Words, Words, Words: A Look At Some of Their Back Stories

By Mark Skoultchi

July 21, 2010

Word freaks, namers (i.e., word freaks who get paid for their freakishness), and anyone else looking for an etymological chuckle or aha: check out yesterday’s KQED interview of Phil Cousineau, author of the newly published book Wordcatcher. There’s a new word coined every 90 minutes, according to Cousineau, and he discusses the origins of some of the most colorful ones on the show. From ancient times  (who knew that the word “salary” came from the Roman practice of paying legionnaires in salt) to the present moment (and Lebrontourage, the term coined  for King James’ hangers-on ): it’s a fascinating word fest. For instance, did you know that in all but one of the 700 extant languages spoken today, the word for mother begins with  “m”? Cousineau has a theory as to why.

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