Yet Again: Words

Once more with feeling: words that fascinate me. As a linguist (seven languages), I am constantly engulfed in words. I love them. And English is apparently the richest of languages when it comes to words. So let’s get to it.

Berserk: According to the Merriam-Webster website, “berserk” means (1) an ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in battle and held to be invulnerable; or (2) one whose actions are recklessly defiant. The Online Etymology Dictionary describes the word as follows: “1844, from berserk (n.) ‘Norse warrior’ (by 1835), an alternative form of berserker, a word which was introduced (as berserkar) by Sir Walter Scott in ‘The Pirate’ (1822), from Old Norse berserkr (n.) ‘raging warrior of superhuman strength.’ It is probably from *ber- ‘bear’ + serkr ‘shirt,’ thus literally ‘a warrior clothed in bearskin’ (see bear (n.) + sark). Thus not, as Scott evidently believed, from Old Norse berr ‘bare, naked’ and meaning “warrior who fights without armor.”

Doozy: Oxford Languages defines the word (sometimes rendered as “doozie”) as “something outstanding or unique of its kind, e.g., ‘it’s gonna be a doozy of a black eye.’” The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the word is perhaps an alteration of daisy, or from popular Italian actress Eleonora Duse (1859-1924)—in either case, reinforced by Duesenberg, the expensive, classy make of automobile from the 1920s-30s.

Bambozzle: The word is defined as meaning to cheat, trick, swindle. It originated in 1703, originally a slang or cant word, of unknown origin—perhaps Scottish from bombaze, bumbaze meaning to confound, perplex, or related to bombast; or related to French embabouiner meaning to make a fool (literally baboon) of; or from the Italian bambolo, bamboccio, bambocciolo meaning a young babe, extended by metonymy to mean an old dotard or babish gull. Related: Bamboozled; bamboozler; bamboozling.

Wacko: mad or insane. It’s an extended form of wack, a word originating in by 1971 meaning a crazy person. Or it is a 1938 back-formation from wacky. Used as an adjective in slang sense of “worthless, stupid,” it appeared in the late 1990s. It may be a variant of whacky—fool—which originated in the late 1800s as British slang, probably ultimately from whack—a blow, stroke, from the notion of being whacked on the head one too many times.

Gadget: Oxford languages defines the word as meaning a small mechanical or electronic device or tool, especially an ingenious or novel one. The word originated in 1886 as gadjet, a sailors’ slang word for any small mechanical thing or part of a ship for which they lacked, or forgot, a name; perhaps from French gâchette meaning a catch-piece of a mechanism (fifteenth century), diminutive of gâche meaning staple of a lock.

More next time.

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