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: http://www.answers.com/ , www.yourdictionary.com

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 : www.answers.com, http://www.pbs.org/crucible/frames/_journalism.html

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 south..in 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 - www.nps.gov

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.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki


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.

Sources: www.answers.com

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.

Sources: http://www.answers.com

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: http://www.phrases.org.uk/ 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"

Sources: www.answers.com, http://www.phrases.org.uk/

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 - http://searchwarp.com/swa2800.htm
Image - http://www.innercity.freeserve.co.uk/

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 :)
http://www.answers.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/, http://www.phrases.org.uk/

Pic Courtesy: Google Images