Understood as a central consolidated power, managing and directing the various interests of society, all government is evil, and the parent of evil… The best government is the government that governs least.

John L. O’Sullivan. American journalist and diplomat. 

United States Magazine and democratic review (1837)

Grease: word origin


Grease comes to English via Norman grece, from the Old French graisse, from the latin crassus, meaning thick or fat.

Crassus is itself descended from the proto-indo-european *kwert- meaning to weave or twist together. This is similar to the latin cratis meaning wickerwork, or the Sanskrit कृत्, kṛt meaning to spin. Note that in Sanskrit ṛ is a vowel, pronounced like ri in Northern India, and ru in Southern India. An example of this usage, the god Krishna should be written as Kṛṣṇa. Cratis in Latin also provides us with the English word ‘grate’ as well.

Another word descended from crassus in English is crass, meaning rude or dense, into English via French crasse.


When the reviews are bad I tell my staff that they can join me as I cry all the way to the bank.


Autobigraphy (1973) ch.2

Maiden: word origin


Maiden has its roots in the Germanic side of English, descending from the Old English  mæġden, which is composed of mæġeþ, meaning a woman, with the suffix –en, a diminutive. Similar to the German mädchen.

The earlier roots of the word go back to Proto-Indo-European and maghu, which means someone of either sex. This word provides the prefix Mac or Mc in Scottish or Irish gaelic.

Fruit: word origin

Fruit descends from the latin fructus, meaning ‘enjoyment of produce’, from the verb frui ‘to enjoy’. Besides the edible sense fructus also carries a sense of monetary value, and so it is also the origin on the word frugal.

Frui is the infinitive of fruor, I enjoy. Fruor resembles a latin passive verb, but is active in meaning. Verbs like this are uncommon in latin, but do exist, and are called deponent verbs. Other examples include conor or morior, meaning ‘to try’ and ‘to die’.

Fruor is itself descended from the proto-indo-european *bʰruHg-, meaning to have enjoyment of or make use of. It also gives the latin word frux meaning supplies or fruit, as well ultimately as the French frugalité.


Saga: word origins

A Saga is a prose narrative, typically concerning a family over many generations.

The original sagas come from Iceland, and generally date to the medieval period. They have topics such as great battles, expeditions and family feuds, but they also have more mundane topics, such as the Saga of Burnt Njáll, which concerns a lawyer.

Sagas went largely unheard of in England until the Victorian age, and it is around that time the word saga enters English.

The word itself means much the same in Icelandic – a story. Though is more general, and can also mean a history. It has its origins in proto-germanic: *sagǭ meaning a story. This gives us also the German sage and Luxembourgish so, as well as the obsolete English word saw, meaning something spoken, such as Old Saw.

Accident: word origins

Accident: An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury. (oxforddictionaries.com)

Accident came into English in the 14th Century, and originally only meant an incident, something that happened by chance, not necessarily something that was a mistake or negative. It entered English via Old French accident which is derived from the Latin accidentem, which is the accusative form of accidens. That word meant an occurrence or misfortune, and is the noun form of the verb accidere meaning “to happen”.

Accidere is taken from the verb cado meaning “I fall” and the prefix ad- meaning towards. In Latin accidere can be a euphemism for “to die”.

Cado carries on the meaning of death into English in some forms. The English cadaver derived from it. Cadaver is found as early the 3rd century in Tertullian, an early Christian writer from Carthage who wrote in Latin. Cadaver has a folk etymology, supposedly from latin “caro data vermibus” but is almost certainly false.

Another word derived from the Latin cado is decay. Found as early as the 15th Century and taken from Old North French decair meaning to fall away or decay, related to Modern French déchoir, meaning to wane or to strip. The Latin prefix de- means away from or down, so decidere means to fall down, or to die.

A similar word to accident, incident too is derived from cadere, using the Latin prefix in. Found as early as the 15th century, making it a later word than accident, and similarly from the Old French incident, from Latin incidentem, accusative form of the present participle of incidere, from in and cado. Incidere means to fall in or to find the way or fall upon.

A less obvious related word to cado is occasion. First found in the 14th Century, but the sense is quite similar, meaning an occurrence or something happening. Similarly via Old French ochaison meaning a cause, reason, pretext or opportunity, and that from the Latin occasionem, the accusative form of  occasio, itself from occidere, meaning to fall down, from ob- and of course cado. Ob is a prefix meaning across or against, but also down or toward. Naturally occido is also a euphemism for “I die”.


Sources: oxforddictionaries.com, http://www.etymonline.com, wiktionary.org, Oxford dictionary of Word Origins Second Edition.

Duct: word origins

Duct: A tube, pipe or passageway. A conduit, often in a building.

Descended from the latin ductus meaning leading, itself the noun form of duco ­meaning I lead, because a duct leads something through a channel. It wasn’t until English from the 1660s that it came to have the anatomical sense, and that of a conduit came about in 1713, and as an air tube not until 1884.

But where does the word itself derive from? We need to look further back. And what else is related to duct?

Duco also gives us the word duke, a leader, and is descended ultimately from the Proto Indo-European *dewk- meaning to lead or to pull or draw. *Dewk is also the origin of such words as the Welsh dwyn meaning to steal, via the celtic *duk-o- meaning to carry.

Duct in English occurs as a component of many other words. Induct comes from the latin induco, a past passive participle of duco, carrying the sense of “being led”. Conduct derives from latin too, the verb conduco being to lead together, and is also the origin of the word conduit.

There are latin prefixes that can be affixed to duct – ab gives abduco meaning I lead awayand English abduct. De– leads to deduct and deduce from deduco meaning I bring away. Deduct differs from similar words such as subtract and abduct in that abduct came to mean by force whereas deduct means to take away a part of something. Deduce came to be taking away something in the sense of coming to a realization. Subtract comes from the latin subtraho “to pull out from under”itself from sub “under” and traho “I drag”.

Duco also gives us the English word educate. The latin educo, from ex-duco, ex being the prefix meaning out or away, such as exterior or extract (similarly from traho). Educo meant to lead away, and in that way came to be the word for teaching.

Being very versatile duco also provides the English word induce, using the latin prefix in- meaning conveniently “in”. Induco means I lead in, often in the sense of to bring an object into somewhere, likely a court or a home. And figuratively it came to mean to bring an idea into a discussion, or to convince and persuade someone of something, hence the English “induce”.

Similarly duco gives us introduce. The latin verb introduco meaning I lead in, from the prefix intro-, also means to originate something and bring something forward. In English it is introduce that carries the physical sense, while induce has retained largely only the mental sense.

Seduce is another word derived from duco. Se- the latin prefix means astray, so to seduce someone is to lead them astray. The sexual sense is English, originating in the 16th century.


sources: www.etymonline.com, wiktionary.org, Oxford dictionary of Word Origins Second Edition.