February 7, 2011

Speaking of word and phrase origins . . .

The information below comes from "The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson. Here are two word/phrase origins that I enjoyed learning.

The "naked truth". According to an old Roman fable, when Truth went swimming in a river, Falsehood stole Truth's clothes -- and Truth went naked rather than put on the clothes that Falsehood had left behind. The story makes the naked truth sound rather virtuous, which gives the phrase added meaning for me.

One of my ultra-favorite word origins concerns the word "nasty", a term which has been in use since at least the 15th century. It comes from the Aryan "niz'd" for "bird's nest". Both "nasty" and "nest" probably worked their way into our language through this route. According to this theory, early Teutons noticed that birds fouled their nests and called anything foul and stinking nesty or nasty. Now, doesn't this information make the word "nasty" much nastier for you? The postscript to this entry in the encyclopedia says, "The O.E.D. notes that 'the original force of the word has been greatly . . . toned down." Indeed. Nasty!

I find that knowing the deeper meaning of words and phrases gives them added life. It's more fun to refer to the naked truth when you know what you're saying. The same goes for nasty. I'll bet that the next time you use the word, it will seem even nastier.

2 comments:

Artichoke Annie said...

Believe me I know nasty - I have two bird nests on my small porch area. It's quite "nasty" and that's the "naked truth".

Always enjoyable, Keith, thanks....

writenow said...

You're welcome. I used to have another etymology book called "The Browser's Dictionary". It was great fun but I committed the ultimate book sin and lent it out. Grrrr. Why don't people return books? (And why don't we remember who we lent them to?) It was such an enjoyable book to flip through. I think I'll buy it again.