Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Word Origins


When a Malay runs amok he seizes his kris and dashes forth to hack at anyone he encounters. It is said that to get in the mood he sometimes first binds his testicles with agonizing tightness.


From the Arabic amir-al-bahr, "lord (or king) of the sea." The d may have crept in by association with "admire."


Greek for "folded twice." A diplomat dealt in matters so secret that the documents required this special precaution.


From the Russian bweestra, "quickly!" It was a favorite command of Russian soldiers in Paris cafes after the fall of Napoleon.


Men's hair gathered at the back of the head was once said to be "clubbed," because its shape suggested a cudgel.

Habitual patrons of a coffeehouse sometimes banded together to buy the establishment when its old owner died, then installing a new manager and giving it his name: White's Club, Brooks's Club, or whatever. The term club was used for this arrangement by analogy to the many strands being brought together in a man's clubbed hair.


Nur in Semitic languages means "light." Hebrew menorah thus means a "holder of light" or "candelabrum," and Arabic manarah means "lighthouse." The Turks used that word for the slender tower next to a mosque, which they felt had features in common with a lighthouse.


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