November 30, 2007


It just struck me that an etymologist would surely fall in love with an apple. Heres why

1. As American as apple pie
2. In apple pie order
3. As easy as apple pie
4. An apple a day, keeps the doctor away
5. The apple of my eye
6. Upset the apple cart
7. Comparing apples and oranges
8. A rotten apple

Duh! I prefer eating it.

November 24, 2007

Darby and Joan

Darby and Joan - An elderly married couple who live a placid, harmonious life together and are seldom seen apart.

In 1735 Henry Woodfall, a printer's apprentice, wrote a ballad titled "The joys of love never forgot: a song" about a happily married elderly couple. His inspiration for those characters was his own boss John Darby and his wife Joan:

"Old Darby, with Joan by his side,
You've often regarded with wonder:
He's dropsical, she is sore-eyed,
Yet they're never happy asunder ..."

He wrote this poem after Darby's death. This poem in turn became an inspiration for follow-up poems and eventually Darby and Joan became a metaphor. In the UK, clubs for old people are still called Darby and Joan clubs. Below is a pic of D&J figurines.


November 03, 2007


Quisling - traitor

I seem to be in love with eponyms. There's something fascinating about people whose lives in fame (or infamy) help enrich a language. Today's word is a commonization of the last name of Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), a Norwegian fascist politician who helped German Nazi forces to occupy Norway during World War II. Thereafter, he was made the head of the puppet government. After Germany's loss in the war, he was tried and convicted of high treason and executed.

The term quisling for traitors was coined by the British newspaper, The Times, in 1940 when they titled an article "Quislings everywhere". The word means traitor not only in English but in several European languages. Something like a modern-day Judas???

Trivia: In a wartime Norwegian cartoon, "Audience with Hitler, Quisling says: "I am Quisling", and Hitler replies: "And the name?".

Sources:,, Wikipedia

Images: Google: Quisling with Hitler

October 28, 2007


Nosism - The use of 'we' in referring to oneself.

As I keep my nose to the grindstone, I decided to break the monotony of my current rigorous academic life to write this post. The word came today in mail and I had to share it. No great story behind its etymology though. It's simply derived from the Latin word, nos that means "we" and is also known as the "editorial we" due to its frequent use by the editors. Also called "the royal we" owing to royalty using it often. You have to read the trivia though :D

Trivia: Mark Twain once said, "Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the 'editorial we'".


October 18, 2007


Meaning - act of bantering,joking,jesting,pleasantry.

During the 17th century, the word "banter" appeared in low slang.Initially it was used more for aggressive and vicious exchanges rather than mild or friendly exchange of teasing remarks. The first appearance of the word was seen in the play Madam Fickle,dated in 1676 by Thomas D'Urfey, in which Zechiel cries to his old brother "Banter him ,banter him Toby".
The notorious meaning of "Banter" actually was coined by Jonathan Swift in the famous article he wrote for The Tatler in 1710.In it he attacked what he called "The continual corruption of our English tongue". Same year he wrote about the word in his apology to The Tale of a Tub, that "This polite word of theirs was first borrowed from the bullies in White-Friars, then fell among the footmen and at last retired to the pedants; by whom it is applied as properly to the productions of wit as if I should apply it to Sir Isaac Newton's mathematics".

Source -

October 15, 2007

Deja vu

Guest Post by Radha

'Déjà vu' is a french term that literally means "already seen" and has several variations, including 'déjà vécu', already experienced; 'déjà senti', already thought; and 'déjà visité', already visited. French scientist Emile Boirac, one of the first to study this strange phenomenon, gave the subject its name in 1876.

Trivia: Research shows that almost 70% of people experience 'deja vu' at least once before the age of 25 and that it is usually triggered not by big events but by life's mundane details (like the pattern of the dishes stacked in the kitchen or the window-display in a shop).

My favourite theory explaining 'deja vu' is from the movie "The Matrix" :)

NEO: A black cat went past us and then I saw another that looked just like it.

TRINITY: How much like it? Was it the same cat?

NEO: It might have been. I'm not sure. What is it?

TRINITY: A deja vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.

October 01, 2007


Laconic - Terse and concise

I still remember 666's fascination with Zach Snyder's movie "300" and the lengthy discourses he delved into before the movie was released. I never got around to watching the movie but the dialogues he listed on one of his posts stayed with me. Little did I know then, that they will lead me to origin of the word laconic. Laconia is the name of a region of Greece of which Sparta was the capital. The Spartans, noted for being warlike and disciplined, were also known for the bluntness of the speech and for their dry wit. And hence the word laconic!

Trivia: An example of a Spartan laconic exchange: When Philip II of Macedon turned his attention to Sparta after having key Greek city-states in submission, he sent a message: "If I win this war, you will be slaves forever." The Spartans sent back a one word reply: "If".

Sources:, Google Images

September 22, 2007


Bunkum- empty talk

Politicians and empty talk go hand in hand. Any surprises then that the word bunkum has its origin in the world of politics? As the story goes, Felix Walker a Congressman from Buncombe County, North Carolina, US around 1820 gave the dullest of the speeches ever to the members of the 16th Congress. Despite people walking out on him, he continued, for his constituents expected him to make a speech, and so he was "obliged to speak for Buncombe" (as told by him later). Ever since buncombe which was later spelled as bunkum (also shortened to bunk sometimes) came to mean claptrap nonsense.


September 15, 2007


Since I have been away for so long, I thought I should make my comeback with a charming word and there's nothing more charming than serendipity. I think the credit of popularising this word should rest with the movie, which is how I too became aware of its existence. If started eulogising about the movie, then the origin would take a back backseat so all I'm going to say is that its ridiculously romantic and lovely.I'm not spoiling the story for anyone who has not seen it by recounting the story.

Serendipity is described as the effect of discovering something fortunate while looking for something else.
The credit for coining it goes to Horace Walpole who used it in a letter to his friend Horace Mann. He claimed to draw inspiration from a Persian fairy tale. His exacts word are as follows

"It was once when I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for, comes under this description) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon's, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table."

The Three Princes of Serendip is an old Persian fairy tale about three men who were on a mission but they always found something that was irrelevant but needed in reality. They discovered things by good fortune and sagacity.
Serendip is the Persian name for Sri Lanka. Which makes the word much closer to home.

Image: A scene from the movie Serendipity

September 13, 2007


I'm a foodie wannabe. Unfortunately my knowledge and skills in the kitchen aren’t on par with my love of food. And that explains why I pour out my love for food on Semantica (Remember the posts on croissant and cappuccino? )

Sandwich was long invented before John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (located in south east England), an 18th century English aristocrat, lent his title to it. The guy was known to be an obsessive gambler and to avoid leaving the gambling table to take supper, he favored this portable type of food. It allowed Lord Sandwich to continue playing cards, while eating without getting his cards sticky from eating meat with his bare hands.

Trivia: Be ready for some chuckles!! To the south of Sandwich is another little town called Ham. So the road leading to the towns has sign posts reading:


A sign that gets stolen every now and then.

And if that did not raise a chuckle, then try this, there's yet another town called Deal nearby, so there are places where road signs read.....(you guessed it!!!)

Sources: ,
Image: Google Images

September 07, 2007


First, my sincere apologies for not being regular on Semantica for more than a month. Starting with a word which everybody knows and nothing interesting in its origin too. Sorry about that.

Meaning - a large assembly of boy scouts or a large festive gathering.

