origin, Uncategorized

PPFF #170: love

Good morning,

I thought about folding this little Friday routine but I realised I really have nothing else to do outside work other than to feed and wash myself; no social or familial obligations, responsibilities or duties whatsoever that I needed some sense of continuity and rhythm for the sake of sanity and temporality, which I knew would inevitably lead to needless introspection, pointless questioning of existence, meanings, narratives, and the ensuing fall down the rabbit-hole etc. So here they are, a tad hackneyed, but nonetheless worth 5 minutes of your time the (possible) origins of ‘love’, 15, 30, and 40; the bizarre scoring system of modern tennis.

The common rubbish (albeit neat) we’re led to believe is that in medieval France clocks were used to keep scores with each point being indicated by moving the minute hand by increment of 15 minutes; 15, 30, 45, and game (or 60/0), and when later deuce was introduced, the 3rd point or 45 was changed to 40, so that 50 could be used to indicate ‘advantage’ in a deuce situation.

One of the reasons why this is rubbish is that clocks were a pretty precious commodity such that it would have been very unusual to find these things in sports courts; I mean I don’t really play tennis but have you noticed how fast these balls fly at Wimbledon? Another reason is that minute hands weren’t really a thing until quite late in the development of clocks.

A little less inspiring but a more convincing theory is that ‘jeu de paume’, a precursor to tennis (‘jeu de paume’ is to tennis as ‘fives’ is to squash) used to be played on a 90 ft long court, divided into 45 ft on each side. For the first two points, the player would move forward toward the net by 15 ft per point, but for the third point they would move only 10 ft to avoid being too close to the net.

And what about ‘love’ as zero? Find out more, read this (or this). It’s got something to do with eggs.

Have a lovely Friday






















PPFF #153: Morning

Good morning,

Here’s the thing. Have you ever wondered what the connection is between the word ‘morning’ and a similar-looking word ‘morn’ that means the same thing? Here’s what I found out.

‘Morn’ historically precedes ‘morning’ as ‘morn’ was derived from an Old English word yonks ago, whereas ‘morning’ dates back to the 13th century and it is a derivative gerund of ‘morn’. These two actually meant different times of the day but this time with ‘morning’ preceding ‘morn’ in daily chronological order. ‘Morn’ originally meant ‘sunrise’. ‘Morning’ hence used to mean the ‘time just before sunrise’ or ‘sunrising’ i.e. the period of time that is ‘becoming a morn’ but not quite there yet. one could argue, perhaps the time before morning should then be called ‘morninging’ but i think we already have the word ‘dawn’, so let’s stick to readily available existing words for now.

And at this point if you’re wondering if ‘evening’ would follow the same logic, you’re absolutely right. The word ‘even’ used to mean ‘sunset’; ergo, ‘evening’, ‘sunsetting’ or the period of time that is ‘becoming an even’ but not quite there yet.

Have a good Saturdaying (or Friday)


PPFF #145:puffin poo

Good morning,

I learnt something quite cool this week. This is how I came across it.

Someone from the office brought in ‘puffin poo’. Not the actual faecal substance from the birds (not least because that would be in violation of HSE regulations and/or social protocol) but ‘delicious white Belgian chocolate with toasted rice and mallow, hand rolled in coconut’ from Shetlands, whose appearance vaguely resembles animal droppings. To learn more about actual puffin guano, I googled ‘puffin’. One of Google’s suggestions was ‘puffin crossings’. Unwittingly I clicked on that link. Then I found out that ‘puffin’ in ‘puffin crossing’ is a loose acronym for Pedestrian User Friendly INtelligent’ or a ‘backronym’. What’s a ‘backronym’? It’s a specially constructed phrase claimed to be an acronym, which in many cases are contrived to spell an existing word; a ‘type of folk etymology’, Wikipedia said. Now what the heck is ‘folk etymology’? Basically it’s a false origin story of a word that language experts know so little about that laypersons like you and I come up with something that sounds plausible as the origin of a particular word or phrase. A well-known example would be ‘posh’, abbreviated from ‘Port Out, Starboard Home’, originating from the fact that the most expensive cabins on ship would be on the port side going out, and the starboard side when it’s homebound. This is absolute rubbish, of course but it sounds so logical that it ought to be true and if it weren’t true, you want it to be true. Anyhow, after a few more clicks later, my mini click quest came to a satisfying end when I eventually stopped on the page that explained the real origin of the word ‘female’.

Like a lot of words in English, the word ‘female’ came from the French word ‘femelle’, which was a diminutive form of ‘femme’(woman), meaning ‘young woman’ (like madame and mademoiselle). Some centuries later English speakers, unfamiliar with suffix –elle, altered its spelling to ‘female’, to be morphologically in line with the existing word ‘male’, to appear in contrast, sort of like how ‘aluminum’ changed to ‘aluminium’ to appear similar to other existing metallic element names such as potassium etc.

