Words and their Origins

Since this blog is called A Bunch of Wordz, it seems appropriate to dedicate today’s posts to discussing words.  Michael Quinion, Cambridge graduate, author, advisor to the makers of the Oxford English Dictionary, and all-around smarty-pants, hosts an interesting site called World Wide Words, which discusses the origins of various words and phrases, like, for instance, “humble pie”:

“The original umbles were the innards of the deer: the liver, heart, entrails and other second-class bits. It was common practice in medieval times to serve a pie made of these parts of the animal to the servants and others who would be sitting at the lower tables in the lord’s hall…However, it seems it was not until the nineteenth century that the expression humble pie appeared in the sense we now know, and some have reasoned that it did so as a deliberate play on words.”

The article where the previous text appears also talks about eating crow, eating dirt, eating one’s words, eating one’s hat, and eating one’s heart out.

Or, for a bit of movie history, check out this article about the mutoscope, one of the first devices to show moving pictures:

“Both the kinetoscope and the mutograph required the viewer to peer into a viewing slot while turning a handle. But whereas Edison’s device used a strip of film, Casler’s was very close in idea to the flip-book, in which riffling through a sequence of still pictures seems to create a moving image…The big problem with both the kinetoscope and the mutograph was that only one person could watch at a time. The promoters of the mutoscope, the KMCD Syndicate, tried to get around the issue by introducing Mutoscope parlours that housed several such machines.”

A similar parlour can be seen in the film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the scene where Winona meets up with the white wolf).

Don’t forget to check out Mr. Quinion’s numerous book publications, all having to do with odd facts about words and all of which would make great Christmas gifts for your own smarty-pants or bibliophile friends.

American Literature Abuse Society

Literature abuse, or “readaholism,” is a very serious problem.  Okay, it’s actually a silly one that was totally made up, but this great website for the American Literature Abuse Society (ALAS) is very funny and worth a read.  They also have a special section for when the problem gets completely out of control — that’s right, when the readaholic spirals into the depths of becoming (insert ominous music here) an English Major:

“Within the sordid world of literature abuse, the lowest circle belongs to those sufferers who have thrown their lives and hopes away to study literature in our colleges. Parents should look for signs that their children are taking the wrong path – don’t expect your teenager to approach you and say, ‘I can’t stop reading Spencer.’ By the time you visit her dorm room and find the secret stash of the Paris Review, it may already be too late. What to do if you suspect your child is becoming an English major:

1) Talk to your child in a loving way. Show your concern. Let her know you won’t abandon her- but that you aren’t spending a hundred grand to put her through Stanford so she can clerk at Waldenbooks, either. But remember that she may not be able to make a decision without help; perhaps she has just finished Madame Bovary and is dying of arsenic poisoning.

2) Face the issue: Tell her what you know, and how: ‘I found this book in your purse. How long has this been going on?’ Ask the hard question- Who is this Count Vronsky?’

3) Show her another way. Move the television set into her room. Praise her brother, the engineer. Introduce her to frat boys.

4) Do what you have to do. Tear up her library card. Make her stop signing her letters as ‘Emma.’ Force her to take a math class, or minor in Spanish. Transfer her to a Florida college.”

If you’re a regular visitor to A Bunch of Wordz, then chances are, you already fall into the category of a chronic readaholic.  I’d say you should probably read up on it — but, maybe not.