Thursday, March 17, 2011

Word Facts for Mar. 12-18, 2011

Word origin for the weekend of Mar. 12-13, 2011: junta - In Spanish, the adjective junto / junta means "joined," as a closely united group or a cabal of competitors might be. It was in the darker sense of a team working to overthrow a ruler that the term was introduced to English in the seventeenth century, though the term does not carry any such judgement in the original Spanish.

Word origin for Mar. 14, 2011: tramp stamp - The coinage "tramp stamp" turns up in Australian slang in about 2006 to mean a tattoo on a woman's lower back that can be seen when she wears low-riding trousers. "Tramp," a wearying kind of walking, dates to the fourteenth century; the word in the sense of a promiscuous woman dates only to 1922 and may have been coined by the playwright Eugene O'Neill. The rhyming slang makes unfair assumptions, but it has become widespread in just a few years.

Word origin for Mar. 15, 2011: conspiracy theory - It's not just we moderns who worry that strange things happen in the corridors of power to account for extraterrestrials, assassinations, and the other stuff of what is generally called "conspiracy theory." The term turns up a few years after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in - fittingly - the Washington Post, under the headline "The Conspiracy Theory." The Latin-rooted word conspiracy literally means "breathing together," that is, talking softly with heads together, as plotters might do.

Word origin for Mar. 16, 2011: frenemy - Also spelled "frienemy," this word coinage describes an ancient phenomenon: someone who appears to be a friend is an enemy, stabbing you in the back for his or her own advantage. Ancient though the phenomenon may be, the word for it first shows up in 1953, in a newspaper piece by the columnist Walter Winchell asking, "Howz about calling the Russians our Frienemies?" The word was apparently forgotten until 2006, when journalists revived it, and it spread from the headlines into common speech.

Word origin for Mar. 17, 2011: forever and a day - To wish someone a long life in Ireland, one asks that he or she last "forever and a day." The expression has long had a place in American English, along with its cousin, "forever minus a day." An anonymous poet wrote in 1917, "May you all live forever / May I live forever less a day / For I would not wish to live / When all my friends had passed away."

Word origin for Mar. 18, 2011: UFO - Just when the first "UFO" hit the skies is unknown, but apparently U.S. Air Force pilots encountered unidentified flying objects in 1953 when the term and its acronym first turned up in an aviation magazine. The term officially replaced "flying saucers," which had appeared in pilots' reports for a year or so before then.

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