February 23, 2018
Friday words #109, 2016-02-23
We had a work outing today that included the Living Computers Museum + Lab. Each of us found a corner of the museum where they had our first computer, representing, as it happens, several decades of computer history.
The other day someone on Twitter said something to the effect that we need a word for that fleeting moment when you notice a typo just as you send an email. It turns out that we do have a word sort of like that, one that was new to me: an ohnosecond. Clearly the concept is familiar enough to people that someone invented that word back in 1993.
An ohonsecond isn't specifically about sending email; it refers to any similar moment when you hit the wrong key, or when you realize you've just lost a bunch of work. But it certainly works for the email-sending scenario.
I have two words for unexpected origins today, but they're thematically related. The first is the word hex, as in to put a hex on someone. This is from the German word Hexe, meaning "witch." This should not have been surprising to me, but it was. I was further surprised to learn that this is primarily an American term that entered English via Pennsylvania Dutch, which is actually German ("Deutsch"). As the various sources point out, hex is related to the term hag, which has an obsolete definition of "an evil spirit in female form."
The second fun origin is the verb to spell. The sense of sounding out letters is a form of announcing; there was a verb spellian in Old English meaning "to talk, announce." The noun version spell meant "talk" or "discourse." Related term: gospel, originally godspell, the Anglo-Saxon rendering of the original Greek euangélion "good news." The noun spell later took on a sense of an incantation with magical properties. Thus a spelling bee does have a kind of relationship to a magic spell. And which brings us back to hex, as promised.
Anyway, please enjoy this video of "witches" dancing:
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