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March 13, 2020  |  Friday words #211  |  372 hit(s)

I suppose I've worked with the idea that these new-to-me words on Fridays are existing words in English. Today, though, I'm going to bend that rule, if it even is a rule, and talk about a word in German. It is new to me, and it's timely, so there's that.

The word is hamsterkaufen, which is the German word for "panic buying," or Hamsterkauf for a "panic purchase." We have, of course, seen a lot of that as people hoard supplies like face masks, hand sanitizer, and (mysteriously) toilet paper.

The German word is a compound: hamster refers to the animal, just like in English. Whether this is zoologically correct or not, the idea is that hamsters store food in their cheeks. This leads to the word hamster ("one who hamsters") being used in a more metaphoric sense for a hoarder. There's even a verb hamstern, "to hoard."

The -kaufen part means "to buy"; -kauf without the -en is "a purchase." So Hamsterkaufen is "hoarder-buying," or more literally and more colorfully "hamster-buying."

As I say, I normally concern myself with English words, so I'll make a proposal regarding hamsterkaufen/hamsterkauf: let's make it an English word. We could import the word as a calque, or loan-translation, and start talking about "hamster-buying" in English. I can see that: "Shelves cleared in hamster-buying sprees." Or heck, we could just import the word as is, why not. This is the proposal of the writer Hardy Graupner, who points out that we did that with words like dachshund ("badger-dog"), kindergarten ("children-garden"), and blitzkrieg ("lightning-war").

The longer this, er, hamster-buying continues, the more it feels like we'll want a word for it. So here's that nomination.

Origins. The other day I was editing a photo and wondered how crop came to mean "cut off." We also have a crop as in "crop of wheat"; are they related?

Yes, in a roundabout way. A version of crop appears in a bunch of old Germanic languages with a sense of "swelling, protuberance." That seems to be where we got crop as in the crop of a bird. In English, this sense also came to be applied to the top ("rounded head") of a plant. From there, it developed into the familiar sense of produce harvested from a field.

The verb crop seems to have come from the term for plants. The oldest recorded sense is the fairly general "cut the top [i.e., the crop] off." A slightly specialized sense pertains to animals eating (for example, a sheep that crops the grass). Other cut-related senses are to crop the hair of an animal or person, or the ears (!) of an animal like a dog.

Crop is also used in minerology and geology in a "top" sense to refer to a rock stratum that comes to the surface (to the top). That's where we get crop up. Another evolution is crop to mean "handle," as in a riding crop, which refers to the "top" of the whip (as opposed to the lash).

In a particularly weird turn, or so the OED speculates, the Germanic word crop was adopted into French and Italian. In French it became groupe, which we borrowed back as group for a collection of things. They do qualify this chain with "probably," so we can't be sure. But it sure is a lot of juice out of that original sense of crop as "protuberance."

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