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Tag: word origin

Rats in the language

 

Rats! If you’ve ever had the problem of rats in your home, you may identify with strongly negative feelings about the small annoying creatures.

Thanks to my compulsive TV watching habits, I learnt that the collective noun for rats is mischief – a mischief of rats.

Collective nouns for animals, such as a congress of baboons are very interesting and often surprising – too many to mention here.

Thinking back to last year when the rats came to eat the dog food that was carelessly left around the home, their trails of mischief were abundant. From the holes in the packaging of the sturdy dog food bags, to little poo droppings all over the place, it was plain to see we had a rat problem.

We could hear them running in the roof, and saw a couple run across the lounge floor, but at such a speed, we could not catch them. We would shriek,  “there goes a rat” but be frozen to inaction as the rat scuttled to safety under the cupboard. And who wants to touch a rat with bare hands and no trapping device? (not that I would use one of those).

It wasn’t long before the rats were breeding faster than rabbits. We had to call the exterminator to get rid of the multiple mischiefs.

Other meanings

Rats are associated with dirt, disease and disgust, so when you refer to someone as a rat, you imply that they are not trustworthy.

To rat on someone means to give the game away, in other words, to tell the boss that your colleague is not at work because he is applying for another job, and not at the doctor with a near fatal tumor.

Rats in the language give expression to displeasure or distaste but their close cousin the mouse, has a much friendlier reputation. They are considered cute and considerate – as quiet as a mouse – and many a character has been animated to be a larger than life rodent. Perhaps we have Mickey Mouse to thank for that.

Any famous rats of Walt Disney fame? None that I know of, but thousands upon thousands used in medical experiments for the health of human kind.

Feedback welcome.

How big is your appetite for words?

Five word pairs to increase your word power

A deadly blutterance: How words are formed

Veracity and verocity: why these words get confused

Today we are going to have some fun exploring the difference between veracity and voracity. These words if not heard correctly can be interchanged to disastrous effect.  The one has to do with truth, the other appetite. Or you could say, veracity concerns one’s appetite for truth, while voracity has to do with a desire to consume.

The joy of serendipity

No work today.

I read the SMS on Monday with surprise, delight and near disbelief.Then I realised the universe had conspired to serve my needs.

Why is spelling a bee?

bees at work

This is a question that has been on my mind ever since my encounter with the movie Akeelah and the Bee in 2006, and I was again reminded of it when I saw the term in a recent article.

Like many historians and students of language my assumption was that it had to do with that ever-busy, honey producing insect, the bee.

How words are formed

The English language owes much to many.

From the outset it borrowed from Germanic, French, Latin and Dutch influences, to name just a few.

Overtime the language has seen words come and go. Word styles and forms change continuously. Suffice to say the language lives among its users.

A stonking good word

 

There’s so much to say about stonking. For starters dictionaries across the web from Cambridge to Oxford and Encarta broadly agree on its adjectival usage to mean “large, impressive, used to emphasise how good or enjoyable something is.”

Tony Thorne in his Dictionary of Contemporary Slang described stonking as “an all-purpose intensifying adjective usually used in place of more offensive terms”.

It’s thanks to Greg Wallace, BBC Master Chef Professionals’ judge, who described one of the contestant’s presentations as “a stonking good dish”, that stonking is the subject of my blog.

Stonking has a rich and colourful history with pundits arguing for its Scottish origins, others its British birth right and still others remarking on its Australian slang usage.

Wordlwidewords.org: says “Stonk and its relatives are an interesting bunch: with all those strong consonants they’re thudding, active, strongly masculine words,” namely noun, verb, (especially) adjective and (even) adverb.

For the Sottish argument, worldwidewords.org claims  the first recorded use of it was in John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language in 1841, in which he said that stunk was “the stake put in by boys in a game, especially in that of marbles” .

According to the Concise Scots Dictionary, this is now only local Scots dialect, and it suggests the Scots got it from local English dialect which might have originated in stock, a store, presumably the bag or other container the marbles or money were kept in.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines “stonking” as an adjective meaning “Excellent, amazing; considerable, powerful” and as an adverb meaning “extremely, very”.

The second sense of “stonk” the OED gives is “a concentrated artillery bombardment,” dating in print to 1944. The OED suggests that the word is “echoic,” mimicking the sound of a shell exploding, also known to practitioners of the English language as onomatopoeia.

A South Korea's K1 tank fires smoke shells during a joint military drill between South Korea and the US in Paju near the inter-Korean border on June 8, 2011 aimed at deterring North Korea's military threat. Tensions on the Korea peninsula are high following two deadly border incidents last year which Seoul blames on its neighbour. AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE
A South Korea’s K1 tank fires smoke shells during a joint military drill between South Korea and the US in Paju near the inter-Korean border on June 8, 2011 aimed at deterring North Korea’s military threat. Tensions on the Korea peninsula are high following two deadly border incidents last year which Seoul blames on its neighbour. AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE

You can trust the Australians to outslang any slang and that argument is that “stonker” used as a verb in Australian slang means “to outwit, defeat, render helpless, defeat” or  “to kill or destroy,”.

Thanks to the Aussies,  “stonkered” is a popular slang synonym for “drunk”. Apparently these originate from the “artillery bombardment” sense of “stonk,” and the Australian slang use  first attested to in 1919, shortly after World War I.

“According to the Macquarie Dictionarystonkered in Australia can mean drunk, though it also has associated ideas of being defeated, exhausted, done in, or lethargic, as after a large meal. This comes from the verb stonker, which at one time could mean to kill, but is now the action of outwitting or defeating somebody.

Whichever way you take it, it’s a stonkingly meaty and delicious word.