Origin - The pic shown on right hand side is none other than Robert Baden Powell. He was the founder of boy scouts during 1880-90s. The word Jambo means "Hello" in swahili and Swahili is the language spoken in Kenya and other countries of Africa. Baden Powell was living in Kenya and where he started scouting and teaching to soldiers. So teach them , he used to gather all of them and used to start with word "Jamboree".

Just for more information Anil Kumble is known as JUMBO in Indian Cricket Team.

Sources - Image - google image and

August 27, 2007


Maverick- One that refuses to abide by the dictates of or resists adherence to a group; a dissenter

Remember the eccentric Thomas Hobson of "Hobson's choice" fame. Looks like he's got company. In South Texas, lived a lawyer Samuel Augustus Maverick in the mid-nineteenth century (1803-1870) who took up cattle ranching not because he was a rancher himself but 'coz a client gave him 400 hundred heads of cattle in lieu of cash. In Texas cattle grazed on the open range, without fences to keep one herd separate from another, and thus there was much opportunity for theft and disputes over ownership. To identify their cattle, ranchers branded them.

But Maverick due to reasons unknown (could be laziness or the cruelty of branding animals) would not brand his cattle and some stories say that he lost a few of his herd to his unscrupulous neighbors who would brand his cattle as their own while other claim that he was influential (being San Antonio's mayor) and hence was able instead to claim that any unbranded calf was his.

Thus, the name maverick started to be applied to all cattle without brands and writers who heard the story decided to take it beyond cattle. What better word to use for a politician who was "unbranded" by a party label, not "owned" by special interests? In the same vein, maverick began to be used for artists who were independent in their thinking and later for anyone who can be called a dissenter.

Did you know: Dude has its origin in the Wild West too??

Source: The Merriam Webster Book of Word Histories,

August 22, 2007


Rickety - Likely to break or fall apart; shaky.

Funny, but it never occurred to me earlier: the word comes from rickets. Remember the deficiency disease we learned about in our childhood science textbooks, when bones do not harden and are deformed due to lack of vitamin D.

August 15, 2007


Coffee is my comfort drink. I'm not addicted to it but I love the whole ritual surrounding coffee. Wanna partake in my morning ritual? Then read on :)

A cappuccino is espresso coffee mixed or topped with steamed milk or cream. Espresso itself is an Italian word meaning "pressed out" and called so as it's made in a coffee making machine (first invented in Italy in the beginning of 20th century) that presses water through fine ground coffee.

Cappuccino on the other hand had nothing to do with coffee originally. It comes from the Italian word Cappuchio that means "little hood" . The colour of the coffee reminded Italians of the brown robes of one of the Roman Catholic orders of monks, namely the Capuchins. The Capuchin order of friars was established in 1525 and they wore brown silken robes with pointed hoods.

Trivia: The name of this pious order was later used as the name (first recorded in English in 1785) for a type of monkey often having a hood like tuft of hair on the head. So we also have a monkey, a native of Central and South America, that's called Capuchin.

Sources: ,

August 10, 2007


Guest Post by Radha

The first time I came across the word 'Qi' was when a friend used it in Scrabble (I challenged it and was heartbroken to find that the English dictionary does actually list this word). I found the word peculiar & interesting for many reasons; the main one being that for a tiny word, it contains such a lot of depth.

'Qi' is the center of Chinese philosophy & traditional medical science, its literal meaning is 'air' or 'breath'; but in Chinese philosophy it represents what in English could be called 'life force'. Its close cousin would be the term 'prana' used in Hindu philosophy.

The etymology of the word is quite simple really: 'Qi' is a mandarin character which comprises of three wavy lines. The written character looks like a person's breath (if one could see it). Hence its use in this context.

August 07, 2007


This one's gonna cast a shadow on the might of muscle-men we know, not that a certain Sanjay Dutt would care with lots more on his platter to bother about than the ridicule on this blog, right now. My husband's never gonna forgive me for tarnishing the image of muscle-cars but I'll go ahead and let the world know that the word muscle comes from Latin "musculus" that means "little mouse" :) So called because the shape and movement of some muscles (notably biceps) were thought to resemble mice, their tendons playing the part of a mouse's tail.

Trivia: Mussels are also called so because of their resemblance to mice but have a different spelling from muscles for distinguishing reasons.

Pic: Google Images

August 02, 2007

Monthly Update - July '07

Dear Readers

I have been unabashedly derelict in my duties as Semantica's administrator. Missed the last month update, needless to say missed most of the posts and associated brouhaha.

July was Moi all the way. Although 'Mad as a hatter', 'Eavesdrop' can be attributed to author specific traits, 'Tawdry' and 'OK' were more in line with Semantica guidelines. Nevertheless, kudos to Moi for all the efforts. And hopefully the others (who I presume are battling that feeling a reticulated python gets after swallowing a well fed antelope on a Sunday afternoon) will contribute some posts in August.

Best Regards

July 30, 2007


Tawdry - Gaudy and cheap in nature or appearance

The word now pretty uncommon has a charming story to go with its origin. In the 7th century, Etheldreda, the queen of Northumbria, decided to renounce her husband and her royal position for the veil of a nun. She died of a throat tumor in 679. She blamed this growth on her love of wearing necklaces in her youth and claimed that it was sent as a punishment. After Ethelreda's death, she became a patron saint and her name was simplified to St Audrey . She was paid tribute to every year on the 17th October when a fair would be held in her name. In honour of Saint Audrey - and her fatal fondness for necklaces - ribbon and lace were sold at this fair to adorn the ladies' necks. These were called 'St Audrey's lace' which by the 17th century had become altered to 'tawdry lace' . Eventually tawdry came to be applied to all the cheap knickknacks, jewelery, and toys sold at the fair.

Sources: The Merriam-Webster Book of Word Histories

July 23, 2007


Eavesdrop- To listen secretly to the private conversation of others.

An eave is the edge of a roof which usually projects beyond the side of the building to offer weather protection. In Old English, eavesdrop (or eavesdrip) referred to the ground of the house on which water falls from the eaves. By the 15th century, the word eavesdropper came to mean someone who stood within the eavesdrop of a house to overhear what is going on inside. This lead to the verb eavesdrop and is first recorded in the seventeenth century.

Sources: The Merriam-Webster Book of Word Histories,
Pic: Painting by William Powell Frith.

July 16, 2007


OK, here goes the explanation. (If you've just arrived, please refer to the previous post)

Clue1: One of the unlikely though interesting origins of OK is in the grading of woods used for furniture. The best oak goes as "Oak A" :)

Clue2: This is supposedly the most likely of the origins. Around 1830's Bostonian newspapers were full of these fashionable abbreviations (like R.T.B.S = Remains To Be Seen) that became increasingly popular with the readers. The abbreviation craze went so far as to produce abbreviations of intentional misspellings. No Go became K.G. (Know Go) and All Correct became O.K. (Oll Korrect), the joke being that neither the O nor the K was correct. Most of these abbrevaitions are believed to have gained currency in those times but only O.K. spread and survived.

Clue3: In 1840, OK was a slogan of the Democratic Party for President Martin Van Buren's reelection campaign. Named after his birthplace, Old Kinderhook, New York. "O.K. clubs" supporting him were established throughout the country. Old Kinderhook lost, but O.K. won a permanent place in American English.

Clue4: Haitian port called "Aux Cayes" (pronounced as aw-kay) . French fishermen might sometimes have used the phrase "au quai", literally "to the quay", to mean that a fishing trip was successful (or went okay)

Abhishek's comment led to further research and another theory that in World War II the term "zero killed" was used when a unit suffered no casualties in combat, and that this was then shortened to 0K. This proposed etymology is grossly anachronistic, since by this time the term had been widely used for a full century. The same theory has also been applied to the Civil War, but this is also anachronistic.

