I love words. I enjoy the regional dialects, words with long histories, semantics (the study of linguistics or meaning of words), and etymology (the word source).
Most of us never consider the words we speak. We concentrate instead on the meaning we intend or the tone we use to say things, but a word’s origin and its original intent are interesting as well.
Consider the word “blackmail.” We all think of blackmail as a payment coerced by threats. Several sources say the word started from a word that meant tribute or rent. Its origin was during the border war between Scotland and England. Groups would offer to protect border farmers from invasion for a price. Because the farmers were poor, they paid in “black mail” – grains, meats, or coppers – instead of “white mail” – silver coins. Over time, the word began to mean getting payment by threat. (1975 - 1981 by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, "The People's Almanac" series of books) The origin of the word mail (mal) is from the Old English or Old Norse meaning agreement. The Scots used it to mean agreement referring to rent or tax.
How about another one? I recently bought a jar of orange marmalade to make orange chicken. After buying the jar, I wondered where does “marmalade” come from? A quick trip to the computer told me lots about it. Marmalade is a jelly-like preserve that is made from fruit and fruit rind. There is a story that the name of the concoction is from Mary, Queen of Scots. “Spanish oranges had been stored there, and she [Mary] made a new sort of preserve — called after herself as she told them proudly, for the cook at her grandmother’s chateau of Joinville had made it to tempt her appetite when she was ill; ‘Marie est malade,’ he had muttered again and again as he racked his brain to invent something new for her, and ‘Mariemalade’ they had called it ever since.” (The Gay Galliard: the Love Story of Mary, Queen of Scots, by Margaret Irwin, 1942.)
In truth, marmalade is originally from Portugal where it was made from quinces. The quinces were originally cooked into a pink paste and served as a dessert you could cut with a knife. The preserves were called marmalada after the Spanish word for quince which was marmelo. Since it stored well, it was exported to England in wooden crates. It was an expensive treat so English cooks substituted other fruits trying to make their own “marmalades.” (http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-mar3.htm)
Not too long ago, my son Ben told me a story about how the word for golf caddy came from Mary Queen of Scots too. He said that when the Scots would come to France to see Mary, they brought the game of golf with them. She would ask her cadets to carry the golf clubs. He said because the Scots did not understand the pronunciation, they changed “cadet” to “caddy.”
I don’t know if that story is true or not but I did find that “According to Scottish golf lore, the term caddy is derived from the French word, ‘le cadet.’ This term means, ‘the boy,’ or, ‘youngest of the family.’ The word ‘cadet’ first appeared in English in 1610, with the word ‘caddy’ following shortly thereafter in 1634.” (http://golftips.golfsmith.com/origin-golfing-term-caddy-2460.html) So I suppose Mary could be responsible for that term after all.
Words are an adventure. Learning is a lifestyle.
Center for Lifelong Learning - 121 South Marion Street, Athens, AL 35611 - 256-233-8262
By: Wanda Campbell