Monday, October 31, 2011

Eerie Etymology

This Halloween I thought I'd share two really fun linguistic points.

First, the word monster makes its way back to one of the favorite words of all Latin 101 students, moneo, which means to warn or demonstrate. (In fact, you can see that demonstrate and monster are related.) It first meant a prodigy, and then a deformed person. Ultimately, that turned into what it is today. Pretty cool, huh?

Second, the word nightmare is fun. The night part is easy enough to parse, but what is that mare doing? Are we really talking about a female horse? Nope. Mare is an Old English word for a spectre or spirit that would produce a suffocating effect on the sleeper. Above my desk I have Die schönsten Märchen der Brüder Grimm, or The Lovliest Fairytales of the Brothers Grimm. And you guessed it—the German word for fairytale  is cognate with our word for nightmare. Honestly, that explains a lot about German fairytales.

(My source for all this is the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


You may have heard, dear reader, that there will be a new movie coming out about how Shakespeare didn't really write Shakespeare. I don't subscribe to such nonsense, but I'll be seeing Anonymous regardless. Here's some articles that sum up why I think the "authorship controversy" isn't even up for debate. [In case you missed it, I wrote a gushing piece on how much I like Shakespeare here.]

How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare (A very scholarly approach)

The Shakespeare Shakedown (Newsweek article)

Hollywood Dishonors the Bard (NY Times article)

Also, I've been reading Bill Bryson's Shakespeare, and I'd never noticed until Bryson pointed it out that this is such a bad engraving:

But seriously. One eye is bigger than the other. One side of his hair is longer than the other. He has no neck, and yet his head is levitating above his shoulders. His mouth is also awkwardly placed. And what's going on with that nose? All in all, a really shoddy job.