Hope I got it Waaw-kay!!! :)

Sources: The Merriam-Webster Book of Word Histories,
Pic :

July 13, 2007

Ek Sawal


1. The grading of woods used in furniture;
2. The abbreviations craze of the US in the 1830’s which eventually lead to some intentional misspellings;
3. Martin Van Buren’s failed re-election in 1940;
4. A Haitian port famous for its rum.

Background: This question was asked in Chakravyuh 2003 organized by yours truly and my illustrious pardner. One of the all time classics of etymology. (Didnt impress the hard core quiz studds around though, who cracked it by the time I had read the point 2!). Googling should throw up the answer. Drop in your search results, views on each of the four points above in the comments

Disclaimer: The author of this post claims intellectual property right to the above question. It has not been sourced from any quiz groups around.

July 11, 2007

Mad as a hatter

Mad as a hatter - Crazy, demented

Reminds you of Alice's companion in her wonderland? I used to think the expression was Lewis Carroll's gift to the language just as jabberwocky is. Turns out the phrase was popular well before Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" was published. "Mad hatter syndrome" was actually a medical affliction in Carroll's times.In the mid-1800s, hat makers used hot solutions of mercuric nitrate to shape wool felt hats and prolonged exposure to mercury vapors caused severe neurological damage ranging from uncontrollable muscular twitching (known as "hatter's shakes") to dementia. Hatters working in poorly ventilated workshops would breathe in (elemental) mercury vapor and in advanced cases, developed hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms.

Pic :

July 05, 2007

Beyond the pale

Beyond the pale - Unacceptable, Outside the bounds of morality, good behavior or judgment

Ironic (perhaps not), but I’m still to see a society which is not segregated, subtly or emphatically so. When will equal be equal enough, is anyone’s guess. George Orwell had a reason when he wrote,"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". Brings me to the phrase that has its roots in the same grounds as Ghetto .

"Pale" here refers to the archaic sense of the word when it meant wooden strips that are set in series to form a fence. An area enclosed by them was also referred to as pale. So, to be 'beyond the pale' was to be outside the area that's marked as "territory" or "home". Catherine II created a 'Pale of Settlement' in Russia in 1791. This was a western border region of the country in which Jews were allowed to live. The motivation behind this was to restrict trade between Russian Jews and native Russians. Some Jews were allowed to live, as a concession, beyond the pale. More can be read here .

Pales were enforced in various other European countries for similar political reasons, notably in Ireland (the Pale of Dublin) : that part of the country over which England had direct jurisdiction.

The first printed reference comes from 1657 in John Harington's poem "The History of Polindor and Flostella"


Pic: Map of "The Pale of Settlement" from

July 02, 2007

(Don't) Make like a Tree

This one started off as an expression that pissed me off- which, if you do not exist solely on sheets of cellulose and/or silicon, is not a very wholesome thing to do. But I digress.

The expression really means 'to leave' and usually, pretty quickly. (I know! I felt cheated too. How can you make like a tree and do something that a tree never does: to wit, leave?) A bit of googling, done a long time ago (which is why I cannot remember my sources) revealed that the expression was the result of a (rather sorry, in my opinion) pun on the phenomenon of leaving in deciduous trees, whereby they shed their leaves in "fall" (which is called so because leaves fall off trees in that season).

Therefore, you can make like a tree and leave. Though I still think it is kind of insensitive, given that trees stay 'rooted' to one place all the time. Wait till Arundhati Roy figures that one out...

Sources: Google

June 28, 2007

Die Hard

Being die hard fan of "Bruce Willis", there couldn't be a better date to release this word on Semantica. "Live free or die hard" , fourth installment of Die hard series is releasing tomorrow in US. So better watch it or die hard ;-).

Meaning - A person who holds stubbornly to a minority view, in defiance of the circumstances.

Being used as a film title starring Bruce Willis in 1988, the term "Die hard" first appeared in 1784 edition of the Gentleman's Magazine as a Tyburn phrase. Tyburn was the public hangings place until the year before that magazine was published. It clarifies the meaning of "die hard" was to die reluctantly,resisting to the end. In those days, they were not using "drop" method of hanging .Instead of that, the people were hanged to their legs so that they died quickly. How pity!!.

The term was widely used in 19th century during 1811 , in Peninsula war.William Inglis , the commander of the British 57th regiment of foot ordered all soldiers to "die hard".The regiment later was known as "The d".

In 20th century, the term took new meaning in political arena. It was used to describe a member of political faction who were prepared to "die in the last ditch" in their resistance to the home rule bill in 1912. Conservative party , who followed the leadership of Marquess of Salisbury , called themselves as "The die-hards" in 1922.

Image - Google Image

June 25, 2007


Shanghai - (verb) - To induce or compel (someone) to do something, especially by fraud or force

Usage: We were shanghaied into buying worthless securities.

Was reading a list of words derived from toponyms and there are tons of them: Bikini, Denim, Limerick, Blarney........when the word struck from a distant memory. I remember writing to a friend, many moons ago, how I, a sworn vegetarian at that time, was shanghaied into eating chicken by my hostel-mates. Blogging was not a given thing in those days and I don't think I gave the word any thought betwixt that day and today.

Coming to the origin of the word, the word is (it can't be more obvious) named after China's largest city and one of the most important ports in the world. The story goes that in the the 19th century, it was difficult for shippers in the West Coast of United States to find sufficient crews to man the ships set for long voyages, especially the ones to China. Shippers would get men to drug others from the dock area and put them into ships in the harbor. At first when men were found missing, the word would go round that "he's sailing to Shanghai." Later, the phrase was reduced to the verb as it is known today.

Trivia: The West Coast state of Oregon has underground tunnels called Shanghai Tunnels that run underneath Chinatown to the downtown section of Portland, Oregon. The tunnels were built to move goods. Around the end of the 19th century they were used to kidnap or "shanghai" unsuspecting laborers and sell them as slaves to waiting ships at the waterfront. Hence the name for the tunnels.

Source: ,

June 20, 2007

Yellow Journalism

Yellow Journalism - Journalism that exploits, distorts, or exaggerates the news to create sensations and attract readers.

Sounds familiar??
Blame it on my jaunt to Key West that's only 90 miles away from Cuba, but suddenly I am fascinated to dig more on Spanish-American War of 1898. And luckily for moi, etymology and history lessons go hand-in-hand :)

In 1890's Jospeh Pulitzer (of Pulitzer Prize fame) owned New York World and his major rival was New York Journal's owner William Randolph Hearst. The World had a popular comic strip running called "Hogan's Alley" which featured a yellow-dressed character named the "the yellow kid." William Randolph Hearst copied Pulitzer's sensationalist style and even hired "Hogan's Alley" artist R.F. Outcault away from the World. In response, Pulitzer commissioned another cartoonist to create a second yellow kid. Soon, the sensationalist press of the 1890s became a competition between the "yellow kids," and the journalistic style was coined "yellow journalism."

The question arises, what's it's connection with Cuba and Spanish-American War of 1898?

The story goes that, William Randolph Hearst understood that a war with Cuba would not only sell his papers, but also move him into a position of national prominence. Cuba was a colony of Spain and was fighting a guerrilla war with Spain to achieve independence. From Cuba, Hearst's star reporters wrote stories designed to tug at the heartstrings of Americans. The message was simple: Cuba was helpless and the U.S. must intervene. Sounds familiar again????

