Know Your Words

Happy Thanksgiving, You Turkey

President Bush pardons the Thanksgiving turkey in the Rose Garden.
W. inspects the subject of his presidential pardon.

I love Thanksgiving. The relative non-commercialism, the gluttony, the several types of pie. In honor of this special day, I’m going to pass a serving of etymology your way and give you the stuffing on the word turkey.

Here’s the skinny on the bird that’ll be the word this coming Thursday. Turkey, says the (Ayto) Dictionary of Word Origins:

… was originally applied to the guinea fowl, because the bird was purportedly imported into Europe from Africa by the Portuguese through Turkish territory. When the American bird we now know as the turkey was introduced to the British in the mid-16th century it seems to have reminded them of guinea fowl, for they transferred the guinea fowl’s name, turkey, to it.

This is the general story—that the American bird reminded people of the African bird, so they gave it the guinea fowl’s old name: turkey. Yet, the Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories fattens this story up with a second helping of detail.

The large, ungainly bird that is known scientifically as the Meleagris gallopavo was first domesticated by the Aztecs, Mayas, and other civilized Indian tribes of Mexico and Central America. At the time of their conquest of the “New” World, the Spanish began exporting the domesticated fowl to the “Old” World. First introduced into the lands bordering the Mediterranean early in the 16th century, the fowl was gradually domesticated throughout northern Europe and England.

From the beginning, the New World fowl was confused with a bird of African origin that had been known to Mediterranean peoples since ancient times. The Old World bird was commonly known as the guinea fowl, guinea cock, or turkey-cock. The name guinea fowl derived from the fact that it was sometimes exported from Guinea on the west coast of Africa by the Portuguese. The name turkey-cock derived from the fact that the fowl had been originally imported to Europe from the territory that the Europeans thought of as Turkish.

Thanksgiving_1900

Indeed, Samuel Johnson’s dictionary defines turkey as “a large domestic fowl brought from Turkey.” Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, on the other hand, dispenses with such history and offers a more contemporary take on the bird and its unfortunate destiny:

A large bird whose flesh when eaten on certain religious anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and gratitude. Incidentally, it is pretty good eating.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “This is all well and good, Dear Papercut, but what does this have to do with insulting a person by calling him or her a turkey?”

I tried to find the answer to that question. The closest I came was the following entry for turkey in The Slang of Sin: “A gambler who is not familiar with the etiquette of the game or gambling.”

Since we tend to call someone a “turkey” when he or she is acting foolish or doing something stupid, my guess is that the use of the word as an insult hatched from this slangy use of the term.

Happy? Good. Now please pass the pie.

Reference News Roundup

Reference News Roundup (Vol. 6)

newspaper-peepsHello Papercutters!

I haven’t done a Reference News Roundup in a while, so I decided to right that wrong with the following batch of reference- and word-related news items from the past week (give or take a few days).

Happy reading and Enjoy!

I. NEWS ITEM(S) of the WEEK

Kory Stamper, associate editor at Merriam-Webster and author of the new book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries , is EVERYWHERE these days. (Good for her and good for dictionaries.) In fact, she’s so omnipresent that, instead of just offering you one News Item of the Week, I’m giving you four — all of which center around her in some way.

How do new words get in the dictionary?
Boingboing.net

Kory Stamper, author of the new book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries describes three criteria Merriam-Webster uses for inclusion of words like truther, binge-watch, photobomb and the 1,000 other words that make the cut in a typical year.

Suffixery
The Chronicle of Higher Education (blog)

“So in speech, I don’t police people’s speech. I think that’s jerkery (ph) of the highest order when people do that,” [says associate editor of Merriam-Webster, Kory Stamper].

I love the “ph.” It means that the transcriber was not familiar with jerkery, found nothing when looking it up in Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries (including UrbanDictionary.com!), and thus offered a phonetic spelling. But Stamper didn’t make up jerkery.

Sorry, English teachers: ‘Irregardless’ is a word, dictionary writer says
Des Moines Register.com

“Everyone literally hates this word,” said Stamper, who visits Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City on [recently] to promote her new book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. “But it’s been around for 200 years. It has a clear definition and regular usage. So, mad props to you, ‘irregardless.'”

