How Upper and Lower Case Letters Changed the World

The Godescalc EvangelistaryWhen I was studying European history at university, I had to write a paper about the Carolingian empire. You won’t be surprised to learn that I chose a language-related topic. These days, as my six-year-old learns to read and write, I’ve been thinking about that paper. Today, I’d like to revisit it.

As you may know, people didn’t always use upper and lower case letters—also known as majuscule and minuscule. In Rome, manuscripts from the 7th and 8th centuries were written entirely in majuscule. Continue reading


The Etymology of Death, Grief, and Mourning

call_me_when_you__re_sober_by_zhao1My dear readers, what a difficult month it has been. One of my dogs died unexpectedly, from something called spontaneous pneumothorax, which, in a nutshell, means he had holes in his lungs that formed spontaneously and grew progressively worse over time.

I’m not trying to bring you down; I just wanted you to understand why I chose to write today’s post. Continue reading

A Taste of Garden Etymology

7717687746_cb5f70b4a1_oToday, I’d like to pay a little homage to my vegetable garden. With all the rain and heat we’ve had this year, things are thriving. The tomatoes are attempting a coup and the cucumbers have made a break for the world outside the fence. Needless to say, I’ll be pickling and canning like crazy for the next few weeks.

But before I’m swept up in the harvest, I thought it would be fun to share a little garden etymology with you. So let’s dig right in! Continue reading

The (Etymological) Origins of the Wicked Stepmother

the_seven_deadly_sins__wrath_by_dantetyler-d5s42mmSome of you may know that, in addition to many other things, I am also a stepmother. A recent conversation with my stepdaughter got me thinking about the origins of stepmother. You see, in French, a stepmother is called a belle-mère, which essentially means beautiful-mother. I wanted to know why the English version was so, um, boring.

It turns out that it’s not boring at all. In fact, it’s quite fascinating. Let me tell you why. Continue reading

Emerging from the Dark (Matter)

Zombie brain illustrationHello to some of my favourite people on the Internet!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have been up to my eyeballs in work since January. The kind of work that drains all the energy out of your brain so all you want to do at the end of the day is pretend to be a satiated zombie (i.e., sit still, and maybe drool a little).  Continue reading

W is for…

Wizard-warlockHappy July, my dear readers! If you celebrated your country’s birthday or independence or something similar in the last week or so, I hope you had a great time. My Canada Day celebrations began with a tornado warning and ended with fireworks, which I think sums up my country pretty nicely. Wild and beautiful.

Okay, so it’s time for the next instalment of my Vocabulary Series. Today, I warmly welcome the wise and the whatnot to allow the letter W to wash over your wonderfully whimsical selves.

This first word is a verb that makes me think of soft summer days at the beach.

Waft (verb)

Etymology:   First appears around 1500, meaning to move gently through the air. Likely comes from the Middle Dutch/Middle Low German word wachten, meaning to guard. It might also be related to the Scottish/Northern English word waff, meaning to make something move to and fro.

Definition:  To float or glide gently through the air (can also refer to scents).

Example:   Wanda the werepup wept as she watched her balloon waft away on the warm summer breeze.


My second word choice started out with one meaning and evolved to mean something a little different but a whole lot more interesting!

Warlock (noun)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1680s in Scotland, meaning the male equivalent of a witch. Comes from the Old English word wærloga, meaning traitor, liar, enemy, or devil. Wærloga comes from wær, which refers to faith and fidelity or an agreement or covenant, and in turn comes from the Proto-Germanic wera– and the Proto-Indo-European wereo-, meaning true or trustworthy. Loga comes from the early Old English word leogan, meaning to lie. Its use to describe someone in league with the devil dates to around 1300, while its use to describe a male witch or sorcerer appears in the 1560s.

Definition:   A man who practices witchcraft; a wizard or sorcerer.

Example:  The kindly neighbourhood warlock took pity on Wanda; with a wave of his wand, Wanda’s wayward balloon was returned to her waiting hands.


And my final word choice is one that is loaded with meaning, both socially and politically. I was pleasantly surprised to discover its innocuous origins.

Wife (noun)

Etymology:   Comes from the Old English word wif, meaning woman, female, lady, and occasionally wife. Wif comes from the Proto-Germanic wiban, a word with unknown origins that also means woman. A number of other old European languages have similar words for woman (Old Norse vif, Danish and Swedish viv, Middle Dutch wiif, Old High German wib, and the German Weib). One possible Proto-Indo-European root is weip-, meaning to twist, turn, or wrap, which could suggest a veiled person.

Wif evolved into wifman, which is where the modern English word woman comes from. The modern meaning to refer to a female spouse started to emerge in Old English, but the original meaning is still preserved in a number of other words, like midwife and fishwife—and also in expressions like old wives’ tale.

Definition:   A married woman, especially in relation to her spouse.

Example:  Once Wanda’s balloon was securely tied to her wrist, the warlock’s wife whisked Wanda home.


As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.


Image credit:  Guro deviantART