Trivia: The trivia here is what they call yellow journalism's "finest" moment.At 9:40pm on February 15, 1898, the American battleship Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, killing 268 men. Hearst, especially, seized on this tragedy to accuse Spain of sinking the ship, without any proof whatsoever.(Recent research suggests it may have been an accident.) War ensued, and, some say, this was the first press-driven war.

Sources :,

June 16, 2007


Was it a coincident or whatever , I came across this word while roaming around the bridge on this fall. The information board around the water park was showing this word. What was I doing there? I was passing an hour for watching a movie. This is what happens when you don't check out the timings of movie theaters. I had gone to watch Ocean's thirteen and coincidently it means "Falling Water" .
This word has origin from Indians living in Dakota (don't know which one north or earlier history, it was only Dakota, I guess). It is said that the first appearance of this word came in the book called "The opening of Mississippi:A Struggle for Supremacy in the American Interior". The picture shows St.Anthony Falls which has hydro electric plant providing electricity to whole Minneapolis-St.Paul Twin Cities area. This fall has observed and led the industrial growth of Minneapolis . First Pillsbury Flour Mills to number of flour mills were founded on the banks of Mississippi , close to this fall.
There was a confrontation between local Indians and European-American Sir Thomas Foresyth for making this fall available to people. Finally Indians agreed and opened the doors for industrial growth.

Sources - The Opening of Mississippi: A Struggle for supremacy in the American interior,
Image -

June 12, 2007

Mary Poppins

There are times when an expression, an idiom or a phrase leaves its cerebral abode and comes to be associated with an image. This, I think, is the hallmark of its popularity. Words acquire a form, a visual representation, a picture (which by popular belief is worth a thousand words, which, in turn, would mean a few words equal a thousand. I could go on and seek to present a mathematical fallacy, proving thereby that a "few" equals a thousand, but the objective here is to present the origin and meaning of an expression, not to get my ass kicked) and enter our consciousness as a symbol of a phenomenon, a country or some such thing.

Think Yankee Doodle and you form an image of Uncle Sam on a pony or, if you have a less irreverent imagination, of the Statue of Liberty or something distinctly American. The point being, it has come to stand for an entire country. Likewise, for things distinctly British, we have stinking weather, fish and chips, and Mary Poppins. (I must pause for a moment and ask everyone to watch "Snatch", for reasons that'll become clear once you watch it. I guarantee it will make you fall off your chair, laughing.)

Mary Poppins, apart from being the prim, proper and rather stuck-up pin-up girl (lady, I'm sorry) for all things British, is a fictional character and the protagonist of Pamela Travers' Mary Poppins books and all of its adaptations. She is a magical nanny of unknown origins who arrives at the Banks home in Cherry Tree Lane where she is given charge of the Banks children and teaches them valuable lessons with a magical touch. She is usually identifiable by her sensible hat and parrot umbrella which she brings with her wherever she goes on outings. She is loving and kind towards the children, but can be strict when needed.

Trivia: Uncle Sam was "created" by soldiers stationed in upstate New York, who would receive barrels of meat stamped with the initials U.S. The soldiers jokingly referred to it as the initials of the troops' meat supplier, "Uncle" Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York.



Spam - Unsolicited e-mail, often of a commercial nature, sent indiscriminately to multiple mailing lists, individuals, or newsgroups; junk e-mail

This one's origin had me in splits. Today's Yahoo news article on Spam being Hawaii's favorite food is what led me to it. Turns out Spam is the brand name of a canned seasoned pork product, created in the United States, which is really a portmanteau of "Spiced Ham". Because it wasn't rationed like beef, it was abundantly available and Spam became an all-American staple during World War II.

The term was supposedly coined from a Monty Python television skit in the early 1970s, in which every item on a restaurant menu contained SPAM, and there was nothing a customer could do to get a meal without it. A group of Vikings in the restaurant sing about the meat product, "Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam! Wonderful spam!", to drown out all other conversation, until told to shut up. The word "Spam" is uttered at least 132 times. As a result, something that keeps being repeated to great annoyance was called spam, and computer programmers picked up on it.

Trivia: The Hormel company, the makers of the meat product Spam, while never quite happy with the use of the word spam for junk email, have always seemed supportive of Monty Python and their skit. The skit is part of the company's Spam museum in Austin, MN, United States and is performed every day by local actors.


June 10, 2007


This phrase made the rounds during my school days applied in particular to a fellow student who is now a well known Bollywood actress and supermodel. One of the girls discovered it in an old obscure book filled with such deliciously old fashioned terms and anybody with a slightly supercilious air would get tagged with it.

Hoity-toity means someone who is pompous,haughty or pretentiously self important. On a milder note it also means given to frivolity, silliness or riotousness. This being the original meaning of the term which later metamorphosed into what it is now.

The frivolousness/riotousness meaning was first recorded in Sir Roger L'Estrange's 1668 translation of The visions of Don Francisco de Quevedo Villegas:
"The Widows I observ'd ... Chanting and Jigging to every Tune they heard, and all upon the Hoyty-Toyty, like mad Wenches of Fifteen."

The later meaning isn't seen until around mid to late 18th century and is recorded in O'Keefe's Fontainebleau in 1784:
"My mother ... was a fine lady, all upon the hoity-toities, and so, good for nothing."

Hoity toity is a reduplicated phrase where one word carries an existing meaning and the other is present for emphasis. In this case the earlier meaning of the term came from the word hoit. This is a now defunct verb meaning to indulge in riotous, noisy mirth. That in turn was formed from hoyden - a boorish clown or rude boisterous girl. The change from one meaning to the other seems to be due to the pronunciation of hoity as heighty and the subsequent allusion to highness or haughtiness.

Dictionary Definitions:
There are intermediate definitions given for this term in two 18th century dictionaries

A new dictionary of the terms ancient and modern of the canting crew says:
"Hightetity, a Ramp or Rude Girl."

A classical of the vulgar tongue by Francis Grose says:
"Heighty toity, a hoydon, or romping girl."


June 08, 2007


Trivia - Insignificant or inessential matters

There are several theories associated with the origin of the word. The strongest contender being :
In early Latin, tri =three, and via = road. Hence, Trivium meant "the meeting place of three roads, especially as a place of public resort." In the Roman empire, a trivium would often have a tavern and such a place was viewed as common and vulgar. Latin adjective triviālis, derived from trivium, thus meant "appropriate to the street corner, commonplace, vulgar."

The first known usage of the word "trivial" is from 1589; it was used with a sense identical to that of triviālis. Shortly after that trivial is recorded in the sense : "of little importance or significance." Gradually, the word trivia came to be applied for any information that is of fleeting importance and of general interest.

Trivia on Trivia :

1)The word was popularized in its current meaning (information of the kind useful almost exclusively for answering quiz questions) in the 1960s by two of Columbia University students, who created the earliest inter-collegiate quizzes that tested culturally important and unimportant facts, which they dubbed "trivia contests".

2) National Trivia Day is celebrated on January 4 in the United States. The origins of the holiday are unknown. Many observe the holiday by playing games of knowledge and/or by sending an email or making a phone call to impart a quick little-known fact to friends and family.


June 06, 2007


I just can't seem to get enough of fantasy. Moi's talk about Irish weddings reminded me of their faeries ( I love the way its spelt in contrast to the usual fairy) and here I am delving into the leprechaun story.

