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December 28, 2017  |  Rare mid-week Words update  |  1766 hit(s)

I feel like I need to make a rare[1] mid-week update to a Friday Words post, because Comments.

First, thug, which came up last Friday. Not one but two people pointed me at the word Thugee, the name for a group or gang or organization of criminals in India hundreds of years ago who murdered people. (There's a BBC article about this origin.) This is in fact the first (hence oldest) entry for thug in the OED.

This raises (begs? haha) a point I've kind of danced around in discussing word origins. The Indian gang (the Thugees) probably got their name from a Hindi word for cheat or swindler. But it's a fair question to ask whether we're interested in a word's original-original source or in the path by which the word got into English: ultimate versus proximate origins. Our use of thug in English came from the gangs, and not directly from the Hindi word. Another and similar example is the word assassin. The proximate origin is a gang of murderous thugs (ahem); the ultimate origin is an Arabic word that also gave us hashish. (Details)

Anyway, in the future I guess I'll be a little more explicit about these differences to the extent that they apply.

And one more. In a recent post I mused about why the Spanish word palomera ("popcorn maker") is feminine. Friend Jared pointed out that these type of agent-constructions follow the gender of the thing they're derived from. I had been led astray; a butter dish is a mantequera (from mantequilla, "butter"), feminine. I had read somewhere that it was mantequero, masculine, and that threw me. But this is false. So now it makes sense and all is again right with the world, Spanish-morphologically speaking. :-)

[1] So rare that this is the first time.