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Wild West Words

Department Heritage WILD WEST WORDS BEE,  GRIZZLY,  HOMESTEAD by Chrysti the Wordsmith * * * *  BEE A uniquely American institution, the bee, grew up around the tradition of neighbors uniting in a common task.  The Oxford English Dictionary’s historical database dates the earliest citation of the word bee in this communal context at 1769, in the Boston Gaze…

Wild West Words: Expressions

Department Heritage WILD WEST WORDS EXPRESSIONS with Chrysti the Wordsmith   Straight from the Horse’s Mouth When we say we got a bit of news “straight from the horse’s mouth,” we mean that we consider the source of the information authoritative and reliable. This expression tempts us to find a story involving, say, a mythical talking equine whose every word is believable…

WILD WEST WORDS • Spring 2018

Goat There are about 300 species of wild and domestic goat in the world. The only species indigenous to North America is the mountain goat. Its native range includes parts of the states of Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Archaeological evidence and cultural lore are rich in information about the ways in which North American natives hunted the mountain goat in its craggy, vertiginous en…

Wild West Words (Spring 2019)

Mushroom I’m no mycologist, nor really even a mycophile. But I love the weird vocabulary that tags along with this science. If you’re not familiar with the word mycology, it means “the scientific study of mushrooms and other fungi,” and it derives from the classic Greek word for fungus, mykes. A mycophile is a “mushroom lover.” The Oxford English Dictionary’s historical database suggests th…

Wild West Words (Fall 2017)

Department Heritage WILD WEST WORDS with Chrysti the Wordsmith   Boot Hill / Graveyard / Cemetery The remains of assorted forgotten frontier characters repose in Boot Hills scattered throughout the American West. In Montana, Boot Hill graveyards lie a-moldering in Virginia City, Billings, and Powderville, a stop on the stagecoach line from Deadwood to Miles City in th…

Wild West Words (Summer 2018)

Department Heritage   WILD WEST WORDS with Chrysti the Wordsmith   Yogo • Moose  Sioux, Gros Ventre • Cheyenne   –––––––––––––––– Yogo Etymologists have long wrestled with the origins of the word sapphire. English borrowed it directly from the Old French safir, which came from the Latin sapphirus, which came from the Greek sappheiros, which…

Wild West Words: COFFEE & JOHNNYCAKE

COFFEE  On December 16, 1773, American patriots, protesting British taxation on imported commodities, ruined 92,000 pounds of English tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor.  The infamous “Boston Tea Party” marked the moment when tea fell out of favor with Americans. Almost immediately, drinking coffee became emblematic of patriotism and American autonomy. America’s first coffee ro…

WILD WEST WORDS (Winter 2018)

Banjo There has been speculation surrounding the origin of the term banjo. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology asserts banjo is an alteration of the Spanish term bandore, a 16th century lute-like instrument. But in her 1994 book That Half-Barbaric Twang, the Banjo in American Popular Culture, ethnomusicologist Karen Linn contends that the word and the instrument are of African origin…

Wild West Words (Summer 2019)

    Eureka! A suspicious king. His golden crown. A naked mathematician screaming through the streets of an ancient city. What we have here are the ingredients for the birth of a word.  To put flesh on the bones of this story, we time-travel to the island of Sicily in the third century B.C. The Greek city-state of Syracuse was ruled by the tyrant king Hiero II, who commi…

Wild West Words (Winter 2019)

Owl There’s an idea about human language origin called the bow-wow theory. It posits that human beings acquired language by imitating the animals in their world. Though there’s no way to prove this notion, it nevertheless compels us to consider animal onomatopoeias. In English, we have bow-wow, oink, meow, whinny or neigh. The same animals in Japan say wan-wan, buh-buh, nyaw-nyaw, and hihiin.&…