A leprechaun according to Irish mythology is a male faerie who is found in Ireland.They usually take the form of old men who enjoy partaking in mischief. Their trade is that of a cobbler or shoemaker. According to legend, if anyone keeps an eye fixed upon one, he cannot escape, but the moment the eye is withdrawn he vanishes. The famous Tv series Charmed had a few episodes on leprechauns, where they were shown carrying a pot of gold and spreading luck. They were depicted according to the common sterotype as small men in green.

One of the most widely accepted theories is that the name comes from the Irish Gaelic word leipreachán, defined by Dinneen as "a pigmy, a sprite, a leprechaun; for luchorpán".The latter word Dinneen defines as "a pigmy, a leprechaun, 'a kind of aqueous sprite'".This word also means "half-bodied", or "small-bodied".
Fr. Dinnen was the author of the famous Irish dictionary.

Another theory states that word believed to be the root is luchorpán. An alternative derivation for that word being leath bhrógan, meaning shoe-maker — the leprechaun is known as the fairy shoemaker of Ireland and is often portrayed working on a single shoe.

Another derivation has the word "leprechaun" deriving from luch-chromain, meaning "little stooping Lugh".Lugh being the name of a leader of the Tuatha De Danann.
The Tuathe De Danann according to Irish myth were the fifth group to inhabit Ireland and were said to be the reprsentatives of the Irish gods.

The word leprechaun was first recorded in the English language in 1604 in Middleton and Dekker's The Honest Whore as lubrican.
"As for your Irish Lubrican, that spirit
Whom by preposterous charms thy lust has raised."

Leprechaun Tales:
A farmer or young lad captures a leprechaun and forces him to reveal the location of his buried treasure. The leprechaun assures him that the treasure is buried in an open field beneath a particular ragwort plant. The farmer ties a red ribbon to the plant, first extracting a promise from the leprechaun not to remove the ribbon. Releasing the leprechaun, he leaves to get a shovel. Upon his return he finds that every weed in the field has been tied with an identical red ribbon, thus making it impossible to find the treasure.

In another story, a young girl finds a leprechaun and bids him show her the location of his buried money. She takes him up in her hand and sets out to find the treasure, but all of a sudden she hears a loud buzzing behind her. The leprechaun shouts at her that she is being chased by a swarm of bees, but when she looks around there are no bees and the leprechaun has vanished.

In a popular tale of Cork Kerry, the daughter of a beekeeper sees the old fairie and asks him for the finest shoes in Southwest Ireland. He agrees to make them for her from as much bee's wax as she can carry. Upon her return, despite carrying her father's life savings, the sprite says he needs more. The girl robs the neighbor's hives but is killed by the bees. The loss of the wax ruins both families and they are forced to move North.

In other stories they are told of riding shepherds' dogs through the night, leaving the dogs exhausted and dirty in the morning. It is said that at the unreachable end of a rainbow, you may find a leprechaun and his treasured pot of gold.

"Quite a beau in his dress, notwithstanding, for he wears a red square-cut coat, richly laced with gold, waistcoat and inexpressible of the same, cocked hat, shoes and buckles."
-Samuel Lover

"He is something of a dandy, and dresses in a red coat with seven rows of buttons, seven buttons on each row, and wears a cocked-hat, upon whose pointed end he is wont in the north-eastern counties, according to McAnally, to spin like a top when the fit seizes him."

"A wrinkled, wizen'd, and bearded Elf,
Spectacles stuck on his pointed nose,
Silver buckles to his hose,
Leather apron - shoe in his lap"
-William Allingham
Picuters : Google Images

June 05, 2007

The Full Monty

One of the most peculiar things about languages is that over a period of time their grammar and semantics become surrogate to public opinion. Hence, it doesn't matter what your English teacher thought about that composition you wrote way back in the sixth standard. Chances are, if she revisits it today, she might award you a few more marks than she did last time.

Now changes can be orthogonal, in that a word or phrase may come to mean something completely unrelated to its original meaning. "Presently" being a case in point. When I was a young kid, it used to mean, "soon", or if you were into Wodehouse, "anon". Now it seems, it is generally accepted to mean "at present" or "currently". Then there are some whose meanings do a volte-face and become their own antonym. Which brings us to the topic under discussion, "the full Monty".

Popular opinion, courtesy of a movie of the same name, interprets this phrase to mean completely uncovered, or naked, or without embellishment. Here's the story behind its origin:

The most often-repeated derivation is from the tailoring business of Sir Montague Burton. A complete three-piece suit, i.e. one with a waistcoat, for a wedding etc, would be the Full Monty. There is plausible hearsay evidence from staff who worked in Burton's shops who confirm that customers were familiar with the term and often asked for 'the full monty' by name.

So, the next time you get invited to a formal do, you might want to go the full monty, without fear of being arrested on grounds of indecent exposure ;-).

Source: and my meandering experience.

June 04, 2007

Hobson's Choice

Hobson's Choice - An apparently free choice that actually offers no alternative or is no choice at all. In other words, the choice of taking what is offered or nothing at all.

How some people get immortalized by just being plain eccentric is proved by the origin of this phrase. Thomas Hobson (1544-1630) was the keeper of a livery stable who ran a thriving carrier and horse rental business in Cambridge, England and in order to rotate the use of his horses, allowed customers to take only the horse nearest the stable door. It's like, the horse nearest the stable door or none. Take it or leave it???

The first known written usage of this phrase is in Joseph Addison's paper "The Spectator" (1712) though it also appears in Thomas Ward's 1688 poem "England's Reformation", not published until after Ward's death (1708). Ward wrote,
"Where to elect there is but one,
'tis Hobson's choice—take that, or none."

Trivia: Henry Ford was said to have sold the Ford Model T with the famous Hobson's choice of "... any colour ... so long as it is black"


June 03, 2007

Monthly Update - May 2007

Hello Hello and its that time of the month again. One freshly baked update coming your way

Let me take this opportunity to welcome Yogesh to Semantica. With two blue stockings and one insane wraith, the team needed some load balancer. Y has provided the much needed relief. Lets raise a toast in his welcome (did someone hear Cacofonix grumbling)

May was an interesting month. We had 15 posts. As per contributions went the scores are Moi – 6, Suramya – 5, Yogesh – 2, 666 – 2. Semantica’s technologically challenged administrator tried migrating to a new layout but couldn’t succeed. Hopefully this month.

Now I have been on a personal vacation for most of May so it ‘may’ happen I don’t do justice to all the ‘may’hem on Semantica. Two of the most memorable events I have honored in the form of awards –

Dead Author Obsession Award: This award goes to Madame Moi for her unbeatable love for Mark Twain. If this woman ever finds out Twain's final resting place, he will frantically dig himself out from his grave and start running amok.

Women Don’t Gossip Award: Jointly shared by Radha, Jas and Moi. The post Grapevine brought out the best among our women readers in which they were arguing that women don’t gossip. The consensus of the GD was exemplary. If this was a friendly talk, I shudder to my last bone when I try to contemplate the agreed definition of women gossiping :-) :-)

PS: Since May is a hotter month than April, the stickiness of this post has reduced to just 2 days

June 02, 2007


The picture says everything about the word. My random search brought me to this phrase,"See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" in short Gandhiji ke teen bandar.

Meaning - Someone who does not want to be involved in a situation.

There are no exact evidences of origin of this phrase. But some Japanese history reveals that it has originated in Japan.
The Nikko Toshogo Shrine known as Sacred Stable , in Japan has a carving of three monkeys as shown in pic. Some believe that it has origin in a 17th century temple in Japan. In Japan, it is also believed that if one does not hear,see and speak evil , he will be sparred from all evil.
Some believe that it has originated from a Japanese play and is translated as "Mizaru, kikazaru, Iwazaru". "Saru" means monkey in Japanese and it sounds similar to 'zaru'.But the three wise monkeys were not from Japan. In eighth century A.D., a Buddhist monk from China introduced the three wise monkeys to Japan.They were associated with a fearsome blue faced deity called Vadjra. It is believed that the monkeys' gestures were a representation of a command of the deity to "see no evil, hear no evil , speak no evil".

