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Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Tag: etymology

Carpe diem

Image by Faby Green from Pixabay

My first encounter with this phrase exuding energy as well as the special charm of Latin happened in 2011. Such is the title of one of the episodes of the Canadian TV series Being Erica, in which the protagonist, thanks to the superpower of time travel her therapist Dr Tom possesses, learns to enjoy the present, without worrying about the past or future.

The phrase was coined by Horace in his poem ‘Tu ne quaesieris’, published in 23 BC. The verse is addressed to a lady worrying about her future. Its closing line reads: Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero’, which translates as, ‘Seize the day, trusting tomorrow as little as possible.’

So, carpe diem/ˌkɑːpeɪ ˈdiːɛm/ – you only live today once, so don’t waste it!

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Apple: more than just a fruit

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

It’s hard to believe but until as late as the 17th century the word apple was used to refer to all fruit including nuts! Only berries escaped the apple monopoly. Thus dates were called finger-apples and cucumbers were known as earth-apples.

And the biblical forbidden fruit, which is believed by Christians and Jews to have been an apple, was possibly wheat.

The phrase apple of one’s eye has existed in the language for many centuries. Originally it referred to the pupil of the eye, which was called the apple, presumably because of its resemblance in shape to the fruit.

Sight is precious and until recently impossible to regain if lost. And so are our nearest and dearest. At some point in time someone hit upon the similarity and the phrase took on the figurative sense of the person who someone loves most we still use.

Maria is the apple of her father’s eye, his everything.

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Girl Power

Image by GraphicMama Team from Pixabay

The word girl made its arrival in the language in the early 1300s. Back then it was gender-neutral and was used to refer to kids of both sexes pretty much like the word child is today. So girls were called girls, and so were boys too!

The origin of girl remains an unsolved mystery, though a number of theories have been put forward in attempts to trace it.

About a hundred years later, at the turn of the 15th century, the word girl began to be used in its current sense. And at about the same time the word boy, which is believed to be a French borrowing, changed its original meaning servant, commoner and even scoundrel to male child.

Amazing, isn’t it?!

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The Mysterious Case of the Word ‘Ghost’

Have you ever questioned the purpose of the silent H in ‘ghost’? It’s absolutely useless, but there’s a great story behind it.

It goes back to William Caxton, an English merchant and diplomat, who lived in the 15th century. While in Germany, he became familiar with Gutenberg’s latest invention – the printing press, – and liked the idea so much that he set up one of his own in Flanders.

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