Thursday, March 10, 2011

Woot! It's word derivation day!

I like today's words and phrases. As always, the information is from "The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson.

Tantalize. Tantalus, the son of Zeus in Greek mythology, divulged the secrets of the gods to humans. The Lydian king was punished by being submerged in a pool of water in Hades, a tree laden with fruit above his head. Whenever he attempted to drink the water or eat the fruit, they moved just beyond him -- the water receding and the fruit tree wind-tossed -- causing him agonizing thirst and hunger. This punishment gives us the word tantalize.

Rigmarole. Often spelled and pronounced "rig-a-marole," this word means confused, incoherent, foolish or meaningless talk, or any complicated procedure. It derives from a roll of names called the rageman, which originated in the 14th century. The name of this roll was altered through mispronunciation to ragman role and finally to rigmarole in the 18th century. Because the names and addresses on it were often changed or deleted, the rigmarole came to represent any confused or disconnected, incoherent statement.

Ring hollow; ring true. In the past, counterfeit coins could be detected by the dull, flat tone they produced when dropped on stone, in contrast to the clear ring of true coins. The test was called ringing or sounding a coin . . . The practice was so common that it inspired the saying to ring true, to impress one as genuine or good, as well as its opposite, to ring false or to ring hollow, the last a phrase that Ben Jonson used. Today . . . "silver" coins don't give off a clear ring anymore.

As you were. Carry on.