Source -
Image -

June 01, 2007

Swan Song

Swan Song - A final gesture or performance, given before dying.

Swans are fascinating. It's their unparalleled beauty and their graceful form that has made them a part of many folk-lores from different cultures across the world. They are an epitome of purity and for those who did not know, swans mate for life. Sigh!!!!

The expression, Swan Song has its roots in a myth.......a very poignant myth. It was once believed that upon death, the otherwise silent Mute Swan (in reality, it's not a completely silent bird, only less vocal than other swans)would sing one achingly beautiful song just before dying. This legend was well-known to be false as early as the days of ancient Greece, when Pliny the Elder refuted it in Natural History, AD 77. The legend stayed though to give us the expression.

Trivia: Socrates' last words before being put to death in 399 AD: "You think I cannot see as far ahead as a swan. You know that when swans feel the approach of death they sing, and they sing sweeter and louder on the last days of their lives because they are going back to that God whom they serve." (Plato)

Sources: The Usual suspects :),,

Pic Courtesy: Google Images

May 26, 2007


I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”-Emily Dickenson.
As I nod my head in agreement to that statement, its time I introduced my favourite bird. The penguin. Everyone knows what a penguin is but just to be politically correct and uphold the rules of this blog, a penguin is an aquatic, flightless bird living entirely in the Southern Hemisphere.

Coming to the story behind the name given to this adorable bird. There are many versions to it.

Version 1: The most accepted one is that the term penguin derives from the welsh words pen (head) and gwyn (white), which was used to denote the Great Auk which had white spots in front of its eyes. The penguin was thus named due to its resemblance to the Great Auk.

Version 2: The name 'penguin' was first reliably reported from Newfoundland in a letter of 1578, given in the account of Hakluyt's voyages; but in Newfoundland the name is usually to have been pronounced 'pin-wing'. This accords with another theory, that the bird was originally called the 'pin-wing', with reference to its curiously rudimentary wings. It would also explain why, as early as 1588, the term was being applied also to the southern birds which we know as 'penguins' today, and which also have rudimentary wings but not white heads.

Version 3: It could be derived from the Latin word “pinguis” meaning fat, but this theory doesn’t hold much weight.

The largest living species is the Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri): adults average about 1.1 m (3 ft 7 in) tall and weigh 35 kg (75 lb) or more. The smallest penguin species is the Little Blue Penguin (also known as the Fairy Penguin or the Blue Penguin), which stands around 40 cm tall (16 in) and weighs 1 kg (2.2 lb). Both can be seen below:

Generally larger penguins retain heat better, and thus inhabit colder regions, while smaller penguins are found in temperate or even tropical climates

Most penguins feed on krill, fish, squid, and other forms of sealife caught while swimming underwater. They spend half of their life on land and half in the oceans.

All penguins are countershaded - that is, they have a white underside and a dark (mostly black) upperside. This is for camouflage. A predator looking up from below (such as an orca or a leopard seal) has difficulty distinguishing between a white penguin belly and the reflective water surface. The dark plumage on their backs camouflages them from above.

Penguins seem to have no fear of humans and have approached groups of explorers without hesitation. This is probably on account of there being no land predators in Antarctica or the nearby offshore islands that prey on or attack penguins. Instead, penguins are at risk at sea from predators such as the leopard seal.

Images in order of apperance:
1. Tux the Linux Mascot
2.The Emperor Penguin
3.The Little Blue Penguin
4. A man meeting a penguin in the Antartic summer
Courtesy: Google Images.

May 25, 2007

Banana Republic

Banana Republic : A small country (especially in Central America) that is politically unstable and whose economy is dominated by foreign companies and depends on one export (such as bananas)

The perjorative term now used to describe a generally unstable or "backward" dictatorial regime, especially one where elections are often fraudulent and corruption is rife was coined by O. Henry (the American author of much loved short stories like "The gift of Magi", "The last leaf" and others) in reference to Honduras, a Central American nation. "Republic" in his time was often a euphemism for a dictatorship, while "banana" implied an easy reliance on basic agriculture and backwardness in the development of modern industrial technology.

Why bananas? Read on.....

Banana production first began in the Caribbean by smaller banana companies; until 1870 the bananas grown in the region were produced for local consumption. Once bananas hit the U.S. market they exploded in popularity and soon passed from being an exotic novelty to join apples, grapes, as the standard in U.S. fruit baskets. With the formation of the United Fruit Company by Keith Minor in 1900; banana growing was moved to Central America. United Fruit made several of these Central American nations into “banana republics”, countries that served as production platforms for the banana-exporting enterprise. The United Fruit Company became known throughout Latin America as “el pulpo” (the octopus) because of its far-reaching hand in economic power and political arrangements in its host country. The United fruit kept elected officials in their corporate pockets; they were able to acquire vast amounts of land and establish a banana monopoly.

Why Honduras? Read further.......

In Honduras the United Fruit company dominated the country's key banana export sector and support sectors such as railways. Sam Zemurray, a Russian by birth and later an American businessman (his parents emigrated to US when he was 14) entered the banana trade at the age of 18. By the age of 21, he had amassed considerable wealth but soon found himself in heavy debts. He left for Honduras when the country was working to reschedule its national debts. When US tax authorities did not help Zemurray, he smuggled the deposed Honduran president, Manuel Bonilla from US back to Honduras and a revolution was fought in 1910 that led to Bonilla's return to power. Bonilla granted Zemurray land concessions and low taxes that saved his business. Later, in 1933, Zemurray will take over United Fruit in a hostile bid .

Sources : ,,

May 23, 2007


Last post by Suramya and Manish's latest post inspired me for this word. Lycanthropes mean werewolves.
But real meaning of lycanthrope is someone who suffers from a mental disease and only thinks he has changed into a wolf.
Trivia - The trivia behind lycanthrope is related to greek myth of Lycaon. Lycaon was king of Arcadia and in the time of ancient greeks , was notorious for his cruelty. God Zeus once disguised himself as a traveller and sought hospitality in the court of vicious king Lycaon. The king recognized the god and tried to kill him.He served him a flesh of a child. God Zeus identified the terrible trick and destroyed the palace outrageously and condemned Lycaon to spend his rest of the life as a wolf.
Lykos means wolf and anthropos means man.

Sources :-,
image -

May 21, 2007


This time decided to deal with a word which traces its orgin to German. Infact it is german and has made its place in the English language. Doppelganger or fetch is the ghostly double of a living person. It also refers to a situation of having a glimpse of yourself where it couldn't have been your reflection. I first came across this word in the Agatha Christie novel "Bertram's Hotel" where Miss Marple investigates the claim of a Chaplain who says he sighted his doppleganger in the hotel.

It derives from Doppel (double) and Gänger (goer). As is true for all other "native" nouns in German, the word is written with an initial capital letter, however English usage varies.In English, the word is conventionally uncapitalized (doppelgänger). It is also common to drop the diacritic umlaut, writing "doppelganger". The correct alternative German spelling would be "Doppelgaenger".

They are generally regarded as harbingers of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person's friends or relatives portends illness or danger, while seeing one's own doppelgänger is an omen of death. In Norse mythology, a vardøgr is a ghostly double who precedes a living person and is seen performing their actions in advance.

