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

It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings

It was while watching a cartoon of a cat being tortured by the ever clever mouse, that I heard the cat say "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings " after he slid down the banisters and crashed into a heavy peice of furniture. The quotation/proverb which essentially means that one shouldn't assume the outcome of some activity until it has actually finished. There are many theories behind its origin. The most popular one attributes it origin to Dan Cook, a sports editor.

A report in the Washington Post (13 June 1978) had this version: "One day three years ago, Ralph Carpenter, who was then Texas Tech's sports information director, declared to the press box contingent in Austin. `The rodeo ain't over till the bull riders ride.' Stirred to that deep insight, San Antonio sports editor Dan Cook countered with, `The opera ain't over till the fat lady sings.' Two days before this, the Times had more precisely quoted Cook as coming up with his version the previous April after the basketball playoff game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Washington Bullets to illustrate that while the Spurs had won once, the series was not over yet. Bullets coach Dick Motta borrowed the phrase later during the Bullets' eventually successful championship drive, and it became widely known and was often mistakenly attributed to him."

Another lesser accepted theory is that this phrase originated from the fact that the last piece in most opera's is the fat lady singing an aria. There's usually a big scene with lots of people singing and sometimes moving about (a finale), in which the music may get pretty loud. Most people leave before this is finished, but the actually opera is said to be finished when the fat lady finishes her song . Hence the phrase.


This saying is often attributed to Yogi Berra, as he is the originator of the similar line "It ain't over until it's over."
In The Simpsons Season 1 Episode 2 Genius Bart, the Simpsons family goes to an opera. Homer asks when is this thing finish to which Bart replies, It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings. To which Homer points out that the fat lady is singing.