It’s strange but it seems to me that some people have an innate desire to make sense of things that they come across, even if they’re not true, preferring  coherence over facts. Food for thought. 

Have a thoughtful Friday


etymology, origin

PPFF #137: Theater Centre

Good morning,

If you have a keen eye for detail, you may have noticed the inconsistency in spelling in the title; ‘theater’ being (North) American and ‘centre’ being British. This morning’s topic has nothing to do with the space for thespian endeavours nor the equidistant point of regular geometries, but all to do with the reason why we spell these in different ways. I say ‘the’, emphatically because unlike many origin stories of sayings, idioms and colloquialisms or etymologies of words we come across, (often inconclusive and ambiguous), the reason for the “two countries separated by a common language” almost points to one unequivocally distinct juncture; Noah Webster of Webster’s Dictionary.

In 1806 by compiling and publishing “A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language”, (somewhat politically motivated) Noah Webster brought about a significant spelling reform which included the most distinguishable features of the common American English spelling patterns (e.g. theatre/theater, sceptical/skeptical neighbor/neighbour etc.). It’s not that he came up with any of these spellings himself but that it was an attempt, successful one at that, to break away from the traditions of America’s old colonial ‘master’, i.e. the British. I was surprised to learn but it’s probably also worth mentioning that the spelling patterns we know in Britain aren’t as ‘authentic’ as we think. For example, Shakespeare’s ‘Loves Labours Lost’ was actually first printed as ‘Loves Labors Lost’, not ‘Loves Labours Lost’ (1598) but through superficial gallicising (not to be confused with gaelicising) efforts borne of ostentatious affectation to appear more French, by 1623 ‘Loves Labors Lost’ would be printed as ‘Loves Labours Lost’.  (Perhaps it’s worth mentioning although such words had made into the English vocabulary from French in the first place, by 16th century spellings of many words had already been economised and phoneticised from their original forms). I guess all things French were fashionable even then.

A slightly digressing but nonetheless interesting example of these differences in spelling is ‘aluminium’ or ‘aluminum’, those of you who read dictionaries for fun would already know, the word was coined by an Englishman as alumium (1808), then changed it to aluminum (the American spelling), but the British editors didn’t like it because it didn’t fit in well with existing element names such as sodium and potassium, so at their whim, they changed it in to aluminium (1812).

So there you have it. We sometimes spell things the way we do because although we hate to admit it, we’re secretly harbouring/harboring a little bit of love for all things French (cheese, wine and now spelling). And Americans decided to walk away from that love because they meant to express their newly gained independence and nationhood etc by all means available to them, which included the way they wrote – the debatable opinion that their spelling patterns are more logical, less superfluous and more phonetic is besides the point, I think.

Anyhow, have a good Fridé.

(did that work?)


PPFF #134: Occidentophilia

Good morning,

I feel obliged to, at least, mention the Rio Olympics. My personal favourite articles related to the Rio games are this  and this.

Moving on, my Monday began with a very short flash discussion of a popular author, Murakami and his slightly offbeat novel Sputnik Sweetheart. I happened to describe him (in a respectful way) occidentophilic; that’s a real word – I’ve checked, albeit not used in common parlance, it’s definitely English – almost French, a cognate of ‘occidentophilia’. Here’s a usage example:

In general, most would agree that Japan had an intense period of systematic westernisation led by the Meiji government, and adoption of western styles of living (sometimes to the point of occidentophilia) by its subjects in the mid- to late- 19th century and into early 20th century

Following my usual routine of digression, thus jumping ship to the topic of the common suffix ‘-philia’, I wondered about its antonym, thence googling ‘-phobia’ instead and came across this potentially incendiary counter-point with regard to Islamophobia, referred to as ‘occidentophobia’. Though topical, I have no intention of having myself sucked into the quicksand of those debates. So again instead, here’s the goulash of my pondering of the word ‘homophobia’.

Obviously it’s a contraction of ‘homosexual’ and ‘-phobia’ but I thought it was a little misleading, if the word is broken down literally; without knowing the hidden ‘-sexual’ part of ‘homosexual’ it would either refer to ‘fear of man’, as in ecce homo or homo erectus‘ (like misandry) or ‘fear of one (or the same)’ as opposed to ‘hetero’ (different) – for the sake of argument, let’s say I feared having the same old rubbish happen to me everyday, would that make me homo-phobic? See how misleading that is?).

If someone like my neighbour Mave (not his real name) feared homosexual persons, first, I suggest you perhaps slap him but I also suggest you describe him as having homo-eroto-phobia’ or ‘homo-sexo-phobia’.