The doppelgängers of folklore cast no shadow, and have no reflection in a mirror or in water. They are supposed to provide advice to the person they shadow, but this advice can be misleading or malicious. They can also, in rare instances, plant ideas in their victim's mind or appear before friends and relatives, causing confusion. In many cases once someone has viewed his own doppelgänger he is doomed to be haunted by images of his ghostly counterpart.

Other folklore says that when a person's doppelgänger is seen, the person him/herself will die shortly. It is considered unwise to try to communicate with a doppelgänger.


May 19, 2007


One can't live in United States and not come across this term. Even Elvis Presley could not keep himself from crooning :

"As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin'
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries
'cause if there's one thing that she don't need
it's another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto..................."

The expression comes from 1516 when the Venetian government made it mandatory for the Jews in Venice to live on the island known as the Ghetto Nuovo (the New Ghetto), which was walled up with only two gates that were locked from sunset to sunrise. Then, when in 1541 visiting Ottoman Jewish merchants complained that they did not have enough room in the ghetto, the government ordered twenty dwellings located across a small canal walled up, joined by a footbridge to the Ghetto Nuovo, and assigned to them. This area was already known as the Ghetto Vecchio (the Old Ghetto), thereby strengthening the association between Jews and the word "ghetto."

Segregated Jewish quarters had existed earlier too, in fact most often Jews chose voluntarily to live close together. But it's only after 1516 that the term "ghetto" came into being. During World War II the term ghetto attained its popularity as Nazis went about setting them up throughout Europe before transporting Jews to concentration camps from ghettos. Today the term has acquired wider (and negative) connotations as it has come to mean an impoverished section of a city where members of any racial group are segregated and perpetuated by economic and social pressures rather than legal and physical measures.

Sources: ,
Pic : The bridge to Ghetto in Venice, sourced from Google Images.

May 16, 2007


Before the advent of the “metro sexual” man there was the dandy. So what exactly is a dandy, pardon me, I mean who is a dandy? The dictionary says:

A dandy is a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and the cultivation of leisurely hobbies.

This term was usually used in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century to denote men who were very particular about the way they dressed, meticulous about keeping cleaning and who abstained from sports. The ones who aspired to heights of fashion and committed extravagances in their attire were also lauded as “Pink of the Ton”. A title every dandy aspired for.

Coming to etymology, the word dandy first appeared in a Scottish border ballad, around the 1780’s, but without its original meaning. Despite a lot of digging, I am unable to unearth the name of the ballad or the original meaning. If someone knows, please enlighten me. The original, full form of 'dandy' was thought to have been jack-a-dandy, ; it was a vogue word during the Napoleonic Wars. During those days, 'a dandy' was differentiated from 'a fop' in that the dandy's dress was more refined and sober than the fop's.

In the world that we now live in, the word, 'dandy' is a jocular, often sarcastic adjective meaning "fine" or "great", though it still retains it’s original meaning of a well-groomed, well-dressed, and self-absorbed man.

The most popular dandy was George Bryan Brummell, popularly known as Beau Brummell. His style consisted of being unpowdered, unperfumed, immaculately bathed and shaved, and dressed in a plain, dark blue coat, perfectly-brushed, perfectly-fitted, showing much perfectly-starched linen, all freshly laundered, and composed with an elaborately-knotted cravat. From the mid-1790s, Beau Brummell was the early incarnation of 'the celebrity' man chiefly famous for being a laconically witty clothes-horse.

A Dandy is a clothes-wearing Man, a Man whose trade, office and existence consists in the wearing of Clothes. Every faculty of his soul, spirit, purse, and person is heroically consecrated to this one object, the wearing of Clothes wisely and well: so that the others dress to live, he lives to dress ... And now, for all this perennial Martyrdom, and Poesy, and even Prophecy, what is it that the Dandy asks in return? Solely, we may say, that you would recognise his existence; would admit him to be a living object; or even failing this, a visual object, or thing that will reflect rays of light....
– Thomas Carlyle, "The Dandiacal Body", in Sartor Resartus

One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art
- Oscar Wilde

May 15, 2007


Croissant - (Pronounced as kwah-SAHN) : A rich, flaky pastry made in the form of a crescent.

I had to share this: the origin of this one had the gastronome and history-buff in moi stoked!!! There are several legends that go with the origin of the pastry but the one that rules supreme is :

In the latter half of the seventeenth century (around 1680's) , an army of Turks besieged the city of Vienna. When Turks tried to get into the city by tunneling under the walls, bakers overheard the noise and sounded the alarm that subsequently led to the Turkish defeat. Austrians celebrated the event by honoring the bakers by creating the pastry for the occasion: "Croissant" or French for Crescent to symbolize their victory over the Turks whose flag bore a crescent moon.It is first recorded in English in 1899.

The question arises why a French word when it was Austrians who were victorious. There are various theories for this one too. The most prominent ones :

1. It was called a kipfel, the German word for crescent. The pastry wouldn't become a croissant until the Austrian Princess Marie Antoinette married the King of France (1770).

2. At the time, French Language was en vogue within aristocratic circles due to the prominence of the French King Louis XIV.

Note : There are disputes over whether the place attacked was Vienna in 1683 or Budapest in 1686.

Sources :,
Pic : Modern day Turkish Flag and Croissant, sourced from Google.

May 14, 2007


Ubuntu - Humanity towards others.
The Ubuntu is having several meanings. The origin of word is from sub-Saharan African(Zulu and Xhosa) ethic which concentrates on people's relations with each other.
Popular definition of Ubuntu is "The belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity".The concept of Ubuntu is same in whole Africa and it is considered to be as major reason for their renaissance. There is no perfect resource which can describe the origin of this word. This has been a long time philosophy in Africa continent.
Being so much popular in Africa, there leads a contrasting story of a young Israeli girl who was writing messages on war missiles. And presumably, these missiles were intented for Lebanon. The messages weren't of peace and prosperity . But did that girl ever know the implications of the missiles that when launched, they would kill number of human beings and girls of her kind only?
Dedicated to this word and humanity, open source foundation has launched an operating system Ubuntu Linux which is extremely popular in US these days. It says Ubuntu - Linux for human beings.

In one of the Labor conferences, former US president Bill Clinton used this word in UK to explain why society is important for all of us.

Let's be together to spread the message of humanity


May 11, 2007


After Alwar, time again for some local lore which brings me to juggernaut . The term is used to describe any literal or metaphorical force regarded as unstoppable that will crush all in its path. In Britain, it is also used to refer to any large and heavy lorry.

The word is derived from the Sanskrit Jagannātha ("Lord of the universe") one of the many names of Lord Krishna . The connection between “lord of the universe” and an “unstoppable destructive force” is rather hard to discern. The story is centered around the ratha yatra(charriot procession) which takes place from the famous Jagannath Temple of Puri, Orissa.This event is an annual procession of chariots carrying the murtis/statues of Jagannâth (Krishna), Subhadra and Baladeva (Krishna's elder brother).

During the British colonial era, Christian missionaries promulgated a fallacy that Hindu devotees of Krishna were lunatic fanatics who threw themselves under the wheels of these chariots in order to attain salvation. Sigh. The religious mudslinging of the bygone era. Such a description was also be found in the popular fourteenth-century work "The Travels of Sir John Mandeville."

The actual fact is that devotees have sometimes been crushed accidentally in the past as the massive 45 foot tall, multi-ton chariot slipped out of control. Many have also been killed in the resulting stampedes. The sight led the Britons to use the word "Juggernaut" to refer to other instances of unstoppable, crushing forces.



