Phrases (2)

Back to it again. Because English is often considered to be one of the languages with the most words (the Oxford English Dictionary contains more than 200,000 words including 171,476 words in use and 47,156 that are obsolete), I can go on at length about its words and phrases. Maybe we should consider ourselves lucky that it doesn’t have as many as Korean—1,100,373, according to one source.

Today I start with goof off. If spelled with a dash—goof-off—it’s a noun that means a person who wastes time or avoids work, a shirker. Without the dash, it’s a verb that means to spend time idly or foolishly, to shun beneficial work. The origin of the word goof is a mystery. It might be a variant of English dialect “goff,” meaning foolish clown. That derives from the sixteenth century term “goffe,” probably from French goffe meaning awkward or stupid.

Next: wise up. It means to become alert to something one had previously been unaware of to his detriment. Its source, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, is the Old English word “wis,” meaning learned, sagacious, or cunning. My understanding of “wise up” is that it implies abandoning foolish simplicity that overlooked the obvious.

In the lurch: without help or protection when it is needed, to be in a vulnerable or embarrassing position without support. “Lurch” as a noun means a decisive defeat. As a verb, it means to loiter furtively. It originated in the late 17th century as a noun denoting the sudden leaning of a ship to one side. It derives from Middle English lurche, from Old French lourche (deceived, embarrassed), from Proto-West Germanic lort with a variety of meanings—left, left-handed, crooked, bent, warped, underhanded, deceitful, and limping.

Couch potato: Oxford Language defines the term as a person who spends little or no time exercising and a great deal of time watching television. “Couch” is defined as a long upholstered piece of furniture for several people to sit on. It originated in the 14th century meaning a bed, from Old French couche from coucher meaning to lie down, from Latin collocare. “Potato” is a vegetable. Its name derives from the Spanish patata, from a Carib language of Haiti batata meaning sweet potato.

Facts of life: According to Merriam-Webster, “facts of life” means the physiological processes involved in sex and reproduction. The phrase also refers to something that has to be taken into consideration. “Fact” simply means something that has an undeniable existence. It derives from the Latin facere, to do or to make. “Life” means animate being, as opposed to that which is dead. The word derives from Proto-Germanic leiban, meaning “to happen.”

More when the spirit moves me.  

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