Collingswood dictionary editor explains inclusion of N-word, profanity
Philly Voice.com

Charged with editing the very text used to determine which words are words and which words are not, Kory Stamper knows the power of language — for good or bad.

II. WORDS & PHRASES

What Are Sheeple? Apple Users Are In New Merriam-Webster Dictionary Definition
International Business Times

Apple fanboys have always had a reputation for undying loyalty to the brand, but Merriam-Webster is taking that characterization to a new level by using them as an example for new dictionary entry “sheeple.”

Words of the Week: “Knock for a Loop”
Bozeman Daily Chronicle.com

We American English speakers have thousands of colorful expressions at our disposal. A listener recently brought an exemplary one to my attention: knock for a loop, meaning to surprise or stun. As in: getting fired without notice knocked me for a loop. We sometimes get thrown for a loop, too, which means the same thing.

‘Wicked’ Interesting: Merriam-Webster Explores Rise Of New England’s Favorite Word
Boston.CBSlocal.com

New England and “wicked” go together like peanut butter and Fluff. But what’s the story behind the word that has flourished in Massachusetts and the northeast corner of the United States? The folks at Merriam-Webster Dictionary tried to shed some light on its origins, tweeting Thursday “This is how ‘wicked’ became an adverb.”

Imposter Syndrome enters the Oxford English Dictionary
Cambridge Network.co.uk

Colloquial usage of the term impostor syndrome has grown recently, so much so that the term is now one of the new entries into the Oxford English Dictionary.  In fact, the impostor phenomenon was first referred to in academic circles back in 1978, but it has recently developed another life as the impostor syndrome and is being used (incorrectly) to refer to any lack of confidence or self-doubt.

III. DICTIONARIES

Meet the people who are making the dictionary relevant again
Metro.US

To many, a dictionary has likely gone the way of beepers, payphones and writing by hand, but for the folks at Merriam-Webster, they’re just doing what they’ve been doing for the past 186 years.

Tech Jargon Confusing You? Use this Online Dictionary
Guidingtech.com

Are you enthralled by the numerous developments that tech has to offer but often get bogged down due to the complex tech concepts and terminology? Here is a dictionary to explain it to you like you were a child.

Chinese to English, Urdu dictionary launched
Pakobserver.net

Deputy Consul General of China Wang Daxue and Prof. Dr. Nizamudin, Chairman Punjab Higher Education Commission Friday launched the first-ever “Chinese to English and Urdu Dictionary” along with the second edition of Chinese Learning book.

IV. ENCYCLOPEDIAS

Turkey bans Wikipedia, labeling it a ‘national security threat’
Star Democrat.com

If you try to open Wikipedia in Turkey right now, you’ll turn up a swirling loading icon, then a message that the server timed out. Turkey has blocked Wikipedia. If you’re inside the country, you can only access the online encyclopedia through a virtual private network connection to a system outside the country.

Introducing an Online Encyclopedia of Inuit Arctic Observations
News Deeply.com

Siku, an online tool that recently won a $750,000 grant from Google, aims to pull together native knowledge about dangerously thin sea ice and other conditions in the Arctic’s fast-changing landscape.

V. OTHER WORDY BUSINESS

Dumbing down Shakespeare: Are Americans too intellectually lazy to appreciate his genius?
Washington Post.com

The fact that many theater companies seem to believe they can fulfill their classical mandates with only the most widely known plays, or worse, sacrifice more challenging plays to the popular-entertainment demands of the box office, makes [the author] wonder whether these are signs of a deeper problem.

10 Words That Will Make You Sound Smarter at Work
Time.com

If you’re looking to stretch your workplace vocabulary without sounding like a pretentious asshole, here are some suggestions.

[And if you don’t care what those assholes at the office think about you, just keep talking as normal….]

That’s it for this installment. If you want to see previous issues of the Reference News Roundup, click the following links:

RNR (vol.5)
RNR (vol.4)
RNR (vol.3)
RNR (vol.2)
RNR (vol.1)