Utopia - An ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects.

The trivia that this word comes along with is more fascinating than its etymology which is quite simple, really. Etymologically Utopia = no place as it comes from the Greek "ou" that means "not" and "topos" that means "place". It was the title of a 1516 Latin book by an English scholar and eventual saint, Sir Thoma More wherein he described an ideal state where all is ordered for the best for humanity as a whole and where the evils of society, such as poverty and misery, have been eliminated. He called this ideal imaginary island "Utopia" - nowhere, as it seemed unattainable.

The title carries a pun that may be a consequence of mis-translations or propagated by More himself where "u" in Utopia is mistaken as "eu" that means good in Greek.
Dystopia is the anti-utopia.

Trivia 1 :More is listed in Red Square as one of the heroes of the Russian Revolution because his Utopia was supposedly a primitive communist state of justice and perfect social conditions. This while Utopia was an imaginary place and Thomas More a lawyer himself was a capitalist.

Trivia 2: More opposed King Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, which ultimately led to the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. This cost him his head, but gained him sainthood as a Catholic martyr.


May 09, 2007

Steal my thunder

Steal my thunder: Using someone else' ideas or inventions to one's own advantage.

A few days back a very amusing thing happened. I did a post on 'Mark Twain' to honor the attention he was generating. A fellow team member got perturbed cause I had stolen her thunder. More on stealing thunder...
John Dennis, English critic and playwright, invented a new way of simulating the sound of thunder on stage and used the method in one of his plays, Appius and Virginia. Dennis "made" thunder by using "troughs of wood with stops in them" instead of the large mustard bowls usually employed. The thunder was a great success, but Dennis's play was a dismal failure. The manager at Drury Lane, where the play was performed, canceled its run after only a few performances. A short time later, Dennis returned to Drury Lane to see Shakespeare's Macbeth. As he sat in the pit, he was horrified to discover that his method of making thunder was being used. Jumping to his feet, Dennis screamed at the audience, "That's my thunder, by God! The villians will not play my play but they steal my thunder."

May 07, 2007


Grapevine - Informal/Unofficial path of verbal communication (by means of gossip and rumor)

Some wise man claimed, "Gossip is nature's telephone." ....and we'll soon discover, how!!! :)
The term comes from the expression, "grapevine telegraph", and was supposedly invented in US during the early 1850's, after the invention of telegraph in 1840's. Samuel Morse's first line was opened between Washington and Baltimore on 24th May 1844 and was an immediate success. The straight copper wires of electric telegraph were supposed to carry truthful information. The term "grapevine telegraph" came into being to accentuate the idea of distorted information that travels by word of mouth and drew its inspiration from the twisted stems of the grapevine (but like real telegraph is capable of transmitting vital messages quickly over long distances).

The first recorded usage, according to John Lighter in The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, was in a political dictionary of 1852, which included the sentence "By the Grape Vine Telegraph Line .......we have received the following ". There are various early references that suggest that it was associated with clandestine communication among Southern blacks, especially the slaves and gained high popularity and acceptance during the American Civil War period.

Trivia: It was widely acknowledged that the blacks' communications network was extremely useful to the Union cause, as John G. Nicolay and John Hay reported in "Abraham Lincoln: A History" in 1888, calling it "one of the most important and reliable sources of knowledge to the Union commanders in the various fields, which later in the war came to be jocosely designated as the 'grape-vine telegraph'".

Pic : Neighborly gossips in the Altstadt in Sindelfingen, Germany (Sourced form :

Monthly Update: April’07

Greetings Dear Readers

Semantica is now 1 month old. In this moment of quasi-achievement Team Semantica would first like to thank all readers for their encouragement. We appreciate your time and interest shown and earnestly solicit your continued support.

It has been fun tilling hard at it. A total of 13 posts with 78 comments on topics covering colors (Blue, Red, White), eponyms (Machiavelli, Silhouette), birds (Halcyon, Popinjay) and other assorted. As per contributions went, Suramya was at 5; Moi – 5; 666 – 3. The post which garnered maximum share of voice was ‘Portmanteau’. Other contributions with reasonable lung power were ‘Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt’ followed by ‘Ankle Biter’.

Next month’s roster looks equally interesting. We expect some new contributors to be ceremonially baptized into the team. A concerted effort would be aimed at the format, layout, aesthetics, links, widgets et al. And off course, the posts would keep flowing!

Till the next update, God Blesss ye all.

Team Semantica

PS: This is a sticky post i.e. it shall appear at the top of all posts for the first week of each month. Continue reading Semantica below...

May 05, 2007

The Seven-year Itch

The inclination to become unfaithful after seven years of marriage.

Remember Marilyn Monroe's dress blowing in the wind over a subway grating? One of the most enduring images from Hollywood, the scene was from the movie, The seven-year itch. The expression was used to indicate the urge for infidelity after seven years of marriage. Though today it has gained wider acceptance in terms of its scope: it now refers to an urge to move on from any existing situation, and not even limited to those of seven years' period.

The original seven-year itch wasn't a condition that supposedly began after seven years, but one that supposedly lasted for seven years. Seven-year itch had been known in the USA since the early 19th century as the name of a particularly irritating and contagious skin complaint (don't ask me which one, coz despite thorough search I could not find the answer to that: it could be scabies or poison-ivy itch (very unlikely though) ) that led to highly irritating red pimples on the face and body.

The term was virtually forgotten after the cure for the complaint was found till the 1955 film revived it.

Source: ,,

Update: (05/05/07) by 666

The follow-up research to Moi’s post was incredibly fascinating. I came across numerous citations (mentioned below) explaining some sort of link between ‘seven year itch’ and scabies.

The 'seven year itch' has its origins with a microbe known as Sarcoptes scabiei, more commonly called 'scabies.' The bug produces an itching skin irritation that before modern drugs lasted, on average seven years.
"Why seven years, not six or eight? Because seven years has a historical basis: In Genesis, Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dream of 'seven years of great plenty' followed by 'seven years of famine.'." And so forth. – (1)

However, the medico’s have a slightly different version. Scabies is known as "The Seven Year Itch," because its incidence rises and falls as regularly as the tides, or the sunspots, turning up in abundance every seven years. – (2)

Read in detail about scabies here and here.

(1) -
(2) -

May 03, 2007

Mark Twain

Dear Late Mr. Samuel Longhorne Clemens,
Since you enjoy a decent female fan following around these parts, I decided to write a post in honor of your famous pen name ‘Mark Twain’

The pseudonym "Mark Twain", came from his years working on Mississippi riverboats, where two fathoms (12 ft, approximately 3.7 m) or "safe water" was measured on the sounding line. The riverboatman's cry was "mark twain" or, more fully, "by the mark twain" ("twain" is an archaic term for two). "By the mark twain" meant "according to the mark [on the line], [the depth is] two fathoms"

Clemens claimed that his famous pen name was not entirely his invention. In Chapter 50 of Life on the Mississippi he wrote:

"Captain Isaiah Sellers was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the river, and sign them "MARK TWAIN," and give them to the New Orleans Picayune. They related to the stage and condition of the river, and were accurate and valuable; ... At the time that the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner's discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands—a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say."

PS: Incidentally, in the year 1867 Mark Twain wrote a poem called ‘Advice for little girls’. Further discussion is beyond the defined scope for Semantica :-)
Text Sources:
The painting: : A. Janicke & Co. "Our City, (St. Louis, Mo.)." 1859. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress