Never Stops: Words

Time for me to delve into my favorite subject, words in the English language.

I start with hightail. Often used with “it,” the word means to move at full speed, especially when making a getaway. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it’s U.S. slang from cattle ranches (animals fleeing with tails up) that first appeared in 1890.

Next, hag. Merriam-Webster says that the word means a woman who has compacted with the devil, a witch, or simply an ugly old woman. The Online Etymology Dictionary says that the word originated in the early thirteenth century meaning “repulsive old woman,” probably from derived from Old English hægtes, hægtesse  meaning witch, sorceress, enchantress, or fury.

Bulwark: a solid wall-like structure raised for defense but not too high to fire a gun over. Online Etymology Dictionary: from early fifteenth century meaning a fortification outside a city wall or gate; a rampart, barricade. Its origin was the Middle Dutch bulwerke or Middle High German bolwerc, probably derived from “bole”—plank, tree trunk—and “werc,” meaning work.

Bode: to be an omen of, to portend, to presage. The word has quite a history. It comes from Old English bodian—to proclaim, announce beforehand, or foretell. That word, in turn, comes from boda, meaning messenger, probably derived from Proto-Germanic budon- from Proto-Indo-European root bheudh, be aware, make aware. Whew. But wait, we’re not through. With “good” or “ill,” bode means to give a (good or bad) portent or promise. It’s had that meaning since the late fourteenth century. As a shortened form of “forebode,” meaning to presage (usually something evil), it dates from 1740.

Gobble: to eat greedily, swallow hastily. The word has apparently existed in its current form since sometime around 1600. It was probably imitative of the sound of someone eating rapidly and based on “gob” via gobben—to drink something greedily (early fifteenth century).

And finally (for today, anyway), fracas. It means a noisy quarrel, a brawl, fight, or altercation. The first noted occurrence of the word was 1727. It’s from the French fracas—crash, sudden noise, tumult, bustle, fuss. That word comes from the Italian fracasso, meaning uproar or crash. Fracasso is a back-formation from fracassare—to smash, crash, break in pieces, from fra-, a shortening of Latin infra—below—and Italian cassare, to break.

More next time.

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