More Words, Words, Words

Because I was born to be a writer and have worked as a linguist in seven languages, words and their origin are forever in the forefront of my mind. I recently devoted a couple of blog posts to words that intrigue me, but I’m nowhere near finished. Turns out I have plenty of material to work with. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, English now has 171,476 words that are in current use and is adding more all the time.

I start today with two words taken from oriental languages. First is tycoon, defined as a wealthy, powerful person in business or industry. It comes from the Japanese taikun, “Great Lord” (大君).

Possibly related is typhoon, a tropical cyclone.  The term presumably come from the Chinese 大風 (tai fung), “big wind”, but some etymologists argue that its origin was Portuguese (perhaps from Greek tuphōn which means “whirlwind”).

Then there’s finicky—overly fussy about one’s needs or requirements. The word came about as an alteration of finicking, itself an alteration of another adjective, finical. It’s believed that finical derives from the adjective fine.

Next is persnickety, alternate form of pernickety, placing too much emphasis on trivial or minor details; fussy. The word is of uncertain origin; the Dictionary of the Scots Language says that it resembles per- (“intensifying prefix”) + nick, but might be derived from particular + finicky with the form influenced by past participles ending in -et, -it, and -ed.

And finally (for today, anyway) is snicker—to give a half-suppressed, typically scornful laugh. The word has many related words in English, among them snigger, sneer, smirk, simper, titter, giggle, whicker, and chortle. The word’s origin is unclear, but it may have been consciously invented in the 1690s. It’s possibly of imitative origin, similar to Dutch snikken “to gasp, sob.”

That’s plenty for today. More next time.

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