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November 22, 2019  |  Friday words #198  |  2553 hit(s)

In the US, we're in the middle of the (American) football season, which is a sport I follow casually. This means I get to watch a lot of TV commercials, one of which introduced me to a term from sports culture: homegating.

Homegating is a somewhat odd twist on the more established term tailgating. It's worth a moment to review this interesting set of words. In the beginning, people would get together before a game to socialize. Some people did this in the parking lot of the stadium. They'd bring drinks and food, perhaps even grills to cook on. People would do this literally out of the backs of their cars; if you have a station wagon or pickup truck, you can do this from the tailgate of your vehicle. (Although as a Wikipedia article generously notes, "Many people participate even if their vehicles do not have tailgates.") This is a tailgate party, a term invented in the 1950s, these days also called tailgating.

Suppose that instead of going to the game in person (expensive! cold!), you just want to watch the game at home on TV. You invite friends over. You might have thought you were just having a pre-game party, but now a term develops that sort of echoes what others are doing over at the stadium. Instead of tailgating, you're homegating. As near as I can tell, the word was invented somewhere around 2010 in the NFL marketing organization, possibly (again, as I read it) as a way to expand the appeal of football to women.

Overall, it's another example of how words in English are fluid and flexible. Starting in the 1800s, wagons have swing-down tailgates at the rear to make it easy to load cargo. When pickup trucks are invented, the term transfers easily to the new style of vehicle. When people start partying out of their vehicles, it becomes the metonymic tailgate party. Given our propensity in English to verb things, this is simplified to tailgating. Now a novel development: we break -gating off from tailgating to become a suffix that means "to pre-party," then attach it to home, and homegating becomes a party at home. Awesome. I'm only half kidding when I say that we should keep an eye out for words like workgating, a pre-function party at work.

Food prep also got me onto this week's unexpected origins. I was watching a video in Spanish the other day for how to make sopa de fideos, a tomato soup with noodles. At one point the cook puts the tomato mixture through a sieve; she uses the word colar, and shortly after that she refers to the sieve as the colador.

Colador … hmm … is that by any chance related to our word colander? Why, yes it is! As with the Spanish words, colander goes back to a Latin verb meaning "to strain" (in the kitchen sense, I mean), and might go back to an earlier word referring to fishing nets.

English of course has that extra -n- in the middle. No one knows why we added that, but it goes back a long ways; English spellings of colander show the N for as far back as we have cites. It could be an example of epenthesis, where an extra sound is added into a word to make it easier to pronounce (ath-e-lete, thimb-le, hamp-ster), which could make it an excrescent N. :) But let me repeat that no one knows for sure.

Since we have a richness of words for similar tools in the kitchen, we have the luxury of being able to assign fine meanings to them. You can use a strainer or a sieve for the tomatoes when you're making soup. (Do people make a distinction between strainer and sieve? I don't.) While Spanish remains true to colador as a strainer, we've assigned the name colander to something more specific, namely an item that's more like a bowl with holes in it.

Now that I look at all these words, I should find out where to strain and to sieve come from. But I'll save those for another day.

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