(Admittedly this was verbal goulash – a shoddy, half-baked effort. But should you need it, find solace in the fact that we covered 5 obscure words today in four paragraphs. Besides this will make next week’s fact dazzle like the Northern Lights.)

Have a good Friday and go ‘philia’ whatever you fancy.


PPFF #129

Good morning,

If you’ve been reading, watching or generally consuming any sort of mostly free periodically circulated, information-based visual/literary products, otherwise known as news, in/about Britain recently, then perhaps you might have noticed they fall largely into the following categories:

  • Post-Brexit financial uncertainty; in particular, this week the ever-sliding pound sterling on the slippery slope of its exchange rate against the US dollar, made it to the top in terms of frequency of appearance.
  •  Eton mess. Sorry, I meant Tory mess. Eton mess would have been delicious; on the other hand the current Tory leadership contest mess is, well, just messy and without cream.
  • Euro 2016; that’s football. Not a shorthand for the currency that’s about to become defunct as of 2016, and yes, that thing, which none of the Home Nations are in any more. And,
  • The Chilcot report, or how Britain was yet again mis-sold quite deviously, another indecently contrived political product called the post-9/11 Iraq war, or that thing we didn’t know we didn’t know, which turns out, really they knew they knew, but they didn’t know we knew, and now we know they know we know they knew all along. Right, let me jog your memory, that thing Donald Rumsfeld described as:
    • “… as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

As I know next to nothing about economic uncertainty, football, politics or war, I’ll save you time and the usual gibberish and get right to another one of those facts about origin, admittedly in a state of befuddlement caused by that ‘Rumsfeldianism’.

Have you ever wondered why pound sterling is named as such? Sure, it’s called pound sterling to differentiate it from other currencies by the same name (e.g. Egyptian pound). But what is sterling?

The clue is in the name. Sterling is an Old English word for starling or ‘little star’, derived from ‘steorra’ (star) and a still current English diminutive suffix ‘-ling’.

Indeed there are English silver pennies minted after the Norman Conquest (AD 11th C) during the reign of William the Conqueror, which survive to this day, which show little stars on them.

Without further ado, here it is, the original sterling.


P.S. there are people who disagree with this etymology. Their argument is that these star symbols appeared on Norman pennies only in one issue cycle from 1077-1080 before the design changed completely. Their alternative is that the word ‘sterling’ derives from the old English word ‘ster’ meaning ‘strong’ instead. All I can say about that at this point is, well, haters are gonna hate.

Have a good Friday.




etymology, Pseudo-etymology

PPFF #121

Good morning all,

I am responding this morning to a request from Dom (not his real name) for some sort of a back story behind a politically incorrect, albeit moderate, pejorative Briticism, “window-licker”. For those unfamiliar with the term, well first you should read more British books/watch more British TV etc. Anyway it means ‘mentally handicapped person’. With the term itself being quite descriptive, straightforward and somewhat evocative, there are a number of stories out there in the unregulated wild West that is internet, which all purport to explain the origin of the term; invariably most of them involve a person of a questionable level of intelligence physically licking a window, be it of a bus/ whisky condensation at a distillery or a generic shop-window, wanting something that’s on the other side of the window.

Then I remembered (from a podcast) that the French expression for ‘to window-shop’ is ‘faire du lèche-vitrine’, literally meaning ‘to do window-licking’. After having googled for more than an hour over a few days, I decided not to verify this but instead to throw in another conjecture to the existing body of inconclusive mess of dubious online etymologies.

Picture the following; 19th century London; outside a rather fashionable patisserie, say, Ladurée somewhere really fancy, say Mayfair, manned by a real French proprietor selling all things decadent and delectable in full view of passers-by through freshly cleaned pristine panes of window, beckoning all those who can afford to pay for sumptuous baked goods. Then there’s you, standing there penniless, desperately yearning for one nibble at the thing or a whiff of the stuff. Totally mesmerised, with your face pressed against the window, you start drooling on the window. Now if the shop owner saw you, to them at least, you most certainly would look like a complete ‘window-licker’, would you not? Now since the owner of the shop is French who speaks something that barely passes off as English, he calls you window-licker, merely meaning to describe you and the activity with which you’re engaged; you a ‘window-shopper’. But being self-conscious of your poor, pathetic form, you take it as an insult, thinking “did he just call me a retard”? You manage to remember the sound of the phrase a few days later and repeat it to a learned person who understands basic (but not colloquial) French, who then tells you “I think that patisseur called you literally a ‘window-licker’.”. In turn you (wrongly) confirm to yourself that it was indeed an insult, with your interpretation of it being ‘retard’.

There we have it; probably the most unfounded and unsubstantiated etymological speculation you will find anywhere on the internet. But i hope it was entertaining at least and at best I hope it highlighted the importance of citation and references when claiming something factual.

Don’t go licking any windows and have a good Friday.