Haggard Hawks & Paltry Poltroons:
The Origins of English in Ten Words
The book that started it all off...
Published worldwide in 2014, etymology guide Haggard Hawks & Paltry Poltroons pulls together 50 lists of ten words, with the words on each list sharing some kind of etymological or linguistic quirk in common.
So here you’ll find the related origins behind 10 Words Derived From Places in Ancient Greece, 10 Words Invented By Authors, 10 Words Derived From the Theatre, and many, many more. Along the way, find out what connects coffee to monks’ habits, what item of weaponry takes its name from a fruit, why grizzly bears aren’t grizzly—and why we’re called Haggard Hawks.
Here’s a taster...
10 WORDS DERIVED FROM FOOD
The ten words listed here are all descended from the name of a different food or drink, from basic staples like milk, rice and salt, to the name of a type of stew, a slang word for potatoes and an old name for the pomegranate. Of all food-related words in the language, however, it’s probably bread that is the most productive as, besides companion and its related forms listed below, the Latin word for ‘bread’, panis, is also the root of a vast and intriguing collection of less familiar words including apanage, a gift of land or royal entitlement bestowed as a birthright; impanation, a term from Christianity for the embodiment of Christ in the Eucharist; panatela, a long, thin cigar, named after an Italian biscuit; pannam-fencer, an English dialect word for a street vendor or fairground stall, selling cakes and other confectionaries; and marchpane, an old-fashioned, sixteenth-century English name for marzipan. Marzipan itself incidentally is believed to take its name from that of the Burmese port of Martaban, which was once world-renowned for its production of jars and pots.
In linguistics, the Sanskrit term bahuvrihi is used to describe a certain type of compound word in which the second part is characterized by, or else possesses a quality implied by, the first—such as bluebell, highbrow or redhead. Typically, compounds of this type are classed as ‘exocentric’, meaning that neither of the words involved actually denotes what the compound itself means (so a birdbrain is neither a ‘bird’ nor a ‘brain’, but a foolish person) and in fact bahuvrihi is an example of precisely this type of word, being a compound of the Sanskrit words bahú, meaning ‘much’, and vrihí, meaning ‘rice’.
The odd word baragouin is another word for gibberish or unintelligible language or speech, adopted into English in the early 1600s from French, where the word is still used today to refer contemptuously to speech or writing containing a lot of technical jargon. Baragouin is descended from the Breton language of northern France and is formed from the local words for ‘bread’, bara, and ‘wine’, gwin, although quite how it developed is unclear. One popular suggestion maintains that the word probably originated amongst French innkeepers who were unable to understand Breton-speaking travellers asking for bara and gwin.
Adopted into English from French, the word companion has been used in English since the late thirteenth century. Historically, it derives from the Latin companionem, formed from the prefix com–, meaning ‘with’ or ‘together’, and panis, the Latin word for ‘bread’. As such it is likely that the earliest sense of the word was that of a ‘frequent dinner companion’ or else a ‘messmate’ in the army. The words company and accompany are both of similar derivation, as is pantry, originally specifically used to describe a room in which bread was stored.
Adopted from French, the word galaxy was first used in English in the late fourteenth century and is descended, via Latin, from the Greek word galaxias. In this original form, the word literally means ‘milky’ (from Greek galaktos, ‘milk’, as in lactose and lactation) and was initially only used in reference to our own galaxy, the Milky Way or via lactea, which Greek astronomers first identified as a faint white band of stars that encircled the night sky – according to Greek myth, these stars were formed by a spray of milk from the breast of the goddess Hera. It was not until the late seventeenth century that the word came to be used for any of the billions of galaxies contained in the universe, and not just our own.
Remarkably, the first use of the word grenade in English to refer to an explosive or incendiary weapon dates from as far back as 1591, and indeed similar devices containing a mixture of flammable chemicals known as ‘Greek fire’ are known to have been used by troops of the Byzantine Empire in the eighth century. The word itself comes from granade, an English word for the pomegranate dating from the sixteenth century (and derived from the Spanish granada) as the shape of the fruit is said to be similar to that of early grenade-like devices.
Meaning ‘jumble’ or ‘disorganized medley’, both the fifteenth-century word hotchpotch and its later seventeenth-century equivalent hodgepodge are thought to have developed from hotchpot, the name of a type of stew containing a mixture of numerous different ingredients first described in the thirteenth century. It turn, is likely to be a development of the earlier French hochepot, a similar stew of minced beef and vegetables dating from the early 1200s. Oddly, this French term was also used in legal parlance for a merging of property, a sense thought to come from the Old French verb hochier, meaning ‘to jostle’ or ‘to shake to and fro’.
The term monopsony was coined in a 1933 work by the acclaimed English economist Joan Robinson, who in turn credited the word to her fellow economist and Cambridge scholar Bertrand Hallward. It applies to a market situation in which there is only one buyer or consumer for a given commodity, and as such is formed from the Greek prefix mono–, meaning ‘one’ or ‘alone’, and opsonein, essentially meaning ‘to buy provisions’ or ‘to cater for’. Along with a handful of similar and equally obscure words like opsonation (‘feast’, ‘provision of food’) and opsony (an odd seventeenth-century term for any food eaten with bread), monopsony is related to the Ancient Greek word opson, a general term for any relish or flavoursome delicacy (and in particular fish) which would be served alongside the main body of a meal.
First recorded in 1921, the word patootie began as an American slang term for an attractive girl, or more specifically a girlfriend or sweetheart, before later developing into a humorous name for the buttocks, a sense also found in the shortened forms patoot and tootie in the 1940s. The word’s origins are unclear, but it has been suggested that it is simply a jocular alteration of the word ‘potato’, perhaps implying a pun on the ‘sweet potato’.
Given that it is such a familiar word today, it is surprising that the word restaurant is a relatively recent addition to the English language and dates back no further than the early nineteenth century. In its native French, however, the word dates from the early fifteenth century, when it was used to describe any food or consumable that had a fortifying or recuperative effect, restoring health or strength to the person who consumes it; in particular, in the mid-1600s, it was used to describe a type of hearty, meat-filled broth.
Use of the word salary to mean a regular payment made in return for work dates from the late fourteenth century in English, when it specifically applied to the income of a priest. The word itself, however, is considerably older than that and derives via French from the Latin salarium, the name applied to money given to Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt or sal; contrary to popular belief, Roman soldiers were not actually paid in salt. This original meaning has long since vanished from the word itself, but is still maintained in the expression to be worth one’s salt, which dates from the nineteenth century.