In English, apparat ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) means "an organization or power structure, especially in politics or government": "It was becoming increasingly apparent that the apparat was still flourishing and was still intent on having its way."
You can bet on it.
arriviste AR ee VEEST
From French, meaning a "go-getter."
In English since the beginning of the twentieth century, meaning "a person who has recently acquired wealth or position, especially one who has done so by dubious means and without gaining concomitant esteem": "Some readers perceive Fitzgerald's Gatsby as an arriviste, nothing more and nothing less."
See also parvenu.
ashram [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From Sanskrit asrama, meaning "hermitage."
In English since the beginning of the twentieth century, meaning "a place of religious retreat or instruction in Hinduism"; also the persons instructed there: "You won't believe it, in the middle of Nebraska there's an honest-to-goodness ashram!"
auto-da-fé AW toh dah FAY
From Portuguese auto-da-fé, plural autos-da-fé; and from Spanish auto-de-fe, plural autos-de-fe. Both, literally, "act of the faith."
In English since the beginning of the eighteenth century, meaning 1. "a judicial sentence of the Inquisition": "The entire community knew what was in store when people gathered apprehensively in the public square to listen to the reading of the auto-da-fé."
2. "The execution of the sentence of a court characterized as the Inquisition, especially the burning of condemned heretics at the stake": "Once he became chairman of the Senate Committee of the Judiciary, any nominee brought before him knew he faced an auto-da-fé."
The Spanish Inquisition, an effort of the Catholic Church to root out heresy, was established in 1478 and finally abolished in 1834. Its inquisitor-general, from 1487, was a Dominican monk named Tomás de Torquemada (1420–98) who turned the Inquisition into an instrument of the state.
It was Torquemada who persuaded the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to expel the Jews from Spain in 1492 and, during his term of office, found time to have approximately two thousand heretics burned at the stake.
Small wonder that the name Torquemada has ever since been associated with autos-da-fé and become synonymous with a cruel persecutor.
avatar [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
From Sanskrit avatara, literally, a "passing down."
In Sanskrit, and in English since late in the eighteenth century. In Hindu mythology meaning the "descent of a deity to earth in visible form"; also meaning "manifestation; phase; incarnation": "Several Sikhs I know have named their first-born sons Avatar, presumably in hope that they will prove to be incarnations of a deity."
You never know.
Excerpted from You've Got Ketchup on Your Muumuu by Eugene Ehrlich. Copyright © 2000 Eugene Ehrlich. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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